Flashes – like lightning – only anything but.
Grasping hands. A fireman? Pulling me from the darkness?
An ambulance, bright lights dance on a Formica ceiling, Britt – saying she can’t find my pulse –
Then surreal warmth – a warmth without and within an absent sensation of warmth –
Light within light, a siren wailing, a siren’s song from beyond, calling my name.
A light? Isn’t that a light? Shining in my eye?
Why can’t I talk? Why can’t I get up? I want to get up…
Then I’m is on the same sandy stretch of road again, Clyde still by my side. I look to my left and can see the same impenetrable forest, the same searing white light within, the same screaming shadows coming out of the shadows. Ahead? I see houses on that beach, a still sea beyond. Above? A greenish sky, a vast ringed Jovian orb blotting out an otherwise dark night. Behind me, the same snow-capped mountains I saw last time I was here.
Something with the three shadows. Clyde is reacting to them again, then he looks up at me, the hair on the back of his neck on end and yes, that bothers me. Like he knows something I don’t. They come for me, for us again, yet like last time at the last moment they veer off and take to the sky. But, how can shadows fly? That doesn’t make any sense?
I can feel sand between my toes. The road? The road is made of white sand? Maybe I should go and see if anyone is in those houses? They can’t be that far away, can they? A mile, maybe?
Ouch! Something bit my arm. I can feel the sting, but something is pulling on me now, pulling me back to the light. Warmth? Is that warmth? No…I’m freezing now…so cold…so cold…
Taggart opened his eyes, he could feel them open, but no…there was something over his eyes – a mask? Tape? Gauze? This place is full of unseen people; he hears them, he can almost feel them so he tries to sit up…
Voices, sudden alarms and hurried expressions and then the warmth returns.
The houses? How did I get here? So close now, but I don’t remember walking here.
The fields? The fields – are planted with grapes? This must be a vineyard. I can smell them from here. That sweet, ripe smell? Where have I smelled that? From somewhere far away, but I can’t remember – everything seems so far away now. It feels like I can’t even remember yesterday.
No people. I don’t see any people. Does no one live here? Who tends the vines?
I feel Clyde, feel his confusion. He’s whimpering now. Why? Has he not been here before?
Someone is grabbing me, pulling me – from this place –
Leave me alone…
“Leave me alone!”
“Mr. Taggart? Can you hear me?”
Can’t they just leave me here? I feel so comfortable here…
Fingers open an eye, another light shines and he tries to turn and look away.
“Mr. Taggart? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me? That’s right! There’s a tube down your throat to help you breathe; we’ll take that out in a minute so it will feel strange until then…”
He looked down towards his feet, saw Dina’s eyes above a surgical mask and he could see she’d been crying.
“Eyes red, too red,” he tried to say, but the hard plastic in his mouth warped the sounds that formed on his distorted tongue. He closed his eyes, tried to swallow but couldn’t and that really didn’t feel right at all. Then another wave of warmth, some pressure in his throat, and an oxygen cannula begins feeding gentle life to his lungs.
After that he moved from room to room as his condition improved, and at one point he looked over and saw Eva asleep in a recliner. He woke one morning to find Eva trying to feed him something that felt like lukewarm oatmeal. When he needed to go to the restroom Eva was there to help him walk.
Then Mike came.
“I’ve been reading the systems manuals that came with the boat, as well as your log entries. I think everything is running fine…”
“How long have I been here?”
“Not quite a week. You had us kind of scared there for a while, Henry.”
“I’ve got to get out of here. Gonna run out of time if we’re not careful.”
“Well, fuel and water tanks are full and Rolf has helped me restock the galley.”
“Rolf? He’s helping?”
“Yeah. Dina and Rolf moved on board four days ago. As soon as you get your fat ass discharged I take it we’ll just slip the lines and head south.”
“Not good. That hurricane? It brushed Bermuda before turning towards Ireland. It’s been downgraded to tropical storm force winds but we’d have fifty knot gusts if we left right now. Stuff will hang around for another two or so days after that.”
“Do you know what happened to me?”
Mike shook his head. “Better let Dina go over all that stuff.”
“So? What did you decide to do?”
“I turned in my papers, Henry. You know, I’ve been an explorer all my life…that’s why I went to Annapolis. Anyway, its begun to feel more and more like I’ve become some kind of cop on a beat, enforcing rules and laws that have begun to make less and less sense to me. Then I met you, and, well, I think it’s time to be an explorer again. Right now, I think being around you will be the most interesting place in the world to be, so…if you don’t mind…”
“I don’t mind, Mike. Grateful for the help, really.”
Mike sighed. “Glad you said that, Henry. It’s been weighing on my mind, like I didn’t want to invite myself to your party, you know?”
Henry held out his hand. “Welcome aboard, Shipmate.”
And when Mike took it, Taggart saw there was no need for words between them now.
“See if you can find Dina, or someone that can cut me loose. I’d like to get going as soon as possible…”
“What about the storm?”
“We’ll work our way south hugging the coast, get in out of it if we need to, but I want to keep heading south for now.”
“Okay. What about Eva?”
“What about her?”
“Man, she’s been in here by your side since day one. As soon as you were out of surgery, anyway.”
“She can’t come with us, Mike. It’s just too dangerous for her…”
“I don’t think she’s gonna want to hear that, Henry. And I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.”
“Yeah. There’s something weird going on with her…”
“And that’s why we have to protect her…”
Mike nodded. “I know, but I don’t think anything can hurt her right now, Henry. I can’t explain that, but it’s a feeling I can’t shake…”
“What’s going on with the Russians?”
“Complicated. That code you slipped into their systems? Well, furious is an understatement, yet half their ground forces were immobilized by some sort of general malfunction…”
“Well, yeah, let’s just say they’re pissed off and leave it at that. They’ve mobilized their reserves, been flying aggressive overflights around Estonia and Finland, their Black Sea fleet is busting out into the Med…they’re just up to a whole bunch of no good, if you ask me.”
“Too bad. Would’ve been nice if they’d just taken the hint.”
“Well, they’ve been acting predictably, from my point of view, anyway.”
Dina knocked on the door and stepped into the room. “Ah, he’s up!”
“He is indeed,” Mike replied. “I’ll leave you to it, Henry. Seeya later, Dina.”
She came and sat on the edge of the bed, leaned over and kissed Henry on the lips. “Sorry I was such a bitch,” she whispered as he sat up, taking his hand at the same time. “So, we have bad news, and then the really bad news. Which would you like first?”
“Just lay it out in terms of getting to Paris.”
“Tumors have grown near your spine. These were removed with some difficulty…”
“Is that what caused…”
“Yes. If you really want to make a push for France we should do so soon. That window may close unexpectedly, and without much warning.”
“Understood. So, as far as Christmas is concerned…?”
“We get to France and begin an aggressive intervention. We buy time.”
“When will it be safe for me to leave and get back to the boat…?”
“So, you wish to proceed?”
“You’ve healed enough to move back to the boat. We should consider another day getting back into the routine before departure, and there is the storm to consider as well.”
“And Rosa? How is she doing?”
“Fine. She will respond well to chemo, no surprises. The little girl is brave, is she not?”
“I think so.”
“Rolf has taken a liking to her, but I would assume you knew that would happen.”
“I had hopes, yes.”
“You seem to see the future more clearly than I.”
“Your daughter? How is she?”
“One more time…she saved your life.”
“I have failed miserably in that regard. She loves you terribly.”
“And I love her.”
“You love everything, Henry. You are overflowing with love, so how could you not love her.”
“Has been to the vet. I assume you know of his condition?”
“Yes, for a few weeks now. Could they remove any…”
“No, I’m afraid not. Too dangerous, they say. Still, I think he misses you most of all.”
Taggart nodded. “You’re still feeding him salmon?”
“Of course. And scrambled eggs in the morning, with wheat germ and yogurt on the side, just as you wrote down in the log.”
He smiled. “So, I’ve heard you’ve moved your gear back on board?”
“I have. And I promise to be a good girl.”
“You’re my wife, Dina. Believe it or not, it’s where you should be now.”
She nodded. “I will not leave you again, Henry.”
“I’m curious. Is Clyde staying with you?”
“Some of the time, yes. He goes forward and stays with Rolf for a while, then with Mike, then sometime in the night he comes back to me.”
“We’re his family now, I guess.”
“Oh, there is no guessing required. He watches over us all, Henry. But you most of all. I think he almost came undone when you collapsed and went into the water.”
Taggart nodded. “Must’ve hurt him to watch and not be able to help.”
“He was barking a good deal. But – about this Mike, this naval officer. Do you trust him?”
“There are times, Dina, when trust has to be earned. This is one of those times.”
“But you will let him remain aboard, even so?”
“Yes. Even so.”
“Okay. I will not ask why. Have you decided when you wish to leave?”
“The day after tomorrow, in the last stages of the storm.”
She sighed. “Alright. I will tell Rolf. Where will be the next big city we go to?”
“I will make arrangements for you there. I know a professor, so there will be no problem with treatments.”
“Platelets – or whatever may be needed.”
“I see. I’m curious…who pulled me out of the water.”
“Mike, of course.”
Eva was beside herself, now beyond depressed. “You will leave me here – again? But – why?”
Henry nodded. “I’ve told you my greatest concern. The next several weeks will be very difficult, and no place for a woman carrying twins.”
“And once you arrive, when may I come?”
“As soon as possible.”
“And if I cannot?”
“Then know that I love you, and take care of our children?”
“I cannot believe this is happening – again. Henry – no?!”
He looked to Britt, exasperated now, but she had tried already and now turned away and walked over to Rolf. Henry took Eva in his arms and held her, but as her arms encircled him he felt her fists bunch up in despair.
“Don’t make this any harder than it already is,” he whispered. “We will be together soon.”
There would be no quiet acceptance this time, no grudging acquiescence would be forthcoming. Her arms collapsed and fell to her side, then she turned and walked away. He watched her as she walked away – willowy, almost regal, the cares of an unjust world heavy on her shoulders – and he knew he would never see her again.
Britt came back to him and kissed him once, gently, on the lips, then she too drifted away.
He nodded to Rolf and Mike – who released their dock lines and hopped aboard. Taggart kept Time Bandits centered in the fairway and motored out of the inner harbor, his eyes dancing from the swirling clouds to the radar display. He took the range guides out to sixteen miles and saw a deep red blotch on the display; there would be heavy rain in that one, he knew, and winds strong enough to knock them down, too. He cycled the display over to satellite view and saw what he’d hoped for: a big, wide gap between incoming rain-bands that he’d use to their advantage. Get into the gap and push out to sea, then turn south after the band passed. Hopefully they’d be under fair skies early tomorrow morning…
For now, he set their course for the Askøybrua, the huge suspension bridge just outside of the main harbor, then they’d turn south, make for the Sotrabrua, the last major bridge before they’d turn west and make for the open sea.
“Dark clouds, Henry,” Mike said, pointing towards the Askøy Bridge and the writhing slate gray wall beyond. “You got it on radar?”
Taggart nodded. “The center of the low just passed. That’s the root of a major band.”
“It’s gonna be nasty, whatever the hell it is.”
“We have about ten minutes. Clear the deck of anything and everything loose, tie down whatever’s left.”
Rolf nodded and turned to it; Mike went aft and opened the garage, then started stowing fenders and dock-lines as Rolf brought them to him.
“You aren’t going to raise sail, are you?” Mike asked – and Henry shook his head.
“Dina, better run below and double check that all the hatches are dogged tight.”
She started down the companionway but stopped halfway down; “Have you had your medications this morning?”
He nodded. “Yes, I’m good ’til noon-thirty.”
He looked at the plotter with both the radar and weather overlaid, aiming for the center of the span ahead, noting there was no traffic out now…commercial or otherwise. “Smart,” he sighed.
“Less than five minutes to impact!” he called-out, causing Mike to look at the wall and shake his head in readily apparent dismay. “Safety harnesses on now, please!” Henry added unnecessarily.
He looked up at the masthead, then down at the display…
“White-line-squall,” Mike said, and Henry looked at the base of the wall just ahead; the wind was so intense there that spray was being blown off the wave tops – causing what appeared to be a white base marking the leading edge of the line-squall.
“What is this?” Rolf asked.
“Violent wind along that line,” Mike said. “Henry, you need help on the wheel?”
“You’d better take it, Mike. Not sure I’m strong enough right now.”
“Rolf? Help him forward, hang onto him if we get knocked-down.”
“Okay,” Rolf sighed, now clearly rattled.
“Rolf, let’s get the companionway boards in and dog the hatch.”
Taggart looked ahead through the glass cockpit dodger, and he could see a light drizzle had just started so he turned on the wipers, revealing the wall was now less than a quarter mile ahead and bearing down fast.
Mike throttled down a little and turned to meet the wall at a ninety degree angle just as the first gust hit…
The wind display moved to zero degrees apparent angle, average wind speed forty knots, then sixty three knots, then eighty knots – all in a matter of seconds…
“Jesus Fucking Christ!” Mike yelled, fighting to keep Bandits’ bow right into the wind; if he lost it and the bow drifted the wind would catch hold and push the boat onto her beam, meaning the boat could soon be halfway to capsized.
“Rolf?” Henry said calmly. “Give him a hand on the wheel.”
Henry looked at Dina, holding onto handrails with grim determination in her eyes, and he nodded at her when she turned and looked at him.
“We’re okay,” he shouted, trying to make his voice heard over the howling wind.
And she nodded, smiling a little. “She is a fierce boat, Henry. A real fighter.”
“Just like you.”
Mike went to full power as Bandits broke out into clear air, the seas behind the line blown flat, and almost as fast as it had come on the squall was past, now heading for the mainland. “Radar clear ahead,” Mike called out.
“I’ll go below and check for damage,” Dina said.
“Rolf? Check the anchor pins, would you?” Henry asked. “Mike? You good?”
Mike nodded. “Helluva little ship, Henry. I’m impressed.”
“Good builder, and Frers is a great designer. Rolf, let’s raise sail just before we make the turn; call it a mile.”
“Okay,” Mike added. “You got the wheel?”
“I got it, and thanks. Again.”
“No problemo,” Mike grinned.
Dina stood. “Anyone ready for some hot tea?”
Everyone was, it turned out.
Four hours later and with Klokkarvik now in their wake, Henry turned to the south-southwest and Rolf trimmed the sails again. Mike, sitting on the aft rail, seemed mesmerized by the pod of orcas that had magically resumed their station just off the port-quarter two hours earlier. Then Dina had joined him and listened to his recounting of all that had happened on Helgoland – and on their voyage north.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. “What red orb?”
“You mean you haven’t met Winky yet?”
“Winky? No? Who is this?”
Mike shrugged. “I reckon you’ll find out soon enough,” he said, yet at the same time he was thinking ‘oh boy, is this going to be more fun than a paper sack full of squirrels…’
The female orcas came alongside several times that afternoon; Taggart guessed they were hoping to find Eva, so he was not surprised when they fell away as the sun fell into the sea once again.
“Where do you think they’re headed?” Mike asked Taggart as they disappeared to the northeast.
“Back to Bergen. That’s where Eva is, and I guess now they know for sure.” Taggart looked at the big male still off their stern, and it looked like he had two other smaller males with him now and he shook his head. “I sure would like to know what they’re up to.”
“You ain’t the only one,” Mike sighed.
Dina listened to all these ruminations completely mystified. “You mean, they have been with us all along?”
Taggart shrugged her question away. “I don’t know,” was all he said as he turned back to the plotter, tracking the last bands of rain. “We may get some rain later tonight, but nothing major.” He looked at Mike then: “Why don’t you get some sleep now. You and Rolf can handle the night watch.”
“Midnight?” he asked, setting an alarm on his watch.
Taggart nodded – and Clyde came up the steps and barked twice.
“Astroturf, here we come!” Henry sighed. He cinched Clyde’s harness – then led him forward to the sacred spot and turned away as the pup dropped a bomb.
“Damn!” Mike screamed from the cockpit, fanning his face, “What the Hell do you feed that dog!?”
“Rats – fresh from the bilge, mee hearties!”
“Smells like road-kill, if you ask me.”
Clyde looked up at him and “Woofed!” once.
“Don’t pay attention to any of that bullshit. It ain’t like his shit don’t stink, ya know?”
“I know. I’ve got a nice filet ready to go. Sashimi tonight?”
“Okay, let’s do it…”
After dinner Dina came up and sat with them – Henry and Clyde – but she yawned a couple of time and he smiled. “You better go down and get some sleep, kiddo. You look about half past beat.”
“Maybe in a little while. I love this time of the evening, when the sun is just below the horizon.”
“The blue hour?”
“The blue hour. Photographers call it that because of the color of light. In medieval times it was the last part of the day you could safely travel before evil spirits came out to harvest new souls.”
“Now there’s a lovely thought. Thanks so much for that delightful imagery – and just before bed, too.”
He smiled. “Actually, I’d like to think we’ve progressed a little beyond such thinking.”
“I doubt we ever will, Henry. Such thinking is hard-wired into our brains. It is how we’ve survived, you know?”
“Clyde? What do you think? See any evil spirits out there?”
Clyde shook his head, flapping his ears in a ragged patter.
“See? Even dogs have gotten over all that.”
“You and that dog…you were cut from the same cloth…”
“The cloths of heaven, no doubt.”
“Yeats, his ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.’”
“What is that? A poem?
“Yes,” he sighed, “and it goes something like this:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
“Ah, so I must tread softly? Is that what you are telling me, dear Henry?”
“How else could you treat another’s dreams, dear wife?”
She shook her head. “I wish I understood you?”
He smiled. “And as I’ve told you before, be glad that you don’t.”
“Why? Why do you say such things to me?”
“Because I’m sure you’d not find what you’re looking for.”
“Looking for? What do you mean by that?”
“Dina, please, try to get some rest. We have three hard days ahead of us.”
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, tried to calm the magmatic anger coming to the surface, then she stood and hurried below before she said something she knew she would only regret tomorrow.
He pulled up the long term weather page, then the latest satellite overheads before he adjusted their next waypoint a little more to the south and east. “Looks like we’ll have great weather tomorrow, old boy.”
He looked down at the ancient wisdom in Clyde’s eyes and tried to smile, but it was getting harder to do now. The tumors along Clyde’s spine had mirrored his own, and in ways Dina would never understand.
He crossed his legs and patted his leg, and Clyde jumped up and sat on his lap. They looked at one another for the longest time, then the pup put his hands on either side of Henry’s neck and went to sleep.
He switched screens, set a radar alarm for twenty-five miles and then leaned back – watching the stars overhead as the miles slipped by under their keel. Dorsal fins broke water on their flanks, while hundreds of miles overhead a silent red orb trailed through yet another long, silent night.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.