Having escaped the Hell on land, D' and Nathan find Hell at sea.
It was three hours. Only three hours. It but was the longest three hours of my life. I will never forget any second of those three hours. Horrifying, terrifying, intense. The Doc' said writing it down might help me sleep nights. You may decide later that my decision to share it with you was not a good idea. See, I'm thinking that if it helps me to write it down, then it might help to spread the visions around, so they're not all stuck in my head alone. I know some of you will envision what I write with a clarity as if it happened to you personally. I know this sounds cold and heartless - but good. The more the better. I know that if I can get others to see what I've seen, still see, I won't see it anymore. So, please, read on. I could really use a good nights sleep.
* * *
We hit the doldrums three days before. No wind, no swells, the air and sea still. The days have been hot, the nights warm. Late in the evening on the third day we felt a thump on the port side of the hull. I leaned over to see the bloated body of a man in a Speedo, floating face down. It was misshapen, deformed, grotesque. The buttocks were so swollen that you could only see the bathing suit as it disappeared down the crack that started at the small of the back. His skin was a whitish-blue, the dark veins standing out in contrast against the white skin. The arms and legs dipped into the water so it was impossible to tell if it had hands or feet. It looked to have been in the water for some time, at least twenty-four hours, which made it's appearance the more strange. This carcass should have been devoured hours ago. Perhaps it was dead that long and just recently pushed overboard. I quickly scanned the horizon. No boats. "It's a body!" I called to my crew.
My crew. D' and I stole this boat sixteen days ago. Well, maybe not stole. The owners are dead and no one else wanted it. There are no more banks or economy. It's every man for himself. And D' and I have known each other a long time. We've been friends almost the entire time. Best friends now. But, since I know how to sail, kinda, and am D's senior by three years, I'm captain. D' doesn't mind. He's always sort of looked up to me as an older brother-type, even though he's taller than me.
"We have to get it away from us before it gets any darker," I informed him.
"It'll bring the predators; shark, 'cuda, squid. If they get a whiff of us up here, and there's enough of them, and they're hungry enough, they could sink this boat."
"I'm afraid not." I looked to the west, remembering the stories I've heard about whales sinking sailboats, sharks attacking in open water, and before the Effect. Now, afterwards, when food is scarce for Man and Beast, Beast has resorted to killing Man. The stories I caught while we prowled the coast for a boat, sitting anonymously in bars as we listened to the drunks talk of abandoned boats and dead crews. Stories of sharks and whales ramming hulls, puncturing holes and sinking the wooden and fiberglass boats. I overheard one story of how the Humboldt squid, with their abrasive tentacles, tore through a fiberglass hull in less than ten minutes. The story reported there were thousands of squid, not the single thousand, which is bad enough.
That one was a bit hard to believe. Those squid only get a meter or so in size, and the only hard part of the creature is that nasty, efficient, parrot-like beak of a mouth.
I shudder as my mind forces an image of a squid biting into my thigh, then I focus on the horizon. Half the disc of the Sun was below the horizon. We had only min...
Something hit the boat, hard, causing it to rock. I reacted without thought and grabbed the rail on the cabin roof. I looked aft to D'. He was at the helm, legs spread wide, ducking the mizzen boom as it flopped from side to side. "What hit us?!" he barked.
I shrugged, then glanced over the side. A large chunk of the bloated body was gone. The bite mark could be clearly seen. It was a big bite. "Shark!" I hollered. "Crank up the engine!" I ordered, starting to make my way aft.
"Aye aye, Cap'n." D' leaned down and flicked the switch for the blower, then impatiently watched his watch.
"Open the engine door and start the damn motor!" I had reached the cockpit. "We have to get out of here." I ducked below, returning seconds later with a Kalashnikov. As I turned to go forward, the engine started. I grabbed the roof rail again. "Go!"
D' pushed the throttle all the way forward and turned the wheel to starboard. I looked over the edge as we started to move. The squid had arrived. They were ripping strips of flesh and meat off the dead man's body. I braced myself with my foot, let go of the rail and took aim at the squid. The water clouded with blood and pieces of squid and human, and it was spreading. The school of squid had grown into a university. It had become a feeding frenzy, the water churning a foamy purple. This was not looking good. There were so many that all I had to do was shoot, and with their soft bodies, I was sure to hit four or five at time. I emptied the thirty round clip into the swarm as we motored away.
As D' straightened us out, I saw the first of many sharks heading to the blood gorged water. I don't know how smart these fish are, but if they figure out that motor means man, this could be short reprieve. There wasn't much fuel. About twenty minutes worth. A few miles. That's nothing to these creatures. And some of those sharks that swam past the boat were as long, if not longer, than Neptune's Dinghy, a thirty-two foot ketch. The name was especially befitting this vessel even more so, since the sea level has raised and there's more of it now. We had left the west coast at Bakersfield, not Los Angeles. The waves were breaking just outside of town. If the McDonald's was still a business, it could boast of an ocean view.
Anyway, if just one of those sharks rammed this poor hull it would be over within minutes. The reason no one wanted this boat was because the previous owners only popped and sanded out the blisters. They never re-applied any fiberglass. We know this because we sprung a leak the first day out. We have a wooden plug in it, surrounded by epoxy. If a jellyfish hits a certain spot we could be sunk. We either have to find some wind, or a current. I went below to study the charts, taking the assualt rifle with me.
If we hadn't moved, which we haven't, the noon sighting should still be good. I put the reading to the chart, then sat back, dejected. Nothing but open ocean for hundreds of miles in all directions. All the islands that use to be close by are underwater. The ones still above sea level are few and far between; the closest one over two hundred miles away southeast. If these were normal times, we would be in the center of the Trade Winds, but these aren't normal times. There are no more Trade Winds. The weather is unpredictable. We could find wind any minute, or not at all, before the fuel runs out.
Even the dolphins won't help a human in the open water any more. Not after word spread, however their word spreads, that we had been training them to blow up mines with their bodies.
What's that all about? I have pipe dreams in dire times that whiz through my mind. I had briefly thought of enlisting the help of several dolphin to pull the boat to safety, away from the predators. But I quickly put that one to rest with the aforementioned rational. See, either way, pipe dreams. Besides, I don't speak dolphin.
The boat came to a sudden, dramatic stop. Everything loose went flying forward, including me. My gut was pressed into the side of the chart table, my head a fraction of an inch from the bulkhead. "What the Hell?!" I barked. I turned toward the hatch to the cockpit. "What'd we hit?"
"It's...it's a whale!" D's head poked through the opening. "A Sperm whale. It swam in front of us."
"Have you tried reverse?"
"No. Any leaks?"
I looked forward, through the V-berth doors. I glanced at the deck, then bent down and removed a floorboard to check the bilge. No water. "No water. Yet. Reverse?"
"I'm trying it now."
I heard the shift lever work, then the throttle increase. We started backwards. I headed topside.
Once above the cabin roof I turned and looked forward. The whale, a large Sperm, was following us. I turned to D'. "Cut the wheel and throttle. Switch it to forward, then gun it."
D' did as instructed, but as soon as he slammed the throttle to go forward, the whale crash dived, half it's body coming straight up out of the water, the tail slapping the water on entry. This didn't look good. Neptune's Dinghy was thirty-two feet, stem-to-stern, bowsprit to stern rail. On deck, she was twenty-eight. That whale was easily sixty feet long. If it so desired, it could smash this boat to pieces. "Keep in a zig-zag pattern. I don't want that whale to get a bead on us."
"What? Are you nuts?"
I looked to the water. "I hope so."
The water just aft of the boat exploded, the whale emerging in the middle of the fountain. D' had just zigged out of a zag and the whale fell beside us, not more than a four feet away.
The boat raised on the wave, then nearly tipped over as the wave broke just above the high side toerail, drenching D' and I. When the wave rolled beneath the boat, we snapped back the other way, the whale rebounding from the splash at the same time. The main mast's spreader struck the whale near it's blowhole. The whale immediately slid under the surface, subdued and bleeding. We bobbed a few more times, then D' gave it throttle when the boat straightened and we put more water between us and the frenzy still visible behind us, the whale blood drifting towards the frenzy.
"You think it'll be back?" D' asked.
I looked him in the eyes and shrugged. "I dunno." I looked up to the spreader that hit the whale. It had a chunk of blubber on the end. "We either scared it away or pissed it off," I said, returning my eyes to the water. "How much fuel is left?"
There was a pause as D' calculated in his head. "Ten, fifteen minutes."
I watched the whale blood make it's way to the frenzy for another minute. We were heading into the current. I looked to sky, finding Artcurus, then Vega. "Turn it tens degrees to port."
The western horizon, glowing a dark blue from the remnants of the Sun's loom, looked empty and foreboding. We were sailing in star light. The Moon wouldn't rise for another hour and it was going to be a Hunter's Moon. There's about a quart of fresh water on board. We've been out of food for two days now. We can't use any light. And we're almost out of fuel. It was going to be a long night.
I sat on the starboard seat in the cockpit, forward of the helm.
"How'd you know that whale was going to try to jump on us?"
I shrugged. "Maybe because that's what I'd do if I was him."
I nodded. Neither one of us could see the other, but I knew D's eyes were fixed on the bleak line where the sky meets the sea.
"You really think they're learning how to think?"
"Something's going on. You remember the dog packs, the pigeon squadrons, the snakes."
He was silent for a moment. It had been a battle getting to the coast from the Plains. "I remember, Skipper."
"I said you don't have to call me that."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n."
He was silent again. "After the sea gull attack, calling you anything else just doesn't feel right."
"Phfft," I resigned.
Silence. "You think they'll follow us?"
I looked astern. I could barely see the horizon, let alone if anything was following us. I shrugged. "I dunno. I hope not."
Suddenly the motor strained and the boat slowed. "What the He..." D' started.
"Something's caught in the prop," I instantly knew.
"Is it holding us?"
"No. I don't think so. But if the prop can't turn, we ain't going nowhere."
"How do we fix it?"
"Other than going over the side with a knife, we'll wait until forward momentum stops, then see if gunning it in reverse gets us free."
"Why not just try that now?"
"Because if it doesn't work, I want every inch we can get."
Several minutes later, through utter and complete silence, we stopped dead in the water.
"Okay, D', give it a shot."
D' cranked on the motor, shifted into reverse, then slammed the throttle lever. The motor strained, the propeller spun, then the motor strained again.
"Try it again, only this time, when the prop gets free, throw it in neutral."
When D' popped it into to neutral, it sounded like the propeller slowed normally. "Okay D', put in forward and ease the throttle on.
We started moving forward, slowly. Then the motor strained and the propeller locked.
"We could keep doing the neutral thing," D' suggested.
"Can't. It takes too much fuel."
"Well, we can always go over the side at dawn."
"We might not have the time. If whatever's on the prop doesn't fall off on its own, we might not see the sunrise."
D' was silent, then started moving.
"Where you going?" I asked.
"Remember, no lights."
"I don't need a light for this."
Alone in the cockpit, the silence became overwhelming. There was no wind, no small waves lapping at the hull, only my breathing. I started to hum, just for some noise.
A few minutes later D' came back topside. He went to the stern seat and opened it, digging in the box in the dark.
"What are you looking for?"
"Where do you think you're going?" I demanded. I knew where he thought he was going.
"Going to go cut us loose."
"We don't know what's out there. We'll just wait for sunrise."
"Don't have time to wait. Said so yourself. Besides, they don't like my kind. Put the ladder out after I'm in. Thanks." He slipped over the side without a splash.
"Your kind? What!? You're human!" I yelled at the water, then kicked myself. My outburst could bring the predators. I eased the boarding ladder over the side, then sat back down on the seat and waited. And waited. And waited. This was taking way too long. There's no way he could hold his breath this long.
Has something already got him? Is he gone? Do I turn on a light and check? If he's dead it'll let the fish know I'm up here. If he's alive it could bring the predators on him. I was in a quandary. But, where is he? How is he staying down so long?
It was several minutes of agonizing between 'check or wait' before I remembered the snorkeling gear we found onboard. Someone had attached a long hose to the top of a snorkel, then put the other end on a float. I had assumed it was used for scrubbing the hull. D' had to have taken it over the side with him. Either that or he was dead. I scooted towards the stern and held my breath.
In the stillness I heard D' breathing through the snorkel. A faint puff every few seconds. He was still alive. I relaxed a little. It has to be past five minutes by now and the longer he's in the water the better chance of him being found out. My relaxing didn't last very long.
Then the ladder clanked against the hull and the boat dipped in that direction. He was coming out. "Can I get hand?" D' said from the ladder.
I reached towards his voice in the darkness and felt the snorkel hose. "Got it," I stated.
D' let out a scream that caused me to drop the hose, the snorkel and float falling over the side. D' himself had falling partly back into the water, I could hear him splashing, kicking and yelling. "Get the fuck off me!"
I reached for him, hitting him in the jaw. I lowered my hand and grabbed his shirt, then pulled. He didn't come very far. "What's going on? Are you hurt?"
"Something's...Ow! Fuck!" Suddenly he came up on deck and I fell back into the cockpit. "Something just bit the fuck out of my leg."
I listened as he crawled across the poop deck and into the cockpit, kicking me in the face as I was struggling to right myself. "Ow! Fuck. Thanks."
"My leg. It hurt's like Hell. Bleeding like a son-of-bitch, too."
"Let's get below so we can look at it."
"The propeller's free. Felt like a nylon line. I'll go below and tend to myself. You get this boat moving, Skipper."
He was right. I had been more concerned about my long time friend that for the moment I forgot our situation. "Right. I'll be down when things are set."
"I can take care of myself. I'll come back up when I'm done."
"Shut the doors, hatches and shutters before you turn on a light."
"Aye." D' limped to the hatchway, moaning as he descended the ladder. The door clicked close, then the hatch slid shut. I flicked on the blower motor and waited. The boat rocked and swayed as D' closed the window and porthole shutters, and the other hatch. I saw the edges of the doorway light up next. I'd waited long enough. I started the engine. We had ten minutes of fuel left.
Around a minute later, the boat surged forward, just a little, but noticeable. We were out of the current. That will get a us a little further away. Now if we could only find wind.
D' returned on deck just before the fuel ran out.
"I was bit by a fucking squid."
"How do you know?"
"The shape of the bite is a give-away, but the tentacle marks on my leg synched it."
"How bad's the bite?"
"Took a chunk out the size of a tuna can."
"Ouch," I winced.
"Ouch, no shit."
"You gonna be okay?"
"I'll limp for a while, but I'll be fine."
"I thought you said they didn't like you?"
"Hey, they only took one bite."
"And what's that suppose to mean anyway? 'They don't like my kind'."
"I'm from L. A.. You're from where? Iowa?"
"They like them corn-fed boys from the Midwest. Lots of good meat."
"Kiss my ass."
"How does an Iowa boy know how to sail, anyway?"
"Before I met you, I joined a rent-a-sailboat club that taught me how to sail. Always wanted a sailboat after that."
"That was a long time ago, Bro'. You still remember everything they taught you?"
"It's hard to forget something you love."
The motor coughed and died.
"How far, ya' think?" he asked after we stopped drifting.
"Three, four nautical miles."
"Christ! I'd wish you'd stop that. How fucking far is a nautical mile!?!"
I felt two inches tall. I never thought about the mariner terms I used. It just felt right using them out here. "Uh, one point one five. Miles."
"So, at the most, four and a half miles."
"Give or take a mile."
"What?" he yelled.
"Shhh. The fish."
"Fuck the fish. If we've only gone two miles the fish know where we are. How long was the current pushing us backwards?"
I shrugged, impressed he noticed the current flow earlier. He has been paying attention. "I dunno. First five, ten minutes."
"So more like one, maybe two miles."
"Yeah. More like."
"Fuck," he muttered. He knew as well as I that the prospects of either of us making it 'til dawn wasn't good. "Any ideas, Skipper?"
There were two Kalashnikov's onboard, three handguns, a flare gun, and a spear gun. The chances of finding any of them in the dark after that abrupt stop with the whale was slim. "You didn't happen to see the guns while you were down there?"
"Uh, no. I was preoccupied with my leg."
"Just curious. I'm going below to find a couple."
"I'll be right here."
"I should hope so." I went below and started feeling around where I thought the rifles might be. I found one Thirty-Eight Special and the Colt before finding a Kalashnikov. I felt around several more minutes before finding the flare gun and the other assault rifle. A little more searching revealed a full box of ammo for the Kalashnikov's. I bundled everything in a pillow case, then headed topside.
Above decks this time I noticed that I could make out silhouettes in the star light. D' sat on the port side, I could see the wheel in front of me, and the edge of the boat. "You doing okay, Bro'?" I asked him as I sat opposite of him.
"Besides my leg throbbing and aching, I'm tired. Must be all the blood loss. Bitch bit me deep. Good two inches."
"Oooh. Thanks. Didn't need that." I removed a Kalashnikov and held it out in his direction. "Here's an AK. Magazine's full." A moment later the boat rocked and the rifle was taken from my hand.
"You plan on shooting them all?"
"Nope. Don't have enough ammo. We'll have to pray for wind."
"You pray. I think I'll just start blowing into the sails. Either will do just as much good."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. D', the Bible thumper, the Holier-than-Thou, he's doubting his own God? "What?"
"After what we've been through and seen, I've come to the conclusion that there is no God. Only a small bunch of greedy bastards that didn't know what they were doing and fucked everything up for the rest of us. If we survive this, I swear I'm going to hunt those bastards down and slit each one of their throats."
D' doesn't usually get angry. And, his threats aren't idle. It takes something quite extreme to move him to a cause. Something that really pisses him off that gets his blood boiling. Being lied to about a God that said it was okay to take from the land whatever you need, that all disbelievers were less than worthy, that profit was not a bad thing, that your suffering will be paid for in the afterlife if you do the right thing and do what he says, was the wrong thing to lie to D' about.
D' had redeemed himself in the belief of this God that was offered to him some years back, before the Effect. He had based his life on what would God's Son do. Often he would tell himself, and me, how he must still be doing something wrong, because things weren't getting better for him and his family. He wasn't finding peace. Now, after the Effect, after what we've been through, he realizes that this God was their God, for their benefit. Our benefit was believing that a moral, righteous life would lead to salvation and glory. Now he sees that there is no God, no Salvation, no Glory, no Heaven. He sees that this God, like all others, are man-made. That the true religion is one that includes Gaia as the center, as the Mother, as the Giver, as Home. That all life deserves respect. That we are a part of Nature, not its masters. That those that want to lead, claiming either divine selection by their god or better upbringing, must be put away and heavily sedated until their mental illness heals.
"Now you see it as I do," I said quietly.
"Oh, yeah. I feel like jumping back into the water. As an apology."
"Don't be ridiculous. We're going to be fine."
"I know, but as captain, I'm required to say it."
I could see his silhouette, make out that he was looking behind me. I turned. The Moon was coming up, a faint glow backlit the horizon. "The Moon," I said as I turned back around.
"I know that's the Moon. I'm talking about between us and the Moon."
I turned back around and waited as my eyes adjusted. I tried not to focus on any particular point, looking for a dark shape in the dark water. A moment later I saw it, low in the water, the short, slanted spout giving it away, another Sperm whale. Sperm's normally feed on Humboldt squid and I pipe dreamed that it was coming to get directions to the feeding frenzy. "It's headed straight for us."
I looked again as the Moon kissed the horizon. Another spout, then two, three, four more. I thought I was going to wet myself. There were ten or more of them, a pod, and they were coming straight for us. I kept telling myself they were after the mass of squid behind us, but I wasn't even sure which direction that was anymore. I heard D' fiddling with the Kalashnikov. "They're too far away."
"I know. Just making sure I got the good one."
I felt for metal at the pistol handle on the one I held. "I've got the type One."
"Eh. Wha'd'ya' know about these things?"
"No, the whales."
"I know most of the head, the front part, is some sort of waxy shit. That's why they use to kill 'em: to get that waxy shit. If we're trying to kill 'em, shoot at the eyes. There's one on each side behind the jaw."
"I don't know if we want to try to kill them. Maybe they're just passing through?"
"You pipe dreaming? Did you stash some smoke?"
"How hard is going to be to kill them with these?"
"Unless they turn sideways to us, pretty hard. Even then, it's going to take a few shots each."
We watched them approach a few moments. "They don't seem to be in a hurry to get here," I observed.
"They either haven't noticed us, which I doubt; don't care about us; or, they know we can't run away."
The Moon was completely above the horizon now, casting long, dim shadows across the boat. D' was a dark silhouette against a charcoal black sky, becoming clearer as my eyes adjusted. "Maybe they were waiting for the Moon?"
"I don't think so. They use sonar to find their prey in the water."
"We're not, 'in the water'. We're on top of it."
"Holy shit. They're picking up speed." D' turned to me. "How do you come up with these things?"
"That's annoying, you know."
"Shrugging your shoulders."
"Geesh. Aren't you in a pissy mood."
"Piss off. I gotta right. There's a pod of whales bearing down on us, and all we can do is shoot our pop guns at 'em. And that's just gonna piss 'em off more."
"Ah, shit. They're getting closer. You got any suggestions, Ahab?"
D' was silent as the Moon slid higher into the black sky and the attacking whales swam closer. Several moments passed before he said, "Maybe if we can put enough lead in front of them, it'll screw up their sonar and they'll leave us alone?"
"Now who's pipe dreaming?"
"Look! They're splitting up."
I looked to the whales. They appeared to be swimming around us. Perhaps they were just after the squid. "See. They're gonna pass us by." But that wasn't to be the case, for as soon as I said that, I saw a tail fluke backlit by the Moon. One of them was diving. Was it going to strike us from below, or smash us from above?
No wind, no swells, no fuel, no hope. The other whales weren't swimming around, they were encircling us. Penning us in like some stupid squid.
"This looks like the end of it for us. We put up a good fight, didn't we?"
"We sure as hell did. Best time of my life."
Memories raced and flickered through my mind. "Mine, too, Bro'. Mine, too."
"You know I love you. Like a brother, I mean."
There was a pause of silence before D' said, "Where's that whale?"
"You saw it dive, to..."
The water erupted off starboard, behind us. We spun in unison. The whale was still rising out of the water, sideways, so it's eye was to us. Looking at us, studying us. It looked to be smiling in the moonlight. I reacted. I didn't think. I couldn't flee, so I fought. I squeezed the trigger, set on automatic. I put 30 rounds into that eye in three seconds.
It cried into the night, pain and shock a universal language. D' and I both stepped back and sat, both of us stunned. "It was checking us out. Seeing if it would be worth the trouble and risk," I observed.
"I couldn't shoot. The trigger locked and I panicked. I just now found the safety on. I'm a dumbass."
"Maybe they'll realize we can hurt them and we're not worth the risk?"
"Pipe dreams, dumbass."
I was close. They were simply hungry. The whale I shot surfaced and the other whales swarmed around it, bumping each other, and the boat, to get at the fresh meat, tearing bites out of the dead whale and roughly pushing the boat as if it were a cork.
"Hold on," I yelled to D'.
"What the hell's happening?"
"They're eating the dead whale. We're in their way."
The hull creaked and moaned with each bump, tipping one way then the next, the spreaders dipping into the water more than once. D' and I held on white knuckled in the cockpit, while below anything loose was being thrown violently around. I had the Kalashnikov slung over my shoulder and it banged against me on the rebounds.
"They're going to tear the boat apart," D' prophesied.
"It sounds like it."
Suddenly there was a whale on either side of us, both pushing. I thought the boat was going to be crushed for sure by the moans and creaks it was admitting. Then the whale on the opposite side of the commotion dived and we were flung sideways, heeled over far enough to allow water over the toerail.
In the moonlight I could see that D' was no longer in the cockpit. "D'! Where are you?"
"I'm in the fucking water. Help me out. Quick!"
As the boat rolled back my way, I made my way to other side and looked over the edge. D' was about five feet away. I grabbed the life preserver and tossed it to him. It landed behind him. He grabbed the rope attached to it and I started to pull. A whale bumped the boat and I had to let go of the rope to hold on to the boat. A moment later I picked up the rope and started to pull again. D' kicked his feet, quickening his return. When he reached the side of the boat, we were bumped again, pushing the boat into D'. I watched in horror as he slid under the surface.
Seconds later he resurfaced, coughing out sea water. I reached over the side and grabbed his arm. We worked on a grip, then I slowly started to pull him up into the boat. We were bumped again, this time to our advantage, and D' was back in the boat, soaked, exhausted, spent. He laid on the deck in the cockpit, breathing hard.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Absolutely fucking wonderful."
Again we were bumped hard, knocking me down and onto D'.
"That did damage," I said.
"Get off me."
I got off him and sat on the port side. D' got up and sat on starboard. We were silent as the boat was continually thrashed about. Minutes later that felt like hours, we were away from the whales. Between the hull bumping and the wake from their flukes, the whales worked us away from their brethren's carcass. Keeping us from the spoils, I imagined.
Twenty minutes passed in utter silence as D' and I try to regain some type of control, both of us shaken up from coming so close to death. In the distance we could hear the Sperm's spouting, but we were too far away to see them. The current was taking us away, slowly, but away. We had been forgotten. For the first time it felt good.
"How's your leg?" I whispered.
"Shh-hh!" he hushed me. "They'll hear you."
"Anything scary enough to shut you up."
"Look, I'm tired, my leg is throbbing, and I want a Big Mac. No, two."
"Remember singing karaoke?"
Silence as he thought. "Yes. Why the hell bring that up?"
"Memories came flooding back just now. I remember them as good times, short though the were."
"Yeah. I enjoyed myself most of the time, too."
"Most of the time? Now what? Pray tell."
"I dunno. Some of the duets, I guess."
"What? I thought you had fun?"
"I did. Most of the time. But not once did you let me sing, "'But I can't help, falling in love, with you.' Not once."
He had sung the line from the song, and did a beautiful job. Better than I sounded to myself. "That one song by Elvis. Early years. Oh...uh...oh...Falling In Love. Holy shit, D'. That was gorgeous. Why didn't you say something earlier? My word, you're...great."
"Kiss my ass, white boy."
"Piss off, darkie."
D' burst out laughing. "Darkie," he muttered as his laughter died down. "I haven't heard that in ages." He sniffed, then coughed.
Then, inexplicably, the wind picked up. "Quick. Raise the jib and stays'l," I barked. "I'll get the main and mizzen."
"Holy shit. I don't believe it. Wind."
"Believe it. Now get those sails up."
Minutes later we were sailing on a broad reach, putting water between us and the predators. The Moon was well above the horizon now and the water was clear ahead. The wind astern brought the smell of death and blood. D' and I put bandannas over our faces to filter the smell. We were making hull speed, the wind stiff, brisk, and cool. I could feel the storm brewing.
"We've been reprieved, Nathan."
"Thought you weren't going to call me that?"
"In this instance, it fits. We're safe."
"I hope so."
"Oh, for heaven's sake. Now what?"
"Those stories we heard while on the piers," I reminded him. "While we were looking for a boat to steal. I'm just wondering what's next for us."
"Great, dipshit. Jinx us."
"Shut up and steer us away from that bloody hell."
We sailed due south for twenty minutes, the wind directly astern. As we sailed, D' went below to straighten up. I went through all the attacks, animal and human, that D' and I have endured since the Effect. The dog attack in Wichita, the flock of crows running us into a river in New Mexico, the snakes, the thousand of snakes, and all the desperate men looking to steal what little D' and I had.
When Altair passed over head, I yelled to my crew. "Man the sails. We're turning southwest."
"What?" D' asked, poking his head through the cabin door.
"We need to turn."
"I just got it somewhat cleaned up below. I haven't found the other guns."
"Later, D'. Sails first."
"Aye," came D's reply as he came on deck.
I turned the wheel to starboard, the boat losing wind and speed until D' trimmed the sails. They filled with wind and pulled the boat through the water like it was on a string.
"Where we heading?"
"How far away is it?"
"Three days. Come sunrise we'll set out a few lines."
"I hate fish."
"Fine. Drag your hand over the side and grab yourself some seaweed salad."
"That won't work. We don't have any ranch dressing."
"Then starve. You could stand to lose a few pounds anyway." Which wasn't true . Both D' and I have lost weight since the Effect. We are also in the best shape physically we've been in in years, all that walking, running, fighting.
"Yeah, well, you could stand to lose your mouth."
"Oh, that's a stinging comeback."
"I'm tired, hungry, and my leg still hurts like hell. That's the best you're gonna get out of me."
"I know," I said dejected. "It's been a rough few weeks."
"That's an understatement. I'm going below to fix something to eat."
"There's no food."
"I know. But I'm going to look again. I'm starved."
I was left alone in the cockpit, the sails filled, the boat moving silently through the water, death gaining distance behind us.
"Skipper! We have a problem," D' bellowed up from the cabin.
"What is it?"
I tied the helm down and went below. D' had the starboard bunk torn apart. The leak was unreachable from inside the boat. "One of us is going to have to go over the side to fix this."
"I went last time. It's your turn."
I knew it was my turn and I was scared to death. We haven't gone that far from the whales or the squids. I studied the leak, figuring how to fix it and approximate the time to do so. Then I remembered that the snorkel was gone. That meant it was going to take even longer, which meant more of a chance to be noticed. "This is going to take a while. I'm going to need you watching with the AK while I'm over the side."
"I know. At least the Moon is up."
"I suppose. There's nothing to eat down here."
On deck, we dropped all the sails. As we waited for the boat to stop, I stripped down to just my jeans, found the other diving mask, put the dive knife on my belt, then slipped as quietly as possible into the dark, warm water after the boat ceased moving. D' handed me the patch kit after I was in the water.
I took a deep breath, then slid under the surface, feeling the hull in search of the damage. I found the damage, then surfaced for air.
"You okay?" D' asked from the deck.
"Yeah. Just need to breath. Found the hole. Bye." I slipped back under the water and started repairs. Just as I got the patch in place, I needed to surface again.
"You should have quit smoking a long time ago, hunh?"
"Shut up," I gasped, then sucked down air to my starving lungs.
"Few more minutes." Again I pushed myself down using the hull. Back at the patch I started securing it. Half way done, I had to surface again.
"Almost. Nothing's coming this way, is there?"
D' stood and did a slow pirouette. "Nothing, Skipper."
"Good." I slipped beneath surface again. I put the last fastener in place, then started up when something grabbed my left leg and pulled me deeper. I screamed in pain, the grip tight and abrasive, losing most of the air left in my lungs. Instinctively I pulled the knife from it's sheath and lashed at whatever was holding my leg. I felt the knife cut into flesh and the grip on my leg released. I pushed for the surface, fighting the urge to breathe, my lungs and brain screaming for air. What seemed an eternity later, I broke the surface and gulped down air.
"You okay?" D' sincerely asked.
"Somethin..." I was pulled back under water, inhaling a mouthful of sea water. Again a painful grip on the same leg was taking me down. My leg was now on fire.
Still holding the knife, I lashed out again. The grip on my leg didn't cease, but the downward pull ended. I pushed again for the surface and the life giving air.
"Nathan!" D' screamed when I broke the surface. "What's happening?!"
"Something grabbed me and pulled me..." Again I was yanked under water. Again I struck out in the dark water at whatever had me. I felt the knife cut into something and the grip again released. I started for the surface when I was seized again on the same leg. My entire body was in flames with pain, my left leg the focal point. It was becoming difficult to swim. I edged toward the surface, my body shrieking for air. I broke the surface, swallowed a breath of air, then was pulled below the surface yet again, this time the excruciating grip was on my other leg.
I slashed at what was holding me, clutching the creature with my free hand, realizing from the touch that I was being attacked by squid, Humboldt squid. Suddenly I knew I wasn't going to make it. That I was going to be squid fodder. There were more out there, probably thousands more, and all I had was a dive knife. I panicked. Frantically I waved the knife under water, the motion slow and measured. I needed to surface. I needed air, desperately.
I felt the knife cut into soft flesh and the hold on my leg eased. I headed for the surface, to air, to safety. I broke the surface and gulped air.
"Nathan!" D' yelled.
"I..." And I was pulled under water once again, both legs held by squid. A few feet below the surface and the grip on my right leg tightened, the squid wrapping itself around it. Then I felt excruciating pain in my thigh. I had been bit. I bit my tongue so I couldn't scream and lose the precious air in my lungs. I jabbed at the creature on my leg. It took another bite and I plunged the knife deep into the squid, also stabbing myself. The squid on my right leg let loose, but the squid on my other leg began wrapping more of itself around my leg, preparing to bite. I pulled the knife out of my leg and plunged it into the squid, red and blue blood mixing in the ocean. The squid let go, but I knew there were more. There's always more.
I was nearly out of breath, trying to make my way up with a useless leg and the other weak, when I felt something grab my shoulder, but it wasn't a squid. It was D'!
He pulled me quickly to the surface. By the force of it I knew he was holding onto the boat. I felt a tentacle brush my leg as I broke the surface and gasped for air through screams of pain.
On the surface, in the moonlight, I could see well enough to reach for the ladder D' was holding onto, his body immersed in the water. "Climb up," I told him. I knew I needed him aboard to pull me up. "Fast! Before they find me again."
D' yanked me further up out of the water. The toerail was within reach and I grabbed it with both hands, dropping the knife into the water, my legs from the thigh down still in the water. I watched as if in slow motion while D' crawled up the ladder. As he neared the top rung, I could see that a squid had attached itself to his calf, the same one that was bit earlier. He stopped and pummeled the Red Devil with his fist until it dropped into the water.
He nearly leaped onto the boat, scrambling back over to me and grabbing my wrists just as I was attacked, a squid engulfing my right calf and tearing a large chunk of the muscle out as it ripped it's beak of a mouth through my leg. I released my grip, realizing that this would put me back in the water without even a knife, helpless.
I dropped into the water to my waist, then was forcefully pulled out and nearly thrown onboard, the squid coming with me. Instantly D' was standing and stomping on the beast from the deep. The grip eased and the biting stopped, but the thing was still on me, dead. I twisted and crabbed walked away, slipping out from under the six-foot monster.
D' moved to kick it off the deck.
"What? Why the fuck not?"
"Food. People eat squid all the time. We've got food!"
D' helped me into the cockpit, then hoisted the main and mizzen, then adjusted the sheets. Neptune's Dinghy slowly picked up speed. D' disappeared below, returning a moment later with the first-aid kit.
"Can you do yourself?" he questioned. "I've got my own to deal with."
I looked at my legs. The moonlight revealed two gaping wounds in my right thigh and the one below it on the calf. My left leg had numerous cuts and lacerations from the squid's clawed tentacles. I needed stitches. "I can stop the bleeding, but I'm gonna need you to stitch me up."
"Aye. Let me stop mine and I'll get a light. After your done, though, I'll need you to stitch me up."
As D' stitched my leg, I browsed through the first-aid kit. I found what felt like a test tube and pulled it out, curious as to why a test tube would be in a first-aid kit. I held it up to the Moon. It was a cigarette and a kitchen-match sealed in a glass tube. "Aye," I muttered, then broke the glass.