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  • Writer's pictureAmr Abbas

Burya 4: Chapter 4

Read Burya 4: Prologue (The Night Before) here.

Read Burya 4: Chapter 1 (Into the Belly of the Beast) here.

Read Burya 4: Chapter 2 (The Fridge) here.

Read Burya 4: Chapter 3 (Matryoshka of the Sea) here.


Mad Men at the Sea


When Allan saw the captain walk into the room, he stood, but he did not salute him. He stayed still, eyes looking up at the ceiling of his chamber. He was wearing his boots, and his coat with a t-shirt underneath, but he was not wearing his trousers. Captain Anatoly looked at the man and nodded his head and closed the door behind him. He locked it and walked over to the single chair by the small desk on the left-hand side of the room. He pulled the chair slowly then he sat down, placed his boots onto the bed, and removed his hat. He brushed his hair and leaned back on the seat.

“Have a seat, comrade,” Anatoly ordered the much older man.

Allan snickered. It was such a low-tone snicker that Anatoly didn’t make much of it. After all, Allan had his ticks and it was not beyond him to laugh at the captain involuntarily. He sat by the captain’s shoes then he looked at him. He crisscrossed his legs in front of the captain and said, “To what do I owe the pleasure, capt’n?”

“Do you know what the folks around here think of you?” Anatoly asked.

Allan did not respond; instead, he began fiddling with his teeth. He had a gold tooth which he scratched repeatedly.

“They think of you as a madman,” Anatoly eventually responded to his own question.

“Aha!” Allan grunted, then he looked at the hat, “Do you remember when I told you about the horrors of the deep?”

“I recall several stories,” Anatoly answered.

“Well, none of them are entirely true,” Allan said, then he stood up. He walked towards the small single-door closet nearest the door.

“No one actually thinks that they are real stories, you do realize that, don’t you?” Anatoly responded as he watched Allan who opened the closet and retrieved something from it. It was a large bottle of single-malt whiskey.

Allan smiled. “My stories are not real?” Another snicker escaped him as he placed the bottle on the desk and opened it.

“Well, the folks like the stories. I think that the stories make them alert, they add a joy to their miserable travels. I know that they don’t think they are real. Any child would think those stories are made up, as most stories are. But it’s the experience of you telling them that makes them enjoy themselves.”

“Aha!” Allan nodded, then snickered, then he nodded again. “So, you don’t think my stories are true?”

“I do not, comrade.”

“Did you ever think that I might be watering down the stories?” He asked and took a sip of the bottle on the table. He then pushed it closer towards Anatoly who looked at it then back at the man. He scanned him from head to toe and shook his head.

“Do you know what the folks here think of you?” asked Allan.

The captain twisted his lips and brushed his hair again, “Never cared much of it.”

“But that is why you are here, capt’n. Is it not the reason you have entered my chamber to begin with? Do you not wish to know why the comrades like me when they do not like you?” he exclaimed and took another sip of the whiskey. After a long sip, he passed the bottle back to the captain and shrugged.

Anatoly merely glanced at the bottle and averted his gaze to the desk. There were sketches on the desk. Some of them were of men on the ship, some were of the sea and the islands, and one particular sketch was more detailed and darker.

“Thank you comrade Allan, but I do not wish to drink at this moment,” Anatoly responded.

“They think that you are an unqualified brat,” Allan said. “They know that you have no business being on this submarine.”

Anatoly immediately stood up, he brushed his hair again and glared at the man who took another sip of the whiskey.

“Sit down comrade, you took off your cap, you want to listen,” Allan said and offered the man the whiskey once again.

Anatoly took the bottle and sat back down as Allan moved back in his seat. “The sea makes you see things. It makes you think of things beyond your own grasp of reality. It shows you how small you are. Have you ever been stranded in a desert, comrade? The specs of sand are so countless that they make you feel tiny. But the sea, the sea is vast, it is treacherous, more so than any desert. In the desert, you can look for a well, for shade under a rock, red or grey, but in the sea, there is no water that can quench your thirst even as the water extends beyond God’s imagination. There is no shade but the shadow of night, and if you are stranded in the sea, you don’t get to wish for nightfall. You will freeze, and you do not wish for the morning sun. You can only wish for death. Death crawls on the waves, it is the only hope you have. If you are unlucky, you would survive days and nights, but it is the treachery of hope. Hope is not something for the sea. You stand on solid ground between oceans of blue, who lies underneath, you may never know. If not for drowning, you’ll die of dehydration, or a storm will shake you and strand you. And if you are truly unlucky, you may end up on an island, stranded away from life. And then what? Hope becomes death, death becomes hope, the lines blur on the shorelines”

Anatoly took a sip of the whiskey then he looked at Alan. “You speak much of the sea and madness in your stories.”

“Because the sea is maddening. You fall in love with it when you are a child. But it becomes this relationship that takes everything away from you, and no matter how much the sea gives you, it will never be a fraction of what you give it,” Allan answered. “But you wouldn’t know much about that. That’s why you are a stranger here, comrade.”

“You say it takes from you, but what does it take?” the captain asked.

“It takes your health, your sanity. And in here, we are under the sea, in a submarine. When was the last time you saw the sunlight, capt’n?” he asked.

“Well, the morning before we boarded this submarine.” 

“We’ve been here for 21 days, 11 hours, and,” Allan looked at his wristwatch then back at the captain, “and 43 minutes.” He took another sip of the whiskey which he drank as one would drink water.”

“That is the longest I’ve been without sunlight, then,” Anatoly said. “I once was in solitary confinement for 4 days.”

“Four days!” Allan repeated and chuckled aloud. Between sips, he looked at the captain, “We are not even halfway through this journey. And it is driving you mad.”

“I have been seeing things,” the captain confessed.

Allan tilted his head as the captain drank. He waited and observed as the man put down the bottle. Then, Anatoly continued. “It started after a few days here. I know that the men do not like me. I’m not capable of running this submarine, but I am the captain for god’s sake! I worked my whole life to be in a place like this and finally, here I am. Of course, I would have preferred to run something on the shore, but you take what you get. And this is what I got!

“I see the way that they look at me. It’s not too different from the way that they look at you, comrade Allan. But you, even though they all know you are mad, they like you! They do not like me. They do not care for me. Had it not been for the more stripes on my shoulder, they wouldn’t even have listened to me!

“And now, look at me! I’m sitting here with a madman, talking about my own madness.”

Allan chuckled and patted the captain hard on the shoulder, “Drink, comrade Anatoly, drink!” He pointed at the bottle and then he spoke, “You think me mad because you don’t want to be like me. But I am less mad than you. I thrive at sea. They may think me mad, but they love me here! And all of this is because I am the sea. You too, shall be, if only you learn to love the fear.”

“Love the fear?” Anatoly drank and looked at the man. They were halfway into the bottle. “I am telling you that I see things. And the constant buzzing and hammering. How does it not get to you? Or is it because of that you went mad?”

“Ah! You speak of the ship.” Allan stood and walked around the few meters of the room that he could, “The hammering is the heartbeat of the ship. Were you born with the love you have for your boots? Were you born with the love you have for your gun in its holster? No, comrade. You learn those things. You acquire them. Just as you acquire the love for whiskey and for vodka. Those heartbeats you hear are not alien. They are not of the ship but of the crew, of you, of me! We are part of the ship, we are part of the machine. And if we lose vision of that, what are we but madmen at sea? Burya tells you that it is breathing with you.”

“You speak of the ship as if she is alive. It is but a machine.”

“And a machine is alive! She lives with us, we inhabit her, we only live because of her. And she lives because of us, sure, but we are mere specks of dust on it. We make things work the way we want to, but all glory to her!” Allan spoke. His voice was shaking then.

Anatoly looked at him as he paced. He watched his bare legs as he walked around; the skinny, grey-haired legs that carried his weight. “And what of the visions, comrade Allan?”

“What visions?” Allan asked with a smile wide on his face.

“I keep seeing things. Things out of place. I keep seeing blood. I keep seeing blood on my own hands. I wake up, and things are not in place, I sleep, and I hear those voices. It is as if death looms aboard this ship.” Anatoly spoke.

When he finished, he looked at Allan. Allan was sitting on the bed again. He was still in his underpants, boots, and coat. But there was a hole in his head. It was a hole where his left eye used to be. Blood was scattered on the wall behind him.

Anatoly heard a sudden thud and then the buzzing became constant. He froze in his place for a moment, then when he looked at his hand, he saw the pistol that he constantly cleaned. Smoke flowed out of the barrel.

“So, you are seeing things.” Allan’s voice came hoarser than usual. He tilted his head to look at Anatoly with his one blue eye and smiled; the golden tooth glowing in the minimal light of the room. “You think you see death, you see blood on your hands because your hands are covered in blood. And you, my good captain, are drunk. You need to sleep, you need to rest, otherwise, you will never reach the hole. There is a hole in the pit of the ocean for the likes of you and me. For those who love the sea. And for those who hate it. I cannot be sure which is which. You know what they say, better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

Anatoly jerked off his seat. He could see Anatoly’s brain from the hole in his skull. He leaped to the door and exited the room. The buzzing and the flashing and the thudding and the laughing all shook him.



Sketch of a Mad Man


Written by Amr Abbas.

Illustration by Amr Abbas.

Cover illustration by Amr Abbas.


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