Life Preserver

Out of curiosity and nostalgia Zeke had signed on for the final South Pacific voyage of the three-masted tall ship "Providence". Other members of the crew shared a similar background and desire. The Captain had been seasoned by many outings and testings over the years at sea.

There had been some concern over the sea-worthiness of the vessel this time round and the Captain had given extra attention to all abandon-ship procedures. Newcomers to the brine, the few novice adventurers had been most attentive. Some of the old salts, Zeke included, had simply chuckled at the exercises.

Thirty days out and with fewer islands sighted, the "Providence" encountered a storm which would have challenged its younger constitution. The Captain insisted that all passengers don their life-jackets and that preparations be made for the few landing craft to accommodate the elderly and sick. Come midnight the word was whispered round that the old hull was failing and taking in water at an alarming rate.

Zeke was not alarmed. He had seen it all before. He did not comply with the Captain's orders. By two A.M. the ship was lost, and crew and passengers disembarked on command in a given direction. Somewhere out in the darkness the Captain knew that there was one island capable of supporting community; probably four miles out.

When all appeared cast off the Captain lept to the waves and swam alongside some of the stragglers. In the darkness they called out encouragement to each other. The Captain was able to fix a star above as their directional guide. And so it went, some rowing, some flutter-kicking while holding buoyancy aids, some being towed by hardier swimmers.

Zeke in his eagerness to appropriate some of the valuables left on board, had missed the exodus. He had no life preserver. About seventy feet out he could see reflected in the waning light of the ship a white item which proved to be a decorative ring-buoy. It had been mounted over the mess-hall door. He dived for this assist and pleased himself with the realization that now his life had been spared. He would simply float for awhile. He could still hear some of the others at a distance making the best of a strenuous passage.

The first shark arrived half an hour after sun-up. Previous experience had taught Zeke that sharks will pass by an intended victim, giving a test-bump with their snout. If the victim were to respond with sufficient energy and apparent confidence; perhaps a blow landed; the shark would move on for easier prey.

Zeke used this knowledge to good avail in the next three encounters over a two hour period. With the sun and heat rising, it was abundantly clear that he could not continue simply to float around. His salvation and the use of his remaining energy would have to be dedicated, late as it was, to obeying the Captain's orders, as fully as possible.

He suspected that the rest of the crew and passengers were already ashore and taking advantage of the resources promised to be available there for more abundant living. Adding to their bank of skills with each new lesson. Their obedience and awkward flutter-kicking no longer provoked laughter.

Zeke had been too self-confident, too smugly content to float around in his life preserver, too flippant to render obedience in full. Truly, it was questionable now whether he would make land at all.


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