Overboard

For most of his life, Santiago had contented himself with living at home with his mother while working under the apprenticeship of a tailor, and when he was not working, he would sit quietly in front of the kitchen window and read books about sea monsters and legends that had been passed down by sailors, as this subject had been quite fascinating to Santiago since his childhood. He lived simply and without complaint for many years, but the day came when the tailor finally found himself in the compromising position of death, and Santiago found himself in a position of unemployment. He was not yet skilled enough in any trade to open his own shop, nor was he suited to begin another apprenticeship. This was much to the dismay of his mother, who, as mothers do, had expected much out of him and was bitterly disappointed that he had not even moved ahead so far in life as to be able to sustain himself and help her to keep up house, or at least read books with more substantial content than omens and portents to be found on the sea. Santiago was not worried about any of these things, for he saw his unemployment as merely an opportunity to further his knowledge by reading, and did not think for a moment of any need he may have for money in the future or any effect on his psyche his reclusive studies may have. This caused his mother much anguish, and for many weeks she bemoaned the misfortune of her jobless son, often thinking to herself that he was perhaps just slow and should not to be sent out into the world on his own, but it came to the point where she could no longer stand to watch him sit idly around her home without feeling like she had failed in all her mothering. It was for this reason that she banished him from her home until he was able to show her that he could begin to earn his own paycheck once more.

Banishment caused Santiago a good deal of distress, as he had not thought to make any friends during the course of his life and, consequently, had nowhere to stay until he was able to demonstrate to his mother that he had matured adequately. He thought, perhaps, that he ought to go about wooing a girl and using her dowry to purchase some comfortable means of living, but he felt himself too young for marriage, although his mother had often begged him to find a wife. So Santiago resolved to himself that he should continue living on the streets and if he was merely patient, a job would eventually be sent to him by fate, and he should then be able to earn a good living and buy a house in which he could live as he had lived at his mother's house, as he had found that to be quite an agreeable way to exist.

He waited for his profession to reveal itself to him for several weeks, but after a month of sleeping outside and eating crusts of bread and other refuse given to him by strangers, Santiago decided that it would be in his best interests to get a job that he would give him enough money for food until the career that fate would send him made itself clear. He could not, however, think of what sort of job would be agreeable to him and suit his talents. He did not, in fact, have many talents to speak of outside of sewing, and for all of his time on the street could not think of any sort of profession outside of tailoring that would want such a mediocre sewer as he. It became clear to him on a Sunday morning, as he sat on the side of the road, watching the patterns in the dust that was kicked up by horses. He had, in addition to his ability to sew, quite an expansive library of knowledge concerning sea monsters and other matters of the sea, so it would be most obvious for him to apply for a job as a sailor and use his knowledge to educate the crew of some ship about the monstrous dangers that lurked under the water, in addition to mending sails and clothing. With this in mind, Santiago set off for the shipyard.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to Santiago that there was among the captains a great deal of interest in his abilities, and he had the opportunity to pick a ship to sail on from a wide variety of contenders. He had ruled out fishing boats, as they had a peculiar odor about them, as well as military vessels, as they were too prone to attack. He settled finally on a merchant ship, captained by a man named Rodriguez, who was very keen in his desire to see Santiago operate aboard his vessel. Men who could sew, he said, were exceedingly hard to come by and as such it was very fortunate indeed when one could be found, especially with all the military ships offering higher pay. In accordance with his enthusiasm, he decided that Santiago would come aboard the next morning and set off on their next voyage to Palma.

Santiago found great pleasure in sailing, more than he had thought he would, and as such was very cheerful and talkative whenever the ship was surrounded by open water. He took it upon himself to educate the crew on nautical matters, as he saw himself as being the only man who was educated on things below the surface of the ocean. He would sit on the deck, a large pile of torn blouses and pants beside him as he sewed, and talk loudly about what sorts of beasts might be below them in hopes that someone would listen. He saw this as a great service toward the other men in the crew, as they would of course need to know not just the layout of the waves they sailed on, but the dangers beneath them. He dwelled mostly on creatures that might pose a threat to the ship. The Kraken, he said, could crack the ship in half as though it were just a sliver of wood, and the Sirens could sing so sweetly that the captain should feel the need to drive the ship aground to hear them, and they would be stranded. He told these tales in the most frightening of voices, mimicking the snapping of the masts as monstrous tentacles struck them down as well as the tempting falsetto of a Siren. The other men aboard had begun to talk about him amongst themselves, all agreeing that what he said was ludicrous and should not be listened to. They instead opted to drown out his impassioned storytelling with their own conversation.

Santiago did not initially care very much that the other men did not listen to his lectures. He thought himself to be a teacher aboard the ship, and he would not be deterred by lazy pupils. The conversing as he spoke on incredibly important subjects, such as how one would go about killing a sea serpent, however, did begin to grate on him, and it made him wonder if perhaps he made himself seem too small, sitting on the deck with his legs folded and a pair of stained pants draped across his lap. To draw more attention to himself, he started standing on deck, holding the clothing as he mended it, and talking louder. This decreased his productivity somewhat, but he felt that he must prioritize and that educating the masses must come before patching their outfits.

Seeing Santiago reduce his efficiency in what was really quite dramatic a way greatly incensed the crew, who had already been quite irritated with the constant stream of nonsense streaming from his mouth. They spoke viciously of him and expressed a great desire to see him leaving the ship the next time they made port, but that would be many weeks to wait, and they were not patient men. What they were to do to rid themselves of this annoyance was decided one night as they ate, the majority of the crew sitting on one side of a long wooden table with a lantern placed in the center, and Santiago sitting alone in the dark.

The chill in the air was biting on the morning when Santiago was to be disposed of. There were storm clouds gathering on the horizon line, and the water was swelling more violently than it had been before. As the ship pressed forward into the storm, as there was no way to avoid it and still reach port on time, a man in the crew called to Santiago that there was a rip in the sail, and if they expected to escape this storm alive, then it must be patched before they reached the eye of it. Santiago, who had not ever been atop the mast before and was very excited to view the wide expanse of the sea from a height that great, eagerly climbed to the crow's nest with his materials to mend the canvas of the sail. He found the rip, which, unknown to him, had been made by a sailor late the last night as preparation for this moment. Patching canvas as thick as the sail required a great deal of effort, and Santiago found the pace much slower than he had thought it would be. He was still atop the mast when the waves began to brutally toss the ship on their swells.

"Keep mending," the other men called to him, tugging at various ropes and levers to fortify the ship towards the fury of the winds. Santiago tried to hasten his work, although it had become even harder with the furious rocking of the mast, and he had to reach out a hand to steady himself. Rain that felt as sharp as needles whipped at his face and in his eyes and blinded him, and the winds that attempted to blow him from his perch caused him to fold over upon himself for protection. The wood beneath his feet was slick now, and he slipped with every movement of the mast. He did not know that the men on deck were watching him. They were even more focused on his fate than on passing the storm, and would turn their gazes skyward each time they had a moment to do so.

It was not long before Santiago lost his grip and plummeted down into the water. There were no cries of "man overboard" as his body pierced the waves, just a glance toward the sea by each man on deck, unable to see what had happened through the sheets of rain that blinded them.

Santiago entered the water as though he were a block of lead, his weight propelling him like a bullet through the frigid waves. As he continued to sink lower, he lost some of his momentum, and his fall slowed to a drift. He could not feel his limbs nor open his eyes as he waited to be rescued. He instead kept falling slowly through the water, like a feather on air, his skin prickling from the cold and the salt. His lungs began to constrict with pressure and emptiness, and he had to resist the urge to open his mouth and suck in desperately for the oxygen that was not there.

His fall was interrupted by a large mass, which he collided with as it rose upwards. He bounced from the top of it and continued to float downwards, scraping the sides of its slick, firm being as he descended until he reached a sharp drop-off in its form. It felt as though whatever he had hit just fell away back into itself, like a cliff or a peninsula under the ocean. He tried to grab hold of it so that he might be able to use it as a point off of which he could begin swimming to the surface, but he was deterred by a strong suction pulling violently at his legs, sucking them towards the place where the mass dropped away. He lost his grip and was sucked into what he felt to be rows of razors ripping his skin and clothing until he was bloody and near naked. He felt his lungs collapsing in on themselves for lack of air, and tried to paddle himself away from the suction so he could make it back to surface, but he found himself quite stuck. Opening his eyes slightly, so full of foolish desperation that he ignored the burn of salt water rushing into his eye sockets and, Santiago saw that he was tangled within a massive row of long fibers, stuck to which were tangles of seaweed and the small bodies of trapped fish. He was pulled through this by another great inhale of what he now realized to be a monster, until he was contorted inside the great beast's throat. His lungs felt shriveled now, and he felt his consciousness slipping, so he let himself fall into blackness, lest he feel himself die.

Santiago awoke in moist darkness. His clothing stuck to his body like a second skin, ice-cold and wet, and he could feel that his blood was colder than it should have been. His body lay on something soft and warm, and he unquestioningly pressed himself further into it, warming himself. The pungent smell of bile surrounded him, and it sobered his mind enough to alert him to the curiousness of his situation. The air he was breathing was thin and hot, and his skin tingled oddly on top of the spongy, warm, moist surface on which he lay. He could not see anything, and he could relate his setting to no other. It was not until he heard the drumming sounds of a massive beating heart did he realize his location.

Being consumed by a monster was not something that Santiago had expected to happen to him, especially because he was so well educated on how to protect oneself from such a situation, and reconciling how it had happened to him was a blow to both his pride and his psyche. He had not yet fully grasped the terminal nature of his situation, having somehow decided that escape from the beast was possible, although he would suffer the humiliation of being swallowed for the rest of his life upon his return to the shore. He had begun to try to climb up the monster's massive gullet as it expanded and contracted, but it was slick and he could not hold his footing for more than a minute. Each time he fell, the bile around him splashed up on his skin and in his eyes and burned him horribly on first contact, continuing to slowly simmer on his flesh as it stuck to him, as it was quite thick and hot.

It was after two hours that Santiago wept. He was hungry, and the bile was peeling his skin off in translucent layers, so he could not help but to cry for his own misfortune as he struggled not the clutch his arms around himself for protection. His skin was raw from the corrosion, and his vision had blurred somewhat from the acid that splashed into his eyes each time he fell. He wondered if the other men on the ship had made it out of the storm alive, or if perhaps some of them had fallen like he had. He doubted this, but it comforted him to think that perhaps he wasn't the only one in misery. The salt water in his tears burned the bare pink flesh of his face and caused him to abandon this thought process in lieu of rising to his feet and trying to minimize contact with the bile.

Santiago had been standing still for quite some time, thinking wistfully about his home, when he was engulfed in a sharp, cold pain. It was another wave of ocean water, this time filled with hundreds of tiny minnows to feed the beast. He screamed horribly when the salt water poured into the open sores of his peeling skin, the drops stabbing as though made of flecks of metal, and he was left breathing so heavily and standing so weakly that he needed to steady himself with a hand on the stomach wall so he did not fall into the bile once more. His entire being burned horribly, and he simpered, muted by his own agony, as the fish which were to feed the stomach in which he was captive flopped around his feet, covered in the same acid.

He leaned against the wall of the stomach, feeling what may have been the tip of a massive rib touching his back through the thin membrane of flesh. It startled him, and he slipped, falling once more into the horrible acid, screaming and clawing desperately at the flesh around him for support to drag him back onto his feet. He scrabbled for something to hold on to, but was left with nothing, and fell down upon himself and wept once more for his own pain.

As he sat inside the stomach of a monster, bile pooling around him and corroding his body slowly, Santiago tried to distract himself by recalling the books that still sat in his bedroom at his mother's house. There were many fabled creatures that lived under the ocean, although he knew that many did not have a taste for man, and he must be inside of one of the rare beasts that did.. He was most likely inside the body of a massive, slithering sea serpent. For a moment, he felt humbled to be in the presence of something so legendary, but this passed when he was reminded by the feeling of acid pouring into an open sore that no matter what amazing monster he sat inside, it was disintegrating his body, and he ought not to be impressed with it. But despite himself he could not help but to feel a small bit of wonder for his situation.

Despite his awe, he found the darkness off-putting. All that was around him was the stench of bile and the steady, ominous pounding of the colossal heart. He wondered how deep under the ocean he must be. Surely deeper than any man had ever gone before. He must have been miles underneath the surface and the ship where his needle still poked into the half-patched sail. Santiago curled his knees into his chest and wrapped his arms around himself, yelping at the stretch required of his skin by this action. His entire body had become raw.

The air felt thinner all the time. His existence had now shifted completely inward as he tried to shut out the lack of world around him. All he noticed now was the beating of the heart, which had kept its rhythm steady since he had first noticed its presence. He tried not to stray from his thoughts. It comforted him to imagine the alien fish of the depths of the sea that must swim only feet away from where he stood, separated only by the wall of the creature's body. He wondered if any man would ever be so close to them again. He could not imagine how, unless they were to live in the belly of a monster as he was. He thought of how they would praise him if he ever made it back to shore. He thought of how his mother would welcome him back with open arms, and how he would be a marvel in the scientific community. He thought of how wonderful it would feel to be wrapped in clean bandages and set to lay in his bed and heal. He believed for almost an hour that he could perhaps make it back to the world.

It was when his thoughts started coming in the rhythm of the monster's heart that Santiago knew that he was dying. The bile had almost completely eroded the skin on his elbows and knees, although he shifted often to avoid overexposing one part of his body. He knew he had blinded himself with it, although it did not matter when all there was to see was darkness. He was amazed that he was still able to breathe the air in the stomach, thin and bitter as it was, and he did not expect to be able to do so for much longer. The heart thumped in the background of his consciousness still. He would not allow himself rest, as he did not want to waste his last moments in such an extraordinary situation by sleeping. He knew very well that no other man would ever die as he was going to. It was only when his bones were visible under paper-thin layers of skin, his breath was short and forced, and his body was so wracked by pangs of hunger and thirst that he could not bear to lie in wake that Santiago let himself fall fully into the bile and be overtaken by the monster's body.