The Kill Zone

Hemingway stands tall on the flybridge as he frowns upon William Faulkner who has plopped himself comfortably in Pilar’s fighting chair. “You’ve never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,” Faulkner arrogantly boasts. “You poor bastard, do you really think big emotions come from big words?” Hemingway raucously replies.

A cloud of dark dust rolls over the surface of the ocean, eventually reaching the deck of Maria. Enveloping the sea, it sandblasts the aging vessel with medieval darts from the menacing clouds. An empty tankard tumbles across the rocking vessel as the old captain awakens from a rum-soaked slumber. A worn copy of The Old Man and the Sea lays open on his chest. “Good God almighty, I must dry out,” he groaned, kneading his brow.

Beginning a slow troll in 2,000 feet of water, his bloodshot, milky eyes focus on a distant disturbance. The seemingly blue desert is suddenly fraught with life. A few hundred yards off the port bow great numbers of frigates soar beneath brilliant sunshine. The black, split-tailed pirates circle high above a large boil. “Fregata Magnificens, you have led me to the kill zone.”

The old man drives into the heart of the fray dragging a mackerel through the churning waters. The large conventional reel is set and the braided line taunt. Hundreds of bullet tuna and false albacore break the surface of the ocean, feeding on flying fish and ballyhoo. Launching from the sea, these tiny baits glide above the waves for great distances. The frightened fish take flight in an attempt to elude the pelagic hunters but are easily intercepted by the agile frigates. Above and below the waves, the slaughter is relentless.

Line suddenly pulls from the huge reel, and the thick rod doubles over as the vessel approaches the disturbed water. The rod tip vibrates, and the stressed gear begins a high-pitched whine as line sizzles from the corroded spool. Swallowing the bridled mackerel intended for marlin, an unseen giant dives deep into the canyons below. Baja shifts the engine in neutral. He then lifts the straining rod from the port-side holder and wobbles to sit. The full weight of the mysterious visitor is felt deep in Baja’s spine. A money fish he thought as he slid into the fighting chair. Placing the rod in the gimbal with his bare feet pressed firmly on the squeaky foot plate, he braces for another battle.

“Yes, I am hungover and should be holding my hands out in front of me to catch my aching head when it drops, but I bring you the fight.” Hours pass as sweat glazes the deep creases of his weathered skin. The captain leans forward cranking on the way down, then pulling the rod tip up while rearing back. The action is repeated in an effort to re-fill the reel. His legs cramp, and his shaking arms grow weak, but he continues to slowly gain line. The large predator has finally tired.

Easily the largest of all the tuna, a southern bluefin has taken the marlin bait. Its thick body is metallic blue above, and the lower sides and belly are silvery white. “I must harpoon this half grander, then lash him to the gunwale.” Placing the rod in the holder he reaches for a vintage dart. The massive fish finally surfaces close to Maria. Now with a clear shot, he heaves a toggle-iron harpoon with dynamically upsweeping rear barb deep into the tender flesh just above the pectoral fin. The rusty blade penetrates the dorsal aorta, causing bright red blood to pulsate from the great fish.

A perfect dart shot, not unlike those arrows that rained down in that vivid nightmare, he thought. The line quickly pays from a decaying wicker basket as the wounded leviathan makes a final attempt at escape. Unknowingly standing in a coil, the rope tightens around the old man’s ankle violently pulling him overboard. Ten feet below the surface he struggles for freedom. Nearing two atmospheres deep, his frightened eyes roll white as he slips unconscious, drawn deeper into the kill zone.