The men of the island are out hunting sea monsters when one of them falls overboard. The others search for him all night long, but there is no trace, no sign of him, nothing.
Eventually, in the morning, they give up and head home.
Great sorrow hangs over them all.
Upon arrival, however, the men are surprised to find their vanished comrade walking the streets of the town. When questioned, he claims to have never gone on the expedition.
I felt sick, he says, so I stayed home.
The men of the town can only stare at him. They were there, with him, on the boat. They saw him fall into the cold, dark water. They heard him cry as he fell.
They watch him now as he tells his story. He tells it over and over. And yet, no matter how many times they hear it, the men know it cannot be true.
But then– on the other hand– this they also know: the man could not have swum home. Not from that distance, not at night, not in waters that cold.
It simply could not have happened.
Either way, it just isn’t possible.
And so, in the end, there is nothing to do. One by one, the men return to their homes. They turn their backs on the man and the mystery he presents, and go back to the world that makes sense.
But from that day on, no one trusts the man. The eyes of the town turn upon him. He can’t go anywhere without feeling he’s being watched, can’t say anything without knowing he’s doubted.
And, in time, the man rebels.
In time, the man becomes angry.
I just didn’t want to go on that ridiculous hunt! he says. Is that so hard to understand?
The man begins to drink, then drinks more and more. One night in a tavern there’s a fight. Two men have been staring at him for too long.
One of them pulls a knife.
The man is found guilty of first-degree murder and is quickly sentenced to be hanged.
I acted in self-defense, he says. You all know I’m a peaceful man!
But no one in the courtroom even looks at him; no one cares what he says. The jury files out through the back door. The judge turns away from the bench.
The sentence is carried out in the town square, one year to the day from the hunt.
The entire town is in attendance.
The hanging does not go well.
The man’s neck does not snap when the platform drops. Instead, he writhes at the end of the rope until suffocation finally takes him.
The people of the town watch it all.
They stand there silently and do not turn away until the man’s lifeless body comes to rest.
Well that’s that, they say to each other. Guess that puts an end to that.
But that night, the people don’t sleep well. They do not sleep well at all. In their minds, they see the sea– the cold, dark sea– and in the sea, they see monsters. The monsters are rising; they are coming forth. They are climbing, crawling, sliding up the sand. They are moving over the island toward the town, moving through the streets of the town. They are moving around and under and over and through all the houses of the town, licking and smelling and touching and feeling and tasting the sleeping people of the town. They are laughing their hard, shrill sea monster laughs, and waving their prehensile hooked limbs.
And then all the monsters are in the town square, and they are raising up the hanged man.
In the morning, the townspeople rise as one and walk to the square and stand looking.
A body is still hanging from the gallows.
But the body is not that of the man.
By the stroke of noon, the ships are embarking. The bowsprits point the way. The harpoons have been sharpened, and the nets are patched.
This time, the men are shackled in place.
Read more about Ben here.
Read more about Justin here.