Chapter Eighteen

Mar Caribe (Caribbean Sea)

Pudge’s Journey


“Jump!” Pudge yelled, in English, and then tried Spanish as well, “Brinquen al agua! Rapido, denle la vuelta al barco.” He watched the three sun-burned men scramble over the sides of the Zodiac and wrestle with the task of turning the rubber boat and its motor over. Pudge had begun to wade into the warm Caribbean waters and grabbed the nose of the boat. Much larger than his brother at six-foot-three, his size belied his peaceful nature, but not his strength, and with a simple flick of his wrists he flipped the raft over. The small group met face-to-face for the first time in the pocket of air created by the overturned raft as they all swam into it. Their hands grabbed onto the grips on the underside of the inflated vessel as the growing wind tried mightily to lift it off the water. Pudge had to kneel fully to remain under water in the scarce three feet of water. Above them the shadow slowly moved, seemingly shifting in spasms of dark and darker. Pudge turned to the other three men and saw their eyes filled with expressions of true horror. He brought his index finger to his lips and whispered a “Shhh”, the digraph ending on a deep breath.

“Que mierda es eso?” the man nearest Pudge asked, a mere mannequin of burned skin and bones, his eyes opening even wider as his eyebrows twitched.

“I don’t know what it is. No se. Pero callados, okay?” Pudge answered, his tone indicating the need for quiet. The three men nodded. “I’m going to take a peak – nobody move, entienden?” Pudge’s open palm patted the air twice to transmit his meaning clearly. He then took a deep breath and stuck his head out from under the boat, one hand holding on to the boat and the other holding his nose as he looked up into the sky through the water. The entire sky seemed to be covered by a black ink spot, its size incomprehensible and made more so by the apparent height of the object - He could see small white clouds floating below the shape. He could feel his leg-cast getting waterlogged as he pulled his head back under the raft.

“Hablan Ingles?” He asked.

“Little beet,” Responded the one furthest from him, also sun-burned, but a little heavier and taller than the other two, “English second language here in poororico.”

Pudge had been in Puerto Rico long enough to know that he meant Puerto Rico, and even though English was the country’s second official language, few spoke anything better than a “spanglish” mix.

 “I am going to take another look.  I am Pudge. What is your name?” He asked.

“My name is Luis,” He said proudly, “and these is Manuel and Pocho,” He pointed at the skinny one next to Pudge last.

“Okay, Pocho right?” Pudge touched Pocho’s hand and nodded. “I am going back out. My leg is in a cast and it is getting filled with water and very heavy. I want you to hold on to it while I am out there, understood?” Pudge signed as much as spoke these words, speaking slowly and pointing at his cast.

Pocho simply nodded back and grabbed Pudge’s leg, lifting it roughly and pointing at the toes with a huge smile on his face. “I got.” He said.

Pudge struggled to stay upright and keep his head above water. He smiled at Pocho and said, “Bring it down just a bit, just enough so that it gets reattached to my pelvis.”

Pocho understood the gist of this and lowered the leg as his smile disappeared.

“Okay then, here I go” Pudge gave them the thumbs up sign as he went under. All three returned the sign with enthusiasm. Pudge knew that they were wondering “who is this gringo loco?”

He inspected the sky above once again and found it empty. Just a few clouds floating by- Where had the craft gone? He went back under and got the others to come out on different sides of the boat. There wasn’t a single sign of the ink-spot. Pudge helped the others bring the boat to shore and flip it over. Pocho and Luis kept their eyes glued on the sky.

“Where could it have gone? And that quickly?” Pudge mused aloud.

“They go there,” Luis pointed at the main island, “das where dey land.”

“Wait a second, Luis, how do you know this?” Pudge asked.

“We see last three day, dey come, sometime dey stop, sometime dey leave, but alway land back there.” Luis pointed at the westernmost side of the main island. “By de water. It disappear. Shrink, den disappear. We go tha way.” He said, pointing at the easternmost section of the island, a smile of absolute wisdom upon his face.

“Luis, are you sure that they land there? How many times have you seen it land there?” Pudge asked, approaching Luis.

“We see dem land ten, eileven times. Sometime dey bring peoples.” He said, Pocho and Manuel concurring with nods. “We on da big boat and see this. We hide every times they come by. But one time dey catch two of us. Not us, but with us,” He said, afraid that he was sounding confused, “dey alway go der. We go not der, but der.” He pointed in the opposite direction again, emphasizing his desire to move away from the landing spot.

Pudge walked toward the shore and stopped just short of the lapping waves. He wasn’t really sure he understood what was happening and his curiosity and scientific mind itched like hell, but he knew that Luis was right; they had to get as far away from that site as possible. Besides, he could never convince these guys to go with him, and he couldn’t go alone.

He turned to the wretched group of three men and said, “No, Luis, I am going there,” As he pointed toward the landing area, “and you are coming with me.”

“You are crazy, Senor!” Luis cried out, “we no go der, an you no go der.”

“Yes we will, Luis, because it’s our only chance at survival. For all of us. What happens when we get to the other end of the island? How long do we last before they find us? Huh? You don’t know and I don’t know. But if we get close maybe we can learn a little about them that allows us to survive. Do you understand?” Pudge said.

“No sir! Den you go alone. We no go wif you.” Luis was adamant.

Pocho stepped forward. “I go.” And he walked over to Pudge and grabbed his arm. “I go wif you”

Pudge was astonished. He thought he had to convince Luis, the obvious leader, to get any of them to come. He couldn’t help himself, he had to ask “why, Pocho?”

Luis answered for Pocho. “One of de peoples dey took was his sister. He crazy now an think you can help. You see wha you done?”

“Thanks, Pocho. I’ll help you any way I can, but I don’t know how we can save your sister.” Pudge spoke earnestly and right at Pocho, and he saw tears welling in Pocho’s eyes.

Pocho looked right back at him and said, “You go. No? I come wif.”

“Yes, Pocho, I’ll go.” Pudge replied.

“Carajo y maldita sea, you fucking crazy gringo, now we all have to go. I swear if I die I will be a ghost in your dreams for always, you understanding me?” Luis was stomping around the sand as he spoke. He looked at Pudge seriously, as if expecting an answer.

“Yes, Luis. I understanding.”


Chapter 19