Count Your Blessings
By: Ken MacGregor
It’s the thirst that gets you. Before today, if you’d asked me what the most terrifying thing was about the sea, I’d have said “sharks.”
And they are. Terrifying. Especially when they breach. You’d think you would focus on the teeth, right? Hundreds of sharp yellow cutting tools, in rows, attached to the only actual bone in the animal’s body: the jaws.
But, no. It’s the eye. You can only see one at a time, because the head of that fish is too damn big. That endless, ebony orb that stares back into you. It is sizing you up, that look. It is wondering what you might taste like. How many bites does it take to get you all the way down? To slake the endless hunger.
I’m not sure what kind of sharks they are. They’re big, gray and scary-looking. Great Whites? Tigers? Makos? How the hell do I know? I’m not a sharkologist.
Yeah. They’re bad all right. But, sharks are a distant third to the really scary things about being lost at sea.
Second to worst is the sun. You try to cover up, but of course, when the ship went down, you were only wearing swim trunks and t-shirt. Your head, arms, legs and feet are slowly roasting out here. Mine. Sorry. I’ve been adrift for a couple days. I get confused. Maybe my brain is getting cooked inside the toaster oven of my skull.
The sun’s bad, all right. First, I was deeply red and my skin was sore. Now, I have blisters: second-degree burns. Can the sun cook my flesh all the way? Will I be Cajun Blackened Jeff Sturges?
Which brings us to our winning entry in the “what’s the most horrible thing about being lost at sea?” contest. The thirst. It tastes like agony.
I’ll tell you the worst part: all you can think about is water. And, all around you is…yep: water. Only, you can’t drink it. The salt content will kill you. I know this, intellectually. But, just look at, sloshing against the sides of the raft, sparkling in the sunlight. So pretty. Just one little taste can’t hurt.
Nope. Not going there. Not yet anyway. Maybe later. Keeping my options open. I’m crafty like that.
My father used to say, “Count your blessings.” When I broke my index finger, he said, “Hey. At least it wasn’t your whole arm.” It was a grim sort of optimism that pretty much defined who he was. So, I’m counting my blessings.
One: I’m still alive. That’s pretty cool, considering the other three people who were on the boat are not. Alive, I mean.
Two: I have the raft. This is a big one. If I were just floating in a life-jacket or something, I’d have been shark-food by now for sure. If not, then I’d be dead of hypothermia.
That’s all I got. Two blessings. My dad would say, “Hey. At least it’s not zero.”
Something bumps my raft. Could the sharks be getting bolder? If they bite my inflated craft, I’m screwed. That’d be the end of both my blessings, I bet.
Of course, if I die, I won’t be so damn thirsty anymore.
I am reminded of that one guy in Dante’s Inferno. You know, the one in the water up to his chin, but every time he goes to drink it, the water disappears. Or, as long as I’m on a classic literature kick, that poem that goes on forever – I forget the name. The line I’m thinking of goes, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
I’m betting the two writers spent some time at sea. Maybe a long time, all alone, surrounded by miles of wet, shiny, oh-so-tempting poison.
I could just take a tiny sip. Not enough to do any real damage. Just, you know, wet my lips a little.
No. Bad idea. Stop it, brain.
Another bump. This time, I could feel it slide under me, all the way across the bottom of the raft. Whatever that is, under me, is getting more curious. Or more bold. Or just trying to scare the piss out of me. Well, joke’s on you, shark. Too dehydrated to pee.
I miss my phone. Not that I would be able to get a signal out here, but at least I’d know what time it was. What day, too. I mean, the sun has gone down and then back up twice now. So, it’s been at least 48 hours since the boat developed that fatal leak and went down to the bottom of the ocean with my $300 phone and my three friends.
Well, my friends didn’t sink right away. They lasted a good while. Constance almost made it into the raft with me. It was damn close. She could still be alive.
If I hadn’t shot her.
All the blood in the water is what probably drew the sharks in the first place. Now, they were hanging around, hoping for more food.
I didn’t mention the gun earlier when I was counting my blessings. That’s because I used all but one bullet already. Eight shots in the clip and one in the pipe. That’s the expression, right? Picked that up from movies. So, yeah. I burned seven of them in rapid succession. Three in the bottom of the boat, one in Cliff’s head, two in Carla’s ample chest and one in Constance’s leg. It was a terrible shot, but she was attacking me at the time.
She fell to floor of the sinking boat, clutching her thigh with both hands. She looked more pissed off than hurt. But, it gave me enough time to pull the cord on the inflatable raft, jump in and shove away.
She dove in after me. You have to admire that kind of tenacity. She got an arm over the edge of the raft. She was spitting and swearing, if you’ll pardon the pun, like a sailor. I calmly put the barrel to her forehead and she shut up.
“I’m sorry, Constance,” I said to her. “No passengers.”
I pulled the trigger. She looked surprised and indignant as she slipped beneath the surface. I guess I would be, too.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s eight bullets. Out of nine total. I have one left. Not really a blessing. More of an unpleasant alternative to dying of thirst. Or to drinking the salt water. Or being shark bait.
The raft is moving. I mean, it’s always moving a little, but now, it’s more like, um, traveling. I grab the solid rubber handles so I don’t get tossed over the side. Looking into the water, I see something I don’t understand. There’s a thing under me. It’s not a shark. Too big.
Maybe it’s a whale? It could be. I mean, from here, it looks like an endless expanse of gray flesh. If I were forty feet up, I might be able to see what it was more clearly.
We pick up speed, my tiny raft, the monster we ride, and I. Wind whistles in my ears. My sunburnt skin recoils from the sudden cold breeze.
I hang on. What else can I do?
We’re going up, rising out of the water. Now, I am forty feet up, but I still have no idea what I’m riding on. It’s not a whale. Too big.
I didn’t think there was anything bigger than a whale.
Something else is breaching the surface behind me. It’s even bigger than the beast I’m on. We climb higher. The mind-boggling mammoth behind me keeping perfect pace as more of it emerges from the sea.
Eyes the size of city parks. Nostrils big enough to inhale skyscrapers. Below them, teeth. Hundreds of them. Big enough to eat the world.
I realize where I am. My raft is not riding a separate thing. I ride the monster’s tongue.
Okay. So I was wrong. The thirst is not the worst.
I am about to be swallowed whole by an impossible monster. Maybe this is my Hell. My punishment for murdering my faithless friends. Well, Cliff, Carla and Constance, you three cunts, you have your vengeance.
Of course, I had mine first, you cheating assholes.
As the mouth closes over the withdrawing tongue, over me and my raft, I think, Hey. At least I still have the one bullet.
Laughing, I say it aloud.
“Count your blessings.”