I have gone through a bit of a crisis of faith in myself as a writer. But to prove I ain’t skeert, I entered the WritersWeekly.com 24-Hour Short Story Contest, a quarterly contest in which they send you the prompt and word count at noon on a designated Saturday, and you email your completed story by noon the next day. I’ve entered three times now and had no hope of being noticed among the hundreds of entries.
This time, an honorable mention. I literally cried. Little did the readers/judges of that contest know they were being used of God to encourage a writer about to give up. So, to celebrate, I publish the story here.
First, the prompt. We had to “touch on” the topic at least.
“A brisk breeze pushed through the hatchway, cooling her sunburned cheeks. Saltwater lapped at the hull. A mariner’s lullaby. She smiled, pondering her perfect life. No people. No stress. Just the occasional storm, and sojourns to the mainland for provisions. Just as her tired eyes closed, violent knocking and shouting erupted on her starboard side..”
This. Just… this.
Muriel lay on the bed (no wait – the berth) enjoying the feel of the breeze as it wafted through the doorway (hatch!) into the bedroom (quarters, you ninny) of the boat. She inwardly tsked again at her own ignorance. Her bookmarked page of nautical terms in Google had been getting a workout.
But who cared, really? The reason for this little venture was the absolute bliss of being alone. Alone! No people. No stress. Just her and the sounds of the Gulf waters slapping against the sides of the cabin cruiser. She knew she’d have storms to deal with (like that one brewing out there now), but she’d only have to occasionally venture back to shore (mainland) to buy food and supplies (provisions). Otherwise it was just her and the sea.
She squooshed up her face and felt the tug of sunburn on her cheeks. Later, she’d lotion that. But right now, smack in the middle of the afternoon, she was going to indulge in a nap. After Daddy died and the inheritance was disclosed, she’d thanked him one point two million times posthumously and imagined him grinning down at her as she marched that very day into her Biloxi bank and quit.
She gone to Vinny’s Boats and Nautical Supplies a few days later, took a crash course on boating, and rented this baby to see if running away was truly worth it.
It was worth it.
Muriel closed her eyes, enjoying the increased rolling of the sea. She wasn’t worried about the storm. If it got too scary, she’d just power up this puppy and head back to Biloxi. For now, she welcomed the warm sleepiness creeping up on her.
Then the shouting started.
Muriel practically fell out of the bed. A loud pounding was coming from the right (port! – no, starboard!) side of the boat and she could hear a man’s voice, shouting.
“Let me on! Help! Help!”
Her heart pounding in her throat, Muriel crept slowly onto the deck. Moving to the starboard side, she cautiously peered over.
The serviceman from Vinny’s who taught the boating course was sitting in a small motor boat, his hand gripping her boat’s rail. He was grinning up at her.
“Ronald. You scared things out of me that should still be in me.”
He snorted. “Yeah, sorry. Permission to come aboard, captain?”
Muriel turned and walked to the back (stern, dern it) of the boat and sat on one of the cushioned benches, crossing arms and legs and glaring at Ronald as he climbed aboard.
“Why are you here, Ronald?”
“Vinny sent me. After you left, he realized this particular boat-”
What he said after that sounded like Romulan. Or maybe Greek cuisine. She just stared at him.
“What?” he said, frowning.
“Were those real words you just said?”
Ronald pulled off his Saints cap and scratched his hand through his hair. “The boat,” he said, “is broke. I’m here to fix it.”
Tool bag in hand, he went below to the engine. After several minutes of clanging, Muriel heard another noise and looked behind her. The storm was moving up quickly.
“Storm’s almost on us, Ronald,” she called below.
“I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got, Cap’n!” he shouted back in a perfect Scottish accent.
Muriel tried not to laugh and lost the battle.
“Well, Scotty, you’re not going to make it back to-”
A sudden deafening blast of thunder caused her to squeal in fright. She wasn’t sure if it was the thunder or her cry that brought Ronald out of the engine room, but as he emerged, eyes wide, he moved her quickly and with surprising gentleness out of the way, hurried across the cabin and secured the door against the wind and rain, then turned back to her.
“So,” he said, “was that a laugh I heard? I mean, before the scream.”
“Shut up. And you might as well sit down. You’ll be here awhile. You want a cold drink? A beer maybe?”
Ronald, sliding onto the bench by the table, shook his head. “That’s how I became an ex-husband. I’ll just take a soda.”
Handing Ronald a can of soda, Muriel sat down across from him with her own. He was looking behind her at the built-in shelf above the bed (berth for Pete’s sake!).
“That’s quite a collection,” he said, squinting slightly as he read aloud titles of some of her books. “Those are heavy hitters.”
She smiled, not a little condescendingly. “I like philosophy.”
“Have you read any of Leibniz or Russell on the philosophy of math and its relationship to logic?”
Muriel stared at him.
Ronald took a slow swallow of the soda. “Life,” he said, his voice more gentle than it had been. “She takes an MIT engineer Rhodes scholar and turns him into a boat mechanic in Mississippi. And she takes a beautiful, intelligent bank executive and turns her into recluse on a cabin-cruiser island in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.”
They stared at each other for a long time, silently discovering and being discovered, the first of many conversations begun without words. Finally, with a wink Muriel found both maddening and endearing, Ronald raised his can of soda.
“To life,” he said.
Muriel’s eyes narrowed as she slowly smiled.Tipping her soda against his, the thunder booming around them, she said, “To life.” (And broken boats. And frequent trips to shore – mainland! – for supplies – provisions!)