Lost at Sea
Lost at Sea
Published by Spatium
Written by David J Meyer
The stars lit up the cloudless sky that night. He watched them sway in the distance as the waves rocked him to sleep. The old man’s eyes became hazy as his mind drifted in and out of consciousness. Pure bliss amid the vast ocean. His true feelings were quite contrary to bliss, but perhaps more fitting. What else should one feel when trapped in the vastness of the ocean, lost with no way home? Tossing in the waves of loneliness, falling asleep regardless.
After months at sea alone, the old man had gotten used to it. He wasn’t supposed to be out more than a day. He was supposed to get enough fish to feed his wife and then head home. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months as he journeyed, trying to find his way home.
He’d finally accepted this new reality as each day became routine. He’d wake up with the blaring sun, catch a fish, sulk in the realization he’d never see his wife again, manage to eat, and then he’d watch the sun sink below the horizon hoping that was the night he’d drift off for good. Day and night, he did this.
But that night was different. That night he heard a voice.
In the distance, a young boy approached. He was swimming in the middle of the ocean! He trod water for who knows how long, ready to give up himself and let the depths take him. At the last moment, he saw it. A glimpse of hope. As the sun was setting it shined on the little rickety sailboat on the horizon like a beam of light from God himself. He began swimming as fast as he could, calling out with all the energy he had left! “Help! Help!”
The old man jumped into action. He grabbed a rope and thrust it out to the boy, but it was too short. The boy’s calls were now duller and duller. The old man peered into the hopeless darkness. The silent rocking of the waves came back. The old man sat down, thinking it might have all been a dream. Then one final splash and a loud, “help!” came over the stillness. The old man jumped out of the boat and swam to where he’d heard the boy. He felt around, feeling nothing but thick saltwater all around. Then he felt it. A shirt. The first feeling of peace he’d felt in months. He grabbed the boy and thrust him into the sailboat.
The boy was coughing but managed to say, “thank you, sir, you saved my life.”
“Just take it easy. Breathe slow and steady, ok?”
Coughing still, “I’m Howie.”
“It’s ok, Howie. You’re fine now. My name is Captain Earl Yonkers. Now take some rest.”
When the morning light crested above the horizon, Earl could see the young boy in full light. Raggedy clothes and hair. Young for sure. No more than 17. “What happened, Howie? How’d you end up way out here?”
“Could ask you the same thing, captain. I was shipwrecked over yonder.” He was pointing east towards the sun.
“You were alone?”
“Yes sir,” Howie looked down in dismay, “I stole the family boat, I thought I could do it myself. My pa, he’s been sick, and my ma said we were out of money with the depression and all.” Hot tears welled in Howie’s eyes.
“How’d you shipwreck? There’s no barge, reef, or pirate in these waters.”
Howie didn’t want to answer, “it’s just a stupid thing.” Earl raised an eyebrow and looked at him with a prying expression. “There was that storm the other night. I don’t know what happened, the mainsail blew hard and I thought if I held it steady all would be fine. Next thing I knew I heard a loud snap, felt a hard knock on my head, and woke up with the boat sinking. I was groggy and scared, didn’t know what to do, and before I knew it the whole boat was underwater.”
“This happened the other night?”
“You swam for 2 whole days?”
“I had a life vest.”
Earl stared at the boy and saw he was ashamed. “You must be hungry then?”
“Oh yes sir!”
Earl took the rest of the morning to show Howie how to cast an old-fashioned net and after a couple of hours, they had enough fish for a king’s feast!
“Just eat it raw?” A flash of disgust passed over Howie’s face.
“Here,” Earl took the fish and cut it up in a bag with some lemons. “Shake this up and then eat it. It’s delicious.”
Howie was too hungry to complain, and to his surprise, Earl was right, it was delicious. They each ate 3 fish.
“Can you take me home, you think?”
Earl responded in a blank, detached tone, “no.”
“I promise we’ll pay you!”
“Thought you said you had no money?”
“Then I’ll work for you! Anything! I just wanna see my ma and pa!”
“Truth be told, boy. I’m lost too. I’ve been out here 6 months longer than I was supposed to be.”
The boy was distraught, but an idea sparked. “Well! I’m pretty good with the stars and direction and stuff! Maybe I can help!”
Earl looked at the boy; his hope was contagious. A smile rose on his face for the first time in a long time. “Raise the anchor then!” He was pointing to the back of the boat.
Howie had a hard time raising the anchor, salt had glued it down like it hadn’t moved in a month. He thought it was peculiar but pulled harder until it came loose, and they set sail!
Earl watched as the meticulous young boy chose their heading. He lost his compass in the wreck and had to rely on the surroundings. Earl was filled with hope as he saw a young version of himself in the boy. Energetic, smart, and adventurous spirit.
“I think we go that way, away from the sun. Keep it straight and we should see land by this time tomorrow!”
“If you say so, Howie. We’ll give it a shot,” said Earl as he turned the helm.
“Captain Earl?” Howie asked, shamefully.
Howie’s embarrassment overcame him, “never mind.”
“Spit it out!”
“Well, with all due respect. How come you’ve been lost all this time? A fisherman like you must have known to sail west?”
Earl recognized Howie was smart and had to come up with a good excuse, “I’m old, Howie. Perhaps I shouldn’t’ve gone on that last journey. Perhaps I should have stayed home with my wife. When you get old, things start to slip away. Things you never thought you’d lose.”
Howie felt bad for the old man and tried to change the subject. “What’s your wife like?”
“She’s wonderful! She is the most loving person you could ever wish to meet!” Earl’s words floated over the sound of the waves like a poetic addition to the environment. Howie listened as the captain told all about his wife. How she was always by his side, supported his fishing career even though he wasn’t a natural-born fisher. She pushed him to become a better man, and he did all because of her. As he talked, his voice became more and more somber. His eyes became downcast, “and you know, Howie. When I’m not with her, it’s just awful. I feel lost when I’m not at her side. Like something is missing.”
Howie was determined, “Well then it’s settled, captain! We’re going to get you home to see her!” Earl’s spirits were lifted, the childish hope the boy had was empowering. “What is her name?”
“Delores,” Earl said, wiping the tears from his face, “her name is Delores Yonkers.” He sniffled and turned to the boy, “and Howie. We’ll get you to your ma and pa.”
Their downcast eyes met and an involuntary smile raised on both their faces. “Full speed ahead then!” Yelled Howie.
The two of them sailed on in silence for some time. The wind was strong that day as they sped across the open waters. It wasn’t too much longer until they saw it in the distance. Peaks, crests, and what looked to be buildings!
“There it is sir! Town!”
Earl was startled awake and looked out in the distance. His vision wasn’t what it used to be and just saw a blurry horizon. “If you say so, kid.”
Howie didn’t hear him; he just stared out with a smile on his face. As they approached the shore, the other fishermen started chattering on the docks.
“Is that the old man?”
“Thought he was dead for sure.”
“Lost out at sea, I heard.”
A solemn, frail woman approached the docks. “Who is it?” The woman asked one of the fishermen.
“This crazy old fisherman who took off months ago. We thought he’d gotten lost at sea.” A tear rolled down her face. Not one of joy but disappointment. “But it looks like he’s got someone with him. A young boy. Don’t know who that is.”
A spark lit up her face and a smile crested, “that’s gotta be him!”
“My boy! It’s gotta be my boy!”
It took the two of them another hour to reach the shore, but when they did Howie’s ma was the first to greet them! “Howie! You’re ok!” She ran up and hugged him, tears streaming down their faces!
“Oh, ma! I’m sorry I left. I just...I thought -”
“Never mind that! We’re just happy you’re home!”
“I destroyed the boat, ma! It’s gone!”
“But you’re not! Come on, we’ve got to get you home to see your pa!”
“How is pa?”
“He’s doing better! He will be delighted you’re home!”
Howie started to walk with his ma but stopped to look back at Earl. “Ma?”
“I want you to meet Captain Earl,” Howie took her by the hand and dragged her over. “He’s the one that saved my life!”
Earl responded, “more like your boy that saved mine. I’ve been lost out there for who knows how long. Thought I’d never make it home, but your boy showed me the way. Gave me hope.”
“He has a way of doing that,” Howie’s mom said, “still, our appreciation is boundless! Surely you must come over for dinner!”
Howie spoke up, “Earl has to get home to see his wife! They haven’t seen each other in 6 months!” Then he looked up at Earl, “but maybe you could bring her over too! I’d sure like to meet her!”
A tear rolled down Earl’s face. “Perhaps you’d come with me then?”
The three of them walked down the cobblestone path, Earl leading the way. It was a quaint little town, full of memories. They walked past a little church and Earl paused. He breathed a deep sigh.
“What are we doing here, Earl?” Howie asked.
“Follow me.” Earl led them up the little stairs to the church courtyard and then around the back of the church. They walked down a little path and stopped at a stone. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Howie.” They all looked down at a gravestone that read, “Delores Yonkers, 1856-1931.”
Earl bent down and started to speak, “Delores. I made it home at last. There is someone very special I want you to meet. The young boy who gave me my hope back. Who saved my life.”
Earl went home with Howie to eat dinner that night and continued every week for many years. It filled him with excitement to watch Howie grow from a young boy into a proud and honorable man. Howie looked forward to every one of those dinners and enjoyed them for many years. Eventually, after many years, Howie helped Earl home one last time as he laid him down to rest next to his wife.