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Story by Emily-Jo Hopson (Read author interview) December 20, 2011

Art by Alesia Pratt

They went down into the water like brown beads on black thread. The sight was almost peaceful to the white men, their grim faces grim as butchers or abattoir boys. Peaceful-sad, like sending good cattle to slaughter. They went quietly, mournful-lowing. The primary sense was of waste.

The line the chain had dragged across the deck made a trail of broken skin, piss, blood, feces. They sluiced the wood clean with buckets drawn from the dead water. Some dripped through the cracks and joints into the sailors’ bunks. The sack-cloth bedding and the few clothes they had smelled of rotten things for weeks—things beside the semen and sweat rot they usually stank with.

Damp hair began to sprout in corners, appear in beds, snag on fish-hooks. One hot afternoon, the anchor came up draped in black, furry slime. Soon, dark fluff was baked into biscuits, wrapped around the legs of weevils, trapped in spider-webs, clumped between the men’s toes. The parrots below deck added to the commotion by losing their feathers, some by dropping from their perches. The captain’s cat leapt from the hull. A strand of black hair caught between two teeth was the final straw. As it pulled free, it cut the gum open, and rendered each tooth a marble pattern of red on white.

The next morning, they sent the rest overboard.

Down into the waves like brown beads.

About the Author

Emily-Jo Hopson lives in the most rural wilds of mid-Wales and has done since birth. Her work has been short-listed for prizes and appeared in the Cheshire Prize anthology, Zoo. She recently graduated with a BA in Creative Writing with History, where she spent the better part of her time studying slavery, civil rights and postcolonial narratives. She is currently working on a postcolonial speculative fiction novel. “Zong” takes place during the 1781 massacre of about 130 slaves aboard the slave ship Zong.

About the Artist

Alesia Pratt is a 25 year-old artist who draws her inspiration from horror and dark illustration. She was born in California, but moved to Louisiana ten years later, where she received her BFA in Studio Art from Louisiana Tech University in 2009. Alesia teaches kindergarten through third grade and enjoys comic books, art history and being angry on the Internet.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Four

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