October 15, 2009

The Man We Saved


The Man We Saved
by Terence Kuch

SEAWEED CHOKED HIS IRON ROBE, arms clutched a blood-soaked plank. Lobster-trappers found him between two islands, passing by on the tide. He would have drifted right on through but they cast a rope and dragged him up onto the sand-grit shore,

AND WE PULLED THE WEEDS FROM HIM THERE, pried the iron robe off like cracking a lobster-shell, wrung him out. There he was, almost dead, greywhite inside his shell. We turned the plank so he was head-down, facing the way he had come, eyes into the morning sun, and one of us held his mouth open while the waters of how many seas? ran out into the sand. But his life ran down not so far, we pulled his life back, he lived

AND SLEPT FOR DAYS, taking a little food and sleeping again. Then one day he spoke. The braves attending him ran away. The chiefs would have done the same, but ashamed of fright they brought him to the king, themselves stood far back. The man began to speak again and the priests shook their amulets, calling on the gods to protect us (but the gods come only when they will, and then who can tell what they will do?). The man spoke

AS ANIMALS SEEM TO SPEAK, babble, rave, no way to tell where one word ended and another began. We thought he must be crazy, but not with that look on his face, fear (but we had saved him), doubt. The king stood up from his throne, walked out. The priests shook their clinking trinkets harder until sweat made reflections on their flesh. The man we saved was shouting strange cadences, gesturing -- but not the way we move our own hands. After a while there was no end but exhaustion, and the man we saved made noises like an animal lost in the woods. Wet salt dropped from his eyes. After

TIME AND TIME WE SAW HIM THEN as one like us but not so much like us. We taught him Tongue that first year, him we thought the babbler in the waves, and he taught us that he had a tongue, too, Othertongue! No one since the gods named all things had thought it could be so. Fat and bossy he became, the first we blamed on guavas and sitting around, the second who knows? He told us stories of his land out beyond the seas. He taught us rituals of that place, kneeling and mumbling that pleased him when we did it. That was the second year. And then he took a wife and fathered too many fatty little half-lobsters, drank too much fermented guava and made himself a nuisance relieved only by stories, stories of bursting fire and ships like floating castles, death and wreckage, and how he came to be drifting here this many days now so long ago. When the village children mocked and called him crazy (everybody knows there’s no such thing as bursting fire!) then the man we saved would bring out the iron robe (good for making war, he said), get it mostly on except the part around his belly, parade around shouting in Othertongue and making thrusting motions with his arm. Then the children would fall deathly quiet and not call him

CRAZY ANY MORE, for a while. But just now (can it be twelve years since he came to us? Fifteen?) I’m recalling it now, this history of the man we saved, because just now sails appear over the sea -- great ships like floating castles lying high in the water, rocking on the waves and coming forward with a slow swaying gait in front of the morning sun. The man we saved is here, on the beach waving and shouting, sweating, jumping up and down. Most of his children had dragged the iron robe down to the shore and he is awkwardly getting into it now (only the leggings and helmet -- too big for the rest of it). He’s shouting in Othertongue, pointing to himself. It seems he is being

SAVED. What sort of people are these, sending ships half a world away to find one wretched man they can’t have known survived? (He is no lord, he tells us, but an ordinary soldier; he doesn’t even know his king’s name!) The ship comes as near to shore as depth of sea permits. Boats put out from these ships, with lobster-colored men in iron robes carrying spears, flags, who can tell what else? The man we saved rushes to greet them. The iron-robed men pull their boats up on shore. One among them must be the leader: he points and others run. The man we

SAVED drops to his knees before the leader. The leader raises him up and takes off his own helmet: an honor, we think. The leader points: a man runs to the boats and returns with a flag on a tall staff. The leader hands the staff to the man we saved. He

GRASPS IT WITH BOTH FISTS AND THRUSTS IT HARD INTO THE FACE OF THE BEACH with many gestures and loud words. The leader laughs and clasps him round and slaps him on the back. But now the leader stops, looks around at our land. But now, but –

NOW OUR GODS BRING UP A GREAT WIND that shreds the flag, that pushes the lobster-ironcoats back into their ships, pushes the ships off, away, backwards through the waves, the man we saved among them. Somewhere in mid-ocean the gods cloud the minds of these men and tell them that there are no lands to the west at all, at all, only the ends of the earth where the sea drops off into a place of monsters. And it is now

MANY YEARS SINCE I WAS A BOY and the man we saved was found in the waves and I held his mouth open to drain the water from him so he could live. And it is now many years since I was grown and watched the lobster-men come in their high ships, and it is now many years since our gods


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Terence Kuch is an information technology consultant, avid hiker, and world traveler. His publications and acceptances include Abacot Journal, Clockwise Cat, Colored Chalk, Marginalia, North American Review, Northwest Review, qarrtsiluni, Slow Trains, Thema, and Timber Creek Review. He has studied at the Writers Center, Bethesda, Maryland, and participated in the Mid-American Review Summer Fiction Workshop. He is a member of the Arlington (Virginia) Writers Group and the Dark Fiction Guild. His irresponsible opinions, on language and other topics, can be found at www.terencekuch.com.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
I get most of my ideas from reading journals and other non-fiction. Jean Baudrillard's five-volume series (titled "Cool Memories") has been a wonderful source. Currently I'm writing a story inspired by Yeats' journal comment that he probably wouldn't live long enough to fill all the pages in his journal (so, fictionally, someone else 'helps out').