I switched off the news. I’d seen enough; it was time to go. I might have waited too long. The thing was, I loved the life I was leading and I didn’t want to leave everything behind.
I looked around my luxury condo, taking everything in for the last time. This whole world was about to end and I already knew how much I was going to miss it. I had painstakingly selected every piece of furniture. Every decorative item was perfectly placed. Buying the kitchen alone had taken more than a month and cost a small fortune. The condo itself, with that fantastic view on the Elbe was invaluable anyway. It seems all of this was about to be destroyed. That was a shame. Unfortunately, nobody asked me, so the world was continuing to go crazy, regardless.
I had mostly spent the last few days in front of the TV while my duffel bag waited near the door, hoping that someone would find some piece of sanity somewhere around the world. Nobody had, apparently, at least none of those that counted. The screaming and shouting among our leaders, humanity’s finest, had constantly escalated, and it seemed the hurt feelings of a few were more important at this point than the lives of millions. Time to go.
Like everyone else, I had seen this coming. It was hard not to see it coming: literally everyone was talking about the impending end of the world. Unlike everybody else, I had a plan and now it was time to execute it. The plan was good, but having to follow it still didn’t make me feel good. I liked Ms. Bauer, the nice elderly lady next door. I liked that cute cashier down at the supermarket who flirted with me every time I saw her. I even liked the few friends, well, make that acquaintances, I had. There was nothing I could do for them, though. They were doomed if things progressed as it seemed they would. I had no family left to take care of, which made leaving a bit easier.
I switched off the TV, and like an idiot I checked if all the windows were locked and everything was switched off. I knew I would never return here, but I liked my condo too much to not leave it in a proper condition. I looked out the window to check the situation in the streets, but everything seemed eerily quiet. I knew there had been a lot of demonstrations, well, better call them riots. Some had evolved into pure violence or looting. I had seen it on TV and heard the screaming and shouting during the night. This crisis had escalated steadily for more than a year, and during the last few weeks it had gotten so bad that it seemed the unanimous opinion that everyone was almost certainly going to be killed and that it was about to happen soon. At first, after this realization, things were eerily quiet. Everyone seemed to be shocked. Everyone knew things had been bad, but most still had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. After this rather calm phase the stress and desperation kept growing and combined with the feeling of total helplessness, things had erupted into more and more violence and the dissolving of societal structures.
The part of my street I could see was completely deserted. I could see a lot of smoke in the distance, though. The constant sound of police and fire truck sirens that had dominated the night had finally abated and was not to be heard now. It seemed the authorities had capitulated, just like I was about to do.
Wanting to get it over, I grabbed my bag, locked the door and stepped into the elevator for the last time. In the underground car park, I put everything into my SUV, started the engine and toyed with the gate remote control. Pressing this button would open the garage and the whole building to the violence and developing anarchy outside. Most of my neighbors, including Ms. Bauer, were certainly cowering in their condos. They didn’t stand a chance, anyway. I pushed the button. The heavy gate moved slowly upwards, but there was no sign of intruders waiting behind it. I gently nudged the accelerator and my car glided silently in electric mode through the garage. I stopped behind the gate, closed it again and looked around.
I looked to my left and was shocked to see a blackened, enraged face maybe five meters from me, closing in quickly. The guy held some kind of brick in his right hand that he was about to hurl into my window. Glass to my right crashed as my foot stomped down the accelerator. I heard a scream to my right and something heavy thudding against my car on the left. Probably the brick. Didn’t matter. I needed to get out now. Quickly. Group of people to the left. Mostly blackened faces. Looking like a warrior group from some bad stone age movie. I turned to the right. Some guy jumping in front of my car. Loud thud. Car 1, crazy idiot 0. Trusty car. I accelerated down my once quiet street at an alarming speed. For some reason I thought of speed traps and that they would probably be the last working governmental function in this developing anarchy.
Lots of bricks and other stuff on the street now. Steel bars, tires, various debris. I had to drive zig-zag to save my tires. I cringed as I heard some shots near me and ducked behind the wheel. My front window cracked, so it was really me someone was trying to shoot. In the mirror I saw some maniac on a motorcycle following me, aiming a gun at me. I slammed the brakes hard. He didn’t expect that. Boy, didn’t he expect that. The gun went off once again while he and his bike were flattened against my boot. I accelerated hard again. Someone with what looked like a spear ran towards me. Seriously? A spear? Had we already sunk that low? The guy with the gun showed at least some civilized standards as he tried to kill me. I pointed the car towards the guy, surprising him while he still struck at me. ‘What have I ever done to these guys,’ I asked myself while my car knocked him out of the way. My rear window splintered while another spear plunged into the dashboard on the passenger side. Those guys really didn’t like me.
I turned left, and suddenly everything was quiet. I coasted down the clean and totally deserted side street. These guys who just tried to kill me and who I might have just killed. A few weeks ago, they had been accountants or clerks. Sure, we had a crisis. Humanity might face a nuclear doom, but why did they suddenly want to kill everyone in sight? How could humanity have eroded that quickly? Had the layer of civilization really been that thin? Society had clearly broken down even before anything had really happened.
I turned right and passed the street where I used to shop for my groceries. Every single shop was either burning or had already burnt down. The street decoration was supplemented with burned out car shells. No sign of police or firefighters. The street was littered with debris again. No corpses, luckily. I had hoped to top off my food supplies today, but civilization had fled sooner than I had expected.
I finally reached the marina where everything was almost other-worldly quiet. I had expected everyone to flee the city on their boats, and sure enough, many were missing. It seemed I was the last one to finally accept reality and get out of Dodge.
Of course, I had no way to know whether the missing yachts had been taken by their rightful owners. I had prepared mine in a way to prolong my life aboard as long as humanly possible. I might have been dumb or overly optimistic by waiting too long to leave my fellow humans behind, but I wasn’t dumb or optimistic enough to let it sit here in the marina for everyone to take. I had anchored it a few kilometers away, inaccessible from land. I had locked it as much as I could, like the dinghy I had left in my mooring place in the marina.
I even locked my car as I left it and took the keys with me, which made as much sense as the cell phone I still had in my pocket. None.
I winced as the noisy outboard motor roared into life, but the area remained completely silent. While I puttered along the shore, I anxiously looked out for more shooters, spear throwers or maybe mounted knights, but none were to be seen.
I gradually calmed down and could see my yacht waiting for me impatiently. Just as I passed under the last bridge, I heard a gurgling scream from above. Startled, I looked upwards and could see a human form dangling upside down from the bridge, pointing at me and screaming. Cold fear ran down my spine. Shit, what was that? Some kind of lookout?
From the corner of my eye I could see something big and dark dropping down on me from the low steel bridge above. I didn’t even look up. I just instinctively yanked the outboard motor hard to the left. Unintentionally I opened the throttle fully. The small dinghy willingly turned right immediately. I sensed something big and dark passing me downwards on my left. I looked around while the thing hit the left side plate hard. I assumed they had thrown a big stone or something like it at me until I saw hands clutching the side plate, pulling a male face from the water.
I looked upwards to see if more human bombs were following and could see a group of about ten people standing there, all wearing red bandanas. This crisis was only a few weeks old and they had already formed some kind of gang? I had to question the solidity of the society I had relied on for so long. It was amazing how easily it had broken down.
The guy had meanwhile pulled his head out of the water and I had armed myself with a paddle. I was about to strike his hands when I saw that I knew him. He was Erik, a pleasant guy working at the marina. I was suddenly unsure whether I should greet him like I had done so often or flatten his hands.
“Grrr, you asshole!” he growled, trying to grab my leg and to pull me down. There was madness in his eyes, convincing me that this was no longer the Erik I had known for so long. He was covered with bruises and wounds. A part of his left ear was missing. His left eye was badly injured and the patch he wore to cover it had moved during his drop. He looked like he had been to war and lost, which might explain his madness.
That made up my mind. Instead of “Hey Erik,” my greeting was a solid hit with the paddle on his left hand. He howled, retracting it, but continued to try to pull himself into my boat with his right. I hit that one just as he was able to get a leg over the side plate. Having lost the support of both hands, he slid off the boat. He tried to follow me, but his swimming was no match for the outboard motor.
I looked up to the bridge just in time to see a stone being hurled at me. I had to yank the outboard to the left again and easily avoided it. Why did they want to kill me? Just because they could? Erik had just risked his life to try. Were they on some kind of killing spree? I had to get out of here. The bombs might not even be necessary; people were already busy killing each other.
I woke up after an uneasy night full of the usual nightmares. I lay in my bunk, trying to come to terms with reality once again. Every morning was more or less the same. Bad dreams, no relief in finding out I had just been dreaming. The reality was not much more appealing than the wildest nightmares.
I forced myself out of bed. There was no real reason to do it. Nothing needed to be done; I had no plans for the day. I never had. It was more a matter of discipline and not becoming a total slob. Looking back at my unmade bed, I once again managed to bring myself to make it, although it seemed totally pointless. By noon I would probably take a short nap again, mostly to avoid the total boredom that dominated my life.
After having finished this task, which represented one of the few signs of discipline still left in my life, I listlessly shuffled out of my cabin, through the galley and upwards onto the deck. The wind was soft and steady, the sky was grey, the waves were gentle, it was way too chilly for the latitude and everything was just too calm. In short, this day was exactly like every other had been recently. While my yacht crept through the Atlantic Ocean, nothing hinted at the catastrophe that had befallen humanity.
I thought about that other life. I was born rich. There was no way to tell for sure, but I guessed none of this money was still worth anything. I had some gold aboard, but as it was very hard to digest, I doubted this was still worth anything either. The only good thing resulting from my former wealth was this boat. As the political crisis became serious, everyone reacted differently. Many demonstrated in the streets, some became criminals, some fucked like minks, some resorted to drugs or alcohol. I bought this ship while my money was still useful.
I had tried to imagine what I needed and had equipped it as well as I could. My power sources were a wind wheel at the stern and a lot of solar panels. All of it still worked to some extent, but due to the ubiquitous clouds and the generally low light and wind level, the efficiency was reduced. I had a small electric motor added to the main diesel in case of an emergency or a slack. It wasn’t very fast and would deplete the batteries in a few hours, but it was better than nothing.
Most of the electricity was used for the reverse osmosis pumps that kept me hydrated. Personal hygiene was a lower priority. Who would care, anyway? For some reason I still didn’t understand, I had forgotten to bring a Geiger counter. Consequently, I had no idea about the ocean’s radioactivity level and mostly avoided it. There was not much bathing for me and not enough water for regular showers.
It didn’t matter much, though. Even before the crisis, I had no family and no stable relationship to speak of. I had always been a bit of a recluse. Consequently, I had decided against asking any friends to join me. Call me egoistical, but in every scenario I could come up with, companions would mean trouble and less resources for me. My best chance of surviving for at least a few years would be alone. I had anticipated loneliness, but not to the extent I felt it now. It seems contact to other humans is as essential as breathing, and the solitude was about to get to me. I was learning the hard way that being mostly alone in a city full of people and being really totally alone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean were totally different things. I had vastly overestimated my ability to live without human contact.
With my escape from Hamburg, my connection to humanity had been cut and I had no source of information about what had been happening on land since then. Maybe order had been restored and I held out on sea for nothing, like these Japanese soldiers in South East Asia, long after WWII had ended. Maybe no other human was alive at all. Most likely, some kind of stone-age anarchy had developed and I would be slain and possibly eaten as soon as I came near land. That didn’t sound too tempting. I might need to risk checking the situation sooner or later, but I wouldn’t as long as I had enough food.
Food. That was my big problem. I had everything I needed to survive for years: water, safety, energy and loads of vitamin pills. Food was my only problem. I had stored a lot on the yacht and had brought a bit with me during my flight, but, of course, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t possibly be enough. How long should it last? Two years? Even ten years wouldn’t be enough as I had no desire to die in ten years. I had no illusion that civilization would have been restored, even then.
Realistically, I had food for about one more year, maybe one and a half. That meant in about two years, there would be a ghost ship sailing around the world, full of water, vitamins and a starved corpse. I thought about tying myself to the helm as a joke, to be a suitable skeleton ghost-ship captain. No, survival was the way to go, not some cheap Flying Dutchman joke at the expense of my life.
All I had achieved with my escape was to postpone my death by a few years and to cut myself off from all communication, leaving me totally alone. At the beginning I had considered myself the lucky one, but doubts were beginning to creep in.
While fleeing Europe through the English Channel, I had received my last bit of information about the fate of humanity. It came in the form of three separate and intense flashes of light, followed by loud booms a few minutes later. I had the confirmation I needed. Humanity had finally gone mad and decided to destroy itself, using nuclear weapons to achieve that noble goal.
I shuffled across my deck, most of which was covered by solar panels. As usual, I tried to determine where the grey sky ended and where the equally grey sea began. As usual, I wasn’t successful. The ubiquitous greyness had set in a few weeks after the event; the hefty temperature drop had taken longer. This was what they had always described as nuclear winter. I had set sail towards the equator to flee the temperature drop. In the beginning I had experienced stronger winds, but now everything had settled down to a constant 2 or 3 Beaufort. It was enough to sail if you had time, which I had. So I roamed the Atlantic Ocean, roughly following a huge triangle.
Right now, I was headed back towards the Azores. Surprisingly, the GPS was still working, so despite seeing no stars I knew pretty much where I was. Usually, I would tack at this point. If I continued on this course I would reach Flores soon.
Cautious contact with humanity again, or stay safe until the food is gone and I can’t hide anymore? The problem was that I couldn’t assume my first contact with possible survivors would be successful and would lead to replenished food stocks. In fact, it seemed rather unlikely. I couldn’t wait until I was almost starved until I took the risk. I wouldn’t have enough time to find alternatives then, and seeing people and land was oh so tempting.
Never in my life had a piece of rock in the middle of an ocean looked so attractive. It was the first stretch of land I had seen since I had left the English Channel. It seemed surprisingly grey, I had expected more vegetation. Might be a visual effect caused by the ubiquitous mist. At least I hoped so. The alternative would be a lack of vegetation due to the nuclear winter, which would probably mean no food for me or anyone.
Still, it was so tempting. Just walking on solid ground again, maybe talking to people. The whole food aspect was almost becoming secondary. I also needed to hear how humanity had fared; I was desperate for any bit of information. I needed to at least check the situation on Flores from afar, I just couldn’t resist.
The sky was, of course, clouded, as it always was, but I had no doubt my yacht could easily be spotted. I decided to anchor at a distance I could cover by rowing the dinghy. If things got hairy, I still had fuel in the dinghy’s outboard motor and in my yacht’s diesel tank. If they didn’t have speed boats with fuel, I could flee easily. I was gradually convincing myself.
A few hours later I was trying to crouch in my dinghy as low as possible in an unnecessary attempt to be invisible. I was quite certain the darkness hid me perfectly, anyway, while I was staring at the coast through my binoculars. Nothing. Okay, in this darkness it wasn’t really surprising to see no people, but the absence of any source of light on the whole island was more than a bit disappointing. Not even candles or fires, it seemed. No light meant no civilization worth mentioning. Shit.
Then right in front of me, not even a hundred meters away, some guy appeared with a burning torch. He was the first human being I had seen in a year and, well, he was a bit of a disappointment. He looked plain bizarre. His head was way too big and looked distorted. No, that was a mask. At least I hoped it was, for the poor guy’s sake. No one should have to run around with a head like that, even in a nuclear winter. He was wearing ... junk. There were plastic bags, parts of car tires and various mechanical parts involved. This would certainly have caused a roaring success in an haute couture show in Paris, but here it was just another sign of the downfall of civilization.
Everything outside the glow of his torch was in absolute darkness, so I saw the bonfire only just before he reached and ignited it. It caught fire surprisingly fast and revealed that he was far from alone. The group of about twenty people stood motionless. They were also wearing all kinds of junk and looked like they had stepped fresh out of a Mad Max movie. I hoped things were a bit more civilized than they had been there.
A drum started to beat, startling me. I expected some kind of dance or ritual, but they just stood there, staring into the fire. The torch carrier and another guy went towards the sea and started to wade into the water. They certainly weren’t planning to swim towards my dinghy? If they did, they should have dropped their masks, the tire tread one was wearing as a sash, the torn leather trousers and the collection of weird junk that comprised their outfits.
They waded a bit through the sea, stopped and seemed to fumble with something just under or above the water level. As far as I could see, they opened some kind of grating. To my surprise, they pulled a human figure from below sea level. These were mostly-submerged holding cells, it seemed. I couldn’t think of a more brutal way to keep a prisoner.
They dragged the limp figure ashore, past the fire and out of my sight. The whole group followed them, leaving the bonfire behind. The beating of the drum got even more intense and a shiver ran through me. I heard a frantic scream that stopped as suddenly as it had begun. It was replaced by cheering. I stared at the empty shoreline in terror. No. This was not what I had hoped for. Not at all.
Of course, the right thing would be to turn around, get on my yacht and leave this rotten place immediately. I had feared society would have returned to this state, but seeing it in every brutal detail was still an unwelcome and unsettling reality check. There was nothing to be gained here. This place was dangerous. I was glad to have at least learned this and started to row as fast as I could without making too much noise. The problem was for some mysterious reason I rowed towards the shore, not towards the safety of my yacht.
Anxiously looking over my shoulder from time to time, I asked myself why I was doing this. Rationally, I knew that the permanent clouding made me invisible at night, but I still had no great wish to personally experience that cage, and whatever caused the scream that followed it.
I had no idea where exactly the cage was until my dinghy suddenly bumped against something solid. I turned around and could vaguely see some kind of grating just a few centimeters above the sea. Damn, it must be hell to be kept in here. Even the slightest swell would make breathing hard work. How long could anyone survive in this thing? A day? Maybe two? Horror. However, this cage was empty now. No one to rescue, I could return to my ship now.
“Hey!” Someone addressed me, barely audible. I looked around, searching for the source. This didn’t come from the shore, this was nearby.
“Hey,” that weak female voice repeated.
I realized that there was more than one cage and at least one wasn’t empty. I rowed vaguely towards where I thought I heard the voice and soon discovered the other cage. I stared down at it and suddenly a face appeared just above the waterline, pressed against the wooden grating. It looked pale, gaunt and desperate.
So, what could I do? She was barely conscious and would have been dead soon even without the barbarian assholes on the shore. Could I leave now and live with myself afterwards? Was I any better than those people, who could barely be described as human, if I did? Even if it seemed I was the last one, I still regarded myself as a civilized person. Not that I’d done a whole lot to prove it, so far.
My food was severely limited. Doubling the population aboard my yacht made the calculation of the effect on my remaining life span easy. If I took her with me, I might die with a better conscience, but I’d surely die a whole lot sooner.
Sighing, I unlocked the simple wooden locking mechanism and lifted the grating. I panicked briefly because she was nowhere to be seen any more. I grabbed under water, trying to find her. After a few seconds, I had a bunch of hair in my hand and I started to pull. As soon as her head had passed the water line, I gripped her shoulder. I had to step on the cage to pull her into my dinghy, even though she seemed light as a feather.
I had a second moment of panic as I realized that I hadn’t paid attention to the situation on the shore for too long. I was near enough to be reached by any wading or swimming barbarian within a few minutes. I stared into the semi darkness that was only illuminated by the dying fire, but couldn’t see any weird masks anywhere.
I placed her at the bow, checked if she was still breathing, and started to row back to my yacht.
A yell from the island broke the silence. I looked back. Someone stood next to the fire, his weird attire hanging from him in shreds. He was pointing in my direction and was hollering at the top of his lungs. I could sense a distinct dislike towards me, which seemed misplaced as we had never met before. It sure helped to support my rowing efforts, as did the sight of his buddies entering the water right behind him.
I was sure I could row much faster than they could swim, but a head full of fear didn’t help that thought come to the foreground. Luckily, they were still wearing their weird ornaments, which slowed them down further. Frustrated shouts in some foreign language were confirming this. They might be good waders, but swimming is a different thing.
That was when the next onslaught of panic hit me. The darkness was no longer my friend: it totally hid my yacht. I had no idea where it was. As long as the remains of the fire on shore glowed, I had a rough sense of distance and direction. Holy shit, if that fire died, I’d have no way to...
I was interrupted by my bow hitting something big and hard. I looked around and could vaguely make out my yacht’s shape against the dark sky. I might be dumb, but I sure was lucky.
I pulled her aboard and laid her on the deck. She weighed no more than 40 to 45 kilos. She was clearly starved and totally exhausted. Her skin had a gruesome, whitish color, probably from having been under water for too long.
I was exhausted, myself, but I needed to get away from here before those former human beings found some kind of boat and decided they needed new inhabitants for their sea-view apartments. Being currently out of wind, I used the electric motor. I rarely did that, but my life ranked slightly higher than the state of my main batteries.
What to do in the short term? The first step was, of course, to leave the area immediately. That weird tribe might have access to boats and probably wouldn’t mind having mine as well. As there almost never was any wind at night and this one was no exception, I used the small electric motor to slowly leave Flores westwards in total darkness.
While I steered my yacht away from that rotten island, using my GPS, I watched my new acquisition. She just lay on the deck, breathing very shallow, looking like death warmed over. Okay, I had saved her. I was rewarded for that successful mission by a bunch of new problems. First, I’d have to share my food reserves. Second, my boat had been a safe place for me, so far. I could fall asleep wherever and whenever I wanted without having to fear someone throwing me overboard or killing me in some other creative way. Third, I had been the sole decision maker aboard. My natural cautiousness had kept me very safe so far. Okay, maybe it was my cowardice keeping me from solving any long-term problems. As always, that was a matter of perspective. However, I was about to face discussions, maybe even arguments, with a woman, on top of it all. I had never been good at handling any of those: arguments, discussions, or women.
She coughed slowly and brought me back to reality. I set the yacht to autopilot, reduced the speed and walked over to my new companion. She was clothed in a bedraggled collection of soaked rags. Everything was torn, everything was dirty, it was hard to tell what kind of garment it had once been.
I was never good at handling people. I grew up without my family: they left me nothing but money, not even memories. Well, at least they left me a lot of money. Having grown up mostly alone as an outsider in various boarding schools, I had avoided people for most of my life. Whenever someone even stood close to me, I had this urge to flee. I could function relatively normally in the presence of my fellow human beings, I just didn’t like it.
I was even worse at handling women. I knew, of course, that it was expected of me to form some kind of relationship with females. I liked sex quite a lot; I just didn’t like the rest. The expectations, the commitment, planning a long-term future, making rules, proving myself all the time. Those were the aspects I disliked, but they seemed to be crucial for every female with whom I had close contact. As a result, I had effortlessly been able to bitterly disappoint all of them, even though I had never made any promises. On the contrary, as soon as I had learned the rules of the game, I had warned every single one of them. Many overlooked those warnings, convinced they could convert me, but they eventually gave up and left me, calling me an asshole or worse.
Here I was, the guy unable to live with a woman, suddenly sharing the confined space of a yacht in a big ocean with one. I sighed and carried her under deck into the unused guest cabin. I gently placed her unconscious and trembling form onto the bunk, undressed her and covered her with blankets. Undressing her was one of the most unerotic things I had ever done. Her body was skeleton-thin and she had small injuries and big bruises almost everywhere. She didn’t look like she posed an immediate danger; in fact, I doubted she would survive the night. The pieces of fabric I had peeled away from her were completely useless, even for mopping up spills.
Surprisingly, her eyes opened briefly, she smiled a little and said “thank you” before drifting back into sleep.
That brought up the next problem. I had no idea about medicine. How to treat an almost starved and certainly dehydrated person? I had no idea. I had heard to start slowly, though. I decided I would heat some instant chicken soup later.
After I sat there for a while, watching her sleep, thinking about the new situation, she suddenly screamed and jerked upwards with surprising energy, as if she had awakened from a nightmare. She looked around with staring eyes, confused, disoriented. She didn’t speak a single word, just looked at me confused and frightened. Her face was hollow, and what I could see of her body looked like she was about to die from starvation soon. She looked like a zombie or something. After a few seconds I was glad to see her calm down slightly. I knew I couldn’t handle sane women; a mad one terrified me.
I tried placing my hand on hers to soothe her, surprising myself. I wasn’t so much into human contact, anyway, and she certainly didn’t seem appealing, but it would have been inhuman not to try to comfort her. I was glad to see her wildly wandering eyes slow down and finally settle on mine. She looked searchingly at me; I felt like I was being scrutinized. She nodded, relaxed and leaned back. She even smiled a bit, confirming her return to sanity. I felt the tension leave my body a bit.
I fed her a bit of water and she relaxed more, even smiled briefly once more before she fell asleep again. I left the cabin to get some sleep myself. During the night I heard her scream twice more, but was too tired to check on her.
The next morning, I was kicking myself. How could I have been so weak and dumb? These were hard times, billions had probably died, and I had to put myself in danger by rescuing a person I didn’t even know. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had just left her behind.
Finally, I returned to her cabin with the soup to find her sitting on the bed, awake and watching me. To say that situation was awkward would be a gross understatement. Nobody said a word for an uncomfortable stretch of time. She was probably afraid to rock the boat by saying something wrong or maybe she was just too exhausted. I pretended to not know what to say, which wasn’t too far from the truth. The other thing was, I didn’t want to bond with her in any way as I would have to drop her off sooner or later.
I stood in the door for too long, holding that cup of soup like an idiot. I had saved her life, but what was I supposed to say now? Could I make any promises about the future? What did I have in mind for her anyway? I was very uncomfortable with the power over another human I suddenly had. I didn’t want anyone to be at my mercy.
I handed her the soup and she started to drink surprisingly slowly. I had expected her to wolf it down. I watched her, meanwhile. I guessed that once she got past the bruises and the malnutrition, she would be rather pleasant to look at. The hair I had grabbed to rescue her was long and hung down dirty and straggly. She was incredibly pale. She had a cut on her forehead and blueish bruises everywhere, but I guessed once all of this healed, she would be rather attractive.
We were catching each other looking and looking away immediately. No, this was not flirting in any sense, this was just pure awkwardness. Meanwhile, I started to think about what I was planning to do with her. As much as I disliked the idea, the decision seemed to be mine alone.
I sure didn’t need a companion. My situation was stable, at least for the year or so to come. Of course, I would help her. Hell, I had already saved her life. I owed her nothing. I had done my duty. I needed to get rid of her as soon as possible. I would to drop her wherever she wanted as soon as she was strong enough again. Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, didn’t matter. Everyone still alive at this point had their own problems. It was surely understandable that I didn’t want to burden myself with hers. I had already done an irrational thing by risking my life to rescue her. Yes, dropping her on some coast was completely justifiable. I guessed I could part with a few weeks of supplies to feed her meanwhile, but I would not halve my life expectancy by completely sharing my food reserves. No way, that was too much.
I just needed to stay alive while she was aboard. That detail was not unimportant for me. This yacht could be her salvation as easily as it was mine. Sharing the resources with another person was as much a disadvantage for her as it was for me. Her natural goal would be to get rid of me. That was completely rational; I wouldn’t even blame her. She couldn’t count on my willingness to leave the yacht, so she had to find another solution to get rid of me. Life on a yacht wasn’t without dangers anyway. I could easily be shoved overboard, clubbed or strangled during the frequent times I slept on deck. I needed to find a way to stay safe as long as she was aboard.
The guest cabin had a separate toilet, so I could block its door from the outside without causing hardship. I would still be able to roam freely and safely aboard. Yes, I’d need to imprison her in a way. Not the nicest thing to do after what she had experienced, but I was certain she preferred my prison to the submerged one. Apart from that, I had the advantage of not slaughtering my prisoners at night while banging a drum and cheering afterwards.
I noticed she was still watching me. How long had I been in thought? I had no idea. Time had mattered little during the previous months, so my pace had generally slowed down a bit. A lot, actually. Things were pretty static, to be honest.
“Came to a conclusion?” she asked silently and with a raspy voice. Her physical condition made her voice sound scratchy and thin, but I was still amazed by her calmness. After all, this was life or death for her.
“Um...” was my eloquent reply. How to tell someone that I had gladly rescued her, but planned to ditch her at the first possible place? She was watching me calmly, and it seemed she could read my mind easily.
“It’s okay,” she softly said.
“Do whatever you need to do. It’s okay. I’d be dead by now anyway without your help. To me, you can do no wrong, whatever you do. I’ll always be thankful. You’ll always be my hero.” It was a bit difficult to understand her because she was still speaking a bit weakly, but what she said made me feel like shit. It didn’t change a thing, though. I needed to do what needed to be done. I stood up, turned to leave, turned around to say something, anything to lighten up the situation.
As I just opened my mouth to say nothing, mainly because I could think of nothing to say, I saw that her eyes were closed. I didn’t think she had fallen asleep that quickly. She probably wanted to make things easier for me. Damn. I would have preferred if she was a bit less nice and likable.
I left her cabin and softly closed the door behind me. It had already selected a rod to block her door with. I took it in my hand, toyed with it, almost placed it in its designated position, felt like an asshole, removed it, felt like a gullible idiot and finally got over it and locked the damn door.
Shit, now I felt bad, but feeling bad was still better than feeling dead.
Hero. “You’ll always be my hero,” she had said, in that thin hollow voice of hers. Shit. Heroes are big and strong and they do brave things for other people without thinking of themselves. That’s exactly what I wasn’t. Never had been, never would be. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I’d ever done anything for anyone but myself. Okay, I’d done dishes when it was my turn on those rare occasions when I was in a ‘relationship, but you know what I mean. Ms. Bauer had lived right next door, and was probably the closest I had to a friend, but it never occurred to me to take her with me. I left her to her fate with the rest of them. Hero? Just the opposite, whatever that is.
Why had I rescued this starving female person, depriving those poor weirdly-dressed islanders of their, well, whatever they were going to use her for? And incidentally, depriving me of my least-replaceable commodity: food, thus shortening my life? Why had I felt like I couldn’t live with myself if I left her there? I didn’t feel all wonderful for having done it. I was half way kicking myself for having been so irrational.