I looked back. Only one other boat was moving. A long, sleek, white paddle-steamer. I knew her skipper, and savored the satisfaction of knowing that I’d been even quicker to get underway than that old piece of salt-water crab bait. Thanks to Luke.
As we exited the mouth of the harbor the sea was frothing, white with foam, and smoldering like a cauldron. We were like two frogs in a frying pan, sailing over a sea of boiling oil.
Luke calmly coiled the lines. He was less fearful and more curious than I. We watched the heavens erupt with lightning bolts. The masts glowed a phosphorescent green as small rocks and ash began to rain from the sky. Without looking my way, he said, “Where to?”
“Deep water,” I told him. “The deeper the better.” I knew these waters well. “Due west,” I said, giving him the tiller. On a small trawler like mine, a good crewman is worth his weight in silver. But steering a course at night, in these conditions, would make even the hardiest sailor flinch. Luke took the tiller without hesitation.
He held that course for hours.
Without warning we experienced a jolt. An ominous portent that left us both feeling uneasy. I took the tiller and sent Luke below to fetch my spyglass. A false dawn lit up the sky to the south. Ten seconds later, the sound hit us, a noise so loud it was painful. I couldn’t hear anything.
We stood there, me and Luke, deaf and mute, transfixed by the orange glow. Mysterious flashes illuminated billowing purple clouds while the sea danced as if possessed. Meanwhile, the boat motored in a wide lazy circle while we slowly regained our wits.
I gave Luke the tiller again and went below to calculate our position on the chart. When I returned to the helm, I ordered him to come about, and lay in a heading toward the thing we’d been fleeing.
The look on his face at that moment formed an unbreakable bond between us. Buffeted by booms, rattled by blasts, showered with mud and ash, he turned us toward the volcanic maelstrom; a glowing cloud of smoke, molten ash, certain death and widespread devastation; but he trusted me.
I was grateful for that trust. I’ve no interest in boys or men, and my unforced celibacy is a condition of my employment, nothing more. Luke’s handsome features affected me not, but there was something about his manner, his grace and courage that stirred something in my chest. If I felt anything else, I deny it to this day.
Luke surrendered the tiller, grabbed a shovel and started clearing the decks. In time we each took turns going below, coughing, gasping and refastening our makeshift masks to protect our lungs from the onslaught.
It was into this inexplicable sense of calm desperation, that a distant and incessant thunder gradually gained our attention. We both stopped what we were doing. “What the devil is that?” I said.
The realization dawned on us simultaneously, I swung the boat directly toward the sound, while Luke darted for the bow.
Peering through the spyglass, I confirmed my worst fear. It was a massive wave, bigger than anything I’d ever heard of, bigger than I thought possible. It was on us in less than a minute. All I had time to do was shout, “Tether yourself, Luke.”
We rose rapidly, as if powered by a supernatural force, the ship tilting upward till her bowsprit was pointing at Orion’s belt. As God is my witness, I was standing on the aft bulkhead, the deck, inches from my nose. Unsecured items slid and fell around me. A two-stone grappling hook nearly stove in my skull.
The crest of the towering wave threatened to topple us over backwards. But it was moving so quickly, the old boat, and all her fittings, was launched over the top like a breaching whale, then slammed back into the water like a hammer. The force and speed of the wave had become our salvation.
I was left lying on the deck in a daze. After some time of drifting in the darkness, hearing no sounds of leakage, cracking or sloshing, I dared to hope that my boat was intact.
My relief was short-lived, as I soon realized I was alone. I called out Luke’s name, again and again, and then listened, over and over, until my voice gave out. I searched the boat then, and found him in the forward bunk, bruised, bleeding and unconscious, but alive.
We drifted for days afterward, I made repairs, stowed our scattered gear, took what readings the soot-filled sky would allow, and nursed young Luke back to health. With no broken bones or serious puncture wounds, his condition steadily improved. Until one day, he was sitting up while I fetched him some soup. I set the bowl on a table, and sat on the edge of the bunk. “Tell me now, Luke. What’s your real name?”
Luke’s face turned florid, knowing what I knew. She stuck her chin out defiantly and said, “Lucille Sutter, sir. You can call me Lucy.”
Before she could object, I kissed her full on the lips.