“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
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.
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.