25 Mar Boneless Tide
“Boneless Tide”Written by Jordan B. Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 8 minutes
Once a month, The Boneless arrives on the tide. It’s a force of nature—like quicksand. You can’t reason or argue with it. All you can do is barricade your home and stay indoors.
We islanders know when it’s coming. We recognize the signs. Now and again, an outsider comes to visit and brushes off the warnings. They think we’re all simpletons. Or in some sort of crazy cult. When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, a rich man from the mainland laughed in my mom’s face when she told him The Boneless was on its way. Mom said half the island warned him to stay inside. But he didn’t listen. He even boasted about how he was going to leave his bedroom window open that night, acting all smug like he was proving how stupid we were.
Now the nurses wipe his ass and spoon-feed him three times a day.
It’s hard to get away from the island. As a girl, I dreamed of leaving. Of seeing the world. But Mom got sick and someone had to take care of her, so I quit school. Next thing I knew, I was grown and married to another islander. A fisherman.
Fast forward a few years. Married life didn’t turn out quite how I’d envisioned. Unfortunately, Mom had a very ‘what will the neighbors think’ attitude. See, here on the island, fishermen are well thought of. They’re like royalty. And it means divorcing one is like a cardinal sin. Mom buys into the whole shtick, of course. It’s hardly surprising—she was married to a fisherman for twenty years. Unfortunately, it meant anytime I tried to talk with her about my problems, she took my husband’s side.
“Oh, he’s out on the boat all day working hard,” she’d say. “I’m sure he doesn’t mean it, he’s just stressed. I had the same problem with your Father. Things will get better soon. Just wait and see.”
When I’d turn up on her doorstep with a busted lip or bruised neck, she’d brush it off. “Oh, the storms took a turn for the worse. I’m sure it’s tough for him out on the waves. I’m sure his mood will pick up when the weather does. Just wait and see.”
Wait and see. Wait and see. That was her answer to everything. I was sick of waiting and seeing. And I was sick of my husband. And the whole damn island. All I wanted was a fresh start. For years I dreamed of doing something—anything—to change my situation. To get out of my rut.
Well tonight, it finally happened.
The day started with a passive-aggressive note from my husband.
Go down to the market, get some supplies, and tidy the house. It’s arriving tonight. I’ll be at the docks until sundown.
Figures. The fishermen are always the first to know. I remember when I was a kid, Dad would take me out on his boat and point to the rainbow-colored sparkles sitting on the waves. That’s how we knew The Boneless was due for a visit.
At midday, I went down to the high street. The islanders were in an uproar.
All the merchants wanted to close up early and get home safe, but the shoppers were desperately trying to secure some last-minute provisions.
I wandered from store to store, fighting my way through the crowd, picking up the essentials. At the pharmacy, I asked the cashier for some sleeping pills. Told him they were for my mom—she always has trouble sleeping when The Boneless is here. Poor thing.
He rang them up.
”You best rush home and get locked up as soon as possible. It won’t be long now.”
“And give your husband my regards. This time of year, there’s nothing out at sea but choppy waters and dangerous winds. Lord knows he needs a decent meal and a warm bed at the end of the day.”
I brushed my hair back, exposing the black eye my husband gave me for ‘talking back’ last night. For a fraction of a second, a flicker of concern flashed across the pharmacist’s face. Then he looked away and started restocking shelves.
I resisted the urge to laugh. As if anyone would ever dare speak a word against a fisherman. We said our goodbyes, then I started home.
Along the way, as I walked along the coastal path, I stopped to watch the ocean waves.
Above the surf, rainbow-colored sparkled twisted and twirled. I stood there in a trance-like state, contemplating what I was about to do.
An elderly man gave me a nudge on the shoulder. I nearly screamed. “Best not to hang about,” he said. “There’s not much time left. Get home quickly. Don’t doddle.”
I sighed. “Yes. Yes, thank you.”
Further inland, Police officers wandered along the cobblestone streets, screaming at people to get indoors. Two of them broke up a gathering of teenagers and shooed them off.
I entered my house, made sure it was properly secured, then cleaned it from top to bottom. When everything was ready, I went into the bathroom and practiced my smile. It looked ungenuine, although that was nothing new. I didn’t think my husband would notice. Or care.
“Honey, would you like a glass of whiskey?” I said to my reflection.
My voice sounded high and peculiar. I cleared my throat.
“Honey, why don’t you have a glass of whiskey? I heard someone say there’d been some choppy waters lately. I thought you might appreciate a little reward for all your hard work.”
I waited for my husband, glancing at the clock every now and then. He wandered through the door a little after five and locked the front door.
Without saying a word, he tossed me his gear. I hung it up in the closet while he wandered around the house, checking everything was properly secured. Experience had taught me it was best to wait for him to get settled before saying anything.
He sat in the armchair by the fireplace and kicked off his boots.
“Tired?” I asked.
“Course I’m tired. What’s for dinner?”
“How’s cod sound? With some potatoes and peas?”
He held a newspaper in front of his face. “Fine. Just try not to burn it this time.”
I took the steps down to the cellar and flicked on the light switch. Pressed against the stone wall was the freezer. At the far end of the room were the double doors that opened onto the street, held together by a metal chain and padlock, the key to which hung from a nail in the wall.
I lifted some cod out of the freezer and tucked it under my arm. I carried it into the kitchen, got everything ready, and shoved it in the oven. Then I poured my husband a glass of whiskey, ground-up three sleeping pills, and mixed them with his drink.
I brought it into him. He turned the paper downward and raised an eyebrow.
“I heard someone down at the market talking about choppy waters. I thought you might appreciate a little reward for all your hard work.”
He lifted the glass, downed it in one, then snapped his fingers for another.
For a while I darted back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, doting on him. When he finished the second glass, I poured him a third. Then a fourth. And a fifth. Once dinner was ready, I set two plates and lit a few candles. We didn’t talk. We ate.
Occasionally his head nodded back and forth. I held my breath each time. Unfortunately, he kept snapping out of it. He’d shake it off, then return to his food.
After he finished the main course, I fetched him a piece of strawberry pie, plus one last drink mixed with two more pills for good measure. He gulped it down without so much as a thank you.
For a few moments, we sat in silence. Sweat beaded down my face. Eventually, he took himself into the sitting room, back to his favorite armchair. The clock above the mantelpiece chimed.
It was getting late. The Boneless would arrive any minute now. I was cutting it close. Real close.
My husband’s eyelids fluttered, then his head finally slumped forward. Quietly, I approached the armchair and pulled the newspaper away. Out like a light. Perfect.
I grabbed my handbag and coat, then raced to the front door and unlocked it. I didn’t have much time.
The street reeked of rotten flowers and spoiled flesh; the aroma was so intense it stung my nostrils. I took a deep breath, held it, then walked forward.
There came a sickening splat from the end of the street.
For a fraction of a second, I looked over and saw it. The Boneless. I was too late. The glare blinded me. As I held up my hand to shield my eyes from the light, I had the most wonderful feeling of serenity. A knowledge that everything would be alright. And that I wouldn’t have to worry about my husband, or the island, ever again. Soon it would all be over. My hand trembled.
No, screamed a voice in the back of my head. It’s a trick.
I’d taken several steps forward without realizing it. With a deep breath, I turned away. A chill ran down my spine as I became aware of a horrible writhing sound, like bugs crawling over one another.
I raced back to the front door and tried to slam it shut but couldn’t. Something blocked the frame. A slimy, luminous white blob spilled through the gap. I didn’t dare directly look at it. Not again.
The door creaked open as the blob expanded, filling the space between the door and frame. With my eyes facing forward the entire time, I raced down the hall.
From the sitting room, there came a loud thud.
I opened the door. My husband was on the floor, a puddle of drool leaking from the corner of his mouth onto the rug.
The room lit up as the writhing sound followed me. I bit my bottom lip, clenched my fists. I saw the glow of The Boneless reflected in the picture’s frames mounted above the fireplace. The stench was so strong it made me dry heave. There was no escape. Soon it would be all over. I had a lifetime of being a vegetable to look forward to. Maybe they’d put my husband and me in the same hospital bed, thinking that’s what we’d want.
I had a sudden idea. I rushed forward, towards the cellar. My husband stirred. The last thing I saw before exiting the room was him shaking his head.
He screamed, but not for long. His voice quieted, then became a terrible gurgle. I resisted the urge to look back.
I made my way down the steps into the cellar where I grabbed the key mounted beside the doors.
My hands trembled so violently it took three attempts to get the key in the padlock.
The writhing sound grew louder and louder until it was with me in the room. I unlocked the padlock, then unwrapped the chain from the handles. For a moment, I felt something warm and pulsating touch the back of my ankles. My whole body shivered.
At the last possible second, I pushed open the double doors and climbed onto the street. Then I got up and ran. I ran halfway across the island, towards my mom’s house, where I unlocked the front door and pulled it open.
I locked it behind me, pressed my back against the wall, and burst into tears. It was over. I was safe.
A light came on at the top of the stairs. I wiped away my tears and climbed to my feet. My mom appeared, still wearing her nightgown, and asked what happened.
I said I was worried about her and came to check that she was OK. We embraced.
She asked about my husband. I told her he was safe and sound back home. That I’d cooked him his favorite meal and then came over to check on her.
She insisted she’d make up the guest room and tried to lead the way. I kept telling her I would do it myself until finally, she relented.
I helped her back into bed, then gave her a kiss on the forehead. “I love you, Mom.”
She rubbed my cheek. “I love you too.”
In the kitchen, I helped myself to a bottle of wine and broke down in tears. Again. I kept thinking about what I’d seen. And heard. The awful sounds my husband made played in my mind again and again. I kept thinking about what I could have done differently. About whether there was another way. A simpler one. One that didn’t involve anyone getting hurt. I felt a growing knot of guilt in the pit of my stomach.
But it’s too late to change anything now. Now, all I can do is wait. There’s no way I could sleep. Not even if I wanted to.
At sunrise, The Boneless will depart. Then I’ll make my way down to the docks and sail my husband’s boat to the mainland. I’m finally ready to leave this damn place and never look back. By the time anyone realizes what’s happened, I’ll be long gone, and starting my new life.
I can hardly wait.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available