The rope ran over the side of the boat and plunged out of sight into the water. Following it with his eyes, Logan could see it disappear. As his brother took the rope, hand over hand, to pull up the crab pot, it abraded the edge of their small boat in rhythmic metallic gasps, like a motor trying to start. The vibration passed back down the rope and upset the surface of the water with sharp ripples.
With each rasp the cage and its crabs were rushing through the water toward the growing light of the surface. Logan stared into the depths, straining his eyes in an effort to make out the cage. It was still too deep. He tried to focus on the exact point at which the rope disappeared, knowing that was where the cage would first become visible. Bringing his eyes back to the top of the rope, as it rasped and vibrated and threw droplets onto the water, he looked down its length, searching. It was impossible. The rope didn’t disappear at a single point, but rather just faded out of existence, enveloped by the dark sea.
There it was! Growing with each tinny vibration, it was coming towards him. After three pulls he could make out the shells of the crabs on the wire bottom of the cage. After two more he could count them. Eight. Four more pulls and he reached into the water to haul it up over the side.
His brother started the motor and Logan began to expertly extract the crabs from the cage. The Washington State Department of Wildlife managed crabbing off the hundreds of small islands by providing rulers marked with legal shell sizes. Logan didn’t need it. Without hesitation he threw the females and the small males over the side, tossing the legal males into the white bucket in the bow.
Meanwhile his brother had started the motor and was steering them east, along the shore of the island. The boat was 12 feet long and aluminum. The bucket of crabs sat in the bow, the cages piled behind it. Logan’s place was on the middle bench, handling the traps, and his brother’s place was in the back, running the motor. Patiently coiling the line, Logan laid it next to the buoy on the cage.
It was Saturday, so they had plenty of time. No need to worry about missing the ferry that took them to school on the mainland. They could take their time and find a good place to set the traps. Tomorrow morning they would take the boat out early to collect the crabs, get in the pickup and drive to the little dock to meet the ferry for church. Logan leaned against the metal and looked at the island. Red-barked trees grew out over the black rock bluffs on his left. Across the waves to his right were other islands covered with other trees.
Logan’s grandfather had started fishing these islands on a commercial gillnetter, seining for the salmon winding their way through the islands back to the mainland. Back to the rivers they had hatched in four years earlier, fighting the current inland for miles to spawn and to die. He used to tell them about the unmarked buoy his crew had pulled up and found it was chained to a huge crab cage, the kind they use in open water up in Alaska. It was full to bursting with hundreds of crabs. Through the mass of their dark shells was the bright white of a human skeleton. Someone had been stuffed inside the cage and drowned. The corpse lured the animals into the cage, where they had picked it clean. His grandfather would cackle and say that that night the crew ate almost as well as the crabs.
Logan thought about the story and looked at the water. A cool spray fell on his face as the outboard motor pushed them through the small waves. The water was cold. It was spring, and the Pacific currents meant this was as warm as the water was going to get. It was too cold to want to go swimming, but it was warm enough that if Logan wanted to try and impress his brother he could strip down and jump in, acting unfazed by the cold. Sometimes his brother would sit on the shore and laugh. Other times he would strip down himself and dive into the water, surface, and say that it was warmer than he expected. Logan’s spirit would weaken and he would start to shiver. Only after he was dried and back in his clothes on the beach would his brother come out of the water, smiling.
The boat came to the head of the island. Logan’s brother held them on a straight course to give the rocky outcropping a wide berth. They kept chugging straight ahead. Logan looked back at his brother sitting in the sun by the motor. He met Logan’s gaze and lazily raised his head toward the bow of the boat. Logan turned to look. In the distance was a small island. They only ever set pots off their own. He looked back at his brother, who kept calmly staring at the horizon. Again facing forward, Logan too looked at the island.
A wave buffeted the boat, and he thought about the life vest stored under his seat. He knew his brother would expect him to put it on. The boat crashed down from one wave to the next. Logan thought about the crabs in their cages. He imagined the sound of the water rushing past them in short, smooth bursts as they surged towards surface and the light. The island grew in front of him. They were nearly there.
His brother veered south to make a counterclockwise loop around the shore. Logan glanced across the water at their island. It looked small. The high whine of the motor slid to a low putter as his brother backed off the choke. It was small, and before long they were halfway around it.
The bay was a few hundred yards across and was as deep as it was wide. Two arms of black rock held back a semicircle of water and sheltered it from the waves. It had no beach, but was ringed by black cliffs, rising up in front of them. As long as it wasn’t too deep, it was a prefect place for crabbing. Logan’s brother steered them into the mouth and next to the bluffs. Making sure the line attaching the buoy to the cage wouldn’t catch on anything as it fed out, Logan pushed the trap into the water. For three seconds, the line slipped over the side. Then it stopped. Exchanging surprised glances, they peered into the water. It was so shallow that they could see the cage sitting on the rocks on the bottom. It couldn’t have been more than 15 feet deep. They laughed, and their laughs bounced back at them off the black cliffs.
Logan threw the line and the buoy into the water and his brother started them off further into the bay. They set the next three pots at different distances from the cliffs, looking for deeper water, but the entire bay was only 15 feet deep. They puttered to the center of the bay, and Logan threw the final cage over the side. The line fed out slowly for three, four, five seconds. Then it started flying and cutting through the air. The buoy splashed into the water. Logan and his brother looked at each other with wide eyes. That was a 100-foot line. They threw their heads out over the side and peered into the water.
They were directly over a gaping black hole. A short distance away was the same rocky bottom on which they had set the previous pots, still 15 feet deep. From all directions the seabed poured into the hole beneath them. It looked like a black stain.
The boat leaned slightly on the edge where their combined weight was pushing it into the water. Logan suddenly felt as if the hole was trying to flip them out, waiting there like an open mouth. He quickly moved to the other side of the boat.
Logan was afraid of the hole. He wanted to get away from it.
‘Let’s get out of here.’ He didn’t try to hide his fear. He stared at his brother leaning out over the water. He imagined looking up at their boat from inside of the hole, the whole world black with a circle of light eclipsed by the gray metal of the boat and his brother’s body jutting out, staring back.
‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’
Still peering into the water, his brother replied ‘It’s nothing to be afraid of, Logan. It’s just a hole.’
‘I don’t like it. Let’s get the pots and go home.’
Finally his brother sat back in the boat and looked at him. When he spoke his voice was gentle. ‘It’s just a hole, full of crabs and kelp, probably an octopus or two and even a giant grouper all the way down at the bottom.’
‘Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it. It will be a long trip back here tomorrow. We should just get the cages and put them somewhere back on our island. Then we’ll have them picked back up before breakfast.’
His brother sat back and rested his elbows on the edge of the boat. ‘You can’t be afraid of things, Logan. It’s just a hole. We could set our pots somewhere else, but it would still be right here.’
Logan looked at the waves and the open water past the mouth of the bay. Then he let his eyes fall to bow of the boat. His voice was soft.
‘Yeah, I know. I just think it would be better to set the pots off our island.’ His face lit up and he met his brother’s gaze. He was excited. ‘After all, we don’t even know whose island this is! It might be illegal to set our pots here.’ There was no way his brother could argue with that. Tension flooded out of his shoulders as he relaxed. He smiled, knowing he had won.
His brother looked back at him with mirthless eyes. Then he smiled. He stood up and took of his jacket.
‘What are you doing?’
He tossed the jacket onto the bottom of the boat and started to take off his shoes.
‘You can’t! Don’t get in the water!’ Logan jumped to the side of the motor and began frantically jerking on the pull cord, trying to start it. The boat rocked under their movements.
His brother took off his shoes and socks and began to unfasten his belt. Logan couldn’t get the motor started. With each pull it coughed and choked. The sound echoed back at him, filling the empty spaces of the bay.
He looked at his brother, who was now standing in his underwear. The grin on his face was the exact opposite of Logan’s terrified expression. Softly, Logan implored him: ‘Please don’t.’
Wordlessly, his brother turned and dove over into the water.
Logan felt the splash. It was cold. He watched where his brother had disappeared, but didn’t move to lean out of the boat.
He surfaced with a sharp whoop. Treading water, he turned around. ‘It’s warmer than I expected.’ His smile faded when he saw Logan’s expressionless face. His limbs moved slowly and noiselessly beneath the water. He looked Logan in the eyes and said softly ‘Logan. Don’t be afraid.’ He took a deep gasp of air and dove.
Immediately Logan was at the edge of the boat, peering over the side and looking into the water. He didn’t care if the hole was watching. He had to see what happened to his brother. He was already eight feet beneath the surface. His pale body stood out sharply against the empty black of the hole. Logan held his breath.
Two more kicks and he reached the edge. He grabbed a rock and held himself there, suspended, hesitating. In his head, Logan was begging him to swim back to the surface. ‘Please come back up. I won’t be afraid anymore.’
As his brother propelled himself into the hole, he just disappeared. It was as if the hole was filled with black ink. First his arms, then his head, then his kicking feet, and then he was gone.
Logan’s diaphragm spasmed against his lungs, begging for air. The hole began to grow, slowly filling his vision. Finally he coughed and filled his lungs with short fast breaths. As oxygen returned to his brain the hole slowly shrank. He could smell the evergreen trees growing on the island, the wet rock of the cliff, the salt in the air.
Logan had lost track of time. One minute? Two? The hole stared back at him, its empty eye impaled by the needle of the line.
He brought leaned against the metal. His brother’s clothes sat piled in the bottom of the boat. He could hear the waves lapping against the rocks at the base of the cliffs. The same waves gently rocked the boat holding Logan and the pile of clothes.
Logan looked at the bluffs. Tears started to roll down his cheeks. He felt his stomach rise. He leaned over the boat and wretched into the sea, onto the hole that had taken his brother. Throwing himself onto his brother’s clothes, he started to sob. He panted wildly, afraid and alone.
When Logan woke it was dark. The first thing he saw was the stars. The sky was clear. Pulling himself up, he looked over the side of the boat. The hole was still directly beneath him. Somehow the boat hadn’t drifted at all. Logan stared at it until his eyes blurred. As they did, the reflection of the stars slowly came into focus. The points of light on the surface of the water stretched and shrank with the gentle undulations of the waves. The hole lay black beneath it all.
He took a deep breath and moved back to the motor. It started on the first try with a roar that shattered the silence of the bay. While the motor idled loudly, Logan slowly traced the tops of the cliffs with his eyes. Their rough-hewn shadow was silhouetted against the starry sky.
He killed the motor and stood up. Noiselessly his clothes fell onto the sweatshirt and jeans already piled in the bottom of the boat. The water rushed loudly past his ears the instant he broke the surface. It was warmer than he expected. With sure strokes he pulled himself down through the water, down towards the silent black of the hole.