From the crow’s nest at the top of the mast, Jake spotted dark clouds gathering on the horizon. He called down to the deck to inform the captain that they were headed into bad weather. He quickly climbed down the rope ladder from the crow’s nest and headed for shelter. The ship turned sharply away from the approaching storm, but the storm was moving fast. They couldn’t outrun it. Jake hoped to get below deck, where he expected to find his brother Justin and cousin Elan; but the storm struck. Disoriented by the rolling sea and reeling ship, Jake fell and was carried by the water across the deck. He flailed his arms in the water, so deep he was almost able to swim, sputtering for breath, and trying to grasp whatever he could. Wind caught the half shipped sails and drove the vessel forward at great speed. Then it shifted causing the ship to heel over and nearly capsize. Jake was thrown from starboard to port as waves washed over the deck. The rain fell in horizontal sheets, stung Jake’s face, and blurred his vision already limited by the rain. He reached out desperately trying to grab anything on which to hold. Wave after wave continued to wash across the deck carrying him back and forth with it. The sea tossed the ship about like a piece of driftwood. The wind howled like a wounded wolf. The storm raged. The ship’s bow dipped and then suddenly rose. The ship heeled over again onto its side. A submerged rock appeared in the wake of the wave and crushed the hull just below the deck rail. The sea pounded the ship against the rock, and the ship began to break apart. In just minutes, all was lost. Most of the crew managed to deploy skiffs before the ship broke apart and headed away from the spreading wreckage. There was nothing but floating debris where the ship had been. Jake, unable to hold on to anything for long, was washed from the deck into the sea just before the ship broke apart. At first, he panicked and beat the water madly with his arms. Then he remembered what he had learned about floating and swimming. He relaxed, treaded water, and easily kept his head up. He grabbed some floating debris, and rode out the storm that receded almost as quickly as it had arisen. The sea calmed, and the sky brightened. Jake could see the skiffs already at the horizon almost out of sight and clearly out of earshot. He hoped Justin and Elan were safe. Then, realizing his situation, he felt alone, left behind. He saw no one else around him. As he bobbed on the sea, he began to feel desperate.
“Elan! Elan!” Jake shouted. “Justin! Can anyone hear me? Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
“Jake! I’m here. I’m here!” Elan called back across the water that separated them.
“Elan, is that really you?” Jake called back.
“Yes, it’s me,” Elan responded.
“I’m here too!” Justin shouted.
“Try to guide your floats to me, and I’ll meet you half way. “ Jake said.
It took more than an hour to push the makeshift rafts together. Once the boys were back together, they where greatly relieved, although far from safely out of trouble.
They found rope floating near them. Jake swam to the rope and retrieved it. They used the rope to lash several pieces of wood together and created a platform, climbed onto it, so they could get dry. The wind blew towards the shore that was just visible on the horizon. They looked about for other crew, but it appeared they were alone, and the skiffs filled with men were now long out of sight.
“We are so lucky. We could have drowned.” Justin said.
“Luck? I didn’t drown because I could swim.” Elan said with a sense of entitlement.
“Be grateful you could swim, and thank those who had the foresight to teach you.” Justin responded. “Show some humility.”
“What do you mean?” Jake interjected. “Humility.”
“Humility is knowing who you are, acknowledging your short comings, and allowing other’s accomplishments to have their day. It’s about space. You earn space by who you are and how you live your life. If you take up more space than you deserve, you lack humility, take too little space and you have no self-esteem. You give others space by listening and showing them respect for what they have done. You were saved because you could swim, be gracious, and give thanks to those who gave you that gift.”
“Okay, I get it,” Elan said sincerely. “I am truly thankful. We could have drowned. But, now, what do we do?”
“The current and the wind appear to be taking us to the shore. I’d guess it’s not that far off, maybe a mile or so. I think we should wait it out and we’ll get to land soon enough. We can stand up and make like sails. Take advantage of this wind.”
They stood for a while, but there seemed little advantage in doing this; and, as each in turn fatigued, they sat down. The raft, driven by the wind, and the current, continued to move slowly to the shore.
A school of dolphins surrounded the raft. The boys sat up and watched them jump, play, and swim back and forth. Flying fish broke the surface of the water in flight from the dolphins. Jake leaned over the side, reached out and was able to touch a dolphin. The dolphin hovered by the raft and Jake was able to pat it. Then there was a large spout of water behind them followed by a big gray mass that broke the water followed by a tail. The great whale, having surfaced, then dove into the deep. The water displaced by the whale rocked the raft and nearly sent the boys into the water. The whale resurfaced and moved slowly towards the raft nudging it gently towards the shore. The boys held onto the raft and watched in wonder as the whale propelled them. The dolphins continued to follow, frolicking all around them. An occasional flying fish landed on the raft, briefly, and then wiggled off. It wasn’t long before the raft with the boys made it to the shore. The whale left them in the shallows, turned and headed back to sea with the dolphins.
The boys sat on the raft amazed, humbled by such unexpected good fortune.
“I’ll be happy to have land under my feet again. I’m thankful for our sea friends, but we better look for fresh water and see what there is to eat here,” said Elan. The three jumped off the raft and pulled it the rest of the way to the shore.
There was wreckage from the ship on the beach and floating in the water. Justin started gathering what ever he could find so he could sift through it later and see what was usable. Jake and Elan headed into the forest to see if there was a fresh water stream and to gather whatever berries or nuts they could find.
Neither Jake nor Elan had to go far. In the brambles were luscious berries, and he found trees that bore nuts and fruit. There were edible grasses and wild corn. Elan’s time on board the ship under the tutelage of the cook taught him how to gather food along the coast. Elan gathered and ate. He made his shirt into a bag by tying knots in the sleeves and stuffed them with food for later. Jake found a small pond fed by a stream. Jake had a waterproof pouch made of leather that he kept with him and was able fill it with clear flowing water from the stream. Each decided to return to the beach to report on what they had found and see what Justin had discovered.
When they got back to the beach they found Justin sorting through an impressive pile of things he’d pulled from the water and found on the beach. There was a rectangular box marked, tools, and several barrels that were water tight and floated quite well. There was plenty of rope. There were sacks of clothes. Although there was plenty of wood, much of the debris had been ruined by the salt water and appeared useless.
When Jake and Elan returned, they were eager to tell Justin what they had found.
“Justin, Justin,” Jake called. “I found an apple tree.”
Elan looked at Jake, then he looked at Justin, and, unwilling to be out done by Jake, said, “I found two apple trees.”
Jake looked at Elan, eager to top Elan’s ante, said, “I found a stream.”
Elan looked at Jake, smirked, and said, “I found two streams, berries, and dandelions.”
“Stop it, you two. Enough,” Justin said. “I’m glad you, both, found what you found, but you are trying to take up more space than either of you deserve. Now, I’m going to tell you both to be happy and grateful for what each of you found. I know I‘m grateful.”
Justin showed them what he had salvaged from the wreck. He told his cousin and brother to consider making the raft bigger, stronger, and with the sheeting, they could fashion sails and make a tent to protect them form the sun and rain. The barrels could help make the raft more sea worthy. Jake and Elan listened intently giving Justin all the space he needed.
When Justin finished, Jake spoke first. “I think I’d rather feel the earth move under my feet. I’ve had enough of the sea.”
Elan spoke next. “I agree with Jake, these feet were made for walking.”
“Okay, let’s look though this mess and see what we can use. In the mean time, can I have some of the food and water you managed to gather, assuming you remembered to bring some back for me?” And, of course, they had.
Peter Barbour is a retired physician, former neurologist, who loves to tell stories. He lives in Allentown, PA. He is married. He published a short novel called “Loose Ends” in 1988, and an illustrated children’s book, 2016, “Gus at Work”, both available on Amazon.com. He had four short stories published, in Raconteur, Susan Carroll Publishing, 1993-1995. These works included, “The Fate of Dicky Paponovitch”, awarded Raconteur of the Month, May 1994. Since he retired in 2015, he’s published three short stories at shortbreadstories.co.uk, “Fishing with Nick”, “Dad Stories”, and “Earl’s Lake, Home of the Big Bass”. Two stories appear on the Storystar.com website, “Hollywood Phil” and “Whose Right to Die”. He has had five stories appear at Short-story.me, “How the Night Became Bright”, “Messyman”, “Simplicity”, “Enthusiasm”, and “Silence”.