Ice, lock, wind
I am a dead man. Zack bobbed like a cork in the black waters of the Bering Strait. His bright orange survival suit covered most of his body but his head was getting hammered by one wave after another. He had long ago ceased to feel his fingers and toes. In the end, the ocean promises only cold and darkness.
The coming night would bring no relief. A nearby ship came to help. It arrived just as his crab boat Mare Belle was sinking. The rescuers pulled the crew to safety from the frigid waters but a froth of white water sucked Zack from the arms of his rescuer as a huge wave slammed into them. In the dark he was quickly swept away from the scene. He tried to save his breath, with the thunderous roar of waves crashing overhead there was no point in yelling; yet there was a moment when the searchlight had come so close… he had yelled with all his might, but no. It stopped short of him as it swept past, leaving him sputtering and choking on seawater.
It was January, and the storm had come upon them quickly. Zack informed the crew that a winter storm was on the way and that he was returning to port. They headed in as quickly as possible, but the wind and waves overtook them faster than anyone could have anticipated. They would have made it to port had the engine not gone out. With nine crew members onboard, Zack wasted no time making the distress call and in the end – it had been enough. Everyone made it out before his beloved Mare Belle went down. He would never forget the sight of her bow retreating from his view, sinking out of sight into the freezing water. As it sank a tarp caught on a hook and fluttered wildly in the current, looking for all the world like Mare Belle had thrown an arm out as if to say, save me! The tarp, seen through the water, quickly turned green and disappeared to find a new home in the fathoms below.
A new worry, if he drifted far enough he would soon be near the ice fields and that brought a whole new set of dangers. Well, he thought between breaths, I can only die once. I’ll never make it long enough in this storm to be crushed by icebergs. The waves continued to batter him as the monster overhead raged. He had lost all sense of direction and time, there was nothing but cold and water. He could no longer feel his face and in fact felt a bit warm. Zack stifled a yawn. Hypothermia was setting in. It wouldn’t be long now. How easy would it be to simply go to sleep. Was he swimming? He couldn’t feel his arms and legs anymore. The suit was the only thing keeping him alive. Zack had put it on and locked the zipper just seconds before grabbing for the rope the rescue boat had thrown to him. How close he had been to safety? He would never know. His battered body had been in the water for hours now and the only questions left were when and how this would end.
Something bumped him from behind. He tried to swing his head around. What have we here, he thought bleakly, an iceberg or is it just a shark come calling? There were many ways to die out here. Being eaten by a shark might be a blessing. Jack was afraid of drowning, of going down like the Mare Belle, arms stretched out in supplication. The unknown assailant bumped him again and jerked on his suit. He felt pressure on his neck. This is it then, this is it.
Lord forgive me my sins, he thought calmly. Take care of Marie and my boys. Thank you for getting the crew out. He felt the bump again and felt himself being dragged. Stay with me Lord, please stay with me! It was so hard to breath. He couldn’t see… it was so dark. So dark! Please, please!
Within moments his body crashed down on a hard surface. He was on his side. The storm still raged overhead but he was no longer floating. An iceberg? He still couldn’t see a damn thing but he didn’t care. He drifted off. Rest. Just a minute of rest. His last thought as he slipped away, Marie. Marie and the boys.
Muffled sounds pulled him slowly to consciousness.
“Mmm auughhh!” Zack screamed again as a warm cloth was laid on his face. It was barely warm but to his freezing skin it might have been molten lava. He screamed again and shook his head.
“Hold him Joe, hold his head.” A man said then turned to Zack.” Hold still mister, we got to get this ice off your face.”
“Get a blanket on him Martin; we’re going to lose him if we don’t!” A voice said grimly.
Zack shivered violently. “C-can’t s-see.”
“Your eyes are iced shut mister,” said someone. “I swear I ain’t never seen nothing like it before. Yer mouth and nose was just about covered over too. I don’t know how yer even breathing…”
“Shut up Joe, get out.” The grim voice was back. “The hell is the matter with you?”
Rough hands stripped him of the survival suit and rubbed his arms and legs.
“We’ve got to get some circulation going.” Yet another voice said. The rubbing hurt terribly and Zack felt himself slipping away again.
When he awoke the next time, everything was quiet except for the steady beep of a monitor somewhere. He heard a door open and a rustling by his bedside. Soft hands caressed his face and he knew them.
“M..arie,” his throat was swollen, it was hard to speak. “Am I dead?”
She didn’t answer with words, not at first. She kissed his bandaged eye, his nose, his ears and his neck. Tears mingling with her lips, she held his face and together they cried. She sat by his side and they held each other. He would never see again out of his left eye and his swim in the maelstrom would leave him with a permanent limp… but he was alive.
Was he blessed? Time would tell. All he knew was how the icy grip of the ocean had felt and how different that was from the hands that held him now. He would purchase another boat and brave the sea again some other day, but today? Today he lived.