Sunday, November 30, 2008

This Is How It Ends

Another Sunday Scribblings exercise. This week's theme: A Winter's Tale. This one could use a little more work -- always the case! -- but I'm off to work on a real-life tale of winter: crackling fire and homemade chili, warming me and the house against a cold November evening.

So this is how it ends, Jase thought.

He grimaced into the darkness, grinning and winking and flexing his face to try to keep it numb. His hands had gone dead hours ago, after he’d dipped them in the racing sea and let them freeze as they gripped the wooden tiller. Hooks of ice, they were now, frozen to the tiller. But at least he could steer the boat up and down the mountainous waves.

So this is how it ends, he thought again. He heard spray rattling on his back and neck, but felt nothing.

Nineteen days out of Sander Ryk, the schooner had struck a berg. Odd for it to be this far south, but it was never mind that and all hands on deck, even the children, to staunch the killing flow of seawater. The berg had opened the ship like a knife prying open the white flesh of an apple, and forty-nine men, women, and children, had gone down when it plunged beneath the iron-grey waves.

He was lucky, or unlucky: he’d found the only boat, the little tender they used to unload fish in the harbor, and had thrown the only children he could find on deck aboard, stepping into the unsteady little sloop as the big schooner went under.

He’d shouted something at the children, got them under some oilskins and out of the way. Got the sail up, smeared the salt and ice off his face. And got underway in the screaming black storm.

He caught the sour smell of vomit, and looked forward. The younger one, a girl, was staring at her cupped hands.

“Hold it close! Don’t spill it!” She bent her head to say something to the other child, and he was about to tell her the foul mess would keep her warm, when he saw a paleness in the black swirling night.

He rubbed his face into his shoulder and looked again: Yes. Land shone out there somewhere.

A wave caught them sideways and the boat lurched and corkscrewed, sliding sideways and he was laughing, laughing, because he had been wrong, the land was so much closer than he’d thought, they were upon it, they would not drown at sea, God help them they were upon it, and he cried through the wind to hold on, and they were swept under the thunderous icy sea.

A snow-muffled seashore. Flakes melting into the water. The murmur of surf against seaweedy cliffs. A sand-floored cave. Spark of light; smell of woodsmoke; crackle of fire. Steaming wet wool. Two children and a club-handed man huddle toward the fire.

This is not how it ends, Jase thought. Not yet, anyhow.


tumblewords said...

Nice work! Chilling ~ but hope crops right at the end.

*~sis~* said...

great story!! :)

Doe said...

nice images there i especially liked how the berg had opened the ship like a knife...very titanic!!
well-done ;)

S R Wood said...

Thanks, everyone. A hundred years ago a stranded cod fisherman named Howard Blackburn actually did deliberately freeze his hands around his oars so he could continue to row even when he couldn't make his muscles grip the oars. That's always fascinated me!