AMBERGRIS IX

I do not understand why you think simply denying my presence will erase me.


I have always been here.


If you wish to kill me, you must wield the cowardly axe yourself.


Note: Jackdaw’s journal ends very suddenly at the end of the next page.


I’m beginning to wonder if this entire voyage was an extended metaphor, a fiction he was using to explore his inner turmoil. There isn’t any other feasible explanation. How else could he have survived to write this journal?


We are no strangers to exercises in denial. Even if truth is subjective — that is, existing independently of physical reality — you cannot banish a truth through force of will. It will continue to suffocate inside you, and eventually, it will mutate and fester.


What is your truth, Farrow? Does it wait for you at the edge of the woods? Or is it here, with me?


Shut up


I understand your pain! I know it well! Don’t push me away just because I remind you of it.


We are still connected. You stitched us together and you cannot easily rip open that seam.


I just       wanted to come here and explore an old house. I was doing a favor for my friend. Where the FUCK do you get off doing this to me I didn’t come here to save you or whatever the fuck you think it is I’m doing by talking to you.


I just want to go home.


Me too

No. fuck you. Fuck you fuck you fuck you






I’ll leave you be.


yeah that’s right, FUCK OFF

You annoying fucking obtuse fucking asshole

Fuck off and go away and just


Dear Simon Dear Quinn,

I got in over my head. I’m sorry for not coming home. I didn’t kill myself, the house did, but it’s not your fault. Please don’t blame yourself. I love you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years, because I wouldn’t be here without you. I couldn’t ever repay you, just like I couldn’t ever make it up to my parents.


Please give these notes to Simon and my dad —


Dear Simon,

Follow your fucking dreams, sweetheart. You’re going to be amazing. It doesn’t matter what you decide, because no matter what, nothing can stop you from being you.


Love Uncle Ben

Dad,

I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can say. I’m sorry I said those things because you sure as hell didn’t deserve them. You were always there for me when I needed it and I was just too self-absorbed to realize. I wish I had called you and told you when I needed help. I know you would have dropped everything to come and get m

                               A R E     

                                     Y OU       CO M  I N   G ?


                  I

                      AM      W     A  I T  ING 



Fuck.


My lungs filled with water.


And inside me, the water turned thick and coarse, mixing in my bloodstream and turning to mud and earth and soil. I was, all at once, drowning in icy water and suffocating below the ground.


I clung fast to Malcolm’s hand, because though I hated him with every fiber of my being, he was the only anchor in the primordial chaos that was consuming me. I dangled helpless over a gaping maw, and it was his grip alone that kept me from tumbling in.


So this is death, I thought, though I understand now that it was not death I was experiencing. Death is not a process or an experience. It is an absence of life, a nothingness — at least, that it is what I suppose it is. I have never been dead. In any case, I do not believe in the pretty fantasies of Christ’s heaven, and it has been decades since I could in any good conscience call myself a Christian.


Not death, then. It was not a state of nothingness, but a process of transformation. I felt as though I were passing through a door. Like I was answering an invitation.


A part of me knew I was leaving something vital behind. I was rejecting some truth of myself, perhaps, or abandoning an essence which, though I had not been aware of it before, I would nonetheless sorely miss. At that moment, I did not care. I would have done anything to avoid the drop into that yawning abyss, and so I clutched Malcolm’s hand and let him pull me, inch by inch, away.


Malcolm drew my body through slowly, and when I thought my lungs would burst, I felt my hand break through a crumbling ceiling and daylight spilled in upon me.


Sand and soil filled my mouth. I spat and choked and thrashed, worming my way toward the light. With my other hand, I dug around the hole, and after what might have been a minute or an hour, I emerged into the open.


I had dug myself alive out of a shallow grave in a shady, coastal wood. Fiddler crabs and sand mites fled as I kicked myself free of the dirt. I was not quite naked, but the rags I wore were so tattered they defied any attempt at identification. The grave marker, likewise, was a cross of driftwood with no epitaph or name.


And my body. My body was not as it had been.


I looked down at myself, in rags which did not adequately cover me, and I did not recognize my own flesh. It was not my own flesh. My hair was long and black, my skin a cool and sickly pale. The realization was visceral, horrific. I had discarded myself. I had abandoned him, left him in that otherworldly place with the corpses and memories of my crewmates. I wore Malcolm’s flesh now, the man who I had murdered, who had tried to murder me.


The next realization was slower. My chest was smooth and unbound. There was stubble on my cheek. I put a hand to my face. It came away wet. That tear on my fingertip was enough to break my silent reverie. I leaned forward as the weight of my ordeal pressed down on me, and I wept, hoarse and loud. Horror and joy clashed within me as I wept in a shallow grave until the shadows grew long.


It was not far to a little town which I found by following the gleam of a lighthouse, and there I learned I had emerged on Ocracoke, a barrier island on the outer banks of North Carolina. A gentlewoman found me stumbling along the beach and took me to the only doctor on the island, and under his barrage of questioning, I told him I had been a sailor on a whaling ship, that the ship had sunk, and that I was the only survivor.


I do not think the doctor believed me. There had been no whaling ship that he knew of in sight of Ocracoke, and it was impossible that someone in my state could have drifted very far. But he could pull no other explanation from me, so in the end, he conceded to my version of events.


And then he asked my name.


Jackdaw, I wanted to tell him, but the name would not come out of me. It was trapped with my body in that in-between place. It may have been some supernatural affliction, but in truth I think I could not bring myself to disrespect Hamish's memory by invoking the name he had given me. Not now, wearing this flesh. 


Instead I blurted out the first name that came to mind, naming myself with as much thought or care as a man names a dog. 


"John," I said. "John Madigan." 


And ever since I have lived as him.