The gentle current of the ocean rocked the lone boat far out to sea. Its sails filled with the cool breeze as the boat swept towards the distant shore, borne on a sea as blue as sapphires. The calm waves cradled the boat as a mother does her infant child, back and forth, back and forth. The soothing sounds of the ocean were the lullaby with which to sing the babe to sleep. The sun was a golden beacon of light, its glaring rays making the vast expanse of water glitter and sparkle like granite.
Up above the seagulls twisted and tumbled in the air, rising on the updraft, falling and spinning down to earth like a roller coaster ride. The harsh cries of the birds split the atmosphere, cutting through the melancholy that gripped the afternoon, like the swift swipe of a sword. Suddenly, the skirmishing was over and the birds began to launch their frenzied attack on the mast. Like kamikaze pilots they dived in, battering the little boat with their huge wingspans, their beaks sharp as daggers slicing through the mainsail as though it were butter. The damage inflicted they soared away, rising on the updraft until they became like grains of sand in the distance.
However, this did little to distract the man at the helm of the yacht. He had sailed through monstrous storms where waves reached forty feet high and had crashed and thundered threatening his very life. He has sailed around the world, getting only one hours’ sleep at a time, battling through every obstacle the mighty ocean could throw at him. He looked on the efforts of the seagulls with distain. They were only a final, desperate attempt by the ocean to prevent him reaching his goal, nothing more.
The salt spray of the sea was a constant force against his face. Rather than finding it annoying he had learned to relish it, to welcome the barrage of cooling water that made him feel so alive. The wind too had become an ally in his battle against the ocean. Sometimes it had deserted him, and he allowed his mind to wander back to the sweltering heat of the Indian Ocean where he had not moved for several days. When he went to touch the mast then his hands had blistered with its searing heat and he would have to plunge them into the tepid waters. When the wind had come again it had been an exhilarating experience. The cool breeze had wafted across his face, soothing his fevered brow and with it had brought hope that his endeavour might at last succeed.
He brought himself back out of his reverie with a snap. He had not yet succeeded in getting to shore. In a hurry he went round his boat and carried out the final checks, mending the ripped mainsail before he made his last push to land. The ropes stung his fingers with their coarseness as he pulled them tighter; the contrast between the ropes and the sleek slip of the main sail was intense.
He checked his watch and he was ahead of time. He made his way back to the helm and took control once again, his eyes fixed on the distant shape of the land. With a steady pace, but quicker than he had anticipated, it moved closer and a sweat started to break out across his brow. A shadow suddenly engulfed the boat as an unexpected cloud eclipsed the sun and a shiver ran down his spine. With it a hint of doubt, like an ink stain, spread across his mind. This was wrong; land was too close. He went below.
Ducking down, he crouched in the cabin and rifled through his charts, pouring over his maps, searching with his compass to measure distant points of axis. He couldn’t have made a mistake; it just wasn’t possible. He sank back against the wall and relived the stages of his journey, probing his memory for a hint of a miscalculation. He closed his eyes and put his hands up to his face, the sweaty palms doing nothing to put his mind at ease. A half thought came to him, a fragment of memory. Gradually it grew until it was at the front of his consciousness. The days in the Indian Ocean; why hadn’t he remembered them before? Horror struck at the thought. He ransacked his brain, trying to remember any details of the lost days and nights in the oppressive heat. Had he lost his way? Could it be possible?
He flew back to the helm, up onto the deck, consumed by the image of his wife and children, there on the dock, waiting for him to return, waiting and waiting for months and years, for his joyful return. They would be there; he willed it with all his might. This thought brought him back from the brink of despair. He reached for his binoculars and looked out. Still the sea glistened and the calm waves lapped against the hull. He could see a crowd, people, no faces, no shapes, just one multitude swarming at the water’s edge. He imagined her face, smiling, tears of pride running down her cheeks. He saw the papers…… “Hero returns, the first Australian to sail around the world; a giant amongst men.”
All at once, the faces swam into focus. As he searched the crowd for a familiar face it dawned on him that there was not a single white face amongst them. Instead, each of the faces was black as coal, their eyes transfixed on his little boat, following his course towards them. A cry split the air, sharp and piercing, growing ever louder as each man took it up. With cold horror he saw the spears clutched in their hands, the flint points glinting with a cold malice. Panic stricken he tried to turn his boat around but then he saw the canoes, each containing a warrior forging a path through the water with his paddle, coming towards him at a great speed. He realised at that moment there was nothing he could do and that finally, this was his journeys end.
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