Monday, October 27, 2014

First Shot (59)

Blow was watching the egg yolk sun darken to a rich orange as it spread toward the horizon when a ragged black maw reached up and snapped it out of the sky, swallowing it whole. Suddenly it was night. A black night as there was no other light, no moon, no stars. Then, as if the sun gave out a last brilliant gasp in its struggle to live, a blinding silver incandescence lit the entire sky. The flash lasted less than a second, Blow reckoned, but it burned a vestigial image into his retinas of furious coiling nimbi seemingly all around overhead.

The boat rocked abruptly as Blow sensed rapid motion in front of him. He guessed Salzwedel had wheeled on his seat to look back. “What...” It was the teacher's voice, rising from its sonorous baritone and disappearing into an angry earth-shaking rumble that intensified in volume and passion as it rolled toward them and past from a direction opposite where the sun had been. The gust that came with the thunder was the fiercest yet,and it held longer than the others and brought a blast of icy pellets that stung the face and hands like hail. The next voice Blow heard came from behind. It was high pitched, and it pierced through all of the other sounds and reached his ears as if through a headset.
Hang onto them seats, boys, and stay still. Don't move none. She'll get us there.”
Despite its reedy tenor, from a voice that up to then had carried a rasping tribute to whiskey, tobacco and a boatman's life, there was nothing shrill or fearful in Frank Rust's ascendant octave. His voice was steady with confidence, bespeaking many a time in just such circumstances. He simply wanted to be heard and understood.
Damn nor'easter. Won't s'posed to be int'l t'morr. She come up fast.”
Blow's hands clung to the aluminum seat in a death grip while the rest of him locked onto Rust's confident voice and the motor's sturdy whine as to a faint beacon signaling through a maelstrom from a distant shore. Powerful rain-swollen gusts battered the little boat as it pitched and rolled in seas turned ugly if unseen, and then revealing all its churning menace in another electrical display. This time Blow saw beyond the black frothing waves a dark strip etched along the horizon in the direction they were heading. Turtle Island, he guessed, although it seemed much further now than when they'd pushed off from the landing.
He counseled himself that this had to be an illusion, that they couldn't be moving backward or gotten turned in the wrong direction. Not with Frank Rust at the helm. Yet, Blow found himself faced with unwanted thoughts of death. Agnostic, albeit with an intuitive weakness for superstition, he wasn't a prayerful man, and when he did on rare occasions call silently upon an unknown power beyond his capacity for reason he always felt a tad silly later. This would seem a likely time for such a private heresy, he knew, but because it occurred to him the outcome might well determine whether he lived or died a notion of integrity took hold in an instant with enough gravity to persuade him a stoic end might make the best impression on any ethereal authority that might be watching and might actually give a damn.
He took heart from this commitment and chewed on it through dozens more pitches, rolls, leaps, slaps upon the waves and lightning and rumbling and the freezing rain's continual strafing until a new sensation and its aural accompaniment upended the terror with one even worse. The sound reached Blow first. A sudden revving of the boat's motor to resemble that of an airplane roaring down a runway for takeoff. It sounded as if the throttle had broken or gotten jammed all the way open and that the motor screaming louder and louder would burst at any second.
Then came the airborne part. This didn't last long, though, perhaps no longer than it took Frank Rust to shout, “WE GOIN O'R!” It was a roll that overturned the boat. The momentum tore Blow's hands from the aluminum plank and threw him into the water. The shock of finding himself under water had him scrambling mentally to find words for a prayer despite his pledge for a stoic passage to The Great Mystery. Then his feet hit something and the water wings popped his head above the surface. He heard Rust's voice.
God damn sandbar. Damn!” Rust was resting against the upturned boat, his arms across its bottom. He'd managed to choke off the motor and was shaking his head and spitting. “God damn!” Then, “Where's that other guy?”

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