This story is by Pernell Rogers and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Steven’s face scrunched with that last burp. A nasty sour tinge suffocated his tongue and caused a painful dry heave. His seasickness wasn’t getting any better, but the beer and his earbuds helped ease his mind while the boat rocked to and fro.
Throughout the entire trip, he kept wondering why he agreed to his girlfriend’s request to take a boat ride. She knew he couldn’t swim and was uncomfortable around large bodies of water. But she talked him into it anyway. His saving grace was that the boat had a lower deck and he wasn’t forced to stare out into the nothingness on the horizon. Right now, the small table, cushioned couch, and refrigerator were his best friends. Thank goodness it was stocked with plenty of beer and he helped himself to it.
While the music blared from his earbuds, he was sure he heard yelling from above. Suddenly the boat was violently thrust port-side. Empty beer cans and other loose items slammed into the boat’s wood laminate paneling then onto the floor. His earbuds were plucked away as he followed the beer cans. He definitely heard yelling this time. Something was very wrong. Nothing like this was supposed to happen, not today or any day, and especially not during his vacation.
He tried standing, but his foot slipped on a can, sending him hurtling backward against the closet’s doorknob. He winced, arching his back. He tried searching for something to stabilize himself, but the rocking was relentless. Was the boat going to sink? Would water begin pouring down the stairs at any moment? Will he drown today?
He’d been relentlessly teased by family and acquaintances when they discovered he couldn’t swim. At the time, he didn’t feel the need to learn since he was never around water much, but now, he felt their eyes staring at him and his unfortunate predicament.
His stomach curdled from being tossed by the boat, but his gut also told him to get to a lifejacket now. If this damn boat were to sink, he’d be prepared. Ironically, they were stowed in the closet he slammed into when everything went awry. He crawled toward the closet thinking all the while the boat was ready to flip over.
His fingers twisted the doorknob just as the boat rocked to one side. The door flung open, popping him in the chin and spilling its contents on him. His head spun while he tried to get his bearings. A bright orange object came into view, and he reached for it. Right then his vision blurred and it slipped through his fingers as he rolled into the shifting debris on the lower deck.
He kicked and flailed until his fingers dug into its thick padded surface, and with the skill of a contortionist, he managed to slip it over both shoulders. His next goal was to make it up the stairs to find out what was happening.
Why wasn’t anyone coming after him? Where were they? There was no more yelling or screaming. Shifting debris was the only sounds he detected. He continued crawling as his boat’s unruly motion fought against him. For the moment, the fact that water wasn’t rushing down below was reassuring.
Hand over hand, and knee over knee, he made his way up the stairs, his body being flung from side to side, continuously beaten each time the boat rocked. The gritty essence of saltwater replaced the vaporous remnants of consumed and spilled beer as daylight lay above him, but something was amiss.
Again, he realized the absence of voices and footsteps. Who was on the main deck? Who was steering the boat? Why wasn’t anyone coming after him, calling for him? Why wasn’t anyone calling for anybody?
His head knocked into one of the wooden slats surrounding the hold as he breached the opening. He squeezed his eyes shut while he released a tirade of obscenities onto the world. Upon peeling his eyes back open, his heart sunk like an anchor thrown overboard.
The rocking began to subside, and he scanned the main deck. Where was everyone? He can’t be out at sea alone. What should he do? Streaks of blood littered the deck as he was about to push himself up from the hold. Did everyone slip overboard when the boat started rocking? He gazed at the sea in every direction looking for anything that may be bobbing, waving, or struggling, but the sea remained calm. No splashing or disturbances. Were they already dead?
The sun’s heat scorched his skin through the cloudless sky, and he came to the terrifying conclusion that he was alone in the middle of nowhere. Now what? The seasickness he’d felt on the lower deck returned, but this time, fear was the cause of his nausea. His mind raced as fast as his heart.
He couldn’t let himself panic. Take deep breaths…take deep breaths. That phrase stayed in his head while he calmed himself down enough to start thinking properly. Now survival became his only priority. He crawled towards the boat’s wheel and pulled his body against it. For just a moment, he felt a strange sense of relief. What to do next? He knew nothing about boats and even less about navigating. His nightmare wasn’t over.
Peering over the wheel, the horizon was filled with a misty, almost ethereal disturbance which piqued his curiosity to the point where he couldn’t look away. What could it be? He felt the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand on end upon realizing the mist was moving closer. He had to get out of its way. He scanned the boat’s controls. Where do you start this thing?
Through the mist appeared a massive line of whitecaps spanning the horizon…whitecaps which continued growing in height! He ceased breathing as he tried wrapping his mind around what his eyes beheld. This is impossible! It can’t be happening, but he knew all the signs pointed to it. It was the only explanation.
A tsunami wave headed toward him.
Somewhere on the planet, tectonic plates had suddenly shifted creating a sudden void in the ocean floor. That would explain everything; the boat being tossed violently at first, washing everyone overboard while it was pushed out to sea followed by an uneasy calm.
The first wave was only a warning, but he was sure the one in his sights was meant to kill.
He was trapped.
What could he do to save his life? If he stayed inside the boat, he had a fifty-fifty chance that it could protect him from the wave, or the shattered wreckage could skewer him. If he jumped overboard, he could be swept beneath the water’s surface by the wave’s undertow. He hated both options. Finally, a third sickening option crept into his head. Did he want to survive?
A mental reel played in his head recalling the footage of the Indonesia tsunami. Its sheer destruction and death toll sent shivers through him. The terrifying close-ups of people clinging to anything to avoid being swept away. Soon another reel spun up showing the ending from the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ with the boat being driven up the massive swell.
The corner of his eyes stung as tears rolled down his cheeks. How many people were unfortunate enough to observe their probable demise coming straight at them? He asked his Creator what to do in a series of audible prayers. The answer he received was to stay inside the boat.
With that settled, he sat back and watched the monstrous wall of water reach skyward. A strange sense of inner peace draped over him followed by awe and wonderment as the tsunami wave towered over him. The sound became deafening. He gritted his teeth and clutched the wheel as tight as possible while the boat first dipped then shot skyward up the wave. He screamed toward Heaven until his voice was no more.
Fear spiked through him when he finally regained consciousness and found himself floating in the calm water. How long had he been adrift? Would there be another wave? Is anyone searching for him? That’s when he became the most frightened.