The little skiff bumped something, turned slightly to the left and bumped something else. Margo leaned over the side and looked down into the water. She screamed.
Bodies floated all around them.
Junior, who’d had very little to say since leaving the island, slipped easily into the seat next to Margo and covered her mouth with a large hand. “Shh, girl,” he whispered. “You keep still now. You keep quiet.”
Margo nodded vigorously. She’d felt the tension the minute she let loose with that wail—shut up, shut up, what if someone hears you?
“You good?” Junior asked.
Margo nodded again, and Junior removed his hand.
“We’re turning around,” Devin announced.
“Take a good look, Margo!” Melvin cried. “Your cat is not fine.”
Margo started to cry. “I wasn’t going to say anything about my cat! I was going to say ‘my mother’!”
Melvin’s mouth dropped open and his face flushed bright red. “Shit. I’m sorry, Margo. I didn’t think…”
Junior pulled her into an awkward hug.
The smoke was thick and cloying, and made it hard to either breathe or see. But what they could make out was not a sight that made them the least bit hopeful.
Boats were listing or sunken in the harbor around the dock. The dock itself was battered and broken.
There were more bodies in the water—no one dared to count.
“Oh, crap,” Devin cried. “Welp…there’s the damn ferry.” He pointed.
The ferry was listing to one side. Truly, it was closer to upside down, with very little left to leave its bottom completely exposed to the sky.
“Bet that’s where the bodies came from,” Junior mused.
“But…it’s not that far between the ferry and the dock,” Margo argued. “I could swim that far—why didn’t they swim?”
No one answered. There wasn’t any way they could know how the vessel had ended up in its current position.
“That thing’s gonna go down any time now.” Melvin said. His voice was flat, implacable. He was terrified, but no one could tell that from his voice.
Margo, though, could see it in his eyes.
“It’ll take us with it,” Devin added. His voice was shrill, more what Margo would expect from a frightened person. He swung the little skiff around and cranked up the speed of the outboard motor. He was headed for open water as fast as he could go.
“What do you mean, it’ll take us with it?” Margo asked, raising her voice to be heard.
“Suction,” Melvin stated flatly. “Ever watch water in the tub go down the drain? Seen how it pulls the soap bubbles and anything floating down toward it?”
Margo gasped, recalling how her little boats would drift rapidly toward the drain, spinning and capsizing, even when they were on the far side of the tub when she pulled the plug. “Oh, God. Hurry, Devin!”
“We’re not that close,” Junior told her soothingly. “But better safe than sorry.”
Once they’d put some distance between themselves and the harbor and dock, Devin swung the skiff around so they could watch.
Margo looked around, and saw people further up the beach, also watching. As a group, they suddenly lunged out of the water and headed away from the shoreline.
Devin remarked, “Someone must have mentioned the surge.”
“Ayuh. Ferry’ll go down, and suck water and anything else close by with it. Then things will pop back to the surface and the water will gush out all over, and—”
“Are we far enough away?” Margo cried.
“Who knows?” Melvin grinned. “We’re likely to get wet, that’s certain.”
“Let’s get out of here!”
Devin obliged by moving further out and over in the direction of the people on the shoreline.
“Shit,” Junior muttered. “Fires.” He pointed inland.
Through thickening plumes of smoke, flames could be seen in several locations.
Margo, who had been leaking from the eyes for some time and telling herself it was the effects of the smoke in the air, finally let go and began to sob in earnest. She pointed in a generally northwest direction, where fire could be observed, massively high flames dancing in the breeze coming off the water. “My mother lives over there!”
Junior, struck stupid with shock, asked, “Where do you live?” He had visions of roasted kitty and felt like he might vomit at any time.
The ferry groaned and screamed, and the suctioning water boiled around it as it upended and went under.
The back surge sent wild waves to crash into the skiff, soaking them all and the little boat skittered backward across the water.
“Not far enough,” Devin mused, working to keep them upright.
As the boat settled, still intact and surprisingly not as full of water as one might expect, Junior gave up his battle, leaned over the side and expelled his excellent lunch.
“Ah, shit,” Melvin muttered. He swallowed his rising gorge and just managed not to follow suit.
“Sorry.” Junior looked miserably embarrassed. Margo hugged him.
More bodies could be seen now, bobbing to the surface and floating on the water. Margo suppressed the screams that demanded to be released, but sobbed harder than before. She couldn’t stop watching as the waves drove the bodies to the shore.
Someone on shore screamed. The people began to run further away from the shoreline.
“Take us home, boy,” Melvin told Devin. “There’s nothing to see here.”
“There’s plenty to see,” Devin argued. “But I don’t want to see it.”
The little outboard engine had died when the waters surged over it. Junior moved to the back to help Devin tip it and attempt to get it dry enough to start again.
“God damn it!”
“Never mind,” Melvin said. He bent and fished oars from underneath the seats. “It’s not that far—”
“I don’t want to land here!” Margo squealed.
“No, no.” Melvin reached out and patted her leg reassuringly. “It’s not that far back to the island.”
Margo took an oar. “I’m not very good at this,” she warned.
“No matter,” Devin said. He and Junior took places on the seats and took oars in hand. “We’ll all do our best.”
Swinging the skiff around again, they put their backs to the mainland. Margo thought she couldn’t bear to look any longer. Even from here, the destruction was obvious. Her mother was probably dead; with that thought foremost in her musings, her cat was no longer on her mind at all.
As she worked to match the rhythm of the men, she wondered about the people on shore. She lifted the oar and slid it smoothly into the water again, and decided not to care about anything but getting back to the island.
No one said a word.
This is part of a continuing series. This episode was previously published on Vocal Media:
Part 6 is coming soon!