Posts Tagged ‘ Part IV! ’

Flotsam & Jetsam (Part IV, first entry)

This is the latest entry in my ongoing NaNoWriMo novel. To read the novel in order, view the NaNoWriMo category (link to the left) and scroll down. Or you can go to the first entry here.

 

The storm closed in on the ship as surges slapped against the hull and soaked the fabric of the sail.

When the weather had first shifted and he had seen dimly that the clouds would overtake him, the Boatman had cursed himself for the impulsive lurch into a dark night so unprepared. When the first fingers of dawn crept into the distant sky, he pulled open the compartment before the wheel and stared into the empty bin as the wind howled past him. A voice in his mind tried to urge him past the empty space, but for several moments he could not shake loose of the sight.

He shook his head and closed it. He had hoped that he could quickly find his bearings and plot a course back to the coast, huddle in a sheltered cove—maybe the one with the township, maybe another. Without the charts and gear, though, he had only the diffuse light of the sun to steer by.

He checked the cloud mass. Soon he would not even have the sun.

Buffeted by the gales, he reminded himself what idiocy it had been to set off. He had laid in no supplies, taken on no water—though that would hardly be a problem any time in the foreseeable future. Idiocy. And again he thought about the empty compartment. It could only have been the girl. Had there been wet footprints on the deck? Should he have seen some sign of her presence? He knew he was wasting energy on thoughts that did not help him, that only kept him focus on what was already done, what could not be undone.

He could see from the size of the waves that this would easily be the worst storm he had passed through.

And he had never passed through any serious storm alone. He reduced sail and worked the rudder. Billowing white crests rose up and swamped the deck. He felt his feet sliding out from underneath him as he clutched more tightly to the slick, wet wood of the wheel. The ship was being rocked so hard by the violence of the storm that he could barely budge the rudder. The bow dipped as the trough of one of the waves swallowed the ship. His eyes widened with panic; he wrapped his arms around the wheel and held on as a wall of water crashed over him, trying to rip him from the deck. The force spun the wheel and cracked his arm in the spokes.

The world was black as the wave doused him. He coughed furiously to clear his lungs, fought to ignore the pain in his arm. He tried to blink the salt from his eyes. He needed a few seconds—a few seconds without any torrents sweeping over the deck.

The next one was bearing down on the ship. He counted to track its approach.

It hit.

Holding on again, he held his breath and tightened his eyes. His feet came off the deck—he was fully submerged.

It pulled back.

He counted.

He stumbled away from the wheel and dove onto the deck. Quickly he loosened the line holding the tarp over the skiff and pulled it loose. It was shorter than he would have liked, but the count running in his head was almost out.

He slid back toward the helm, frantically securing the rope around his trunk and then roping the other end to the helm. He pulled the last knot just as the next wave broke over the ship.

He had no time to grip on. If the rope had failed him, he would have been washed off the deck.

He slammed into the boards. The pain in his arm intensified with the pressure of his body striking the deck. His head was foggy, stunned. Another wave crashed over and he swallowed a mouthful of seawater.

When it washed over, he looked up to the mast. The boon was being yanked violently against the mainsheet. The sail looked ready to fly off the mast, or fly off with the mast.

He needed a longer tether.

He pulled himself along the slick deck, reaching for more rope from underneath the skiff. As he faced it, the wind took hold of the tarp and ripped it free. The sheet blasted off into the air until it vanished in the gray haze surrounding the ship. The line he had tied on did not reach far enough and he found himself flailing with one arm underneath the lip of the over-turned skiff. He knew he had left the mooring line he used for the skiff coiled underneath the thwart, but he could not find it with his outstretched fingers.

The ship was bashed again, but the wave struck from behind. He looked back over the length of his body to see the wheel spinning toward the port. He scrambled aft again. The blast from behind had flushed the rope he needed forward on the deck. He pulled the length toward him and yanked the knife from its sheath. With no way to reach where it was secured inside the overturned skiff, he began to saw at the line as far away from his as possible to free up enough length.

The ship was rocking fiercely back and forth. He checked the pivot in the mast. If the pendulum swung much further, the keel would rise and the ship would capsize—with him tied to the helm.

He pulled himself to his feet and tied on the new line to the old, knotting it as well as his painfully cold fingers and the shooting sensation in his arm would allow. Another wave crashed over the side, but he managed to clamp his mouth shut and hold on.

When it subsided, he adjusted his lifeline and freed up the span to reach the boon and adjust the mainsheet. He reduced sail again before gripping the wheel and wrestling with the rudder against the storm.

He had control again.

The deck lurched forty-five degrees to starboard and he leaned against his tether to port with his hands working the wheel to keep the keel opposite the advancing waves. It was a delicate balance, if the forces did not counteract one another—which would happen if he did not mind the rudder carefully—the ship would flip end over end, the mast lancing the sea and flinging him into the white water like the crack of a whip.

But she was dashing now. The energy of the storm launched her forward. The bowsprit sliced the water ahead.

He was moving and moving as fast as he ever had at sea, but he had no sense of his bearing. There was no suggestion of the sun’s whereabouts in the gray canopy about him. He hoped that this course would take him outside the grip of the storm, but it was hope alone, divorced from the callous reality of the situation.

There was nothing but the furious shaking of each wave against the hull to lend any sense of time to his passage. The wind was no longer gusting, but was a solid roar in his ear. The sky remained an impenetrable wall. His arm throbbed. His side felt pinched by the line as he leaned away from the sail. As the cruise dragged on into monotony, he became aware of his other physical needs. He had eaten nothing—breaking port with no provisions, he had thought in passing about casting a line for breakfast—and his body was fighting extraordinary exhaustion. He had sailed through the night without sleep and taxed every inch of his frame fighting to regain control of the ship. Only as he took an inventory of the situation did he become aware of something else. He could hardly feel his feet beneath him or his fingers clutching the wheel. He looked at his hands through the mist spraying across his field of vision. Though he maintained his grip, his hands were shaking.

The ship was stable now, but he was not.

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