I would be home soon, completing my dream sail around the world, following the trade winds, west to east. Before me, a black wall of cloud rolled towards me. I tried to steer into it, to ride it out, but the wind was too fast, a hot wall, full of ash and stinging particles. It blasted against the bow of the sailboat, turning it side on, and caught it into its vortex of power. The sailboat leaned away, the starboard rail dipping into the ocean waves stirred up in the wind. I crawled, hanging onto the railing, trying to clamp on, as the wind blanketed over me.

    I heard a scream, and watched in horror as the aluminum mast rattled and bent. The mainsail ripped nearly away, whipping towards my face. I ducked as the whole sail slid down the ropes, and dropped onto the deck. Quickly, I pulled in the jib, and let her ride.

    As fast as it rose, the wind died. In all my years of sailing, I had never experienced such a sudden wind, coming off the Atlantic coast, far to the west. So hot. Bits of ash floated upon it, covering my deck with fine particles. I coughed, as if there was smoke. But the sky suddenly cleared, and it was sunny again. The water was a rich blue, the waves calmed down, and it was a fine day for sailing again.

    My mast was broken, bent in the middle, half laying on the deck, the mainsail still attached, but trailing in the water. I grunted as I pulled on the fabric. I knew I was in trouble. I had to get it out of the water.

    I staggered my way into the cabin. "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" I called on the radio. There was no answer. My hometown, Boston, lay some 300 miles east. I should have gotten through. This close to the east coast, there was always commercial and leisure traffic nearby. I listened. Other mayday calls, all around me. Ships in trouble. Ships sinking. Questions asked--Any news? What was that wind? The radio crackled, and was silent.

    I checked my fuel gauge--not enough to make it home. I would have to jury rig the sail on the broken mast, and limp home. I grunted as I shifted the heavy mast to the railing of the sailboat, and tied it secure. The sail I draped over the fallen mast, using rope to secure it. The jig was usable, but it would be slow going. My trip home would be longer, but at least the boat was intact. I checked my food supplies and water. I would have to be careful.

    I used the sails only during the daylight. The folded sail caught only a fraction of the wind as I tried to catch any breeze I could. The jib billowed in front, but it would not hold as much wind. The hot wind blew my boat well off course, so I tacked farther north, catching whatever wind I could find. I put myself on tight rations, forcing myself to eat but one meal a day. I had no appetite, but I knew I had to keep my energy up. I sipped at the water, trying to settle my nausea.

    Burns scorched my hands and back. Even though the sun was intense, I had never burned like this before. It was a relief to put salve on, if only temporarily. The burns were deep, and blistering. My energy lagged, but worry kept me awake at night. I was terrified that the mast would break away, or that another one of those hot winds would rush upon me. I wore a hat, to keep out of the sun, but my hair shed from my head and clung to the brim when I took it off.

    Progress was slow. I could only manage about thirty nautical miles per day. I kept my eye on the mast, and tugged at the rigging. The sail caught some wind, but it was not efficient. This would take time.

    Meanwhile, I found myself drifting off to sleep, even as I sat at the tiller. This trip, my lifetime goal of sailing around the world, had brought me so close to home, and yet, so far. Tacking in the wind was challenging, and wrung me out with the stress. I was sailing against the prevailing winds. Normally I loved the challenge of traveling east to west, but my journey had slowed to the proverbial crawl. I was in trouble, and I knew it.

    "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" I called on the radio, again and again. No one responded to me. There was no sound, but the crackle of the radio, and the creak of the boat as it limped its way east.

    By the fourth day, my nausea was dissipating. My water was low, but there wasn't a rain cloud in the sky. I rigged my evaporator and managed to make a small glass of water. I drank it right down. I was always thirsty, but evaporation only works drop by drop, and only during the day. I dared not drink any ocean water--that would be the death of me. Instead, I sucked on hard candies, and watched my evaporator like a hawk.

    A few days later, I was within the 200 mile border of the United States. Before me, I entered a place where boats were half submerged, broken, or laying on their sides. Bits of wood and life preservers floated all around me. Seagulls collected on the water, pecking at something. They squawked and flew up as my boat approached. It was then that I noticed dozens of bloated bodies, floating in the water. All had red wounds from the gulls' destruction, as the birds pecked the bodies to the bone. The waves washed over the bodies, pushing them out to sea. Shark fins cut through the water, and bodies were yanked below the surface.

    The ocean reeked of rot and destruction. Sheens of oily ash lay on the surface of the water. As I passed, the gulls landed again, and continued their meal. I threw up over the side.

    What had happened here?

    Before me, I saw the mast of a sailboat, larger than mine. The mast was intact, the sail was still neatly stowed within its cover. The boat was named "Mildred" out of Boston harbor. I knew this boat, knew her skipper to be a kind man. "Ahoy, the boat!" I called. "Frank Lizzo! Are you there, Frank? Hello!"

    I heard a 'help' from within the cabin. I brought my boat to, and tied up alongside. "Ahoy, the boat!" I called again. I stepped across onto the deck. The surface was thick with oily ash. I peered into the cabin. "Anybody here?" I called.

    "Help," I heard a hoarse whisper from my right. Frank was sprawled out on the bed. His skin was raw and bleeding. Seeping blisters covered his face and body. His clothes were soaked in red and yellow fluids. He reached up towards me with his bloody hand. "Mandy?" he whispered.

    "Frank! What happened?"

    "Dirty...dirty...bombs," he whispered. He clung to my shirt. "Get away," he said, intently. Don't go...home. Gone. All...gone."

    "What's gone, Frank?"

    "Terror...ists," he whispered, gasping. "Dirty...bombs."

    "I don't understand."

    "Gone," he whispered. "All gone." He sighed, flagging. "Boston...New...York...Wash...ington...Mi...Mi...ami." He gasped. "Gone. All...."

    "You mean, nuclear bombs? You mean...?" My head was reeling. It couldn't be all gone. My country. My home. "Frank," I demanded. "What happened?"

    "Go...east. Europe. Go...away."

    I hesitated. He tightened his grip on my shirt, desperate. "Take...every...thing. What you...need....Go...go...."

    His last breath rattled in his throat. I sat a moment, still in his clutches. Gently, I peeled his fingers off of my shirt.

    I had to think. His boat was bigger, and in better repair. But the decks were covered in the black oily ash that had landed on my boat. I understood, then, why I had gotten sick. His boat, even though it was better, was also a death trap. I couldn't take it, even if I wanted to. But I could take some supplies.

    I rushed about the cabin, pulling tools and blankets and food from his stores. I covered over his body, unable to see that ridden corpse for the Frank that was. I stole his fuel, his food, his water stores and evaporator. Extra ropes and fishing gear went to my boat. I cut free his anchor, his extra sails, and anything else that might have some sort of use. I took his rain gear and boots and hauled them to my boat. Finally, I took his radio, so much more powerful than mine.

    After one last glance, I knew I could not leave Frank's body for the gulls or sharks. Frank had been a kind man and a good sailor. I decided that I had to let him go in a way that would have pleased him.

    I took just a glass full of precious fuel, and splashed it around his boat. I found one of his lighters and a pack of his cigarettes. Standing in my own boat, I lit a couple of cigarettes, and flicked them towards the pool of fuel. They flared, and I kicked his boat free of mine. In seconds, the boat was engulfed in flame.

    As I slowly drew away, his boat continued to burn. It drifted into the debris. And I steered my own boat, found the Westerlies, and sailed away, from my home, from my land, and on to Europe.

March 08, 2024 19:32

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Susan Lamphier
22:56 Mar 19, 2024

Thank you so much, Prissy! I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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Prissy Sturz
00:24 Mar 19, 2024

I like how the ending and the beginning connect! Your first-time reading, you don't really get an explanation of the hot, sudden burst of wind until the end! Love how you can feel the description! Reading this, I could feel that hot wind blowing against me and those bits of ash burning against my skin. Great work!


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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