Published on 2013/08/18

Fool's Venture

Vela Damon

It’s been almost two years since I set off on this fool’s venture—on a much smaller boat than where it all started, of course. It’s not like they rent out ocean liners, and Goddess knows I couldn’t afford one if they did. So I picked up an old pocket cruiser secondhand from my hippie friend Marcel. The boat’s not much to look at, but Marcel kept it up well enough when he wasn’t off at some granola seminar or anti-whatever protest.

Spirit Quest is her name. The boat, I mean. Marcel named her, and I didn’t bother changing it. The name’s as good as any, and I have bigger fish to fry.

And broil. And bake—damn I’m sick of fish. If I ever get back on dry land for good, it’ll suit me just fine if I never lay eyes on a fish again. I don’t even want to see a fish stick. Not even a cartoon fish or one of those singing trouts everybody’s uncle is oh-so-pleased to get for Christmas.

Call the Morton’s fisherman...

That damn jingle’s always in my head. The Morton’s fisherman can bite me.

So far, I’ve covered a good bit of Asia and almost all the western seaboard of the U.S. This whole fiasco started on an Alaskan cruise. Seems like it should’ve been somewhere more exotic and I should’ve been doing something more exciting than snapping pictures of sea lions and polar bears, but that’s how I met Johannes. He’s a nature photographer, working for a non-profit whose mission is saving Alaskan wildlife. He should’ve been more worried about saving himself, but neither one of us thought the old woman was really a gypsy. I mean, she said her name was Esmerelda. How much more cliché can you get?

All Johannes did was take her picture. Guess that was a big no-no.

He said he’d wait for me, however long it took. The words would’ve meant more if the lead-in hadn’t been the old woman saying “let’s see if your whore can save you”, but I still appreciated the sentiment and the vote of confidence on Johannes’ part.

For all I know, by now he’s sunk to the bottom of the ocean, gotten sucked into some underwater cave or drifted off to Timbuktu. I said I’d search for him however long it took, but maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to make such an open-ended promise. I already gave up everything: my career, my house, almost all my savings. I’m sick of living on a shoestring just like I’m sick of fish, and I’m sick of fish because I’m living on a shoestring—they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Goddess, would I kill for peanut butter and jelly...but that ran out weeks ago.

At least I’m able to get off this damn boat sometimes, when I abandon my spyglass in favor of searching the shoreline on foot. Imagine scouring thousands of miles of coastline and being forced to poke through every seaweed-laced pile of crap along the way—non-stop excitement, lemme tell ya. Of course, a lot of the scenery’s beautiful and I’ve met some interesting people, but I have to keep my eyes on the prize. No time for oohing and aahing over rocky promontories and snowy peaks and sandy dunes. No time for kicking back with a cold one and chatting up the salty dogs (or dogettes—I really miss having girlfriends).

Every time I do stop, I feel guilty. Poor Johannes: trapped, waiting, with only me to rescue him. I’d feel sorry for myself if I was in his place. When I still had a career, I sold office equipment. Who ever had to rescue anybody from a maniacal copier or a fax machine run amok? What the heck do I know?

One thing I do know is that I’ve reached the southernmost coastal city in the U.S.—at least on the western side—and still no sign of Johannes. It’s crossed my mind that someone else might have already found him. Something like that would’ve made headlines, but I had to sell my laptop and cancel my cell service a while ago, so I could’ve missed it. Maybe a government type found him and he’s off in some secret laboratory getting poked and prodded. Maybe a circus type found him and he’s the new main attraction in the side show.

Or maybe I’ve finally found something.

San Ysidro Junk Shoppe the sign says. It’s spray painted on a plastic banner that used to say Welcome Home, Esmerelda. All symbolism aside, the sign’s pretty useless, strung over a beach bum’s shack filled with every sort of junk you could imagine: ripped cabanas, mate-less flip flops, half-used bottles of sunblock, bikini tops with torn straps, styrofoam ice chests with no lids. Who would want any of this crap?

“Help you?”

The man pushed aside the canvas flap covering the back doorway of the shack and stepped inside. I’d imagined that there’d be some sort of proprietor, but assumed that he (or she) might have been off scavenging for more junk.

Long stretches without human contact have left me a little jumpy. A way-too-long stretch without contact contact has left me self-conscious in the presence of men, at least ones where I might be interested in some contact if I wasn’t on a mission. The fact that the proprietor falls into that category...surprising. I’d expected long wild hair, crazy eyes, rants about the government or alien abduction or the end of the world.

Wrong on all counts, except for the hair. It is long, but not wild. A bit of a beard, neatly trimmed, dark brown eyes, golden brown skin. A beach bum version of Jesus, if you can imagine Jesus in board shorts and nothing else. Either way—Jesus-in-disguise or Just-cute-guy—I’d shown up unprepared.

He smiled, which would’ve been nice if it wasn’t obviously pity-induced. Great. Between me and the Heavenly Hobo, I’m the pitiful one.

“Are you lost?”

I tried to return the smile, but probably just succeeded in looking more pitiful. “No. I’m searching for something.”

“What sort of something?”

I’ve had to do this a couple times before, running across other scavengers. I always hate trying to explain it. “It’s very...unique. You’d know it if you saw it.”

“That doesn’t give me much to go on. ‘Unique’ can be in the eye of the beholder.”

“No, this is definitely unique, no matter who’s beholding. Have you found anything really unusual in the past couple years?”

“Unusual in terms of finding it on the beach or unusual in terms of finding it anywhere?”

“Anywhere.”

“Maybe, but you have to tell me more so I can know for sure.”

I took another look around at the junk. “Do you have more than what’s here?”

He nodded. “But I’m not showing you unless you tell me more. Can’t take the chance.”

Fine. I took in a breath, let it out as a sigh. “I’m looking for a strange bottle with what looks like a man inside.”

“What looks like a man or what is a man?”

“Look, if you’re just going for more of a buildup before you start laughing and calling me crazy, save it. I’ve heard it all before. Do you have it or not?”

He paused a moment, looking me over, then walked out, motioning for me to follow. I thought he’d lead me to his car, figuring he might keep the valuable stuff locked in the trunk, or maybe he might have a storage shed tucked off in back. Instead, he headed for a neat little bungalow set back a ways from the water.

“Is this your house?”

“Yeah. You thought I lived in the shack?”

“Well...yeah. I guess.”

He didn’t comment, just opened the screen door and held it for me to enter behind him. The abrupt shift from bright sunlight to near dark left me blinking.

“You okay?”

“Why’s it so dark in here?”

“So you won’t see me pulling out the butcher knife. Why else?”

“Really not funny.”

“I like to nap during the worst of the heat, so I close the curtains. Better?”

Not really, since that left me picturing him in bed, but that’s better than agonizing death and dismemberment (at least I hope it would be, or the disappointment would be almost as bad as the AD&D).

Once my eyes had a moment to adjust, I paused a bit longer to look around the place. Nothing sinister. All clean lines and seaside colors and smart use of limited space. The Heavenly Hobo has good taste, or at least a good decorator.

He led me onward to a closet of a guest room with a different sort of guests, the sort you’d house in a room full of terrariums. I stepped over and peered inside the closest one. A tiny sea turtle peered back at me from behind its rock.

“My work,” H.H. explained. “All orphaned or injured. I save as many as I can.”

He stepped over and pulled away a black cloth covering the middle terrarium in the far left corner. Inside: Johannes’ bottle. Broken. It has to be the same one, unless some oddball bottle manufacturer decided to do a special run, but I doubt there’d be much consumer demand for any product that would come in a creepy glass container shaped like a deformed heart with a crack down the middle.

“Is this the bottle?” H.H. asked.

I nodded. “Where is he?”

“He doesn’t live in here. He did, for a while, until I found the dollhouse. Come on.”

I thought “dollhouse” might have been a term for some rudimentary small dwelling H.H. had scavenged up, but turns out it’s an actual dollhouse. The old-fashioned kind made of wood, so big it takes up the entire side table where it sits by the couch out on the screened back porch. Three stories high, filled with miniature furniture, decorated with little drapes and artwork on the walls, rugs on the floors. Every little girl’s dream, and not too shabby for a little guy, either.

So many details...even place settings at the tiny dining room table. Two of them.

I finally spotted Johannes, asleep in the master suite, curled up with his arm around a fairy-sized dark-haired woman.

I sank down on the couch. All this time, all this way. For what? “Who’s the woman?” I asked H.H., after far too long a pause.

“I guess you weren’t looking for her.”

I shook my head.

“So you and Johannes were...”

“I thought so. I was supposed to be the only one who could save him.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. He and Esmerelda came here together.”

“What? That’s—it can’t be. Esmerelda’s an old woman. She’s the one who did this to him.”

“That’s her grandmother. She’s named after her.”

“So she cursed her, too?”

H.H. nodded. “Once Little Es realized what was happening to Johannes, she jumped in after him. They told me the story, what happened on the ship, but...”

“Nobody ever mentioned me.”

“I’m sorry. No. They both said someone might come looking, but I always thought they meant Old Esmerelda.”

“That banner with her name…that’s a coincidence?”

“No. Little Es is my sister. Half-sister. Different mothers. Old Esmerelda isn’t my grandmother, thank god. If she was...”

“You might’ve ended up like them, too.”

“Probably would’ve, since I would’ve gone to visit her, too. We put up the banner when Little Es was supposed to be home from her visit, almost ten years ago, right after she graduated high school. Old Esmerelda said she went out on a date, gave a description of the guy and everything. I guess I’m supposed to say we suspected her all along, but if we thought she was capable of something like that, Dad never would’ve let Little Es visit.”

“How many people know about this?”

“Just me so far. We’re still debating about telling Dad, and trying to figure out how to stop Old Esmerelda from hurting anybody else without Little Es having to go public. She’s been through enough. You won’t tell anybody?”

I shook my head. “What good would it do?”

“That’s pretty big of you, considering.”

“Was that supposed to be a joke?”

He smiled. “Lame, I know. Did you want to wake Johannes up? Surely you want to say something.”

“No. There’s no point in that, either. I’m just gonna go.” I stood, moved to exit via the porch door.

H.H. rested his hand on my arm. “They always sleep during the day so they can be up at night when fewer people are out. They’ll be down for hours still. You’re upset, and you’ve come all this way...that’s your 27 footer out there?”

I nodded. “She performs better than she looks.”

“I wasn’t putting her down. Just saying it looks like she’s been out awhile. You could let her have a break, stay for dinner. When’s the last time you had a decent meal? No offense; I just remember how it was when we were looking for Little Es. No rest for the weary.”

“What are you having?”

“Just throwing some steaks on the grill.”

“Tuna steaks?”

“Real steaks. New York strip.”

“Is there beer?”

“Uh huh. You can have one now if you want. Come on.”

I followed him back inside the house, a new song stuck in my head. Jesus is Just Alright…


Vela Damon grew up in the rural south and now lives in The Lone Star State. Her work has appeared in 101 Words, Leaves of Ink, Dark Dreams Podcast, The Subterranean Quarterly and several other publications. Find Vela's blog at her website, and visit her on Facebook.