Tales from the Black Flag – Passing the Torch

by Evan Nasse

Waking up that morning on the couch I got a whiny earful of what it was my room mate truly thought of me. I wish the turdblossom could have at least waited until after I had drank some coffee before crawling up my ass. He’s an eBay power seller, or so he likes to inform everyone, which means all he does is stay home and buy other peoples crap, then he repackages it and resells it for a menial profit. All god damn day. My lifestyle was surely cramping his.
“Will, You smell like a fucking bar all the time and your room is a god-damn biohazard. I’m kicking you out, so start packing your shit. No funny business when you leave, I don’t want to find you’ve superglued the locks or dumped quick setting cement in the toilet or some other crap, because I will charge you for it.”
Fine. Fucker. I hated that asshole anyways and that old apartment smelled before either of us got to it. I packed up all of my things, which took all of moving two piles of clothes into a garbage back, some books into a box, my laptop into a backpack along with my diving and welding equipment. The biohazard my roommate referred to was merely the fact that his previous roommate had unknowingly left a heater by his window all winter and started a small black mold farm, which somehow I inherited the blame for. I don’t care, this place sucks and I enjoy being on my own anyways.
Packing the last of my things I made sure to grab my one piece of furniture; an oak and cherry wood nightstand with two drawers and a hidden compartment. It was my pride and joy, aside from my underwater welding equipment for my work on the oil rigs. Hyperbaric welding isn’t cheap, but damn if it doesn’t give good hazard pay. I had constructed the nightstand in high school and it had survived every abuse through several moves which had destroyed my other, weaker furniture like some sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest furnishing. I carefully placed it in the back of my truck cab, flipped my previous roomy the bird and peeled out to the one place that ever seemed to make me happy anymore: The Black Flag.
The Black Flag was a bar. It was a hell of a bar, though. There isn’t a local historian in this small town that doesn’t hate the fact that the oldest standing structure, the strongest piece of historical pedigree came from a musty old bar. A relic from some of the first settlements on North America, one of the colonists—a shady business man named Eduardo de Silva—placed a black flag to stake his claim on his tract of land overseeing a cliffside and Bay to use for signaling unscrupulous renegades at night by switching it to a white flag next to a lantern. He did this to illegally import guns, ammo, and alcohol while exporting tobacco, seeds, cotton and more without having to pay tariffs or taxes.
For the next several hundred years the house de Silva had built became all sorts of seedy types of establishments with varying degrees of shadiness. It served as anchorage for pirates during the American Revolution, a part of an Underground Railroad for escaped slaves, rum barrels were stored during prohibition, it was even used for growing pot and synthesizing LSD from the 60’s to the late 80’s until 1992 when the current owner—Michael de Silva—decided to earn a tax break by declaring it a historical site and building in an attempt to rake in tourism dollars by converting the hidden cellars into a tourist trap and expanded bar. The gambit flopped but the bar stayed, even though the clientele was a bit miffed by the change, they eventually reverted back. It became the wild bar it once was very quickly, but now it lacked a hidden cellar, yet there’s always rumors floating around that there are still hidden passages with treasure or bodies or some other nonsense.
I parked my truck in The Black Flag’s lot and stared at the sign. The main building itself was a hodgepodge of several buildings connected by poorly constructed hallways. During the remodel in ’92 Michael had the hallways built in order to save time and paperwork by making it one whole building instead of several that would need to be declared on tax forms separately. The result was a single story log cabin over 200 years old which connected by a hallway to a two story house built in the Victorian era, which was also connected to a ranch style house built during the 50’s, then connected to a bar built in ’77. The place looked like it was held together by spit, tape, and grime with each owner of said establishment praying vehemently when strong winds kicked up or the waters became unruly. A footpath behind a metal gate on the side of the main building led down to stone steps which rounded to the back near the cliff face to a viewing deck with telescopes you could use for a quarter, yet no one ever really did. A costly remnant of the remodel to attract tourist attention.
I walked up to the entrance and greeted the fittingly named bouncer—Cliff—an Iraq War veteran missing his left leg below the knee. He utilized a Paralympian cheetah-leg style prosthetic to offset his disability, which he claimed just made him faster and it was probably true.
“How you doin’ tonight, Will?” Cliff smiled as he waved his hands away when I tried to pull out my wallet to show my ID.
“Been better. The momma’s boy roommate kicked me out. I think I’m going to just live in my truck for a while.” I liked Cliff, but I didn’t want to stay and keep talking about my fucking shit-hole of a life so I tried quickly walking past him to avoid further conversation.
“You should go talk to Mikey in the Loghouse.” Cliff called to me as I sped past him. I could hear him checking some 19-year-old blonde girl’s fake ID. She swore it was her, that’s bullshit, that’s me, give it back, yada yada yada. Who do these kids think they’re fooling? She looks 19 at best and 17 without make-up and lifts. Bouncers like to keep their jobs, because then they can keep bouncing punks out of bars.
Walking past the main entrance I noticed the line of drunks surrounding The Hub, a circular bar in the center of the ranch style house built in the 50’s with branching paths to each of the other bars. All paths in the various bars of The Black Flag led to The Hub, technically The Hub was the second or third iteration of the establishment being a pub, but it’s where the bulk of the regulars hang out, there are even honorary seats surrounding it—Jimmy Larson engraved on a gold plaque situated on the back of a 747 passenger seat he’d stolen, Lana Gilliam carved into the side of a carousel unicorn torn out of an abandoned fairground, there were even a few retired thrones of honor mounted on a raised dais that served as a massive fireplace like a dusty old leather Lay-Z-Boy with a photo of Peter Hill performing his fire-breathing bar trick on it, or Tom Berne who just has one of the normal bar stools but with the top half of his tombstone resting on it. There’s a lot of history in The Black Flag, maybe one day I’ll get my own honorary seat.
The ceiling of the corridor from The Hub to the Loghouse was lined with bar napkins covered with phone numbers and cutesy little messages, each of them representing another sad attempt at scoring a one night stand, unfulfilled since the tradition started when some tall blonde bar fly was being hit on constantly by a man barely measuring five feet tall. To get the twerp off her back she said he could do whatever he wanted to her once he got her phone number, then proceeded to scribble it down and tack it to the highest point in the bar, far out of his reach. From then on it was The Loghouse’s way of telling horny drunks to screw off, my standards are too high. One or two of those numbers were placed there because of me.
“There he is! How’s my second favorite Willy?” Mike always asked me that ridiculous question when we ran into each other. It stopped being funny in high school.
Mike de Silva was as Spanish as Sauerkraut—de Silva wasn’t even his real last name, it was Hermann, he just changed it for appearances and history, since the last de Silva was his great grandmother. I nod and grin slightly at him, he can already tell there’s a fan with shit on it. He places a shot of Patrón and an IPA in front of me.
“Just got kicked out by momma’s boy—the eBaylord. Guess I’m sleeping in the truck for a bit.”
I down the shot and chug the beer, I should have asked for a cheap Bud Light for a chaser and sipped on the IPA, but I was ready to get blitzed. He poured me another. The Loghouse was quiet, it was usually the more laid back section of the whole place filled with old men sipping whiskey and pulling that sour whiskey face like a heavily used leather catcher’s mitt. A few felt covered pool tables, a handful of card tables, dart boards, a single TV and an old disc style jukebox playing Tom Waits’ “I Never Talk to Strangers.” This place defined sad instead of the other way around, even the oak barstools could use a prescription for Zoloft.
“Well it sounds like you have some free time then, eh?” de Silva smiled, his crooked, white teeth illuminating the dark wooded bar.
“I guess so. I mean, I’ve still got two weeks before I have to head back out to the rigs so it’ll be a while before I need to actually do anything besides drink my breakfast, lunch and dinners.”
Mike smiles and pours me another shot before I could cover the glass with my hand to stop him. I want to get blitzed but I also want to enjoy getting there. Still, I knock back the offer I couldn’t refuse after toasting him.
“Then I got a proposition for you, my man. You’ve been coming here for years. Heck, you’ve probably put my son through college all by yourself, and we go way back.” He leans in close to me over the bar, his voice becoming a low timbre. “I think I can trust you with this, and I wont even make you sign nothin’. But I need you to be 100% with me. All or nothin’.”
He’s more serious than I’ve ever seen him, his crooked smile hidden behind a stern grimace capable of making a professional poker player think twice. I think for a second before deciding I’ve got nothing to lose by trusting the guy who’s been taking my money and feeding me booze for over a decade. Besides, Mike and I go back all the way to high school, getting high behind the football bleachers and uncontrollably giggling in chemistry class, thinking nobody can tell that we’re ripped.
“Alright, Mike. I dunno what you got planned, but I’m game. 100%.”
“Then meet me in ten minutes down by Four Cups. Take this.”
He popped open a 24 ounce bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and handed it to me with his thumb covering the opening, and that stupid, crooked smile on his face again. I kill what’s left of the IPA and begin drinking heavily from my new bottle. It had a strange bitterness to it, but that could just be the tequila disagreeing with my empty stomach. I pull a stupid face and shake my head, taking a larger swig. What’s Mikey getting me involved in now? I headed towards The Four Cups, the bottom floor of the two story house. It’s named after a stupid game newbie drinkers in the 90’s made up where they’d stand in each corner of the bar with an upturned road cone held above their heads, each of the players taking turns trying to flip quarters into the cones and if it landed inside your cone you had to take a shot—drinking from the dirty road cone of course—if you missed then you sipped beer, and if you land it in the cone after hitting the wall then you chugged your beer and took a shot. It’s a fun game for idiots that want to flip quarters at each other in order to get drunk. Eventually the bar adopted the game and name by mounting food-safe cones to the four corners of the room. The irony of food-safe cones for drinking booze out of after dirty coins land in it adds an extra degree of stupidity to the game.
Above The Four Cups is The Whistle, a mostly open area with a stage and small bar for live performances. Currently, a crappy local cover band was performing a punk cover of Bay City Roller’s, “Saturday Night” which could be faintly heard through the ceiling as I walked through The Four Cups. The room was called The Whistle because at some point, the top floor had a leaky steam pipe from it’s ancient boiler and during one of the wilder parties somebody had installed a train steam whistle to the pipe when nobody was looking. It now serves as a signal for someone buying everybody a round of drinks or when a band gets booed off the stage.
Some dorks were in the middle of a game of four cups when I finally ran into Mike at the back of the room, half of my beer already gone and the inside of my skull feels like it’s covered in peach fuzz already—I’m more inebriated than I thought I was—usually it takes more than two shots and a few beers just to get me tipsy. Mike hands me another, so I chug the last of my bottle of Dead Guy Ale and start on the next one as he leads me stumbling through a door heading to a stairwell that leads to the sea cave The Black Flag is famous for. The area called The Cave used to be a full bar, but once the reinvestment for tourism came along that stuff was scaled back and the cave became a restaurant no longer in use, because people didn’t find a dank, open-air cave next to the sea to be a great place to eat a meal. He should have turned it back into a bar.
It’s a long walk down the stairwell to The Cave, even longer now that Mike doesn’t have a circuit connected to it anymore to power the lights, so he pointed the way down with a pocket flashlight, but even with the somewhat adequate lighting from the flashlight I can barely walk properly, my bones are rubber and my head is swimming. I can’t clench a muscle for the life of me. I take another swig and giggle at the situation, barely able to hold onto the bottle and railing.
“You ever figure out that whole deal with your mom and pop and the inheritance they left you? You were waiting to see if there were other relatives to come and collect, right?”
“S’nobody came furwurd. Git it allll to muhself affer thuh lawyir leechers taken some. Whar we goin’ anywaysh?” My mouth is full of marbles. The flashlight illuminated Mike’s crooked smile, and it’s not a sinister smile—I think—but the light bouncing around the stone steps leaves flickers in my eyes, traces of butterflies in my vision. He grabs my wrist and leads me further down until we’re in the restaurant area of the cave, the tables and chairs all stacked in a corner, the old fashioned diving suit standing in the corner with a chalkboard sign in it’s hands and various soggy storage boxes on the ground.
“Say, do you remember that girl in high school? That pretty sophomore you slept with after Kernie’s kegger on graduation night? What was her name?”
Mike was practically holding me up, what the hell is wrong with me?
“I-unno… J-Jamie? Jezebel? J-Jasmine? Whaderyou s-s-showin’ me? D-down here?”
“Jasmine, yeah. That was it. Whatever happened to her, anyways?”
My eyes wander, my stomach is lurching as I glance at the expanse of the water beyond the planks at the end of the restaurant, a rope strung through the piers serving as a railing swayed with the soft breeze which felt sickening on my clammy skin.
“She-sh-she dead, right-t? The fall-l-lowwing yearrr? Wassonn tha newss…”
Mike nodded solemnly, his grim demeanor sending chills across the weakening muscles in my face before snapping back to his crooked grin.
“So! I brought you down here because me and one of the other boys working here were playing around with some of these emergency flares.” He strikes a cap across a flare stick I didn’t even notice was in his hand and chucks it into the dark waters next to the seaside cave, illuminating the deep dark all the way down. It must have fell 30 feet before settling in a batch of seaweed, giving it a soft, ghostly glow. He then proceeded to point to a small crevice near the step ladder by the side of the planks, illuminated by the flare he tossed.
“…And what we found was that little opening, and if you look closely you can see steps. Now, I didn’t tell the other guys about it, since it could be valuable, limited information seeing as great grandma de Silva only told me about it. Back when this place was still a storage area for rum runners during the prohibition, they’d use that old diving suit to store barrels and whatnot in the waters below the shoreline of the cave. This was why they also only liked to be paid in precious coins, metals and jewels, since cash gets soggy and useless. I’ll bet dollars to donuts, and cut you in on the find, if you help me check that cave, master diver. You’re in this 100%, remember?”
I nod my blank eyes and head, barely taking in the information. Money. Sounds good. Mike nods and smiles back, tossing in another flare, this time closer to the crevice before walking to the diving suit and dragging it to me. He explains how the bell pump and hoses work, and how he can talk into another line which feeds into the bronze and rubber fabric suit via the tri-windowed helmet. I nod blankly as he affixes all the parts to my numbed body, before I know what’s happening he lowers the heavy helmet onto my head and shoulders, securing it into place with a socket wrench, the faceplate illuminated by his bright, white, crooked smile. Picking up a hose with a cone on the end he begins speaking into it, his voice tinny in my head.
“I’m going to lower you down with this rope and pulley tied to the pier which is clamped to your harness, so you have three lines connecting you: the rope, the air hose and the speaking hose, you got it?” I tilt the helmet forward to nod and nearly fall over, Mike catches me but not before I bang me knee real good. The suit is heavy, my brains and stomach feel equally heavy. “Easy there, Will. I’m going to lower you down now, just follow the flares and you’ll find the crevice, okay?”
As Mike lowers me into the freezing water I begin to feel my senses returning—still numb and dumb—foggy, but returning. I shout in the helmet for him to stop, fear and dread sending electric tingles through my cold skin as I finally realize what’s happening. I flail as my helmet becomes engulfed by the darkness, he had to have seen my arms and known I wanted out, right?
“Easy. Easy, Will. I’m going to slacken the line now that you’re in the water.”
I feel gravity give up on me and I free-fall downwards slowly, the seaweed quickly filling my vision, yet the flares—a third one plopping into the water now—are still incredibly bright. The first flare flickers before going dark. My feet hit soft mud and a few small rocks clank against the top of my helmet. What the fuck am I doing? I’m already this far in, I might as well go all the way. I begin trudging slowly towards the two visible flares, a fourth sinking like a meteor from above brings more illumination. My teeth are chattering and a new numbness has found it’s way into my fingertips.
“Yeah, just keep going. You’re right on track.”
The crack in the cliffside didn’t look like it had been that far away, but Mike would know. I keep trudging onward despite my feet feeling like bricks, my legs numb below the calf. Kneeling down I grab the flare, spitting red dragon fire and tiny panicked bubbles, and continue towards the next flare. Almost as soon as I reach the next flare, the one in my thick-gloved numb hands dies out, another torch toppling into the water above me directs my stick-like legs, which I now use to hop forward instead of dragging them.
“That’s it, follow that one. It’ll land right on the entrance. There you go.” The tin voice egging me on. Me and Mike, we’ll be rich when I bring up this load of precious cargo, but I have to tell him the split’s gotta be more like 60-40 if I’m going to be doing all this damned legwor—
What the hell? Where’s the floor, the mud—none of my jumps had this much hang time, something’s wrong. What’s wrong. Oh God. Wha—
“Ho-ho! I guess we found how far out the sea cliff is eh, Willie old boy? At the rate the line is dropping you found a deep one! Well, there’s plenty of rope and air hose but not much for the speaking hose, I’m afraid. So, I’ll keep it short. Truth is, I have no fucking clue if there’s any treasure out here, but that is my great grandfather’s old diving suit, he even showed me how to use it! My sister, too. Jasmine and I loved exploring this area, that’s how we found the cliff—taking turns with the diving suit during high school and mapping out the seabed. It’s a damn shame she didn’t graduate, though. She took a pair of the leg weights and strapped them to herself and jumped in, because you fucked her and left, just another one night stand for old Willie, eh? Oops—gotta wrap this up, running out of speak-line. She got pregnant. Great grandma de Silva said she was a disgraceful whore, and you made that happen. You killed a scared, pregnant, 16 year old girl—MY SISTER—and now I am closing the book on that story. Good bye, Will.”
Fog, all fog. The windows are fogged. Can’t breathe. Air still flowing, but can’t breathe, everything numb. Fuck! I dropped the flare! The line goes tight. I watch the flare drift downwards, sputtering red light and bubbles everywhere. I tug the rope for forever—nothing but slack until I watch the severed end pass my feet. I tug at the helmet, I can feel the nuts sealed tight against it, but can’t grip with my cold, dead hands. I scream and I scream and I scream at the softest darkness as the red pinprick of light disappears.
evan nasse bio pic

About the Author: Evan Nasse is currently in his senior year at APU and is co-editor for the Turnagain Currents.

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