Every sunrise sends another salty wave of longing, regret, and seaweed. It tangles around your hands and feet, binding you like slippery chains. The only embrace you’ve felt in a long time is the driftwood you cling to for dear life. Each day, your only hope splinters away a little bit more. You fish a waterlogged spyglass from the pocket of your twisted, faded coat and peer through the cloudy lens one more time.
No sign of life. Barely a heartbeat on the horizon.
But the worst part isn’t the splinters. It isn’t the waves or the wind. It isn’t the fear of what swims beneath the surface. It isn’t the stinging salt flooding your eyes. It isn’t the dismay of seeing all your maps washed into inky grayness.
It’s the silence, interspersed with cracking cries of renegade seagulls. Silence during the long night as you stare up at the stars a celestial eternity away. Silence in the morning as the scorching sun rises again. Silence in the evening as lonely daylight fades into lonelier darkness. If there were even a way to raise your voice from this motley raft, no one would hear your cry. You’ve stopped crying out for the sheer despair of it.
You don’t want to float any more. You want to set sail, or at least find a tolerable tropical island. Sandy shores would still be lonely, but it would be better than fighting this miserable fight. This fight to nowhere. This fight for nothing. You want to breathe the ocean air, not drown in it. You don’t want to be alone.
The rain begins to fall and you shudder, dragging the ragged coat over your head once again. Your gun, compass, and pocketwatch were drenched beyond repair ages ago, but still you cling to your belongings in desperate hope of saving these sodden remnants of the past. A crack of lightning illuminates everything one last time — the rolling skies, the fearsome waves, the fateful plight poised to strike.
You remember the captain’s voice calling you back as you abandoned ship in the height of battle.
Blackness overwhelms you. The impact of the wave slams your face into driftwood one last time, but you can’t hold on any longer. Water floods your eyes, ears, and nostrils, blinding and choking.
You’re drowning. Is this what dying feels like? Does death feel like a rush of oxygen to suffocating lungs? Does death feel like a hand to hold? Does death feel like giving up the fight and being swept out of the depths by strong arms?
No. This is what being rescued feels like.
As he seizes you, your belongings slip from your hands and sink down to a watery graveyard. Everything in you weakens as his grip tightens, but somehow you know that even if you can’t hold on, he’s holding onto you. You continue to gasp until his long, powerful strokes reach the boat. Everything goes dark for another moment until you open your eyes, feel the violent heaving of your chest, and recognize your captain, compassion etched in every weathered scar. Air fills your lungs where there was none. He’s been breathing for you in your helplessness. Every pumping muscle, every drop of oxygenated blood, every agonizing breath to the very last carried life to your lungs.
Yet still he lives and breathes before you. Before you. The rest of the crew weathers the storm together aboard the warship, awaiting the captain who rowed out into the tempest to rescue the single deserter. The one who drifted.
But as the captain’s breath filled your lungs, you were restored from the deep.
The drifter died with the driftwood, but the voyager is alive again.