The boat reeked of fish.
I supposed that should be at the bottom of my list of concerns, but right now, the moon shining on me like a cruel spotlight as my sore arms rowed and rowed and rowed, it was the only thing that I could think of. Dead fish overflowed from my bucket in the corner of my small wooden boat, in the middle of the Atlantic.
It was day five of being stuck out here, and nobody was going to come save me. I was going to die soon. I knew this like I knew my own name. The truth had settled into my tired, hollow bones days ago. And now the ocean was calm. Too calm.
My hair was sticky and matted to my forehead. I ran my fingers, dry skin and cracked knuckles, along the splintering side of the boat. My skin, pale and sickly, contrasted sharply against the dark wood. I peered over the edge. On the second and third day, ominous dark shapes had lurked just under the surface, but they had disappeared long ago.
I hesitated briefly before reaching for my water bottle. I had run out of drinking water many days before, and now it was filled with seawater. I had no way of purifying it, so I left it out every single morning, when the sun would beat down on the boat. It seemed to help somewhat. My t-shirt, which tasted of sweat, was wrapped around the top of the bottle, filtering the water, at least a little.
I held the bottle to my dry lips, drinking slowly so it would seem like more. The salt water burned my throat as it went down, and it would probably kill me even faster than not drinking water, but it was impossible to resist the urge of drinking when you were floating in a giant body of water.
My own body, however, was not faring as well as the water. Nearly every part of my body was sunburned, and I was always tired but could no longer sleep.
I picked up a fish from the bucket, the scales slippery against my fingers, the dead eyes glossy and staring at me. I stared back at them before biting into the flesh. This was how I would stay alive, until I died and my decomposing body was eaten by the creatures of the ocean.
I was not scared of dying, I had convinced myself on the fourth day. But if that was true, why didn’t I jump out of the boat now, swim until my legs turned to lead and my arms turned to jelly and I was no longer able to stay a float? If that was true, why did I still catch fish and scoop up water in the morning?
I stared into the murky reflection of the full moon in the water. “I am not scared to die,” I whispered, my lips cracking and bleeding as I did so, my voice hoarse and unrecognizable. I had not spoken in days. “I am not scared to die.”
I scoffed at the water, rocking with small waves, an endless abyss. “I am not scared to die,” I repeated, a little louder.
Still there was no response.
What was I expecting anyway? Someone to pop up, shake my blistered, red hand, and give me a prize? And then what? Would I go back to land on a yacht, and would everyone call me brave, just because I was not scared to die? It was a stupid fantasy, but it did not stop me from trying again.
“I am not scared to die!” I yelled, my voice cracking halfway, my throat scorching, my tongue swollen and ou t of place in my mouth. There was no echo, no sign that anything had been fazed by my presence.
Maybe my body would be deposited on the shore of some island, and then I would wake up on the shores of Hell.
I laughed, an unnatural, ironic sound. My eyes stung and salty liquid ran down my face, filling in the cracks of my lips, running past my chin and dripping into my lap. I told myself it was seawater. I reached up for my face, wiping away the moisture, and I left red marks from the blood of the fish.
“I am not scared to die,” I told myself and the great blue ocean. My body was weak and fragile, the body of water was not. I would die and the water would not.
I sat up, my mind longing for home, my fingers reaching for the oars. Again I propelled the boat forward, and again the smell of the fish filled my nose.
Nobody would miss me anyway. Nobody would bother looking for me. Nobody would give a rat’s ass about me when I died. I was just another fisherman who had ventured too far out.
The water had been unnaturally still for the last twenty minutes, the boat sliding across the surface like a hot knife slicing through butter. I already knew what it meant, but I did not stop rowing. Rain tapped my shoulders and soaked my hair, going from a light drizzle to a storm within minutes. And then the wind started to blow, and my boat rocked back and forth.
Any moment now, I told myself, though I had been telling myself this again and again, over and over, as the waves had become smaller and smaller. Any moment a rogue wave will come and I will drown.
And when the wave did come, a gray towering monster, angry and unforgiving, I did not try to row away. I did not close my eyes. I did not brace for impact. Instead, I sat still, letting go of the oars that had gotten me this far. They sunk, and in a few seconds, I could no longer see them. Then I exhaled, very slowly. I picked up my fishing rod to throw it off the boat too, and the hook carved into the back of my right hand, digging into my flesh. I pulled the metal out of my skin slowly. I did not care about the pain, because this might be the lat thing I would feel. As I threw the rod off the boat too, thick crimson blood ran down my arm and dripped into the water, creating a messy, red swirl. It would not have time to become a scar.
My body was weak, my body was cold, but most importantly, my body was tired.
I stared up at the wave, which raced towards me with a monstrous sound, the sound of the power of the ocean, but it was not nearly as loud as the roaring in my ears. It was not nearly as strong as the smell of the fish.
“I am not scared to die,” I whispered.
Then it all came crashing down.