I struggled with whether or not to publish this story. I wrote it in response to my deepest fear after my son was born: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). For the first several months of his life I was downright paranoid about it. That calmed once he learned to roll over and became more dexterous because now I’m confident that if he couldn’t breathe for whatever reason he’d be able to maneuver enough to at least cry out for help. But there are still times when I’ll go into his nursery while he sleeps and gently place my palm against his back or chest to be sure he’s breathing okay.
Writing, and then publishing, our fears makes us vulnerable. There is a lot of vulnerability in this story, which is why I was hesitant to put it up. But there is also a triggering effect. As awful as it is, lots of people have lost children to all sorts of things and have had to move on, somehow. I’m not sure there’s any understanding or relief in this story. It’s built from fear and ends in devastation. I don’t know how I feel about that.
In the end I think it’s important for me to be vulnerable with my fears. By putting it into the world I’m acknowledging that vulnerability and hoping to commiserate with others. I don’t know, it’s strange to write from a place of darkness and be unable to find any light. But there is a place for it, I think. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to say how things are, recognize that bad things happen randomly, for no reason, and then move on from it. Hug someone a little tighter the next time you see them, just as I hug my son every day.
The idea for this story came from one of my favorite pastimes, listening the Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast. Specifically, episode 122: The Shortest Straw. In this episode, Mahnke details various acts of cannibalism throughout history, including the saga of the English yacht “The Mignonette.” I was fascinated by what it might feel like to be in the position that eating someone you know might keep you alive long enough to get back to your family.
That said, the story didn’t come easily. I wrote it once, didn’t like it, let it sit for a long time, revisited it and liked it more than I remembered, rewrote it, let it sit, did an edit, etc. The reason for that was twofold:
- Whose perspective should the story take? A crew members? The person being eaten? Someone doing the eating?
- What tone should the story take? Horrific? Regretful? Melancholic?
Ultimately, I settled on the Captain making a horrific and melancholic decision to sacrifice himself for his crew. Part of me feels like I should have played into the horror aspects of the act more, but I also suspect that’s because I’m on a horror kick in my reading life. I think the approach I take in this story is the more interesting, human one, and better for me as a writer.
What do you think? Would you have liked to see it written differently? Let me know in the comments.