Tuesday, August 06, 2002

"The Surfer"
a short story, by Michael Sherrillo

The wind ripped off the tops of the head high swells as they raced past, saltwater flying so fast it stung your face as the waves crest were torn before the blue mountains began to curl and crash down. The sound faded like dying static on an old radio, replaced only by the faint warning sirens from the town on the horizon. The whole village was still illuminated, as if the people who, only precious hours earlier fled in terror from their homes, were still inside cooking dinners on the still warm stoves and watching tv on screens now lit only with images of the comming horror.

The untamed ocean isolated him from all he knew, not even a bird could be seen in the angry black sky. Somewhere high above, the sun was still an hour away from setting, but below, night had already descended. The roar of the wind was all that existed to him now. Howling against his small boat as he sat, half submerged in water, waiting for the right moment.

All his life, he had surfed. Since his father had given him his first board, the blue water and the power of its waves had been his whole life. From the obscure 40-foot sets at Shipsterns Bluff, the common crowded scene at Maverick’s, or the 80-foot mountains at Jaws. His life began the second he lay on his board and his fingertips first touch the frigid water, and ended when the wave detonated around him. Every moment before and after those two points was meaningless. The entire ocean was his god, and his servant. With the board beneath him, he worshiped and tamed in equal measure.

Now, as the small craft perilously flew and sunk, he remained focused. Eyes unwaveringly set on the distant horizon; fixed on the point where the blackness of the sky melted into the dark fury of the sea. Soaking wet, he remained unmoved, jaws clenched as the spray stung his face and the cold bit through his sopping parka down to his bones. His eyes narrowed slightly as the subtle change overcame him.

He felt it before he saw it, a slight vibration, almost imperceptible over the choppy sea’s he rode. Then, the faint line of the horizon shifted. Had he blinked, he would not have noticed the change at all, but he's seen it. Engine bursting into life, his hand twisting up the throttle till his veins stood out next to the lines of water that poured off of him. Soon, whether they were minuets or lifetimes he could not have guessed, the sea around him darkened. He turned the boat slightly as he looked up at the sky, his eyes slowly rising till he saw the last of the dark clouds begin to vanish before him as the swell hit the underwater shelf and began to climb. He locked the throttle into place and ripped off his park, his wetsuit now the only thing protecting him from the elements. The wind became a roar, over which he was unable to hear even the wide open engine only a few feet away. It was all a muted roar, as his eyes remained locked onto the wave's top as it climbed up the sky, appearing to swallow the angry clouds overhead. Then, suddenly, silence. The wind stopped, the waves disappeared, as the spiked ocean became black glass. Even the sound of the engine seemed very faint and distant as the total silence swallowed him whole. For one heartbeat, there was complete peace, and then came the hiss.

Soft and malevolent as a deadly snake poised to strike, it rapidly grew, louder and louder, till it was a deafening roar. The boat began to be pulled, going faster than the engine would have allowed. He began to climb. Head looking straight up to where the sky would have been, which had been enveloped by the wave. Every muscle in his body was clenched as the boat began to rise faster, higher and higher he climbed. His eye’s narrowed again, as in one swift motion; he passed the point of not return. Moments before he came near cresting the top, he pushed the rod as hard sideways as he could, whipping the boat around, and looked straight down as hells mouth opened and gaped before him.

The boat flew on the verge of insanity as the angle of the wave and speed of the boat quickly increased. Death called to him as the black sea above began its deadly curl. The motor coughed then died, but the boat continued to fly, powered by the force of the wave above and beneath it. Cutting across and down the face of a tsunamic tidal wave, he stood. Hundreds of feet disappeared beneath him in seconds as the wave began to fall around him. In slow motion, he saw the curl coming down and the gray sky being crushed before him. The boat was on a race against time as the wave exploded around him, and the pipe began to close. Detonating with the force of a thousand sticks of dynamite, the concussion of the pressure wave ruptured his eardrums, and blood ran from his ears and nose, but all he saw was the disappearing clouds beyond.

As the pipe closed, he reached out his hand, a final gesture of hope, before he was thrown into the belly of the beast. There was a period, a fraction of a second long, before the ocean closed around him that he knew with the disappearing sky he would not make it out alive. In that second, totally aware of the death surrounding him, he smiled. He had fought a lifetime against this god, and, for the few moments he had raced and surfed this wave, had become one himself.

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