I've been working on what I like to call "The Great Cape Cod Horror Novel" since this past summer. I draw from my experiences as a commercial fisherman and a Cape Cod native. The book is still untitled. Here is the first chapter. Enjoy, and may your criticisms not be too harsh! (I'm a sensitive tough guy.)
Charlie DeSouza looked out at the swirling madness of the sea from the deck of the Amanda Louise and wondered why the hell he was there. He was pushing 60 and even though he trusted himself and the boat, it was never easy being off the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod in a strong Easterly wind. Especially a rainy, thundery, dark Easterly. The pounding waves reawakened the many aches and pains in his body that usually kept asleep. He'd been doing this his whole life, but sometimes, the sheer bizarreness of being on a boat in the middle of a gale made him wonder why he was still at it. It wasn't getting any easier, that was for sure.
He considered himself pretty goddam tough. His old man had whooped his hide more times than he could count as a kid, put the fight in him at a young age. The other kids in his hometown had feared him. The only kids that could hang with him were equally tough. Not a coincidence that most of their fathers were fishermen. Old school hardasses. Not like these younger guys, guys his age that went to the sea in the 60s and 70s to get away from the more rigid confines of dry land. Smart guys, some of them even with college educations that could have done anything they wanted to, but chose a life at sea to escape society's shackles. His dad's generation of fisherman did so because they could do nothing else. They were drunken maniacs that could work harder than a beaten slave for days on end at sea, then still muster the strength to beat the hell out anybody that looked at them sideways when they returned to shore for a two or three day drinking bender. They filled the dingy, stinking taverns of his hometown, gave the low-rent whores business and kept the moonshiners and bootleggers operating through the prohibition. They smelled horrible and acted worse. Most of them were related. They were the real Cape Cod.
His dad, old Chopper DeSouza, had put him to work on his ancient scallop dragger by the age of 10. They called him Chopper because his hands could shuck shellfish quicker than the human eye could register. Charlie inherited some of his old man's finesse with a clam knife. Shucking will make a man's hands incredibly powerful. A couple of good whacks to the face by those enormous hands taught young Charlie a lot about discipline. By the age of 14, Charlie's hands looked like Porterhouse steaks for palms with sausages attached for fingers. By the age of 16, while kids his age were listening to Beatles records and dressing like queers, his arms looked like Popeye's, and his shoulders looked like he was wearing football padding under his clothes. While the other teenaged inhabitants of his hometown Champlain were learning useless shit at Nauset High School in Eastham, which they had to drive a half hour to attend, he was already a captain. By the age of 18, when most kids were considered 'adults', he'd already seen a man die. An old drunk deckhand named Fuzzy Augustino had slipped and fallen off of the boat on an epically shitty March day. He hit his head on the drag rake on his way down and breathed in a couple lungs full of the Atlantic. It scared the shit out of Charlie, who was mere feet from Fuzzy when he went for that final swim. He'd gotten over it, however. You couldn't let all the bad shit in the fishing business get to you, you had to just keep on going forward, even when sanity and common sense would tell a normal person to turn around.
A shitty squall sucked to set lobster trap trawls in, but he'd been doing it forever. The physical pain sucked, so did the cold and the dumbass new stern man he'd hired on for the lobster season. Why, then, this uneasy feeling?
He couldn't quite put his finger on the weird feeling in his stomach, but his uneasiness seemed to feed on itself. After all, whenever he felt this way out at sea, something fucked up happened.
Johnny Howes was 23 years old, high as holy hell on prescription painkillers and scared witless on the back deck of the Amanda Louise. He tried not to let the scary as fuck old hardass in the wheelhouse who was his new boss see the terror in his eyes. Charlie DeSouza was not the type of person you wanted to show any weakness to. The previous summer, Johnny had worked with his buddies Justin and Steve, doing landscaping. After a drunken fight one night after work in their garage, they had parted ways, at least professionally. They still hung out and threw beers back now and again, but the fight had been very intense and many unkind things had been said. Better to part ways than stick together and compound their irreprebable differences. 23 was a weird age. Many of his closest friends, like Justin and Steve, were experiencing their first year in “the real world” after 4, (or in his friend Mike's case, 5) years of wild partying they called college. Johnny had never gone to college, and he was a bit jealous of his friends. They basically drank, did drugs and had sex with attractive young girls for 4 or 5 years, then got credit for it. Not the best way to prepare yourself for the real world, but good work if you could get it.
Johnny's grades had never been too good, and his parents couldn't afford to send him off to school. They were both drunks and drug addicts that lived in a disheveled little shack in Wellfleet. Johnny decided that he could make the trip out to western Mass every now and again to party with his friends and leave the thousands of dollars of debt and book learning to his buddies. Sure, the winters on the Outer Cape were the loneliest thing in the world, but Johnny managed to make new friends. Their names were Percocets and Vikodins, then more recently Oxycontins. New buddies that sheltered Johnny from the intense isolation of a winter on the Outer Cape. There were enough girls around that would give him blowjobs for a few pills, as well, so that helped matters.
Being a young man on Cape Cod was a very strange experience, though Johnny knew nothing else. The place was bi-polar in nature. From May to September, the Cape was overrun with tourists and foreign workers. For young guys like Johnny and his friends, it was basically a non-stop party that lasted for 5 months. You worked hard and partied harder and to hell with sleep. September and October were the best months, because all the tourists left and the weather was still okay and the locals had a blast. Then, around November, the fun stopped. Many of the businesses closed until the next spring. The place was like a ghost town. You went to one of the only bars open in town and saw the same five drunks every night. Work was scarce, pussy scarcer. The only thing that got most people through those lean months were drugs and alcohol, and those cost money. So you usually accrued yourself a mountain of debt, then had to bust your ass even harder the next summer to pay it off. And here he was, starting off on the long trail back into the black, and what a scary path he had chosen.
He was no stranger to boats, and as a surfer, he wasn't scared of the water. Between the meanness of Cap'n Charlie and the amount of heavy things swinging around on the boat and his feet slipping and sliding on the deck and the natural clumsiness that OxyContin gave him, he was scared shitless. He had good reason, this wasn't rookie fisherman nervousness. There was something really strange in Charlie's eyes today. The guy was an old hardass, nowhere near friendly. But those dark Portuguese eyes, framed by his big black beard and his dark, curly hair, held something Charlie had never seen today. The past couple of months had really sucked. He had spent 12 to 15 hours a day in Charlie's garage, doing gear work, which was just about the most monotonous thing in the world. Johnny would sneak out to his truck and take hits of weed and pop pills just to escape the boredom. Charlie was on autopilot the whole time, his hands flying as he prepared lobster traps and ropes. A cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a can of Bud nearby. Johnny had thought that maybe they would have gotten to know each other a little bit during these long days together, but Charlie rarely said anything. When he did speak it was usually to tell Johnny that he was doing something wrong.
Johnny had really looked forward to getting out to sea and throwing all 800 of the traps in the water so they could start making some money. He didn't realize that the sheer boredom of the trap work would be replaced by the sheer terror of a day like today. They were setting 20 trap trawls, each trap had about 50 feet of rope between it. This added a huge amount of danger to the proceedings.
When the traps went off the stern, Charlie barely pulled back on the throttle, so they went flying off one after another. A little thing like a kink in the line could be disasterous. Charlie was legendarily anal about his trawls and made Johnny keep a hand on the line the entire time. Johnny had nearly broken his wrist already today when a loop in the line caught his hand. He managed to pull his hand free, but had been pulled halfway across the deck first. Johnny figured he was in good shape, but he had felt like his heart was going to burst out of his chest after that experience.
The Cape had its own sick brand of discipline. Sure, you could drink and drug yourself into a blissful stupor for months on end, but you had to get out there and bust your ass, usually in life threatening ways, to pay for it. The place really was a bitch, for all its gorgeous beaches and good times. These thoughts and more raced through Johnny's head as he tried to steel himself for the next 20 trap trawl and all the little micro-crises that would doubtlessly occur during its journey from the deck at his feet to the bottom of the sea.
“Toss it!” yelled Charlie from the wheelhouse. Johnny threw the giant buoy overboard and watched as the line between the buoy and the first trap flew in front of his feet and between his hands. He divided his attention between the line in his hands to the traps on the deck to the stern of the boat where the traps would go flying into the water. With his attention so occupied, his hearing compromised by the sounds of the wind and the engine and the roaring sea, he never could have noticed Charlie leaving the wheelhouse and starting to walk towards him. He never could have seen the look in Charlie's eyes and the strange sneering smile/grimace on his face as he picked up a section of the trawl line from the coil and twisted it into a loop in his hands.