by Aaron Hwang
Asher just wanted to be dry. It had been who knew how many days, and he just wanted to sit on land that didn’t rock, wear clothes that weren’t damp, and talk to someone who wasn’t himself. Instead, he sighed and poured another cup of water back into the sea.
The ocean was too damn big. Really it just was. It was like a continent all its own, a forgotten shadow country, unobtrusively vaster than all the nations of the world combined. On maps, it was just a void space, an emptiness – something to look down on from an airplane as you left it behind. But it was there. Blueness wider than the imagination, and at the center of it all was Asher’s orange dot.
This dot was Asher’s life raft. It was a dinky thing, nothing more than an orange tent mounted on an inner tube, a contraption which was, against all appearances, sea-worthy.
Well, things could always be worse, Asher thought to himself as he fiddled with dials and buttons on his unresponsive radio. In the distance, Asher saw dark clouds casting shadows of rain approaching like huge beasts on spindly lightning legs. A tremor ran through his body, and, at first, he thought it was fear, until he felt the grin spreading on his face. No- not fear, not just fear. The sea shuddered too, like a giant drum, a heartbeat of rise and fall.
The storm clouds lumbered on, great and ponderous, calling to each other with groans of thunder. Asher breathed deep as the wind whipped the orange canopy of his raft into a frenzy, and the clouds’ dark shadows passed over him. He emerged from his tent-like structure, and clung to the canvas as it flapped, wanting to feel that wind against his skin, needing to feel the lash of the rain.
It came down hard, like marbles, and Asher hung from the slick side of his canopy, holding his mouth open, until he could gargle rainwater with a triumphant flourish. He looked up at the distant black underbellies of rolling clouds, and he was a mouse at the feet of elephants, a minnow overtaken by a pod of whales.
The thunder boomed and Asher whooped back to the sky. The rain came down, and drenched him, and he laughed. He knew he would probably be dead soon- but until then he was going to be alive.
Then he saw the boat. At first, he thought it was a trick of his eyes, an apparition of white in the rain. But then he recognized the sharp sides of a cruise liner, marble and ponderous, emerging silently from the curtains of rain.
Asher made a strangled noise and dropped to the canopy, rain slick hands fumbling for the zipper. He struggled to fight his way past the snarled plastic teeth. Signal flare. Signal flare.
There! He lunged for it, but the storm shook the raft like a bug, hurling objects around in a dizzy flurry. Asher splashed to the plastic floor, blindly grasping fingers around something that felt like a tube.
He slashed his way back, beating aside the canopy, and breaching into storm. The cruise liner was passing away now, grey rain curtains closing as quietly as they had opened. Asher looked down and cursed himself, he’d meant to grab the parachute flare, but this handheld one, this would have to do.
The rain bit at his eyes as the sea tossed him about, trying to knock him into its maw. He fumbled with the cap, and the wind tore it from his hand. Asher grit his teeth until they hurt and struck the flare against his belt loop instead. Nothing happened, and water had begun to coat the flare in a hateful film. He struck it again, and nothing happened. He screamed and struck it again, and the flare burst with red light, like a giant match. He hollered and whooped and raised it over his head.
But the cruise liner passed on, as insensate as an iceberg. The storm swallowed it, and then, it was gone.
Edited by Kara Mercer