This is the darkest short story I’ve created so far and perhaps my favourite. The idea of the story was to show how life races past the protagonist and how he is consumed by the life he leads.

The Sailor

Standing by the railing in the night, the black ocean was as much a feeling in his gut as it was the roar in his ears. In the starless night the sea was otherwise imperceivable. The scent of it was on the cold metal of the deck, it was in the salt of the air and in his hair, eyes and mouth. He even felt it inside him as he had begun to do often during the last couple of voyages. It felt like a spreading cancer, a sort of fear of what the sea was, of the cold hard truth of the ocean. A sailor was a rider of the black waves, challenger of the uncaring depths. A sailor skimmed on the very surface of death, for death was all the ocean was. If the dark waters get you, there’s no coming back. They all knew that. He hated it now as it grew inside him, the Blackness as he had named it. The ship shifted on the violent waters and for a second the waves seemed to jump up and claim him and he felt the cold grip of the sea on his face. He lost his breath and pushed off on the railing, stepped back, slipped and for a second feared that he would slide across the cold metal deck and into the black waves. He didn’t but he was cold with fear. Chilled to the bone he stumpled to his feet and clawed his way through the salty air to the wheelhouse.As he shut the door, the roar of the Blackness lessened in his ears, the pain in his gut didn’t. The Blackness was still there like a hunger that would never be appeased, a hatred that would never be quenched. For a few minutes, he held the wheel in his right hand so tight that the skin turned a pale, translucent white around the black star-shaped tattoos on his knuckles, then he turned and opened the small brown cupboard behind him and took out the bottle. The clear alcohol washed down like liquid fire and went straight to the Blackness in his gut. It burned the fear in him as if cleansing it from him. He took another sip and another. He laughed at the ocean in defiance, he mocked it in the night. It didn’t scare him, nothing did. Nothing would again. He emptied the bottle and let his eyelids slide slowly down until his world was darkness and fire. The sound of the ocean faded.

When he again opened his eyes, he smiled and placed his tired feet on the small stool in his kitchen. Spring was in the air, the snow would be melting soon. He should perhaps go and get some firewood. Suddenly, the sound of shattered glass broke the silence and his heart jumped to his throat as he turned with a sneer and a raised hand towards the sound behind him. It was just his youngest. He smiled with relief. She was sitting with the top of a broken bottle looking at it with astounded surprise. The little angel. He was about to reach down and pick her up out of the broken glass with a smile when his wife took the girl instead and lifted her up. She took the bottle carefully from the child’s hands and held her while she slowly turned a wooden spoon in a large pot that contained socks, cloths and other things she needed for her goddamn kitchen. She didn’t look at him but he saw the purple shade on the skin around her eye and felt something in his right hand like a faint, shameful memory. He moved uncomfortably on the chair and looked away. He caught a mumbled apology just as it was about to slip out of his mouth and swallowed. Instead he got up and started picking up the broken bottle pieces with his hands but they were too coarse for him to get all the pieces. The smaller pieces kept slipping from his grip and finally he squeezed so hard that the pale glass cut into his flesh with a sharp, sickening stab. He cursed and withdrew his hand. Just leave the rest, I will get it. Her voice was frail, kind and sad. Disappointed was what it was. Disappointed. Always that. He could do nothing right. She didn’t even want him home, she would rather have him back on the goddamn ocean. She didn’t understand what the sea does to a man. She didn’t care to understand. He stood up slowly and the Blackness grew inside him. He looked into the eyes of his little girl as she slowly inserted her index finger into her right nostril while she watched him with curious scepticism. He punched the frame of the door as he went out to get firewood. On the way out he grabbed the bottle to keep him warm.

When the door closed behind him he was in the bedroom and the world was swimming. She was crying on the bed and he was like fire. The Blackness was growing and even the liquor couldn’t quench it anymore. It was eating him from the inside and all she could do was apologise and cry her fake tears. Sure, she was afraid right now but when he turned his back, she was turning the kids against him. Talking lies and being fake. Her wailing voice flooded his head and kept his thoughts from gathering. How many times did he have to tell her to shut up? How hard could it possibly be? He grabbed the bottle but it was empty and he turned towards her. Her face was pale and pasty except for the dark lines around her eyes. He couldn’t think with her constant, pathetic wailing. He needed some goddamn silence. The bottle came down in a perfect angle, shattered on her head right above her left eye and she fell down onto the bed, silent. A little cut on the skin where a tiny drop of thick, red blood started to form right above her eye was all that was visible of the injury. Yet. His hand started shaking, and the broken bottleneck fell to the carpeted floor. He knelt besides her immobile figure and cried. The tears overflew but they were black, thick tears like drops of oil and they smelled not like the salt of tears but the salt of the deep oceans; the rancid, stale scent of decay. He cried out in fear. What was he to do? He was alone against the Blackness and he couldn’t beat it. Not even the liquid fire could help him anymore. He closed his eyes in horror.

When he again opened his eyes with a tired, hateful effort, she was in the corner holding her fat, pale arms up in front of her as if they were some sort of shield. As if they would save her from what was so duly coming to her. She was the cause of all this, and she knew it. Her stupid voice, her sad looks; how was he supposed to gather himself and beat the Blackness when all she did was whine, nag and make him feel like he was a goddman sort of bastard? Like he was a bad man? The feel of the baseball bat was warm and comforting in his hands as he tightened his grip and the fading but still sharply visible tattoos of black stars stood out against the pale skin. His right hand remembered the feeling of ribs cracking under his punch and a metallic, delightful taste spread in his mouth. This feeling was all that quenched the Blackness these days and even if she didn’t want to help him in any other way, he would be damned if he didn’t make her help with what little she could. He felt his face retract in a sort of smiling grimace and wondered how the feeling of a skull caving in would be through his arms. Then just as he was about to bring down the bat his youngest was standing there in front of him. How quickly she had grown, he wondered. Her eyes were sharp like lightning, angry. He could easily slap her across the face and she would never get up in time to save the bitch. Easily. But he couldn’t do that. Not yet. She was all little girl still, no sign of womanhood. No sign of that transformation that would turn her into yet another lying, blaming whore. She wasn’t false yet and he could never hurt a child. Of course not. He wasn’t that sort of guy. With a sigh he took two steps back and sat down.

The couch was soft and the house was quiet. He looked down at the paper on the table in front of him. He couldn’t believe that he was getting divorced; that she was leaving him. The bitch was abandoning him and taking his little girls from him. She had no idea what the Blackness would do to him once he was alone. The front door opened and there she was. She was holding her purse in that weak, fearful way of hers as if he was going to hurt her. As if she couldn’t trust him. Do you have it?, she asked. I have it, he answered and pulled out the gun from under the paper and fired. The shot hit a distance to the right of her and burrowed into the wall. When the sound of the blast faded she was looking at him as in shock, as if she couldn’t believe what had just happened. He moved the gun to the left and fired again hitting the door with a sharp snap of breaking wood. She screamed and slipped as she tried to throw the door open and run out at the same time. He shot again but this time it hit the wall high above her head and she ran out. He heard the sound of car doors open and close, talking, crying and then a car driving away. He brought the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. He threw it angrily over into the corner and it went off straight into the wall. He lowered his head into his hands.

The Blackness consumed him but he didn’t move. All was black flame in him and he never saw his girls. The bitch turned them against him, she would stop at nothing to destroy him. How did he miss with the gun? He tried to fumble around on the floor for it. He seemed to remember that he kicked it under the couch but he couldn’t reach it. He reached as far as his fat, soft arms could into the darkness under the couch but he found nothing but dust. He fell asleep.

He woke and looked around. A girl’s hands were holding his. Her white, slim fingers looked mocking against his, leathery backhand with the faded, stretched tatoos that had grown into a permanently black smear around his knuckles. He felt the Blackness and the cancer eat him from inside. He looked up and saw his youngest standing by the door except that she had grown into a young woman. She was looking at him but it wasn’t she holding his hand. Her arms were crossed and her eyes were scathing and angry. He tried to talk but the words were mumbling, lame and stupid as it were not his own anymore. Fine, she hated him. She didn’t understand either, no-one understood him and what he had gone through. The bitch had turned them all against him. It had never been his fault, not really, and he never had a chance, but she would never get that. The little bitch. He coughed so hard that they called the nurse and when he looked up again his little girl was gone. He was alone and the nurse turned out the light. The darkness flooded in and his feet felt cold. Was there really a smell of salt in the air or was he finally losing it? He was freezing so hard, so hard. He was sinking, it was taking him. He wanted to fight and yell out, but he couldn’t. If the dark waters get you, there’s no coming back.

By Jeppe Gr├╝nberger