“Wave Boys” by Vince Kovar from The Touch of the Sea (Lethe Press, 2012). Edited by Steve Berman.
What an incredible piece of world building we have here. This is the story of a band of nearly feral boys, unmoored from the rest of civilization ala The Lord of the Flies or S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, or heck, the movie by that name. It’s even possible to hear an echo of Huck Finn in this, and yet it is entirely its own creation. It makes its own language from a base of real slang and archaic words, spinning them into new words, new meanings.
Doobie, Tat-Tat, Wattabee, Gem and Ki, Sparks, Blind Zef and the unnamed storyteller comprise a high seas gang/pirate crew known as the Tunder-Boys. There are many, many crews (collectively known as Wave Boys), and as the plot unfolds the author deftly illustrates, in a way that feels organic, what it is that makes each crew unique.
The Tunder-Boys are drumpers (a drump is a drum) who adorn themselves with blue body art and pride themselves on their ferocity. I suspect, though, that every crew considers itself to be the fiercest one of all. They’re taking part in “city” a sort of gathering of the boats used for trading goods, showing off by fighting one another, and generally having a good time in an otherwise brutal existence. The current city is interrupted by the arrival of a kraken, which is terrifying, of course, but then again, everything about the Wave Boys’ existence is terrifying. This is a hard life, as evidenced by the fate of the storyteller, the “bull” (muscle?) of the Tunder-Boys. Deemed to have failed to adequately protect his brethren during the chaos of the kraken attack, he will need to fight to the death to defend his place, as he has done several times in the past.
To truly appreciate this fascinating piece, you ought to read it aloud. Until you do, I suspect you won’t realize it has a cadence. This is poetry, even song. Try it out. I dare you.