Home > Monthly Revisitation, The Serial Box > Day One Hundred and Sixty-three: The Ocean’s Claim [REDUX]

Day One Hundred and Sixty-three: The Ocean’s Claim [REDUX]

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. I decided to go over the first story from September, day 103 – The Ocean’s Claim. I wanted to fill it out a bit more, see if I could figure out a little about the narrator and his father, which I did. I also wanted to figure out exactly what the ocean wanted with him, which I did not. I suppose you can’t have everything… Still, it’s an intriguing problem, and perhaps the next step in the story will reveal itself to me one day.


I was on the beach after my father’s funeral. He had never taught me how to deal with tragedy, since he didn’t believe in the thing. But here it was, and here I was – alone on the beach, staring out at the water and the clouds.

The man had been a surfer his whole life. He never had a job that I could remember, yet we never went without. He fed us and clothed us with the kindness and charity of his friends and neighbors, for whom he would do what kindnesses and favors he could in return. He ran rescue out in the waters, and more than a few surfers owed their lives to his boat and his quick thinking.  When things were going his way, he shared with the neighbors, giving them food if they needed it, and what help he could. A good man, my father.

Everyone knew him, too. He would stride into restaurants and be greeted with a chorus of voices. He would make his presence known in a grocery store or a surf shop or a drugstore and we wouldn’t see him until he had drawn the latest conversation and gossip out of everyone he knew. Then he would surf with the men he grew up with, spend long hours battling the waves and come home smelling of seawater and marijuana.

I suppose he raised us well, even though everyone knew that the ocean was what he loved the most. He always had his computer tuned to weather sites, watching the radar as it scanned the skies for him. He was looking for the storms that made the waves, the great banks of cloud and changes in pressure that meant a good day of surfing was on its way. He couldn’t help me with my math homework, and he didn’t think much of tossing a ball around or teaching the facts of life, but he knew the ocean better than he knew himself.


He died surfing, as he always knew he would. When he went out on the water, he had a ritual: he would turn to the land, to the lush greens and the brilliant beach, and the mountains off in the distance, and he would wave to them. Like he wasn’t going to see them again. He told me that he just wanted to be sure that he did that, just in case something went bad.

He hit a wave wrong, as happens to every surfer sooner or later, his board flipped and the fin sliced him open along the side. Big Ed Couto, after a few beers at the wake, told me it looked like the board had filleted him. He said that the blood filled the water, and it was all he could see as he tore at his shirt to tie something off.  Ed remembered thinking about sharks, but the sharks didn’t bother with my father. He was the ocean’s, Ed said, which churned and danced with some kind of violent joy as its son bled out his life. He was soon led away by my father’s friends with tears in his eyes.

My father’s ashes were, of course, spread out into the ocean, his true home. It was an awkward ceremony on a small sightseeing boat under a bright blue sky that was being overtaken by clouds. Me, my brothers, Big Ed and a few more of dad’s surfing circle. More wanted to come – we had to turn away an entire flotilla of boats by asking them to respect our family’s privacy.

We dumped the ashes into glass-smooth water, where they sat on the surface for a moment before slowly settling in. I told the captain to turn around. I felt sick. Not seasick – that was something my father would have never tolerated in his oldest son. My head was pounding and my joints were tight. Every time the small boat bumped up against the waves, my teeth would clack together until I tasted blood. My eyes were closed. I didn’t want to look out, to see the ocean that had claimed my father. I stood by the gangplank all the way back to the marina, and waited for the maddeningly slow process of docking the boat, with my eyes itching and my fingers gripping the railing so hard that I swore I could feel bones crack. I wouldn’t even begin to feel normal again until I was on land, and that very thought made me feel like I was betraying him.

But the easing of my illness – or whatever it was – was not enough to get me off the beach. It held me there as if it were waiting to show me something. Wonderful or horrible, there was no way of knowing.

I was offered a ride by everyone who had a car, but I waved them off. Said I would rather walk home, which was not a lie. When they had gone, with the clouds coming in, I went to a fallen piece of driftwood above the high tide line and sat down. The ocean was a slate grey. It moved sluggishly, barely mustering the energy to crawl up the sand to meet me. I took off my shoe and set my toes right up to the furthest edge the water could reach and smiled as it tried, futilely, to touch me. It was the ocean that had claimed my father, the waves that took him and killed him and tore him apart. It would love to get me too, I was sure of it. I moved my toes back just a hair, and the wave seemed to stretch itself just a little more.

The sun was hidden high above the clouds, its light weak and diffuse. The sand was cold under my toes and the constant breeze tangled in my hair. I listened to the ocean for a while, waves coming in and out like breaths of a great beast. If I closed my eyes, I could hear it inhale, exhale, over and over again. I breathed with it, the cold salty air clinging to my lungs until I let it go and then took another breath. I breathed and I sat, and that was all I did, there on the beach.

I flinched when the water touched my feet.

I opened my eyes when it didn’t let go.

The water was pooled around my feet, one bare and the other still in a shoe that would be acceptable for a funeral. I tried to pull my bare foot away and the water clung to it, like a thick jelly. Even when I stood up and put my weight behind it, the water clung to me, stretching but not snapping. I wanted to yell for help, but the beach was deserted. I hopped on one foot and kept pulling against the strange, rubbery pseudopod that stretched up from the shoreline.

That was when the ocean adjusted its grip… and pulled back.

I went flat on my back and felt sand grinding its way into my clothes as the water dragged me down the beach. I scrabbled at the sand and the rocks, finally starting to yell, but I couldn’t slow myself down. The water was up to my thighs now, pulling me faster towards the ocean. I opened my mouth for one more great shout, and that was when I was pulled beneath the waves, dragged feet-first into the somber waters. I flailed, trying to swim up to the surface, but the ocean had me in a full-body grip. My clothes were soaked and dragging me down, and I could feel the heat leaving my body, sucked out by the freezing water. My heartbeat pounded in my ears, far faster than it had been just moments ago. The water stung my eyes, and I sank in the cold darkness, trying to hold on to the last scraps of breath in my lungs.

Then the ocean said my name.

It was the last thing I remember.

I awoke on the beach, staring up at the stars. The ocean air was cold, and I shivered as I sat up. The full moon was hanging low in the sky, but I couldn’t tell if it was nearer to morning or evening, or if it was even the same day. The ocean rested along the seashore, its waves coming in slowly and quietly, as though the waters themselves were looking forward to a night’s rest.

All my muscles hurt when I stood. My hands were cold and stung from the sand, and when I looked at them, I nearly fell to the ground again. On the backs of my hands were tattoos, as black and shiny as the seaweed that rose from the bottom of the deeps. The tattoos were a confusing combination of circles and triangles and writing that seemed to skitter away from my gaze when I looked at it. Lines radiated out from the circles, and when I turned my hands over I found that they converged into new designs on my palms.

In the moonlight, the tattoos seemed to shimmer on my pale skin, and it was then that I noticed the other change that had been wrought: my hands were now webbed.

The ground seemed to come up to meet me as I fell to my knees and looked out over the ocean. “What have you done?” I whispered.

The ocean didn’t answer back.

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