The goblet clattered to the floor and rolled towards the starboard wall.
The table skidded after it, as did any men still sitting on their chairs amidst the sudden motion.
For a moment, I froze. The storm was predicted to be mild, the waves no taller than 5 feet and posing no threat to our drifter. The sudden lurch and sway of the boat proved otherwise. The messdeck floor tilted and swayed nauseatingly, and my tired eyes seemed to roll in their sockets. Everyone grabbed to whatever they could get ahold of that was heavy enough to remain stationary, or, if they were lucky, one of the few beams that held up the ceiling. Water had already begun to seep through the deck, dripping onto our heads and into our eyes as we stared up at it in shock, and in the more seasoned crew member's case, in fear. They had heard tales of times like these. Of ships lost at sea, taken by the waves and stifled in the unforgiving depths, unable to send out even a mayday signal before they were blotted out like specks of dust. They just never thought it would happen to them.
I knew this couldn't happen. Because our signals officer knew what he was doing. His name was Vitya, and he had served on military vessels for the Union when he was in his prime. In fact, he seems to have never left his prime, when you talk to him. He would have sent out the mayday call 3 minutes ago. Right when the first huge wave crashed onto the deck.
The men looked into each other's eyes and saw terror. Most of them were green. Herring season had just started, and the first captain had hired the majority of the crew straight off the docks. I had been hired off the docks, too, but I can't say I was as green as the others. My father had owned a salmon ship, and I would occasionally join him in my youth on his trips along Alaska and the Canadian west coast. I knew the ocean, not as well as some of the weathered seamen here, but I could tell something was off about this. The ocean is capricious, and like a lover scorned she will slap at you with stinging palms if you underestimate her. But never without reason, and never with this kind of intent. No, there is something wrong here.
I waited for a fleeting moment of stability, and took my chance, men yelling after me as I darted for the hatch. Any minute now, there would be a mad scramble, sailors crawling over each other and getting tossed around like beans in a strainer by the brutal waves. Any minute now, the messhall and any other space below deck would begin to fill up with water. The same water that churned outside. There is nowhere left to go but up, at least for those who can make it there. I aspire to be one of them. I grabbed the hatch and pushed with all my might, letting water flow down through the opening.
Where was the captain? Either in the bridge, or still in his cabin, blissfully sleeping away as water drizzled through from under his door. The men would not wake him. They never did trust him much. Last season, I was not here on this boat, still focusing on my studies, but he was not captain here back then. According to the rumors, the old captain was found in his cabin, a sharpened quill stabbed right into where his Adam's apple would be. He was an odd one, but the oldest and most loyal crewmen spoke of him like a legend. The waves were his brothers. He had their backs through thick and thin, and brought his ship great success, him and his albatross. It pattered after him like a house-trained cat, and was almost a member of the crew. How he had managed to tame it, no one knew. But it seemed aged like he was, wise, like his advisor, assisting him in his duties. No one had seen it after the captain's death. The new captain was his brother, having obtained the ship by inheritance. He owned a business before, selling denim clothing at an inflated price, some say. Whatever made him take up sailing is beyond me.
I scrambled to get on deck, my hands fighting for purchase on the slippery wood. With a great heave, I hoisted myself up, only to be blown back by the incredible wind. The rain pounded down. The water flung me to the starboard side, throwing my body hard against the ledge. Thank God for that ledge. Maybe I should be praying.
As the ship tipped towards port, I grabbed onto the thin railing on the ledge, and held on with my life. My knuckles were white with strain, my hair plastered to my face, obscuring my vision, but I saw it. I saw the drop, 240 feet across the deck and into the frothy waves, that boiling darkness. It called to me. Like a man staring down off a cliff, I wanted to jump. I don't know why.
But I held on. Oh, did I ever.
I regretted. I regretted not staying below deck. Maybe slowly drowning, surrounded by a mob of scratching men, was better than this. I regretted not telling Laura I missed her, in one of my rare letters. I regretted not writing more letters. I regretted only wearing a sweater and a jacket, as I felt the cold seep into my muscles. I felt drained. The boat swayed back, righting itself for the moment. I lay on the slippery deck, and looked to the right, and found myself staring at the lifeboats.
Was it worth it? Was it worth climbing down the ladder of boats hanging off the side of the drifter? Was it worth making my way over and desperately trying to untie the boat with freezing fingers? Was it worth it, even if I was in the middle of nowhere, 46 nautical miles away from any kind of land, left to die of thirst alone in a pathetic lifeboat? If, by some miracle, I wasn't swallowed up by the salty waves first?
I decided it was.
The ship lurched again. Just my luck, I slid in the direction of the lifeboats, grabbing a mast as another wave came and lifted the ship up. It passed, and I swung around the mast like a trapeze artist thrown into the air, locking my arms around it in desperation. When it righted again, I began pusing my way up to the boats.
As I was about to begin the perilous climb down, I took one more look towards the bridge, across the deck, searching for signs of life. For the captain, maybe. And perched on the hull, untouched by the waves or the wind or the rain, pristine and young, I saw it.
The captain goes down, with his ship.