Taro awoke with watering eyes from a shallow sleep. Another dream of being back in his childhood village. Running over grass towards the old temple with his brothers. The scent of spring in the wind as it blew through pink flowers. Everyone smiling. Fresh takoyaki and cherry ice wafting from food stalls. A dangerous dream to have floating over dark water. Images could drive a man crazy while he breathed stale cabin air and had salt permanently etched in the folds of his skin.
He’d lost count of the days. The Antarctic waters were unforgiving, but he finally had enough money to get back home. That’s all that mattered. He’d been gon—
It took a few heartbeats to process Kazuki standing over him. The grip on his hair brought things to clarity as his head smacked off the wall.
“I won’t tell you again. Get up! Have you no idea what’s going on?” Kazuki screamed. Had never seen such panic in the old man’s face before.
The boat jerked and Taro was thrown out of the bunk. He pulled on boots and rushed up the stairs. Rain pelted the deck. The boat was leaning, fast taking in water. The waves were choppy with every third pouring over. The sky thick with black clouds.
“What happened? Where’s the captain?”
“I don’t know. He and the life boat are both missing. Get over there and help Jiro,” Kazuki said.
Jiro was frantic and trying to get the nets back on board. Taro held the edge and pulled towards the starboard side. Kazuki was shouting on the phone in the pit. He was slapping himself and kicking the steering wheel.
“What do you mean? Do you not understand our situation? Hello? Answer me. Answer me!”
“Taro get me a knife from the kitchen,” Jiro shouted. “We need to cut the nets.”
Taro nodded. The boat slammed against the waves. Before falling down the stairs he saw Jiro flying overboard.
Taro held onto the bunk as the boat swayed and water rushed into the room. He managed to kick the door closed. A noise like breaking metal echoed and he was thrown against the wall. He struggled into the bunk and held on as tight as those hands would grip.
The feeling of being dragged. The boat was already well under and headed for the deep before he realised he should have gotten out of that room. He scrambled to the door and peered out the circular window, seeing only darkness. He climbed to the top bunk and kneeled. Water leaked in from the joints in the door.
It was quiet. Then there was a dull thud. The sinking stopped. Three quarters of the room had filled with water, levelling just under the mattress. Didn’t know how long the air would last. A red cigarette box and its contents floated on the water. A picture of Kazuki’s granddaughter. That was all.
“Kazuki?” he whispered. The light flickered. Panic churned inside. Breaths became much deeper. “Kazuki? Jiro? Anybody?”
The rescue party would be there soon. Kazuki told their co-ordinates. The captain might even have been going for help. Had to just stay calm and wait. He curled into a ball and pulled a damp blanket to his chest. Exhaustion swallowed him.
Taro opened one eye. Hands numb, pins and needles crawling in his legs. The water level had risen and the walls were groaning. He took both hands out the water and rubbed them. Teeth chattered. The bulb flickered. After three breaths it went out.
He held knees in the darkness. Even if they knew where the boat was, why would they rush down there? He was dead; that’s what they’d all think. It would be weeks, if ever, before they’d try and salvage the boat.
No one was coming to save him.
He clenched his jaw and dropped into the cold water, gasping. He wasn’t waiting to die in there. He took a series of deep breaths and paused. Silent. And smashed his elbow into the center of the glass. The glass shattered and water rushed inside. He pulled himself through the window and swam through the darkness.
Taro ran over the grass towards the old temple with his brothers. The scent of spring in the wind as it blew through pink flowers. Everyone smiling. He was home.