Story by Shawn Cunningham
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
There was a story floating about the USS Buzzard regarding a ship that sacrificed ‘unworthy’ or ‘unfit’ crew members to a monster lest the whole ship be swallowed into the depths.
“Tentacles as high as towers and just as shiny as the water,” and “A single white eye upon its ghastly form,” were just some of the bits and pieces that poured from the mouth of Officer Hawkins.
In the belly of the USS Buzzard, Officer Hawkins would sit in the back corner, left foot propped up on his right knee, left hand hanging off his left knee, his right hand propped up on the broadside of a cargo barrel. His back would be arched forward, like a panther, and his head would hang low as though the noose had just snapped his neck. The noose didn’t snap his neck; it just left a raw scarred flesh, like fish scales, that dug deep as it looped around his throat.
When the moon was high, a pale orb gazing down from a starry sky, Hawkins would simply sit in his spot and start talking. No one asked him to speak, and much of the time no one was even looking at him. He just started speaking, words coming bubbling out of his crooked salt out of the earth smile, his lips furled like a rabid dog, his yellow teeth visible.
It was his voice that drew people in. A crew of ten men would start to shuffle about, the wooden broads creaking under their weight. Some would climb into their hammocks and cover their faces and or look to the side, but Hawkins voice would fall as leaky water dropped onto their faces. Others would huddle on the floor in front of Hawkins’ foot, listening keenly. Many would stand off in the opposite corners away from Hawkins with their arms crossed and their faces blank, or simply turn their backs to them and pretend to engage in different conversations.
Benjamin Giles, known affectionately as Benny, would be one of the later peoples, standing amongst the largest men with the biggest arms. The big men would talk about the demon drink and money and women and Benny would stand there, unsure as what to say.
For a long time, Benny thought he was an embarrassment. Whenever Hawkins spoke he couldn’t help but hear him, and whenever he heard him Benny’s own wiry frame wobbled like the string of a harp and his stomach heaved in and out from the mast of a ship during an especially turbulent storm he could only dream of sailing through, but after a while he saw that the bigger men were only speaking because they were trying to drown out Hawkins.
Benny saw firsthand that the men, all much larger than him, would let their emotions slip through their hard faces like ocean water pouring through a leak. Their eyebrows would furrow, their lips would quiver, their knees would wobble. These mistakes would only last for a few seconds at most, if not a half-second before they’d fix themselves back up and carry on with their blank expressions and conversations they’ve had a million times over. Oh, but the fixes would only last about ten seconds or so as Hawkins’ soft voice would soon envelop them again like smoke. It was hard not to listen to him; his eyes would go right through them like a sword even with the merest glance and he emphasized each syllable with the clarity of an orator.
One night Benny turned to look at Hawkins and shouted, “Won’t ya shut up?”
“You’d know the monster was there because of the sound, the echoes of screams from victims before that went off unheard.”
“SHUT UP!” Benny screamed.
Hawkins stared at him.
In fact, the whole crew stared at him.
“You scared boy?” Hawkins asked, unmoved from his position, “We all should be scared.”
“Oh, leave the boy alone,” someone said, and for the first time that night Hawkins twisted his head over to the side.
Standing in the doorway was a man the size of a walrus with trashcans for hands. His head, smooth except for the long whiskers below his nose, faced Hawkins dead on, the little black eyes clashing with the swords.
Hawkins grinned, his lips twisted. “Grimshaw, you feeling well?”
“Feeling wonderful, thank you, Officer. Now please, it’s late and Captain Huckabee would appreciate silence below his feet,” First Mate Grimshaw said. He looked over to Benny and said, “Let’s get some air.”
On the deck, the sea air opened pours and the soft chilly winds pulled up the little airs on each of their arms. Benny crossed his arms, keeping himself warm, and he grinned as the breeze tossed around Grimshaw’s long mustache.
“I gotta talk to Huckabee,” Grimshaw said, turning around.
Benny turned too. “It’s just a story, right?” he asked.
Grimshaw chuckled. “It’s whatever you want it to be,” he said, disappearing as he went from the bow to the stern and up to the second deck.
Looking up to the starry sky, Benny saw his face in the moon, pale and distant, and he kept his face there as he moved with the waves, the sea crashing all around him.
On the second-floor, smoke rose to the stars. Plucking the cigar from his mouth, Huckabee heard Grimshaw’s heavy steps and waited for him to stand beside him. Together, they put their hands on the side of the boat and watched the sea lift and fall into itself.
“Hawkins is at it again?”
“He’s scaring them.”
“I think it’s time you send him up,” Huckabee said, putting the cigar back into his mouth. Eye to the bustling sea, he watched it glisten under the glow of the moon.
“You wanted me, Sir?” Hawkins croaked. His voice was rustic and worn.
Tossing his cigar to the sea, Huckabee turned. On Hawkins’ tender shoulder he put a still hand that hid a trembling touch.
“Stop scaring the crew,” Huckabee told Hawkins.
Captain Huckabee smelt of salt and his touch was that of paper, but his voice was strong. Hawkins dutifully nodded. “Yes, Sir,” he said.
“Go to your quarters. And tell them it’s all rumors you’re spewing.”
Hawkins blinked. Huckabee wasn’t cruel, he didn’t use knives or whips or anything like that, but he wasn’t against knocking people around.
“Yes, Sir,” Hawkins said.
“Thank you, Officer,” Captain Huckabee said, and he watched as Hawkins walked down the stairs.
Just as Hawkins came down the stairs, Benny Giles was walking into the quarters. Before opening the door, he smelt tobacco peppered with whiskey on the sea air and knew who was behind him. Don’t make enemies, Benny thought, and he held the door open for Hawkins.
Benny watched Hawkins go back to his barrel. Grimshaw was speaking with the crew about a lady with half a tongue he once had. Before Benny knew it, Hawkins was speaking again.
“On the other hand, Hawkins’ story, nothing but rumors,” Hawkins announced, and he shut his mouth, shut eyes, and fell into a slumber.
Benny walked beside Grimshaw and the crew continued their conversations, but there was no change or metamorphosis which had taken place. Calling the story a rumor made the bitter pill easier to swallow, but like a bitter pill, the crew still felt it coming down their throat.
The crew quickly went to bed, hoping that the morning would be better, figuring work was the best distraction.
Meanwhile, above them, Captain Huckabee was looking for his cigar in the ocean, but it had been swallowed up by something unknown.
* * *
The sky stayed black, the stars turned gray, and by the morning the sun hadn’t risen. Skin shivering, Captain Huckabee inclined his head above and he knew, before the billowy grey clouds started to swirl, that they were heading straight for a storm.
Grabbing the wheel, Captain Huckabee rang it from port to starboard. His grip was tight, his eyes narrowed. Just ahead the sky was turning black. The ocean waves splash against the side of the ship, steady slamming the hull like a set of drums.
Benny felt his heart going off like a jackhammer in his chest and his feet were doing the same. Sprinting across the deck, he and Hawkins and other men pulled apart the ropes and let the winch ring down the sails. The sails whooshed through the air and furled right up. Like a curtain rising on the stage, Benny could now see what lay ahead more clearly.
Black clouds were billowing, shifting and morphing into something large. First Mate Grimshaw had already furled up the back sails, and Captain Huckabee was steering them on an angle. The sea was sloshing them back and forth, back and forth, and Benny Giles felt his stomach rushing to the left and to the right, left and right, left-right. His face was turning green, but he could see the other men running to cover, grabbing ahold of anything that was pinned down, and so he dived to the floor and grab ahold of a handle port side.
Through the side of his eye, Captain Huckabee saw the black storm marching near. The air was ice and a soft rain began to platter down. To keep his teeth from chattering, Captain Huckabee grit them. The wind grew strong, its icy howl sent cold air into his ears. Up ahead, up far ahead, blue hints of sky faded into darkness.
Like a melon, the sky burst open and lighting came dripping down. The sea roared and waves as high as mountains rose up, glistening like stars in the dark.
Hawkins stood up and pointed. “She’s here!” he screamed, and the waves collapsed as thunder blew off around them.
Benny put his hands to his ears. The ship was rocking back and forth. His stomach was jumping up and down almost as much as Hawkins. “She rises! She rises!” he chanted, shivering and shaking.
“You’re positively mad!” screamed First Mate Grimshaw, and the wind carried the screams from the back of the ship over to Captain Huckabee. He went to say something back, but as soon as he opened his mouth seawater sprayed onto the ship and stung his eyes. Still, he held onto the wheel and still the wind screamed and still, he guided them forwards.
Spindly lightning bolts dashed to the sea and momentarily brightened up in the sky in heavenly white light as waves twisted to the sky, falling with a sonic boom as thunder hit its mighty drum. The sea bashed and bammed, slammed and rammed the ship and Benny Giles was shivering, face wet, splinters biting into his hands. Face green and wet as algae, a wave rose up and slammed its hand down on him. Drowning, Benny Giles opened his mouth and hot vomit shot up from his throat and poured out of his mouth, swishing around below him as the waves sunk back into the ocean.
“Do you see it?” Hawkins screamed. Then he hissed, “Do you see her?”
Wind screaming into his ears, Captain Huckabee felt his head being lifted by that very same wind. Brain freezing, eyes stinging, Captain Huckabee saw lighting flash and black waves turn briefly gray. In the distance, something large and black jumped from the sea. For a moment he wondered what he saw, and the next moment the wheel fell from his grip and rolled backward.
Latching his hands back onto the wheel, Captain Huckabee pulled. Arms straining, muscles screaming, he threw the ship over to the side and let the wind throw them forwards.
The lighting was the first to go, the only light they had seen all day. Of course, they had candles and lanterns, but light from somewhere besides this ship made them feel less alone. Next to go was the thunder, then the waves as black clouds turned gray.
* * *
Following the storm were great puddles across the deck of the ship that shimmered and reflected the black night and a whirling sound, like a rickety spinning wheel that just kept eking along. Attributing this unwanted sound to the storm, the unavoidable result of the powerhouse gusts of wind that slammed across his face and screamed in his ears, Captain Huckabee slumped over the wheel with the sound still ringing in his ears.
Soon enough, First Mate Grimshaw put a hand on Captain Huckabee’s shoulder. His touch was as thin as paper. “Sir, I’m not sure where we are.”
Captain Huckabee nodded. “Same here, so let me to my quarters so I may find a way to get us in-route.”
“Sir?” Grimshaw leaned in. His voice was brittle. “Officer Hawkins.”
“Tell him and the rest to get some shut-eye.”
“His screaming during the storm.”
“You have your orders,” Captain Huckabee groaned.
Grimshaw looked Huckabee right in the eye. “And Sir,” he said slowly, “Mr. Giles appears to be ill.”
“Bedrest, just like the rest,” Captain Huckabee said, and he pulled away from Grimshaw and went to his quarters. It took longer than normal. His legs wobbled, his arms were barely pulled from their sockets, and his mind was addled.
“Perhaps I should come with you,” Grimshaw shouted.
“After you’ve spoken with the crew,” Captain Huckabee shouted to the wind, “You shall.”
Other things were occupying Captain Huckabee’s mind at that moment. For one, he considered, perhaps there was some truth to Hawkins tale. Then he dismissed it for the fifth time since the lightning had died out as he pulled himself down the stairs and over to his quarters, stationed directly above the crew, treading water as he went.
* * *
Inside his quarters Captain Huckabee yanked himself behind his mahogany desk, candlelight shining behind it like a beacon. It was a large desk, as vast as the sea, and he had to pull himself forward and around its glistening smoothed edges before he plopped down in his red chair.
It was a comfortable chair, the padding imported from the best Indian cloths, but at the moment Captain Huckabee couldn’t be bothered to give a damn. The wood was sturdy, easy to lean on, and the chair wasn’t too tall. If his back didn’t ache him and if that boa constrictor sound didn’t wrap around his brain and strangle his mind, he would feel perfectly fine leaning over. As it was, his back strained, and his brain was being squeezed down the middle by that awful sound.
Leaning forward, Captain Huckabee painted the stars across his eyelids and let his dripping eyes gaze at the map. He was the Captain of this crew, and it fell upon him to venture them out from the darkness.
The whirling sound continued, its volume steady increasing inside him, echoing throughout the chambers of his body, but still he gazed at the map and tried to pinpoint their location. Never mind he was forced to angle the ship to avoid the brunt of the storm, the winds were strong and had pushed them off course. They were only a few nautical miles away, he figured, but where were they facing? He hadn’t passed out on the wheel, but the winds seemed to push his brain and organs all to the side. Oh, it be easy to figure out if it weren’t for all the noise.
The heavy door creaked open and moonlight painted the outline of First Mate Grimshaw’s large body. “Sir?” he croaked.
“Come in, come in,” Captain Huckabee said, barely even lifting his head.
Coming in, Grimshaw extended his arms outwards and opened his big hands like a net. “Sir, are you feeling well?”
“Shush, Grimshaw,” Captain Huckabee proclaimed before filling his eyes back up with the map.
In five seconds flat First Mate Grimshaw was standing beside his Captain, muttering, “The winds were mighty hard, Sir.”
“We just have to figure out where we are and where we’re facing. Then it’s up to you to turn the ship,” Captain Huckabee was chewing on his lower lip. The boa constrictor was growing fat and his brain was shrinking small. Squinting, Captain Huckabee could see beyond the spindly black lines on the map. He could see the strings of cloth that held it together, twisted and turned until they intertwined into one, and the black ink melted across the map’s many layers.
A sigh. “Yes, Grimshaw?”
“You may have less trouble if you used the candlelight to aid your sight.”
“Yes, you may be right,” Captain Huckabee nodded. He lifted his head up and glanced over to the candle. The flame was bright, the center a pale orange. Dancing upon the white wax, Captain Huckabee thought to compare it to the monster in Hawkins’ tales, to the black form he saw through the spraying sea-foam in the storm.
It’s only a story, he told himself, nothing but exaggerations that spread like a virus until it had become a rumor before dwindling into legend, but still, the whirring sound grew fat between his ears. He spoke just to hear himself speak. “We shan’t be a few miles off our charted course,” he said, but he didn’t hear himself. He wasn’t even positive he had spoken until Grimshaw placed a hand back on his shoulder.
“Sir,” Grimshaw said tenderly, “It’s quite alright.”
“Quite?” Captain Huckabee turned to face him, “Quite? Oh, my dear First Mate, but you don’t understand. Quite doesn’t cut it. This crew, this cargo, this very ship we sit in, or in your case, stand in, it all falls upon me. We mustn’t get lost.”
Silence. Grimshaw took his hand off Captain Huckabee’s shoulder.
Captain Huckabee looked back at the map. Intertwined pieces of clothes, representing the vast open sea that just lay beyond these shadowed walls and a single door, hiding many things, including the cigar he put upon his lips that vanished into the sea only hours before that terrible storm. “There may be pirates lingering about,” Captain Huckabee finally said.
“Pirates?” Grimshaw tilted his head, “Never. The storm would have scared them off.”
“Perhaps,” Captain Huckabee said, “but one must be careful.”
The sound, fat inside his head, moved passed strangling was now biting, clawing, drilling it fangs deep through his brain like a knife had been punched in one temple and out the other. It grew and it started screaming like an animal burning alive, its fur sizzling from flames much like the ones that danced beside his vision. Oh, what had those turbulent winds done to him?
“Sir? Sir!” Grimshaw had his hand back on Captain Huckabee’s shoulder and he was shaking him.
“Yes, Grimshaw?” Captain Huckabee snapped, turning his head to the side, but his eyes widened.
Shaking like a leaf, Grimshaw could barely keep still the rattle in his voice. “Someone is screaming, Sir,” he said in pale fright.
“Oh,” Captain Huckabee exhaled, happy to have evidence that he wasn’t going mad. Pushing back his chair, he rose to his feet.
“Sir? The bell?”
“Of course,” Captain Huckabee said, sitting back down. Beside the candle, hiding behind the shroud of darkness, was a silver bell hanging from its top by a string. Reaching into the darkness, Captain Huckabee grabbed another string beneath the dome and shook it, and the rock tied to the string hit the inside of the dome. The bell rung out, but the screams pushed its soft sound into silence.
Color draining from his face, Captain Huckabee pulled his hand out from the darkness and turned to Grimshaw.
Taking a breath, Grimshaw clenched his jaw. “I’ll deal with these ruffians.”
“Oh, late-night hijinks mixed with angst and liquor,” Captain Huckabee didn’t mean for his voice to shake so much, “Do be careful.”
“Aye-aye, Sir,” Grimshaw said with a nod, and he was off
In five seconds flat the door thundered shut and Captain Huckabee was left with only candlelight and shadowed corners and a whirling sound that continued to spin faster and faster, the revolutions speeding enough to drill through a tree.
The screams continued, but it was being taken care of. Oh, he couldn’t hear any voices, but all would be well. Grimshaw, big as he was and respected as he was, would take care of things. Although, given the circumstances, shouldn’t he ring the bell once more? He was tired and it be a fool’s errand to go outside and break up whatever was going on, but he should have a presence. Reaching back to the shadows beside him, Captain Huckabee reached out and rang the bell and loud as he could. He heard nothing, but the vibrations rippled out and he felt ice water.
Shivering, Captain Huckabee took his hand away from the darkness and the candlelight turned his palm orange.
Turning his gaze back to the map, Captain Huckabee stared at the picture of the vast open sea and swore he would hear the waves rippling towards him, crashing into him, busting ribs and breaking soft plushy organs apart.
The screams fell into silence. Captain Huckabee was breathing steadily, but the whirling sound droned on. He’ll come back any time now, Captain Huckabee told himself. On his desk were his hands, but the candle’s flames were tiring in their dance. The backs of his hands turned black, shadows covering them like a hand he could not feel, but the edges stayed a hot red. Oh, what he’d give for a splash of light.
White lightning had splashed the sky clear during the storm, and in the distance, his eyes found something large and black that jumped from the sea.
“He’ll come back any time now,” Captain Huckabee told himself, although he wasn’t entirely sure if he said that or not. The whirling sound had numbed his body and all feeling was a tertiary layer below the pain and the sound itself. His mind was wandering, running frantically away from a sound that encased him. What had he seen?
A monster rising from the deep. “Do you see her?” Hawkins had hissed, and the winds carried that scream into Captain Huckabee’s ears and the echoes of that screams had nestled inside his head, trying to break apart his brain and push the small pieces out of his ears.
You’re being paranoid, Captain Huckabee thought, or maybe he said it; he would never be sure. The story Hawkins told was a fairytale and the sound in his ears was from the wind, the aftereffects of all that raging noise. His ears were ringing, simple as that, but still, that thought brought him no comfort.
His eyes were drooping. His head was heavy. Looking back down at the map, Captain Huckabee saw nothing. He looked over and saw, oh God, that candle’s flames had shrunk to the size of a pinpoint.
What had he seen only hours ago? It was the worst storm he ever weathered through, but he did weather through it.
The screaming started up again, but it might have been only his brain sounding out in alarm. He had weathered through the storm, yes, but they were lost and he, their Captain, had to find a way back on course. Yet how was he to do that when he couldn’t trust his own two sea beaten eyes?
What did he see jumping from the ocean? A trick of the mind, or something else, something more? He’d never know unless his eyes lay upon it once more.
“Enough,” Captain Huckabee groaned, but it wasn’t enough. The screaming continued as he sat back in his chair, continued as his body folded into the red padding. He shut his eyes, trying to find silence, but there was only darkness.
He opened his eyes, and he saw the last bit of light leave him. The candles, flames flickering, pale moon colored wax drizzling down the stalks, finally faded, and the shadows grew to reach him.
Where was a light? Where was the wick? He lifted a hand, but his hands were shivering. A cold chill was running through the notches in his spine. His body was jittery, the screaming amplifying, the sound rising to impossible heights like the tides of the sea during the storm.
He reached a hand out that floundered in the darkness. There! He grabbed the string of the bell and shook it but heard nothing but the whirling sound become a whirling wind. The storm was back again, lashing in his ears as though he weren’t in his quarters at all.
Once more he shook the string, a shaking hand wrangling it back and forth, but there was no sound except the wind ripping into his ears and lifting his head by the insides.
His eyes lay upon the door.
Screams all around him, wind howling in his ears, Captain Huckabee rose to his feet and trudged around the desk. There was a puddle hiding below the darkness, and as he trudged around the bend he slipped and fell and hit his head on the desk’s edge.
Pulling himself to his feet, Captain Huckabee felt like he was spinning. He could see the darkness turn fuzzy from motion blur as he spun around and around, falling upon the door and collapsing on the deck of the ship
Lying upon the deck, the door stuck open by his body, Captain Huckabee’s eyes began watering like the sea as a horrid smell ran into his nostrils. His stomach churned and acid burned the back of his throat. He was having trouble swallowing. Oh, out of instinct he picked his head up to swallow easier, but then the vomit came right out.
Slapdashedly splattered on the deck were flecks of blood, shimmering and shining like rubies scattered across the black plain. With his feet facing Captain Huckabee, Grimshaw lay sprawled out on the deck.
Jumping to his feet, Captain Huckabee went over to Grimshaw and found even more blood beside him. A puddle of blood that reflected the black night ran through the deck’s wooden boards and leaked into the cargo hold.
Kneeling, Captain Huckabee found that Grimshaw’s hands were warm and, feeling the wrist and then the throat, blood still pulsed through the veins. In fact, Grimshaw was groaning softly as his closed eyes fluttered, trying, failing to open.
With the sound of wind whirling in his ears, Captain Huckabee pushed up to his feet. Grimshaw was lying there, sprawled out. What had knocked him out and what, on God’s black seas, was that smell?
With screams ringing in his ears, Captain Huckabee’s watery eyes followed the flecks of blood over to the pools of pools and over to the fallen Hawkins, and he vomited once more.
Half off the ship, Hawkins’ body was torn down the middle with his intestines spilled out like confetti. Through the darkness, Captain Huckabee could make out the pale reds and the twisted browns that made up the strings and rolls of Hawkins’ guts. All the blood pooling across the deck came not only from Hawkins’ guts but also his ripped-out throat that, like a leaky faucet, was still dripping blood.
Turning away from the blood and the gore, Captain Huckabee, amidst the crashing waves and the gusts of wind in his ears, looked up to the sky and he saw it once more.
The night shrouded the details, but the outline was plain to see. Colossal as a mountain, the form reached across Captain Huckabee’s vision and rose up to the center of the sky where a single white eye, blank and without any pupil, gazed blankly across the ship and sea.
Captain Huckabee fell to his knees. The smell of Hawkins’ guts and gouts of blood filled his nostrils and the screams rose to the height of mountains. Oh, Hawkins had warned them, he had told them that if they hadn’t sacrificed a crewmember than the beast would swallow them all in its depths, and it seemed to have started with Hawkins before attacking Grimshaw.
Looking back at Grimshaw and looking down at Hawkins, Captain Huckabee stared at the white eye. The captain was a member of the crew, he thought, and he had failed to find a way to get them back on course. He was an unworthy member of the crew, Captain Huckabee determined, and with that, he calmly walked over to the side of the ship.
“I give myself to you!” he cried as he threw himself overboard, falling through the chilly air, winds howling all around him and screaming in his ears, his screams echoed into the silent night even after his body disappeared into the murky black depths.
— ♦♦♦ —
At daybreak the air was cool, and the sky was cloudless, a glittering baby blue that reflected the sun’s warm rays. Any other day this would be cause for celebration, but as the waves hustled and rushed and crashed into the ship’s side, the ship stayed silent.
On the deck, the great gouts of blood were drying up and every so often a gentle breeze would come and pick up the flecks of blood.
Standing away from the blood, Captain Grimshaw rubbed his chin and pondered over the situation, his eyes gazing at the gulls that picked and chewed apart Hawkins’ stringy guts. At least three men, at least two armed with a blade, he surmised, had overpowered the skinny man and butchered him, one holding his mouth shut while another slit his throat, and another cut open his belly.
It was all so very confusing, amplified by the fact his memory of the previous night was fuzzy. For one, Captain Grimshaw wasn’t sure if he had seen Hawkins’ butchered corpse before somebody, possibly a fourth man, knocked him out.
Anyone could have done it, he considered.
Perhaps the crew did kill Hawkins, Benny pondered, but Hawkins might have been on point anyway. Standing away from the corpse, Benny Giles gripped the edge of the ship in a vice grip. His knuckles had turned white and the sun was hurting his eyes, but he refused to let go.
Last night he heard Bernard Huckabee screams and immediately Benny Giles knew that their Captain had sacrificed himself, but did that even qualify as a sacrifice? Did the first ship sacrifice unworthy crew members because it was convenient, or because the monster demanded it to be so?
Benny Giles swallowed. It appeared they had stumbled across an uncharted island and Benny Giles couldn’t take his eyes off it. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t. His head was locked into place, his ears filled with screams in the silence.
— ♦♦♦ —
“Everything’s turning into wine,” Bob repeated, eyebrows rising. Never a dull moment in this line of work. Not since the eclipse, anyway.
Bob couldn’t complain too much. He’d been able to pay off his mortgage on the backs of people who just had to spend the eclipse in the local museum’s antiquities wing reciting Lord Byron or screwing on Edgar Allan Poe’s grave or—his personal favorite so far—fighting an ex-coworker in the parking lot of a dollar theater.