The sound of the attack ship's engine rose. It was moving off. Josh heard the sailors' voices, but couldn't make out their words over the noise of the engine and the splashing water. He did hear two distinct thuds on the deck of the sailboat just behind them, and he had a pretty good idea what they were.
Towing the girl again, Josh paddled as hard as he could away from the boat. He wasn't getting far and knew he didn't have much time.
"Hold your breath," he said in Russian. The girl looked confused and he yelled at her to do it. She sucked in a deep breath and he dragged her under against the buoyancy of the lifevest. It tried to pull her back up and he pushed her down harder.
They heard a pair of muffled explosions. The concussion of the blasts shook them as it came through the water. The bright light of flames illuminated the water around the sailboat like a midday sun. Josh found himself staring into the black eye of a shark as big as a house only a few feet to his left. It appeared disoriented by the concussion waves. Something splashed in the water near Josh, startling him and the shark, which darted away. It was the mast of the sailboat, cutting through the water like a knife through a cake. It dropped past Josh and sunk into the dark water. The light of the flames faded and he and the girl were enveloped in darkness once again.
She bobbed to the surface. Josh emerged beside her. She was paddling hard in a panic to get away from the boat, which was engulfed in flames. She pulled off the lifevest and started swimming. Josh swam after her.
The attack ship turned away and moved off at a slow pace. Josh could see it clearly in the light of the fire. He decided he couldn't wait any longer. If they saw them and turned back, he would have to find a way to deal with their machine guns. He pulled the folded raft from his jacket, found the cord, and yanked. With a woosh of compressed air, the small yellow raft inflated on top of the water.
The girl stopped paddling and looked back. Josh pulled himself over the fat, tubular side. She turned and swam toward the raft. Josh pulled her in. There was not much room for both of them in it, and she huddled against the side as far from him as she could, watching him with wary eyes. Josh looked away and watched the sailboat sink, feeling the warmth of the flames on his face until they were extinguished with a loud hiss as the boat slipped beneath the water.
A hole broke in the cloud layer overhead and revealed a sky of stars. Josh stared up at it. In the pitch darkness it was the only thing he could see. The only sound was the gentle lap of water against the rubber raft, which swayed softly on the shallow waves. He settled back and sighed, counting each tiny point overhead. It had been a long day and he was exhausted. He couldn't even remember how he managed to wind up in this situation. He certainly had no idea how he would find a way out.
Copyright 2000 Burping Frog Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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