Adrift (Short Story)

Adrift 

1 

Ronnie Mayhue swayed in a tin rowboat as moonlight danced around him. He lays on his back with his hands overlapped and knees aimed toward the stars. Had it been eight days? Nine? Perhaps longer. Perhaps less. Thoughts of time doggedly gnawing along were more exciting than those of dehydration, constipation, and drowning.  

“What a world,” he spoke to the twinkling darkness. “Why me?”  

Pondering was all there was to do. Martha, his late wife, practically begged for them–the “boring couple” –to travel abroad. She wanted to experience something ‘…life-affirming.’ Filling cavities on weekdays couldn’t quite fulfill her unspoken need to intrude where she wasn’t wanted. Neither, Ronnie assumed, would a “couple’s cruise” to nowhere.  

Ronnie had mandates too: spearhead a rock band around the globe, revolutionize the sound, and die on the highest cliff in Valhalla —with a little sugar up his nose and tar in his veins. He’d imagine stadiums of admirers chanting his name “RONNIE! RONNIE! RONNIE!” in breathless bliss while he brushed the sweat from his brow and prepped for the final song. Music would blare. Drugs would flow. Women would swarm and money would be all but inconsequential. 

Those long-soured dreams eluded his mind for quite some time. Repressed or gradually released, he couldn’t say. What he knew was that grandiose aspirations always echoed with the harsh and judgmental realities of the now.  

Right now, Ronnie was fucked. A million miles away from just about everything but himself.  

Fame never came. Nor did the crowds or lustful praise. Nor did the children he traded it all away for. Nothing came but a fractured marriage –an unenviable consolation prize by any stretch of the imagination. “Snake eyes,” he whispered and envisioned it still as he rocked and juddered in his little tin boat. AloneAt sea.  

Martha wanted something “life-affirming.” Ronnie surmised that she died with her wish granted. What could affirm a life more than death? Existence was but a solemn tune for the sinking soul sung to the final note. Martha had sung hers. He believed his own had long passed its crescendo. Nearing the end. 

But the encore,” he gravely sang. “—deep in the heart of Davy Jones locker.”  

This was an encore he never expected. A silent sailing off into the endless scroll of liquid matter. But it was life. Ronnie’s life, anyway. Figures. 

“…me matey nothing you can do about that.” 

Ronnie sank to sleep while orcas crooned a midnight lullaby.  

2 

To combat the sun, Ronnie fashioned himself a shelter with the emergency blanket onboard. It made him feel safe. The overall effect was like an aluminum casket, with pointy ends. It was goofy but it shielded him from the elements just fine. However, that wasn’t the primary concern. The main problem was the sky. 

Ronnie could stare blankly into the void for hours.  

Wishing. Wondering. Wanting.  

The endless possibilities

The gargantuan yet delicate thread of beauty, woven through time and space and all of its beings, was something he could daydream about for hours. Too many hours. Too many days gone by without knowing how many days had gone by. Daydreaming was bad for survival. Ronnie developed a routine to keep himself occupied and his sanity intact.  

First, he’d check himself for sores and lesions, a thorough and extensive examination that he much enjoyed. Ronnie picked up the tip from a survival show that Martha couldn’t stand. She particularly despised his new nautical show—whose name she could never remember. 

Betcha’ wish you knew now, BITCH,” he blurted and felt shame. The punitive thoughts resurged. Ronnie was all aloneIn the voidLost at sea… 

“Routine,” he clapped his hands together. “What’s next?” 

The second worry was food, yet another tip from “Lost at Sea w/ Adonis Dolus.” Unlike Adonis, Ronnie was frail, with a pudgy-gut that starvation couldn’t fully deflate. He remained much as he was prior to the accident—a meager and unimpressive man with waxy skin and receding hair that shed with every hard snap of wind.  

None of this dissuaded the fish from nibbling on his rod. Ronnie had been using his food rations as bait: carefully torn strands from his underwear would act as his fishing line. A bent belt buckle was his hook. He’d rope in the meal, assisted by a whacking paddle. 

With no luck on the line, Ronnie resigned to munching on a chalky, bitter but calorie-dense, chocolate-flavored food bar. “What next Adonis,” he shouted. “Oh, that’s right…” Next was inventory.  

Before he could finish the thought, a strange light flashed in his eyes. After a moment, his vision returned. Binoculars were already perched on his nose and at the ready. He wiped the lenses clean and slid them up. 

In the distance was a pumpkin-colored, flimsy-looking, dinghy. Leaning over its side, with a handheld mirror, was undoubtedly another human being. The sun-greased passenger waved as if they’d been waiting for Ronnie all this time.  

“Help!” the woman’s voice was sharp. “Help, please!” 

 Ronnie pulled the lenses away, squint his eyes, and hollered back. “Are you real?” 

“Yes,” she answered. “Are you?” 

“I think so…” Ronnie mumbled, sipped the air, and prepped for boarding—a real-world rescue mission. Take that, Adonis Dolus! You well-tanned son-of-a-bitch! “Hold on,” Ronnie roared. “I’m coming.” His movements are equal parts fidgety and apprehensive. Like a dentist prospecting for cavities or a student driver parallel parking. 

The first order of business was getting way the hell over there—about a football field’s length and on an apparent collision course. The next was to secure the boats. But, what then? Ronnie thought. What the fuck then?  

The rowboat was stocked with more than crappy food rations and a thermal sleeping bag. In addition to those, there were a few extra paddles, life-vests, binoculars, and four flares. It wasn’t much of a rescue party, but with any luck, his new acquaintance would have some contributions of their own. 

Ronnie positioned himself at the center of the boat and paddled forward. Long-stroke, left side. Long-stroke, right side. His new companion took note and did the same—at a much brisker pace.  

“Almost there,” Ronnie said. “We got this.” 

At a few yards away, the woman was no longer a haze of woozy colors but enduringly manifest. She was a beauty. That special kind of ‘girl next door’-pretty that Miss Universe contests don’t quantify. A stunning specimen with a medium frame, symmetrical face, and a dripping wet ponytail that wagged freely beneath her cap. 

“What’s the plan?” she answered. 

“Um…” 

Upon close inspection, the plan was obvious. The dinghy had taken a thrashing at its rear —held together by duct tape and hope. In spite of the ingenuity, the raft was an imminent goner. Leaking air. Fast. Ronnie lowered the binoculars, stood up, and shouted. “You’re sinking!” 

“No shit!” 

“Try to stay where you are!” 

“Okay!” 

Ronnie plopped down, cast his binoculars to the side, and worked his paddle—puddling himself in sweat as he battled forth. Against Poseidon. Against nature. Against God. He was alive—feeling that same ball-tingling sense of purpose that’d eluded him for decades. Ronnie was finally on stage again, with a raving audience of one.  

He ground his teeth and pushed, “ALMOST THERE….” 

Then he was. 

“Take my hand… Easy there. That’s good.” 

The world seemed to stop as she collapsed into his arms.  

“I’m Julia.” 

“Ronnie.” 

3 

Julia hadn’t said or done much in the hours since she boarded. Outside of their brief exchange, most of what she did was sleep—occasionally turning away from the sun. This gave Ronnie plenty of time to study her soft and milky features. To admire the little ‘chirps’ she made when she exhaled. To imagine her curves in lingerie and full lips in salacious predicaments. 

Wishing. Wondering. Wanting. 

The endless possibilities

Martha hated when Ronnie stared. He’d made no secret of his desire for younger women. Neither, in his mind, did she hide her own wish for Ronnie to “get his head out of the clouds.” He did—successfully retargeting his attention to whiskey and women of the night. But it wasn’t enough. Nothing was ever enough. Even after several drunken stupors, Martha wouldn’t leave. 

Unlike Martha, Julia didn’t need endless attention. She didn’t ask for quality time. She barely even took up space. It was this that made her both fascinating and perfect—the kind ‘side girl that most married men hunger for. Independent. Self-sufficient. Quiet. At least, this is what Ronnie gathered, based on the items in Julia’s survival bag.  

Ronnie quickly discovered that his new passenger was more than just a pretty face. In the undersized duffel were two Swiss-army knives, half a roll of duct tape (yes!), a few boxes of the same military-brand ration bars, a pocket mirror, an emergency blanket, a flashlight, and her purse—which held a bevy of useless trinkets.  

Julia was a 26-year-old, Illinois native and card-carrying member of the NRA. She didn’t keep much cash on hand, some stray bills and a few coins—but seemed rather fond of credit cards. A wallet-sized photo (protected by a leather case and lamination) revealed that she’d also had a family.  

Julia’s father was a hard-looking man, the kind they bring in to fire you. The mother was reminiscent of Julia, plus a few pounds and decades, with some noticeably masculine facial features. Julia also had three interchangeable siblings, none of whom occupied an identifiable gender.  

Ronnie repacked the duffel. nestled it under his legs, and awaited the coming stars. 

4 

“You sing in your sleep,” Julia said. 

She’d been sitting at the rim of the boat with her feet dangling in the water. The sun was a blinding cover of white, causing him to wonder if any of this were real. A splash of cool seawater to his face removed the doubt and shocked the shit out of him. 

Julia thought his reaction was “…priceless.”  

“Jesus Christ,” Ronnie exclaimed. “I’m up. I’m up.” 

Her smile was like winning the lottery. “Sorry, pal. I’m a morning person.” 

“So am I… Usually.” As if it mattered. 

“Hungry?” 

“If you’re offering me a ration bar, I’ll take my chances with starvation.” 

“No, silly…” Julia pointed. “I caught it this morning.” The fish was cut into equal(ish) portions, with the insides gutted, bones carefully picked, and presented atop a sweater that read: UCHICAGO. “Hope you like sushi.” 

“But… How?” It was both impressive and impossible. In his tenure at sea, Ronnie had successfully caught a grand total of one fish. After many attempts. It was already injured. “That’s incredible.” 

“Aww. You’re sweet,” she returned her eyes to the sparkling sea, letting her calves tread water as the current swayed around them. 

Ronnie ate a portion of fish and decided it wasn’t all that bad. Maybe the previous fish was just defective. After the first, he took another and washed it down with a guzzle of water. As of then, they’d had about three-gallons left. “Julia… Right?” 

“That’s right,” she barely budged. “Julia Bridgeport.” 

“Bridgeport? That’s…” 

“American.” 

“Noted,” Ronnie rough-swallowed the remaining hunk of fish, coughed into his fist, and tried again. “Just trying to break the ice.” 

“You saved my ass. Consider it shattered.” Julia said. “I suppose you want to know how I got stuck out here?” 

“It hadn’t crossed my mind.” It had. 

“Tell ya’ what…” Julia swung her legs back into the boat and laid on her duffel bag. “I hate formalities. How about, I answer your questions. Then you answer mine. No mess. No bullshit. Deal?” 

It was fair enough. “Alright.” 

“Great! What’s your question?” 

“Um…” 

“You liar,” she giggled and nudged him with a wet toe. “You do want to know.” 

Just a few days ago, Julia was on vacation with some friends and her soon-to-be fiancé. He’d planned to propose to her while a ship cruised them around the site of a rare aurora. Kevin thought the setting would be perfect—because Julia is “…like, so horny for space.” 

Noted. 

This natural light display was a coveted proposal getaway. Julia was informed ahead of time by some mutual friends, who’d also helped Kevin plan the occasion. At the moment he proposed, she would have feigned surprise, “…but my awe and excitement were totally real,” she said. “It was incredible.”  

Shortly after nightfall, the ship went down. “There was this crazy ‘boom-whoosh’ in the sky and it felt like the world had flipped over. Kevin yelled “…earthquake! and everyone just looked at him.” 

“How’d you get the raft?” 

“Found it in the debris. They float right to the surface, even before you inflate them.” 

“Ahh…” 

Julia stayed at the scene for as long as she could, circling the area until she wore herself out. By the time she awoke, “…there was no telling how far I’d gone.” She collected what she could from the wreckage before exhausting herself unconscious. “Until yesterday, I’ve been alone. Adrift.”  

Sadness overtook her. It was heartache.  

Ronnie couldn’t stand it for a moment longer. 

“Do you want to hear a joke?” It was the kind of forced-friendly disposition that you’d get from a waiter or checkout clerk. “I mean… Before we both go full emo.” 

She popped, with surprise then glowing amusement. “Excuse me?” 

“A joke.” Ronnie coughed. “Not to be cold. I just… I’ve done my best not to think about it…”  

“No. No,” Julia insisted. “Please. I get it.” 

“Thank you.” 

A pause. 

“What’s the joke?” 

“Oh… Uhm.” Ronnie was finally back on stage. This was his moment. “What do you call a zebra with a raspy voice?” 

—Hoarse?” 

“Ooh,” Ronnie slunk his chin. “…that’s actually better than what I was going to say.” 

Now sitting upright and even more curious, Julia asked “What were you going to say?” 

“It’s stupid.” 

“Come on. Spill it.” 

A pause 

“…Mariah Carey.” 

Then Julia laughed like someone possessed. It wasn’t malicious or callous or wicked but free. In the same way an infant can laugh at absolutely nothing. “If that was all on purpose, you may just have something.” 

“I wish I could say it was.” 

Julia rested her back against the edge of the boat. Ronnie did the same on the opposing side. Such chemistry, he thought.  

“So,” Julia continued. “Who’s Martha?” 

“Oh…Um. Martha is, –was- my wife.” 

She squeaked. “I’m sorry for your loss. Did she go with the ship?” 

“Something like that.” 

Something like that?” 

“It’s complicated.” 

“Then uncomplicate it.” She crossed her legs. “I’ve got nothing but time.” 

Ronnie considered this. The truth might scare her off. 

“Well,” Ronnie nuzzled into his corner. “It began with an argument…” 

5 

“Get your shit together, Ronnie!” Martha frisbeed yet another dinner plate. “I. AM. TIRED! I’m tired of this! And I’m tired of you!” The shards of former complete sets lined his pacing path and littered the kitchen floor. Ronnie was drunk. Martha was tearful. It was a relatively tame evening. 

“Then leave!” Ronnie fired back. “LEAVE MARTHA!” 

“FUCK YOU!” 

Neighbors stopped getting involved. It only made things worse. 

The unhappy couple met a quarter-century prior and, by all accounts, were the ideal match. Ronnie was the lead singer of a garage band, that played local shows at minor venues. If you’d have asked anyone on Hill St., the “Fancy-Pantsers,” were heading for the big time. Martha swore she’d never leave him. 

One by one, the dream unraveled—addiction, disease, and hard-living forced the Pansters to either make serious changes or die miserably. The surviving three still got together to relive the glory days. Martha was presently pissed at the most recent bank statement. 

“Who spends eight-thousand dollars in a massage parlor?” Martha caught her breath. “What the hell is wrong with you?” 

“What’s wrong with me?” Ronnie shouted back. “I. AM. NOT. HAPPY. Why won’t you understand that?” 

“I don’t believe you.” 

What…?” 

“You’re having a mid-life crisis. That’s all.” 

“Are you calling me crazy?” he slurred and approached. 

“I–I didn’t…” 

Leave Martha.” 

“We’re a family, Ronnie.” 

“No,” Ronnie said. “We’re a curse on each other.” 

Ronnie slunk away and out the back door. When he returned the following morning, Martha had bags packed and ready to go. Panic turned in his gut. Martha assured him: “It’s for us.” The destination was a surprise. They never made it. 

6 

“…then the ship went down,” Ronnie said.  “I live here now.” 

“Sounds tough.” 

“Yeah… Doesn’t go down easy.” 

“Twenty-five years. God. That’s almost my age.” 

“I know.” 

“What?” 

“Nothing… You just look around that age.” 

“Oh… I get that a lot.” 

“I’m sure,” Ronnie turned to his side.  “I need a nap. Mind waking me if you catch dusk?” 

“Sure…Why?” 

“I like to hear the orcas sing.” 

But he wasn’t thinking about the orcas. It was Martha again. The selfishness. The nerve. The suffocation. Martha deserved to die, he thought.  

Just maybe not that way…  

7 

The cruise liner’s name was the Aphrodite, a ham-fisted reference to the Greek goddess of love. Upon arrival, the couples (new and old) were adorned with flower-petal lays and force-fed margaritas. Ronnie and Martha hobbled along behind the sweaty, wrinkled, and wretched horde of Hawaiin-shirted twosomes.  

The Mayhue’s were placed in Cabin 707—a room that proved Martha had spared no expense. The couple was scheduled to attend a departure “get-down” in one of the ships’ many over-extravagant gathering areas. Before either was fully dressed, that same old argument flared up.  

“Just admit it, you sabotaged us!” 

“Sabotaged!? I was your fucking groupie!” 

“Yeah,” a snort. “Fucking mistake that was…” 

“You said it,” Martha snapped. “Not me.” 

“Excuse me,” Ronnie stood up, shoulders high, neck strained, index finger aimed. “Did you just call me a failure?” 

“I agreed with you.” 

Ronnie’s open palm swung from his side and thrashed across Martha’s face. She plummeted headfirst to the cabin floor. A gushing stream of blood soon followed. Ronnie grabbed a pillow from the frilly heart-shaped bed and meant to elevate Martha’s head. Instead, he lowered it to her face and pressed—   

And held…  

And held… 

And held. 

He wanted to be sure. 

Moments later, the ship was turning on its side and a bright green light bewitched the sky. An aurora. Ronnie grabbed what he could and he fled for his life. There were no survivors.  

Just Ronnie. 

He didn’t want Julia to know all of that.  

8 

Ronnie didn’t sleep much. He was especially aroused by thoughts of Martha. He swore as he paddled away from the wreckage, that he would never return to “civilian” life. He silently pledged to find a new kingdom—in the void.  

“You awake,” Julia asked and nudged him. “The orcas are singing.” 

Ronnie was silent. Then suddenly, “What’s that?” 

“Didn’t sleep. Did you?” 

“It’s fine.” Ronnie took a sip of water. Two-gallons left. Plenty for now.   

A calm took over. The same kind of relief a child feels when their parents return from a business trip. A sense of belonging. A sense of purpose. The orcas sang against the moonlit sky. There was nothing else like it. Endless possibilities. 

“Lovely,” Julia said. “They never came this close to me.” 

“Oh yeah,” Ronnie answered. “It’s the best show in town.”  

“Where you from, Ronnie?” 

“Here and there. I move around…”  

Ronnie and Martha owned a four-bedroom hand-me-down. His current “man-cave” was located in the same room Martha grew up in. The walls were pink and peeling. His parents lived up the road. The mailman’s name was Steve. 

“Oh… You like a corporate guy?” 

“Something like that…” 

Ronnie was employed at a local guitar shop, “Sticks N’ Stones.” The owner was a lush but dedicated fan, “…looking to help out the starving artist.” He took a liking to Ronnie from the jump— “birds of a feather, flock together,” he’d say. Larry was a rock-god hopeful too (c. Hendrix-era).  

Over twenty long years, Ronnie rode the employment ladder and plateaued at middle management. Larry no longer introduced him as “Ronnie Ricochet: Musical Consultant” but his full government-issued name: RONALD BUSTER MAYHUE (the third). It was over. The dream was dead. He co-captained a long-dying ship. That was all.  

“…I owned a guitar shop,” Ronnie said 

“Really,” Julia was impressed. “That’s awesome!” 

“Yeah, well…” Ronnie feigned modesty. “A few of them, actually.” 

“What are they called?” 

Well…” Back on stage. Come on, Ronnie! She’s in the palm of your hand. “Fancy Pantsers was our mother location. The other names escape me. Too many to keep track of.” Nailed it! 

Wow… Do you play?” 

“Me and the boys jam out every now and then.” 

Julia squint as if to see something behind him. Then a smile. “I can see it.” 

 “Really?” 

“Yeah… Eighteen-year-old you, headbanging and doing drugs in your parent’s garage.” The description was painfully accurate. “Beer cans over there. Dirty mags tossed around. Old bloodstains scattered. Valhalla.” Julia had a manner of speaking that required she act out the scene. Her imitations were also uncanny. 

“You’re a writer, aren’t you,” Ronnie asked.  

“Yeah. How can you tell?” 

“You like your words.” 

Ronnie had a soft spot for creatives. His own creativity lacked a certain spark. UnoriginalStale. Redundant.  

“Journalist. Freelance.” Julia said. 

“Getting to the roof before it burns to the ground?” 

Sure.” 

“Sorry, I’m—” 

“You’re fine,” Julia huffed. “I get your sense of humor.” 

“My sense of humor?” 

“Yeah. You’re a nihilist.” 

9 

Ronnie couldn’t remember falling asleep but he knew this was a dream. He’d had this nightmare before. The candlelit hall was lined in floral-patterned wallpaper—vomit green and maroon—that stretched into a rectangle of darkness. Ronnie closes the door behind him and heads on. He’s late for something

Ronnie treks the hall as terror boils in his gut, arriving at a large window. Outside is the sea. The moon is high. Bobbing with the ocean beneath them. They’re floating in debris. Bodies! Bloated. Withering. Distressed. Some screaming. 

Ronnie backs away from the window. The hallway disappears. He heads toward another opening. The ovulating tunnel spills into a kitchen. It’s here that Ronnie watches Martha assault him with dinnerware. And the dream would end.  

Tonight, it didn’t. 

“What are you doing,” Ronnie urged as he watched himself kill his wife, again. “That isn’t how it happened… None of this is how it happened!” 

“Isn’t it,” the squeaky voice inquired. “Isn’t this everything you dreamed of Ronnie?” 

Ronnie turns to find Martha. Her skin was pale green and eroded from days adrift— partially eaten and decomposing. Both eyes bulged from her skull like wet tea bags from their string, pendulating as she spoke. Martha was riddled in dying purplish veins that splintered through her face like cracks on a windshield. She was dripping wet and smelled of rotten fish.  

“…the endless possibilities?” Martha slithered and Ronnie stood still—mystified. Confused

Nothing was right. Even the gash on Martha’s forehead had morphed, now stretched to her chin and bleeding a syrupy ooze. ThickBlackStickyGunk

“What’s wrong, baby?” Martha said. “How can I make it better?” 

“N-No,” Ronnie wept. “That’s not how it happened.” 

“It doesn’t matter Ronnie-bear.” Martha reeled him in. “We’re together now.” Mutant tentacles shot from Martha’s mouth and buried deep into Ronnie’s throat. “Nnnn…” She was drinking him—grinding his insides like a juicer. Martha’s belly grew until she burst. 

Two mounds rose from the bubbling tar. Two hideous fanged children. They freed themselves from the gristly after-birth and fed on Ronnie too—chomping chunks from his thighs and severing arteries. 

They drank him down to nothing. 

Then he awoke. 

10 

Ronnie startled from sleep, reached out to the sea, and let the water wash through his fingers. “Thank, God,” he said, relieved but anxious. Though night prevailed, he figured he’d gotten enough sleep for now. Enough for a lifetime. Star-gazing would have to suffice.  

At the other end of the boat, Julia was chirping away. Fast asleep.  

Forever remained as gorgeous as it ever was.  

Endless possibilities

11 

“No,” Ronnie protested. “Not happening.”  

“Come on,” Julia said. “Just one?” 

“No. I’m out of practice. Go away.” 

“Where the hell am I supposed to go?” 

The two had been at it all day. As promised to himself, Ronnie stayed awake through the night and had yet to take so much as a midday snooze. He occupied the time with a song he’d been drafting in his head. Being lost at sea proved a wellspring for his creative juices.  

By dusk, he’d composed too much to freely remember and opted to replay it in his mind until he could never forget it. This manifested in a full morning (and partial afternoon) of perpetual humming and whistling—no whales needed; no explanation given.  

When Julia finally inquired about the song, Ronnie couldn’t help but spill the beans—equal parts ego and an instinctive need to satisfy his audience. Presently, Julia looked as if she’d just about die, had Ronnie held out any longer.  

“Okay…” Ronnie relented. “But only constructive criticism is allowed.” 

“You got it.” Julia relaxed and eagerly awaited the show—staring at Ronnie with that unmistakable gaze of anticipation. “Whenever you’re ready, Ronnie Ricochet.” There was no turning back now. 

“Right…” Ronnie cleared his throat:  

Where do you go,” he sang. “…And why do you leave? 
Know that when we’re apart… I’m sick and I bleed. 
I’m bleeding just to ask you what’s wrong? 
What’s wrong? 
What’s wrong? 
What’s wrong with coming down to me?” 

Ronnie froze like he’d stepped on a nail. “This is stupid,” he shook his head. “It’s not ready. I’M not ready.” 

“Don’t stop,” Julia said. “… that’s the best song I’ve heard in a while—other than the whales.” 

“No. No. No.” Ronnie balled himself up. “I’m sorry. That was stupid.” 

“It’s wasn’t stu— ”  

“DON’T,” Ronnie shot back. “Don’t lie to me. Don’t you ever lie to me.”  

“Okay, jeez. Take it easy.” 

“Admit it was crap.” 

“It could’ve been better…” 

“Thank you. I’m going to take a nap.” 

“Alright. Want me to wake you when the—” 

No.” 

Ronnie planned on being wide awake.  

12 

His mind raced in the following hours. Julia tossed and turned a bit but settled still after a while. She hadn’t tried to speak with Ronnie since his outburst. He appreciated that—someone who knew when to let things be. The silence was a welcome change from song-related humiliation.  

I choked. Ronnie thought. I fucking choked. It was a harsh reminder of past failures and opportunities that slipped through his fingers. He considered letting the thoughts consume him, followed by a long dip in the sea.  

Julia saved him again, “Hey, Ronnie?” 

“Yeah,” he almost didn’t answer. 

“I wanted to apologize for earlier. I know I can be assertive.” 

A pause. 

No need.” Ronnie turned on his back to see her. “I should be apologizing to you.” 

“For what,” Julia asked. 

“The bleeding eardrums,” Ronnie laughed. “…guess I’ve been at sea for too long.” 

“I’ll buy the excuse.” 

Sold.” 

They smiled. The sea was calm and moonlight hit Julia just right. From where Ronnie lay, she was an angel incarnate. Breathtaking. Modest. Innocent. 

“Can I ask you something,” Julia said. 

“Sure.” 

“Promise not to make me walk the plank?” 

“…wouldn’t dream of it.” 

“What are you going to do when we get back?” 

It wasn’t something he’d considered. ‘Home’ was a foreign concept. “I don’t know,” he answered. 

“I know what I’m gonna do,” Julia said.

“What’s that?” 

“I’m going to take a nice long hot shower…” 

“Really…?” It was strangely mundane. “That’s it?” 

“What more could a girl want?” 

Ronnie slapped his forehead. “You’re kidding.” 

“Nope.” 

“How about a new car, a new house, a mountain of cash from suing the sea-faring service that you booked? A fucking meal? Need I go on?” 

“You see, Ronnie,” she stretched her legs. “…that’s where we’re different.” 

“Because I want more than a hot shower?” 

“No. You’re just checking items off a list. What makes you happy?” 

“You make me happy,” Ronnie said. “Being out here. Away from the world with someone else who gets it, you know?” 

“Don’t you miss anything?” 

“The things I miss were gone long before I got here.” 

“So… If you ever got back?” 

“I guess I’d have to go back to my life.” 

“What’s wrong with that?” 

What wasn’t? Ronnie spent the next couple of hours in silence—stoically glaring at the seam between the sky and the sea. That life was a prison. This one is free. Good thing there’s no way back, anyway. The idea was ludicrous. 

13 

“Ronnie…Ronnie, wake up!” Julia kicked and shook the boat, taking on several gallons in the process.  

“What the fuck are you doing?” Ronnie screamed. “You’re going to sink us!” 

“Ronnie! Look we’re saved!” 

She’d been flailing around like she suddenly realized her beloved boatmate was a killer.”…the boats going over,” Ronnie shouted and grabbed her. They nearly went overboard. 

“What the fuck is your problem,” Julia asked. 

My problem? We almost lost the boat!” Ronnie reserved the next thought for himself: This bitch might have snapped. “…Either you tell me what’s going on or I’m getting the duct tape,” Ronnie continued. 

Julia, looking flustered with a handful of flares, pointed to the sky. Appearing from nothing was a spectrum of bright colors—quite similar to the aurora that both he and Julia had seen. Although the pinwheel-shaped aurora was BIG and still growing, it was still quite the paddle away. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Ronnie said. “But just hear me out—” 

“We can flag them down. We can get back!” 

“Yeah…” 

“Why aren’t you excited?” 

“I don’t want to get my hopes up.” 

“B-But we’re going…right?” 

“…of course.” 

“Great. I’ll take the first paddle shift.” 

“…great…” 

Ronnie did not think this was great. 

14 

While Julia slept, Ronnie sat in his corner and wondered what he should do next. If the wreckage were found, would they find Martha’s body or even worse, pin it on Ronnie? Even if not, who wants to go back to nametags and middle-management? Judging eyes? Hateful glares? The dating scene? Not Ronnie.  

He and Julia would die together and Poseidon will bless their union. Because Ronnie’s no loser, or failure, or burnout, he’s a king that will die with his queen. 

“Fuck Adonis Dolus,” he muttered. 

Ronnie steadied himself and paddled (whatever direction), away from the aurora. He pushed and he heaved just as hard as he could, reminding him of when he met Julia. But the current had other plans. Damn it. 

Ronnie had to find another way to stay adrift. 

Adrift with Julia. 

Endless possibilities. 

15 

Ronnie didn’t paddle that day.  

Julia hadn’t said a word about it. She’d grown cold and unreasonable—always wanting to go “back home” all the time. Ronnie was starting to love her a little less. Too much attitude.  

“You’re really not going to help me paddle?” 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Ronnie said. “What if it’s nothing?” 

“What if it means help, Ronnie?” Julia returned to paddling, silently judging, and glancing at Ronnie like he was insane. What am I supposed to do? Ronnie thought: Tell her that I’m some maniac? No. No. I can’t go back. WE can’t go back.  

NEVER. 

16 

“So, you’re going to keep it,” Ronnie asked 

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” Martha said. “Aren’t you happy?” 

“I am… It’s just—” 

The problem was that Ronnie and the Fancy Pantsers had just been offered the opportunity of a lifetime. It was 93’ and shifting generations muddied the sound. The industry was looking for something new. Ronnie Ricochet and the boys made just enough noise to get noticed. 

The Fancy Pansters were among a slew of ‘new sounding’ talent tapped to perform for a spattering of suits: music execs, agents, managers, promoters, and even some well-known artists (on the hunt for weak opening acts). It was the kind of thing he saw in movies—discovery. Then life would really take off. He’d dreamt of it for so long. Endless possibilities

Ronnie’s plans didn’t include bringing a child into the world. Ricochet’s plans barely included Martha.  

“I’m happy. Really.” 

“Okay,” Martha smiled. “I’m happy too.” 

Ronnie was not happy. 

Ronnie and the Pansters burned through the city like herpes on a college campus—playing small bars, garages, outdoor games, and even a few Mitzvahs. They had to be sharp. Abnormally inventive. And commanding. Out of five, three forfeited their day jobs—to allow more time with the band. Neither of the other two had worked a real job in their life. 

Though, there was a problem. Martha. 

She would show up at every event, scowl at lewd-looking women, and shadow Ronnie like it were her job. She’d stand just off stage and scream things like “That’s my man!” and “Go, baby!” that pierced Ronnie’s soul like an icepick. It was a distraction. On more than one occasion he fumbled his lines because Martha decided to flash him.  

On the night of their big gig, Martha looked on as a member of around a hundred people—talent scouts, family, and friends of the band. The Fancy Pantsers were up, and their set had just started, when Martha screamed: “Go, Ronnie! Do it for our baby!” The chant earned more than a few glances, cold stares, and jeers. Then the heckling began. Ronnie lost focus.  

The Fancy Pantsers played a hell of a show, other than their lead vocalist (Ronnie) choking big time. While the band played their time, Ronnie stood on the stage, mouth agape and with a thousand-yard stare. Martha was escorted out of the event, screaming, “Ronnie, I’ll be right outside!” 

Their set was cut short by eighty-two seconds and Ronnie was asked if he needed medical attention. Their shot was blown. The band parted ways and the following week he was working for Larry— “Sticks N’ Stones: Now featuring ‘RONNIE RICOCHET,’ our musical consultant.”  

The sign was flattering for five minutes before Ronnie wanted to slit both wrists. It was a reminder of his failure: ‘home of the guy who choked,’ that’s what the hell that sign should have read. Despite this, Ronnie thrived in his newfound stability and soon rented an apartment with Martha.  

After a few months, Martha’s belly was unmissable and suddenly the two were adults. They had game nights, and date nights, debated parental approaches, and cuddled no matter who won. They got married in spring, and despite being eight months along, everyone thought that Martha looked “radiant.” 

They lost the baby a week later. “…unknown complications at birth.” 

When the doctors first told him, Ronnie didn’t say a word. He turned right around and got back in his car. He drove down a highway, hands trembling on the wheel, as something inside of him broke. Ronnie pulled in at a dock, got out of his car, and just screamed

He hated what he’d become and had no way out. Nothing to show for it. Tormented by what could have been. A wasted life. “The endless possibilities…” a piece of him died that day.  

It was reborn out in this mystic sea. Survival. Valhalla. 

Ronnie decided that he wasn’t going anywhere. 

Neither was Julia. 

17 

“…me matey nothing you can do about that.” Ronnie sang. 

18 

It was her own duct tape. Julia awoke with her arms and legs bound together. Ronnie was paddling away from the aurora. 

 “Ronnie…” Julia squirmed. “What are you doing?” 

“I can’t go back.”  

“Fine…” she looked on with those piercing blue eyes. “But let me go back.” 

“Can’t.” 

“What?” 

Won’t.” 

“Ronnie!” Julia threw herself at him, hitting him square in the teeth. “Let me go!” 

“Fuck!” Ronnie held his mouth as it bled. “You don’t understand!” 

Julia lunged at him again—launching into his ribs. Cracking one. The boat was sloshing. Water ankle-high. “You’re going to kill us!” Ronnie stumbled and balanced. He took an umpire’s stance.

“You need to let me go. Now!” Julia managed to her feet, barely propped up by the rim of the boat. She looked as portrait-perfect as she ever had. In this twilight, her sadness was beautiful. “You’re scaring me,” she trembled. “…please stop.” 

She was perfect.  

Too perfect for the world to ruin like it ruined him.  

Then an act of fate. 

Julia steadied to lunge again. Ronnie armed himself with a paddle to defend. When Julia lunged, Ronnie swung—whacking Julia into the sea. Her body was gone before he could process what had happened. 

“Th-That was an accident?… Right?” 

Ronnie waited for the boat to settle. Then his heart.  

He curled up and watched the aurora. It was growing—fast. After the day’s events, there was no out-paddling it. He wouldn’t try. Ronnie turned over onto his back and gazed at the sky.  

The first twinkles of nighttime were flickering on. 

The orcas began their tune. 

19 

That night, the aurora grew.  

And pulsed.  

And flashed its mighty colors.  

Then vanished. 

20 

HOOONKKK!!! 

HOOONKKK!!!!! 

The passing cargo ship spotted him first. When Ronnie awoke, the scene was flooded with coast guards, media, rescue ships, and what looked like a floating hospital. “We got another one, Serg,” one of the burly rescue men hollered into a megaphone. “He looks bad.” 

Ronnie examined the scene, gulped the last of his water, retrieved his flares, and set them alight. “I’m not going back!” He tossed the torches to his feet and took a bow. “Ricochet has left the building!”  

He jumped into the ocean and swam as deep down as he could, evading rescue until the last bubble of air floated free from his lungs. Then Ronnie was still. Hovering weightlessly as the darkness consumed him and ocean water filled his insides. 

Ronnie thought of his life and what might have been—  

…endless possibilities

End 

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