Mason laid on the Caribbean beach. How many days had it been? He could not remember. It seemed like yesterday that he was driving his cabin cruiser along the calm Gulf waters when he hit the unseen reef. No, thought Mason, that wasn’t a reef. The sea was shallow, and that was a sunken ship. Think man, don’t go off the deep end. Use your training and experience.
It had been Mason’s years in the Navy that helped him survive the sudden gutting of his ship’s keel. The damage opened a fatal hole along the bottom of “My Valentine.” Mason barely had time to get his inflatable in the water and his emergency kit he on board. Unfortunately, he had not bothered to test his emergency equipment recently. The battery was weak inside the emergency GPS signal device. Mason was not sure anyone even saw the signal before the gadget died out.
He had three days worth of water. Six if he rationed it, and he did ration it. The small key he laid stranded on had appeared after two days at sea. Paddling with one oar Mason beached the air raft and laid in the warm sand. At first, the island felt like salvation, but it didn’t take long for him to realize it was little more than a large sandy mound with some stray sawgrass that grew in clumps. There was no water or food.
The weather was favorable, too favorable. Without rain, Mason slowly baked in the sun day by day. He had managed to fashion his raft into a lean-to for shade, but he had to get out and move around. Mason stretched his water supply to six days as planned. His food supply ran out in five days. For another two days, he was able to catch the smaller fish swimming in the shallows against the island. Waterproof matches and sawgrass made for a quick flash fire to put some heat on the fishes’ flesh before he ate it.
However, it had been two days since he had any fresh water. Eight days, I’ve been gone eight days, thought Mason. Why haven’t there been any search planes? I’m such a fool for not checking my equipment. Mason spoke in a slurred speech from his swollen tongue, “You idiot.” The self-chastisement did little to make him feel better.
A warm breeze blew over him in the hot sun. The same warm air that had heated his body for eight long days. Mason felt roasted alive. He crawled back to his lean-to and closed his eyes. The sound of a small engine began to fill his mind. Mason smiled and enjoyed the dream of being rescued, but the tone changed pitch. “Plane!” Mason slurred out to no one.
With his last ounces of strength, Mason grabbed the semaphore flags and forced himself to run towards the beach. At least these don’t need batteries, he thought. Mason rushed beyond the edge of the beach and into the shallows towards the sound of the plane. He began waving the flags over and over above his head.
The prop plane came into view. It was a seaplane with Coast Guard colors. It circled Mason and wiggled its wings. Mason began to signal N-C to tell them he was in distress. The plane circled and then wiggled its wings once more.
The aircraft changed patterns and appeared to be looking for a place to land. Mason threw the flags in the air and jumped as best he could in the shallows. The promised rescue made him forget his body’s weakness. Maybe it was just adrenaline making him feel healthy again, but he was not concerned, he was saved.
The sharp pain that tore at his calf was the first moment Mason noticed the small shark attached to his leg. He yelled and beat on the fish. It let go and swam off. Mason immediately made for the shore. He arrived in only a few steps. Blood profusely poured from his leg. He pulled the belt from his shorts and did his best to create a quick tourniquet, but the strength he had earlier quickly vanished. Mason fell back and closed his eyes. He was so close to being rescued, but it would soon be over.
“Hey buddy, wake up.”
Mason opened his eyes to see a Coast Guardsman hovering over him with an IV bag in his hand. He felt something in his arm.
“There you are. Hang in there. Help is on the way.”
Mason nodded and closed his eyes.
“Hey, come back to me, don’t give up.”
Mason smiled, nodded his head, and let the darkness form around him.
Mason opened his eyes. He was in a small hospital. The cream steel walls and the movement indicated the hospital was inside a ship. He heard footsteps and looked to his left. A young woman in a uniform smiled and said, “There you are. Everyone has been taking odds on when you would wake up. You may still feel tired. That’s from the morphine for the shark bite. You’re lucky. You only lost a couple of inches of muscle.”
Mason laid there and tried to remember. Shark, he thought to himself, I’ve been bitten by a shark.
“I’ll be right back.” said the woman.
Mason nodded and closed his eyes. In the distance, he could hear her holler, “Tell John he won the pool!”
A thought entered Mason’s head. This ship is so much warmer than I thought it would be. I wonder why they don’t keep it colder? He tried to open his eyes again, but his eyelids felt too heavy to lift. An odd thought entered into his mind; I hope my rescue isn’t just a dream.
Mason clenched his fist around something. Is that sand or linen? The thought vanished from his mind as he allowed his body to float away with the euphoria and exhaustion.