This story is by Robin Densmore Fuson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The raft barely moved. The wind only a whisper blew against the inflatable gray object floating aimlessly. The half-asleep occupant worried over an endless sea and no means to go anywhere. A rescue could only be a dream to entice sobriety and nudge boredom into imagination, causing him hallucinations. On the horizon, frightening shadows of images played against the grayness of an unsure future. Where he headed, he did not know. The inevitable life ahead prevailed, changed, and unpredictable—formidable and disheartening. Fear and worry about what waited at his destination waged war with his emotions causing occasional tremors. Sweat trickled down his head and back when he thought about the unknown that awaited him.
Days had turned to weeks. Months yawned their collective ugly mouth to swallow him into oblivion. No sun, not much night—only gray sky in every direction. He seemed to be in perpetual twilight. Occasional raindrops splashed his face and eased his parched lips keeping him from dehydration, prolonging his agony and loneliness.
He did not perceive a need to find food. He felt no hunger but a desire for unattainable meals, he once enjoyed, gave him pangs of frustration. He switched his thoughts away from such delectable fare.
Sleep eased the emotional pain and made the time go by. If only he could sleep through this perpetual isolation and the directionless life, he now led.
No land in sight. Had he binoculars, he knew they would not give him the reassurance he needed. He shook his head. The uncertainty became a shroud covering his whole being. There seemed to be a curtain blocking the future causing him to hyperventilate about what might be waiting.
Another cramp in his leg caused him to change positions. Voices in his head told him to exercise but that seemed an impossible task. Where and how to do so? Running in place might dislodge him into the sea. Kicking his legs over the side of the raft seemed daft. Creatures were lurking in the inky blackness for miles under him.
His muscles once chiseled were now pliable playdough. Did he care? He thought not. Why care for a future so unsure and inconsiderate? Bleakness seemed to be his only companion. Despair waited for an invitation into his inner circle. Boredom screamed in his weary brain. He turned and swirled his index finger in the tepid water surrounding his floating home. He found that if he went faster he produced a wave. He sideswiped the surface making the ripples splash against the rubber. He laughed at the noise, the first he’d heard in how long? He frowned. Too long since he had heard music, a familiar voice, or companionship.
Anger swelled and he slapped his open hand on the once again sea of glass. The welcome sting made him smile. Yes, pain. Amazingly, he was still alive after all this time. On the other hand, could that be a dream as well?
He might go mad.
The wind picked up a bit, reviving his senses. He stretched his stiff joints and popped his knuckles. Sitting up with legs straight out in front of him, he tried to touch his toes. Yep, inactivity had frozen his flexibility. Instead, he fisted the flab at his once trim waist. How did that happen so quickly?
He reached for the book he had with him and opened to where he had left off. After reading a few paragraphs and not knowing what in the world he read, he slammed the book closed. Reading didn’t do for him what it once did. Everything had changed.
The breeze ruffled against the hair on the back of his head. Instinctively, he reached back and then brushed his once calloused hand over the top of his head and down into the thick curls. That at least hadn’t changed, only longer, much longer. He fingered his scruffy beard that no longer itched. He smiled. Nice to be able to let that grow. No razor burns or nicks. He chuckled. No suit and tie. Yeah this had its benefits.
Bump. His world shook. Something bumped into the side of his world. Food appeared in his hand on a plate, smooth and warm. He frowned. Where did that come from?
“Eric, do you want water or pop with your pizza?”
Eric blinked and looked up into his wife’s face. Reality slammed home. Lockdown. Quarantine. His new reality. Day, um…what was it? Oh yeah, day seventy-four of no work, gym, the guys, restaurants, his children, church, running in the park, and…sanity.