“A Mile From Land” #43

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

12 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

It was the most unique surgical venue I’d ever seen. We’d sailed down to the coast of the South American continent, very near the equator. As we sailed, we received a radio distress call. As a matter of maritime law, such a signal took precedence above the standard tourist cruise. And so, we responded at full sail.

As we neared the location, we could already see the call was genuine. At first sighting, it looked like the beach was filled with sea turtles. As we neared, the reality became obvious. The beach was strewn with bodies.

‘God in heaven…’ Joe gasped and began crossing himself.

‘Look out!’ Captain Merk ordered loudly.

Joe stopped crossing himself and ran for the main mast. I’d never seen him climb so fast.

‘Come on, Sister,’ A teammate grabbed my arm. ‘We’ll be going ashore for this one, I’m sure.’

I may have been the youngest one to step ashore that day, but I wasn’t immune to the gravity or the horror. Sure, I’d seen death before, far too many times and ways. I steeled my heart as I jumped down to the life boat with my pack.

I’d seen death, natural and accidental. That, was true. But this… what waited for us on that remote beach. Well, it put the horrors I’d read about at Normandy Beach to shame. This was nothing less that a vicious massacre. A macabre scene for sure; and one that would paint itself in blood on my memory forever. Even the unpolluted sands were stained deep with blood.

At first, my hands shook as my fingers touched throats, feeling for a pulse. The viciousness of the wounds clouded and blurred my eyes as I reached up to staring eyes. As we moved quickly from body to body, we all uttered an endless prayer for the slain. Each body, we stopped.

Check pulse… check breathing… close eyes, move on.

We didn’t take time to be shocked.

We didn’t take time to be frightened, or to think of our own safety.

We had a job to do, and we did it as quickly as was humanly possible.

Tears welled and fell unheeded. I didn’t have the luxury of time to feel. I gritted my teeth, closed eyes, and moved on. I lost count.

We tried to save the few we found still alive. In mercy, several were shot. Their injuries well above our abilities to save. For the others, it was a losing battle, but we tried. Death had won far too many souls that day. None of us came through without affect.

Then, we became grave diggers. We moved in silence, unable to utter sounds for fear of screaming. Behind us, we could hear the echoes of steel drums.

The tourists…

They were partying away; most completely unaware of what was happening on the beach. All the while that we tended to the dying and the dead, Joe and three other sailors were in the crow’s nest. Their eyes were glued to binoculars, scanning the seas. Watching. I frowned in their direction.

‘Pirates.’ Diane explained. ‘This is the work of pirates.’

‘Seriously?’ I cocked my head while trying to wash blood from my hands. ‘Pirates aren’t really real.’

‘Oh, Sweetie, they are real, entirely too real.’ Diane shook her head. ‘This is what they leave in their wake.’ She gestured to the mass grave being filled with bodies at the edge of the jungle. ‘This is the reality of life at sea.’

I blinked several times. My dreams of this life being paradise on Earth quickly becoming tarnished and as stained with blood as the sands.

 

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“A Mile From Land” #42

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

11 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

Sitting in the presence of God.

Not flipping through a hymnal or Bible; and not clicking through beads on a rosary…

… Just sitting.

Sitting in silence.

That’s just what I was doing… sitting.

Behind me, I could sense Ian’s presence. It was so quiet in the sanctuary that I believed I could even hear him breathe. He was there, and try as I might, I just couldn’t focus my mind on prayer, even the rote prayers of my childhood failed to find their way to my lips. All I could think about was how good it had felt at Bequia when he’d held me in his arms while we watched the sunset.

It was no use. I sighed and slowly rose to my feet. Turning around, I looked for Ian. He should have been there – last pew, right by the door. He wasn’t there. I spun around, scanning all the pews. Where was he? He’d insisted on following me like a stray dog; and now, he was gone. I growled.

‘Just like him…’ I grunted under my breath. ‘Well, I am not going to stand around here waiting for you.’

I walked towards the rear of the sanctuary, scanning the shadowy recesses as I did. Nope, no Ian to be found. Opening the door, I stepped through.

There, across the street was the man who had stalked me before. I gulped, turned, and stepped back into the church to meet with a hard chest and strong arms.

I screamed.

I fainted…

I woke shortly thereafter to a hand patting my cheeks a little on the hard side.

‘Sarai? Wake up, Sealbaby. Wake up, now.’ Ian’s voice was strong with concern.

I blinked up at him.

‘He – He-… ‘ I tried to jump up from the pew. ‘That man – he -he…’

‘Whoa, there, Sarai.’ He caught me as I swayed and sat back down. ‘Now, slow down. Take a deep breath, and start over. What man?’

‘He – he – he tried to snatch me. I – I ran through – through the open market. I – He – he almost – gulp-  got me.’ I stuttered. ‘He- he’s outside. I saw him on the curb – waiting for me. I stepped out- side – and he – he was – was there.’ I pointed towards the door.

Ian rose and went to the door, swinging it open. ‘There’s no one out here for blocks, Sarai.’

I began to shake, feeling dizzy. ‘You – you don’t believe me, do you?’

‘I believe you, Sealbaby.’ He came back to pull me into his arms. ‘I believe you. Shh, I’ve got your back. No one is going to snatch you under my watch.’

 

“A Mile From Land” #41

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

10 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

Our circuit of the Islands finally brought us back to our home port – Grenada’s St. George’s Harbor. I have to say that a month at sea had changed me in more ways than one. Physically, my body had become pencil thin except for the gentle bulge of my abdomen. Still, I hardly looked like I was pregnant at all. In the mirror, I’d noticed a new twinkle to my eye and color to my cheeks.

I’d become aware of when my baby was awake by the butterflies that tickled my stomach. And every time they fluttered, I thought of Phillip. At times, I could almost hear his quirky little laugh and felt that he was watching over us.

We had a day of shore leave, and I chose to venture up the hill to the church. Maybe, I could slip inside and say prayers, or light a candle in Phillip’s memory. The walk up the hill was more tiring than I thought it would be. By the time I was halfway there, I had to pause.

‘Hey, Lassie, wait up.’ Ian joined me just as I reached the church steps.

‘Out… breath…’ I gasped, reaching out to the church wall for support as I ducked my head.

‘Did you forget about the buddy system, or do you seriously have a death wish?’ He asked as he reached out to tip my face up.

I pursed my lips and growled. ‘Last I heard, Church was a safe place. Besides, I prefer not to have an audience when I’m praying.’

‘Too damn bad, Sealbaby.’ He crossed his arms over his chest. ‘You are just too pretty to be out here without a man. I mean that, too. Even dressed in that habit; ugly as it is, you’ve still got curves that would drive a man insane with want.’

When he put it that bluntly, I couldn’t help but blush red. I didn’t really think that I was all that pretty, especially not with my growing middle. But, I refused to give in.

‘I don’t need you watching me pray.’ I growled deeply.

‘How about we pray together, then?’ He attempted to compromise.

With a huff, I began to climb the church steps.

 

“A Mile From Land” #40

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

9 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

I was standing at the helm, lining the sprit up with the lighthouse in the distance when I felt it. It was like the flutter of a butterfly resting on your hand; a gentle tickle, almost. I touched my stomach anxiously. The seas were far too calm for it to be seasickness. The more I felt the flutter the more anxious I became. I looked around the deck for another sailor. There was usually at least one checking the riggings. Tonight, because of the calm seas, the deck was empty and quiet. I couldn’t just leave the helm unattended to step down into the ready room, not this close to land; but, the door to the ready was open, as it always was.

‘Captain?’ I called out as calmly as I could.

‘Whatcha need, Sister?’ Joe asked, poking his head out of the portal.

‘Uh- I – um – I don’t feel so well.’ I reluctantly admitted, putting a hand to my  stomach.

Joe called back for the Command Officer, then came out to join me. A few seconds later, First Officer Tamba came out to take over the wheel, ordering Joe to escort me to Diane’s quarters.

Shortly thereafter, Diane yawned as I explained my feelings. Smiling, she quickly checked me out, declaring I was in perfect health. ‘Sarai, you’re just feeling your baby move. It’s a good thing.’ Diane smiled. ‘You should be feeling it move more often, now.’

‘I – really?’ I looked down to the small bulge in my abdomen with disbelief.

‘Yes, really. A few more months and this little one will be wiggling in your arms. It’s time for you to start planning for that, too.’ She patted my hand. ‘ For now, why don’t you go back to your watch. I’m going back to bed.’ Diane yawned again, pushing me towards the hatchway.

Outside of Diane’s quarters, I found Ian waiting.

‘Are you okay, Sarai?’ He asked as he pushed off the bulkhead.

‘Yes, I – it was just the baby moving.’ I put a hand to my stomach.

He reached out for my hands. ‘Oh, Baby, you’re — aww, Lassie.’ He pulled me into a hug, tilting my chin for a kiss. ‘You’re gonna make a great mother, Sarai. I just know it.’

‘I’ve got to get back to the helm, Ian.’ I gently pulled away.

I went back to my post in time to sail us into the harbor. All the while, I was distracted by the reality  I’d been trying to forget. All too soon, I knew, the baby would be wanting to come into the world. Much too soon, I thought. I was alone. How was I going to raise a child? I surely wouldn’t be able to do so on ship. But, where else did I have to go?

“A Mile From Land” #39

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

8 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

We swam out to the leeward side of the moonhole and climbed up the rocks with waterproof packs on our shoulders. We climbed through the hole and paused to look out at the endless horizon.

‘It’s heavenly.’ I sighed as I swung the heavy pack off my shoulders.

‘Just wait an hour.’ Ian grinned. ‘We’re going to camp up there.’ He pointed to the abandoned ruins chipped out of the rock.

‘Reminds me of the Native American ruins out west.’ I noted.

‘Except here, there aren’t any rattlesnakes lying in wait.’ He chuckled as he picked up my pack.

‘Snakes? There aren’t any snakes, are there? Oh, please, tell me there aren’t any snakes.’ Anxiety shook my voice as I froze in place.

‘Okay. There are no snakes.’ He winked with a smile.

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Hey, you told me to tell you that.’ He jovially defended.

‘Seriously, Ian. I’m not joking.’ I pleaded.

‘The likelihood of snakes is very slim. There’s not much food for them out here. Closer to the jungle over there, yeah. But, here, doubtful.’ He gestured for me to go first.

‘No, you go first. I don’t trust you that much. You think my fear is funny.’ I pointed.

‘Sealbaby, I would never think your fear is anything less than real.’ He reached out to squeeze my shoulder. ‘And, if it will put you at ease, I’ll always lead and clear the way.’ He leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

By the time we’d unpacked and set up camp, the sun was beginning to paint the sky. We sat on an outcropping, side by side, watching the sunset.

‘Now, that is heaven.’ Ian’s voice filled with awe. ‘We’ll see a million other sunsets, but we’ll always remember this one.’ He leaned back against the stone wall and drew me back into his arms. ‘Everyone deserves at least one heavenly experience in life. This is ours.’

I thought I’d had mine the day I married my betrothed. That day paled into nothingness compared to this moment. I sighed, snuggling deep into the strong embrace of someone who cared for me just for being me. It didn’t get better than that, did it?

 

“A Mile From Land” #38

“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)

7 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985

Dear One,

Barracuda!

‘Get me outa here!’ I screamed as I came out of the water, instantly climbing onto Ian’s shoulders.

What he most likely heard was a garbled scream through the snorkel. Good thing that the end had been out of the water, or I would have drowned myself then and there. Ian wrapped me in his arms as he laughed hysterically. It made me so angry that I started punching on his chest. Still, he laughed.

‘Oh, my little Squid-bait. That is just a baby barracuda.’ He pointed to the little fish that couldn’t have been more than twelve inches long.

‘It’s all teeth!’ I cried. ‘It was gonna eat me!’

Ian chuckled some more. ‘Oh, Sealbaby, you only need to fear the ones that are bigger than you.’ He slapped the water and the fish high-tailed it away.

I was shaking with fear by that point. Ian hugged me to his chest and kissed the top of my head. ‘I love my little Sealbaby.’

I frowned. ‘Why do you call me that?’ I demanded, pushing away from him.

‘You swim like a seal.’ He explained. ‘You swim deep and stay down for a long time for a land-lubber, Lassie. You ever consider enlisting?’

‘I don’t know how to swim; so, no.’

‘Oh, Baby, the Navy will teach you.’ He grinned.

‘I’ve tried. Trust me, I can’t coordinate my hands, arms, and breathe at the same time.’

‘But, you swim like a seal.’ He winked. ‘Ah, Lassie, you’re a conundrum.’

Then, he pulled me back to him, and kissed me like I’d never been kissed in all my life; not even by my husband. He pulled me under and I quickly learned we could breath off of each other’s lungs. All thoughts of barracuda’s and becoming fish food vanished.

 

 

 

Floatsom

js-brand

C. J.S. Brand

She floated low, eyes just above the surface. The dock looked desolate, the boats empty. She couldn’t trust what she saw, so she floated like any one of the other decaying bodies on the river.

Did she dare to float closer?

Maybe hope for a few hours on dry land?

The Soldiers laughing as they blasted away at her people still ricocheted in her mind. The water lapped past her eyes, still stained red, a reminder. No, the risk was still too great.

She ducked back down below the surface and kicked as hard as she could downstream.

wc: 98

 

This work of fiction is written as part of the Friday Fictioneers 100 word writing challenge hosted weekly by the lovely Rochelle Wisoff-fields.  If you’re up to a good challenge, or even a really awesome reading experience, these little stories are well worth your time. A Huge thank you goes to JS Brand for his photo this week. Come on out and join us at: https://rochellewisoff.com/ . We’d love to see you around the table.