With Apocalyptic Ending
I pulled the throttle back as we approached the edge of the ship channel. The momentum of the boat slowed letting the bow tip forward, cutting lower into the gulf’s waters. My hair fell over my forehead now that the speed-borne wind had stopped holding it back.
I stepped away from the center console of the small boat. Neptune ran from the bow, eager to see what would happen next. The eternally happy labrador retriever never needed coaxing to hop onto the boat as any day spent on the water was a huge success in his eyes.
After lowering the anchor, I did not grab a fishing pole as I might have any other day. Instead, I stepped around the console, out of the shade, and sat down on the small seat built into the front of the center console. I let the early morning sun warm my skin. The salt in the air and heat off the water had kept my body tan, lithe, and calloused over the years. Neptune had followed me, curious about what his owner was doing but happy to be a part of it nonetheless. When I did nothing except sit quietly with my eyes closed, Neptune offered free kisses.
I smiled and guided Neptune off of me while scratching him behind his ears to placate him.
“Sorry boy. I don’t think I’m gonna fish for anything this morning. I don’t even know why we came out here. Probably just a waste of gas.”
I sat there, watching the massive ships sleepily crawl through the ship channel. Their wake tossed me from side to side like a slippery cradle as I closed my eyes to enjoy the rocking. Just like every single morning for the past sixteen years, the line of freighters backed into the gulf, each ship eager to stop in one of the busiest ports in the world where most of the nation’s insatiable hunger for refined oil was fed.
I thought back to this morning when the pre-dawn sky seemed blinding as I awoke, unable to remember a time I had woken up so clearly for absolutely no reason. I sat up and put my feet down on the bare floor. The wood flexed and creaked with age under my weight. I looked around the same empty house I had lived in for years, the walls largely blank since no one stayed long enough to supplement my own meager style. Chloe certainly hadn’t.
Before I had flicked on the light next to the bed, I could make out the blonde outline of Neptune on his own bed in the corner, his head lifting at the movement. When the light flicked on, Neptune squinted slightly before he adjusted to the light and looked at his beloved owner, ready for anything. That’s one of the things that I loved most about dogs. They were never really surprised, and they never surprised me. This is most likely why my home never permanently expanded beyond myself and a few boisterous pups, of which there had been many over the years.
Each dog had given me companionship and conversation, even if the conversations were one-sided. I used to spend hours talking with my old german shepherd, Merc, mostly because Merc was more than happy to lie on the couch next to me as I blathered on and on about the events of the day or how the politicians would kill us all eventually.
But Neptune was special from day one, the day I had picked him up from my friend’s house. The young litter of mutts bounced inside their pen. Mania ensued as I approached them, their blonde and black and chocolate butts wiggled with puppy ferocity. And as I reached in, listening to my friend talk about the various puppies and any traits they might have exuded in their first few weeks of life, I noticed one blonde beauty who had not run to brush his head against my fingers. Instead, he was pulling on the large bowl of water, tugging it until it slid across the wooden porch. I watched this distracted puppy as he eventually tipped the bowl over and rolled in the water where it settled in small pools on the wood. The dog just laid there, wet and perfectly happy.
I smiled and took Neptune home immediately. His affinity for water only grew, and he was the only dog I ever owned who loved going out on the boat. He certainly helped entertain the more inexperienced fishing groups that would charter me and my boat. Neptune offered such a good customer experience that I eventually rebranded my charter as Neptune’s Waters.
But no one was scheduled today. Disposable income had dropped over the past year as the economy tanked and the threat of war was stoked by the politics of the decade. I got by with a part-time job in a distribution warehouse. Sometimes dinner consisted of nothing but fish that I had caught during the week and maybe a potato.
I hated just getting by. I didn’t want to make tons of money or anything. I just wanted to do something that made a difference for people. I don’t know if everyone feels like they have some grand purpose and it’s just human nature, but I really believed I could be a part of something that would be important and have real stakes.
Even the charters were usually special days for the groups who came aboard, and I got to be a part of their memories forever. But now, all I had was a forklift license and an empty house, especially after Chloe left with the few things she had brought with her during the short time we lived together (probably should have been a sign).
So this morning, I could only assume that my body had woken up believing I was late for a charter or the warehouse. I was still unsettled throughout the morning. A cup of coffee didn’t stabilize me as it usually did.
With nothing on the agenda for the day, I felt better driving to the dock where the boat was housed. The sun barely peeked over the horizon as I filled the cooler with ice, drinks, and more than a few snacks and sandwiches. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be out, but it never hurt to be prepared for anything.
“Tuna, what do you think we’re doing out here?”
Neptune’s eyes grew big as he heard the sound of his name. He took the opportunity to nuzzle his broad head rather forcefully into the crook of my elbow so that he was even better positioned for head scratches.
“I just had to get outta that house this morning, you know? I feel better out here. Hell,” I looked around and stood up, Neptune alert to my next move, “maybe I will do some fishing.”
AN APOCALYPTIC ENDING
I opened the tackle box, surveying the options when a siren pulsed in the distance. I looked up to find where it was coming from. A loud horn from a nearby freighter joined the siren continuing to scream and then another and another. Within moments it sounded like every single freighter was blaring their horn forming a cacophonous ensemble that enjoined Neptune to howl along.
I grabbed the radio and called out, “What the hell is going on? Is anyone out here?”
After a few seconds, I heard my dock neighbor, Antonio, say, “Cam, is that you? Where are you?”
“I’m on the south jetty. All the freighters are blaring their horns.”
“It’s a warning. There’s a missile coming.”
“Come on, man. What’s actually happening?” I asked, incredulous that Antonio thought now was a good time to joke.
“No, seriously,” his voice shouted out of the receiver, “There is a—“ His voice cut off. I kept trying to reach him again but it looked like the signal went dead. I looked towards the bay where the line of freighters waited, still crying out their deep bass notes across the water.
The sky was mostly clear that morning, but in the distance, a low cloud began to form. Unlike its fluffy brethren, this was dark and angry and grew taller and taller by the second. It continued to ascend leaving a tower supporting it as it rose. My heart stopped as my brain connected its shape with something I had only seen in grainy film and textbook pictures.
The mushroom cloud climbed for a few seconds more when I heard the blast. The sound felt like a massive fist had just punched a hole in the earth. Neptune tucked his tail between his legs and ran between the console and the seat, the only protected part of the boat.
Unable to process what was happening, I tried the radio again. There was no response. I checked my phone. The measly bar I had before had been replaced by a simple, No Service. Fear fluttered my heart into overdrive.
I couldn’t tell where the bomb had landed. Based on where the cloud was rising, it might have detonated in the city itself but the more likely target was all the refineries that littered the bay and supplied the busy port. The refineries were much closer to the channel, and for the first time in the intervening seconds, my survival became a concern.
I didn’t know how much distance I needed to be safe. They didn’t train kids on how to deal with nuclear warfare anymore. I didn’t know where the bomb landed or how big it was or even where it came from. And I couldn’t know anything because absolutely everything was down.
How far does radiation reach?
Was I safe where I was?
I couldn’t answer a single question and until I could, I wasn’t sure what to do to protect myself or Neptune.
The line of ships started shifting as large freighters began crawling back out of the channel and into the gulf. Unsure what to do next, I followed their lead and started the motor. I positioned the boat so I could pull up the anchor. Once it was free, I whipped the boat around and guided it through the open water between the line of large rocks that formed the jetties.
I stayed close to the jetty, now on the gulf side, and headed south. The water didn’t look very choppy but I hadn’t checked conditions this morning before leaving and had no way to check now that cell service was down.
“What the hell are we gonna do, Tuna?”
Neptune wasn’t in his usual spot at the bow of the ship enjoying the breeze. He was still standing at my feet behind the console, very much in tune with the unnatural events of the morning.
I slowed the boat after we were a few miles along the edge of deeper waters, land still easily in sight. I checked my phone but there was still no service. I tried the radio and even flipped it to different channels, but couldn’t reach anyone.
After crawling along the coast of a large island for about half an hour, I could see another small boat leaving the shore and heading out to my area. I waved my arms hoping to flag them down. They turned and eventually made it to me. Once our boats were within a few dozen feet, I shouted, “What the fuck happened?!”
The boat’s only passenger replied that he heard a nuclear missile strike had been launched from Asia and lots of cities were hit. We supposedly have already retaliated and missiles were flying back and forth across oceans at this very moment.
“I don’t know what they are gonna hit next,” the man yelled, “but I figure it won’t be open water.”
“Yeah…” I continued to digest this new information.
The man called out, “You don’t have any food, do you?”
“I have some, yeah.”
He paused for too long and looked at me with a renewed vigor, a distrustful glint in his eye.
“Maybe we should trade and see what we’ve got,” he said, beginning to line the boat up with mine.
“No, I’m good for now,” I shouted back, starting my motor.
“C’mon, man. Help me out.”
He revved his motor and crept closer. I reached into the box I kept safely inside the console and pulled out a revolver. I fired the gun into the sky as he approached. The man turned his boat completely around and sped away from me, his curses lost in the wind.
Neptune was now lying completely flat on the deck in front of the console seat. I reached down and cradled his head in my hands.
“All right, Tuna. Here’s what we are gonna do. We are gonna just keep going down the coast until we can stop somewhere far away from the city. We’ve got enough for a day or two. We’ll re-supply, try and get some news, and then head back out. Ok, boy?”
Neptune frantically licked my fingers, and I was unsure if he supported the plan or simply was too scared to voice dissension.
“All right. Let’s go.”
I pushed the throttle forward and we tore across the water, ready to survive in a new world.