They stood in the water, within sight of shore. Feeling the waves flow cold over their shoulders, and watching the shapes wiggle in the shallows. Sometimes they felt them against their skin. It was like a brush, a gentle rasp.
There was a man, or a woman. Too far away from us to tell (we had all let our hair go since the disaster). And (s)he surged forward toward land. And that’s when the eels came.
We always knew they were there. Could see them. They played among the shadows of the light of the waves. Like flickers, but longer, and more angular – flexing against the reflections. And they would devour all who went near to shore.
They hung in a band, several hundreds of meters thick, so there seemed a blue-green-dirty-turquoise flickering bed of seaweed walling us off from the white sand.
But this one, this person, (s)he charged. Joe/Josephine charged. Struck out. Hitting the water with his/her hands to gain speed, making a splashing noise we could all hear, we who were stranded. The splash above the waves. The energy. It directed all our eyes to him/her. And then the eels came.
We had seen it, or heard of it in our waking dreams. First they attached themselves around his waist, so that as he passed through the green belt, some of it seemed to follow him in a long train, leaving a wedge of blue water behind. And more and more held onto the ones holding onto him, so that he visibly slowed. He was struggling now, I imagine he was a man, hitting the sandy floor with his feet, grinding his teeth against the weight. As more and more came on.
He could not hold out forever. More and more followed, and it seemed like the whole seaweed slick had hooked itself to him, like a living oil spill that was malignant as well. We could see the gleaming bodies hanging off him as his efforts lifted them intermittently from the water.
Then he stumbled, or hit a deep trough, and was under. When he arose, they were on his shoulders, on his back, holding on like parasites..
He stumbled and pushed, and we stared. we felt a chill that was not the sea’s. He was going to shore, find help, fire, something to save us all. But … They got him down just near the shore, within reach of the shallows. They got his skin off. A roiling nest of wet serpents and they had worked him to the bone.
The snakes, or eels, or leeches, whatever, slipped or rolled back into the waters, and formed the band around the island again. I stared around at the others in the water.
They can’t take us all. Can they?
Even with those hundreds of eels, there were twenty times more people in the sea. What if we all…?
But no one moved. And all the eels came to their playground, rasping their way among our bodies, and touching them with their sides.
And now and then, someone died.
The condemned man stared far out at the shining star of land. It was a minor miracle that he had escaped the chair and the shipwreck. The sun was setting. He felt his own raw desire to live. And the reprobation of society that he had long scorned and been abandoned by. He gripped a branch of wood, and a crucifix.
No, not alone.