The jubilation didn’t last long. Rain was now fallings so hard no one could see the other end of the raft. It stung their faces face like a swarm of bees as they ducked in vain to escape the attack. Their previous narrow escape meant nothing now. Suddenly, life was being lived from second to second. It was survival time. Hope had been dealt a cruel blow.
Not far to the east, the blowing wind had corralled the churning sea into a giant heap, driving a fifteen-foot wave in their direction. As they buried their heads in their arms and clutched the side of the raft, it came closer….and closer. And then… Wham! It hit so hard and so fast, nobody knew what happened. The giant wave knocked the raft skyward, twisting it perpendicular to the water. It crashed into the sea, bouncing on its side before landing again in an upright position.
Somehow, Joe managed to hang on and stay in the raft. What had happened? Where was everybody? The reality of what had happened set in. He frantically searched the raft on his hands and knees. Like a blind man on the verge of death, he felt everywhere, in front of him, behind him, this side, that side. Nothing except the carryons that had been tied to the raft. He was alone. His fear had been eclipsed by the nausea that had attacked him like a wild beast.
“Ruthie! Ruthie!” He screamed as loud as he could. “Bull! Anybody!” If there was a hell on earth, this had to be it. He reached over the edge and pawed the water along one side of the raft, and then the other. The rain still pummeled his only link to survival. The water
kept churning, violently rising and falling like a gigantic sea monster hungry to devour anything in its path. And then…What was that? Voices. Yes, it was voices, but where? To his left! Yes, they’re over here. Then he spotted something. He leaned over and yelled, “Over here! Ruthie? Is that you? Bull?”
“Help me! Over here!” It was Bull, about ten yards away, arms flailing and clawing at the water.
Joe could only watch, and yell. “Come on man! You can do it. Keep comin’. You’re gonna make it! Over here!”
He scurried to the other side for another look. “Ruthie! I’m here. Swim to me. You can make it. Don’t quit on me! Ruthie! We’ll get you! You’re gonna make it!”
As he turned around toward Bull, a hand reached out of the water and grabbed the top of the raft. In an instant it slipped away and disappeared. Joe threw himself onto the edge of the raft with his hand hanging over, groping blindly in the churning water, searching for something solid… anything.
All was not well in Jonathan’s soul as he slowly opened his bloodshot eyes. Where was he? Oh, yeah. He had been there all night. Going to bed would have been useless. A cold December wind whipped around the farmhouse, forcing the weakest members of the plant world to bow down in submission. Rivaling the darkness for control of the night, it had forced its way through the cracks in the narrow and ageing double-hung windows, sending a sudden chill through his weary body. Ghostly images from the TV interrupted the gloomy darkness of the farmhouse as they danced throughout the room like menacing spirits. He blinked hard and fumbled for the remote, still lying in his lap. With a click, the screen became a faint glow. Beside him, a flickering candle strained to release a last whisper of its lilac scent.
He leaned his head back, his blurry gaze landing on the antique crystal chandelier directly above him. Taking what little light the dying candle sent its way, it valiantly tried to transform the flickering illumination into sparkling echoes of light and dazzling colors. It managed only dim, shadowy reflections. Just like his life. As he licked his dry, parched lips, the taste in his mouth had to rival that of some wild beast after devouring a half-decayed carcass. He wanted to brush his teeth and take a shower, but he didn’t have the energy to get up.
Forcing himself, he embraced the reality of his situation. He was glad to be alive, but the joy of the previous day had disappeared. He tried making sense of the jumbled thoughts that swirled in the dank gray fog of his mind. It was no use. He had lost his family, and his future looked bleak. If there was meaning to his life, it seemed to be hidden just below the surface…like a shallow grave. He didn’t know what to think or believe. He had been reduced to a tiny speck in a gigantic universe that could put an end to his feeble existence in a split second. He was losing his will to fight back.
He leaned forward stretching his back, which felt the effects of spending the night in a rocking chair. Continuing to blink the crusty blurs from his eyes, he pressed the tiny button on the side of his watch, and stared until the numbers came into focus. 5:15.
He didn’t think he had slept much, but he had obviously been out long enough to have that dream again. Always the same theme, but different details. He was back in college, a week before final exams, and he had neglected to attend three of his classes all semester. Panic had set in. What should he do? He didn’t know where he was supposed to be, and none of the buildings looked familiar. Scenes from his high school days had crept into the bizarre tale and sent him searching for his locker. It, too, was not where it should be, and he
As Joe reclined his seat back, he heard someone climbing the steps. Her hair drew his attention, reminding him of polished mahogany. Her delicate facial features and high rosy cheek bones gave her an air of innocence which contrasted sharply with the seductive way she carried her slender but curvaceous body—one that dared men not to stare or take a second look. With some sort of European accent, she introduced herself. “Good evening. I am Monique, your personal attendant on this flight. If there is anything you need, I am here to serve you.” Her thin and slightly lilting voice hung in the air like the scent of an exotic flower. She then excused herself as she checked all the supplies at the bar, overhead, and in the rest room.
Joe and Ruthie turned toward each other and in unison mouthed the words, “Personal attendant?”
“You can put your eyes back in your head now,” said Ruthie.
“Because I’ll pull them out of their sockets if you don’t.”
“I didn’t know you cared.”
“Who says I do? Besides, she’s way too old for you…and I don’t like her.”
“Do I detect a little jealousy?”
“To be honest, I’d love to look like that when I’m her age, but this chick needs a personality transplant.”
“You don’t even know her.”
“I know enough. There’s something about her, especially her voice. I don’t like her.”
Suddenly, their final traveling companion arrived, clutching a large athletic travel bag. He could easily have been a Navy Seal or a Green Beret—finely tuned, cut and in command. Without a word he took the window seat in the last row, two rows behind Ruthie and Joe. He placed his bag on the seat beside him, pulled a magazine from his coat pocket, and withdrew from the world.
Joe leaned toward Ruthie and whispered, “Now I understand why they call it the ‘Secret’ Service. I assume that’s our Agent Stone. What’s his name? Damien?” After a slight pause, he concluded, “I get the distinct impression that this isn’t going to be your average four-day getaway.”
Before Ruthie could respond, the pilot and copilot entered the cabin, stored their personal items, and took their seats in the cockpit. The attendant gave the obligatory air safety speech, but Joe had difficulty concentrating on her words. He closed his eyes to avoid trouble. Soon, they had taxied out of