Adrift – Fiction Piece on the Theme of the Other

Sam Bloxsidge

X awoke to the soft sound of lapping waves. Numb feeling along the right side, sleepy limbs and a twisted spine. The floor was hard, bodily sensations of being cold and a little damp. Groggy eyes opened, resisted by caked sleep. The world rocked and bucked lightly. The slap of water rang hollow, close to. X pushed up onto hands and knees, then sat back on haunches, almost overbalancing as the floor shifted uneasily beneath. Nothing but the inside of the small boat, mist and water surrounding within a few feet could be seen.

“What?”

X had no ideas where, how they had come to be, or in fact who they were.

Panic set in.

“Hello!!”

X screamed out into the misty void.

“Helloooo!!” “Is anybody there!?”

X continued to scream in this way until hoarse and weary.Slumping back into the hull of the boat, they cried and raged, afraid, frustrated and confused.Sleep overcame once again and X slipped into the comforting arms of unconsciousness.

Awake again, some time later. There was no change to the surrounding, no change in light or weather. Just the mist, the boat and the murky impenetrable depths beyond the crest of the small waves that lapped at the side of the boat. X plunged into thought, racking their mind for any memory or recollection of who they may be and how they had come to be here. Nothing, although X reasoned they must be relatively self aware to be able to reflect upon their current situation.

“What is this?”

“I am able to think, I can feel myself breathing, I can feel pain and cold and hunger in my body, so I must be alive.”

“What do I do?”

X considered the choices.

“I can sit here and hope that perhaps someone in another boat may pass and spot me. How do I attract their attention, this mist is so thick. I can continue to shout, but my voice is already raw, how long can I continue? Can I spread out my periods of shouting to conserve my voice. But then, what if someone were to pass by and I was taking a break? Then I would miss them. I can’t keep thinking about this, there’s no chance I can possibly know.”

“What if I were to paddle. This boat has no oars or motor I can see. I will have to use my arms. But which direction do I paddle in? I could be so close to shore yet not know it because of this unchanging mist. I may be paddling even further away. Perhaps there is a current and I am floating with it and any paddling I may do would just be causing me to stand still. I’m already hungry, I don’t know how long I could continue. Again, without knowing where I am, there is no direction or landmark I can aim towards. It seems to be futile.”

X broke down into sobs again at the hopelessness of this predicament, shedding bitter tears and curling into a ball at the bottom of the boat. Sleep came once more, soft welcoming oblivion. Awake once more. Bodily aches and hunger stabbed again, but the coldness had lifted and the damp of the drizzle and mist was not as pervasive. There was subtle change. X felt mild relief.

“Why am I here? What has happened to me. Who am I? Am I good person? Do I have a family, a job, where do I belong?”

“Perhaps I was aboard a bigger boat and there was a shipwreck and I was able to escape in this small boat. I may have avoided certain death, but found probably doom in this amnesia and isolation?”

“Perhaps this is punishment, but from who or what. I feel I am alive, but maybe that is a deception and I am in purgatory, atoning and being purified. But what god would do such a thing? Certainly not a god of love. A vengeful and terrible god? Are you there watching me, can you see my suffering? What would a god like that want of me. I know not who I am or was, so how can I be guilty of any sin I am not aware of committing? If I have committed such terrible sin so as to deserve this, I repent and ask forgiveness.”

X turned their face to the sky. Staring into the depthless void of the mist. Not even a singular point of the sun could be seen, all was grey and indistinct.

Tears rolled down X’s cheeks once more.

“Perhaps there is no god to hear my repentance or prayers. What if this is a test, something I have chosen for myself, a right of passage? If I can survive, what will it teach me? Have I chosen to be here. If so, why would I make such a choice? Again, how may I ever know this if I cannot remember what came before my awakening in this forsaken boat in this grey void.”

X again became overcome by the frustration brought about by this line of thought, gnashing teeth and screaming into the mist incoherently, rocking the boat so violently as to almost tip it over into the water. One great pitch of the small vessel almost did plunge X into the unseen depths, but survival instinct overtook the maddened rage and X braced to steady the boat until it was stable again. Plunging into the unknown depths of this body of water held great fear. What lurked beneath this moderately calm surface? What beasts of horrors prowled the depths?

X panted lying in the hull of the boat, uncomfortable, damp and cold again. The hunger that had been gnawing away in X’s stomach before had subsided to a dull ache. X felt thirst rise. Was this body of water the sea or the lake? X knew sea water was salt and harmful to drink. Although, if the water was fresh, perhaps this was a lake, then the shore may be closer than if X were at sea.

“What sea would be as calm as this?”

“I could risk one taste, but then what? If nothing more, I could quench my thirst if the water is fresh. Perhaps knowing that I were on a lake, I would have a better chance of finding my way ashore. Then at least there is some hope? Oh but what if the water is salt and I cannot drink it, that would also mean I am at sea and hope is lost. Is it better for me to at least know either way?”

X wrung out and sucked at the damp clothing clinging to their frame. The water from the mist was fresh and refreshing. X satisfied some of the thirst that parched their throat.

“Is there reason to this, is there a greater purpose to why I am here? I cannot know. Can I find my own point to go on living? I either live and try to find a way out of this or the only option I can see is flinging myself into the water and certainly drowning or being mauled by some creature from the depths. Or I sit and do nothing and die of starvation.”

“I wrack my brain to see if it is one or the other. There is a reason to all of this, or there is no reason. There is a right and a wrong way. This conflict is driving me crazy and leaving me paralysed. What if there is another way? What if this is my life and always has been? What realistically can I do but make a choice to continue living or chose to strike out into the unknown and do my best to live with that until I inevitably die. I seem to be alive, so I must be able to die. I would prefer a peaceful death, rather than to die by violent or painful means, but really, I can only make certain choices.”

“What of death? Or after death? Does Valhalla await me? Or will I be cast into the infinite void of nothingness. Either way, I will not be as I am now. One possibility offers paradise through experience, the other offers paradise through ultimate release and blissful nothingness. But is suicide the answer? Perhaps I am right and this is purgatory and I am already dead and being tested. If I fail that test, am I then subject to eternal torment?”

“I am free to chose, but all choices lead to an existence which must end. I can die patiently, in anger and frustration or in bravery questing for my own salvation.”

“I know I fear the water. I fear what may lurk beneath this surface. Will it take me, drag me down and thrash me about, severing body parts and drowning me in my own blood and the infernal brine?”

“I fear making the choice of moving. What if I paddle myself into an area of greater danger, or further away from land. Perhaps I will encounter another vessel which may mean salvation, or move and miss someone passing by. God how I wish I could see or even hear a voice or bell in the distance. But I am going slowly mad, I can feel my mind slipping. What if I hear a voice, would it be real or an hallucination? Should I go to it, or will it be my mind tricking my into sealing my fate?”

“I have no hope, I am at the mercy of what will be. But, perhaps I may have reconciliation in my lot. I have this boat, I have fluids from the mist and my hunger has passed and is now but a dull ache. I will die certainly. If I escape this predicament, I may die old and happy, or I may die soon, miserable in whatever world beyond this I find. I will die.”

“What is in death. I know nothing of myself from before now. Did I believe, was I an atheist? Was I pious or a hypocrite? I cannot know. What do I believe now? I am here and I survive, but only in bondage to my fear that keeps me immobile. I feel no presence of a divine saviour or any sense of the true meaning that may be behind all of that. If I embark upon any one of the options before me, perhaps I will discover more, but for now all I have is my supposition, my own projection of meaning onto this godforsaken piece of existence I find myself in. Without another with whom to speak, there is no knowing if any of this truly is. I am cast horribly into isolation and nothingness.”

“How must I proceed? I can stay here and rot inside my skin or paddle ahead and meet whatever may come. How can I put my hands beneath the surface of this choppy water and trust they will not be bitten off at the wrists? Which fingers or appendages do I need most to survive? Can I stem the flow of blood if one is lost in an experiment? I can make a tourniquet from strips of this shirt. I must try.”

X prepared, ripping fine srips from an undershirt and placing them ready by their side in the boat.

“My hands and feet are already numb from the chill and lying within the hard wooden hull of this boat. Perhaps this will dampen any pain? Which would I need more if I fell into the water. I don’t know if I can swim, so I may need to cling to the boat. Test with my feet it will be.”

X removed a sock and inhaled deeply several times, fighting the waves of fear coursing through the body, muscles tightening and creating a violent shiver.

“Perhaps this truly is hell?”

X grit their teeth and plunged a foot in the water, ready for the hideous pain.

The water was freezing and X yelped despite the numbness in their foot. But, nothing snatched at it, there was no sensation of needle like teeth piercing flesh or beak like jaws shearing through bone. X let out a gasp and a sob, withdrawing the foot quickly.

X stared at the foot for some time.

“What does the water on it taste of. If I know, will I have hope or be cast further into despair? Or do I have enough faith that whatever the outcome, I will know at least my course of action?”

X ran a finger tip over the foot which had been plunged and stared hard at it for what felt to be an eternity. In an effort of great will the finger came to the mouth, brushing chapped lips and found its way to a parched tongue.

“Salt.” but not strong briney salt. “Could that just be sweat?”

X peered over the boat into the depths. Nothing but blue, green and grey reflected back from the water. No hint of movement beyond the small wavelets on the surface.

Tentatively X put an arm over the side and quickly swiped at the water with fingertips. X brought them sharply up to their mouth and sucked.

“Fresh, but slightly salty.”

X had a dim recollection that there were such things as salt water lakes.

“Why would I know that?”

Regardless, drinking from this water may be harmful. Although X reasoned, even in the biggest lakes, there was not as much chance of big predators that would attack a human. The paddle or swim to shore may still be a huge distance. But with this information, X began to feel more comfortable in making assumptions.

“To paddle the boat, I would have to drag both its and my weight. To swim it would only be mine, assuming I can swim. Swimming may get me further with less energy, but when I tire there would be nothing to support me. The boat would allow me to rest and I could get close, then perhaps I would drift to shore. But what if I don’t and I stay stuck in this mist and no one sees me? I am once again paralysed by indecision. I know I want to live, but the life I am certain of here is bleak at best. Time seems endless and nothing changes.”

X lay down again in the boat and passed into a sleep of exhaustion. Dreaming darkly of the things that may rise up from the water and drag them to its depths. Hideous creatures with multiple eyes and gaping maws lined with needle teeth. Spectres and monsters from the inky voids of madness.

X awoke screaming.

“I cannot go on like this. I am my own worst enemy here. I cannot continue this torture.”

In desperation and panic X thrashed in the boat once more, screaming wildly at the sky and damning god for punishing them in this way.

The boat piched wildly and X’s screams were interspersed with maniacal laughter. The boat rolled heavily to each sider, taking on more and more water. It was slowly capsizing, with X scrabbling frantically to the steep end, screetiching and babbling.

The boat slipped under, dragging X beneath the cold surface. X burst up from beneath the waves, gasping for air as the muscles in their chest constricted in reaction to the cold. X splashed and writhed in the water, until they found a rhythm and began to swim.

Reason had left and X thrashed against the waves, pushing forwards away from where they had entered the water. Arms and legs moved with great resistance as the cold caused muscles to seize and tire. X swallowed gulps of water and spluttered, choking. Slowly the dregs of energy drained from X’s body and they slipped into darkness and beneath the waves.

***

X was aware of a dim light and immediate pain throughout the entire body. X moaned, unable to move or make coherent vocalisation. The surroundings were indistinct and vague shapes moved across X’s vision.

“Doctor, the patient is awake.”

“Ah good, give another dose of morphine, the pain must be unimaginable.”

“Yes doctor.”

X felt a tingling sensation and numbness began to replace the pain.

“We weren’t sure if you would ever regain consciousness”

Said the voice of the Doctor.

“You were found by one of the locals, who had gone fishing for the weekend. Said he found you washed up on the shore and in a terrible state. The man saved your life by getting you here. It’s lucky you made it through the journey. I’m afraid however your body has sustained substantial injury. Much of the flesh seemed to have been eaten away from your extremities, I’m afraid we’ve had to amputate quadrilaterally. We couldn’t identify what it was that had gotten to you, but we imagine it was some of the marine life of the lake. It also appears your eyes have been damaged and through seizure you have managed to gnaw almost through your own tongue. It’s not likely you’ll be able to see fully or speak clearly again. I’m so very sorry. I imagine you’re still very drowsy from the anesthetic and analgesia, so I really have no idea if you understand me. But here we are, at least you’re alive and safe in hospital. Our rehab team is excellent and they will help you find a new lease on life once you are healed and ready to begin working with them. We’ll give you the support you need. God alone knows what you were doing in that lake, perhaps one day with our help, you’ll be able to tell us.”

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