Captain Jonah looked out over the bow of the Good Buoy and gazed across the mirror-flat sea. Steely eyes took in acres of clear blue ocean that lay ahead of the stark white luxury yacht, a plaything for the wealthy sheikh of someplace that Jonah couldn’t recall.
As an experienced captain, Jonah’s calm exterior covered his restlessness. The ocean was calm. Too calm. Jonah knew any captain worth his salt had reason to worry. Just as you never turned your back to the waves, you never took a calm day in the Mediterranean for granted.
His passengers dined on caviar while Jonah waited and watched. His crew saw to their tasks with crisp efficiency. Captain Jonah ran a tight ship, and his crew was capable of guiding this expensive vessel through even the roughest waters. His eyes flicked to the right and he spotted it, something a layman would never see, never understand.
A storm head was forming. Imperceptible, but unmistakable if you knew where to look. Clouds were drawing themselves together, gradually turning from fluffy white to roiling black. It would be here soon. Skies grew impatient quickly in this part of the world.
Captain Jonah picked up the radio and hit a button to transmit orders to the crew. “Uh, this is your Captain. We got a mushroom blooming off starboard. Estimated arrival one hour. Begin preparations.”
He knew his words would whip his crew into a frenzy of activity below while he stood at the bridge, eyes to the horizon. He smiled at their efficiency, then scowled at what lay ahead.
He could take care of his crew, but could he manage to save these pampered passengers who knew nothing of rough seas?
Sooner than expected, the storm came on, first in slow tidal rolls, then large, furious waves breaking across the bow.
“Secure all passengers, take cover as needed; she’s bringing a sledgehammer, boys,” Jonah said over the radio, never taking his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the horizon. If he could just navigate to the edges of the storm, the worst might pass.
The wealthy people downstairs might get a bit queasy and unhappy, but if he did his job right, they would survive. Their selfies and social media could never really capture just how easy Captain Jonah could make something this challenging look.
Navigating by gut feelings, he turned quickly to port and threw full power to the engines. He knew what they were capable of and asked for more. The engines wailed and whined as waves two stories high crashed over the boat, tipping it sharply. But the Good Buoy was steady on her feet and pushed herself back upright.
Just as Jonah had changed directions, so had the mighty storm. Its pulsating tentacles reached towards the yacht, to slam down lightning and thunder with a crack, bam, splash. The storm was now directly on top of them, and Jonah held the ship’s wheel as hard as he could, but it bucked like a spring goat in his arms.
“You will not win!” he shouted at the living beast that settled on top of the Good Buoy like a sodden blanket. He could feel the weight of the storm, and smelled ozone in the air when lightning hit the yacht’s mast in an earsplitting instant. Electrical systems onboard flickered and died. Jonah would be flying by wire now; with no high-tech gauges to guide his way. This was what he had trained for.
He closed his eyes and recalled his childhood sailing lessons. How had he navigated the waters around Johannesburg in a wooden sailboat with a weathered canvas fastened to the mast? He’d maneuvered storms with no gauges back then. He could do it again now.
This storm was different. Navigation was not possible. The only option was to ride its back. Survival meant steering into the swell, climbing high up each wave face, then pulling back hard to drift down the backside of the crest. Like a dance, timed with the rhythm of the ocean, attempting to avoid the inevitable bow slam. Wham!
As hard as he steered, the boat was tossed like a toy in a child’s bathtub. The Good Buoy smacked the ocean surface, now hard as concrete. This pretty bucket could survive a lot, but it had limits.
Jonah thought he had seen it all as Captain, until the moment waves picked up and flicked the Good Buoy out of the water, so high into the air that they needed a flight attendant to demonstrate safety features.
This was bad. No training could prepare a Captain and crew for a yacht gone airborne.
Wham! The slam came from above. Crack, a blast from the side. The Good Buoy was breaking apart. Pieces flew off the ship and dropped into the water. Passengers and crew tumbled from the deck. Pieces that were broken off were slammed into even more pieces. Utter devastation. Destruction. Loss.
“Jonah! What the hell?” shrieked a voice. The voice of his dear, sweet mother; the gentle woman who had held him when he was born would now cradle him to his salty death.
“Put it down, Jonah. Put it down! I’m counting. One! Two!”
“Craig! Get over here now!”
“Put your beer down and come get your son, who happens to be playing with your sledgehammer.”
“What? Is he okay?”
“He destroyed that toy boat you bought him yesterday. Look, it’s in pieces. Oh my god, he smashed his sister’s Barbie and Ken dolls too. There are plastic boat pieces and doll parts everywhere! Look at his wading pool! Why is there even a sledgehammer lying around?”
“I was splitting wood this morning. I didn’t think he could even pick it up. Jesus, he could really have hurt himself. What were you thinking, Jonah? Huh?”
Captain Jonah shrugged. “Sometimes the seas come on mean, bringing waves like a sledgehammer.”
“He learned this from you,” Jonah’s mother said, her voice so quiet that it terrified both the boy and his father. Like when the ocean goes quiet for a moment, just before the tsunami.
“C’mon, son, let’s go inside.”
Born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-teller, Karen Fayeth’s work is colored by the Mexican, Native American, and Western influences of her roots in rural New Mexico and complemented by an evolving urban aesthetic. Karen has been published in New Mexico Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Hawai’i Pacific Review and more. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, she can be found online at karenfayeth.com.