Out of the Belly of Hell
by Max Sparber
Read by David Thompson
Listen to the audio version
Although the sea monster washed ashore on Monday, it wasn't until Wednesday that the
fishermen found it.
There had been a festival the previous weekend, the feast of San Felipe de Jesús, one of
the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan and the patron saint of the village. As happens on feast days,
there was carousing and drinking, and so the fishermen did not work for several days to recover.
It had been a good February anyway--the fishermen had pulled net after net of calico
bass, white sea bass, and halibut out of the fishing cove near the village. Maybe it was this
abundance of fish that brought the sea monster. Who could say?
Hernandez was the first to see the monster. He was always early to the cove, arriving at
sunup to repair nets and then perching on his favorite rock. There he would plunge net and pole
into the deep waters of the cove, a spot that had been good to him for fifty years.
This morning, a half-mile before he reached the cove, Hernandez was met with an
overwhelming odor. He had smelled something like it before, on another beach, years earlier,
where a school of salmon had inexplicably beached themselves and rotted.
Hernandez wrapped his cotton pañuelo around his mouth and nose. The garment was
lightly perfumed with orange blossom--a daily gift from his wife, and a mildly erotic one, so that
he might think of her, and her own orange blossom smell, while he fished, and hurry home to her.
Many of the fishermen had similar gifts from their wives.
Hernandez was surprised to see the sea monster, but only briefly. His town provided
salted fish for the sailing community in the Monterey Bay. These men told many stories of
enormous creatures they would see on their way round the Cape Horn, on their way to sell hide
and tallow in Boston. Some ships would be wrecked on the way, smashed in two with a single
twitch of a writhing tail.
This must be one of those beasts. Hernandez was certain of it.