Chapter 2: Sabonis
The waves subside, fading like sobs. Fog swirls in and consumes the beach. I see only feet—wrinkled, white, woven with seaweed. These are not the feet I carried into the world twenty-two years ago. Delicate toes. Elegant insteps. Slender ankles and a graceful swell of calf. My new body beguiles me. I find myself attracted to my own curves.
I move my head towards the opacity to my right. A still, dark hulk crouches on stout haunches behind me. It is inanimate, but its regular iteration of curves suggests something more animal than mineral.
The remains of a whale? I see ribs but no head or tail. They look too dark, too soft to be bone.
The thinning mist exposes the beast as a boat. Its ribs are timbers, splayed and shattered, splinters weathered smooth. It is thrown topsy-turvy, propped prow to the sky on the stub of its mast and the branchless bole of a tree impaling its deck.
Below the boat’s gap-toothed rail, lumpy things lounge in piles that heave and shift.
No—people. Sharing the sorry shelter of a broken hull. Clothed in bits of rag and seaweed sashes. Some sit like monkeys picking and grooming each other’s matted hair. Others slumber in tangles of heads and limbs on laps.
Out of the fog, a man walks the surf line. He carries a stick over one shoulder—an oar—jagged where the blade had broken off.
The man diverts his gaze, spots me and veers away from the breaking surf. I play dead, but it’s no use. He comes straight for me and stands, leering down his prominent nose. A purple scar curves up one cheekbone. Clumps of dried sea foam fleck his beard.
I draw my knees up. Cross my arms over my chest.
“My, you’re a pretty little thing,” he says with an accent that suggests Tri-state, New York Metro.
“Fuck off,” I say, my voice distorted by the liquid in my throat.
“Oh my God! She speaks American! About time one showed up. What happened? Someone over there find a cure for death?”
I vomit up another liter of water.
He squints and leers at me as if I’m a photo in a girlie mag.
“Where you from?”
“I said, fuck off.”
“Man, you’re slimy. Must be brand new. You just float in?”
“Where are we?”
“Lethe,” he says, squinting at me so hard, his upper lip puckers, exposing a toothy grimace. “Gosh, but you’re pretty. I don’t mean to stare.”
“I’m not a girl … just so you know.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“My name’s Dan. Dan Tompkins.”
He blinks at me, and blinks some more. “Who cares? You’re still pretty.” He smirks and bites his lower lip. “Hah! I bet you’re one of their screw-ups.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your body. Sometimes they mess up and give people the wrong one. I bet they’ve gone and turned you into you a tranny.”
A pressure wells in me and builds till I feel like I might burst. “What the hell is this place?” I say, sputtering. My unintentional but apt choice of words resonates sickly.
“You’re dead, kid. But you knew that, didn’t you?”
I remember driving in a rain so strong my wipers can’t clear it. I pull off the road. What came next is a blur—smashing glass, cracking skull, crushed chest, stifled breath.
“Of course, it’s normal to deny it. Folks need time to adjust to the idea.”
“No. I’m dead. I know I’m dead.”
I’m way past denial. It’s tough to deny your own death when you were tangled in seaweed, ten feet below the surface for weeks on end. Still, it’s a horse kick in the gut every time I affirm it.
“Atta girl! Er … boy.” Most Floaters are clueless when they wash up here. Looking for rides back home. Wanting to borrow a phone. Some never snap out of it.”
“And who are you?”
“Marco Sabonis. Which you would already know if you weren’t such fresh meat.”
“Oh? Why’s that?” I say, though I’m not so sure I care.
“Everybody know me. I’m famous here. Word on the beach is that I’ve been to Hell and back, ’cept that’s not exactly true.”
“Back? But I thought this was Hell.”
“Hell?” Sabonis laughs long and deep. “No way, kid. First of all, there ain’t no such place. Avernus might suck, but I wouldn’t exactly call it Hell.”
“So this place is … Avernus?” I say, confused.
“No, kid. I told you. This is Lethe. And it’s a good place to be … relatively speaking.”
Something drags itself around a large heap of seaweed. I take it for a giant crab, but it’s a man.
He has no legs. He spots Sabonis and rises up on his arms, squinting through a scabby mass obscuring his eyes. His posture relaxes and he continues on, swimming through the drier sand with a breast stroke, thick arms exploding into the sand, trailing shredded thighs like twin rudders behind him.
Rattles in the fog. The mist peels away to reveal a human shape atop a dune. Another man, naked apart from a bandolier of little, black boxes slung over one shoulder. His gaze slides over me and lingers on the legless man.“Uh-oh,” says Sabonis.