The Tempest on the Pier by Pedro Iniguez (a Tales from The Lake Vol.3 Honorable Mention)

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 16, 2016   Blog   0 Comment
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The following story received an honorable mention from Tales from The Lake Vol.3 editor Monique Snyman. ©Pedro Iniguez


THE TEMPEST ON THE PIER



Robert Tapia rubbed his frizzled chin and stared at the dark waters below. The waves crashed against the pillars of the pier, spraying foamy white mists into the air. He stuffed a cigarette into his mouth and lit up, inhaling a stream of hot fumes. He coughed violently as the fire in his lungs flared. His tongue tasted wet copper on his cracked lips.  

The sun was sinking below the horizon and the November breeze kicked up, blowing Robert’s hoodie away from his head. He had picked the tip-end of the pier for tonight. He found that spot was always the most appealing, being the farthest from society one could possibly be, and the closest to the ocean without being in any real danger.

San Clemente, California—a small beach town of quaint shops, twinkling lights, the clearest skies in all of Southern California. It’s where Robert’s father had taken him time and again to teach him about being self-sufficient. About being a man. It’s where he hoped his own son would learn a valuable lesson.

Miguel’s laughs faded down the planks of the pier as he chased seagulls. The birds squawked and flapped their wings as they hopped frantically away. His red baseball cap bobbled up and down with every step as his little legs darted down old wood.

“Miguel,” yelled Robert. He waved his hands in big sweeping motions. Miguel saw him and Robert waved him over. “Be where I can see you. I’m about to set the net.”

Miguel looked between his father and the birds. He abandoned the pursuit and headed back.

Robert had waited until evening to set up; that’s when most fishermen packed it up for the day. There were still a few people fishing nearby, but for the most part it was quiet. He liked it this way because he could be alone with Miguel.

Miguel walked up to his father and smiled. Robert took one last drag from the cigarette, turned away from his son and exhaled a toxic cloud. He flicked the cigarette into the ocean.

“Now, I want you to watch closely,” he said pointing to his eyes and back at the rope. “I’m about to show you how to tie a proper knot and how to lower the rope, okay?”

Miguel’s eyes wandered toward the city lights. The orbs of blue and red speckled in the distance like little floating lanterns. A hand slapped the back of his head.

“Hey,” said Robert. “Wake up; I’m trying to show you something.”

Miguel rubbed the back of his head. He motioned with his hands, attempting to say ‘sorry,’ but he hadn’t yet mastered sign language. He was only six years old, but even then he was learning at a rate slower than Robert would’ve liked.

Robert picked up a line of thin, red rope and grabbed one of the ends. His hands slowly weaved in and out, as they formed a knot. He looked at Miguel. His son nodded.

Next, he looped the rope around a wooden beam and fastened it with another knot. He gave it a tug to make sure it was secure. Robert reached into his tackle box and retrieved his knife. He pulled a fish out of his bucket and waved it at Miguel. The boy looked hesitant as he stared at the bulging eyes of the lifeless creature in front of him. Robert pressed his lips together, imitating the fish’s mouth. He rolled his eyes inwards and started making kissing motions. Miguel laughed.

Robert set the fish on the floor and cut into its belly. He sliced off a large piece of flesh, exposing portions of the spine.

“This way the crabs can smell the flesh and blood,” he said waving a hand towards his nose. The boy seamed to understand and nodded.

Robert placed the fish into a mesh of thin rope, delicately placing the bait into the weaving, making sure it stayed in place. The net almost looked like a dreamcatcher with its series of metal loops and rope interlaced like webbing. He looked back to make sure his son was paying attention. Miguel’s eyes were glazed as he fought off the sleep. He wasn’t used to being outside this late. Robert knew his son would rather be at home reading, putting together puzzles, or even devouring his leftover Halloween candies, but he had to do this. He had to show him everything he knew.

Robert coughed so hard, it scratched his throat. There wasn’t much time left…months, maybe.

“Okay, now we have to make sure that we lower the net slowly, so the fish doesn’t slip out of the weaving.”

He lowered the net, releasing the line little by little. After a while, the net disappeared into the black waters, and the rope lay taut on the post.

Miguel turned away to look at a couple of seagulls creeping up on the bucket of bait. They paced one webbed foot at a time, their light bodies as silent as the autumn night. He sprang at them like the monsters at the Halloween mazes. He laughed as they flew away.

Robert wiped the slime and blood off the knife and put it back in his tackle box. His fingers rifled through the box and retrieved a small lead weight and a pair of hooks.

“Okay,” he said pointing at a small rod leaning against a beam. “Get me your rod; I’m going to show you how to set it up.”

Miguel waddled over to the rod in his bulky jacket, red hat, scarf, grey sweats, and small booties. His son was so layered, he reminded Robert of a mummy. He tried not to laugh to prevent from coughing.

The rod was cold as he took it from his son. He zipped his jacket all the way up to his neck. The sky was black now, with a wisp of clouds approaching from the ocean. Behind him, his neighbor, an old Asian man, shot up from his chair and yanked at his pole. He pulled and wrestled with his rod as if fighting an unseen phantom. After a few seconds of swift reeling, the man sat back down. The old man turned to Robert and Miguel. Robert waved a hand and smiled. The old man ignored the gesture and returned his gaze to the blackness ahead of him.

He turned to find Miguel looking intently at the beams. He traced his little fingers over old carvings of hearts and initials – lovers from years past, and mischievous children too bored to care about fishing. Robert picked up the knife and walked up to Miguel. He offered the knife.

Miguel just stared at him. Robert put the knife in his son’s hand and closed his fingers on the handle.

“Just write your initials as if you were using a pen.”

He guided Miguel’s hand and pressed down. The knife grinded down on old, moist wood, bumping like a tattoo needle along the grooves and ridges.

When they were finished, the beam had a new chapter to its story. The letters ‘MT/RT’ were inscribed like runes on the beam.

They shared a smile.

“I’ll just set up the rod. Go and play around,” he said shooing him off. Miguel looked confused. “Go and play, it’s alright. Just be where I can see you,” Robert said pointing to his eyes again. His son smiled and waddled off.

The rod was easy to set up. It was small and flimsy and suitable for a child. And now it probably wasn’t going to be used, but that didn’t matter anymore. He had taken delight in seeing him smile. He wanted to teach him as much as possible before he was gone, but if Miguel could remember one thing about his father, he was glad that it could be the ability to make him smile.

He set the rod against the beam and lit up another cigarette. He knew he shouldn’t but it didn’t really matter anymore. Robert stared at the clouds again. They were bigger and had nearly blotted out the moon. Maybe there was a storm coming. He looked at his watch and wiped the moisture off. It was eight o’clock now. Where had the time gone? He remembered the doctor telling him he had maybe a year before the cancer took him away. It felt like he had gotten the news just a week ago.

Raising Miguel alone was difficult enough, but it was a job that was infinitely harder if you couldn’t be around to do it. He had already made the funeral arrangements and had even found a distant cousin who agreed to take care of the boy. But what really upset him was the fact that there was no woman in Miguel’s life. No boy should grow up without a mother.

Robert cursed Melinda under his breath for leaving them.

He looked down to find himself squeezing the knife handle. He tossed it back in the box and finished the cigarette.

Miguel was standing on a bench a few feet away, staring at the city lights again. He was a curious one, that boy.

After a few moments, Robert thought enough time had gone by and walked to the net. He gripped the rope and pulled it up swiftly. The key was to pull as fast as possible so that the crabs wouldn’t have enough time to escape the tangle of legs and netting. His forearms burned as he pulled, reaching one hand over the other. Miguel must have seen him pulling, because Robert heard his little excited grunts behind him as he pulled. The net splashed out of the ocean but it was too dark to see.

“Hey Miggy, can you get my flashlight?” he said, closing and opening his fingers to demonstrate a flashing light. Miguel retrieved a flashlight from the tackle box and handed it to Robert.

He shined a light at the net. It was empty. The fish hadn’t even been gnawed at. Robert shook his head at his son and lowered the net back into the water. Spider crabs were notoriously ugly and demonic looking but they were delicious. Patience was always key when crab fishing. He turned and Miguel had already wandered off.

A gust of air blew in from the ocean that chilled Robert’s bones. The tides swelled as they crashed louder against the pier. The smell of salty air was more potent than it had been all night.

The wind knocked Miguel’s red cap off his head. Robert grabbed it before it fell into the abyss below. He walked up to Miguel and secured it back on his head.

“I’m gonna go look and see if anyone’s caught anything, okay? A storm’s coming and we might have to wrap this up soon,” he said pointing at his watch and winding his finger in a circular motion. “Here,” he said, pulling out a sand dollar from his pocket. “Hold on to this. It was my father’s,” he attempted to say in sign language. “He used to dive for clams in Mexico when he found this. He passed it on to me and now I’m giving it to you. It brings you good luck.”

Miguel smiled. He examined the sand dollar in his hand. It was bleached and hard like a smooth rock. It had an imprint of a small flower in the center. He smiled and walked off.

There were two other men fishing on the pier—his moody neighbor, and another man who appeared to be homeless, sitting quietly in the distance. None appeared to be dissuaded by the oncoming storm. Robert decided to try his hand again, and walked towards the Asian man.

He paced calmly over to him as the man just stared ahead into the night. The man’s pole swayed gently up and down, dancing to the currents below. Robert peered into the man’s bucket. It was empty.

“Catch anything yet?” he asked as a formality, the oldest fishing ice breaker known to man.

The man turned his head in small increments, as if the very act caused pain or aggravation. His face was carved in wrinkles and marked with small liver spots. Dark circles formed under his eyes. The man had not slept in days.

“The winds are unkind tonight,” he said.

“Yeah, they’re really blowing in. I’ve yet to catch anything myself. My name’s Robert by the way,” he said extending a hand.

The man regarded the hand and extended his. He had bony fingers and long, dirty nails. Robert shook it. The hand was cold, almost as if frozen and devoid of warm, coursing blood. He did not give a name in exchange.

“I’ve never seen you around. This your first time fishing here?” Robert asked.

The man nodded his head.

“Welcome. I’ve been fishing here all my life.”

The man ignored Robert and turned to look behind him. He stared at something for a few seconds and returned his gaze to the dark sky ahead. Robert looked back; nothing but Miguel wandering like a lost sheep, and the city lights flickering in the distance.

“What kind of bait are you using? I’m partial to mackerel or squid myself.”

The old man’s eyes scanned something in the dark clouds Robert couldn’t make out. “I am using meat that is too old. One must always use fresh meat.”

Robert looked down at the old man’s tackle box. A large knife sat bloodied inside, but Robert couldn’t see any sign of bait.

“Yeah, that’s probably why I’m not getting it right. I bought some frozen mackerel before coming down.”

“The ocean demands fresh meat, always. Something for something. It is the will of Yu-Qiang.”

Robert frowned. The more he talked to the old man, the more he got a bad feeling in his stomach. He was probably senile. “Oh, who’s that?”

“Yu-Qiang: the god of the ocean.” The man nodded towards the fury of the waves below. “An ancient creature that lives in the deep. He is there now.”

Robert looked over the support beams. Nothing but blackness and the loud crashing sounds, the only hint at a raging life below.

“Interesting. Korean legend?”

“Chinese,” the old man said. “No legend. Known truth. For thousands of years we have offered our sacrifices to Yu-Qiang. He has blessed us with bounties from the sea.”

“I see. Well it looks like he’s on vacation tonight, huh? Maybe we’ll get lucky next time,” he said with a slight smile.

The old man stared ahead and said nothing.

“It was nice meeting you,” Robert said waving his hand. He stepped away and decided not to even try talking to the homeless man.

Robert felt a slight drizzle on his face as he walked back to his spot. The moisture caught on his slight beard and made him shiver. He looked back. Miguel leaned on a beam close to the homeless man.

He waved both arms. “Hey, Miguel. Get over here. I’m gonna haul in the net.”

Miguel nodded and started walking back.

The clouds were overhead now. Some of the moonlight broke through the gaps in the clouds, like a celestial body being engulfed by the dark. In a way that’s how he felt about his life. It’s how he pictured his lungs looking, as they struggled to take in air.

He reached inside his jacket for another smoke. The cigarette in his hand was already streaming comfort. He looked at it. The invisible bullet that had found its mark long ago. It was taking away more than his life; it was taking away his reason for life. He crushed the cigarette and dropped it at his feet.

It was time to go home.

His hands wrapped around the rope. The moisture on his fingers made the line slick and harder to pull. The rope felt heavier as he lifted.

The drizzle in the air turned to light showers as the water pelted his jacket. Tap. Tap. Tap. He was going to need his flashlight soon. Robert couldn’t hear if Miguel was behind him but he called out anyway.

“Miguel,” he shouted, raising a hand. “I need the flashlight.” He opened and closed his fingers again to simulate blinking lights. The line grew heavier as he pulled; sometimes it even felt like something pulled back. Something angry.

He heard the net emerge from the ocean, as water dripped in torrents underneath. It was too dark to see but he felt the net swaying side to side. Whatever it was, it was big.

“Miguel?” Robert looked back. Miguel wasn’t visible. The light showers turned to heavy rain. Visibility was reduced as the falling streaks of water filled the air. The homeless man in the distance sat motionless as he watched his pole swaying violently.

He went back to pulling. Hand after hand, he heaved, trying not to lose his grip. He looked back again. The Chinese man reeled in a large mojarra fish. It gasped for breath on the floor as the water reaching its mouth filled its lungs with false hope.

Robert called out again, the panic now filling his voice. “Miguel!” He coughed. Blood spewed onto his hands. He ignored the cold in his bones and the fire in his lungs, and pulled. The net was at eye level and he saw movement. A lot of movement. He swung the net over the beams and it landed on the planks.

A swarm of spider crabs spilled over the rims of the net. Their long, angled legs stabbed indiscriminately in every direction.

Down the pier, the old Chinese man carried a pail full of fish as water collected and spilled from the sides. He faded into the damp night.

He had to look for Miguel. He called out again. “Miguel?”

Robert peered over the edges. There was no sign of the boy. He tried to listen for his grunts. Nothing.

The homeless man. Robert ran towards the man, careful not to slip on the wet floor.

“Excuse me? Excuse me, sir? Have you seen a little boy?”

The man made no gesture.

Maybe he didn’t hear.

Robert put a hand to his shoulder and shook gently.

Nothing.

Robert shook harder. The man’s head rolled back—his mouth open to the falling rains. A large chunk of flesh was missing from his throat. Blood seeped down his neck, mixing with the rain water. Robert took a step back and slipped on the slick planks. His head slammed on the wood and he coughed up more blood. He pushed himself up. The spider crabs were crawling over the floor like angered monsters.

In the distance, something caught his eye. 

He hurried towards the net. He picked up his flashlight and shone the light on the crabs. Mandibles tore into miniscule bits of flesh. He picked up the crabs and tossed them aside. There were so many. His hands scraped and nicked against the sharp shells. He didn’t care. He had to know.

And it was there.

His lungs seized. His breaths became short and painful.

He fell to his knees amidst a mass of clambering legs. A bounty from the sea. Something for something, the old man had said. Fresh meat.

Robert Tapia picked up the red cap and stared at the small, unidentifiable head in front of him.

The dark waters swayed and crashed against the pier as the tempest pressed ahead.

He lay down next to his boy.

Thorny legs overtook his body as his howls faded into the cold, autumn night.


BIOGRAPHY: Pedro Iniguez lives in Eagle Rock, California, just outside the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. He has a love of literature, comic books, and film. He spends most of his time reading and writing the hours away.

 

Series: Tales from the Lake
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

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Tales from the Lake: Volume 2
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