The thing I remember the most about Elvis' death, was the look of fear in his eyes. The four of us had pooled our money together to rent a small boat for the day. Our only luck had been a small boat - basically a dinghy, from one of the local fishermen. We were able to barter a few American comfort items received from goody boxes for a half day use of the boat. That is all the time we "B" shift workers could mentally afford to spend after several weeks of 24 hour shifts. The brain body connection did not allow much leeway in the decision.
One of the more "daring" members of our crew had even been experimenting lately with sleep deprivation. His record was 72 hours with no major deficit to his psyche (according to him). I am not sure if it was his little experiments or his addiction to any active crooked card game that had earned him the nickname Lefty but his name fit him.
Most of us just answered to our last names which were usually stitched to or written somewhere on our uniforms. No matter if it was on a Velcro patch to be easily ripped off and destroyed if trouble arose. It was the ONE thing that stuck with you. Your name.
Of course, some of the guys around here - like my friend Elvis rose above the simplicity of being branded by their last name and became legendary by their nickname. Elvis was a Southern boy with a tender heart and huge soulful eyes. It didn't matter if he was laughing at a joke or relaxing with a chaw of tobacco; his eyes were a story of their own. I don't even know if he could sing or dance, but his eyes sure sang the blues.
The idle thoughts of sleep disappeared as the four of us headed out to the shore of the vast blue expanse of the Indian Ocean. We just wanted to unwind and go for a swim. The beaches along the African coast were much different than on either coast of the United States. This area of the beach was even far enough from the European safari tourist trade to be able to enjoy it in it's true, uniquely beautiful form. This little spot was our oasis from the chaos in the surrounding city. The eye of the storm. The calmness and sheer beauty of nature helped to distract us from some of the horrors recently seen.
It was amazing to see creatures who would usually be locked up at home in a zoo - actually here peacefully relaxing. The sounds of the wild monkeys making peace (or war) with the birds in the strip of trees leading up to the path was a nice shift from the usual steady roar of gunfire. The sound of the waves crashing nearby seemed to energize all of us. The boat had been right where the old man had said. It was currently being protected by a large, resting camel. His reluctance to rise showed me how well he must be trained.
The day had started out nice. The usual brutal baking under the blazing hot sun was stifled a bit with the addition of the gentle ocean breeze. The sky was a beautiful blue with the cottony full clouds I always loved watching when I was young. The weather was beautiful - that was not the problem. It was the shark that must have been attracted to our location for some odd reason.
"What did you do today Outlaw? Take a shower in chum?". I laughed along with everyone else but I don't know how convincing I sounded. The truth was a bit more embarrassing than I cared to let the others in on. I have always been one of the toughest in the group but fish with teeth was more of a horror story than I ever cared to imagine.
We decided to relax and try to wait out the shark. To hope for the best - which would be the shark getting bored and swimming away. As we waited, the steady rock of the boat offered a soothing cradle like affect on all of us on board. I drifted off to sleep with the smell of sea salt filling my lungs, but my mind was far away - ten years far away. It might have been the feel of the board on the boat's bench on my face as I laid back to wait that brought on my daydream. I'm sure not many can boast of being lulled off to sleep during a crisis but somehow I was. I knew I couldn't be in the old abandoned tree house from my childhood but I willingly let the delusional vision overtake my sanity.
The tree house had been a fixture in the woods near a park by my childhood home. I'm not sure who built it but whomever did had provided a little spot of solitude. It was an escape to climb away to whenever anyone got the urge to see things from a different perspective. When I had a problem I couldn't figure out I would head for the trees on the hill. The tree house wasn't anything fancy like some of the kids in the neighborhood. It couldn't even be called a clubhouse because there weren't walls. It was basically just a shelter from the random pop up rain storm or a place to run and hide if ever a chase arose in the park. By the time I cleared the flying jumps with my bike and scrambled to the top of the tree - skipping every other foot hold for luck - I probably could have outrun anyone. Nothing like my imagination to get my mind running and jumping like an Olympic athlete.
I would lie flat on the board and look with my eye down through a hole. I could see a forest of green from this lofty lookout. I imagined I was a bird and stretched my arms out wide. I whispered prayers for safety to the heavens above. I pretended I could soar among the stars as I glided peacefully like a dove. High above in the sky looking down at the land so low, I felt God's hand support me as I watched people come and go. It was like being in a plane watching the ocean's ebb and flow.
It suddenly came into focus before my eyes. The sound of the plane is what had woken me from the dream. I looked around at the blistering, sun burned bodies of my companions and realized I wasn't the only one who had been lulled by the seas. I struggled to wake myself and raise the alarm. SOS! Help! The waters around us had become calm but I didn't trust it to be now safe. We were rescued by the helicopter which had been performing a mission nearby. Talk about a lucky break. We gladly accepted the help that day.
`Elvis was the last one left to be rescued. In hindsight, I wish I had insisted on staying but I know he wouldn't have switched places so I can't blame myself for what happened. Elvis may have had soft eyes but it was his soft hands that were his downfall. The blisters that covered the palms of his hands burst against the course wet rope and he lost his grip. I think he could have survived a fall but I hope not because as I looked down I saw that the shark was back and he had friends.
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Excellent read, Andrea!
Good stuff! I like the narrator's voice. I imagine an old salt matter-of-factly rehashing the story over a pint of Gansett. Sort of peripherally reminded me of Polaris by Lovecraft.
Thank you. What a wonderful compliment!