Seconds felt like hours felt like days.
Sean had been sailing with his father.
Time to earn your stripes lad. Papa Redford had said. But truth be told Sean wasn’t sure he wanted those stripes, colourful as they might have been.
His father was a naval officer, a family man, and a damn good sailor; his boots were mighty big, too big to fill. And Papa Redford knew this. He looked upon his son with a certain sense of discontentment. Little Red. Sean. His boy. What a sorry excuse for an heir. Too thin around waist, too green around the gills, and a lousy f*cking sailor. A disappointment, and that’s just the truth.
“Don’t worry, lad.” Papa Redford said, slapping his son just about hard enough to knock him overboard, “I’ve got your back.” he nodded to himself, satisfied he could make a man of the whelp yet, “You’ll just have to trust me.”
The problem was that Sean didn’t trust his father, and with good reason too.
He could remember when his father paid those god awful thugs to serve him a beating. Just hardening you up, lad.
He could remember when his father drove him out into the woods and left him there to find his own way home, in the midst of a winter storm with nothing but the shirt upon his back. A right of passage, lad. My father did the same for me. For me, not to me.
He could remember when his father, the family man, had beaten down his mother in a drunken fit of rage. She has to learn, lad, and so do you. All because Sean’s sweet mother had insisted their son needn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, that he should only join the navy if he really wanted to. And Sean really didn’t want to.
That’s what had led them here. Sean’s reluctance to be his father, to become the world’s next Papa Redford. He wanted something better for himself, something calmer than the seas that raged about him.
It might not have been a winter storm, but the rain that lashed from high on heaven’s soaked through coat and shirt alike. The deck of the Red White and Blue was drenched, the surface slippery enough to throw you down without so much as a warning. Slippery enough to send you overboard.
“You see that, lad?” Papa Redford gestured for the mist that rose from the all consuming ocean, for the blackened skies that threatened thunder in their clouds, “That is your mistress, the true test of a man. None of this b*llocks they teach you at school, there ain’t a book I know that can teach a man ’bout living. You need to experience life, lad, the highs and the depths down below.”
Papa Redford beckoned his son to join him at the ship’s edge, an edge decorated by wayward weeds that draped down into waters unknown. “You do trust me, don’t you, lad?”
Perhaps it was the hesitation, the reluctance to answer. Perhaps an answer would have made no difference. Perhaps his father could sense the dread, the palpable fear, that lingered lightly round Sean’s being.
“Survive this, and I swear you’ll be a disappointment no more.” Papa Redford smiled, his face wearing a sickly sort of fatherly love, the twinkle in his eye screaming that this was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. He grabbed his son by the collar of his shirt, and tossed him overboard. “Good luck, son.” he didn’t bother shouting, his voice was barely a whisper before the coming storm. He watched through grave, determined eyes before turning his back to the seas, and to his son.
Seconds felt like hours felt like days.
Trapped in those waters, sucking down lungfuls of salt ridden water, wondering what unspeakable horrors awaited in the depths below. The storm raged on, the heavy rains showed no sign at all of letting up.
Sean was cold, freezing in fact, struggling to stay afloat. But worst of all, Sean was alone. He could think only of his mother, of how his father would blame her if he never made it home. How was that fair? How could a man lay such a burden on the one he calls his love? Sean’s gut wrenched not just from sickness, but from a rage of his own, too. A rage that summoned will enough to hang on for one more breath, will enough to stave off death.
That’s when he saw it. A flicker of hope so far in the distance. Not the Red White and Blue, but simply the Red and the White.
A life ring? Sean searched the fog of the sea for signs of a boat, big or small. But all he saw were waves, and shadows lurking in them.
Yet still this odd saviour, this little ring cast out in miles and miles of sheer nothingness, crept closer, calling for him to take hold.
Sean watched the coiled candy cane bob gaily in the waters, his mind a blur still trying to comprehend what had happened, what his father had done, where exactly he was. Then against the confusion came a desire burning in his heart. Father said, father told me… I have to earn my stripes. Stripes. Such colourful stripes.
Reaching out (for what choice did he have) Sean grasped the floating ring of red and white, throwing his stomach over this wet guardian of life. Only it was more than just wet, it was lacquered in a slime, and were those scales on the ring? And now he thought about it, was the ring not in fact a ring at all?
No, it wasn’t.
It was a thick line of rope sprung to look as if it were a ring, but there was no join, no infinite loop in its structure. Sean followed the rope as it snaked beneath the ocean’s waves, and there he saw a shadow, growing thicker, diving deeper. He dared not think what might be waiting at the end of this rope, in fact he knew now the ring that was a rope was not a rope at all.
It was alive. And as the sky lit up with the first signs of lightening, thunder rolling through the clouds, Sean saw its eyes. The thing that dwelt below the surface of the water looking back up at him. Those eyes were cool searchlights of an eerie green colour, housed above thin, pink lines meant as lips.
The eyes smiled, and from those lips leaked teeth.
Sean decided he had a choice to make, and how his father would be proud. Stuck between a knife’s edge and a razor blade, his head set already on the chopping block, he would chose to either drown… or to be devoured by the creature in the deep.
Copyright © K R Perry 2019