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The Valley of the Shadow of Death
I paced back and forth on the dock, deliberating whether or not to get on the “Midnight Pearl.” The ship was to cast off in a matter of minutes and I had yet to decide if I would be aboard. True, the voyage would take me home; true, the crew had decades of experience behind them; but it wasn’t the ship itself making me uneasy. That morning the ocean was still and the swells of the tide, silent, like a sheet of glass waiting to break.
“Six minutes, miss,” one of the scraggly-bearded deckhands growled. I sighed, weighing my options. If I didn’t leave that morning it would be another three weeks before I could find passage to Italy. On the other hand, something terrible just might happen if I did go. The former tugged earnestly on my heartstrings.
“Oh alright!” I finally decided. “I’ll go!”
Before long I casted off with no more reason to look back. The gentle sea breeze rustled my hair, easing my fear. The sun rose lazily in the east and I took great comfort in knowing I would be home with my mama and papa before it set.
The meals weren’t free for non-crew passengers and I simply had no money to spare. Instead of eating, I spent most of my time wandering the deck and singing to myself. The soothing rocking of the boat reminded me of a baby’s cradle. I found that I had no problem with the sea-sickness that so many sea-faring men experienced.
By midday the waves were considerably choppier. White sea-foam swished back and forth. Though, I found less menace with the ocean than the sky. Inky purple clouds rolled in from the northern horizon. I froze.
“Shouldn’t we turn around?” I asked a nearby deckhand, my voice shaking. The man had a puzzled expression, so I pointed at the nearing storm. He furrowed his brow and looked around.
“No point now,” he whispered, his gaze fixed to the south. I whirled around to see midnight black clouds moving perceptively toward us. I gasped feeling suddenly claustrophobic.
“This will be interesting...” the captain muttered from behind us. A roar of thunder arose as if to confirm his assertion.
After that everything became a blur. The ring of blue sky got smaller and smaller until purple and black mixed like thick tar, sealing away all hope. Crewman scrambled around the ship in a distraught manor that sent chills up my spine.
I focused on one man kneeling in a corner. His eyes were frantic. With trembling hands he held an ivory rosary against his chest. He muttered anxious prayers to the God of heaven as he rocked back and forth on his knees.
I listened intently to his words. “Deliver me, my Lord, from the devil when I die. Keepeth his evil hands from my cold, dead body when death overtaketh me, my God. When I awake may I find favor in your eyes and reside with you my king. Deliver us, oh Lord,” I ripped my attention from the main. Emotional pain stabbed my heart like a rusty nail causing a violent shudder to run through me.
From the determination in the man’s voice, I knew all of us would die. Every single soul on board would leave its body. Today, for the farers of our vessel, was judgment day.
The whooshing of the wind masked all other noise. My lags buckled and I sank to the ground. Air rushed out of my lungs in rasps. Any potential I had ever had was lost. All the hope in my heart disappeared like the sky, replaced by storm clouds of despair.
Water rushed over the main deck, soaking through my dress. The captain shouted orders at the deckhands through the thunderous storm. Tears welled and my eyes and spilled over, blending in easily with the rain.
My shoulders heaved as sobs escaped my chest. Sleet pelted my face in the frigid darkness. The restless ocean tossed the boat back and forth like a rag doll and I wondered “Had the water really been calm this morning?” The water pouring through the railing posts got waist ankle deep. Time was running out.
“Come child!” a man screamed over the storm. It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. He extended his arm, but I just stared at it. He sighed leaning over to pick me up. It didn’t cross my mind to protest.
He ran me to the port side of the boat where a loan one-person dinghy remained surrounded by ten men. The man placed me in the boat and made to push me into the water.
“The captain-” I started, looking into the captains brilliant blue eyes.
“-goes down with his ship,” he said with a painful smile.
I was about to argue, but three men shoved the paddle boat into open sea. The craft was torn away from its mother ship almost immediately, making it impossible to go back even if I knew how or wanted to. I gasped for air, only to choke on unyielding rain. The ship was gone. I didn’t know whether it had sunk or was too far away to see.
Suddenly, the water parted, dropping a good twenty feet. Where could that much water go? I searched my surroundings and found my answer.
A pair of enormous walls of water built up on either side of me. They arched perilously above me, like giant hands ready to crush a gnat. The two waves paused, for only a moment before hurdling toward earth.
I held my breath.