The Swamp (Part 14)

The boat bobbed in the stillness of the ocean. Hendricks spent most of the morning trying to get the engine to come to life, but he was not very skilled with this type of work and there were only a few tools scattered in the bottom of the vessel. He tried taking it apart as best as he could and found some burnt out wires that had been blackened. They must have had some sort of short circuit. Judging from the frazzled insulation on most of the wiring, the engine had probably never been properly maintained.

The temerature intensified until it was the most brutal and suffocating heat that Hendricks had ever felt in his life. They were floating somewhere just north of the equator and it felt to him that the temperature must be upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweat streamed down from his forehead and he swore as he cut his hand on the super heated metal of the engine for the tenth time in the last two hours.

He plopped down and lay on his back, shielding his face from the blistering sun with his forearm. Luz looked at him, scanning his face.

“You do not look too good, Henrique. You need to rest now.” She advised gently.

He laughed hoarsely, his mouth parched. “I’m not getting anywhere with this engine anyway. I don’t think it can be fixed without some new wires.”

“I am sure that some other boat will come along soon and help us. There has to be lots of boats out here.” She tried to sound hopeful, but she had trouble even fooling herself.

“There better be. If we don’t get some help soon…” He trailed off, not wanting to state the obvious. “There’s not much water left and zero food.”

“I read a book once about some whaling men from, how you say it? Nantucket?”

“Yeah, that’s right. Nantucket. Old Whaling town up on the East Coast.”

Entonces, these men, they went around South America and up past Chile, past that island with all the big head statues.”

“Easter Island.”

“Si, Easter Island, and, well, their big whaling boat was sunk by a whale that rammed them.”

“You’re thinking of Moby Dick. That’s fiction.”

“No, this is true story. The famous writer, Melville wrote his book about them. It was basado on this true story. Entonces, these men all ended up in three small barcos, out in the middle of the ocean, no food, and no water.”

“What happened?”

“At first they had to drink their own, how you say? Piss? Urine?”

“That is disgusting. Don’t even think about it Luz, I am not drinking your piss! That is never going to happen!”

They both laughed at that. Luz socked him playfully on the arm., “Never say never, Henrique!”

“What did they do for food?”

“Do you really want to know? They ate the guys who died first.”

“Ummm, yummy. Now I’m really hungry,” he patted his stomach.

“We could catch some fish, no?” she chimed in.

He looked at the old fishing poles that were stowed under the benches. They were the kind you had to screw together and they appeared to be ancient, with duct tape wrapped around the cracked, deteriorating handles. He picked one of them up and checked the line, untangling it. He straightened the line out up to the rusty hooks on the end.

“No bait. We’ll have to see if something bites without bait, I guess. Oh, well, here goes nothin’” he cast off over the side of the bobbing boat.

“Maybe it will rain and that would solve the water issue. I just hope we don’t get a big storm. Without an engine we would be in serious trouble. Now I know there is a simple way to desalinate ocean water but I can’t for the life of me remember how. Maybe it will come to me. Right now it’s hard to think with this fucking sun broiling my brain.” He shielded his face the best he could with one arm. Luz dug around in her pack and came up with a pink Juicy baseball cap.

“Here, put this on.” She plopped it on his head and laughed. “Now you don’t look so tough no more.”

“Thanks, I think.” The hat did the trick and cooled him off a bit, keeping the harshest rays off his skull. He tried to focus on the fishing line, finding a mantra to repeat over and over, willing the fish to strike.

He realized that they should not have talked for so long. His mouth was very dry and it was tough to keep from licking his cracked, chapped lips which were starting to blossom into full blown sores. Licking your lips will actually make you even thirstier and as anyone who has ever been skiing will tell you, it makes your lips even more chapped and sore.

He wished that he had some Chap Stick but tried to push that out of his mind. Thinking about Chap Stick made him think about Walgreen’s drug stores back home in Tulsa. Thinking about Walgreen’s made him think of those big tall cans of cold Arizona green tea that sold for ninety-nine cents. No good thinking about that, but man, it was hard to think of anything else.

His shirt was soaked through with engine grease, sweat and salt water. Luz was also perspiring, but nowhere near as much as he was. She was naturally brown and having lived here all her life, she was more accustomed to the heat. Oklahoma got hot in the summer, but nothing, not even one tour of duty in Iraq could prepare him for the lung burning torture, the flat iron of caustic heat that was the Panamanian sun at its zenith. It could bring you to your knees in hours and boil the blood in your veins. Hendricks knew that it would not take long before they either passed out and died or could not resist the fatal urge to roll off the side of the boat into the cooling and inevitably life snuffing waters of the ocean.

He kept putting one hand in his pocket and feeling the rocky lumps there, just to make sure he had not dropped them. He believed that they would prove very useful but only if they were able to somehow make it to shore or if they were somehow rescued. Fat chance of that, though, he thought. They were in one of the shipping channels, but the channels were very wide and it would be tough for a big ship to spot their tiny fishing boat unless they were right on top of them or actively searching for them, which, of course, no one was.

to be continued

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