My friends and I like to take what we call "adventure weekends" about three times a year.
We met in college while we were brothers in Pie Beta Capa. There's Jarred, Max, and Rodge, and me, of course. PBC is a forever kind of brotherhood, but we took it a little more seriously than most. We all live in different parts of the United States, but three times a year we come together for these three to five-day trips that are just epic!
We've gone zip-lining in Costa Rica, mountain climbing in the Rockies, white water rafting in Mexico, and diving in the Bahamas. We've been all over the place, and though it may seem a little excessive, so what? We're four unmarried guys with no kids and great jobs, so our income is still pretty much ours to blow as we see fit.
So when Max said we should get a houseboat and go trolling up the coast for five days we were all on board, pun definitely intended.
So we met him at a little port in Mississippi and he introduced us to The Troller Queen. She was a two-cabin houseboat with a living room, party deck, two monster motors, and a galley with enough beer and snacks to keep the party going for seven days and six nights. We were stoked, to say the least, and as Max pulled us out of the marina, we knew this was going to be an adventure for the books.
That statement would prove to be a little too prophetic.
I haven't really properly introduced the guys yet, and it's important to get the group dynamic down. Me and Jarred were the jocks of the group, a pair of gym rats who were constantly on the grind for the perfect physique. Max was our resident cool guy, just a chill dude who liked to party and usually organized our little adventures. Rodge was our brain, and most of us probably wouldn't have graduated without him. He was probably the smartest guy in the frat, and he had helped a lot of us keep our GPAs up so we could keep our various grants and scholarships.
We all had our parts to play, like the A-Team, and each of us made up for some shortcomings in the other.
Max had charted our course so that we could stop sometimes and spend our nights partying in port. Biloxi, Long Beach, and finally we would end off in New Orleans, where we would turn the boat into the rental company and get a car back to the original dock so we could get our cars. It was a good plan, but Rodge pointed out that his route took us through several shipping lanes that would likely bring us close to the larger shipping vessels that used them.
"They'd probably capsize us if we got too close. It might be better to stick to the less busy waterways if we expect to get the deposit back on our rented houseboat."
Max brushed it off, "If we take these routes, we're better suited to stop in the party ports. Come on, Rodge, live a little."
Rodge furrowed his brow but didn't argue.
Rodger McCormick, an underprofessor at the college we had graduated half a decade ago, might not be a risk taker, but Rodge had learned long ago to roll with the punches when he was with us.
It usually came out okay, and Rodge enjoyed the adventure as much as the rest of us.
We had been out for three days, preparing to stop in Gulf Port and take on provisions before heading to New Orleans, when we saw something strange in the water. Well, not that strange, I guess. After all, it's not that uncommon to see a rubber duck in the water, it's kind of where they live. Most of the time it's bathtubs or sinks, though, and not off the coast of Louisiana.
I was manning the wheel, playing captain while Max went and took a break, and when I first saw it, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. I wouldn’t have seen it all if it wasn’t fluorescent orange and riding a huge wave. It was just one at first, a single little guy bobbing on the waves and smiling happily, but as I watched, I saw more of them riding the swells. There were ducks with sunglasses, ducks with scarves, holiday ducks, and ducks in all colors, and as they floated past us, I laughed, thinking it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.
"Hey guys," I called down to the others who were playing cards in the galley, "Come check this out."
Max popped up first as if he popped up as if he expected trouble. When he saw our little escort of colorful plastic boarders, however, he laughed too. It was hard not to. The sight of all those ducks bobbing on the surfaces was just so weird. The longer I watched, the weirder it seemed to get, and I think we all felt a little nervous as well. Where had they all come from? And why were they suddenly all around us? It was easy to laugh at them if you didn't ask questions, but hard not to feel creeped out when you stopped to question why they were here.
"Why are there so many of them out here?" asked Jarred, watching them flow around the ship as they roiled in dark water.
"Well," said Rodge, "It could be that they're testing the ocean currents and swell patterns."
Max had taken the wheel again, a large wave splashing against the bow and sending a few of the ducks onto the deck, and he gave Rodge a weird look.
"Ocean Current patterns. Sometimes the oceanography institute will release a bunch of rubber ducks to watch wave patterns and changes in tidal flow. They have little trackers in them so they can plot their course which helps them decipher currents and such."
Jarred picked up one of the ducks and squeezed it, eliciting a friendly squeak from the smiling toy.
"Seems like it would be bad for the environment," Max said, "Wouldn't it lead to all kinds of environmental problems?"
Rodge furrowed his brow as Jarred squeaked it again before tossing it back into the water. He started picking them up and throwing them into the dark soup, a few of them skipping across the surface before disappearing into the night. I realized we had gone a little farther from the coast than Max had meant us to, and though I could still see it, the lights looked far away and ethereal.
"That's weird," Rodge said, “the ones they use are usually made of cork or something biodegradable. Even if they're rubber, they usually don't squeak."
We watched them come rolling in as the wave got progressively higher. Something was stirring up the water not too far from us, and Max seemed to be steering us towards it. When I mentioned this, he said he just wanted to see what it was, his curiosity piqued. It might even be a ship in distress or something, and maybe we could help them. He had some idea of being a big hero or something, but I wasn't sure what we could do if it was some kind of big transport ship. They would have more people than our little boat could hold, a boat that was sometimes feeling a little full with four people on board. We cruised between a pair of buoys, heading into open water as we looked for the source of the turbulent water and the ducks.
The rope color made it pretty clear that the area was dotted with reefs and sandbars, and the little islands that dotted the area made it even clearer that caution was required out here. It would be really easy to come up on a sandbar or scrape our hull out on a reef, and then we'd be floating on driftwood all the way to the rental agency to explain how we had taken our boat somewhere unadvisable. We came up into a little inlet, the GPS telling us we were entering a major transport lane, and that was when we saw the source of the ducks.
Their transport ship had been massive, likely hauling all sorts of things, and most of it was sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The ship was in the process of joining its cargo, and as it capsized it was sending up massive waves and tidal surges. The ducks were still coming out of a container that had broken open, and as it slipped beneath the water it spewed out the floating little nick-nacks as they scattered on the surface, pushed by the waves.
That should have been the scariest part, the sinking ship, but it couldn't hold a candle to the massive tentacles that were wrapping around the hull and dragging it under. They were hard to make out in the dark of the night, but the undersides were cream-colored and covered in suction cups. They were massive, rising into the air as they came slithering from the depths of the ocean. Even from our position over a hundred feet away, I don't think any of us felt safe. We were on this creature's turf, bobbing on the surface of its hunting ground, and if it wanted us, there was nothing we could do.
"We need to go," Rodge whispered, as if he was afraid the thing would hear him, “we need to go while it's still mangling that ship."
Max agreed, and as we pulled away as quietly as we could, the rest of us kept a close eye on those rising tentacles as they descended into the ocean with the remains of the cargo ship. As we came slowly through the reefs and the bars, we kept expecting to feel a tentacle lath around us and drag us down too. The ducks just kept coming, the waves of colorful toys no longer as whimsical as they had been.
We had planned to anchor for the night around midnight, but when I sat up out of a stupor the next day and discovered we were pulling into New Orleans, I wasn't surprised. None of us had said as much, but I think we all felt a little less than safe out here after what we had seen last night. The rental company told us we couldn't get a refund for the days we didn't use, but we told them that was fine. I didn't feel safe until my feet were on solid ground again, and I've never been happier to live in a landlocked state.
We had fun with the rest of our trip, exploring The Big Easy and taking in the sights and smells of the city, and after a few nights' leisure we started to wonder if any of it had really happened at all. Maybe we had just gotten spooked by all those rubber ducks after having a little too much to drink. Maybe we had a group hallucination. Maybe we had just seen something shadowy out on the ocean and jumped to conclusions.
Two nights later while drinking in a little hole-in-the-wall bar, we discovered it hadn't been a drunken delusion.
We were all laughing after our third or fourth pitcher of beer when Rodge suddenly sat up a little straighter and looked at one of the TVs behind the bar. He went over to it, asking the barman to turn it up, and as we followed behind him, we caught the tail end of a new report about a ship that had recently gone missing on its way to New Orleans. The story had a picture of a large cargo ship, a ship we had all watched get drug under a few nights ago, and she was talking about how it was a huge mystery for local sailors.
"The ship, nearly one hundred percent automated except for a crew of ten, was lost at sea somewhere off the coast of Louisiana. While several cargo containers have been found off the coast, the ship itself has seemingly vanished. Residents in the area have been inundated with rubber ducks for the last few nights, and there's concern that the ship may have sunk and been pulled out by errant currents."
They showed footage of a massive amount of rubber ducks washing up on the beach near Long Beach. Watching those ducks go in and out with the waves made me anxious in a way I couldn't explain but didn't need to. It was pretty clear that everyone there was feeling the same, and when the newscaster moved on to another story, we ordered another pitcher and returned to our table.
The festivities were definitely a little muted after that, and it was decided that boating was right out for future trips.
I think maybe we'll go to Vegas next time.
Vegas sounds nice after what we saw.
About the Creator
Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.
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