by Buck Meloy

Fishermen love to tell tales, in case you haven't noticed, but some tales have remained untold.

One such tale that has for years been kept a secret was buried to protect the guilty. They weren't really guilty of anything, but they were afraid that the story would prove upsetting to a family that was also not guilty of anything. It happened this way.

A man who shall remain unnamed, who was prominent in a fishery that will not be identified, died in a fishing accident that will not be described, at a time and a place that will not be specified. He would not have minded the telling of this story, had he lived to hear it, in which case there would have been no story to tell. But he also would have appreciated the respect for his family that the not-guilty fishermen were attempting to show by not telling it.

His death was distressing to all, especially since it occurred in an unexpected way in fairly close proximity to other fishermen who could and would have been right there for him if they had known of his plight. If the wind had not been blowing, he could have raised sufficient alarm simply by yelling for help. Of course if the wind had not been blowing, he might not have gotten into fatal trouble.

Anyhow, his death came as a shock to everyone. There was much rending of hair, moaning, "hadn't oughtta beens", and a fine and raucus wake in his memory which nobody to this day remembers much about, but all agree that it was a grand and appropriate event.

The story to this point could have been told; it's what happened next that has rested quietly in history.

Burial at sea was scheduled to occur the day following the wake, to allow sufficient time for the three nautical pall-bearers to recover necessary focus. The sealed casket was loaded onto the aft deck, and the trip began, from an inside waters port to outside the 12-mile limit, where the casket containing the unnamed fisherman's earthly remains would be deposited.

It was a long trip. The boat was slow to begin with, and a stiff westerly retarded their progress for much of the way. When the three mariners finally reached their destination, they killed the engine. Then they hauled the casket, its metal surface glinting dully in the sun, up onto the high deck of the fish hold. Though not religious, the three shared a prayer and a few not wholly politically correct remembrances, and a heartfelt hope that the deceased had found peace. Solemnly, they skidded the casket over the side, to leave it and its content's fate to Davey Jones and whatever else might take an interest in a deceased fisherman.

The casket parted the water with a large splash, disappearing beneath the choppy surface -- briefly. Stunning all, it shot back up exposing a full third of its length before settling nearly level on the surface, the head end bobbing eerily up and down.

"Ohmigod, he's back!" shouted one startled pall-bearer. Otherwise only the sloshing of the sea against the hull and the gentle clacking of some stays broke the utter silence. The unspoken hope was that water would infiltrate the casket, finally sinking it. It didn't.

After an eternity, so to speak, one of them voiced their shared question: "What're we gonna to do?"

Several options were considered. Perhaps if they waited long enough, the casket would eventually sink. They didn't really believe it would happen that way, and they were worried that prolonged waiting could so delay their return that those back at home would be alarmed.

They could snag the casket back up on deck, break it open, and dump it and their friend into the ocean separately. No one was really willing to consider opening the casket. Their friend had been dead for some time, and it was unseasonably warm. Besides, what if he floated?

They could simply leave it, but its possible fates would please no one: What if it washed up on a beach, interesting local authorities? They could just see the headlines: "Boxed Corpse Haunts Town; Three Fishermen Under Investigation". Or "Botched Burial Bugs Beachcombers".

And what if it washed up on a beach where the deceased's family might be picnicking? Oh, dear.

If it continued to float, a ship could strike it, possibly doing severe damage or even sinking it.

It was clear. It simply had to be sunk. Waking it sharply had no effect, and after about 20 spins around it, they began to worry that they could wake the dead. Several attempts to breach its water tightness by nudging it with the bow ensued. No luck. The crew was nearing panic when the skipper had a brainstorm. He ran below and returned to the deck chambering a round into his mini from its 30-round clip. Oh, shit! The guys froze.

BLAM! A round struck the box, perforating it neatly, but well above the waterline. Two "ohmigods!" in unison. Then BLAM! BLAM! One hit, one miss. BLAM! The awestruck crew regained its speech: "Uh, uh, uh, I mean, uh ..."

A discussion ensued. No one was at ease with the solution, but they had to do something, and it was clear that this would work. They knew their friend would be laughing hysterically right now if he could somehow see this, so what the hell. They took turns, 9 rounds each. And they placed their shots well, not able to entertain the idea of a failure. By the time they were done, water was slowly accomplishing the objective. The casket picked up speed as it began to sink, finally dipping fully beneath the surface and then darkening out of sight in the grey-green water. There were a final few bubbles, then only the dully agitated surface of the sea confronted them. And some ringing in their ears.

Dead is dead, with or without perforations. Nevertheless, the guys felt odd. On the long trip back, they contemplated what they had done. And though they knew that there was nothing wrong with it, they also knew that others, particularly the fisherman's family, might feel differently. So, reluctantly, they resolved to keep it to themselves. Which is why it has remained a story untold.

I know I don't have to ask you not to tell anyone.

2002,2014 Buck Meloy

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