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A gray haze clouds my vision. My eyes burn, but that’s probably because of the salty air. I pass a scantily clad waitress and grab a glass from her proffered tray. As I make my way to my favorite table I look around the crimson room. Here in the lower decks it’s easier to feel the rocking of the ship. I see several gentlemen fall to the floor as I make my way aft.
On this cruise the blackjack dealer and I have worked out a kind of friendship. He gives me what I need, and I ensure no one leaves with more than they came, even if the cards are in their favor.
I reach the very profitable table and sit on the ruby tone stool. Around me are the braver gamblers on the ship. My late arrival and the table’s reputation assure they are from the wealthier of the ship’s passengers.
“How’re things in the Wonderful World of Gambling?” I ask the gentlemen.
In reply I see some of the wiser ones collect their meager winnings and go in search of another table. I allow a smile to play across my face, and then the next hand is dealt, and it’s down to business.
The night wears on in it’s usual fashion. I bet modestly and get little in return at first. Then I see the signal from the dealer and know to step it up. It takes very little time to for the men to empty their pockets. A few of them in a last ditch effort to win back their fortunes, attempt to slow my wits with shots from the waitresses’ trays. But in less than three hours, I receive another signal from the dealer and know that it is time to end the evening.
“Well gentlemen, I would like to congratulate you on a good game,” I announce to those left at the table. “I assure you, you are all the best of men.” With a flourish I pull a canvas bag from my jacket pocket. I begin filling the sack with my winnings. “Now, I fear I must bid you adieu.”
I turn on my heel but only manage a step before one of my kind companions stops me in my tracks.
“Sir,” his breath is in my face and my nose catches the rich scent of cigar. I think he wants to say more, but I feel the ship sway to the left underneath my feet and suddenly I feel a thick carpet against my cheek. The man pulls me to my feet, but as soon as I’m vertical again I feel another wave go under us. This time he leaves me on the ground, and it’s a good thing because I feel my stomach lurch, and I see the contents of my stomach spelled out on the floor like the world’s worst cookbook.
I hear the dealer’s voice shout something, but I don’t catch it. The motion of the ship slows to a gentle rock. An image of a cradle comes to my mind, and I slowly drift off to sleep.
I open my eyes, and the smoke is gone. But I feel sticky and wet. I try to look at myself, but when I move my whole body aches. I manage to lift my hands to my face to protect my eyes from the blaring sun. With the sun gone, the world comes back into focus. I look down at where the floor should be, but instead I see a tree.
I shake my head and try to sit up. My body resists the movement, but I force myself to take in my surroundings. I see the tree, or rather log, on which I now sit, and I see the sky, and I see water. And that’s all I see. I swivel my head around searching for something. Nothing. Clinging to a driftwood log, wearing a full suit with no idea where the ship is. When you spell it out like that it almost sounds like I’m never going to see another living person again.
I close my eyes and try to clear away the hopeless thoughts so I can think rationally. I’ve been awake for less than an hour, but I probably slept for hours on this log before I woke up. I can’t remember being thrown overboard, but it had to be sometime late last night after I passed out.
In the loneliness of the ocean, my mind runs through the never-ending scenarios, and I wonder if anyone will even notice my absence. Maybe the black jack dealer. After all, while I was around he was making plenty of money. I shakily sit up and look into the desolate sky. They would send a search plane or boat as soon as they noticed I was gone. And surely they’ve noticed by now. I wish I had a watch so I could predict how much longer I have to wait for my rescue. I can’t tell anything from the sun when it’s this high. I can’t even look at it. It’s so bright out here. The water reflects the sunlight and makes it ten times worse than being on land. And you’d think with all this water it’d be really cool, but the water reflects the heat like asphalt. The salty air leaves white powder on my previously black suit. I open my mouth and can taste the salt on my dry tongue. I haven’t had anything to drink since last night, and that wasn’t really hydrating. And before I emptied my stomach on the floor, I hadn’t eaten a lot.
I look into the seawater but I don’t have any way to catch a fish even if I could cook it. But with the way my luck’s been lately, it’d probably be poisonous.
Several long hours later, the unrelenting dictator of the sky begins to wave goodbye to his suffering subjects and go to his bed underneath the horizon. Soon after he is gone, his brother comes up to act as night watchman. He breathes his icy breath down my neck and makes my clothes stick to my frozen flesh.
The night passes like a sea slug. Sleep evades my grasp as I stare out into the abyss trying to keep the demons of the sea out of my mind.
When the sun returns I am grateful for its penetrating warmth. I feel the bags under my eyes, already I’m suffering the effects of this torture. With the sun out, I start to feel even more tired and eventually fold my hands under my head and allow myself to drift off to sleep.
I awake to a stab of pain on the back of my hand. My eyes flash open, and I see feathers. My mind connects the two things, and I flail my arms to strike the useless monster. The stupid thing flies away with a squawk.
I gaze at the back of my hand and see the crimson goo seeping out of the open wound. A scream escapes my throat and wanders off into the endless sky. I stifle another and force myself to think rationally. I tear a strip of fabric from the bottom of my jacket and tie it around my hand.
When the bleeding stops, I lie down on the log and stare at the sky. The sun stings my eyes, but I would rather see the cloud-splattered sky than the unchanging water. I can feel my skin tingling, and I know it’s from the sun. I close my eyes and let out a long sigh. I’m past the point of trying to avoid a relatively minor irritation like sunburn.
The hours drift away like the clouds, and I start to think this isn’t so bad. When I’m not focused on the dryness of my tongue and the hollow feeling in my stomach, that is. However this feeling is gone as soon as the white clouds disappear over the horizon. I see a bank of blackness preparing to take their place. Flashes of light streak across the darkness. One word pops into my mind-- hurricane. I look back in the other direction and see the clear sky that goes on forever. It makes the storm clouds look even more like the black hole that will devour my life and leave nothing for any search party, if there is one.
For a while I sit there thinking about how little time I have left, but then something in the back of my mind clicks. I could swim. I look at the water that has taunted me, mocked me, and been my sworn enemy, and I see hope in its depths. Anything would be better than facing that storm. But which way should I go?
I look down at the clear blue water. Crushing disappointment grabs hold of me with its slimy tentacles and thrashes me around. I will not swim.
About six feet below the rippling waves I see flashes of gray against the blue. I block the word from my mind. If I let them inside my mind then they have won. And my rescuers are still out there looking for me. They will come and find me and tomorrow I’ll be safe in my cabin. I’ll see the dealer again and we’ll run our scam and everything will be back to normal.
I stretch out on my log and watch the far horizon. Right over there are my rescuers. Right over that horizon. When the first rain drops begin to fall, I see a plane flying above me. I wave at it as it makes its way across the sky. Those are the people I’ll see tomorrow. The wind blows against my little log, and soon I’m spinning round and round like a roulette wheel. I close my eyes and smile. Rain falls on my face and feels so good. I open my mouth and catch mouthfuls of fresh water.
I spread my arms out to welcome the wonderful rain. I feel my log roll out from under me, but I don’t care. The rain feels so wonderful. I open my eyes and look at the silver drops as they mix with the saltwater. I can’t believe I spent the last two days avoiding this. The water feels so good. And it’s funny, when you’re above the water you don’t see how red it is.
I flap my arms and look around at the strange effect. Flashes of gray fill my vision and I catch the gleaming white of teeth. A part of my brain registers the pain and agony, but after hours in the hot sun this seems like a let down. It’s as if the freezing and sun burning were all for nothing. I hit a brick wall of pain and the red is no longer outside, it invades my mind. I feel the water in my lungs and see my well-burned arm floating freely. It sounds pretty worthless, but the last thought to cross my mind is
At least they got a well-cooked meal.