Contributor: Jim Clinch

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Sully hauled on the line and swung the empty trap onto the deck. He cursed out loud. It was late, the water was rough and the stone crabs should be moving and filling up his traps. They weren’t. He re-baited with mullet, many years past noticing the stench, and tossed the trap back over the side.
He was alone. It was windy but clear and the moon provided enough light to work by. Normally he’d have his friend Carl along, but Carl’s cousin got arrested for cutting a man in a bar and Carl had to go to the Sheriff’s Office to deal with it. Sully pulled a pack of unfiltered cigarettes from his flannel shirt and lit one expertly in spite of the wind. The cigarette was slimed with fish guts from his fingers, but he didn’t notice and wouldn’t have cared if he did.
The small boat pitched and rolled as the outboard motor idled. He put her in gear and motored to the next marker, his keen night vision picking it out as it danced in and out of the swells.
This crab trap seemed heavier. After all these years, Sully could tell when he was hauling up a trap with some crabs in it. He got it to the surface and swung it into the boat, his motions practiced and efficient and automatic.
He stopped short. He stared at the empty trap.
Wedged in the opening was a pale, white human arm.
Sully was a good man living a hard life and he’d seen his share of ugliness, but the arm stuck in his crab trap made his stomach turn. He unconsciously put a fishy hand to his mouth and burned it on the half-finished Camel.
“Son of a bitch!” he said, flicking the cigarette over the side. The boat tossed and the wind whistled and the hull smacked the waves. Sully stood looking at a forearm and hand, severed just below the elbow. He couldn’t imagine how this got wedged in his trap.
The motor idled and the boat drifted and Sully stood transfixed. After a time, he shook his head as though coming out of a stupor. What the hell? What was he supposed to do now? He was understandably repulsed by the thing. He didn’t want to touch it and thought about picking up the whole trap and banging it on the gunwale until the gruesome thing dislodged and plopped back into the water. Then he felt embarrassed and ashamed for his squeamishness.
He sat down at the helm and skillfully lit another cigarette. Sully was not a smart man, but he was a moral man. That arm, he reasoned slowly, belonged to somebody. Could have been a shark attack or a boating accident, whatever. There was a good chance the owner was dead. If there were still fingerprints on it maybe the cops or the Coasties could figure out who it was and notify the family. That would be some consolation to them, at least. They’d have something to bury.
Sully finished his smoke and tossed the stub. He couldn’t stop staring at the arm; white in the moonlight, bloodless, the wound end looking like wet, shredded toilet paper. He felt enormously sad. He thought of his daughter, fourteen now and living with her mother. She was the only family he had. He worked at the auto shop all day and at night he caught stone crab for the local restaurants or hauled firewood and stumps for a guy. Anything to earn some extra money. He liked to buy her things, but it was often awkward. What do you say to a fourteen-year-old girl? In her young eyes he must seem ancient. The thought made him smile. Sully didn’t think being thirty-seven was ancient, but then again there sure were times when it felt that way.
Did the arm’s owner have kids? Parents? A loving wife? There’s so much that can go wrong out on the water. What had happened in this case? If the owner died, what was he thinking? Was it over quickly? Was he scared? Did it hurt?
The anchor light went out and that roused him. Damn, he thought. Now what? He looked forward and saw the red and green running lights were out as well.
Sully swore to himself as he reached for the headlamp hanging from the knob on the steering wheel. He slid the elastic headband on and flicked on the little LED light on his forehead. Down on his hands and knees he popped the small hatch to the battery compartment and went to work.
Sully’s boat had drifted a long way. The big container ship was downwind so Sully never heard it. The ship’s watchman didn’t see the small, darkened fishing boat until it was too late.
It was painful and frightening and not over quickly. He thought of his daughter. And, as is so often true, there was no moral to the story.

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Jim Clinch is the author of the quirky mystery novel "Canterbury's Tale" ( and numerous short stories. He lives in Southwest Florida.
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