TITLE: A Line in the Sand
The heavens faded from black to a dusky blue, arching like an inverted bowl over the inky waters below. Sprawled across a fragment of boat, Jake Chalmers raised his head and scanned the horizon. Darkness cloaked the expanse to the west, but in the east the circle of the earth etched a line of gold between ocean and sky. Pushing himself chest high, arms shaking, he studied the line for movement. Nothing. Nothing but the rising sun.
He rolled to his back and threw an arm over his eyes. Seawater dripped off his sleeve onto his mouth, stinging the cracks in his lips. He winced and pressed them together. A scum of brine coated the inside of his mouth, numbing his tongue and the back of his throat. Swallowing to generate saliva blazed a trail of salt down his esophagus to the pit of his stomach. His stomach heaved, but there was nothing to expel, not even bile.
A splotch of shadow crept from under his arm and inched toward the lapping water. Another morning. He counted to make sure. Three days. Three days now of going over and over the events until grief had swallowed and all but digested him. He fought off the images, shoved them back into the dark recesses of his mind. When he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, he dozed fitfully, jolting awake to scour the miles of shifting waves. Always it was the same. Nothing.
He made himself think of his family. Prayed to God. Reviewed his life. No hurry; he wasn't going anywhere.
Then the change came. Awareness crawled into his dreams and elbowed him awake. Rain? His body trembled at the thought. But when he looked up, the sun glared down from an empty sky. Beneath him, he realized--ocean, not sky. Motion, tugging him: a surge forward, then a stop. Surge forward. Stop. He shook his head, lifted himself off his stomach. What? At the next swell he glimpsed the horizon.
His heart slammed into high gear and he jerked to his knees. The water dipped, the land disappeared. The boat fragment slid forward. Stopped. Rose on the slow elevator of another swell. He held his breath.
An island slipped onto the horizon. Green, glistening like jade in the morning sun. High on one end, sloping to sea level at the other end.
He sucked in air and hurled it out in a cry that reverberated across the waves.
As if startled, the boat fragment jerked and threw him onto his stomach. He grabbed the vessel's edge. It rotated in a half circle and lurched forward on a new path. A path headed back to sea.
An ocean current--it must have caught the fragment where it hung upside down in the water. Jake studied the distance to the island. The current might veer back and sidle up to the island, or, just as likely, it might tow his broken sea vessel farther away.