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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

An intrepid young woman is rowing across the Pacific, when 'the best laid plans' become . . . well, changed.



A Short Story 

Nicholas Cochran


Elizabeth Gray sat on a special seat at the back of her modified rowboat gripping the two sides of her craft with white-knuckled hands. In the last hour, the sky lowered and the sea rose. From Elizabeth’s perspective, the horizon—when it bobbed up into and down out of her view—consisted of a flat narrow line across the sky between roiling grey clouds and rolling grey waves.

She never feared the water. She always held the opinion in her case, water, in all its forms, was simply another amniotic fluid. It surrounded and protected her. So many times during her twenty-six years, she found occasion to assume the fetal position. To her closest friends, that was her default position, lying on a bunk bed at summer camp; later, in the Coast Guard; while lying on a ground sheet by a dynamic—almost anthropomorphic—fire during a SEAL training mission; often before having sex; always after having sex; usually when she was thinking about sex, and specifically, sex with Haygood Hardy, a lawyer she was to marry a month after recuperating from her trans-Pacific crossing.

They virtually rebuit her customized rower,and supplied with every available addition and device to insure both speed and safety. By now, Elizabeth was almost hugging the gunwales while the waves began to crest at startling new heights. Her calculations, as well as her radio contacts, had her in her sixth week out of San Francisco. The Farallones sat in a section of her memory that felt older and much smaller than six weeks. When she began to feel a creeping awareness of her memories edging away from their correct temporal moorings, she rowed ferociously for four weeks. Most of that time was physically energizing; a chance to test the months of training she patiently absorbed. Sometimes it felt like she was reprocessing—perhaps reinventing—her preternatural core.

So many discoveries about the deep-rooted shards of her essence initially kept her awake until dawn. She mulled, dissected, and rearranged most of the many preconceptions she possessed about strength, determination, fluidity of temperament, ecstasy; the boundless perimeters of joy.

Next, she surveyed the black: the black holes of discouragement; the black dogs of depression; the blackness in that part of her young body not yet fully challenged.

Yes, Elizabeth was as rightfully proud of her training as she was about Annapolis, her years in the Coast Guard, and her acceptance to SEAL training. Nevertheless, out here, now, her beloved amniotic fluid was beginning to squeeze the juices of courage and purpose from her usually unshakable will. She forced herself to look at the specially built cabin that was her roost, her home. It was straining to free itself from the bottom of her galleon; to break loose and tumble into the cruel sea.

Gradually, she began to discover the harder she gripped the gunwales and the stronger she stared at her fracturing home-at-sea, for some reason, her spirits began to soar. A smile surprised her lips, lightness elevated her heart. She felt an odd euphoria coursing throughout body and soul. She laughed. Then it happened. She could never explain this part of her odyssey to herself or to others.

She was never religious, beyond the perfunctory church attendance—mainly for the strawberry socials—and some early years of reading about nuns. Yet now she began to nod her head in acknowledgement of a religious certitude. Her laughter increased as she felt that same rapture, that same ecstasy that inspired the divine works of religious painters and architects. She felt a sense of the hallowed, the compulsion to be revered.

Her galleon was but a speck of wood, rolling wherever the rising foaming amniotic fluid took it.


Elizabeth had no last memory of events before beginning her struggle through webs of confusion. A beach of white sunlit sand stretched from her left eye to a point where palm trees gathered in a copse, gazing upon the lazy waves lapping the end of their journey.

Almost immediately, she felt the driving heat of an angry sun on her back; her bare back, ‘No, my bra’s still on,’ She instinctively raised her chin an inch from the sand and looked for shorts and underwear. ‘Still there. Okay, now what?’ Shifting up onto her elbow, her eyes made only a perfunctory search for her vessel. She hoped to see pieces bobbing in the surf. There were none. She was certain it sank. ‘But where, how? and where am I now?’  

Unlike characters in the stranded movies: Robinson Caruso; or Castaway, she did not sob or ask on bended knees: ‘Why me? How can I survive all alone? Where are the search parties?’ No, Lt. Commander Gray, USCG, SEAL waited a few seconds and took inventory.

Again, unlike the movies, she was free of broken bones and ragged gashes yearning to be stanched. She checked her bra hooks, as well as the solidity of its structure. She tied one loose shoelace and wobbled up the beach to the cover of some leaning palms.

Sounds of scraping undergrowth amid mild cursing heralded the arrival of twenty-five year old dark-haired “Big Biff’ Mayhew. Biff went missing, lost overboard three weeks ago, washed up on the other side of the island. He was beginning to wish he was in Peoria shortly before happening upon blonde shapely Elizabeth.

Biff was a high school dropout, an alcoholic and recreational drug user, a biker, (no tattoos) and pretty much the funniest guy Elizabeth ever met. Of course, they had to talk to each other. Biff said he had a dandy shanty on the contra costa and she was welcome. Elizabeth declined, but accepted Biff’s sound advice on weaving palm fronds to build a structure. He helped her. Four hours later, by the sun dial Biff rigged, Elizabeth---now Liz---was the proud owner and sole occupant of a one-bedroom pre-fab palm pad.

The sun began to set long before Liz and Biff finished discussing everything from the military to the deck-hand industry. Next came books, plays, films (Biff was very partial to the Criterion Collection; and the Die Hard Collection) both foreign and domestic. When Liz mentioned food again, Biff expertly started a fire with knowledge plucked from an otherwise sluggish summer as a Boy Scout, a doughty enterprise cut short by expulsion for possession and service of alcohol and weed.

Biff fueled the fire with dead fronds and good cheer, resulting in a capital repast of Mahi Mahi, greens, and pineapple, served up under a full moon. Liz wondered—and then baldly asked if he made any alcohol. That near-alchemic accomplishment was escaping Biff’s creativity and resources at present.

“But give me another week and I’ll have some desert-isle moonshine for you, Lizzy.”

Now that Lizzy replaced Liz, Elizabeth caught herself considering Big Biff as a sack partner; or rather a frond-pile partner. However, images of her beloved Haygood wouldn’t allow it; at least not that first night. Biff was the perfect gentleman. Liz thought—correctly—it was because Liz enumerated the martial arts belts she possessed as the result of her training as a SEAL.

Biff ambled home along the path he cleared earlier in the day using a couple of giant razor-edged palm leaves. While she could still hear Big Biff batting about, Liz returned to Elizabeth. She rightly decided that morning was wiser than evening. Her head would clear, all that seawater would leave her left ear, and the hot sunshine would brighten her situation. Some pineapple—plus God knows what treat Big Biff might rustle up—would give a big boost to her energy. After breakfast, she would calmly assess her situation.

In the meantime, under the flood of light from her tropical moon, she dragged her foot over most of the three hundred yards of beach, to form huge letters, (plus an exclamation mark) spelling:


STAY AWAY !  . . . . . . .  FOR AWHILE.



THE END . . .MAYBE . .

Submitted: January 02, 2016

© Copyright 2023 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


G. Adams

Glad it worked out for her.

Sat, April 3rd, 2021 5:18am

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