It wasn’t the churning ocean, nor the ravaging storm outside that caused Francis Parker to vomit violently upon the hardwood floor of the ship’s lower deck. Instead it was the First Mate’s body found lying in Francis’ cot; stabbed, gagged and with his throat slit deep enough to reveal the pale white of his spine. The body reeked of urine which only barely cut through the stench of Francis’ vomiting which was now simply dry heaves as his stomach contents covered the floor of his cabin.
Through bloodshot eyes Francis managed to review the scene before him. The body was spread out in front of him as if on display, the man’s blood painting the walls behind Francis’ cot in a sickly shade of red. After a long moment a wave crashed against the ship’s hull sending Francis hard against the wooden planks of his bedroom wall. As if waking from a stupor his face drained of colour as the meaning of this tableau washed over him; he was going to be hanged for this crime.
When Francis was a young boy he would often sit in the shade under a large oak tree in his mother’s backyard and watch the ants crawl around. Their deep and intricate world below always fascinated him, but more than that he marveled at how little the ants knew about us. To them, Francis was no more than the shade above them. They went about their business complacently thinking that the world below them was all there was and all that ever existed and everything else was merely the background to their lives.
A loud rap came from the door and Francis spun around abruptly. As if acting on instinct he answered the knock.
“Yes?” Francis whispered. He shook his head as if to protest to his own foolishness; the hangman just acknowledged his executioner.
“Open up.” A gruff voice came from the other side, almost knowingly.
Tears began to well In Francis’ eyes as rain fell angrily outside. Thunder boomed just outside the ship’s walls and with each near deafening crack the sound echoed across the endless sea. Though the outside world quaked with the sounds of thunder, Francis felt it eerily quiet inside his cabin. Slowly he fell, crumbling into a ball he sat looking aimlessly at the lifeless body before him. As his eyes darted away from the dripping corpse they fell upon the night stand and to the novel he had been reading the night previous.
For a moment he allowed his mind to drift; the novel was one that had been given to Francis by his father years before he had took his own life. It recalled a man’s triumph in a small village that was overrun by invading forces. In the story it describes the death of another man who, after being caught in a trap, simply starved to death before being found – and for a moment Francis forgot the banging on the door behind him and simply sat with a puzzled look on his face.
He could never understand how someone could simply give up. For him the will to survive is amongst the most powerful forces in the world. How arrogant to think that some creatures would simply sit and die when caught in a trap, how pitiful that some call for help while sitting in wait for their saviors who of course never come. Instead, there are those who would chew off their own leg to survive, those who would do whatever it takes to get out.
Francis was the latter.
Francis’ mother used to hold him at an arm’s length to look him over before heading out on Sunday mornings. She always made sure that he was looking his best and although he’d kick and complain, he enjoyed it. He liked the idea that within his mother’s arms he was a child again and while he would never have dared to say it out loud, he often wished that she would hold him longer.
With all his might Francis threw his right shoulder into the door shattering the aged wood into a sea of splinters. The man closest to the door was knocked back against the wall with such force that through the cloud of splinters Francis saw him nearly bite his tongue in half. Without hesitation Francis leaped over the ragged body and made for the stairs at break-neck speed. As soon as his foot touched the bottom step he barreled up the stairs and continued towards the top deck as his heart pounded in his ears. The waves crashed against the hull of the ship and with each hit he stumbled a bit more but never lost speed. Slowly the outside world grew louder and when Francis reached the hatch he dove out onto the upmost deck of the ship only to see a crewman with his rifle aimed at Francis.
The rain fell slower and the sound of the storm faded away as Francis closed his eyes in anticipation of the barrage of pellets that would soon pierce his flesh. Like slow motion he would fall back against the top deck as the rain would pour down upon him washing his blood into the sea. The gunman smiled revealing his sickly black teeth which glistened in the dark with each flash of lightning.
Eventually the day came when Francis walked into the kitchen expectant of his mother’s adjustments to his Sunday best only to find her ignoring him. Without turning her face from the kitchen sink she informed him that he was old enough to make sure he was dressed properly and that she shouldn’t need to inspect him every week. Though Francis acted as if it were a relief, deep down his heart broke.
With a hollow click the hammer fell . Francis peered through his closed eyes to see the man cursing under his breath at the guns failure and seeing the opportunity Francis ran full speed to the edge of the ship and dove off into the black sea below.
The cold water ate through his clothes as his feet joined the rest of his body below the black water. As they did, a singular image popped into his mind, blurry and unrecognizable but bathed in light. Through the massive waves and torrential rain Francis could barely keep afloat and as the ship slowly left his sight fear overcame him. For a second he thought that maybe staying on the ship would have been the better choice, but he quickly shook the thought from his mind; at least out here in the middle of the ocean he would actually have a choice. But even as the words bounced through his mind he knew he had sealed his fate.
Though Francis was a great actor that day in the kitchen, his mother deserved the acclaim. She may have told him that he was too old to be held or critiqued but with her back turned to him she hid the tears and loneliness a mother feels when she feels her child has outgrown her touch. There is a point in every child’s life that their parent puts them down for the last time, had Francis known the previous Sunday would have been his last he never would have let go.
Francis’ muscles burned and his legs ached, every kick made him feel as if he wanted to die, every breath stung his lungs with cold salt air and as extreme exhaustion set in he began to fade. Slowly the black waves began painting pictures behind his eyes to the point where he couldn’t tell them apart. The water moved around his legs and with each kick it was as if he were running in paint, black paint…ink. The ink seeped into him and ran between the grain of his skin as if lines drawn between stars or the cracks in the earth. Sharply he shook his head awake, he was drifting in and out of consciousness and knew that soon he would succumb to exhaustion.
The thought of death bounced through his head reverberating off the walls of his skull and bleeding out into the water colouring the already dark water pitch black. This is where he would die. There was no escape there was no salvation. As the certainty crept up his spine he visited his mother, in thought only of course but the lucidity of the thought was such that he felt as if he were with her….
Exhaustion held him down, his hands treading water ever so softly now as his mother opened the door. She stood there smiling at him as if he were an infant again. She picked him up and held him close and as he looked up at her the whites in her eyes began to fade to black. The pupils slowly spread out as fire greedily consumes tinder and within seconds the black had covered her eyes entirely.
In a jolt of fear Francis opened his eyes to see nothing but black. He stared into the abyss and deep within the darkness below he saw something of unimaginable size, a soft green glow illuminating the water miles beneath him.
It was a second before he realized he was underwater and losing air fast. With all his might he swam to the surface which was softly illuminated every few seconds by a purple flash of lightning. He broke to the surface and screamed for breath, his lungs once again stinging as they filled with the damp salt air. He took deep, quick gasps and with the rush of oxygen he began to feel light headed and slowly his legs kicked slower than before. He pushed through it as hard as he could but slowly the water felt too thick to move and be began to sink again. Slowly he fell into the inky water, his mother, face of blackened skin, set him down in his crib, the soft blankets surrounding him. This mother softly told him to go to sleep…Francis nodded passively in agreement….Francis would have slept but instead he smacked his head.
With one last push he brought his head above the waves. At first he thought he had dreamt the smack but when the water felt warm upon his head he reached above and padded the area; he was hurt. He brought his finger down to his nostrils in the darkness and sure enough smelt the tinny iron-filled blood leaking from his forehead. He felt around in the darkness between flashes of lightning and after a few seconds felt a large rock. With all his might he heaved himself up onto its surface. Francis gasped as he lay on his back looking at the storming sky miles above him, the waves now softer and less windy. He saw the greying sky through breaks in the dense clouds above and after a short while Francis finally saw the stars and then passed out.
In the shade of the large Oak Francis wondered whether the ants perceived him as a God. The thought made Francis smile, not In a malicious way, but rather because of the sudden realization that so many creatures have such utter ignorance for the world around them. The idea that their tiny world lay just below the sole of his shoe was a power that Francis secretly revered.
The next morning Francis lay on his back, nervous to open his eyes as if opening them would result in the dream of his survival not being real, but it was. As the gentle sound of waves woke Francis from his stupor Francis stood up though exhausted and sunburnt to see what had saved his life. He looked around and saw the ocean in every direction. Puzzled he looked down to see the pale green surface he stood on which stuck out of the water only a few feet and was filled with long, shallow cracks that mimicked the roots of tress. The rock itself was relatively flat, the only oddity being the four large and deep fissures that ran parallel with each other at one end of the long rock. The portion he stood on was almost square and the fissured portion jutted out in one direction. Francis crouched down and pressed a hand to the surface, he could feel a soft pulsing.
Francis picked an ant up and placed it in his open palm. He watched the creature walk in small circles complacent with its position on this unknown pink world. Francis regarded it with a puzzled look and in an instant, without the slightest change in expression, he crushed the ant into a small black dot. As he wiped the ant onto the ground next to the ant hill he stood up and began walking back to the house to see his mother, to play with his toys and to go on living his life, completely ignorant to the entire life he just destroyed.
As the massive creature held Francis in his palm, feeling his heartbeat, reading his thoughts, memories and mind, he decided that this life was not worth saving after all and as quickly as Francis had destroyed the ant, the creature crushed Francis in the palm of his open hand.