At the End

This was one of the first daily sketches I wrote after deciding to pursue writing in earnest.  With my daily writing, I often try to challenge myself, writing types of scenes I typically wouldn’t write.  As much of what I write tends to be optimistic sci-fi, I found this down-to-earth, grave story to be an interesting change of pace, if not somewhat dire.

At the End

He struggled to his feet, but try as he might, he could not stand.  Another rumble tore through the ship…it lurched violently, and he grasped frantically for the railing, fighting to keep from being cast into the sea.  His feet clambered in vain on the deck slick with seawater, and soon they slipped free.  He hung, dangling from the railing.  Against his instincts he looked down, and regretted it instantly.  Below the icy sea crashed and foamed, as though the maw of a great beast, snarling and salivating and snapping at him.

With great effort, he pulled himself up far enough to throw his arms over the railing, grasping tightly with his hands as he laid his underarms on the rail itself.  The cold shot through his heavy coat, the icy metal biting his skin as his weight pulled him down, straining his muscles.  He cried out in vain; there was no one to hear him, no one to help.

Wait for it…wait it out, he tried to reassure himself.  A moment later the ship rocked back, and he was able to hoist himself back over the railing, sloshing down into the freezing water on the deck with a small splash.  He scrambled to his feet at once, slipping at first, then tore off as fast as he could toward the inner cabins.

There was a door ahead.  He skidded to a halt, grasping the handle next to it to stop himself.  He tried to slide it open, it would not budge.  Hesitantly, he braced the toes of his sopping boots against the base of the doorframe, steadying himself, and grasped the edges of the door with both hands.  It gave slowly at first, then suddenly rushed open, sending him through the doorway reeling.  He flew forward, hitting the deck with a hollow thud.  There was no time to lose.  Again he scrambled to his feet, and dashed off down the corridor.

Main power had failed, they were running on reserves now, and it was only a matter of time before the water reached the batteries.  Already the emergency lights were flickering, casting eerie shadows that strobed and trembled across the walls.  He didn’t have much time.  He ran frantically down the corridors of the primary hull, calling out for his friend as loudly as he could manage, gasping for air as he was.  Finally, near the end of the hall, he heard a faint response.

It was coming from a nearby door.  He ran towards it, practically ripped it off its hinges.  The calls were growing fainter.  Inside he found his friend, and stopped dead in his tracks.  He was pinned beneath a large set of metal shelves.

“Are you injured?  How bad is it?”  He managed, barely able to catch his breath enough to speak.

“It’s…it’s not as bad…ngh…as it looks,” his friend replied weakly.  “I…don’t think anything’s broken, but it’s….on top of me…I…can’t breathe!”  His friend began to panic, and began struggling against the shelving that held him to the floor.

“No!” He shouted.  “Save your strength!  I’ll get you out of this, just…just stay calm, OK?”  He ran to the shelving, bent down and tried to move it.  It moved easily, taking him by surprise.  He lifted the shelves just enough for his friend to scramble away, then dropped them, letting them thunder to the deck.  The two men, panting and soaked, exchanged wide-eyed glances, then silently departed, sprinting toward the bow of the ship.

The ship was sinking faster.  It was only a matter of time before she went nose-up, and it would be over.  She would sink rapidly beneath the waves, and that would be that.  If they were on board, she would take them with her.  The crew was clear, they were all that was left.  Both were running as fast as they could, desperately rushing toward the last lifeboat.

It was gone.  As they approached they found the moorings torn free…the last lurch from the ship had likely done it.  They had likely plummeted into the icy surf, taking the precious lifeboat with them.  The two men looked at each other, panic on their respective faces.  Was this it?

Arctic wind whipped angrily across the deck, baying like a mad beast as it tore savagely at their soaked clothing.  There was a sudden groan from everywhere at once, and the ship lurched again.  This time she lurched violently, the nose pitching forward.  This was it.  She was going down.  

Frantically he grabbed for a nearby mooring rope.  Tying it hurriedly around his waist, he threw the end of the line toward his friend.  He grabbed the rope, and the two men held fast and braced themselves as the ship reoriented.  As the front end pitched upward the two slid quickly down the slippery deck and were soon hanging free, the sea churning violently below as it slowly devoured the ship.

As they hung from the mooring hooks, he felt a sharp, intense pain across his midsection.  It seemed worse when he breathed…he’d broken his ribs.  At least more than one.  His breathing became labored, the pain more intense on the left side…he’d likely punctured a lung.  This was it.  No way he would survive a moment in the freezing water below.  He looked down at his friend.

“If we let go…if we swing away and let go…I think we can make it!” he yelled up at him, gasping from the cold.

He shook his head, and relayed his condition.  His friend said nothing, just hung there looking up at him.  Finally, he spoke.

“So…we go down together.”

He wasn’t about to let that happen.  He was done for, but for his friend there was a chance.  Surely the crew would double back when they realized their bosses were absent.  Surely they’d comb the wreckage after the ship slid beneath the surf.  No, if either of them stood a chance of surviving, they needed to take it.  “You can still make it,” he said finally, struggling to speak through the pain.

His friend’s eyes grew wide with shock, and he shook his head angrily.  “No!  We’re in this together, man!  We’ve always been in this together.  If she’s going down, we’re going down with her.  You hear me?”

He heard him, yes.  But he didn’t agree.  He thought about his friend’s family…his kids.  He couldn’t let him throw his life away.  Jenn had just given birth to his third.  No way that kid was going to grow up without a dad.  Not if he could help it.  He steeled his determination.  This was it.

“I said, do you hear me?” his friend repeated.

He nodded, quietly reaching into his right coat pocket for his utility knife.  “Yeah, I hear you,” he replied.

“Good,” his friend shouted back.  He smiled slightly as he continued.  “You know, we had a hell of a run, man.”

“Yeah, we did,” he responded as his fingers slid at last around the smooth metal of his knife.  He withdrew it slowly, quietly, careful not to be noticed.

“It was fun, you know?  And we did it, didn’t we?”

“Yep,” he responded as his fingers struggled to deploy the heavy blade.  It worked, and he carefully slid his hand down onto the rope, hidden behind his legs.  Quietly, slowly, he began sawing through the rope.  It was tough going at first, but as he worked the knife back and forth slowly he felt the taut fibers begin to give way, the rope stretching imperceptibly.  As he neared the halfway point, he reasoned he could cut through the rest quickly.  He paused, looking down at his friend.

“And you know,” his friend continued, “I could never have done it without you, man.  Thanks.  Been a fun ride.”

“Yeah, it has,” he responded, fighting back tears.  I am so sorry, he thought, silently apologizing to his friend.  I can’t let you do this.

“So, you ready to go down?” His friend smiled, trying to look reassuring.

“Yeah,” he responded.  This is it.  He resumed his cutting.

“Going down together!” his friend shouted up to him, oblivious.

“Together.” he lied.  Goodbye, my friend.

At that he grabbed the rope with his free hand and wrapped it around his left leg.  Fighting the pain, he swung with all his might, snapping his friend and his end of the rope off to the side.  As the rope stretched taught at the apex of the swing he finished the cut.  His friend seemed to pause in the air…time froze, and he saw the look of shock, and of pain, on his friend’s face.  I’m sorry, he thought again.  Time resumed, and his friend sailed off into the freezing air.  

Now the sinking accelerated, the ship rapidly disappearing beneath the frothing surf.  He closed his eyes, fighting back tears he smiled.  Silently, he said his goodbyes…to his parents, to his sister, to his girlfriend…to all the people he’d never have the chance to talk to again.  I’m so sorry, but it had to be this way.  The bow of the vessel plunged beneath the waves at last.  He held his breath as long as he could, but eventually his lungs gave up.  Hoping to at least go out on his terms, he opened his mouth and inhaled, taking in lungfuls of seawater.  It stung, but the pain was finite.  In his final moments, he looked up at the surface, and thought of his friend’s words.  

Been a fun ride.

And he smiled, as at last unconsciousness took him.

 

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