Well, here I am, four drafts into this project. I’m hoping that by the end of this process I’ll have an understanding for how many drafts it takes for me to go from initial concept to finished product. Each draft is taking me about ten weeks, so if I can get it done in five drafts it will have been about a year.
I’ve made note of the wordcount of each draft, so I’ll continue that here. Previously I went from 3,894 words to 8,720 to 7,885. With this new draft I’ve had hardly any change whatsoever. I am weighing in at 7,841 words. I took some lengthy sections out and put other ones in, so apparently, they balanced each other out.
But enough with all of that, here is draft four in its entirety. Also, here is a link to draft three for comparison. Next week I’ll give a summary of what I think of the story as it stands now, and what the next plans for it are.
Oscar regarded the sea behind him. The gray of water below perfectly matched the gray of unbroken clouds above. Off in the distance was a similarly gray wall of rain, which bridged the gap between ocean and cloud, so that there seemed to be no separate bodies at all, only one massive volume of silver liquid. And at the fringes of that elevated sea Oscar and his trawler were currently scurrying forward, trying to make land before the wall of rain did. For that wall of rain was no trifling shower, but the face of a dark and violent storm.
The storm had not been expected until later that evening, so its early arrival had cut Oscar’s excursion short without so much as a minnow to show for his effort. There had been time and fuel spent, but nothing gained. Oscar wasn’t surprised by that, though. Most of the time the ocean yielded just enough for the sailors to pay their way, but from time-to-time it cut them short. “The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh,” one might say, but also “it taketh slightly more than it giveth,” so that a man grew a penny poorer each day he tried to live by it.
Though sometimes the cost was more than just a penny. Oscar knew better than most that in sudden, greedy moments the ocean took far more than it had any right to. More than could ever be excused.
“That you, Oscar?” the voice crackled over the boat’s radio.
“Yeah, Sam, it’s me.” Oscar raised his eyes to the red-and-white lighthouse in the distance, where Sam sat as their watchful guardian, never losing tally of each man’s going and coming back again.
“Sorry to hear that, Oscar.”
“It’s just how it goes. Everyone else in already?”
“All but Harry.”
Oscar sighed heavily, dropping his eyes from the lighthouse above to the long pier below, where each of the local sailors had their permanent station. On the far left was Oscar’s own berth, and as far away as possible to the right was Harry’s. The only empty spaces.
“Do you know which way he went?”
“Went for mackerel. Around the cape. Probably why I haven’t been able to raise him.”
“He woulda seen the storm coming even so.”
“And he shoulda made it far enough back now that we’d see him by now.”
Oscar’s radio crackled static, signifying that Sam had released the mic, signifying that Sam would say no more until Oscar did. Sam wasn’t the sort of person to tell people what they ought to do. He was the sort to let them figure it out for themselves.
And what if Oscar said no? What if he said Harry was a fool for having gone around the cape when there was any storm warning at all, and that if he was caught in a gale now that was his own affair?
Well, if Oscar said that, Sam probably wouldn’t even hold it against him. Sam would know as well as anyone that Oscar had reason enough for it. But then Sam would go out by himself, and he would be that much more delayed, that much more in danger of the storm.
Oscar swiveled his head around and surveyed the horizon. Not a single ship in sight.
“I suppose I better go after him,” Oscar rasped into the mic.
“If you think that’s best,” Sam approved. “I won’t blink an eye until the two of you get back.”
“I know you won’t, Sam.”
Oscar sighed, then slowly turned the wheel. There was that brief moment of delay between cause and effect, that moment where he was still pointed towards the safety of the docks, but then his entire world shifted. Pier, berth, and the road up to Lenny’s Tavern slid away and to the left, giving way to the long, low coast, the rising point of the cape, and finally the bleak, open sea stretching beyond. As Oscar settled against the waves his boat creaked mournfully.
“Sorry, girl,” he muttered. “I don’t like it either. We’ll get back home just as soon as we can.”
The sea seemed to protest his return also. The wind whistled around the wheelhouse in a forbidding moan, the rain lashed against the window with long tears, and a sudden chill rose out of the tumultuous depths, putting its ice into his veins. The whole vessel trembled as the lively waves struck against its side, trying to push Oscar back towards the shore, but Oscar stubborned his hands on the wheel and steeled his heart against all misgivings. He kept himself fixed on the most direct route to the cape, and the darkening gray that lay beyond it.
The Broken Horn was the name they had given to that cape, and it rose very quickly from the otherwise flat coastline, outstripping the grass and the trees so that its promontory cliff was nothing but black and jagged rock, broken in a thousand places by the brunt of the sea.
Oscar made his way to the shadow of that rock, then he turned his boat to give a wide berth as he went around its cliffs. There were treacherous shoals at the feet of the Broken Horn, and if one of those snagged him, he would be held like a fish on a spear until the endless flow of water overran his vessel. Or, if the waves managed to dislodge him, they would rush him past the shoals and into the jagged edges of the sheer rock face, tearing his body and boat to shreds in an instant! Had Harry come into difficulty anywhere else Oscar would have left him to run aground and wait out the storm on a rain-soaked beach, but here there was no “aground” to run into. A sailor caught in these waters with a compromised vessel could have things go wrong for them in quite a hurry. Of course, this wasn’t the first time things had gone wrong for Harry in a storm.
Oscar edged his vessel along the narrow strip of water between cliffs on the left and storm-veil on the right. As he traced through that relatively calm water his eyes roved over the shoals and cliffs to the left, searching for any sign of a freshly broken boat. He saw none, only the black abyss of rock vaunting up into the sky and the black abyss of water spinning below. Oscar grabbed the mic and called through the storm.
“This is the Last Horizon. Repeat, this is the Last Horizon. Does anybody read me?”
So Oscar turned his attention to the starboard side. Thirty yards distant there rose the wide curtain that marked the true beginnings of the storm, and it was edging closer and closer to him with each passing moment. He tried to catch sight of a vessel through its thick, shifting forms, but the whole thing was too transient to make make sense of any of it.
“Last Horizon calling Broken Wing. Broken Wing are you there?”
Again, no response.
Then a sudden gust of wind broke through the storm’s perimeter wall and Oscar’s boat jerked erratically. He let go of the mic and used both hands to wrestle his boat back into line, then grabbed the mic again and roared his frustration into it.
“HARRY! DO YOU EVEN HEAR ME?!”
His hand pulled at the wheel, starting to turn the vessel around. It was time to call this operation off as a lost cause. He had come, he had looked, but if waited around any longer there would be two boats lost in the storm instead of just one. But right at that moment, the crackle of static gave way to a small voice, timid and broken.
“Yes, yes…this is Harry here! I see you Oscar, I see you! I’m on your starboard side.”
Oscar squinted his eyes harder at the storm-curtain. He peered into it deeper than before…and at last, he saw it. Even further out than he’d expected, veiled by the mists of storm so that it appeared almost like a ghost, was the faint outline of a boat.
“I see you, Harry,” he said. “What’s your status?”
“Not good, Oscar. I got out a ways and then all-of-the-sudden I started having engine trouble. It just kept cutting out on me unless I left it at low throttle. So I tried to figure out what was going on with it, but then the storm came down and I had to make a run for it! But of course, I couldn’t run very fast and it caught me. Now I can’t get up enough speed to push through the eddies by the cape, and I can’t get up enough speed to push through the storm to go around the eddies! So, I’ve just been tryin’ to hold her steady and not get swamped! I don’t mind telling you I’ve been real scared, Oscar!”
“Yeah, well I still am, Harry!”
So, it was typical shortsightedness that had led Harry into this mess. He had been so focused on fixing his engine that he had forgotten about the active storm warning. Then he had been so focused on running away from the storm that he had failed to account for the eddies along the coast. Just a little bit of thinking ahead instead of plowing forward, and Oscar wouldn’t have to be out here risking bone and bow to rescue him right now.
But Oscar was here. This was what he had signed up for. And unlike Harry, he was taking the time to think things through. He would have to tow Harry, and that meant he would be weighed down and slow, just as Harry was. He would face the exact same problem going against the storm or through the eddies.
“First against the storm,” he decided. “Advance as far up as we can, then use its push to help force our way through the eddies.”
Of course, towing Harry meant getting up alongside of Harry. So, at long last, Oscar turned the wheel, bringing himself into alignment with the nearing storm-curtain. Once again, his boat groaned in protest.
“I know, I know,” he said softly. “I don’t want to either…but we have to.”
Oscar opened the throttle and his vessel surged forward, bouncing atop the waves, advancing until its prow pierced through the misty screen. Large and heavy raindrops broke across the windshield, which momentarily obscured Oscar’s vision, but then the curtain parted and darker forms were revealed beyond!
It was a world of muddled black. Pitch skies hung low overhead, whipped by the strong winds into wisps, long and thin, yet so numerous as to crowd out the evening sun entirely. Under the grim ceiling lay a landscape of fomented waves, rolling in endless agony, the green-black hue of ink. Oscar could feel the temperature around him drop by at least fifteen degrees, even without the wind chill. And wafting in on that wind came the stench of sea-things, long dead and decaying, churned out of their slumber by the rolling deep.
And there, caught in the thick of everything, was Harry’s vessel. It twitched and swayed erratically, entirely at the mercy of the storm. On occasion it would surge to life, just enough to jerk back into line with the rolling waves, and then the engines would die and it would flounder once more. The boat must have taken on a great deal of water already, growing more sluggish by the minute. Growing more difficult to haul out by the minute.
Oscar’s heart fell, but he only allowed himself a moment’s dread before he grit his teeth and grabbed the mic. “You gotta hold it more steady, Harry! I can’t come up alongside just for you to swing into my hull!”
“Okay…” came the timid reply. “I’ll try, Oscar.”
“Don’t just try! You gotta hold her straight. I’m gonna come up on your starboard side and throw you a line as I pass. You be ready to catch it, and then run like anything to get it through your bow cleat.”
“Okay, Oscar. I’ll try.”
Oscar sighed in exasperation. Apparently “try” was as good as Harry was going to give.
The old sailor held firmly to the wheel, maintaining a straight line to Harry. They would have to move with precision and speed, minimizing the number of seconds that their boats would be so treacherously close to one another!
Oscar glanced over his shoulder and punched a button, dropping the net from the trawler’s central beam. He pulled a lever and the rope ran out until fifty feet of it lay unfurled on the deck.
Everything was ready, and just in time for Oscar’s trawler to sputter ahead of Harry’s. In one fluid motion he cut the throttle and locked the wheel in its place. Then, as his boat slid backwards, he dashed to the rope laying on the deck, coiled it around his hand, and bounded with it to the port side. Just then the two boats drew level with each other, and he flung the rope through the air to where Harry was waiting to catch it. Harry pulled the coil to his chest and sprinted with it to his bow cleat.
Oscar hurried back to the wheelhouse and spun the helm to account for drift. He raised the throttle back up, moving his vessel a little ahead of Harry’s boat, but not so far as to pull the line out before Harry had it secured.
It was very difficult to hold the boat steady in the rolling waves, but the true challenge would only begin after Harry had his end of the rope secured. Towing another boat was dangerous even in fair weather. They would have to maintain constant tension, since the more often the rope slacked and tautened the more likely it would break. They would have to gauge their speeds so that Harry’s boat didn’t come careening into the back of Oscar’s. They would have to account for the fact that Oscar’s boat would be riding up the crest of one wave while Harry’s was down in the valley of another and vice versa. They would have to keep the line straight between them, or else they might roll each other sideways into the drink.
In short, there were many things that could go wrong–that probably would go wrong–and any of them could easily end in disaster. For any other fisherman in their hamlet, Oscar would have faced those dangers gladly. But for Harry?… Well, evidently he would still face them, but there was nothing glad about it.
Of all the men that could have been caught out here, why did it have to be the one Oscar could never forgive?
“Alright, I’m ready to go,” Harry’s voice came from the radio.
“I’ll pull forward until the line gets tight,” Oscar immediately returned to the matter at hand. “Then you throw your engine on and give whatever you’ve got to keep us aligned. I’ll do the pulling and warn you for every turn.”
“Of course Oscar. And…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. Oscar eased the throttle forward and the engine churned back to life. As he came close to the end of the rope’s length he lowered his speed so that he would hit tension as gently as possible. A slight jolt shuddered the boat from stem to stern and the boom that the rope ran from groaned ominously…but there didn’t come the sound of anything breaking. Looking over his shoulder Oscar could see Harry’s boat coming up to the same speed as his own. They were in sync.
“Alright,” Oscar said into the mic. “I’m going to bear a little to starboard now. You just follow the turn.”
“I know, Oscar. I know.”
If you know so much, then why are you out here with a crippled engine? Oscar thought bitterly. Yes, 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, swiveling the prow of his boat twenty degrees to starboard. The most efficient route back home would be to make a wide turn, cut across the cape where the eddies were weaker, finish turning the rest of the way around, and then make for the docks.
But trying to cut across the waves at a slant proved to be difficult. The angle meant that the port side of their boats were constantly being slammed by the onslaught of water, and as the waves rolled into their rudders they hauled against them like kites caught in a gale. Oscar grit his teeth together and hauled on his wheel the other direction, muttering encouragement to his boat.
“Hold steady, girl, hold on! I know it hurts, but just hold on!”
A particularly large wave barreled into the boat and suddenly the wheel went loose in his hands as a creaking whine rose from the back of the boat.
“No!” Oscar cried, relaxing his hold on the wheel for fear of causing more damage. The wave pushed his boat at its pleasure, turning it all the way to starboard, then passing by.
“Oscar, everything alright?” Harry called over the radio.
But Oscar didn’t reply. He needed both of his hands as he twitched the wheel back and forth, trying to feel out what had happened to his steering.
It seemed that the rudder arm had not snapped, that was a relief! The boat still responded to Oscar’s commands, though sluggishly, and not all the way up to its usual range. Probably the bolt connecting the hydraulic cylinder shaft to the rudder arm had been bent.
“My steering’s limited,” Oscar called into the mic. “I’m going to have to turn more slowly, and there’s no way I can keep holding against the waves at an angle. We’ll need to go head-on at them instead.”
“Well…I don’t think there’s enough time to turn that far.”
Oscar looked out the window to his left where the next wave was already hurtling towards them. Harry was right, there wasn’t enough time or space between each wave to make a full ninety-degree turn.
“Well…there’s going to be some tricky maneuvers coming up, Harry,” he replied, “but you just leave them to me, and you do what you can to keep up!”
Oscar locked the mic button down and set it on the panel. He would need both hands on the wheel for this next part, but would also need to call out instructions as they went.
Oscar tapped his fingers on the helm as the next wave roared up to them. He had turned his boat as far to port as he could but was still thirty degrees from hitting the water head-on. Oscar’s boat creaked as it was pulled upwards, bow pointed towards the sky. As before, the wave wanted to turn Oscar’s vessel back to starboard. Oscar moved his rudder a little in opposition, but not nearly so far as before. When he finally breached through the wave he swung his head around, waiting for Harry’s boat to burst through also. It did, and then Oscar sprang into action!
“Harry, hold that angle, but give me a little slack!” Oscar called down towards the mic. He thrust his wheel hard to starboard, opposite the way he needed to go. All the water in the hold rushed over, making the boat careen onto its side. Oscar splayed his toes wide, feeling the movements of the vessel through his boots. He could make out the shift when the water in the hold collided with the hull and started to slosh back the other way. Now he spun the wheel back to port as quickly as possible, encouraging the water’s momentum, flowing it back across the hold until it slammed into the opposite side of the hull, the port side! With the rudder and the rushing water combining forces Oscar found that extra push, just enough to finally pull his boat out of its angle and pointed head-on towards the next wave.
“Now, Harry, now! Get back in line behind me!”
Oscar had gotten himself straightened out, but he had lost considerable speed in the process. Already the next wave was upon them, and he wasn’t sure if we would have enough momentum to push through it!
“Full throttle, Harry, full throttle!” Oscar cried out, pushing his own acceleration to the maximum.
Oscar’s boat spun its propellers valiantly, but it grew slower and slower as it crawled up the slope of the wave, and the slower it went the more the prow tried to follow the path of least resistance, falling off to either one side or the other. Oscar spun the wheel back-and-forth and applied the throttle in controlled bursts, trying to counter the boat’s shying and keep it pointed forward. But he wasn’t even advancing so much as just holding still in place. The crown broke upon the front of the boat, but rather than bursting through Oscar felt himself boat starting to roll backward with the water!
Then came a sudden blow from behind and the sound of crunching! Oscar’s boat had slowed down faster than Harry could turn out of the way, and Harry had rear-ended him!
“Harry!” Oscar shouted angrily, but then he felt the push. Harry’s engines had come back to life, and he still had some inertia, even against the slope of the wave! It gave Oscar the push he needed, and he was able to steer his way through the top of the wave! Together the two boats rushed down the backside of the wave and returned to their proper speed.
“Alright Harry, that was lucky,” Oscar pulled the mic back to his mouth and wiped the nervous sweat from his brow. “But you keep your distance from now on, you hear?”
There didn’t seem to be any response, but then Oscar realized he still had the button on the radio locked down. He released it just in time to hear the last of Harry’s reply.
“–and I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your ‘sorry,’ Harry,” he shot back. “Just competence.”
Oscar knew he wasn’t being fair, and he let go of the radio and tried to gather his nerves. They had successfully made the turn, and that was well and good, but now he had to consider what their next steps would be. They were no longer cutting across the waves, which meant they would have to change the route back home. Now they would have to ride up the waves and push for as much distance as possible. Then they would turn around and use the water’s momentum to slice through the eddies, hopefully pulling far enough to port as they went to clear the Broken Horn.
How far into the waves would they need to go before turning around? Oscar wasn’t sure. Did they have enough fuel for this new route? It didn’t matter. They just had to deal with the situation at hand and worry about the other matters when they came up.
That question of fuel did make Oscar look down to his gauge, though, and he found that it was already teasing at empty.
“Harry, where are you sitting with fuel?”
“Uhh–probably just fumes left, to be honest.”
“You have a spare tank?”
“Used it already.”
Oscar slammed his hand against the wheel in exasperation. Why hadn’t he thought to have them top up when they were tethering the boats together? Certainly he had had a lot of other things on his mind then, but it wasn’t like him to just miss something like that.
But Oscar couldn’t worry about would’ve and should’ve now. Now he needed to deal with the situation as it stood.
“Alright, Harry. Run out to the front of the boat. Here comes my spare tank.”
Oscar locked his wheel in place and grabbed the yellow, plastic diesel tank from under the seat. It was a common six-gallon container, and as soon as he reached the back of his boat he poured half of its contents into his own fuel tank, then gripped the handle with both hands and flung the canister through the air and into Harry’s waiting arms.
Oscar turned around and began to sprint for the wheelhouse, but even before his first step he knew he was too late. Already his boat was tilting upward into the next wave!
With a snarl of defiance, he lunged up the deck, leaning further and further forward as the floor tipped more and more upward. As he ran, he could only helplessly watch as the boat’s prow began veering slightly to starboard, then more and more, then half of the nose pierced into the water and a torrent of water came running across the deck!
Oscar quickly twisted his arms in the nearest rope as the deluge slammed into his body and swept his feet out from underneath! All he could do was hold fast to the line and hope to come through the other end! The torrent seemed to engulf him for an eternity, but finally his boat cleared the top of the wave and the flood abated, leaving Oscar’s boots slipping on the water-slicked deck.
But it wasn’t just the water that was making his footing difficult, with a shock Oscar realized that he was nearly standing sideways! The boat had been swamped, and the whole thing was rolling on its axis, likely to capsize at any moment!
“NO!” Oscar shouted, moving hand-over-hand along the rope, desperately continuing his scramble for the wheelhouse. Finally, he reached his destination, and immediately began working the wheel and throttle by instinct, unsure of how he even intended to get out of this mess.
The boat had both rolled sideways and tilted its waterlogged prow down into the water. It was so askew that the port-side engine’s propeller had lifted out of the water and was spinning uselessly in the air. With only the starboard propeller available for traction, Oscar raised it to full throttle, using its push to counteract the front-ward descent of the vessel. At the same time, he spun the wheel as hard as possible to port, never mind the compromised rudder shaft, and created an opposite force to the starboard-roll. The boat became taut between all the competing forces, suspended mid-roll and mid-tilt, skating a narrow line between salvation and oblivion.
“I can’t do this,” Oscar cried. “I just don’t have it in me anymore.”
“I don’t think you have a choice,” another side of him replied.
If at all possible, his weathered face grew even more wrinkly, and his eyes shone with unshed saltwater.
“I should have quit after James died.”
“No,” his other side returned. “You should have quit before you lost your son.”
The next wave was yawning directly ahead. If Oscar’s boat was still askew when it hit, he would certainly be capsized.
“Keep it together!” a roar emanated from somewhere deep in Oscar’s throat. In a moment of epiphany, he grabbed the control for the boom and swung it quickly to the port-side. The sudden shift of weight was just enough to break the boat’s stalemate and roll it back to its hull. Then both propellers bit into the rushing water and snapped the front of the boat back above the surf just in time to climb the next hill.
“Are you alright there?” Harry’s voice was calling over the radio, though Oscar could barely hear it over the fuzzy ringing in his ears.
“Yeah, I’m here–” Oscar said dismissively. “I was–I just had–I’m alright now.”
But he wasn’t. As soon as he released the mic his whole body began shaking uncontrollably. His eyes welled up with tears, but he refused to let them run out. He had to suppress the emotional breakdown that was lurking in his periphery and keep pushing forward if he was going to survive. Get out of this storm first and then collapse in a heap on the floor!
But though Oscar was able to keep the wall raised around his heart, the spring of emotions refused to flow back to where they came from. They continued to mount behind his barrier, turning it into a dam under pressure. His hands clenched until the bony knuckles seemed ready to pop out of his thin skin, his lips pursed together until they went white from loss of blood, his breath shot in and out of his nostrils in sharp, erratic bursts.
And navigating each wave was like an all-new trauma, another straw placed on his already buckling back. Every moment that he forced himself further into the storm darkened his very soul. Just maintaining this line made him spend out the last of his nerve and even put him into arrears.
“Harry, let’s–” Oscar’s voice stammered in the cold. “let’s g-get out of here.”
“What? You mean turn around?”
“Y-yes. We can’t keep up like this. Hold steady through this last wave and then we’re turning back.”
The next wave passed them by, and Oscar rotated the wheel with a deep exhale. His steering was still sluggish, so they had to make the turn in parts, but presently the two sailors had their backs to the rolling tide and were pointed towards the coast.
“But keep a pull to port as well!” Oscar instructed. And so, at the low point between each wave, the men would pull their boats to the left, pump the throttle forward, and then straighten back out and slow down when the next wave caught up to them. Hopefully it would be enough to get them on the other side of the Broken Horn and its eddies.
“And keep your eyes open wide!” Oscar shouted into the mic as he peered intently through his own window. “If you so much as wonder whether you’ve seen the cape, you call it out!” He reached up and turned off his overhead light and covered the blinking LED on the radio, casting himself into complete darkness, the better to see through the storm outside.
Of course, they might not be able to see the cape, even if it was right before them. The storm-mist that pressed in on every side was so black and so thick that it might be indistinguishable from rock face. One long minute slid by after another, and as they went Oscar wondered how many could pass them by before they would be upon a stone-hard reckoning.
“Further to port!” Oscar commanded.
He spun the wheel ten more degrees to the left, and he did not straighten it back out when the next wave came upon them. This would take them to the other side of the cape more quickly, but it also resulted in them being tilted to starboard as they glided up the wave, then rolled back to port as it left them in its wake. The boats sloshed threateningly back and forth, but fortunately did not roll onto their sides.
“Whatever fuel you’ve got left, burn it now!” Oscar ordered, pushing his own throttle to full. With new life his vessel churned forward…then almost immediately came a jerking halt as the line hauled backward on Oscar’s boat!
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Harry exclaimed. “There we go!” His engines came back to life. “Oh wait, no!” They cut out again after just a few seconds, causing the rope to snap taut once more.
Oscar ground his teeth together. This constant relaxing and tightening of the line would quickly break it in two. Much as he wanted to surge on ahead, he would just have to pace himself off of what Harry’s boat could handle.
“Is it steadier at lower speeds?” Oscar asked.
“Yes, the engine holds if I don’t throttle over twenty percent.”
“Alright. You keep it there. I’ll tug.”
Oscar reduced power until both he and Harry were travelling at the same, slow speed. Then he accelerated, but very gradually this time. The line eased back to full tension, and the two boats began gaining speed as one. Eventually Oscar was back to full throttle, dragging Harry’s waterlogged hull through the waves. It was working…but they were less than half the speed that Oscar’s boat could have gone on its own.
“Come on, Harry,” Oscar willed the other man’s boat to spring to life. But it didn’t. It just hung there like an anchor, weighing him back into the storm. And he despised Harry for that. “How many sailors have to die under your hand before you’re through?” he muttered darkly.
Oscar turned his attention back to the front, still watching for any sign of the cliff-face or, better yet, of the lighthouse. He saw neither, but by looking so earnestly his mind was starting to play tricks on him, making him think that he had caught a glimpse of one or the other out of the corner of his eye.
Was that a moving light?! No, it was a reflection of sheet lightning upon the waves. Did a rock just emerge in front of them?! No, it was one cloud moving past another.
“Turn deeper, Harry. Let’s bring it to forty degrees!”
“Alright…if you’re sure…”
“I’m not sure of anything anymore,” Oscar replied, but only to himself. He was surprised that they still weren’t seeing either the saving light or the damning rock. Had they become more turned around than he realized? Were they aimlessly driving further out to sea?
The next wave came rolling up from behind the trawlers and tilted their boats so far to starboard that Oscar had to plant his foot against the side of the wheelhouse to keep from falling over. They seemed to hold this position for an eternity, and Oscar’s hands twitched on the helm, ready to spin it at the first sign of the floor rolling out from under him. But just when he thought the boat was about to fall over the top of the wave rolled underneath them and the boats snapped wildly back to port.
“Easy! Easy! Easy!” Oscar shouted, spinning the wheel in a mad effort to straighten out.
But it wasn’t his boat that he needed to worry about. The sudden swing to port, combined with the pull of gravity, had proven too much for Harry. Oscar felt the sudden tug as Harry’s boat started to fall onto its side, reeling the line in as it went, pulling him down to his doom as well!
By pure instinct Oscar threw his wheel the rest of the way to starboard, swiveling his boat to be inverted from Harry’s. This also put him broadside to the rolling tide, and the water slammed against the wide face of his hull, flooded over the vessel, and threatened to swamp him at any moment! But all that force against the side of Oscar’s trawler also made it pull back sharply on the rope, like a kite on the end of a string, hauling Harry’s boat out of its roll and back to its upright position!
“Ohhhh!” Oscar moaned, then turned his face and retched on the floor of his beloved companion.
But Oscar did not have time to linger on being sick. His whole boat trembled from stem to stern, and he snapped his face back up to make sense of what was happening.
Try as he might, Oscar could not make sense of it though. The situation was entirely out of hand. With the two boats inverted to one another, and the next wave already rolling upon them, and the unpredictable buffeting of the wind, and the compromised rudder, and the gallons upon gallons of water rolling in their hulls, there were simply too many competing forces to keep up with! The boats swayed and pivoted erratically, they alternately dipped in the water, spiked up on one end, and spun in utter chaos!
“Come on!” Oscar snarled, desperately fighting to take control. But the more his hands fumbled over the controls, the more his boat over-corrected one way and then the other, only adding to the pandemonium.
The next wave hit, and all the world became water. Its torrent poured into the wheelhouse and slammed against Oscar, knocking his feet out from under him. He tried to get his bearings, tried to make sense of the wind and the sea, tried to figure out what way to maneuver his vessel…but he was helpless before the mayhem of the sea.
“Oscar…” Even though Harry’s voice was hollow and quiet, Oscar heard it clearly over the storm. “Oscar, we’re going to die if we keep up like this. But I’ll bet you still have enough fuel to get around the cape…or at least you would if you weren’t towing me.”
“But I am towing you, Harry,” Oscar wrestled his wheel, trying to hold is straight as it bucked to the left and right.
“Oscar, I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it. The sea knows I’ve done wrong by you…and it’s brought you here to make things right between us.”
“Harry, stop. I don’t want—”
“I lied to you Oscar.”
The nose of Oscar’s boat thrust high into the air, then slapped back down with a sharp crack. Oscar let go of the mic, fastening both hands to the wheel as Harry continued.
“I told you all about that storm that came when I took your son sailing, and I told you he forgot to tie his safety line, but James was too bright for that. He secured one for himself and for me. Did it all on his own, just as soon as he knew we were in real trouble. And then he helped me dash all around the boat, trying to tie everything down. I went to the stern, and he went aft. But the boat was reeling side-to-side, and each time seemed like it would be the one that finally threw us in the drink.
“Each wave swamped us; half drowned us! I was praying and cursing with every breath I took. Some of the rigging had come loose again, so I made my way back to the mainmast and undid the knots and threw them back on. I didn’t even check what they were for, I just pulled out the slack and made them tight as fast as I could.
“Then the next wave fell on us, the biggest one yet. It was a froth! I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel what was in my own hands. It seemed like an eternity, but finally it washed away, and I was facing towards the rear of the boat and…and I saw nothing.! James–he…he just wasn’t there anymore!
“Somewhere in the confusion I had undone his safety line, Oscar. Somehow, in all my blundering, I pulled it up with all the other knots, but then failed to secure it back again. And when that wave hit us, it took him out to sea in an instant. I–I killed him!”
Oscar slipped on the water in his cabin and fell to his knees. His head rolled back, mouth open. No sound came out, but his whole body heaved with cries too large to escape his throat. He only held onto the wheel by his fingertips.
“And I didn’t have the courage to tell you the truth, Oscar. I let you believe your son was lost because of his own mistake. But that was a lie!”
Oscar’s heart beat like it would tear him right in two. “Oh James,” he croaked. “Oh my boy!”
“I undid the wrong lifeline that day, Oscar, and for fifteen years I’ve been waiting for someone to untie my own line because I’m too much of a coward to do it myself. So…so why don’t you go ahead and cut me loose now? Let me go and make for the shore while you still have a chance.”
The suggestion stirred something in Oscar, and he fought down the sobs, clenched his fingertips, and contracted his arms. By sheer force of will he raised himself back to his feet and dropped his gaze to the controls before him. There, on the left, was the button to release the line from his boom. He could press it right now, and it would cut the cord that bound him to Harry.
Harry had said it himself, they couldn’t survive this together, so why shouldn’t Oscar cut the rope? No one would say that he hadn’t done his duty. No one would say that he hadn’t tried. He had. He really had tried his very best. But there had to be a point where they accepted this just wasn’t going to work, and they let things go.
Oscar rested his palm on the control panel, fingers stretching for the button, but his arm didn’t extend out to reach it.
Because no matter how justified he might be on paper, there was no way for Oscar to press that button without a vengeful heart. There was no way to separate his emotions from the action and to honestly say that it was a matter of procedure and nothing more. The truth is there would always be malice behind it. How could there not be? This man had killed his son!
But rather than fuel him with anger, the memory of James took away what little he had. Oscar sidestepped the controls, exited the wheelhouse, and looked vacantly upon the black horizon. What did any of it matter anymore? It was already too late. Whatever life had remained was now expired into the storm and cutting Harry loose wouldn’t change a thing. And so, Oscar stared into the abyss, arms outstretched, welcoming oblivion.
But it was not oblivion that came next. There, before Oscar’s eyes, a strange discoloration was appearing in the dark. It was a small patch of gray that grew lighter and lighter, yellower and warmer, larger and larger. At the center it became brighter and more focused, but at its edges it expanded wider and softer. And then, all at once, it pierced through the storm and became a shining light! A light that tore through all the mist and dark, crossing the great void of night, and filling Oscar’s eye!
“Sam?” he croaked.
“Is that–is that the lighthouse?” Harry’s awed voice crackled over the radio.
“Yes,” Oscar said to himself. “I do believe it is.”
Ahead of them the shoreline crawled into view as the light-beam rotated around its axis. Briefly the figure of the Broken Horn was illuminated off to the right, which the two men had evidently gotten around some time ago without even knowing it! The light briefly disappeared as it rotated landward, but then it returned to illuminate the sailors once more.
And in the face of that light Oscar could no longer consign himself to the watery depths. Now that the path was illuminated ahead, all he could think to do was follow it. So, he stepped back into his wheelhouse, placed his hands on the wheel, and slowly raised the engine back to life.
With all the power of the sea behind them the two trawlers pounded their way forward toward shore. The large waves collided with the rising seabed and broke into a rapid chorus, slippery and erratic under the boats’ sterns. But it was no matter. The shifting of the sea was meaningless noise now, and all Oscar had to do was keep his prow pointed towards land and let nature do the rest.
He didn’t try to navigate a proper landing at the dock either. Any other time it would have been the most routine of maneuvers, but today he had only enough nerve left for one unmissable target: the white sandy beach just south of the harbor. Oscar remained affixed upon it until his hull crunched across its granules, his boat keeled over to its starboard side, and everything came to a shuddering rest.
Oscar tried to let go of the helm, but his clenched hands would not accept the order. “Let go!” he cried, awkwardly wrenching them loose and stumbling sideways across the tilted deck and into the railing. Fumblingly, he tried to lower himself over the railing’s other side, but halfway across his arms gave out entirely and he landed unceremoniously in the wet sand below.
He did not try to rise from the spot. He just sat there with his back against his boat, the water lapping against his feet, the rain pelting his face, and the wind roaring in his ears. But he didn’t register any of those things. He just sat there in silence as Harry’s trawler also rolled onto the sand some twenty feet away.
“Oscar!” Harry’s voice called from above. “Oscar, where are you?!”
Harry flung himself over his own railing, landed on the wet sand with a splash, and almost ran straight into Oscar before he saw him sitting there.
“Oscar, are you alright?”
Oscar just looked up and blinked silently.
“Oscar, I–I’m sorry,” Harry cried. “I know that doesn’t change anything, but I’m sorry. I am!”
“You killed my son…” Oscar whimpered.
“I–” Harry could think of nothing to say, so he just nodded solemnly.
“I don’t know what to do, Harry. I just don’t know what to do. I’m too broken to feel or think anymore.”
“I know, Oscar.”
“I should hate you. I’m sure I will when I can feel again. Probably even want to kill you.”
There was a long silence as the two men just stared at one other. Words lost their usefulness, so they waited, and looked, and an unspoken understanding passed between them.
But the rest of the world continued around them, and presently the sound of a voice called out, coming from the long slope at the back of the beach. A lantern accompanied the voice, bobbing through the darkness towards them. It was Sam, coming to find them.
Harry regarded the bouncing lantern, then turned and extended his hand to Oscar.
“Oscar, what do you say we go and see Sam?”
“Let’s go to Sam. He’s a good man, you know. He’ll get us warm clothes and food and rest. He’ll take care of us. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Harry…I don’t know what I want.”
“I know, Oscar, but you don’t have to. Sam will know what’s best for right now…. Isn’t that enough?”
Oscar thought for a moment. Then, slowly reached out his hand and took Harry’s. Harry pulled Oscar to his feet, then got his arm around his shoulder to support him. Together they turned their backs to the shrieking sea and hobbled away, making their way towards the solitary swinging light.