Adrift On A Raft

By

Stephanie Kellerman

Stephke@iglou.com.

The clouds that rolled in saved Harriman Nelson from the sun later that morning. The only times during the day that were comfortable were dawn and dusk. The nights were cold and the days, usually, were hot. He couldn't save himself from the horror of the raft, but the alternative was definitely worse. He wondered how long he had been adrift. He had been having trouble thinking after being knocked unconscious in the crash. Dizziness, at times, came in waves. He figured it had to be a couple of weeks and possibly longer. He wasn't sure anymore. The days were running together now. It was just periods of light and periods of dark. It didn't make any difference.

He did know that no one knew where to look for them; they weren't supposed to be there. He was supposed to be half way around the world, but he had gotten a call about some new findings on a project that a fellow scientist, Dr. Reddick, was working and he decided to go check it out.....without telling anyone, of course. And since Reynolds was with him at the time he dragged Reynolds along. The radio had gone out and the homing beacon wasn't working either. They had been flying in the calm sky when FS1 shook uncontrollably and they crashed into the sea. Harry thought about sabotage and knew he would have to check that out if he ever got back. Nelson had hit his head in the crash and would have drowned if it weren't for Reynolds.

After waking up, Harry had found himself in the rubber raft that was kept on board. He found out that before FS1 had time to sink, young Jimmy Reynolds had deployed the raft, thrown in a few meager supplies and not only dumped him into the raft, but also fended off a shark while he was unconscious. He didn't realize just how hurt Reynolds was. He found out just how much later. Reynolds was the one who had paid for his mistakes. He remembered the last thing Tom Reynolds said to him, "Take care of my boy, Harry. He's not used to all this excitement you seem to dredge up!" They had both laughed at the time. He wasn't laughing now.

He stared at Jimmy and thought of another time he was on a make shift raft. The day that Foster slipped beneath the waves, never to be seen again, seemed of a time so far in the past; now seemed like a bad dream. He wondered if it would have been easier that way.

Bringing his mind to the present, he brought his eyes back into focus on what used to be a young man in his prime. The first couple of days had Jimmy taking care of him. Harry seemed to have gotten the worse injuries. He had been knocked unconscious and had several cuts and bruises. Later Jimmy started complaining of abdominal pains and had started coughing blood. Apparently he had some internal injuries and hadn't complained of having any pain earlier. He had only died the previous day, but his body had suffered horribly during the night.

The ever-present sharks had taken their toll. They knew there was a meal in that raft and they were trying there best to get to it. They had repeatedly rammed the side of the raft where the body lay and the skin seemed to sag from the punishment. They could never really get to it though and it just seemed to make them mad. For some reason he just couldn't make himself get rid of the body. If anything it was company. And he just couldn't do that to him. Reynolds had saved his life He could at least bring his body back to his family. They weren't Navy. The thought of burial at sea probably never occurred to them. Being optimistic, he figured he would be rescued soon anyway, before the body became rank. He decided he would hold onto Jimmy a little longer.

After a lengthy night putting up with the incessant attack, the shark escort seemed to leave him alone that day. They even quit bumping and nudging the fragile raft. The flotilla of seven sharks stayed abreast of the raft as it floated to only God knew where. He had an idea what direction he was heading, but since he had been out for a while, he wasn't really sure where he was because the cloud cover had hidden the stars.

He regretted losing his watch. It had been torn loose from his wrist when it got caught on the side of the raft as he dove towards a sea gull. The bird seemed to stare at him in disdain as it leisurely flapped just out of his reach seemingly teasing him. Trying to catch the bird was probably futile, but he had tried anyway and lost his watch in the attempt. It would have been a great help. He chided himself for his stupidity.

Looking at his plastic flask, he noticed it had about a fourth of a cup of water in it. He was grateful that Jimmy had the foresight to make that one of the items he had thrown in the raft. He could live without food a lot longer than he could water. The MRE's had run out a couple of days before. Noticing the clouds milling into the horizon from the west, he hoped that they would bring the rain soon. He was now down to limiting himself to only a sip a day and his throat suffered for it. It was getting harder and harder to swallow. He again looked at the clouds in the distance and prayed they were headed his way.

The sun beat down on him and feeling the effects of the heat, Harry sank down into the water that was sitting at the bottom of the raft. Since it was salty, it burned the cuts and abrasions he gotten from the crash and the sores he was rapidly developing from the sun, but it was the only thing that helped keep him cool during the day. His shirt had long been tattered and lost to the sea. He had resorted to using Reynolds shirt now. Even it had holes in it. He had torn the lower part of Reynolds pants off to fashion a hat of sorts to help keep the sun off his head. His own pants were in tatters.

The rain came and thankful for the respite from the sun and the thirst, he leaned his head back, opened his mouth as wide as he could and was able to get his fill of water. His parched throat seemed to open up a bit. He was even able to fill the bottle up again for later. He carefully capped it and put it in the water in the raft to try to keep it cool. Of course now that was not a problem. The rain had also brought the colder air and he lay shivering on the side of the raft. He was getting weaker and was sure he had a fever. He knew he was hallucinating occasionally. He couldn't make up his mind whether he would rather freeze to death or die from heat stroke. Maybe it would be easier to let the ever-present sharks take him. It would probably be faster and with the pain he was already in, it probably wouldn't hurt worse.

Harry now put his socks and shoes back on to try to conserve body heat. He tucked the tattered ends of his pants into his socks to help keep the cold out. His clothes were rapidly disintegrating in front of him.

Nelson laughed to himself trying to decide whether he should tighten his belt. He could see his Medical Officer's face now. Jamie had been after him to lose weight and he wondered what Jamie would say now. He thought better of it as it would be painful because of the sores he had. He didn't believe between the crash and the sun that he had any intact piece of skin left on his body.

The rain left and the sun came back out. He marveled at the rainbow the last of the rain had produced. Here amongst the sharks was a little bit of joy. Harry lay down and tried to take a nap. He drifted off into a troubled sleep. When he awoke he remembered he dreamed of food. He never thought that a dream about food could be so nightmarish. He had fantasies about a small inn that had the best food he had ever had. He could even smell the aromas coming from the kitchen. He saw young Jimmy dressed as a waiter walking toward him. He awoke with a start and stared at the body to make sure it was still there, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. He then realized he was hungrier than ever.

Harry wondered how his raft was still afloat. It was like a large inner tube with a rubber sieve for a floor. It was so full of holes it had become home to some small fish. They were too fast to catch and eat. He had tried shooing them away, but gave up on that. At least they were live company.

The next morning Harry realized that the number of fish following had increased. There was a new type of fish swimming beside the sharks. He shook his head as he realized he had never seen fish like this before. Here he was in the middle of the ocean with the find of a lifetime and he probably wouldn't live to tell anyone. These new fish would dive into the boat and go after the small fish at the bottom of the raft and more or less inhale them with a noisy whoosh and then glide back out of the raft. Harry looked at them with fascination.

Harry thought about whistling to pass the time, but even though he had given up on singing days ago from the pain of trying, he was startled that now he couldn't even put his lips together the right way to whistle.

Soon the sharks became impatient. They knew there was food in the raft and they wanted it. Harry momentarily froze in a cold sweat. They took turns rapidly pounding the side of the raft where Reynolds lay. Reaching for the rope tied to the end of the raft, Harry realized he would have to hold on for dear life to keep from being knocked overboard. He cringed and looked at the sharks in fear. He didn't think he had ever been that afraid. His mood swings amazed him. One day he was resigned to his fate. Other days he was not so accepting. Again he thought of Foster. Even this was worse than that monster that he and Foster had seen. At least he was aboard Seaview when the sub was attacked by that monster. This was up close, too close, and personal.

His living conditions were becoming putrid from the body, which had started to become just a bit rank. He had told himself that he just couldn't get rid of it. He had to bring Jimmy home to his father. Harry dozed off into a troubled sleep. He found himself arguing with Jimmy.

Jimmy was sitting on the side of the raft next to his body. "You have to let me go, you know."

"No, don't talk to me. You're dead!"

"It doesn't make sense. I'm rotting." Jimmy looked down at his body. "How long are you going to put up with that smell?"

"I told your father I would bring you home."

"Do you really think he wants me looking like that?"

Harry, bewildered, looked back and forth between Jimmy and his corpse.

"YES!"

"NO!"

Struggling to awaken from this nightmare, Harry's eyes shot open. He knew he had been either hallucinating or dreaming. No matter. Whether Jimmy was there or it was his subconscious talking to him, whatever it was, it was right. He had no choice now. If he had any chance of surviving he would have to get rid of the body. It was not going to be easy. Harry was so weak he knew he would not be able to lift the body over the side of the raft. He knelt beside the body and took the St. Christopher's medal off from around Jimmy's neck and put it around his own. He had to have something to bring back to Jimmy's father. He hoped he would be able to roll the body over. Harry put his hands beneath Reynolds back and tried to roll it over. It didn't budge and his hands seemed to sink into the rotting flesh. He wretched from the smell and there was nothing in his stomach to come up.

Desperately working with the body, he came up with a plan. He knelt by the body and put the lone paddle under the body and waited for the sharks to hit. He hoped that if the sharks hit the raft hard enough it would tilt it far enough where he could use the leverage of the paddle to push the body over board. He just had to hope that he didn't go overboard with the body.

He got his chance. A shark came up under the raft and heaved it high into the air. Harry pushed and the body finally rolled off the edge of the raft into the water. He watched in disgust as the sharks swam from the raft and tore into the body. Soon there was nothing left but a few bits of cloth left over from what had been his clothes. He sat back belittling himself for allowing this to happen. It wasn't right. He should have been the one that was fed to the sharks. Not Reynolds. What was he going to tell his family now? He didn't know how he was going to face them if he survived.

The raft drifted away and soon the churning waters calmed down and the sharks were gone. Harry looked over at the part of the raft that Reynolds had been laying on. There were pieces of flesh stuck to the bottom, the ropes and the sides. He had to get rid of it. There was no way he could stand looking at it. Now that he had gotten rid of the body, this was a reminder that he had failed to bring his friend's son back home. He tried scraping it away with the edge of the paddle and washed the areas with the salt water. It wasn't easy. It took a toll on his strength and the sores on his hands. His hands continually bled now, as did the sores on his torso and legs.

Finally, he was able to lay his aching body down and stretch out for the first time since getting on that makeshift raft. He tried to stretch and groaned in pain as he straightened his cramping and stiff legs for the first time in days. Eyeing the sores, they looked like someone had snuffed large cigars out on them. They were red, hot and continually oozed. He wondered what was going to keep him sane now. He was totally alone. At least Reynolds had been company. Even the small fish in the bottom of the raft were gone; the "Whoosh" fish had seen to that. Not even the sharks were following him anymore. He thought about just ending it all. But being Harriman Nelson, he knew he would fight to the end. He would not go easily. Life was meant to be lived and you don't just give up.

As evening came, Harry looked up at the stars. It was such a beautiful night; there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the stars shined like diamonds. He thought about Reynolds and shuddered at how he came to an end. It was his first night totally alone. He wondered how he would meet his own end.

Occasionally Harry would see a ship in the distance but he was too weak to kneel for long. He would take his shirt off and tie it to his lone paddle and wave it above his head as long as his strength held out. When his knees buckled, he waved sitting down until he was no longer able. As soon as the ship would sail out of site he put his shirt back on for the little protection it gave him from the sun.

The next night the swells had gotten bad and Harry had become nauseated. He wretched over the side, but all he had was dry heaves. He didn't know what his stomach was thinking; there was nothing in there to get rid of. The only thing that came up occasionally was the sharp tasting bile from the pit of his stomach.

Nelson's raft had survived days on the ocean. It had been battered by waves, rain and occasional attacks from the sharks, but now they seemed to be planning and more determined than ever. They were becoming more cunning. They looked like they were working together. One shark came in from the top of the water. It seemed like he was flying through the water. He struck the side of the raft, sending it a couple feet in the air. Harry could see eye to eye with the shark before it dove back into the water. The water was boiling all around the raft with the number of sharks that tried to upend the raft seemed to increase. Harry held onto the raft for dear life, closing his eyes against the horror all around him. The raft was hit time and time again. He knew it couldn't survive this onslaught. One shark poked his snout through one of the holes in the bottom and stared right at Harry. Harry took the one paddle he had and with all his might whacked the shark again and again. The shark finally retreated.

After a couple of hours Nelson realized that the attacks had stopped. He leaned back against the side of the raft and got his breath. He watched as one shark seemingly flew out of the water and over the raft. He knew that if it landed in the raft that would be the end of him. Even though he was exhausted he knew he could not sleep again. He waited for the next attack in anticipation. They were a lot more patient than he felt. After awhile the water became calm and the air was quiet. The sharks and gone just as quickly as they had appeared.

The rain that came the next morning was a mixed blessing. He needed the water, but he had nothing to keep warm. Then a heavy squall hit. He held on for dear life as the waves pounded him. Even after it ended, it seemed forever before he was able to relax.

Finally after the storm subsided, Harry decided he had better try to get some rest. That seemed next to impossible as he shivered continuously the next day even after he had dried off. He was sure he had a fever now. He subconsciously patted his breast pocket looking for his long gone pack of cigarettes. He shook his head slowly. Here he was fighting for his life and he was thinking of cigarettes. He lost his cigarettes in the crash and he didn't even have a shirt on that had a pocket. What was he thinking? In a daze, he tried to orient himself and attend to his sores. They were foul and fetid and they were spreading fast. Soon he would be just one big sore. His left arm had begun to ache continuously. It was the worse. He had little use of it. He tried to withstand the pain of the salty water trying to wash the sores. They did seem better for the effort, though.

Finally the sharks came back. Now there were ten and they were the biggest he had ever seen. He had his escort again. He had been taking the sharks for granted, but not any longer; he was no longer alone...whether he wanted to be or not. He cringed at the sight of them. He wasn't going to make it easy for them to get to him though. He would make sure they had to work to get this last meal.

The winds picked up and Harry crouched down as low as he could to stay warm. At the moment the pain he felt from the position he was in was better than being blown off the raft.. Layers upon layers of clouds were back and he had no way of knowing where the wind would take him.

Harry didn't know which was worse. He froze when it rained but the sun blinded him and he felt like he was being baked. The heat was becoming worse than the thought of death. Soon he was only partly conscious. He was starting to hallucinate. He knew he wouldn't last much longer. He was no longer able to raise his head or his arms. He couldn't even reach for the small bottle of water he had. He surrendered to the dark. At least he would die in his ocean and not at home in a bed.

Harry felt different. He was comfortable. He no longer felt the sting of the salt water on his sores. He no longer ached. He no longer was thirsty. He decided he had died.

As Seaview was making a concerted effort to get back to Santa Barbara as fast as possible, Commander Crane looked down at the man sleeping on the bunk. He shook his head and marveled at the great fortune Seaview had in being the boat to find the Admiral. He wasn't even supposed to be in the same ocean as the Seaview. NIMR had notified him that the FS1 had disappeared off the scope, but that was thousands of miles away. It wasn't until NIMR had called him telling him that Dr. Reynolds who was half way around the world from where Nelson was thought to be, was on the phone asking where Admiral Nelson was. The FS1 had not shown up when he was expecting it. That was when Lee and the crew of the Seaview started looking in earnest for the lost craft. It took several days and when they saw the raft, Lee was afraid of what he would find. He was surprised when they found the Admiral alive ...barely.

Lt. Commander Jamieson walked up behind Lee. "Don't you think you ought to take a break? He isn't going anywhere."

"I know, Jamie. I would just like to be here when he wakes up."

"I'll call you when there's any change."

Lee started for the door when he spied a movement from the bunk. Turning towards it he saw Nelson's eyes flutter and barely open.

"NO!"

Startled, Lee jumped back.

"NO! Don't look at me like that!"

"Admiral? Wake up! You're back on Seaview. You're safe!" Lee shook Nelson's shoulders gently.

"You're dead! I threw you overboard. You told me to!"

"Admiral!" Jamie joined in.

Opening his eyes a little more, the shadow that looked like Jimmy evolved into Lee. He sighed with relief. He turned his head to the other figure in the room and Jamie came into focus.

Lee took his hands off Harry's shoulders. Puzzled he asked, "What do you mean, 'You told me to'? Who told you what?"

Feeling the familiar vibration of the submarine, Harry realized he was safe. He didn't want to have to talk about Jimmy just yet though. He had no idea how he was going to be able to broach that subject.

"Come on, Lee." Jamie put his hand on Lee's shoulder. "The Admiral needs to rest. You can talk to him later. I am sure you both will have a lot of questions."

Inwardly sighing with relief, Harry was grateful that he wouldn't have to talk about his ordeal just yet.

Lee and Jamie walked into Jamie's office.

After Jamie and Lee left, Harry said a simple prayer. He was back home. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. He would find out how he was rescued and deal with the pain of talking to the Reynolds family later.

The End

 

 

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