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News & Features » August 2018 » “Lost At Sea” by John Mancini

“Lost At Sea” by John Mancini

Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.

This week, two tourists decide not to heed a fortune teller’s warning about the duppy bat . . .

Lost At Sea
by John Mancini
Duppy bat; Montego Bay, Jamaica

Tommy was pointing out the sights of Montego Bay, shouting to be heard above the rumble of the boat’s engine as it navigated out of the crowded harbor, but Deb wasn’t listening. She was looking at the moth, its brown wings contracting and expanding there on the starboard rail. She saw it briefly before it flew off, and it reminded her of what the old woman had said about “duppy bats” the night before.

It had been the last night of their vacation, and they had visited the fortune teller because it seemed like a corny thing to do, and Deb thought it would be fun—until the old woman had pointed a long bony finger at her and told her that a soul was “lost” and until it could move on she and Tommy would be lost as well.

They laughed about it later. The woman had obviously been trying to scare them.

The next morning, as Deb was packing her bag, Tommy said he wanted to do something wild—something they had never done—and Deb did not hesitate. It was, after all, their last day in Jamaica.

They’d asked the taxi driver to take them to one of those rickety little piers by the inlet and they approached the booth, signed the waiver, and boarded a boat with three other tourists from Tallahassee, who just like them were eager to see what this new water sport—parasailing—was all about. But by the time the boat made it out into the sea, dark clouds had rolled in from the south, and swells rocked the small boat.

Seeing the moth was just a coincidence, she told herself.

Deb stepped with Tommy into the tandem harness. The operator pushed the throttle forward, Deb’s feet lifted off the stern, and the other passengers waved from the safety of their seats and shrank away as Deb and Tommy rose to eight hundred feet like a kite.

When they reached the end of the tether, Deb saw the tiny boat coasting below them like a toy on the surface of the sea, and she felt exhilarated. Tommy was rocking his legs back and forth like a child on a swing, and when Deb looked at her feet and the surface eight hundred feet below—and she imagined all the dark space that lay behind it—she felt a sucking hollow feeling in her gut and remembered what the woman had said. A school of manta rays glided silently past the boat. Whatever else lived down there, she didn’t want to know.

She noticed the moth before Tommy did. It had alighted on the nylon cord, its papery wings shaking like leaves in the wind. “Look,” she said.

“Mom,” Tommy laughed. “Is that you?”

The moth flew away then, and the tiny boat began to move. Deb felt an awkward jerk in the line. A jolt shot through the cord and rattled the aluminum bar. There followed an unnatural warbling sound like something from an old science fiction movie, as if a giant metal spring somewhere inside the earth had busted loose, and Deb felt the sound inside her chest. She saw the end of the yellow line hanging limp, coiled and sinking in the water. They were no longer attached to the boat. The cord had snapped.

Tommy saw it too, but seemed amused. “Guess we’re lost at sea,” he said, laughing.

Deb knew she was going to die. This was what the old woman had warned them about. But as they descended, Tommy told Deb what to do when she hit the surface—hold her breath and swim as hard as she could before the chute deflated overhead.

Deb found it difficult to listen. She saw the boat circling back, the driver and passengers waving their arms, screaming things that she could not hear or understand.

When her feet touched the water, she felt like she had stepped easily off a curb. The chute deflated a good ten feet behind them. Deb found herself bobbing safely in the blue water, supported by the life vest. The tandem bar made movement difficult, but she was going to live. Tommy was going to live. The boat was coming for them both. Someone was holding out a hand. Tommy told them to take Deb first, and helped give her a boost so she could reach the ladder. He didn’t even try to use her as a flotation device.


JOHN MANCINI’S fiction and poetry have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Natural Bridge, Pindeldyboz, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. He has won awards for his songwriting and poetry from Billboard Magazine, Relix Magazine, and the San Francisco Browning Society. He received an MFA from San Francisco State University and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. He lives in California and recently completed his first novel.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Duppy Thursday flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 30, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Duppy Thursday | Tags: , , , , , , ,