by Daniel J. Durand
Two men sat in a boat, leisurely floating at sea. Seagulls flew overhead, their shadows cast down onto the water below. One of the men, staring up at the sky, saw the birds and wondered where they were going. Resting an elbow on the side of the boat, he looked to the man sitting opposite of him.
“Where do you suppose they're going?” he asked.
“Who?” inquired the second man, who had been picking at a splinter of wood. He hadn't noticed the seagulls.
“The seagulls. Where do you think they're going?”
“How should I know?” snapped the second man, furiously picking at the splinter. He was intent on his work, being careful not to snap the bit of wood, having managed to turn what was at first an insignificant chip in the wall of the boat to a majestic, three-and-a-half inch strip. He, who was known as Alex, had no time for questions, not when his life's work was so near to completion.
“Fine! Forget I asked!” said the first man, upset at being so quickly brushed aside. He was truly concerned about the seagulls, and had thought it a valid question. Instead of getting an answer, though, he got to play second-fiddle to a splinter. It was an impressive splinter, though. Alex's family would be proud to see it when the boat was brought back to shore.
With a sigh, the second man, who was known as Bill, went back to gazing up at the sky. The seagulls had long flown off, appearing as mere specks against the endless, cloudless blue of the horizon. Losing interest in the now far-away birds, Bill contented himself with staring straight up. No thoughts were present in his mind.
The sun was now just above the water, and the men in the boat hadn't deviated much from their previous occupations. Bill had dozed off for a bit, and was just waking up, his neck stiff from falling asleep in his sky-gazing position. Alex was still busy with his splinter, having only stopped his work for a moment to switch hands, his right thumb raw from the task. The splinter was now a good foot long, and nearly ready for harvest.
Both men were quiet. As time seemed to drag on for Bill, now watching uninterestedly as Alex picked away, something rare and horrifying happened...
...A plot device. Suddenly, a small hole burst open on the floor of the boat, water gushing in. Bill and Alex both looked at the hole. No words were exchanged as both men glanced back up to each other, scanning for meaning in each others' faces. Finding none, they stared back at the hole, perplexed. The floor of the boat was now flooded by a thin layer of water.
Finally, realization dawned on the men, followed swiftly by panic as they tried to patch up the whole. They worked quickly, only to find it un-patchable. The next stage was denial, Bill crossing his arms as he and Alex ignored the hole altogether. When that didn't work, Alex resorted to bartering, but the hole wouldn't accept his credit cards. Depression came soon after, until, with the water now up to their ankles, both men gave in to fate.
Then Bill remembered something! Reaching behind him, he pulled out a very soggy backpack.
“What's that?” questioned Alex, a note of hope rising in his trembling voice.
“I didn't think I would need it,” replied Bill, “but it looks like it just might come in handy after all! It's a parachute!”
Alex stared at Bill blankly for a moment. “We're saved!” he cried.
“Not quite, I'm afraid,” lamented Bill, shoulders lowered in despair. “Only one of us is saved. I only have the one parachute.”
Silence fell. After a moment, Alex piped up again.
“We could flip for it...”
Bill thought it over, deciding it to be a fair bet. He valued Alex's life as much as his own, and rather than argue or save himself unfairly, he withdrew a quarter from his pocket.
“Call it in the air?” he asked.
“Sure.” replied Alex.
Bill flipped the coin.
“Tails!” called both men simultaneously.
The men never learned who won. The quarter arced up lazily into the air, over the side of the boat and into the water.
Bill sighed. “That was my only coin.”
“I'm broke, too.” said Alex.
After another brief silence, the boat nearly sunk, Alex tore off his still-unfinished splinter. A tear in his eye, he looked straight at Bill, resting the splinter gently in his hands.
“You go, Bill. It's your parachute, after all, and we don't have any more time to decide. Say goodbye to my family for me, Bill. Give them my splinter. Don't let the dream die out!”
Alex's tears fell freely now as he sat down on his side of the boat, now filled with seawater. Bill clenched the splinter tightly.
“M'kay.” he said, pulling the rip-cord.
The white silken parachute shot straight into the air, filling out as it lifted Bill up and out of the boat. Soon he was floating high above the ocean, back towards land. Bill watched in the distance as the boat slowly began to fall beneath the deep, sparkling water.