Due to simple luck did Dennis live and the creature die. The beast, apparently ravenous in its hunger, launched itself toward the hapless survivors. It was unable to pull Dennis below due to his grip and the weight of the Milton’s holding on to him, and so it jettisoned rapidly upward, ramming the makeshift spear through one of those daunting mirrors, impaling itself completely. The creature, dying in fits and throes, succeeded in wrenching the weapon from the Dr.’s firm grip. First the Dr. pulled himself aboard the craft and collapsed, and then they hauled up what they could of the massive squid.
It was mostly the fact that Dennis had come up with two of the creatures arms still wrapped partially around him that they managed to salvage any of the meat at all. Fishing is no easy business and hauling up a huge catch such as this was no mean feat even in the most ideal of conditions. It was near miraculous they managed to fell the creature in the first place. The shear impossibility of the task was what they contributed too primarily when rationalizing what happened next. As the Miltons and an exhausted and witless Ward began to pull the tremendous thing up via the rope and the two surfaced appendages, the very flesh of the beast seemed to break apart under the strain. So the end result was the acquiring of roughly twenty feet of pale bluish, sucker covered and spongy cephalopod flesh. The Rope came up with half a cracked oar and the tentacles broke off shortly after the Dr. had climbed back on board.
Adding to the queerness of the situation the unusual rubbery and puckered flesh was discolored and veined with strange ailments. The actual color of the things were again difficult to classify and not dissimilar to the hue of the sea around them, being of both blue and green but possessing startling shades of purple and yellow as well. There were discolorations and anomalies within the already un-quieting palette, odd sores or lesions that stood out starkly against the normal suckers and surrounding flesh. The other consideration was the slime covered quality of the whole affair. Both Ward and the appendages were coated in thick darkish ooze, almost as if the ichor of the creature’s eye and the ink of its defenses had mixed to form some awful substance. And although the meat did not look fit to eat it did not take long for one of the Milton’s (each having claimed it was the other) to take an experimental bite out of one of the forbidding stalks.
The flavor was exactly like well cooked Calamari. They simply left it exposed to the blazing sun for a short period of time and the strips of torn tentacle flesh turned a crisp uniform brown. To have such an abominable looking meat taste so delicious was a wonderful surprise after the proposition of exposure and starvation, and to have so much of it as to be well fortified against those travails was a relief for all. It was those facts that made the Milton’s pathetic betrayal that much worse.
It had been in the middle of the night, so the flesh they had consumed had been raw. There had been so much of it. Dennis could not fathom how the two of them had devoured it all, and in such a short period of time. He would never forget the look on their faces as he awoke to discover them in the midst of their gluttony, like frightened children caught in the act of doing something they knew was wrong. As he arose to approach, Herbert hastily stuffed the last bit of suckered tentacle into his large mouth quickly chewing and squishing the soft meat as lines of the foul ooze dribbled from the corners of his ample orifice. Dennis had grimaced at the revolting sight and he had been so disgusted and so angry that he nearly struck the fat man. They had left not a scrap of the meat, almost as if to consume it in its entirety had been the aim, and the consumption had little if nothing to do with real hunger at all. The corpulent couple had grown sullen and listless directly following their ghastly meal. Whether this was due to some mild form of food poisoning or from the harsh admonishment delivered by the doctor Dennis cared not.
Movement brought Dennis back to the present. His wife was stirring; he shuffled swiftly to her side taking her wrist in his hand to measure her pulse. He loomed over her, watching carefully for any change or sign that she was returning to them. Apart from a slight and barely perceived fluttering of her eyelids Rose remained unconscious. Dr. Ward had cause for concern on the onset but now his worry was palpable, it etched itself markedly on his features and was manifest in his bearing and manner. If his wife did not wake soon she would die. Days with no food and little water, no escape from the blistering sun, even if rescue came swiftly the possibility for permanent damage grew greater by the day.
If not for the mental and physical exhaustion Dr. Dennis Ward would have found sleep impossible. They had organized a watch early on but Dennis had given up the idea when he woke one night to find his companions fast asleep neglecting the vigil. It sickened him, to Dennis it was not a matter of having to help the others get rescued, it was a matter of them hindering the survival process. Not only did they not help or contribute but they were sabotaging their chances. His mind and heart filled with ire Dennis drifted into a fitful sleep.
As he dozed the Doctor’s nocturnal reveries were inundated with visions of horror and the macabre. Upon waking he could remember nothing definite, yet he could not shake visions of great cyclopean cites and strange other worldly denizens from his mind’s eye. It was then that he saw Rose. Mrs. Ward had woken from her comatose state and sat dumbly propped against the side of their rubber raft. “Honey?” Dr. Ward cautioned as he scuttled toward her. The blazing sun had crested the horizon no more than an hour ago and it already had to be 90 degrees out. One look at his wife’s dull and listless face and tears filled his eyes; it did not take a skilled neurosurgeon to tell that Mrs. Ward had suffered severe brain damage. The exact extent of the damage could not be estimated by the ill equipped and psychologically exhausted Doctor, but he still administered every simple test he could in an attempt to measure what remained of her mental faculties.
Dr. Dennis Ward wept quietly in the corner of their small raft, with his head ducked down between his knees and his arms crossed tightly across them he looked like a small, frightened boy. His worst fears realized it had only taken the initial set of tests to confirm the awful truth of a severe lower brain stem injury. His wife, no matter what the outcome of their current conundrum, would never be the same again.
It was nearly a full hour after Dr. Ward had made this terrible discovery that Herbert Milton, snorting and choking, struggled into consciousness. With a gaped mouth look on his puffy face he exclaimed”Dennis your wife, she’s awake!” the feral snarl that was his answer startled him and forced him to avert his stare. Despite his fear of the other man and the obvious tension in the little boat, Herbert could not help but exclaim again, this time with undisguised terror saturating his nasally tones “W-Where are we?”
Dr. Ward raised his bloodshot eyes and sun blistered face and looked for the first time that morning out at the dreaded sea. It was not the sea however, that looked back upon Dr. Ward, but a mire of pocketed and undulating blackish sludge. They had become stranded in what appeared to be a massive oil slick, but unlike what Dr. Ward imagined a gigantic oil spill to look like this awful fen seemed caked high upon the thick ocean, not merely resting just atop the surface of the water, the black slime crept nearly to the upper edge of the outer raft. This marsh was also not without further inconsistency; it was pocketed and in fact riddled with detritus, flotsam consisting primarily of, oddly enough, plastic.
Other garbage filed the endless black plane but mostly it was comprised of floating plastics in various states of decomposition. The breaking down of these synthetic and unnatural materials had spawned a powerful caustic reaction, and the sporadic pools that dotted the strange landscape bubbled and hissed giving off noxious fumes. The smell was nearly unbearable and Dennis wondered if they would even be able to breathe the air for any extended period of time. The slow and strangely thick liquid around them popped in protest as their little ship rocked in its slimy prison. Dennis scanned the unsettling landscape attempting to somehow assuage his swiftly mounting fear, and was unfortunately awarded with the opposite effect as he took in the full gravity of what had befallen them.
The entire region was terrifyingly alien. The air and even the sky above them seemed to be tinted a sickly green, again the color that hung in the air was not one easily identified for it seemed to shift and defy the normal rules of pigments. Containers, bags, bottles, medical waste, nets, buoys, industrial plastics, all manner of non biodegradable marine debris as well as uncountable dead fish in various states of decomposition, were shadowed by the bones and carcasses of larger and less recognizable sea creatures. These layers of refuse were heaped into veritable mountains in certain places creating a surreal topography that seemed at once both a liquid and a solid. All of this sat atop a soup of chemical sludge that boiled like a witch’s cauldron.
Mrs. Milton, Herbs equally fat and slothful counterpart, whimpered like a beaten animal and Dennis, disgusted, scowled at her. “I-I think I know where we are…” Sadie whispered through teeth chattering with fright. It had taken a few moments for her to gather the strength to speak; Dennis’s reply was delivered dripping with sarcasm “O really?” He turned his watery gaze upon her. “Yes.” She replied confidently but with a note of surprise.
Minutes passed as Dennis waited for her response and he had about accepted the idea that the women was either more a dullard then he had initially realized or was in some sort of shock. She looked back at the Doctors expectant face and indulgently, as a mother talks to a child, she continued. “Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, or the Pacific Trash Vortex?”
This is Part 2 of The Plastic Sea, a five-part series. Part 3 will be published next Friday. In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.