Two men in a boat, nothing to see here. Oh no.
Next week I should have some exciting – exciting for me, anyway – news about the print and ebook editions. Until then, have great weekends, and enjoy.
Chapter 73 – Sunrise
Troy knew he was lying on his back but he couldn’t remember where. Either the sky was moving or he was. It had to be him, shifting from side to side, rising up and down.
Salt water splashed across his face.
It all came back in a rush: The struggle to launch the boat, frantic and inexpert he had rowed away from Sea Cucumber as she slid beneath the waves. Then the fight against the sucking vortex of descending water while Koponen frantically baled water and roared with terror.
Jarglebaum jerked upright. Tim was out there, he’d seen him across the tilted deck as he and Koponen launched the lifeboat. He worked one oar and turned the boat, an open craft about twenty feet long, and pulled back to where the ship had foundered. He rowed into a white ocean, the surface covered far and wide by sodden ruined seeds. A flotsam of splintered wood, rope, plastic bottles, empty lifebelts floated among them.
Pain tore at his shoulder, back, legs and arms from Imelda’s punches kicks and bites. He refused to give up, Tim was still out there. A grey tunnel slowly closed around the edges of his vision. He drifted until his sight cleared, then rowed again, circled, drifted, rowed again. All the time looking, refusing to give up. Never would he give up.
He searched for a time he couldn’t measure. It could have been minutes, it could have been years.
One of the oars was wet, it slipped from his grip. He sat looking at his hand, unable to understand why his whole arm ran red.
‘Troy.’ Koponen gently took the oars from him and laid them inboard.
The boat rocked and pitched, adrift on the waves.
‘Tim,’ Jarglebaum’s voice creaked like a rusty hinge. ‘Foxy.’
‘They’re gone, Troy. We can’t help them.’ Koponen looked into nowhere. ‘You did your best.’
Sunrise was some time off though the sky was lightening. Waves of pain and dizziness came and Jarglebaum passed out.
‘Stay still.’ Koponen held something cold to his forehead. A rag pad soaked in seawater. ‘You’ve lost a bit of blood.’
Koponen smiled thinly. ‘Some.’
Troy’s head lay towards the stern. Koponen sat behind him with his hand on the tiller.
‘I don’t remember…’ Troy’s head swam and he slumped back with a groan. How had he even got into the boat?
Koponen put a water bottle into his hand. ‘Drink this.’
Troy gulped the water down, suddenly terribly thirsty. Everything swirled, his stomach surged and he had just enough time to get his head over the side before he vomited.
Jesus, I’m a mess, Troy thought as he watched his puke swirl away into the sea. The bite on his shoulder burned like it was on fire, so did the one on his arm. Gingerly he pulled up his shirt sleeve and winced at the state of his forearm. He’d seen human bite marks and they were nasty, bestial things. This one didn’t look like that. Each black and purple puncture still wept dark blood, the outline of the bite a wide triple-row of wounds.
He felt himself sliding away again and fought it. He needed a real drink. He wanted to tell himself his memories of the last hours on the ship were part hallucination, that Imelda, Electra and Dolores hadn’t done the things they had done. That they hadn’t changed into weird monstrous walking fish and dived into the sea. That they hadn’t killed so many men.
Christ, he felt rough. He wondered if the bites were poisoned or if it was simply because Imelda had beaten him flatter than hammered shit.
Koponen lashed the tiller into position. ‘There’s bandages and disinfectant in the locker. Take your shirt off and I’ll clean you up. These lifeboats have radio distress beacons. I’ve turned ours on.’ He looked haunted. ’We’ll be OK.’
‘Sure thing. Down but not out, that’s us.’ Troy winced as he shrugged out of his ripped shirt. After your first cracked rib you learned to recognise the pain.
Koponen cleaned Troy’s wounds. ‘These are nasty but the bleeding has nearly stopped. Your arm is going to be stiff as hell but I don’t–’
Something bumped against the underside of the hull. Both men froze.
The sound came again: quiet, testing.
Koponen carefully pushed himself to his feet and hefted one of the oars. He stood astride the beam of the boat, balanced, watching, waiting. Not this boat too, his whole attitude said. Not today.
Slumped against the side wall Troy looked up at the slightly built older man. Imelda ripped me apart, he thought bleakly, what chance do you have?
Not even sure he could stand, let alone wield something as heavy as an oar, Troy decided to stay where he was.
The bump came again, heavier, actually shifting the boat. A stealthy scratching, scraping sound moved towards the stern.
Troy’s hands were shaking. There was a cubby hole in the prow packed with survival equipment. He rummaged through it looking for a weapon. No way was he going out without a fight.
Markus raised the oar over his head. ‘Here they come.’ He sounded very calm.
Metal glinted. Troy snatched it up and turned just as Markus sighed with relief and lowered the oar. ‘It’s just wreckage.’
Drenched in sweat, Troy looked at what he held in his fist. Koponen dropped down beside him and drew up his knees.
‘This was all I could find,’ Jarglebaum said.
Koponen looked at what he held and chuckled. ‘A pair of tweezers.’ His laughter grew and grew, then turned to racking sobs.
Troy put his good arm round Koponen’s shoulders and held him close. ‘It’s OK, Markus. It’s OK.’
Koponen fell quiet. They sat together looking across the grey, rolling sea. A thin layer of mist hung a few feet above the water. The sun rose. It was beautiful.
To be continued…