Chapter Seven

Raphael called for Vashti and Isaac. Isaac tapped on her arm and pointed to the galley.

“Can you two bring up the bacon, the coffee, and stuff. Nils? Grab the mugs and napkins and hot sauce on your way up. Thanks.”

Raphael headed up first, carrying the breakfast wraps.

Neville was waiting at the helm. The table was folded down and he didn’t move when Raphael came up.

Raphael raised the table and set up the cockpit for breakfast, arranging the bacon, coffee, and cups as the rest of the crew joined them topside.

“Any sign of weather,” he asked Neville.

“Nothing. Not a lick of wind,” he replied.

All five of them squeezed around the table. It was 9am but the sun was already scorching. Isaac had lathered white lotion on his face, arms, neck, and legs.

Nils and Neville took one side of the table. Isaac, Vashti, and Raphael the other.

Vashti wiped some of the excess lotion from Isaac’s face and arms and rubbed it onto her face. The others started eating breakfast without any chatter.

“Thanks, Isaac,” she said.

Nils had finished his first wrap before Isaac had taken his first bite.

“These are good,” he said, opening up another wrap and spraying the eggs with hot sauce.

Neville held up a stiff rash of bacon and considered Isaac, Vashti, and Raphael, all sitting across from him. He finished it in three bites.

“Well,” Raphael said. “Let’s hear it. Nils, you’re first.”

Nils took a bite of eggs, rushing to chew, chew, and swallow.

Vashti reached across the table and pulled two blobs of eggs from Nils’ beard and tossed them over her shoulder, overboard.

“There is something wrong with the solar panels, for sure. They are putting out an incredible amount of juice. But I don’t see how that would mess with the electronics, or the compass, for that matter.

“The wires from those panels were really overheated.”

But before dismissing the possibility that something on the boat was the problem, he suggested they test a compass and a GPS unit away from the boat.

“We can just drop the dinghy over the side and I’ll row out a couple of hundred yards, checking things as I go,” he said.”We should do that before looking for ghosts on the boat.”

“Good. Yes,” Raphael said.

“I don’t have much,” Raphael continued. “The sat phone isn’t working so I don’t have a weather update. And without a signal, I can’t send texts.”

He looked at Neville, who still refused to look at him or contribute to the discussion.

“And I’ve seen nothing to indicate these doldrums will leave us soon.

“Isaac? Any idea where we are?”

Despite the bacon fat, Isaac had eaten four bites of his wrap. But when his turn came, he could barely contain himself and words spilled out of him, seemingly coming from his mouth, nose and ears, like the eggs spilling from Nils’ wrap.

He started with Vashti not moving and then looking for the charts and how little information the phones contained. The words poured from him without punctuation.

Neville rolled his eyes.

“Isaac, stop,” Raphael said.

“What? There’s loads more. And really important stuff,” Isaac said.

Vashti put her hand on Isaac’s arm. “I have an idea. Isaac, how about I ask you questions and you give me answers?”

“Yeah, I guess, if you ask not-stupid questions,” he said.

“Ok, I will try.”

“Where are we now?”

“That is complicated and I can’t say for sure.”

“Isaac?”

“Stop it. I am not a child.”

Neville grunted.

“OK, OK. We are around the 30th parallel, about 2,500 miles from Agadir in Morocco and 2,100 miles from the Canary Islands. And 900 miles from New York.”

“And how many miles south of our course?” Vashti continued.

“At least 400 miles,” he said, adding meekly, “south.”

Nils leaned back and whistled.

“We were sailing south, not east, almost all day yesterday, and probably before that too. The systems were recording strange positions all along but they really started behaving in an odd way shortly after dawn yesterday. By then, we were already way off course.

“We’re only 300 miles east of Bermuda. But all of this is kinda guesswork. The GPS positions are all over the place. We might be 100 miles on either side of what we think is our position.”

They sat silently. Raphael felt the tension and fear in his belly rise into his throat. Four hundred miles was not a terribly long distance, they could plot a course to make it up and still arrive at Gibraltar within a couple of days of their original plan. But without reliable electronics or a compass?

Neville tasted bile. His first breakfast wrap was half-finished, his coffee cup half empty.

Nils took a bite of his third tortilla.

“The sooner I get in that dink and check things the better,” he said, knocking egg flecks out of his beard. “If we can get a fix we can stop worrying.”

“Is there anything else Isaac?” Vashti asked.

Isaac pulled his body to his crossed knee.

“Yes. I tried to tell you this last night Raphael. It’s those lights. I don’t know if they have ever been documented this far south.

“And?” Raphael asked.

“See, and all those colors, and there were lights in the north and east and south of us.”

And the planet and it’s molten core. And magnetic fields. And excited electrons. And gamma radiation. And the more he said the faster he talked. And the faster he talked the less anyone could follow.

Vashti tried to interrupt but he would not have it anymore. He had to get this out. He had to warn them.

“Oh for fuck sake,” Neville said. “I’ve had it with your whimpering.”

He jumped to his feet, knocking the table with his knee. The table’s legs unlocked and it folded down with a crash. Plates and cups, milk, eggs and bacon, spoons and the coffee pot crashed to the cockpit floor.

Neville stepped across the mess to Isaac and leaned over him. “What the fuck are you saying? SAY IT. NOW.”

Isaac turned away from Neville and raised his knees into his chest.

Neville raised his left arm, his hand clenched in a fist, threatening, if not promising, to strike Isaac.

Vashti leaned over Isaac, placing herself between Neville’s fist and Isaac’s head. Nils rested a hand on his friend’s back, hoping he didn’t have to restrain him.

For a moment everyone froze, balanced on a blade.

Raphael pushed them all off the edge as fury and menace replaced the fear in his belly.

“You fucking bully,” Raphael growled. Neville redirected his own anger and frustration back at Raphael but he was too slow.

Raphael drove his shoulder into Neville’s gut, who collapsed backward, sucking for air. He was off balance and put his right arm back to break his fall. But he was falling the other way and his hand caught nothing. Instead, the left side of his chest broke his fall on the edge of the cockpit.

They all heard the crack. Neville felt it.

“Get off. Get off. I can’t breathe. Please get off. Ow, Ow. Fuck all of you. Fuck you.”

Raphael was starting to retreat but Vashti was faster.

“Ahhhhhh,” she screamed, flashing anger at both men.

She grabbed the tail of Raphael’s t-shirt and ripped it off his back.

Nils reached under Raphael with one arm and lifted him back and off Neville.

Raphael slouched on the starboard-side bench, his breath heavy with adrenaline, his face red with violence and embarrassment.

Isaac’s eyes were large and bewildered.

Neville wheezed in the corner of the port-side bench. His legs splayed across the cockpit floor, his white canvas shoes speckled with scrambled eggs and red peppers.

Looking down on them stood Vashti, her chin on her chest, but her shoulders back; her lips pursed and her eyes closed. She was managing a fury.

A humid silence hung between them, punctuated by the sloshing water on the hull and a line tapping on a mast.

Isaac saw his yellow pencil resting on a tortilla and a piece of bacon on the cockpit floor. He picked it up with the tips of two fingers and wiped it off on the back of Vashti’s shirt. She opened her eyes and looked down at him.

Isaac tapped the eraser on his forehead and then spun the pencil up and down the fingers of his right hand. This hadn’t changed anything, he thought.

“Does anyone want to know what I think is going on?” Isaac asked.

Nils couldn’t help himself: a chuckle rolled out of his chest. Vashti bit her bottom lip, the corners of her lips turned up. She turned and smiled down at Isaac.

Raphael forced a smile too. Neville touched his bruised side.

Isaac sat up and nervously laughed, entirely unsure why.

“Well,” Vashti said. “Ain’t this a real fucking mess.”

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