I have not posted any of my fiction writing on this site, but since the week has been very busy and I try to post here at least once per week, then I am officially breaking unofficial protocol. Every month at my writers group, Writers of The Woodlands, we have a writing contest. This month's focus was about creating a scene of fear. That fear needed to either be felt by the reader or by the character in the story. I chose the latter. I hope you enjoy reading. It's short, so no worries.
Asleep in the Atlantic
Santiago had fallen asleep to the rocking of the waves. The rubber flooring of the life raft had created a soft bed on the ocean. It was a deep sleep, uninterrupted and peaceful. Night had fallen hours ago and with it, he felt no need to bother himself with keeping an eye out for passing vessels. That time had passed. The one ship he had seen in the near thirty-six hours of being on the raft had forced him to use his lone flare. As he drifted, he could sense that the direction he was headed was not toward land, but further into the vastness of the Atlantic. Being rescued was no longer in his power, but would be left to the grace of God and happenstance.
So he slept. There would no gaining strength from the slumber. His food was left aboard the LollyGag after she had flipped from the mighty throws of a squall. It had come from nowhere, leaving him only a moment to gather the life raft. The flare, he had found inside a storage flap on the little boat.
The fear he had felt early on had dissipated. He had come to the acknowledgement that this was how it would end. It wouldn’t be so bad. He had lived a full life. He had experienced enough. His retirement plan had worked out fully up to this point. And now he rested. He would sleep his way into the arms of death. A sleep to never wake from. That would be acceptable. There are worse ways to die, he assumed. And so he slept.
The moon was waning crescent, but the stars were bright. There were no clouds in the sky. He could sense the peace about him. A peace that enabled his tired and weakened old body to sleep and his thoughtful mind to rest. He had looked at the moon for some time. Talking to it. Asking it questions.
“How many men have you seen die out here, Moon?”
“Will you watch over me tonight? Or are you watching someone else?”
“My name is Santiago. I am 62. How old are you, my love?”
“If I am to die here in this raft, will you let me know? Send one of your friends across the sky.”
He had asked many other questions, but when he asked for the favor from the moon, a star shot across the twinkling firmament. He smiled a waning smile at the moon’s kindness. She is generous, he thought. A kind gesture he had not expected to receive. And so with that silent and beautiful response from the gray sliver in the sky, the old man closed his eyes and awaited death to find him.
Later in the night a near inaudible tapping sound began on the rubber flooring of the lifeboat. The old man paid it no heed and continued to sleep. The sound gathered strength, but still the old man slept. The image of the yellow raft drifting aimlessly along the dark sea quickly flashed before the moon; but soon that image was gone as dark clouds separated the old man from the silver crescent.
A booming crash forced Santiago awake. His eyes looked to the sky. The stars were nowhere to be found and his last friend was far behind the black curtain of rain and clouds. He felt himself lifting toward the dark billows and then quickly plummeting away from them. He peaked over the edge of the raft. A storm encircled him with waves as large and looming as mountains.
The strength of the storm increased and the old man’s eyes opened larger as he tried to see more clearly in the darkness. The only light that was provided was from the lightning. In those fleeting moments he was only given a glimpse of what he did not want to see: a seemingly endless storm.
The wind proved merciless, whipping across his body as if trying to pull him from the raft and into the ocean. His hands held the rope that aligned the inside of the rubber boat. They did not hold loosely or weakly. They held with all his might. He realized now that death was not planning to arrive in the stillness of the night or in the calm of the rising sun. Death had approached wearing a black cloak that covered the night with a shade of pitch. A blinding power that would keep him from seeing it. He would only be allowed to feel it.
His raft surfed the high waves nearly tipping with each rise and fall. He gritted his teeth as the water splashed into the round yellow vessel. He buried himself against the edge of the boat. He closed his eyes and prayed. He wasn’t certain if it was a prayer for survival or a prayer in preparation for his death. But he prayed anyway.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…” The boat lifted and tipped downward. His stomach sank until the raft leveled out again.
“Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom…” Up again the raft went and smashed into another wave, splashing his face and covering his words. He spit the sea salt water from his mouth. Forgetting where he had left off, he gathered his words again.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done…” The vessel jerked hard to one side. His body positioned in the wrong direction of the oncoming wave. The raft bent and turned violently, fighting to stay upright, but it was no good. The wave lifted higher and higher. The old man’s heart raced. His breath caught and the water covered him completely. He could not decipher if he was still in the raft or in the ocean. His hands held the rope tightly. The raft pulling upward against the sea, the sea pulling downward against his body. The rope cutting into his hands. He was in the ocean. Panic-stricken, he breathed inward, but only water gathered into his throat and lungs. He choked, but only choked on more of the endless sea. The raft tugged hard as if trying to pull itself free from the old man’s grip. Santiago could not see the sky. He could not see the ocean. All was black and terrible.
The raft pulled one last pull and won its freedom from the old man. With that freedom came a peace and understanding. Santiago no longer felt the struggle. He did not worry about the darkness around him. His eyes were open, but there was nothing to see. His lungs burned. He had not breathed for some time and his body convulsed against the saltwater in his lungs. He could not tell if he was rising or sinking, but he knew it no longer mattered. The moon had spoken truthfully.
His body lowered into the depths of the ocean, the storm raging high above him. But the storm did not bother him down here. The struggle was over now. He looked above him and felt the sleepiness he had felt earlier when the moon had answered him. His eyes blinked one last time. His vision finally clear.
As he drifted deeper and deeper, a sliver of gray danced before him, and he thought to himself, “I see the moon is down here too.”
And then he slept as peaceful as he had before the storm.