The Seventh Hour(10)

By: Tracey Ward

I have half a second to make a decision. Only half a second to say ‘to hell with it’ and let the boat go or salvage one of our most crucial means of survival. There’s still time for another day or two of fishing once this storm passes, and fishing means meat. Protein to help get us through the long night and into the next Seventh hour when we can come out and fish again. More fish means fewer cows and goats go to slaughter, meaning more milk. More resources. A better, fuller diet for the kids inside who are still growing.

Everything is connected. Everything has consequences, and in that half second when I see the fishing boat slipping away, I see the strength of the Gaians going with it.

I lunge for the rope. My body splashes into the receding tide, rocks digging into my knees and crashing against my shins, but my fingers wrap around the thick, coarse line, and I hold on for dear life. I’m pulled underwater as the boat and I are pulled out to sea. Luckily I get a good breath. I’m a strong swimmer. I’m able to pull on the rope and kick with my feet until I find the surface.

My fingers find the edge the boat. I break just in time to see a wave cresting, coming to crash down on top of me. I gasp in a gulp of fresh air and go under again. I feel it when it hits, when it rolls and jerks the boat nearly out of my grasp, but I hold on tight. I wait it out until the bubbles are dispersing and the rope feels taught but calm in my hand. Kicking for the surface again I reach up for the feel of the hull, grab the edge, and launch myself inside with all the strength I can muster. The water is getting cold, colder than I expected it to be, and I have to remind myself as I settle into the seat, shivering and teeth chattering, that it’s getting late. The Eighth hour is nearly on us and no one should be in the water right now.

Luckily the oars for the boat are strapped inside where they’re supposed to be. I pop the snaps quickly to release them. I just barely get them in the water and manage one powerful stroke to align myself with the next wave when it comes at me. I push through it, forcing myself forward, out to sea when what I really want is to let it carry me home. I’m facing the wrong way, though, and if I don’t row to help myself ride the waves back, I’ll never get there. I’ll end up in that shallow hell where the surf crashes me around, never getting me back to shore and never pulling me past the breakers. I have to go out farther to come back in first and my cold, shaking body is almost as bitter about that as my mind is.

My arms are screaming when I finally make it past the breakers. It’s calmer out here but not by much. The storm is raging. I’m in the eye of it, already surrounded by debris from the wreckage. It’s a lot of wood, some small scraps of sails and rope. No people, thank God. No bodies floating face down that I’ll have to avoid hitting with an oar if I ever plan on sleeping soundly again. I turn my boat slowly, taking a moment to wipe the water from my eyes, useless as that is. I’m drenched again in an instant, water pouring through the dark brown hair that hangs over my forehead. It drips down my face, into my eyes, pools at the corners of my mouth. It’s strange to be this wet and cold after months of scorching heat just outside my door. Months of drought and burning, and now here I sit freezing and soaked to the bone.

Taking several deep breaths I ready myself for the return to shore. My heart is pounding with a very real fear, with the very real knowledge that I might not make it. That I might die out here. It’s going to take timing and an insane amount of effort in these shifting currents, but I’m hoping I can manage. Looking back to the beach I see Karina still there, waiting with her hands over her mouth and her eyes glued on me. I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder if—

The boat is jerked to the side, destroying my alignment with the shore. It sends me toppling forward. The handle of one of the oars stabs me soundly in the side making me bark in pain like I’ve been punched. I’ll bruise for sure and for a second I can barely breathe through the pain that burns into my stomach. The back of my throat closes up tightly against it as I gasp curses and rants of anger.

As I lean over the side of the boat I see what hit me. A piece of wreckage, a beam with a torn sail, a piece of rope wrapped around it, and a girl.