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Short Story The Strange Fate of M/V Sotero


The Strange Fate of M/V Sotero

by PadrePio

Adrift under the searing Pacific sun, the ravenous, sun-maddened fishermen eyed each other with growing desperation, slowly realizing that to survive, they may have to resort to a harrowing, ancestral rite no moral man would dare speak aloud.

AFTER BERTING ASKED the so-called “delicate question” to the other three men, their eyes went wide with shock and their mouths fell agape. Then all of the men fell into total silence.

The captain of the M/V Sotero, a kubkuban fishing boat from Suluan, was a man named Tonio Gulipardo. He was Berting’s older cousin.

What Tonio wanted to say to Berting in response to his question was “no.” But Tonio didn’t utter a word. Instead, he just put his hands up over his mouth, and as he stared at the other three men, he realized their unspoken answer to Berting’s delicate question was a resounding “yes.”

They knew it had to be yes. There was no other choice – they had to do this. Even though Tonio was the captain, and technically in charge, he knew that in this situation, under the constraints of this particular custom, he could not overrule the others.

So, with his hands still clasped over his mouth in mute protest, Tonio slowly nodded in reluctant agreement.

And with that unanimous yet unspoken decision to move forward, Berting solemnly reached down and pulled the ship’s weathered logbook out from its place tucked underneath one of the seats behind him. He then opened the book, turned to the back pages which were still blank, and tore out a single sheet of paper.

Berting then began to carefully tear the sheet into strips. First, he ripped three strips that were identical in length, and held them up together to clearly show the others that these three were the same. Sidro, Tonio, and Ramil all slowly nodded their heads to indicate they understood.

Then Berting ripped a fourth strip which was dramatically shorter than the other three. He held up this one alone – the short strip – and showed it to the others. Again, they all nodded gravely. Yes, they could see this was the fateful slip.

And so, once the whole group was satisfied that the four strips – three long and one short – had been fairly prepared, Berting took off his hat. He placed all four strips inside, mixed them around, and solemnly held out the hat.

It was time.

The first man to reach into Berting’s hat was Berting’s older cousin and the captain, Tonio. He reached in, pulled out one of the strips of paper, and clenched it tightly in his fist so that he had no idea which strip it was. Tonio then pulled his hand back and held the strip close against his chest.

One by one, each of the other men did the same, solemnly reaching into the hat, grabbing a strip without looking at it, and holding it close against their chests.

And then, once all the strips had been taken at exactly the same time, all four men extended their arms out into the middle of the circle they were standing in. Together they opened their hands palm up, to finally reveal which fateful strip each man had drawn.

Tonio, Sidro, and Ramil had each gotten one of the identical, longer pieces. But Berting, the 18-year-old cousin of the captain, was holding the short strip.

Immediately upon seeing this, Tonio cried out “No! Let me take that one!” But Berting replied firmly “No. This is the custom. I must accept what I have drawn.”

After a few moments of the men collecting themselves and coming to terms with what had transpired, Sidro solemnly grabbed the logbook once more. He flipped to the back, tore out another blank page, and carefully ripped it into strips again.

But this time, Sidro only ripped the page into three longer strips that were identical in length, and one dramatically shorter piece. Again he held them up one by one, to demonstrate to the others that this process was fair and true.

The men knew there was no going back now. The delicate question had been asked, and the die had been cast.

Sidro solemnly took off his salakot, placed the three new strips inside, and extended it towards Tonio and Ramil. One by one, Tonio and Ramil reached in, took their strip, and held it close against their chests.

Sidro would take the last remaining strip for himself. He too clutched it tight to his chest, not daring to look at the slip he had drawn.

Once all three men were holding their fateful strips, they slowly extended their arms out into the middle of their now smaller circle. Together, they opened their palms face up to reveal what fortune had decreed.

This time, it was Sidro – the man who had ripped up the second set of strips – who discovered he had drawn the dreaded short straw.

Upon seeing the tiny slip in his hand, Sidro let out a tormented wail. He threw the strip to the ground and ran to the far side of the boat, screaming “I can’t do this! I can’t go through with it!”

Meanwhile, Berting, Tonio, and Ramil did not move or flinch, but stared grimly ahead.

After some time, Sidro managed to calm himself. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he slowly walked back over to rejoin the solemn circle.

Without a word, Tonio reached down and unlatched a compartment on the side of the boat. From within, he reverently withdrew a long object wrapped in canvas. This he handed to Sidro, who took it with trembling hands.

Berting, the one who had first drawn the short straw, then spoke: “Now is the time for a moment of silence.”

The men formed a tight circle with Sidro in the center, still gripping the mysterious shrouded object. Together they bowed their heads in solemn silence.

After some time, Berting raised his head and the others followed suit. One by one, Berting touched each man’s shoulder, reaffirming that this terrible ritual had been carried out fairly and with honor.

Then Berting turned and walked to the side of the boat without another word. He lowered himself to his knees, gazing out at the dark ripples spreading across the water’s glassy surface.

Berting had always loved the ocean, even after it had claimed his own father. He was proud to have taken part in this voyage and this ancient, sacred custom – no matter how grim its conclusion. This was a sacred custom known to all fisherfolk of Suluan, though rarely ever enacted. Berting felt only solemn purpose as he knelt, playing his central role with stoic strength.

Once Berting was positioned, Sidro slowly stepped away from Tonio and Ramil. Gripping the canvas-shrouded rifle, he approached Berting from behind without a word.

With grim resolve, Sidro unveiled the rifle and pressed its barrel to the back of Berting’s head. He pulled the trigger, and a shot cracked the heavy air. Berting slumped lifelessly to the deck.

Staggering back with a tormented scream, Sidro collapsed as the awful reality of what he had done washed over him. But he knew there had been no other choice.

Witnessing the execution of his younger cousin pained Tonio deeply, but he too understood they must see this ritual through to the end.

Stepping forward, Tonio solemnly cut off Berting’s head and placed it aside, facing away so the dead man would not witness the next gruesome act.

Before long, the only sound that could be heard on board this little boat floating out at sea on the Pacific Ocean was the sound of Sidro, Tonio and Ramil tearing into Berting’s raw flesh with their teeth.

The gruesome ritual was necessary for their survival, but it weighed heavy on their souls. Driven to madness by hunger and isolation, they consumed their companion and became something less than human.

Berting’s delicate question, posed when their situation was dire, was the most dreaded among the fisher folk of Suluan. Asked only as a last resort when survival was nearly impossible, it was simply this:
“Should we draw lots to see which of us will die, that the others may live?”

On May 3, 1979, the day Berting posed the grim “delicate question,” he and the others had been adrift for three excruciating months. That day their engine went dead, leaving them at the mercy of the currents, pulling them endlessly into the gaping maw of the Pacific. No land in sight, only the yawning abyss on all sides.

Exactly one week after consuming Berting, Sidro and Tonio were rescued – gaunt and skeletal, barely human. Ramil had perished just one day prior, his emaciated body too far gone.

Berting’s sacrifice had allowed two men to cling to life a little longer. But it came at the ultimate cost. They would live on, but only as shadows haunted by depraved memories, having paid the steepest of prices for their deliverance from the pitiless sea.

The End

I have some leftovers of Berting. Head over to my blog to have a taste:
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