Beware, the Onslaught of CHUM! A scurvy, twisted serial-novel
- a turgid tale of sicko psyches, vengeance, violence, foul-will,
perverts and infatuation! Squeamish souls should turn away,
run, flee! CHUM is not meant for wussies or the weak!
Only those with strong esophagi and a warped sense of humor may enter
this vortex of fisherman gone bad, lusty sluts, wretched witches,
ratfish, dogfish, skate, and eels!
join us each virtual week for another action-packed, knee-slapping,
truth-glimpsing installment of our cursèd selves!
Daring Reader, Welcome, to CHUM...
n. 1. [from chamber fellow. Cf. comrade.] A roommate,
as in a college; also, an intimate friend; habitual companion; associate.
Now Colloq. 2. [origin obscure] Chopped fish, fish blood,
or the like, thrown overboard to draw fish. 3. Refuse or scrap
fish, as in a fish cannery; also, the pulp left after expressing oil
from menhaden. U.S. 3. v.i. To fish with the aid of
chum, chopped fish, or viscera. 4. n. The common dog salmon
(Oncorhynchus keta vulgaris).
an island so far north and so far removed from the Alaskan mainland
that it is almost Russian--way, way out in the Bering Strait, in the
steel-gray spray, beneath the dirty dingy, oceanic sky, in the swirling
fog and breaking waves where the ice of the Arctic comes screeching
down like a host of hags to freeze in the beards of fishermen, who
are used to coughing, flu, phlegm, and the monsters they haul from
the blue-black depths: grotesque bubble-eyed cod, great skates, half-ton
halibut, gothic skulpin, cabezone, and all the bullheads and rockfish
and dogfish and ratfish they know--which they take back to their island
that doesn't even have a name, just a cannery, a trailer park, a market,
a bar, some summer homes, a school, roads in disrepair, a power plant,
a gas station, and the high cliffs and beaches surrounding this rock--where
ships stop for fuel, from Russia, Japan, Canada, and the States, then
leave this place where men fish and fight and fuck and the women work
in the cannery wearing slate-gray smocks splattered with the blood
of creatures brought in bins and spread out on the slime-line where
they're gutted and cleaned and processed into dogfood.
These women have been together so long, and have worked together
so long, that their bodies are attuned to each other. Once a
month, the cannery becomes a dim fluorescent menstrual hut, where
the salt air hums with a tension as thick as the mist in the bay.
Sometimes a life is lost in the cogs, or the pistons of machinery,
but nothing ever comes of this. And it's the same at sea, where
the elements strike randomly. There is no law enforcement here,
just a Post Office, a company store, and a graveyard. Fifty
is the average age, seventy-two is the oldest. The young are
rare, and the main cause of death is suicide. Rape is the norm--that's
how people are born.
Up the hill, at the highest point on the island, there's an
iron cross on top of the church, attached to a cable strung to a pole
driven into the earth. Here, lightning strikes every winter,
sometimes ten or twenty times per day. It is almost always raining.
In March, the storms reach biblical proportions. The sky
billows black from morning to night like some all-consuming mushroom
cloud held-in, sometimes blowing in at 100 miles per hour, looking
like the depths of hell erupting from some rupture and roiling with
the wrath of God searching for a Sodom or Gomorrah to smear.
There are tendrils in the turbulence, detonations, and gulls
tumbling in flight, feathers snapping, wings ripping, necks twisting.
It's a storm that comes every year, smashing boats, sinking ships--it
rides the skyline, right above the waterline--which rises to meet
it, foaming and frothing, lifting and breaking, then churning into
waves that crash down on each other, with hundreds of tons of pressure--where
the unlucky have clung to whatever they could, no sense of gravity
or direction in that space of chaos where water and weather rush together,
roaring toward the island in the shape of a comma half the size of
Iowa. There's nothing to do but batten down the hatches.
The people of the island, however, are not afraid of this storm;
it is part of their life and just as expected as birth and death.
The plywood goes up and the anchors go down. The cannery is
the safest place in town, a concrete cube with cinderblock walls.
The women go to work and the men stay at home, sleeping or drinking
or beating their kids. Though some men go out, with nets and
traps and buckets of chum--but not because they're braving the storm.
They never know where the tempest will form, or if it will even hit
the island. Sometimes it misses, and then a day's catch is lost
from laying low. Other times though, the town must be repaired.
In any case, the resource they depend upon is always worth more than
the lives of a few measly men, who are disposable and paid by the
pound--like the captains, who make the decision when to go out and
when to come in.
Such is the scene one morning in March: the women are scrambling
to get to work, the school bus is unloading in the darkening dawn,
and the sun is coming up somewhere beyond the hovering clouds.
It's one of those days that could go either way; the horizon is low
and the sky's not getting any lighter. It could hit that afternoon,
it could hit in a week. The town is preparing; hammering can
be heard on every street. Shattering glass is a pain in the
Five boats took off before dusk, two have already come back.
The captains have either chickened out, caught their catch, come to
their senses, or they're dead. They always cut it close.
It isn't raining but the wind is picking up. A strange
green glow can be seen in the foam. The tide is rising, lapping
at the driftwood left last year. Every time the tide recedes,
dead fish--or nearly dead fish--are left on the beach. Some
are already rotten, smelling sweet and fetid, attracting flies.
Others are buried under kelp. Man-o-wars are everywhere, their
orange and yellow streamers coated with sand and pieces of white shell.
Out on the spit, over a thousand ping-pong balls have just washed
up--for a reason that no one here will ever know. They bounce
and roll and float between the barnacled masses lodged in the sand:
rusty axles, mufflers, tires. Puddles of oil also wash up, with
shreds of netting, litter, logs. Then an eel appears, six-feet
long, half-devoured by the crabs. Then a salmon, gasping.
An albatross swoops down and stands on the sand, amidst the
flipping fingerlings. Spray begins to blow toward the land.
A dead dog washes up, bloated like a buoy, its fur worn off.
It hits a piling, punctures, and slowly deflates. Another boat
comes in, its flag at half-mast.
Over by the rocks, a seal pops up, swimming toward the musseled
caves. Rain can be seen a few miles out, thicker in some places,
thinner in others--but nevertheless, coming closer. Crows begin
to call to each other, a dog starts to howl. Others answer.
Their communal cry hangs in the air. Doors swing open and fishermen
come out, kicking at curs and yelling "Shut the fuck up!" It
doesn't do any good. A gunshot goes off. Somewhere, a
dog lies dead as a man goes back to bed. But the baying does
Now the waves are getting higher, and there is even more garbage
blowing in: Russian wrappers, Canadian cans, bottles, diapers, pieces
of paper. It all ends up caught in the kelp. More and
more fish wash up. Some have been dead for days, but the eyes
of most are just starting to film over. Every time a wave rolls
in, hundreds of fish are left in the sand: sand-dabs, sea-perch, tomcod,
The gulls descend and rip into flesh. There are thousands
of gulls lifting and diving and swooping the beach. They are
in a frenzy, tangles of intestines bloodying their breasts.
Like buzzards, they fight each other, even though the spoils are everywhere.
Birdshit splatters, rain descends.
Another boat comes in, and then a wall of water hits.
Sheet-rain slams the beach so hard that gulls fly squawking back to
the cliffs, but only some of them make it. When a raindrop hits
the sand, it forms a crater larger than an egg. The sand starts
to shift, and writhe with a texture just as alive as the water.
A rumbling comes closer.
The dogs are all inaudible now, hunkering under trucks, stairs,
stoves, each other. They are waiting for the weather.
Only the armored venture outside.
They come up from the sea and down from the rocks, emerging
from crags, tidepools, grass. There are thousands of them:
brown, red, blue, green. Covered with limpids, barnacles, kelp:
snowcrabs, spidercrabs, redrock, Dunganesse--feasting on the smorgasbord,
gnashing claws, clicking, scratching, scavenging. They climb
each other, carpet each other, consuming the entire beach, tearing
at the meat. In some places, the sand is knee-deep in crab.
The crab masses devour. The rain beats down. The
roaring increases. The ocean lifts--then descends, smashing
their backs. Thousands are sucked under, then spat up again.
Shells splinter, pincers are ripped out. Trees wash up.
A life-preserver, faded yellow by the sun. Human waste.
Styrofoam chunks. And then the battered gulls arrive, half their
feathers torn away, slapping down on the crabs, rolling in the sand,
freshly dead--a belt of them, forty or fifty or sixty miles long,
pushed ahead by the tide. It's coming.
Lightning strikes the cross on the church. Once, twice--thunder
booms, hail smashes down in lugnut-like conglomerations, bouncing
off the docks, cascading on the roofs. Pigs get hit and die
on the spot. The noise carries through the harbor like machine-gun
fire, sounding the first barrage of the storm. But suddenly,
it's gone and replaced by sleet. Plants break under the weight,
the streets are instantly glazed.
And then it appears eighteen miles out: complete blackness,
rising higher and darker than anything anyone here has ever seen.
Church bells start to clang: Emergency! Take Cover! Stay
Away From Windows! Pray to God, Motherfuckers!
The islanders know what to expect. The power will go out
and the blackness will take over. Things will get hit by mysterious
missiles, and gutters will gorge forcing pressure into homes.
Toilets will explode, so are duct-taped shut. Buckets will be
used. And mops and rags and barrels and drums. Rain will
burst in. Destruction is a given. People will be injured,
maimed, killed. Livestock is doomed. And when it all blows
over, there will be fish in the streets, uprooted trees, overturned
cars, trailer-homes floating out to sea, and school will be canceled.
But before the clean-up begins, the whole town will go to the beach
to reap what God has given them.
over the dunes, they descend like the hag masses of the seventeenth
century, actually cackling, laughing, jumping and running, armed with
sacks for plunder. Most of them are women, many of them toothless,
all of them squarish and squat. Descendants of Irish criminals,
their genes retain a nuance of Down's Syndrome thanks to a century
and a half of vigorous in-breeding.
Back when Australia was the New Welsh Prison Colony, an English
prison hulk known as The Ophelia was set upon by Mongolian pirates
off the coast of Borneo, so fled up the Makassar Strait where a winter
storm blew her into the Pacific. The ship got lost, but eventually
found its way to the Russian coast where another storm hit, busting
their mainmast in half and shredding their sails to gauze. The
Ophelia was soon beached on an island a quarter of a globe away from
its original destination. The captain of the ship, however,
decided that one rock in the middle of nowhere was just as good as
any, so dumped its cargo there. Repairs were made and the hulk
sailed back to England the long way, around Cape Hope. There
were several mutinies and it took a few years. When they finally
returned, the Queen made it known that such an embarrassing and wasteful
circumnavigation never occurred. The details of the voyage of
The Ophelia were hidden from history, and the islanders were left
to their own designs.
A pretty much illiterate people, there are no written records
on how the place was settled, and nobody there gives a damn to know.
They just fish and work and speak with a slightly Irish accent, which
is bent by a Danish inflection due to commerce with whalers in the
early 1800s, when the Scandinavians came for the trade of blubber--which
became the mainstay of the people well into the next century.
In the 1960s, the general population of the island didn't even
know they were under American jurisdiction until the middle of the
decade, when they found out they had been sold to the United States
along with Alaska. The reason they discovered this was because
of the Post Office, which was set up because a big oil company was
being forced to clean up a spill in the area, so established a port
to pretend their workers were doing something other than getting drunk
and partaking of the local loins. If it wasn't for the whorehouse
eventually erected in '64 (when the men discovered they could pimp
their women instead of slaughtering whales), the blue sperm whale
would now be extinct.
Following a scourge of syphilis, an exponential rise in birth-defects,
and a generation of mental retardation, the company store and cannery
were founded by the great-grandson of Chief Seattle, who brought industry
to the island--which experienced its prime in '66 with the paving
of some roads because of a demand for a ferry. The town, however,
never developed into the resort that the ferry was built for, because
the developer, a Nazi war criminal, was exposed, then bludgeoned to
death on the streets of London. When the oil company left in
'72 the whorehouse lost its business and the people were forced to
concentrate on fishing again. Jimmy Seattle made a bundle by
switching from salmon to "garbage fish"--which is the local word for
bottom-feeders, a class of fish that isn't good for much except grinding
up, packing into cans, and labeling "Dogfood." Since then, the
townsfolk have been subsisting mainly on cod, workmen's comp, and
social security. This is the history of the island.
In the distance, churchbells are ringing. It is a sedated
day, much warmer than the day before, the storm having blown through
the night while the men slept drunk and the women prayed for the bounty
of this day. Like last year, and the year before, and all the
years they can remember, the misfortune of others is no tragedy for
them. It is exactly the opposite.
Dressed in gray like the after-storm sky, varicose veins race
across the sand, occasionally stooping to scoop up a duck, twist its
neck then throw it in a sack, or grab a fish if it's still fresh.
The sun has just come up, and it is payday on the island.
Some children tag along, skipping and hopping and scanning the
sand. Few in this crowd, however, are under thirty. One,
Nadine, is an exception to the rule. In comparison to the rest,
she is almost beautiful. Down in Juneau though, she probably
wouldn't turn any heads, but she might get a job as a stripper.
She is nineteen, carries a couple defective genes, has been abused
by her father, neglected by her mother, and has no ambition except
to get laid by someone who is not a family member.
Nadine dresses like the rest, but hides her face in a heavy
scarf, and her body in a frumpy coat. To show one's youth on
the island is a sin, and it can get you raped and beaten. But
even worse is the treatment she'd receive from the women if she didn't
try to hide her skin, not yet plagued by wrinkles and age.
A Canadian honker appears at her feet. She stoops and
grabs it as someone slaps her on the ass. Nadine looks up and
sees old One Eye rushing by, still drunk and weaving in the sand,
his hand grasping the shape of her butt. Once she sucked him
off, but only because her father made her. Like most of the
men on the island, he is fat with bad breath, and has too much hair
on his body and face. Nadine despises beards.
She looks at the goose. It is still alive with two broken
wings. How it got here, she'll never know. They usually
fly south for the winter.
"Stupid bird," she tells it, and starts to crack its neck.
For a second though, the goose stares up with pleading eyes, and for
a second she hesitates. But Nadine has learned to get past that.
This goose is dinner. Snap! She throws it in the bag.
On the beach, a yacht has washed up. It is smashed all
to hell and surrounded by clothes, dishes, furniture and ravens.
The crowd tops the dune, sees this, cheers as one, and descends upon
the wreck. The ravens lift into the sky, airing their discontent.
According to the stern, this ship is from Santa Barbara and is dubbed
Stumbling and lurching, the women gather what they can, while
the men board the craft looking for liquor. Nadine throws things
in with the goose: some silverware, a fancy ashtray, string,
a spool of thread, a spatula, and a make-up case--which she quickly
opens, then snaps shut and throws in the sack. There were all
sorts of lipsticks in there, and things that only a whore would wear--according
to Mother Kralik, that is--who tells the women what they should believe.
And that's what they do believe. Nadine looks around.
Father O'Flugence is in the distance, watching the people scouring
the wreck. For a second Nadine feels a sheepish tweek, but then
remembers he is always there whenever a boat washes up, and it's not
like he doesn't take a thing or two for the church. She knows
he knows what happens to survivors, if there are any. And she
knows he knows that God knows. Father O'Flugence is a sorry
old fuck. She sees him kneel and pick something up.
Meanwhile, Mother Kralik is coming closer, scavenging the sand.
She picks up a goblet, sneers at it, drops it into her bag, then goes
for a cup with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. Nadine takes
a step back.
If Mother Kralik passes by and doesn't see her, that would be
just fine. Mother Kralik, the oldest woman on the island, gives
Nadine the creeps. "The bitch is a witch," according to her
mother, and Nadine doesn't doubt it. Mother Kralik lives at
the end of the road where animal skulls mark her shack, a place Nadine
has been before, but not by choice. Nadine's mother used to
take her there whenever she had a fever. But she never recovered
because of Mother Kralik's "medicine," she always recovered because
kids recover--or else they die.
Nadine hated Mother Kralik's foul concoctions, which always
made her gag. And she hated the way that one yellow tooth would
always shine with saliva. Nobody on the island had very good
teeth, but Mother Kralik's were the worst. Or maybe it was just
the expression behind it--that expression like she wouldn't mind seeing
Nadine just disappear--for being younger and prettier than her, and
not knocked up yet.
Nadine once told her mother how she hated going to Mother Kralik.
She thought she could confide in her mother, but she was wrong.
Her mother slapped her a good one for shooting off her mouth, because
Mother Kralik was her friend. Or, rather, Nadine's mother hung
out with Mother Kralik just like all the other hags did, because they
were too afraid not to.
Which is why Nadine never told her mother about what happened
whenever she was sick. If she would've told her mother that,
she would've been beaten for a week--for "lying," or "disrespecting
an adult," or some shit like that. Mother Kralik had stuck stuff
in her. Like radishes and cigarettes--because this was part
of "the healing process." Mother Kralik had told Nadine not
to tell a soul, or the magic wouldn't work. And it wasn't so
much that Nadine minded the process, but more so it was the humiliation,
to be covered in sweat and trying not to puke, with that putrid tooth
gleaming down at her, and into her wide openness. It just wasn't
comfortable being totally exposed for somebody other than her father.
At least her father never sneered at her like Mother Kralik
did. He did his business, pulled out, shot his wad, and climbed
off. And if he ever came inside her, at least it was only in
her ass. Otherwise she would've had a little bastard.
There was a severe lack of abortionists on the island.
"What are you looking at!" Mother Kralik suddenly demands.
Nadine looks up. "Nothing," she says, and goes back to
staring at her feet.
The next thing she knows, Mother Kralik has her by the neck.
Nadine gasps and steps back, but the hull of the yacht blocks her
retreat. Mother Kralik crushes up against her, breathing bacteria
into her face.
Nadine tries to remain calm. This has happened before,
and soon it will pass. All she has to do is give in, give up,
agree, kiss ass.
"You're looking a little pale," Mother Kralik says, turning
Nadine's head to the side, and squinting at her skin. Out of
the corner of her eye, Nadine can see a moustache coming closer.
"I haven't seen you for a while," Mother Kralik says, "what
evil have you been up to?"
Nadine refuses to answer.
"Tell your mother to send you by," Mother Kralik snarls, then
gives a shove and turns away. But right when Nadine thinks she
won't come back, Mother Kralik spins.
"Lemme tell you something," Mother Kralik sneers, lowering her
brow and marching back, then pointing at something in her hand, "sluts
like this deserve what they got coming!"
Mother Kralik shows it to Nadine. It's a photograph in
a fancy frame: a glamorous blonde in her mid-twenties, smiling, sexy
and strong. She is standing in front of the ship's wheel on
the Pacific Dream proudly displaying a drink which reads "Snapple"
on the label. She is wearing a captain's hat and a nipply t-shirt
which says, "I ? MY SHIP." Her boobs are enormous.
"Pacific Dream, Bah!" Mother Kralik spits, picking a stuffed
pink rabbit out of the sand and shaking it in Nadine's face, "Anyone
with shit like this deserves to get their dream fucked up! Anyone
with fluffy little foo-foo dreams about sailing around with champagne,
waltzing in and out of other people's shitholes, just giggling away
and wagging her ass around like a slut, well it's high time they learned
that people get fucked! And dreams get fucked! Cuz there's
no escaping getting fucked! Yep, it's the number one law of
Physics. Shit gets squished!"
Mother Kralik hands the picture to Nadine and looks in her bag,
listing what she's found: "Fancy perfume, cute little crystal thing,
bath oil, shampoo, sassy little wristwatch, prissy little ruby ring,
useless ivory elephant, brandy snifter... who needs this shit!?"
Nadine shrugs and looks at the picture. The hag speaks
to the bag as if it were some bimbo: "You know what you are honey?
You're just a bag of shit like the rest of us! Yep, you're a
walking, talking bag of shit! A mobile digestive system baby,
that's what you are! And you got squished! Your money
and your sweet ass couldn't save you from that, now could it?
Cuz that's the way it is! I mean, only a damn fool would think
the world should be the way it isn't, cuz that's not gonna happen!
Cuz that... that's fantasyland, little miss princess! Little
miss hoity-toity! Little miss Snapple-sipping bitch!"
Mother Kralik puts down her bag and starts in twisting her wrists.
Nadine knows that Mother Kralik isn't talking to her, she's talking
to herself--in a voice that's getting sharper and sharper.
"I hope you died out there!" Mother Kralik goes on. "Died
screaming out there, little miss rich bitch! Little miss hot-to-trot,
waving-your-tits-in-the-air, fat-free bitch! Little miss hot
pants! I hope you died screaming and vomiting at the same time.
Yeah, screaming and puking and drowning, saltwater rushing in!
Filling your lungs! Choking you, choking you... the ocean raping
your precious little pussy! Your precious little perfumed pussy!
Drying up your cunt! Shriveling you up! Turning you into
one of us!..."
Mother Kralik suddenly turns to Nadine, grabs the picture out
of her hands, and snags a loogie on the glass. Then, just as
quickly, she raises the picture above her head and smashes it on a
rock, adding, "Sorry Chuck!"
Who the hell Chuck is though, Nadine doesn't know. She
swallows hard as Mother Kralik stands there wheezing through her nose.
Nadine doesn't say a thing. Both of them are looking down.
Then Mother Kralik kicks the sand, and uncovers a half-buried,
gold-plated cross. It is highly ornate, about a foot long.
Mother Kralik grabs it, and thrusts it toward Nadine, holding it like
"I've got my eye on you," Mother Kralik cackles, then gives
Nadine a slap on the ass.
"Holy Shit!" somebody suddenly yells. "Another
Reader: Do Not Miss the Next Installment of CHUM to See the
Astonishing Wreckage and What Beautiful Booty It Brings to this
Island of the Damned!