It was morning when the sailors found him on the beach, warming himself by a campfire, twirling a lotos blossom and staring into its soft radiance. None of his tools—rope, harpoon, or knife—were anywhere to be found. They wept quietly. One brought him a blanket, and wrapped it around him. Another tried to give him medicine and something to drink, but nothing stirred the lost soul from his trance. A captain suggested they wait before performing the ritual. When they returned at noon after mending their nets, he was examining a white, long, almost conical shell in the dark sand, and murmuring hexameters. The captain wept once more as the other sailors formed a circle around him and sang the funerary song. In the evening, when they came to bring him a farewell gift of a begging bowl, the lost soul had waded into the surf to speak to the moon and stars as he held up a large, broken fish skeleton to the sky. A shore bird glided over the dark waters.
The swimmers stretch their limbs into the warm water, blades between their teeth, racing for the thrashing quarry. On the beaches, the locals pass coins and notes from palm to palm. Those who are drowning thrash with great violence, the violence of the unknown. The origins of the game are wrapped in the mists of time, but it is clear that it originated in missions sent to welcome shipwrecked sailors. This is why the coast guard still takes part; the game differs very little from the manner in which the coastal marines greet those who wash upon the fatal blue shores today. The number of swimmers and victims depends upon the season, the crime rate, migration patterns and the intake of captives. One of the worst things for the spectators to witness is the way one or all of the victims might cease their thrashing and surrender to the waves, the algae and the green ocean below, long before the swimmers arrive. Thankfully, this is not a common thing. For swimmers, the unknown also plays a great role in the joys of pursuit. There are only two possibilities for a swimmer upon reaching the drowning person. One can bring the head of the victim out of the water or push the head down into spasms of foam. Until the last second, the swimmer rarely knows which path to take. Once in a while, and it does happen, a victim may have a moment of clarity and start swimming for the shore or the deep. The swimmer stops this escape with a knife to the throat or lungs. Should the victim outswim him and head for the shore, the spearmen of the coast guard, wading in the surf and shallows, dispatch him one quick thrust after another, as if they are nonchalantly fishing. Whenever the victims are spared by the swimmers, they are brought back to shore with shouts of jubilation from the colorful crowds standing on the rocks, bluffs and dunes. Time has taught the swimmers to spare only the able bodied, who may one day become swimmers themselves or give their bodies to the heroes for an indefinite season of pleasure. It is also a custom for the spectators to give a percentage of their winnings to the swimmers as a gift. Now and then, when the beaches are deserted, bloated bodies wash up on the shore. Children come down to the surfline, braving the reek of death, to decorate the naked corpses with shells and seaweed until they are driven away by the coast guard, although this is also rare. This caused a very strange superstition to arise among the children, one which the officials and locals have attempted to stamp out. Some of the children believe that the drowned captives are swallowed whole by gigantic fish, magic sharks or enchanted turtles, who bear the still warm bodies to safety in a heaven far below the waves. One wouldn’t want to ruin the horror of the game. The horror is the drug.