Just Keep Dancing, Stupid

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Post Apocalypse,

Desc: : A Hawaiian vacation on a budget got interrupted by mother nature's version of Apocalypse Now. What's a guy to do? (Hint--what's the story title?)

First and foremost, let me admit that at that stage of my life I was a writer, not a doer. I'd been active enough in my younger days to make me happy with my choices not to let life pass me by. Now I read, research and write.

I'd tried my hand at cowboy action shooting and during two nasty experiences involving exchange of fire I was damned glad to have had that experience behind me. Hint: always shoot for the body centerline if you can't shoot for center-of-mass.

I've driven through the northern and Going-To-The-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. I've flown a kite from Logan Pass! I've also found out how dismal the job market is in Bozeman Montana.

I decided that I could afford to reach into my bucket list and pull out one of the big ones--a trip to Hawaii. Air fare costs an arm and a leg, and nobody runs tramp steamers anymore upon which you can book passage as supercargo. As an alternative I hired on as crew on a cruise ship--I was a Baker's helper. I measured out ingredients, mixed dough and set it to rising. I buttered ramekins, worked with ganache, mixed fondant and prepared piping bags. I did a lot of clean-up too. I snuck off the ship with my sea bag in Honolulu, not caring if I had my pay or not. My back and feet hurt from standing bent over a pastry table or the cleaning sink all night, night after night in the ship's galley. Pastry cooks should be five feet tall, not over six!

I drifted around for a while, and grew attached to Kaua'I. I rented a 'cheap' cold-water shack and bought a putt-putt motorbike to get around with. I lucked into a job as a line cook in Lihue. (Hawaiian apartment prices are anything but cheap.) I'd just gotten off-shift. I'd climbed off my scooter back at the shack with my lunch in hand. I'd fixed myself a nice fat Reuben and a small bag of fresh steak fries.

I was nearly done eating when I experienced a 'flash-bulb effect'--everything looked over-exposed for a long moment, then I saw purple spots. Then the ground shook. I fumbled for my little transistor radio for some sort of news. The 'talking heads' had a best guess that a meteor had just hit the big island. Nobody knew what would happen but the best guesses were that it couldn't be good.

I felt another earthquake, this one longer. I said to myself, "Uh, oh. Maybe God's on a re-zoning kick. It could be time to mosey on down the road." I pulled my sea-bag from under the bed and started stuffing it with everything I owned. My kit had grown a bit during the seven months I'd had this gig. It was a tight fit. I stashed the contents of my fridge in a pickle bucket I'd lifted from work, along with my ice and wrapped it all in a small wool blanket, left the key in the lock and drove down to the docks. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to sign on as a ship's cook or helper.

Once there, I saw one guy, bigger than me, frantically tossing buckets and boxes onto the cockpit of a sailboat. He was panting like a bellows. "Need a hand?" He stood up straight with one hand on the service pole mounted to the dock. "Hell, yes. You handy?" "I short order cook now. I worked as a baker's mate to get to the islands." He heavily stepped aboard. "throw me the rest, would ya?" I started heaving boxes towards him. He stacked them all around the cockpit except at the stern boarding plank and in front of the hatch. When we were done his hands were shaking and his face looked gray. "You on any heart meds? You look like crap." He nodded and fished out a little bottle from a chain around his neck. From the way he took it and how fast it worked he must have taken a sub-lingual nitroglycerine tablet. He started to stand up again but I motioned him to stay seated. He objected. "We gotta move. I caught it on the radio. Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hulalai are all erupting. If a quake breaches one of their lava chambers then the steam explosion 'll take the big island down to the waterline or deeper. We gotta move!"

Well, that made me find a new gear. I disconnected the service lines and untied the bow line. After hopping aboard I asked him for the keys. He just sat there, staring at the docks through sightless eyes. His ticker had ticked its last. I found the keys in his right front pants pocket. After unlocking the main hatch I swung it wide to look around. I found a panel mid-way to the bow with a glowing readout. I looked carefully to find a gauge that moved with the wind. I hadn't noticed but there must have been a mast-mounted generator. A large rotary switch was marked battery--off--shore. It was under the generator gauge so I took a reasonable guess that it was to switch the ship's power from land line to battery. I was right. the panel lit up along with a couple LED strips mounted along the upper corners of the cabin.

I scurried back out to the cockpit. It was covered with a dark green bimini and had a zip-in windscreen looking forwards, but it was rolled and stowed to one side.I looked over the control panel. There was a keyhole which one of the keys fit. I remembered my reading about clearing the fumes from the engine compartment before lighting off the engine. A switch was labelled 'engine blower 1'. I flipped it on. A tell-tale lit on the board. I waited a minute, then twisted the key to 'ignition' So far, so good. I heard the diesel catch. I leaned over the stern and pulled in the line to gather some slack, then untied it from the cleat and flipped it back to the dock. I pushed the transmission to forward and gave the engine a bit of fuel. I was standing at the helm, watching the other boat traffic, merging in-line to exit the harbor. I turned on the GPS which gave me a bearing. I headed north for a couple of hours, then cut the engine. It was time to learn how to sail.

I had just 'inherited' a Beneteau Oceanis 281, a 28 foot sloop. I had no goddamned idea of what I was doing. I'd been on a powerboat on the Mississippi while fishing, and the same on a 42 foot ocean going boat on a day-charter trying to catch salmon. I'd never been on a sailboat before in my life. It was time to see how well my reading had prepared me.

First, I examined the rigging. The mast and boom looked too clean. The sail was wrapped around the mainmast somehow. Then I noticed the array of lines leading to a row of chrome winches as big as my head. They said "Lewmar 40" on the banner surrounding the cap. Thank God each line was labelled. I saw "Mainsail out", "Mainsail In", "Genoa Out" and "Genoa In" Two more were labelled "Boom to Port" and "Boom to Starboard". At least I knew enough to tell port from starboard.

Hmm. The vectors should center about the mast. The wind was from the south-south west so I n ran out the main sail half-way then angled the boom forty five degrees to starboard. I felt the boat shift in the water. Watching the heading I moved the wheel until the bearing was due north once again. I ran out the rest of the mainsail, then watched the heading. I had to address the wheel a little, but there it was. I was sailing. Sonofabitch! There was a lock for the wheel which I set.

I had to worry about the stores and my dead passenger. I checked his wallet then put it back. Fred was dead. I emptied the rest of his pockets and put the poor guy over the side. I figured that I had to say something. "Fred, thank you for the second chance you've given me. I promise that I won't throw it away. I hope that in you're next life you're blessed as a happy dog. Rest well."

I pulled a notebook out of my sea-bag and started taking inventory. I found several five-gallon jugs, six of which contained water, three filled with denatured alcohol and eight filled with diesel fuel. The fresh food went into the cold box along with the dry ice Fred had brought aboard and the water ice that I'd packed with my food. Most everything else was dry or canned food which I left packed into the white plastic crates and placed them into the forward bunk where they'd be out of the way. I packed up Fred's clothes and re-packed the drawers with my stuff. I didn't pitch anything over the side--I packed his clothes in two garbage bags which I threw well up into the nose of the bow's vee-berth. There was a GPS repeater in the cabin which I kept an eye on as I worked.

I found the ship's owners manuals. I pulled a glass of water and settled in for some reading. After a few hours I stretched, marked my place and went topside. The lazarette was accessed through a hatch just behind the pilot's chair. I coiled the water hose and land power line, secured them with a few Velcro strips that were stuck to the bottom of the hatch and dropped them into the lazarette. I finished coiling the docking lines and hung them from the railing. I noticed that the navigation lights were permanently mounted. I flipped them on and checked my bearing once again. Down below I found the charts beneath the electronics station. I located my position using the GPS and marked it off. I fried off a little can of corned beef hash and ate it with a fried egg and some bread that I fried in the hash's fat. The two-burner alcohol stove did its job, but slowly. The fry pan got cleaned by tying a small line to it and hauling it behind the ship for a bit.

I dropped the galley table to make a bunk and slept there. I set my alarm clock to wake me in four hours.

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Story tagged with:
Post Apocalypse /