The Bad Element
by Amiel Rossin
Sherwood Shulz was afraid of the water. He was not afraid of the things that dwell beneath the surface, those nasty things that pinch and sting and swallow you whole. He was not afraid of the ocean’s aphotic depths or its unforgiving cold. He did not flinch at the violent crash of waves on a jagged shore, nor did he shiver at the thought of drowning.
Sherwood Shulz was afraid of the water. Sherwood Shulz was afraid of the wet. That inescapable wet that plunged from the sky like a hail of poison arrows, or rose from the ground like the liquid undead. A mere sprinkle of water on Sherwood’s hand would send him into a panic, as if the contemptible fluid were permeating his skin and clinging to his bones in a slick embrace.
When he was a boy, Sherwood’s mother was forced to wash him in one inch of bathwater, and still Sherwood screamed as though he were burning alive. As he grew into manhood, his refusal to cleanse himself led to awkward firings, shortened friendships, and zero dates. Sherwood knew he would live his entire life, his each and every moment, in absolute dread.
And so, over time, and with years of counseling by the exceptional Dr. Fleck (who would cover her office aquarium whenever Sherwood came to visit), he reached a shaky accord with water, a baby step that allowed him to tolerate a two inch bath for up to thirty seconds. But two inches and thirty seconds could not erase years of stench.
“Goddamn, you smell like a barrel of piss in a shit factory,” said a gruff voice behind Sherwood.
“Who’s gonna push ‘im? Cuz it ain’t gonna be me,” said a squeaky voice.
“Just use your foot, pussy,” said Gruff.
As the men argued, Sherwood’s legs trembled. He stared at his reflection in the oily water and wondered if he might drop dead right there on the edge of the dock. Boy would these guys be disappointed.
“If it makes any difference,” said Squeaky, “your family will be left alone.”
“I don’t have family,” said Sherwood.
“Then no one’ll miss ya,” said Squeaky. “Of course, no one ever missed ya, did they, Sherwood?”
“Not when you smell like a whore’s dead tooth,” said Gruff.
Then Sherwood felt something shove him in the small of his back, and the next thing he knew he was falling, and the black sea was rushing up at him like an oncoming train.
And then there was darkness. And frigid cold. And silence, ungodly silence, as the concrete shoes pulled Sherwood down into the monster’s gaping jaws. The nightmare that had plagued him since birth had taken him, head to foot, into its pitiless embrace. Sherwood’s screams were not heard by anyone or anything. And when he finally hit bottom, he gave up screaming and tightened his mouth and held his breath and waited for the inevitable. After all the years of being hunted by the beast, Sherwood would finally die in its belly.
But a funny thing happened at the bottom of the harbor. As the seconds passed, and Sherwood’s vision adjusted, and he examined the aquatic realm in which he would spend eternity, he thought to himself, This isn’t so bad. And as the flesh-eating cold became warmer and his anxieties melted away in the quiet solitude, he thought, This isn’t so bad. Even when Sherwood’s lips began to part and the first trickle of water crept onto his tongue and slid down his throat, he thought, It was never so bad at all.
That’s when Sherwood opened wide and welcomed his lifelong nemesis into his lungs where it promptly stole his breath and ended him.
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Amiel Rossin lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son. He holds a BA in Theater and an MFA in Screenwriting. He’s still figuring out Twitter, but you can connect @AmielRossin.