The Raft

Rhythmic waves pound the desolate beach, just like they have for millions of years, smashing rocks and shells into tiny grains of white sand.  The beach extends towards the grassy beginnings of the sparse jungle, dominated by fruitless palm trees and the haunting laughter of vultures.

Jack Armstrong is nearly dead.  He can feel his body scraping his guts for water and food, pulling the life out of him with each second.  It has been twenty-three and one-half days since he has eaten, two full days since his last drop of water slid down his throat.  His brown hair has been tangled and matted by the saltwater air, sticking to his forehead like a second skin.  The three-piece-suit he once treasured has been mutilated by the elements.

Jack curls his gnarly fingers around a chipped stone.  Smears of his own blood have started to brown on its surface, a result of a full day of sun.  He swings the stone above his head and slams a nail into the airplane metal in front of him.

The raft is complete.

Jack kneels and takes a gulp of humidity.  “Please,” he croaks.  “Please.”  He eyes the craggly reef that extends fifty yards from the shore.  Beyond the reef is the deep-blue vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

Jack clutches the edge of the raft, wobbles to his feet, and limps to the water.

He steps into the sea, jagged razors of coral digging into the soles of his feet.  Jack wades further into the water.  It becomes a darker shade of crimson with each step.

Jack scours his mind for the remaining scraps of memory from civilization.

One foot in front of the other.

He remembers last Christmas, the food, the light, his family.

Keep walking.  Ignore the pain.

The raft scrapes against the reef, the metal vibrating inside Jack’s white-knuckled fist.  He is wading in blood.

Fire, the excellent dancer, every shade of red in the stove.  Hot chocolate and marshmallows.  The tree.  Peace.

Jack looks up.  He has reached the edge of the vastness.  The sunset ricochets off the water, searing his eyes.  He pulls the raft to him, positioning it ahead of his body, laying his torso on the metal.

Jack pushes off the edge of the reef, yelping in pain as the coral digs deeper.

But Jack is weak and the metal is slick.  He only barely clings to the side of the raft, maintaining his balance.

A swell in the water allows the raft to slip from his grasp.  Jack is dunked underwater by the powerful force of the ocean.  He reappears above the surface of the water, gasping for air.

The raft is gone.  He swivels his head around frantically, losing what is left of his precious energy trying to stay afloat in the rolling water.  Jack’s eyes burn from the sunlight and the salt.

Every part of Jack wants to scream in frustration.  He had made it this far, only to be sabotaged by forces he cannot control.

Jack’s legs are dying.  He can feel his muscles giving out.  His body is preparing to drown.

Jack gives up and closes his eyes.

The sharp stab of metal meets his back.  Jack opens his eyes and spins around in the water.

He grabs the sides of the raft, pushes his torso back onto the metal, and slowly drags the rest of his body onto the thin vessel, lying face-down on its surface.

Jack is alive.

He closes his eyes and immediately falls asleep, exhausted.  The moon is rising among the stars.

***

The sun sears the darkness of night as it floats above the horizon, its demonic rays scorching Jack’s skin on impact.  Jack snaps his eyes open.

The ocean is glass.

Everything is quiet, peaceful.

Jack lifts his head a few inches and surveys the horizon.  There is nothing in front of him but the ocean.

He flops his right arm into the water, elbow deep, and paddles the raft around to view the horizon behind him.

A boat.

Jack squints at the speck, silhouetted by the dawn.  It is coming his way.  Merely drifting on the raft is no longer an option.

Jack pushes his chest off the raft, arms trembling with the effort.  He drags one knee up, then another.

His body is weak.

Jack plants one foot on the raft, and pushes his body upwards.  He straightens his back and raises his arms above his head.

Crack.

Jack tumbles into the water as the raft breaks into three pieces.

Jack fights his own body in the water. His body is on fire.  His lungs are stones.

The muscles in his legs seize in mid-kick.  There is nothing Jack can do.

He is sorry for what he will miss.

Darkness squeezes the light from his eyes.

***

“There he is,” says the fisherman.  He pulls out a large fishing net from the floor of the boat.

A man’s head bobbles in and out of the water twenty feet in front of the boat.  He is unconscious and bloody.

The boat steers close to the head.

The fisherman intercepts the man as he floats by.  An older man with skin like leather helps the fisherman drag the catch over the side and onto the floor of the boat.

He is alive.

The fisherman slaps Jack in the face.  No response.

Grinning, the fisherman looks at the old man.

“Might be our lucky day,” he says.

The old man deliberately nods his head.

The fisherman reaches into Jack’s trouser pockets with his grease-encrusted fingers.

Nothing.

He reaches into Jack’s breast pocket.

Nothing.

The fisherman pats Jack’s body up and down.

Nothing.

Jack coughs and sputters, his body twitching.

The fisherman reaches for his hip and draws a 9mm pistol from a leather holster.  He places the barrel in the middle of Jack’s face.

Jack opens his eyes.

“Do you have money?” asks the fisherman.

Jack heaves, small drops of moisture spraying out of his mouth and onto his face.  He shakes his head.

The fisherman grabs Jack by the collar and drags him to his feet.  He leans Jack against the side of the whaler and shoves his pistol into Jack’s eye-socket.

“Where is your money?”

Jack is too exhausted to speak.  He shakes his head slowly.

A blinding flash of light erupts inside Jack’s skull.

Nothingness.