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Some Men Break

Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and more. To learn more, visit alexisahunter.com.
He had a driftwood heart; he had sleepy-ocean eyes.
I lifted my bloodied head from the sand and there he was, standing on spindly branching legs. Battered wreckage that had long since been washed thin and worn by the waves. I felt the pound of the surf in my temple, in my throat, in my groin.
I coughed up the salty sea and he only stood watching.
As my vision blurred out, I began to think he was only flotsam. Only jetsam. Not a man at all.
My testament is written in the sand. My finger is raw from the etching of my words.
Blackened clouds boil, encroaching on this island, and I laugh, high and shrill.
And I write faster--while he watches.
The sand scraped under me. I choked. Coughed. Waterlogged and gagging, I rolled to my back, aware of a great pressure on my wrist.
My driftwood savior pulled me free from the tide. I couldn't see his face, only those spindly legs. They looked so smooth, polished like sea glass. I longed to touch him, but his fleshy fingers gripped my wrist.
Sand in my ears, gritting between my teeth, clinging to my eyelashes. I shuddered. He pulled.
I fell into nightmares of half-memories. The last moments aboard the ship before they threw me overboard for what they termed "perverse desires." Long, long hours of treading water, dizzied by the sun.
I am being possessed. He says nothing, does nothing. He won't explain why I'm changing.
The elements beat upon us, yet he doesn't huddle. He doesn't shiver. The waves, the sun, the sky--all conspire against us. How much longer before I break?
My memories are a plague. I wish I could stop remembering the smell of sweat on Captain Doritt, or the feel of his skin--
The driftwood man is losing skin to the slow progression of bark.
I am losing skin, too. Yesterday, I possessed toes. Today, only wooden nubs.
Thin reedy grass fluttered above me, casting faint shadows, faint respite from the sun.
"Thank you," I whispered, hoarsely.
His face remained impassive.
"Who are you?" I coughed. "W-what are you?"
His eyes lost their sleepy-ocean blue. They became black, baleful clouds. "I am what it makes me." Darkness crept across his features as he stared off into the horizon. His jaw clenched, and I knew he wished me silent.
I was exhausted, but not yet broken. "How long have you been here?"
His eyes flashed lightning. His voice was a whisper holding power. I yearned to hear him shout.
"It will make you, too." He forced his wooden limbs forward, every movement slow and painful looking.
"It won't!" I called after him. "I won't let it."
"You didn't save me," I say, bent back aching as I scribble in the sand. There's a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder. His tanned face is cast yellow by the eerie light of the sky. His eyes meet mine, a softness seeping into their blue-green depths.
"I did not."
"You damned me," I say, and my finger stops. The clouds of madness part in my brain. I look down to my body and both hate and love its similarity to his. We are both spindle-legged; we are both shipwrecked; but he has a driftwood heart and I still fight that last conversion.
Pressure. The wind sharpens its sword against my skin; the sand scrapes my humanity away. The elements steal their portion of my flesh and leave me wooden, leave me hard, leave me worn.
I want to snap my wooden limbs in half. I want to break.
My driftwood man is silent, more often than not. I scream at him in the cold nights, when the rasping of my voice provides a pitiful kind of heat. His hands find me and they know me, but he is so damn silent.
I push him away, more often than not.
But he, like the tides--like the sky, like the sand--is persistent. And I am lonely. The captain cast me off; what loyalty do I owe him now?
For so long, I clung to his memories. I thought him lagan--I thought I could reclaim him one day.
The captain is not lagan. He is derelict. I have no hope of him returning. He values life above love, and can I blame him?
The storm is upon us. It rages, it pounds, extinguishing my testament from the sand.
It was futile to write my tale. Futile. And yet, I clung to it.
Now the tempest has taken my last lingering hope. I am wooden, to my throat, and I hear it snap. There is no pain as I collapse in on myself.
My driftwood man moves with an urgency I've never seen. At my side, his wooden hands clatter my pieces together. But I cannot be reassembled.
"No," I whisper with my driftwood jaw. "No."
He stops. The rain streams down his face. I think I am crying, or perhaps it is only the rain. I think he screams, or perhaps it is only the wind.
We are almost the same now. This place has made us so. Our bodies are wooden and worn, and only our hearts differ.
I touch his driftwood heart, in the cage of his branching ribs, and it is smooth and sweet.
He touches the slowly failing organ in my chest. And I wonder, did I make a mistake in breaking?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 28th, 2015


This particular story was born out of a very specific image of this driftwood man. I find myself particularly drawn to stories of metamorphosis. I wanted to play with how the wind and the sea and the sand wear on my main character, and I guess that resonates with me because of how the world itself wears on people--this character, myself, all of us. One of my biggest struggles with this story was maintaining the style, but still managing just enough clarity to that it wasn't a frustrating read.

- Alexis A. Hunter

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