Visual Artist and Writer
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liquid-sunrise

Muk was paddling absently and automatically. He looked up for the first time in a long while. His forehead had been anchored to the surfboard, eyes closed.

Across the horizon, a container ship rode high on the water, heading south. The freighter was probably three miles out but its massive dark hull seemed to wipe out the view. Most of the night sky fell into its black hole. Tonight, riding high, the ship was empty. In a few weeks, it would pass here again, northward and low abeam, heavy with cargo. Muk rested his chin on his crossed forearms. He placed a bet with no one. “Ten bucks says, coming back from China, it’ll be filled with next years Christmas decorations.”

Muk thought he could hear the whine of the ships engines and the smack of its propellers roiling the water, but that was impossible. Silently, the ship slid from horizon’s view and the stars returned once again.

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“Money used to be so easy. As a cocky kid, I used to say making it was easy. Stupid fool. Money is youth. Who you gonna give a job to? Who you gonna capitalize? A fresh face with a wide smile and a kooky concept or a dour half-marker with experience and a better idea? Age doesn’t attract investment. Opportunity frowns at a wrinkle. It always has and it always will.”

 

Muk woke gently, rocking in the cradle of low-slung waves. He must have passed out or fallen asleep. His hands and arms were tucked under his chest for warmth. His feet were cold but he no longer noticed. Carefully and slowly, he flopped over, muscles numb or aching, onto his back. He lay still. The moonless sky was a dark theater to a heavenly and colorful display of revolving stars and constellations. The riot of color had no soundtrack, except for the wet, sloppy kiss of water passing under the surfboard.

Muk heard something, far and away, up ahead to the south. It sounded like a sigh, the soft exhale of a satisfied man. He heard it again. And rhythmically again. So natural. It had to be a whale, surfacing, on a journey to warmer Mexican waters. It was that time of year. He caught another exhale, softer, further away. And another, a little louder, closer and wet. A pod of whales had to be passing. Muk was a grateful observer to one of natures secret clubs. It must have been a large pod, for it passed slowly. Exertions in rhythm. Distance lost to silence.

“Looking back, the best times always involved friends. I’ve been lucky at that. Smart and funny friends. The zip and zing, connecting, laughing, the exchange oxygenates the soul…

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“But friendship can only go so far. The expression has many colors, but friendship is also a value, a depth of one’s character. I’ve also seen how thin that fabric can be. Betrayal is a game changer…”

Fitfully, Muk McKaylee began to fall asleep, rocking gently, on top of the world.

 

“I guess I’ve always been jaded. I’ve had the things everybody wants so bad. I’ve traveled a bit, but never enough. I’ve eaten well and drank heartily…

“I kicked my bucket list over a long time ago. I’ll never experience an eclipse from a mountaintop. I’ll never see earth from the porthole of the Virgin Galactic.

“I’ve never had conversations with God. Just random arguments, admonitions, and the occasional appeal.

“But I have seen great Beauty. I have been staggered by Awe and Appreciation. I have experienced several — events of transcendence, where I was given a glimpse behind the curtain and witnessed the mechanics that revolve the universe. Those privileged moments were staggering, but, then, ultimately, confusing and meaningless… Not for this world.

“Thankfully, I’ll miss Justin Biebers next deportation. Another Marvel film franchise. The loss of privacy. A warm noogie from Big Brother. Fuck that shit.

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“Is that all there is? The big whoop? No third act surprise? It’s time to burn it down!”

With an explosion of energy, Muk became focused on his present. Unnerved, unsure. Panic was a fuel, fear another. He was atop the board on his knees paddling furiously, madly, angrily. Stroke after stroke. Digging and pulling water.

He was making speed when he hit his wall. Mind and body ceased to function. Energy vanished. Muk pitched forward, his chin went down and hit the board. He had no time to react and protect himself; Muk was no longer there. He fell on his chin and crumpled over it, his skull ringing. His arms and legs unfolded and splayed out, ungainly, feet in the water. Muk lost consciousness as slowly as the blood began to flow from the gash under his chin.

While the water might be considered warm for the season, the temperature was far below body temperature. Muk had grown quite numb. His body was cold and in shock. Blood continued to flow from his chin, quickly washed away into the water. The smell of it was quickly attracting deep and distant attentions.

 

“The world changed too fast and too soon. I was looking away and I lost my place in line…

“I’ve always been a ‘possibility’ guy, never quite living in the present. My dingle has always been about what’s coming up next. I don’t feel that anymore, the pull, the promise of something better. That sweet song, I just don’t hear it. I don’t think I’ve heard it in a long, long time…

“I’m grateful. I’ve produced much. But luck has played out. I collected early. I’ve been lavished with heartfelt comforts, careless freedoms and sweet luxuries. But those days are over…”

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On the glassy and windless sea, the Hobie surfboard, drifted with the current. The propulsion of each little wave shoved the board forward, south, cutting to the west. The board was listing fifteen to twenty degrees to starboard. Across it, the body of Muk McKaylee lay unbalanced, an arm and a lower leg were trailing in the water. The blood, trickling from his chin, was leaving a signature.

Onward, off-kilter, the longboard and its sea had generated a momentum unto itself.

 

SMACK! The bow of the surfboard collided with a very hard, solid object and violently shoved Muk backward. The impact energized the balsa wood core and a wildly physical reverberation traveled up and down the length of the fiberglass and foam longboard. Unconscious, Muk McKaylee woke up instantly and forcefully. All of his deteriorating senses engaged at once, hyperactive, but his sight overrode all others. He looked up to see, to focus, to witness a wall of darkness, a black void, so wide and deep as to envelope the horizon, definitely a ship, a freighter, a propeller driven—Muk howled the scream of the violently near-dead, the horrific sound uttered by the lucky ones who have the time, the few seconds, the awe, to see it coming.

 

The screaming collision woke everyone on board the small crowded boat.

“¡Tiburón!” Tinto, dreaming of Las Vegas and a fabulous career as an American drag queen with full citizenship and healthcare, woke fast from a restless and nervous sleep. The loud impact had evidenced all of his fears of death at sea by a monstrous shark attack. “¡Ataque de tiburón!” he screamed hysterically, “¡Shark!”

All souls aboard the tightly packed twenty-eight foot vessel reacted to their imminent demise in different ways.

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After leaving the mothership northeast of tiny Santa Barbara Island, the panga had been lost at sea and adrift without power for the last thirty-seven hours. By the grace of the Virgin Mary, cutbacks at the U.S. Coast Guard and a coffee spill into a radar screen of the NSA, the Mexican fishing boat had miraculously drifted north, undetected, along the California coast, far beyond Malibu.

The captain of the voyage, Señor Valdez, had never before been to sea. His authority was established by the pistol in his belt. He was trapped at the stern, hedged in by the puzzle of scattered parts to the 1963 Evinrude outboard motor.

A young man, known only as Raul, leapt forward to the bow. With a quick glance, he reported, “It is a man!” The young orthodontist, escaping from Venezuela, reached over the rail, “Help me! I need help.”

His wife and grandmother stood and carefully moved out of the way.

Adolfo, a quiet middle-aged man, slipped in to assist. Together, the immigrants each grabbed an underarm and began to haul Muk McKaylee aboard the boat.

“He—he is alive!”

Author Gordy Grundy is an artist and arts writer. His visual and literary work can be found at GordyGrundy.com.

All imagery is provide by Art Photographer Nicole Boramanand.

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