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Nightmare At Sea

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The sun beat down upon the surface of eighteen-year-old Ronnie Floyd’s sailboat. It couldn’t have been a more perfect Hawaiian day: mid eighties and almost no clouds in the sky. The boat was off the coast of Kauai about 7 miles out in the ocean. For the past fifteen minutes, Ronnie had been lying on the deck and enjoying the sun, the Arcade Fire music pumping out of the radio on the deck, and the sea spray on his face. Ronnie had tan skin and dark brown hair that fell over his eyes. From the way he was lounging near the edge of the boat, it was easy to see that he was completely comfortable at sea. Way off in the distance, a fork of lightning flashed down from a solitary dark cloud. Ronnie just shrugged. That happened all the time. There was nothing to worry about: it was too far away to matter. A chilly gust of wind blew over Ronnie’s face, and he shivered. “Maybe I brought a sweatshirt,” he thought mildly. He stood up, stretching, and looked out towards the storm cloud. A long, dark smudge appeared on the horizon. Ronnie squinted for over a minute, but he couldn’t make out what it was. The vocalist for Arcade Fire sang, “Nothing lasts forever, that’s the way it’s gotta be. There’s a great black wave in the middle of the sea.” That was when uneasiness started to creep into the pit of Ronnie’s stomach.

Ronnie tried to turn away and go about his business as if nothing was on the horizon, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dark discoloration in the clear blue sky. “I’m being a worry-wart. It’s just a low-hanging cloud.” He turned around and walked over to the bag in which he kept his belongings when he went boating. He reached in and pulled out a navy blue sweatshirt. He tugged it down over his head and was making his way over to check the sails when his eyes were once again yanked over to the horizon. The smear was growing. Either that, or it was getting closer. Just then, Ronnie had an idea of what it was. His heart thumping wildly, he dashed back to his bag and reached his hand in. He groped around for a few seconds before pulling out a pair of binoculars. Holding the binoculars up to his eyes, he pointed them at the smudge and his heart skipped a beat. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He was about to come face-to-face with his biggest fear. There was an enormous wave heading straight for his boat.

Ronnie whirled around and hoisted the sails. The wind caught in them, and they billowed out to their full dimensions. Pushed by the strong breeze, the boat started to move away from the wave. Now, Ronnie could hear a faint rushing, like wind in the leaves of distant trees. He glanced back at the wave. It was rapidly gaining on him. A mile away, it was a terrifying spectacle. It was about fifty feet high, dark blue, with foam spraying off the crest. If Ronnie had seen a picture of the wave, he might have commented on its majestic beauty. He spun around and ran to the center of the ship, seeking any kind of shelter. “Rogue wave! It’s going to overtake me!” Ronnie thought frantically. A drop of foam landed on the back of his neck, and he spun around. The wave was right on top of him. He scrabbled for something to hold on to, and the first thing that came in contact with his hands was the central mast. Grabbing it, he pulled himself to it and held on for all he was worth. The deck slanted violently as the wave took hold of the ship. The last thing Ronnie remembered before impact was a great black mass blocking out the sun and obscuring his vision.

Wetness, saltiness, and darkness. That was all Ronnie knew. He couldn’t see and he couldn’t breathe. He doggedly kept holding onto the wooden pole as thousands of gallons of water mercilessly pummeled him and swirled him around. “Make it stop!” he mentally screamed. Then, his radio smashed into his head and he passed out.

Ronnie’s eyes burned as he tried to open them, but a bright light was shining and he had to keep them shut. His head was throbbing, and it felt like a horse had kicked it. “Am I dead?” he wondered. “And what is that light?” Shading his eyes, Ronnie squinted out from under his hand and saw the ocean and the sun glaring down at him. He was alive. Something was lying on top of him, also. Staggering to his feet, he looked down and saw that his backpack had been resting on top of him. He spun in a circle. He was standing on a section of his boat that was about twenty feet by twenty feet. There was a six foot long bench that had remained on the raft-like section of boat. The rest of his boat was gone, probably sinking to the seafloor. “I’ve heard of rogue waves on the news before, but I never thought one would hit me. It came out of nowhere.” Ronnie sat down and tried to come to terms with the simple fact that he could die. He had no food and no water on the raft and the coast was still six miles away. He didn’t see any ships; he was on a secluded side of the island. He reached into his backpack, but what he found didn’t help him much. He had his binoculars, a large tangle of yarn, a can of Axe body spray, his lucky red stone, his Swiss Army Knife, and an Oakland Athletics baseball cap. To keep the sun out of his eyes, Ronnie placed the cap on his head and pulled it down tight. He was glad that he was wearing his sweatshirt, because it would keep the sun from burning his upper body. Disheartened, he put the other items in the pack and sank down to the wood planks beneath him.

After a half hour of sitting and moping, Ronnie thought, “Enough. I will not give up this easily!” He saw a small ripple about fifty feet away. “Maybe it’s a fish. I’m hungry,” thought Ronnie. He didn’t have any bait, so the best he could do was cut a small slit in his thumb. Scarlet drops of blood fell into the water. Immediately, the ripple started to move closer to the raft. Ronnie squinted and saw that the disturbance was being caused by a spiny dogfish, a small species of shark. He readied his hands over the water and tensed. The shark was right next to the raft, drawn to Ronnie’s blood. Suddenly, Ronnie plunged his hands down and grabbed the shark, using its rough skin to his advantage. He pinned it to the deck as tightly as he could while it flailed until its movements became listless. Then it stopped moving, and Ronnie picked up the knife. But before he cut the shark, he put its eye up to his mouth and sucked the fluid out of it. It was a way of getting a small amount of clean water. From his minimal experience as an angler, Ronnie knew how to prepare a fish. He skinned it and cleaned it in the water, all the while his stomach growling like an angry dog. After the shark was edible, he cut it into strips and raised one toward his mouth. “Sushi,” he said to himself as he took a bite.

The setting sun dyed the ocean with streaks of orange and red. Ronnie lay on the deck, exhausted from the intensity of the day. A million troubled thoughts raced through Ronnie’s mind. “How will I get back to shore? What will I eat and drink? Am I going to die?” As darkness covered the sky, Ronnie drifted off to sleep, lulled by the gentle rocking of the waves.

Two days later, Ronnie’s throat was dry and painful, and he felt like he was getting heatstroke. His legs were red from sunburn, and he was perspiring because of the extra layer that his sweatshirt added. He hadn’t eaten since he had gulped down the small shark two days earlier. For about the fiftieth time, Ronnie put the binoculars up to his eyes and surveyed the surrounding sea. For the fiftieth time, there was nothing but deep azure. “If I don’t find a way back to shore soon,” he thought, “I’ll die of dehydration or heat stroke.” Half-heartedly, he held the binoculars up to his eyes once again. “Nothing,” he muttered, not at all surprised. “Wait a second!” Ronnie squinted and adjusted the binoculars. A flash of white was about half a mile away, occasionally disappearing behind waves. It looked like a motorboat. Ronnie could also hear a faint humming. Now he had no doubts, it was possible to get out of this situation. “If only the driver of the boat could see me,” he thought. Just then, he had an idea.

Ronnie put the binoculars down on deck and emptied his pack next to them. He grabbed the clump of yarn and started untangling it. When the yarn was straightened out, it was about thirteen feet long. Hurriedly, Ronnie started wrapping it around the bench. Next, he picked up his red stone, hefted it, and brought it down onto his binoculars, destroying them and knocking the lenses out. Gingerly, he picked them up and inspected them. Besides a few scratches and chips, the lenses were undamaged. Ronnie then held them over the same section of yarn, trying not to move his hands at all. A small spot of intense heat appeared on the yarn, but it wouldn’t catch fire. Finally, a thin wisp of smoke curled out of the yarn and sparks appeared a second later. Hoarsely, Ronnie shouted, “Yes!” and blew on the small flame. The fire rapidly traveled down the yarn until it looked like a long flame was decorating the bench. After another minute, a corner of the bench started to burn. Ronnie hurried over and blew on that section until the flames had spread. Now, half of the bench was on fire and emitting thick, black smoke. The heat was getting too intense, so Ronnie took a few steps back. He stopped when he heard a sickening crunch. He looked down and saw that he had stepped on the can of Axe and the pungent liquid was leaking all over the deck. His eyes snapped back to the fire on the bench and saw a lone spark fly out of the blaze. Time seemed to slow down as the small speck of light drifted downward toward the puddle. The spark hit the Axe and in a split second, it all ignited. The heat hit Ronnie like a blow. He staggered backward as flames billowed toward him.

Without any choice left, Ronnie turned and dove into the water a second before the whole raft was burning bright with flames. He tread water next to the burning wood for a few minutes, and just when he thought his strength would give out, a white motorboat appeared over the crest of a small wave. The man and woman in the boat looked like they were in their fifties. The woman grabbed a rope and hurled it towards Ronnie. He lunged and caught it. Wearily, he hauled himself along the rope until he was able to latch onto the side of the boat and hoist himself up. The man said, “We were out for a leisurely boat ride when we saw your smoke signal. What happened? How did you get stranded?” Ronnie couldn’t answer, though. He was passed out on the deck, weary from his nightmare, but happy to be alive.





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