Welcome to the next chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel from 2012, Master of the Drunken Fist. Miss a chapter? Check out the Table of Contents and pick right back up.
Mike slept peacefully enough. The swaying of the ship soothed him in a way he never knew possible. Waking, the world was bright and for the briefest of moments, he thought he was back in the void. The smell of salt on the air told him otherwise. Well, I didn’t wake up in the “real” world, so that’s new he thought while laying on his bunk. He half expected to wake to a world with cars and internet and cell phones, though now he knew different.
“Trouble on the starboard side sir!” he heard someone yell from the deck in flowery Spanish. He could almost get used to being immediately fluent in various languages like this. It was an interesting “super power” he suddenly developed. Imagine what I could do with that kind of skill back home he thought to himself smiling. He would be the most important person on earth. Well, he’d be valuable, that’s for sure. Just think of how many conflicts he could avert as an interpreter that knew exactly what everyone was saying in their native tongue, and to speak it in return.
“There’s a squall coming right at us sir!” the panicked voice yelled. That brought Mike to attention quick. He jumped out of his bunk and ran top side to see what the matter was, along with the rest of the crew. Sure enough, far on the starboard side, the meanest storm Mike had ever laid eyes on loomed menacingly. He heard of bad hurricanes before, but he’d never experienced one. Living in the Midwest, he tended not to see many of those. This storm looked fierce. The sky was almost black and the rain pounded the sea. Waves began to get a bit more choppy where they were at and he could feel the breeze kick up. He didn’t like the feel of this one bit. Not being a sailor at heart, he wasn’t sure what to expect from this.
The crew scrambled in every direction, tightening ropes, pulling down the sails, getting loose items down below deck. He didn’t know exactly what to do. He started to take some loose barrels down below when the wind gusted and tore free a sail. The wooden beam it was attached to swung around and knocked a sailor overboard. No one seemed to care as they ran around trying to prepare the ship. Mike rushed to the side where he fell and looked overboard to see him struggling in the waves. He looked for a life preserver, then realizing those things probably hadn’t been invented yet, he found some rope laying in a neat coil near the mast. Running to it, he pulled it free and tossed it over the side, only to miss the sailor badly. He hauled it in for another try, but as he was ready to let it go, waves overcame the sailor and he never bobbed back up. Mike cussed, wishing he could’ve done more. The ship rocked wildly now. Up one wave and crashing down the other side of it. The black sky crept closer to the ship and wind and rain pounded everything.
Most of the crew stayed on the deck, holding on to the rails along it for their lives as the ship lunged up and down. Sailors yelled and were instantly drowned out by the howling wind. He saw the captain at the huge wheel, trying to control the ship, though it seemed futile. The storm did what it wanted with the large ship. Through the wind, Mike heard the main mast crack and snap. It was carried off by the wind, falling to the side of the ship, pulling rope and men with it. Another crack, and the smaller sail in the front split cleanly and flew off into the sea. All that was left was a small sail in the rear of the ship, which the crew had managed to pull in and secure in time. From side to side and front to back, the ship tossed about.
Mike thought this was more real, more terrifying than those damn Sponsers ever were. He feared drowning, always had. And now, it seemed he was about to find out what it was like. He desperately hoped the void would take him back to the world he knew so well, take him away from this. He didn’t want to die here. He didn’t want to die clinging to a rail in the middle of some sea with men he didn’t know. This was not how he wanted it to end. He closed his eyes tightly, wishing, hoping, praying for the void to take him back. It was hard keeping them open with the salty water spraying in them, and he pressed his eyelids together to protect and pray.
He opened them just in time to see a huge wave overcome the ship. It crashed down on top of him, engulfing the entire ship in the cold surf. It swept a man overboard and Mike didn’t dare move. He couldn’t help the man if he wanted to. The wind and rain and pounding waves battered him about too much. His grip felt loose on the rail. Constant waves and rain made it hard to hold on to. Looking around him, he saw other sailors holding on for their lives, tossed around and beaten by the waves. The captain tried to hold the wheel, but it broke against the strong current of the sea. Now they were in trouble, with no way to steer and no way to control the ship, leaving their fate to the storm. Mike looked away, he couldn’t stare any more at the broken wheel. Dread and panic seeped in. He was doomed, and he knew it. There was no way to get out of this. The void failed him, and he was not a sailor. Briefly, he wondered what would happen if he died here? Would that mean he died for good in the other “lives” he lived? There was no way of knowing and he was in no hurry to find out. With that extra bit of resolve, he clung to the rail with both hands, while intertwining his feet around them to get the most secure grip he could.
Just then, two waves converged on the deck, one from both sides. They slammed down with such ferocity that Mike thought they killed him on impact. That was only false hope. Instead, they broke apart the ship. It was as though the ship were a twig it broke so easily under the crushing blow of the waves. Sailors screamed and could be heard over the sound of the storm. Crunching and tearing accompanied the screams as the ship split, the front and back sections going in different directions. The middle, where the waves struck, leaned into the sea while the ends of the ship stuck up high in the air, blown by the strong winds. Mike felt himself rise up in the air with his section of the ship. Then, it began to slip into the water. He had visions of the Titanic, sinking in those icy waters so many years ago, and wondered where the life boats were now. Loud suction and creaking sounds filled his ears as the ship started its downward slide. Debris slid down the deck, hitting him all over. He closed his eyes as the stinging salt water and who knows what from the deck splashed over him. It was the end, he could feel it. He longed for the void. It didn’t come.
His section of the ship, the back end, the aft he heard himself say, quickly descended into the dark, cold water. The force of the sinking ship submerged him and held him under. Somehow, he broke free and swam up to get some air. Reaching the surface, he saw debris everywhere being tossed around on the monstrous waves. He tried to grab a hold of a barrel and got just enough of a grip for it to keep him from going completely under. Wrapping his arms and legs around it, he tried to not get pulled under the rough sea again. He took on a lot of water, swallowing more and more as the storm raged. He tried spitting it out, but only got more salt water poured in. He choked and coughed on the sea. A man bobbed up and down amid the waves, tossed with the pieces of the ship and various items from its cargo. There was no ship now, just a part of the last mast sticking up from the water. Waves moved it up and down until eventually the sea claimed it for its own.
Then everything went still. The storm raged on all sides, but the rain and winds stopped beating down on him. He must be in the eye, at least he thought that’s what it was like from what news stories he saw and read told him. He looked around to see utter devastation. Wood, barrels, parts of the sails, and clothes all dotted the sea. It was like a scene from a tornado touchdown, but only moving as the waves swelled.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the storm passed, though it felt weaker to Mike. The waves weren’t as high or ferocious. Only once did they knock him off the barrel. He clung to that barrel for what felt like hours after the eye passed him. Finally, the rain stopped and the winds died. The sea started to relax it’s vicious movement, settling down quickly.
In the clear after the storm, sunlight streamed in, bathing everything in a weird cheerfulness. The scene around Mike told of nothing but destruction. He looked frantically for more survivors and heard some moaning off in the distance. With what little strength lay in him, he swam in the direction of the sound, pushing the barrel along. He hit various chunks of wood as he moved along, as well as some body parts that floated up to the surface. Arms, legs, and for a moment he thought he saw a head bob up, though it was at such an odd angle, he thought it must have been severed from it’s body, so he moved a bit farther from it.
Eventually, as exhaustion settled in, he came upon a sailor holding on to planks that looked to have come from the deck. As he got closer, he noticed the man was the captain of the ship. Ferdinand Cortez the voice inside said. Mike paused at that recognition. Cortez? he thought. Wasn’t that some famous explorer or something? Didn’t he go to Mexico or somewhere like that? The captain let out a loud moan that broke Mike’s thoughts. He swam closer to see that his arm was badly injured.
“Captain, are you alright?” Mike said in fluent Spanish. It still struck him as odd when it left his lips.
“No, my arm is hurt bad. I think it’s broken. I can’t hold on for much longer.”
Mike saw some cloth floating nearby and reached out for it. He grabbed the two planks Cortez was floating on, and with the barrel between them, fastened a crude safety boat. But, it worked. He helped the captain up on the barrel in a way that allowed him to drape his arms around both sides to rest from all the swimming. Mike held on to one of the planks to keep himself afloat. Finally, he was able to get some rest. He was beyond tired. His body felt like giving in, but he wouldn’t let it. He made it this far, he was damned if he’d fail now. All he needed was to find land. As if it were that easy.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment below, I’m curious to know your thoughts. Come back tomorrow for the next chapter of Master of the Drunken Fist.