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The Sea in Which the Most Men Have Died

suspense by John Wiswell

Foreman manned the left oar and Aftman manned the right. They propped their boots up on the parcel at the bottom of the boat. Fog swirled in thick, but they knew this lake. They’d served on the estate for years.

Foreman said, “The last riddle Master gave to me was this: what is the sea in which the most men have died?”

Aftman puzzled this over. Stalling to come up with a clever answer, he asked, “What did you say?”

“Well I figured the Dead Sea, on account of the name.”

Aftman winced. “I think that’s rather a metaphor, friend.”

“As much he said. When he finished flogging me I went to the library. I came back to him with the Red Sea. Moses drowned a whole army in there.”

“That’s a good one.”

“But he had me flogged again. He said near Greece and Africa they’ve got all sorts of seas that have seen all sorts of wars, and so have soaked up many an army’s lives.”

“Master was a well-studied man,” Aftman nodded. He kicked the bundle. “I would have guessed that one near Jordan, what’s mostly salt. A body can’t swim in it, you see. They sink and die.”

“You’d have lost some skin on that, friend.” Foreman smiled. “That’s actually the Dead Sea. And I’m afraid that you can swim in it. Most everybody floats because of the salt. Picked that up in the library.”

“Well dash it all,” Aftman kicked the bundle again. “Then we both guessed the Dead Sea and were both wrong.”

“Yet only I lost the skin.”

“Like you’re the only one to be whipped. I’m still raw from last night. Would have killed me had he lashed one more time, you know?”

“I didn’t mean it that way, friend.” Foreman straightened a little, as though proud. “Funny thing. Before you came to me with this chore, I was working on a new guess. I think I’ve got it right this time.”

“Do you now?” Aftman asked, letting go of his oar. The water was dark with depth, meaning they were about mid-lake now. He stooped and fastened the lead weights onto the parcel. “What is your new guess, friend?”

Foreman stooped with him and they boosted it together. The Master’s left leg stuck out of the bundle as they lifted. Both hesitated as though to stuff it back in, then they chortled and dumped it over the side. As the body disappeared in the drink, they took up their oars and Foreman hypothesized for his housemate.

“Now I think the sea in which the most men have died is idiocy.”

Copyright July 2010 by John Wiswell

John Wiswell has stories upcoming at Flash Fiction Online, Alienskin Magazine and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind. He also writes The Bathroom Monologues, a daily blog of microfiction.

[Return to the Issue 5: July 2010 stories]

17 Responses

  1. […] [Read the story] […]

  2. Oh, so very true! Loved this, John. Congrats!

  3. Ha. yes. At the risk of teetering on the edge of man bashing or skating full on to humankind bashing….that is just so true.

  4. Hehehe idiocy. I see! Excellent moralistic tale, John. Don’t beat your servants too much. I will take that ‘on board’. Okay, the punster is leaving the building 🙂

  5. What a great last sentence!

    Very clever tale, and with a moral too. 🙂

    Congratulations on its publication!

  6. This is pretty fantastic! The ending caught me by surprise and gave me a chuckle. Also I loved their names, well done. 😀

  7. I was expecting the sea to be some sort of pun or play on words, but the ending twist was funny. Great work!

  8. Great last line, and good story overall. Congrats on the publication!

  9. Wonderful voice in this story and the off hand way they deal with their tormentor, but still pursue the question he sets them

    marc nash

  10. […] The Sea in Which the Most Men Have Died, John_Wiswell Two boatmen discuss a question about the titular sea and the consequences of having the wrong answer. This is a clever story which may or may not cause the reader to ask the same question. A pleasurable and surprising tale. […]

  11. Very good, John. Idiocy, indeed. It gives me a bit of pleasure that those two finally got tired of all the beatings.

    Congratulations on your well-deserved publication. 🙂

  12. Fantastic story telling here and the last line was perfect.

  13. Well written and enjoyable. This story had a nice flow to it and the character’s voices were distinct. Nicely done.

  14. Clever and well written John. As I have come to expect. I especially like it that you left the answer open. I wonder what the REAL answer might be? (if there is one)

  15. LOL – think he’s quite right, too! Guess the Master wasn’t quite as wise as he believed…

  16. And there was me thinking it was jealousy until the Master went over the side and not one of his servants!

  17. HA! I believe that is the right answer!

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