8 comments

Submitted on 01/22/2020

Categories: Holiday

The Pacific Ocean. The words conjured visions of palm trees and summer breeze, sunny islands and suntans in my head. I closed my eyes tighter, trying to hold together the fragments of my happy delusions as they gradually shattered. I pried my eyes open, and stared out into the dark. The dark stared back into me. A tremor quaked my frail body, running its way up and down my spine, and I pulled the tattered life vest closer, sucking from it all the warmth it could provide, insubstantial though it was. A small wave broke over the lifeboat’s bow, spearing me with droplets like shards of ice. I looked at the water that sloshed around my prone form, mildly surprised to find that I was too numb to feel it. Wrong part of the Pacific.

My blood moved like molasses through my veins, and I could not feel my own pulse. I knew I had to move, or I would die. Not that I would really mind death at this point; it halfway beckoned to me, a sweet reprieve from this slow torture of starvation. My survival instinct eventually won out, as I found myself struggling to pull myself upright; it took me several attempts before I succeeded. The hands on my wristwatch, miraculously unbroken through the turmoil, glowed green in the darkness, and I resumed staring at them creep in slow circles just as I had before losing consciousness. It was two minutes to midnight.

It was then that it struck me, like the cold wind blowing across the sea. I counted the days on my unfeeling fingers, pressing them one by one against my thigh to keep them from curling back into my palm. Today was December thirty-first. Midnight would be the start of a New Year.

My mind sluggishly drifted back into a fantasy world, its only defense mechanism against the harsh reality of my situation.


Suddenly I was five again, my mother lifting me high so that I could see over the heads of the pushing crowd. The countdown had begun, and the crystalline ball was about to fall. I watched the glittering sphere, transfixed, and repeated the numbers in my head as I ticked them off on my small fingers.

"Three… Two… One… Happy New Year!"

The crowd erupted in cheers as the ball crashed down to the ground, shattering into pieces, reflecting the spotlights like a million fallen stars.

"Yay!" my mother said to me, as she hurried me back to the car to beat the traffic rush. "Wasn’t that fun?"

I nodded slowly, remembering the smash of people and the crash of glass when midnight came. I was struck with awe. Never had I seen such a display of raw excitement. This must be a very special year indeed.

"So, what are you going to do in the New Year?" Mom asked me as we drove out of the parking lot and entered the stream of traffic thronging the street.

I fidgeted next to her in my car seat, not listening to what she said, my mind replaying the scene I’d just witnessed. When I didn’t reply, she repeated the question. "Do you have a New Year’s resolution?"

I finally found my voice. "What is a res…resolution?" I asked, trying to wrap my tongue around the word.

"It’s something that you promise yourself you are going to do before the end of the year. Something important that means a lot to you."

I thought for a couple seconds, my face a pout. "Go to Disneyland!" I finally exclaimed, a big smile on my face.

My mother just laughed, sharing my smile. "Well, we may just have to make that happen, now won’t we?"

She was still smiling when the drunk driver hit the gas instead of the brake as he exited a parking lot outside a bar, slamming his big pickup truck into my mom’s Honda Civic, crushing it like a soda can as he plowed it out into oncoming traffic. There was hardly enough time for her to fling her body over mine before all went dark.

I came to with a jolt as a flood of memories I had long ago blocked out came washing over me, drowning me. I struggled to push them away, until the only memory remaining was my mother’s smiling face and her last words. I allowed these memories to linger, my heart bittersweet. I looked at my watch. Only a few minutes had passed. Happy New Year, I told myself.

"So, what are you going to do in the New Year?"

Mom was here with me, sitting next to me in the boat. "Mom? Mommy?" I croaked, my throat parched. Speaking reopened the cracks in my lips, the saltwater spray biting them like my chattering teeth.

"Shhh," she crooned, stroking her fingers through my hair and across my face, the touch cold but sweet.

"Do you have a New Year’s resolution?"

"Res…resolution?" I stammered, a child again. I knew what a resolution was, I just wanted to hear her voice again.

"It’s something that you promise yourself you are going to do before the end of the year. Something important that means a lot to you."

I shivered deeply, drawing myself closer to her. I lay my head down on her lap, the fabric of her skirt rough and coarse against my wind-burned cheek. "I want to live, Mommy. Something is telling me to let go, but I don’t want to die. I want to live, if only for a few more hours."

"Well, we may just have to make that happen, now won’t we?"

Water struck my face, I blinked the salt from my eyes, and she was gone. My head lay on a soggy coil of rope. "Shhh," the ocean crooned, the wind stroking its fingers through my hair and across my face, the touch cold but deprived of sweetness. I could not tell if the water I wiped from my eyes was all from the ocean. Was it possible for somebody who had not tasted fresh water for so many days to cry? I felt all dried up inside. The saltwater all around me only made my cravings more pronounced.

I had drifted in and out of reality for a couple days now, but it was getting worse. Never before had fantasy and reality mingled to such an extent. I closed my eyes, wanting to slip back into that dream state again, but it would not come. I opened my eyes. The monotonous dark stretched on forever, the new moon a hole in the sky, the stars covered by a death-shroud of clouds. All was the same in every direction, and seeking the only thing that I could see change, I once more looked at my watch. It was one o’clock in the morning. What had felt like excruciating hours were but mere minutes. Would I even live to see the morning sun? I wondered briefly if there had been any other survivors when the ship went down, and if they were asking themselves the same question right now.

The water in the boat was getting higher. It had been a long time since I had last bailed it out. I started to ask myself if I should even bother, but then I remembered my last dream. Reluctantly, I reached over my head, grabbed hold of the now-empty survival kit the lifeboat had been equipped with, and tried to pull it out from beneath the heavy coil of rope I’d used to keep it from washing overboard. I realized just how much my strength was failing me when it refused to budge. Very slowly, very gradually, I worked myself into a better position to retrieve it. My legs had no feeling to them whatsoever, merely limp and heavy appendages attached to my body. Looking down at the lacerations covering them and the makeshift splint strapped to one with a torn piece of trouser, I thanked God for the numbness that replaced the pain I had at first felt. Managing to wrap my frozen fingers around the empty receptacle, I tugged at it until it came loose.

I dropped the container several times as I bailed, fortunately always inside the boat. As I dipped my hands over and over again into the cold, dark water, it occurred to me that I was no longer shivering.

"Hy…hypothermia," I whispered aloud to myself, my voice my own consolation in the silence. "Fi…first sign of hyp…hypothermia."

I told myself it was the first sign, but my mind was slow and jumbled. Was it the first sign? Or the last? First, first sign, I told myself, it must be first.

When I had scooped out as much of the water as I could, I collapsed trembling, the physical exertion too much for me. When I went to place the container back under the coil of rope, I found I could scarcely move my arm much less lift the waterlogged rope, so I loosely hung onto it.

I tried to recount how long it had been since last I’d eaten. Three days? Four? I stared down at the watery abyss, picturing it teeming with sea life thriving just beyond my reach. Food. All of it, food. I turned away with a deep sigh, sinking deeper into the boat, my protection, my prison.

The voices in my head slowly returned, this time distant and indistinct. Were even those voices leaving me? Would I soon be completely alone? "My name is Joshua Crane," I babbled weakly. "Who are you? Where are you going? Don’t leave me. You can’t leave me."

The voices remained, quiet and muffled, blissfully ignorant of my plea. I resigned myself to their distant presence, grateful for any break from the repetitive droning of wind and sea. I was vaguely aware that I must be half-mad, but I had ceased to care.

The voices eventually became just another droning, the words blended together in an unintelligible mass. I strained to distinguish what the voices said as I drifted on the verge of consciousness. Soon I imagined that the words formed sentences, and in a voice like the breeze, I heard them say: "Come to us, Joshua, come join us. We have laid the table with a feast in your honor. We are waiting for you." A light appeared in the distance, gradually growing brighter as I watched.

I began to lean over the side, but as I stared at the black water lapping the boat, I quickly recoiled. "No," I cried. "No, I will not go. You cannot have me. I made a promise. I will survive!"

The light continued to grow brighter. "Joshua," the wind called. "Joshua."

I don’t know how, but somehow a burst of strength returned, and I tried paddling the boat away from the growing light with my bare hands. I would not look at the light, I told myself as the voices grew louder, I could not look at the light, I must get away. I wanted to live.

Suddenly a fog horn sliced the buttery night, and a multitude of cheering burst forth. I swung around, to see a brightly lit cruise ship coming directly towards me. Streamers and confetti flew through the air, settling lightly on the water. People blew kazoos and twirled noisemakers, corks popping off of bottles of glittering champagne, announcing their toasts as they raised their glasses high.

"Help!" I shouted, my hoarse voice drowning as the ship bore down on me. "Help!"

It was only by chance that somebody looked my way, but when he did, he immediately alerted the others, and the crew jumped into action. I sank down again into the lifeboat, my breath swift and ragged from my exertion. My entire frame convulsed in giant shudders. Even my bones felt weary and cold. It was not long, but seemed like ages, before I was lifted aboard the ship and nestled in a warm bed under satin sheets, a doctor hovering over me.

"Why were they cheering?" I feebly asked the doctor.

He gave me a confused look. "It’s the New Year!" he exclaimed.

It was then that I realized I had never turned my watch back to account for the time difference as I crossed the ocean to join my family in their New Year’s celebration, planning to do so when my feet touched shore. It was midnight.

My eyelids felt heavy. As I closed them, I saw one last image. My mother’s smiling face returned, just as it was when I had last seen it. Only this time, she winked.


The End


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8 comments

Matt Strempel
20:40 Jan 25, 2020

Well done on another intriguing saga. My arms felt heavy reading this haha You do an excellent job of taking the reader into the scene. We can feel life slipping away as we read about the effort it’s taking to complete the simplest task. Some advice I received a while ago that’s really helped me tighten up my writing: kill your adverbs. When you say ‘My sluggish mind gradually drifted back...’ you could drop ‘gradually’. We know his mind is sluggish, and drifting is a gradual process so you could drop the adverb and achieve the same effect i...

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Lee Kull
05:04 Jan 26, 2020

Just a note to let you know that I took your advice to heart and changed several little things, including ones you mentioned. Thank you again. :-) - Lee

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Lee Kull
22:41 Jan 25, 2020

Great advice and examples. Thank you very much. Really helpful tips. I'm glad you like it, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your stories as well.

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Sandra Nelson
01:31 Jan 31, 2020

Great use of description. I have a fear of the ocean and will never plan on being on a cruise-this just confirms my decision, lol. I felt I was there, you have a great way of telling a shortened version of a horrific event. Admittedly, I want more :)

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Lee Kull
02:08 Jan 31, 2020

Thank you very much! I am so glad you liked it... although I am very sorry if it accentuated your fears. If you liked this story and want more, perhaps you would like my story Treasure Fleet? It is also a nautical adventure. :-) Thank you very much for reading and commenting! - Lee

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Amanda Silva
19:21 Jan 26, 2020

A great read! You do a wonderful job creating the emotions and confusion of being lost at sea. Two small things I noticed: “I don’t know how, but somehow a burst of strength returned”— I would take out the “I don’t know how” and just stick with “somehow”. It seemed redundant to me. “I started to ask myself if I should even bother, but then I remembered my last dream.”— I feel like more emotion should be here, instead of referring to it as the dream, perhaps it could be “I remembered my mother” or ”I remembered my resolution”. Those are mor...

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Lee Kull
01:33 Jan 27, 2020

Thank you very much! :-) - Lee

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Lee Kull
01:34 Jan 27, 2020

Thank you very much! :-) - Lee

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