Myself, my cousins, friends and others fall into Lord of the Flies tribalism when we find ourselves adrift at sea in a ramshackle three-masted corsair. We scavenge the ship for weapons, supplies, caches of cigarettes and alcohol. Those first aboard, among them John and Nick Manseau, are the dominant clique: those who managed to get their hands on the AK-47s. They mostly fire the guns in the air for effect, especially since the ship is so damn rickety a good double-row of .30 caliber holes in the hull might just be enough to snap the whole thing down the middle.
After a good half-hour of fleeing from the guns like monkeys with our heads cut off, I figure this out. I make my way down through the holds, encountering pockets where other refugees have already gone into hiding. The pirates appear to have targeted a lot of cruise ships in the seventies, as mostly everything down here is in the vein of yellow polka-dotted canvas suitcases covered in mildew. In a cache beneath a false floorboard beneath the very prow of the ship, however, I discover somebody’s hoard: several dozen oversized kitchen knives, a couple of utility razors, a crowbar and a couple of bottles of Bass ale. I choose one of the razors and a heavy, serrated bread knife. I of course lay claim to the beer, but distribute the rest of the weapons among my fellow stowaways.
Possessed of a newfound self-assurance and disregard for my armed enemies, I am soon to be found lounging in a cargo sling dangling from the yardarm, an empty beer bottle cradled in my lap, trying to pry the cap off a second bottle with the blade of the razor. John and Nick and their crew stand around on deck, guns against their shoulders, cursing me roundly.
Alas, when I get the second bottle open I find it has been compromised by age and sea, full of foamy white mold.
My shiv-toting compatriots arrive from below decks; a brief battle ensues. I tumble from the comfort of my hammock for fear of flying bullets, and barely manage to save myself from the waves by grabbing onto an open porthole as I plummet past the hull. The breadknife and the last of the beer tumble out of my lap and disappear with a splash. I duck through the porthole, back into the safety of the hold.
Above the sporadic sounds of gunfire choke to a stuttering halt; either the mutinous assault has been subdued, or the idiots are finally out of bullets. Either way, the contest is now rather moot. The damage has already been done: the shooting has irrevocably compromised the hull and the hold is filling steadily with froth. The last stragglers of the kitchen-knife clan scramble to salvage what they can of the cargo, then slosh with their spoils across the swiftly tilting deck towards the hatch that leads topside.
I, however, am in need of a weapon to replace the one I lost. I take a deep breath and plunge underwater, heading for the deepest innards of the ship.
Close against the keel, in a broad, low-ceilinged space now gray and murky with the inrushing sea, I take my sweet time, rummaging through more rotten suitcases, piles of spare timber and tackle. The lack of oxygen, the fear of drowning, is only an abstract concern. This is dreaming–here I don’t need air to breathe. Alas, I make no more opportune discoveries. I don’t know what I was hoping for–a nice, compact nine-millimeter would be useless now anyway, soaking wet. I settle on a five-iron from a rust-encroached set of golf clubs, kick free from the flotsam and head back the way I came.
My head breaks the surface back in the forward hold just in time for a wet, rending crack as the rotten wood of the hull tears asunder. Light and sea spill in through the hole and beyond it, I see–
“Land! We’re coming up on land!”
A jagged shoreline of pines, broken up by rocky outcrops, sliding by fast. I grab hold of a trailing rope and swing out onto the hull’s outer surface. Up on deck everyone is shouting and scrambling about pell-mell, wailing about how we’ll be smashed against those rocks. The pines slide away and suddenly there’s a marina in sight on shore not fifty yards away, pristine white pleasure yachts bobbing at anchor, and a crowd of people sitting at some quayside restaurant all standing up and waving. I pitch away my hard-won golf club, get a good grip with both hands on the rope and kick off away from the ship, out over the water. “Swim, you idiots!” I shout, then let go of the rope, plunge in and follow my own advice.
Somebody pulls me out of the water onto the dock. “What the hell’d you do that for?” he asks.
“Are you kidding? That ship is a wreck. It’s going to sink any second.”
“Doesn’t look like it to me.”
I turn, and he’s right. From here the ship looks as though its still on an even keel, moving along at a decent clip despite its lack of sail. The people on deck don’t look happy, though, and even as I watch the ship lurches, the stern lifts up out of the water and the whole thing starts to slide down beneath the surface. People are leaping off like mice.
“See?” I say. “I told you.”