“Alright, I’m ready to go now,” Harry’s voice broke from the radio.
“I’ll pull forward until the line gets tight,” Oscar explained. “Then you throw your engine on and you give whatever you’ve got just to keep us level, understand? I’ll do the pulling and I’ll warn you for every turn, you just make sure you stay right behind me and maintain the tension.”
“Of course Oscar. And Oscar…thank you, I really didn’t think anyone was going to come for me.”
“Don’t mention it.” It wasn’t a polite deference. It was an order, and Oscar surprised himself at how much of a growl it came out with. He shook his head and pushed the throttle control forward. His engine churned back to life and his trawler lurched forward once more.
Oscar eased back a little, not wanting to hit tension on the rope too hard. A few yards more and he felt his vessel shudder from stem to stern and his beam groaned ominously. He didn’t hear anything break though, and a quick glance backwards showed the line running out straight and true to Harry’s boat.
“Alright,” Oscar called into the mic. “I’m going to bear a little starboard here. You keep going straight at first and let the rope just pull you into line.”
“I know, Oscar. I know.”
If you know so much then why are you the only one out here with a crippled engine? Oscar thought bitterly. Sure, bad luck hit them all, but it seemed to hit Harry a suspicious amount more than any of the other sailors.
Oscar turned the wheel and turned himself twenty degrees. This put him at a slant to the waves, and now they were beating like Poseidon’s drum against his hull, drenching his deck with their foaming spray. The air around him had gone from that deep gray to murky black, like he had submerged himself in an ink bottle. He had to squint to make out the faintest edges of the Broken Horn’s outline, soon he would have nothing to go by but his instruments. If they could only make it around the cape then they would be able to see the lighthouse and could flow up to it with the waves at their backs. But that prospect of getting around the Horn was enough to make Oscar grit his teeth in apprehension.
What had he been thinking? Was it so important to prove that he was not the sort to let another man be lost to the sea?
A reverberating whine sounded from behind and Oscar glanced over his shoulder to see Harry’s boat sliding starboard, pulling the rope down at an angle.
“I said stay straight!” he shouted into the mic.
“I’m trying!” Harry’s panicked voice shrieked back. “It’s just my motor can’t keep up! It’s too much!” Oscar bit his wrinkled lip and spun the wheel back to port. They could try a shallower angle into the waves.
15? He glanced back but the rope was still moving the wrong way, scraping across the corner of his deck.
10? Now the rope held almost steady, wavering back and forth.
8. And at last the rope moved back to center.
“I’ve got it!” Harry’s voice called in relief. But Oscar wasn’t relieved. At this shallower angle it would take more than twice as long to get across the cape, pushing deeper out into the heart of the sea and giving the storm that much longer to bring its full wrath upon them.
Oscar looked ahead into that ink. He barely saw each of the waves before they broke across him and his small vessel. Each one raised high above his cabin, tipping his boat skywards, then breaking across in a fury and leaving him in a sheer drop down the trough on the other side.
These were tense moments, ones where a sailor would grip his wheel tighter than he knew. Oscar’s eyes stared out, unblinking, each wave rolling into him a miniature trauma.
“I can’t do this,” he muttered in a voice that was barely audible. “I don’t have it in me anymore.”
“You don’t have a choice anymore,” he said back to himself.
A spasm crossed his face.
“I’m sorry James.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Isn’t it? I let him go with Harry. I wasn’t there for him.”
Oscar had his wheel cranked as hard to port as possible, but was still losing ground. The waves were pushing him sideways, trying to get him broadside where they could swallow him all at once. His boat was sluggish in responding, likely due to the weight of water beginning to collect in its hold.
Oscar spat in frustration. Sometimes you had to tease the ocean into thinking it had won, sometimes you had to play along to catch it by surprise. And so as he crested the next wave he threw his wheel to the right. His boat swung easily, tipping to starboard as the water in its hold rushed to fill that side. His boat pitched down the sloping back of the wave and he swung the wheel back to port. With the aid of gravity and the momentum of the water rushing over to that side he found the extra push he needed to pull back into line.
“Oscar…” Harry’s voice was halting and unsure. “We’re far enough out. You could get around the cape if you turned now…if you weren’t towing me that is.”
“Well I am towing you Harry.”
“Oscar I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it would be. The sea knows I’ve done wrong by you…and it’s brought you here to make things right.”
“Harry, I’m not interested in talking. At all.”
“I lied to you Oscar.”
The next wave stretched up twice as big as any previous. They were definitely into the heart of the sea’s vast depths. Oscar let go of the mic, fastening both hands to the wheel and bracing for impact.
Harry continued. “James…did not forget to tie down a safety line when that storm caught us all those years ago. We both secured them as soon as we knew we were in trouble. Then we dashed around the boat trying to tie everything else down. I went up to the stern and he went aft. The boat just kept keeling side-to-side, each time seemed for sure it would be the one that threw us in the drink.”
A mighty crack sounded as one of the lines on Oscar’s boat snapped. He wasn’t sure which one it was, he didn’t check to see. Still Harry went on.
“Each wave swamped us, took our feet out from under and half drowned us. I was praying and cursing with what breath I had left. Made my way back to the mainmast and still kept throwing knots off and on at every turn.”
The next wave pushed hard against Oscar’s boat. He broke through its crest, but his boat rolled into the air on its starboard edge. Oscar flung his arms to the side, trying to maintain balance as the boat sought to right itself. The towing rope tugged his boat back onto its hull with a thunderous crash.
Each of Harry’s words tore violently from the inside out. Yet the man continued. “Then the next wave washed over us, the biggest one yet. It was a froth. I couldn’t see. It seemed like an eternity but finally it washed away. I was facing towards the rear of the boat and…and I saw nothing. Just nothing. James… wasn’t there.”
A tide of water swept into the cabin and Oscar slipped to his knees. He still gripped the wheel, and unseeing tried to hold his way through the wave.
“I undid his safety line, Oscar. I–I don’t know how, but I did. Somehow in all my blundering I pulled it up with the other knots… I–I killed him!” Harry’s voice was shuddering heavily and his words gasped out between heavy sobs. “And ever since then I let you believe you lost your son because of his own mistake…” Harry’s voice was finally lost entirely in the screeching of the wind, a phantom screaming over all the sea.
Oscar’s eyes flowed steady streams. His mouth was open but silent, his whole body heaving empty air. He gripped the wheel tightest of all now, holding onto it for dear life.
When Harry’s voice came back it was stiller, muted by stony shock. “I undid the wrong lifeline that day Oscar. And fifteen years later I’m still waiting for someone to undo it for me because I’m too much a coward to do it myself… So why don’t you let me go now?”
Oscar’s heart beat inside him again. Beat like it would tear him right in two. His eyes were pointed towards the waves but he did not see them. They pounded over his boat and he did nothing. They pushed him, turned him, slow degree by slow degree they pointed him back to shore.
A faint light tore the night and shone right in Oscar’s eye.
“Sam,” he croaked. He lifted his left hand back to the wheel. He was surprised to realize it had been floating over the control to release the beam’s rope. How had it gotten there? Oscar adjusted his feet, planted himself firmly, and straightened his boat out for its final approach.
Now with the waves and the wind behind them they pounded forward with all the fury of the sea gods. The cape slid by them on the starboard side, just barely a safe distance to squeak by without tearing their hulls on the shoals.
Oscar didn’t touch the mic. Harry’s voice didn’t rise again from it.
Oscar’s boat moved straight past the docks. He didn’t have it in him to try and navigate a proper landing, indeed he had had nerve enough for one task only: the beach. His boat shuddered as it scraped across the turf, then it keeled to its starboard side. Oscar stumbled out of his berth, pitched over the railing and flopped onto the wet sand beneath. Still the wind roared and the rain pelted but he didn’t feel them. It didn’t even register as Harry’s boat crunched across the sand right next to him, almost crushing him with how near it came.
“Oscar!” a voice shouted out, Harry up on his deck. “Oscar, where are you?!”
Harry flung himself over his own railing and onto the sand, almost running straight into Oscar before he finally saw him there.
“Oscar, speak to me man!”
Another voice was calling out from the distance. Sam’s lantern swinging through the dark in their direction.
“Oscar?” Harry said softly, putting his hands under the man’s armpits and raising him to his feet.
“I–I don’t know what to do Harry,” Oscar finally mumbled out. “I just don’t know what happens now.”
A long silence.
“I don’t know either.”
A short silence.
“Oscar, let’s go talk to Sam. He’ll know what to do.”
“Alright, let’s go talk to Sam.”
Harry put Oscar’s arm around his shoulders, then they turned their backs to the sea and hobbled towards the swinging light.
This brings us to the conclusion of The Storm, and also to the end of our current series. As I explained a few posts ago, the theme for this series was that of “the chase.” In this story Oscar is chasing after a man missing in a storm, but more so he is chasing for closure and peace, though he himself does not know it.
I mentioned before posting this story that my ambition with it was to provide two chases. One that was linear and which could progress to a state of resolution, and another which was cyclical and never-ending.
At first there only appears to be the one cyclical chase, one of grief and resentment. Oscar is aching for the loss of his son. That ache leads him to despise both Harry and himself for the parts they played in that loss. Though he does not know it, he has been chasing for vengeance, but passively. He has not sought to kill Harry directly, but he harbors hate for him and at times wishes that the man would just meet an untimely end.
Then, in this story, he learns that Harry was even more culpable in his son’s death than he had realized, and is at last given the perfect opportunity to end that man. Rather than desecrate his son’s memory with a murder, though, he determines just to go home.
From my author’s perspective I would say that Oscar had not previously allowed himself to process his grief. Blocking that grief has been an abiding hate, one which has grown a husk over his hurt, like the barnacles clinging to his ship’s prow. He needed to be broken down so that he could get back to the raw and childlike bewilderment that he had buried beneath.
And so now the cycle of grief still remains for him, that chase will never fully end. The chase of hate, though, has at last been brought to its end.
But as I explained last week, all this characterization did not even exist in the original concept for The Storm. Oscar’s obstacles and the way he deals with them and what exactly goes on in his soul are all elements that would not have existed in the game that I originally intended this story to be.
Yet it still would have had a central character, that of the player. And my ultimate hope would have been that the experience would have served as a mirror to show the player where they were in their own journey with burdens of grief and hate.
In this way Oscar’s character may have turned out for one player to be someone tender and forgiving, and for another someone harsh and vengeful. Both manifestations of him would be as true as the person behind the controls.
In any case, this brings us to the end of this series. Next week we’ll be off to something entirely new. I look forward to seeing you then!