by Fyn -
When time is of the essence, time IS the essence!
I had to get away! I had a deadline to meet or my editor was going to be furious with me. I’d put off the ending to my book for far too long and my deadline was rushing at me like an incoming tide, and me with my back against an unclimbable cliff. I’d run out of time. My blasted editor had told me I had to have the final manuscript to him no later than Monday, July 16th, or else. I had to finish the book, but the ending was still elusive. I was sick to death of my 'larger-than-life' hero and he was being annoyingly 'heroish.' It didn’t seem right. It didn’t feel right. The pressure was squashing all creative juice from my brain. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going!
One night last week I was procrastinating, yet some more, with a phone call to a good friend who offered me the use of his boat for a few days so I could get away. It wouldn’t matter that I knew nothing about sailing; his captain would take care of everything. All I’d have to do was bring my laptop, enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves slapping against the hull. No phones. No interruptions, and basically, nothing to do but write. I jumped at the chance, thus I spent yesterday sitting on the deck of a forty foot ‘boat,’ laptop closed in my berth below, soaking up the glorious sun and watching dolphins cavort and sing. We were about six hours southeast of Newport News, Virginia; I had a margarita in my mitt, and ideas verging on full boil.
That was last night. This morning, the Saturday before my "I’m-dead-line," I awoke from ‘margarita mayhem’ to a bloody sunrise staining the clouds with every imaginable color of crimson.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I commented to the Captain who’d joined me at the rail. “I’ve never seen such a red, red sky.”
“Red in the morning….” His voice died away, and I remembered the old saying from some far off youth.
“We in for a storm? I thought the weather report was fine.” I turned to look at the Captain and noticed his expression looked worried.
“No,” he answered, “there’s nothing on radar, but something just doesn’t feel right to me. Eh, well, it’s probably nothing.” He turned and headed off to the bridge.
I shrugged and headed for some coffee and my laptop.
A short while later, I discovered that my glorious ideas of the day before were not as glorious as I’d thought they were! This was going to take some major revision and I simply did not have the time. Sighing, I started to work editing a prior couple of chapters, but got side-tracked thinking about how I was still so pressed for time. Here I was, on the back side of fifty and time was escaping me. I was running out of deadline time, I was running into dead time, period. Where had the time gone, anyway? Sure, I’d had a best seller or two, the wife and a couple of decent enough kids. But the kids were grown and the wife had bugged out a week after my youngest got married. Said I never seemed to have enough time for her. That blasted word again. Just can’t get away from it.
Forcing my brain to wrap around the issue at hand, mainly finding a way for Garret, my lead character, to get out of the dead end I’d neatly boxed him into, I finally found my way into my writing zone. Several hours passed before I noticed the boat was rocking hard enough to slosh the cold coffee from my cup. Glancing quickly at my watch, it seemed much later than seventeen minutes till eleven. Deciding I needed to stretch my legs anyway, I headed topside for a look see.
Angry black clouds seethed overhead. Lightning strikes were exclamation points in some heavenly argument that did not bode well for us here below. Waves fought wind and spray whipped into my face: stinging nettles of uncharacteristically cold water chilled more than mere skin. I made my way to the bridge, slipping and sliding on the deck which canted dangerously underfoot.
“Captain Abrams? We going to be able to outrun the storm?”
“Hmmm? Oh. I didn’t hear you come in over the wind.” The Captain looked up from his charts, absent-mindedly chewing on a soggy toothpick. “According to radar, we aren’t anywhere near a storm. Computer’s acting funny, keep having to reboot. Must be a glitch in the satellite system. Doubt it’s anything to worry about. This old boat’s withstood much worse than this before.”
“You know best, Captain. Think I’ll head to the galley and grab some fresh coffee.”
The captain nodded: seeming to have already forgotten me as he poured over the possible scenarios to outrun, or possibly dodge the worst of this invisible storm.
Back in my berth, I settled in to staring at the screen on my laptop. I woke to near darkness, the only light being the pale grey glow of my start-up screen. It was just enough light for me to attempt to grasp my bearings as my mind was still wrapped in the dream I’d just had. I’d been in a dark room, surrounded by faces, all talking at me, but I couldn’t hear them over the sound of a huge clock ticking ominously. I didn’t remember restarting my laptop either. Looking at my watch, I saw it was almost quarter to eleven. At night? Had I slept something like eleven hours?
A brief, short rap at my door and it opened to admit the Captain who was decidedly looking the worse for wear. “Just thought I’d check in on you, Jim. Don’t know why it is so blasted dark in the middle of the afternoon. Radar isn’t working at all. GPS quit too. Looks like your laptop’s the only electrical thing working on the whole damn boat!”
Afternoon? But. Wait. My watch said the same time as it had when I’d headed upstairs before I feel asleep. “What the hell’s going on?”
“No idea. But close as I can figure, we’ve got no power, nothing electrical is working, computer’s frozen mid-reboot, and with the cloudy sky and darkness, I’m not even sure which way we are drifting. Waves are running six foot swells, but coming at us from several directions. Emergency beacon isn’t working and the hand-crank radio is spoutin’ static.
The captain’s face looked haggard in the grey light from my laptop which had finished rebooting and was now cycling my screen saver pics of, of all things, storm clouds and thunderstorms.
“You got any kind of internet connection on that thing?”
“Nah, I lost the wireless connection shortly after we left port. Don’t have all that strong a card in it to begin with, and it’s sporadic at best on land.” I poured the Captain two fingers of scotch in a rocks glass with an etching of King Neptune on it.
Downing the scotch in a single gulp, Captain Abrams looked at me and said, “Well, our best bet, hell, our only bet’s gonna be to sit tight and ride this thing out. At least you’ll be able to get your book finished! I got to head back to the bridge. Come on up later if you’ve a mind to.” With that he headed out the door.
I found my lighter from where it had slid to the floor and lit the hanging oil lamp that was swinging gently on its brass chain suspended from the ceiling. My mind swirled, thoughts sloshing about like the waves outside. A thought permeated: a light beam sweeping in the darkness-- and I was back inside the end of my novel.
Time, usually Garret’s friend was punishing him. How long could he evade his pursuers? If he could just keep ahead of them, then he might find his way out of the labyrinthine corridors of the National Institute of Health’s sub-basement. He had to get the disk to Emmaline so she could decode the data on it. What ever it took, he had to get that disk out of here. Ducking down another dark hallway, the luminescent face of a wall clock in an open office reminded him he’d told her he’d meet her at eleven pm at Barney’s. Garret tried door after door. At the end of another hallway, he turned left and saw a red flickering Exit sign over a door. He tried it and amazingly, the doorknob turned and he was once again in familiar territory. Not a moment too soon as the faint steps behind him in the darkness grew louder. Once again in peopled halls, he hurried along looking at the clipboard in his hands, trying to emulate the doctors he’d seen earlier in the day. Entering the crowded elevator, he watched through the closing doors as the men who’d been chasing him appeared at the far end of the hallway.
Twenty minutes and several miles away from the hospital, Garret slid into a booth in the dim and smoky cavern that was Barney’s. Emmaline slid a frosty mug of Blue across the table towards him and said, “It’s about time, Garret. I was beginning to wonder how long you were going to keep me waiting.”
He handed her the disk which she immediately slid into the side of her laptop. Data began running across the screen as she downloaded the information off the disk. As soon as it finished, she emailed the file to Atlanta and heaved a sigh of relief as she corrupted the disk and then shut down her laptop.. “That’s it then,” she said, looking at Garret, barely resisting the urge to say the rest of what was on her mind. Suddenly the back door of the bar disintegrated in shards of flying splinters and demolished wood.
I came up for air and by sheer force of habit looked at my watch. Still seventeen to eleven, or was it twenty-two after eleven? I realized I couldn’t tell: the closer I looked at my watch, the more confused I became. The time on my watch; the position of the hands on its face was impossible!
Fighting the pitch of the boat, I ran up the laddered stairs and headed for the bridge. Captain Abrams was sitting in the dark with his head in his hands. He looked up at me and shook his head.
“Sorry Jim, but I have no clue where, exactly, we are. No stars, no GPS, no computer. Wind is too unpredictable to risk raising the sails, and I’m pretty sure we are just drifting in circles, but without any points of reference, I simply can’t tell.”
“Why is my laptop still working then? I think it is the only thing on this tub that is. Have you checked the time lately?”
“Why bother? All I know is it is dark and my watch quit working hours ago.”
I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes before demanding that he check the time on his watch. “Look at the positioning of the hands. It is impossible for them to be in that position!”
Sticking out my wrist and comparing it to the Captain’s, we both saw the same thing at the same time. The second hand was now slowly moving counter-clock-wise! “What the hell?”
The Captain looked at me and I’m sure my expression mirrored his. “This makes no sense.” He paused mid-way from the clock on the cabin wall and spun around. “All the second hands are moving backwards.”
“Captain,” I asked, although everything in me did not want to, “We aren't anywhere near the Bermuda Triangle . . . are we?”
“Actually,” he said, his eyes meeting mine in the dim light, “yes. Never gave much credence to all the stories I’ve heard before this.” He drew me over to the charts spread out on the table and pointed to his last position in the ship’s log. “By my reckoning, we are right here,” he said, pointing to a spot that looked to be dead center.
“So . . . what now? Is there anything we can do? Or do we just wait?” I had visions of tridents and sunken sea chests coming to mind.
“Frankly, Jim,” he answered me, wiping his hand across his eyes, “We haven’t much choice. Ship’s all battened down; we aren’t taking on water, so all we can do is sit tight. I’m going to bed. I suggest you do the same.” With those words, he walked over to the hammock slung from the timbered ceiling, and climbed in.
I headed back to my berthing. My laptop was still where I’d left it, and I sat down and re-read what I’d written earlier. This wasn’t exactly where I’d thought the story was going to go. Garret was supposed to get the disk, get away and get the girl. Felt almost like it was writing itself, and not at all in the direction I wanted it to go. Emmaline had downloaded the disk, so the information was, by now, safe in the researcher’s hands. The formulas for the antidotes were the important thing. Garret had killed for them, lest the rampaging disease kill many, many more people. In this, at least, they’d side tracked the terrorist’s intentions. They might send their diseased martyrs out into the world, but now far fewer victims would die. Should the strain mutate or... No, that could be the next book in the series, perhaps. Or not. I was beginning to be awfully tired of Garret and his typically handsome good looks, tourmaline-green eyes and penchant for always getting the girl. Perhaps……
Sleep took me somewhere mid supposition and the next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor. Although still very dark, I could see that it was at least day time. A lighter shade of dim. I shook my head at that crazy thought. Stretching out, resting my head on my arm, I thought some more on just what I’d have happen to Garret.
A knock at the door and Captain Abrams stepped in. He was carrying two mugs of coffee. He stood there looking at me with a surprised look, probably from seeing me on the floor, no doubt. “Just wanted to let you know that the sea’s a lot calmer, in fact, dead calm. Not so much as a ripple out there and we are surrounded by a dense fog. My Granddad used to call fogs like this pea-soupers. I swear you could cut it, it’s so thick.”
“How’d you manage the coffee? Power back on?”
“Nope, started a fire in the grill we use for bar-b-cues and used an old percolating coffee pot I found stowed in the galley.” He smiled, adding, “I need my coffee in the morning, and this one, more than most!”
Gratefully sipping the scalding black coffee, I sat up and got to my feet.
“How’s the book coming?”
“Pretty good actually, I think my hero’s about to bite the dust and I’m loving every minute of it!”
“Well, I’ll let you get back to it, then. I’ll be on the bridge, even though there’s not much I can do up there, excepting maybe read!” He grinned and left.
I did. I really thought it was time for Garret to go to literary heaven or where-ever killed off heroes spend eternity. It was right. It was time. And, time, at least for the moment, was something I apparently had plenty of. I had no idea how I would explain all this to my editor, but he seemed far away and the book had grabbed hold of me again.
Several hours later I saved what I’d written and decided to take my laptop topside. Never before had my batteries lasted this long. Probably wouldn't ever again, either, I thought to myself. Settling into one of the canvas chairs on the deck, I looked out over a flat expanse of mirrored water. It mirrored only low hanging, flattened grey clouds. Not a sound, nary a ripple. I opened my laptop and began to write.
Garret lay in an ever widening pool of blood. It felt warm against his skin and he had the ridiculous thought that his own blood was keeping him warm as the snow piled up around him. Emmaline was dead. He was heartsick over that, but she’d never said a word, refusing to look at him at the end. Al-habin had used every device at his disposal to get her to talk, to get Garret to talk, but neither of them had said a word. They’d never know the information had been sent on to CDC. It would take some time for Al-habin to realize that his plan would ultimately fail, indeed, that he was already dying from his plan, and he wouldn’t even be able to get the antidote. A martyr? No, merely a sick, dying man, dying horribly, slowly, and all alone: his screamed prayers falling on ears that didn’t care.
Garret tried to stretch out his hand to reach Emmaline, but the distance was just too far to overcome. He knew he was running out of time. Each pulse, each beat of his tired heart, sent out streams of blood, which melted the snow and turned it into bloody sludge.
He looked up at the sky, which for some reason, snow and all, was impossibly blue. He knew he didn’t have any time left. It emptied itself out as the last snowflake fell, landing on a eye, opened to eternity, now glazed in death.
I clicked save. It was done. It was over. Rarely have I felt as exuberant as I did at that precise moment. I no longer cared if the book was late to the publisher. Tough. I’d finally done something that I realized I’d been wanting to do for the last two books! My editor screaming for more Garret books be damned! I'd yanked the larger than life and more annoying than possible super heroic chain from around my neck. I was free of him, of it and I felt lighter than air! Right about then I noticed the sky was impossibly blue and the water was moving. I looked at my watch and shouted for the Captain. My watch was working normally!!!!
He came out on the deck and said everything was working again and we were only a couple of hours out of Newport News, Virginia!
“The book’s finished!” I said with a grin. “The hero’s finished, the book’s finished and I’m finished writing for a while!” Just then my laptop gave out a weird sounding beep and the battery was finished as well! Perfect timing!
A couple of hours later, we pulled into port. At the entrance to the marina, I was almost run over by a man headed down the gangplank to the boat. He looked grey, and completely stressed. Headed for a heart attack if he keeps that up, I thought to myself mere seconds before I realized who I was seeing. Bewildered, I looked about and saw a newspaper lying on a table outside 'The Dockside Cafe.' I looked at the date. It was Friday:The same day I'd left! I wasn't late after all, in fact, I had time to spare.
word count ~3244