Title Half Submerged
Word Count 633
He fought it. He fought it with mechanical ferocity, from what distance he could scramble to gain, even as it came up on the horizon, even as he could not admit that it was there at all. He thought sometimes, that at the end of life, if he had failed in every other way, at least he had not failed to resist. The days that he even nodded acquaintance to it were subtracted from Archie. And he had lost so many days already, lost so much light, liberty, and Horatio which was love.
But today it had him. The mood, the climate of the body, whatever it was it had teeth in his neck today. He was unfit to be near anyone. Anger was a fine thing, but it would not hold. It flared and then the heat of it was gone. There was no comfort from such a flame. Hate was no good either, though he had some. Beneath them both, were sorrow and fear. To be fought, always. Horatio knew, of course. He had felt it approach in the night, in his sleep he had rolled to Archie, felt the misery seeping from his skin like poison, placed his own good self, his own naked skin, alongside, and absorbed what he could.
Archie pressed his mouth together at the thought. He had been too weak in the dark of night to fend Horatio off, to protect him. Archie had waked from a dream he could not remember, already weeping. Dry eyed, he had shivered with clenched sobs. Stupid, no reason.
Now, he supposed he looked presentable. His uniform was newish, and cleanish. He was leaned on the taffrail just so, lounging, as if at ease. He was fairly good at lounging. He had a coffee cup to look at, and the sea. Nobody had to see his eyes. The evasion was permitted him.
Horatio was on watch. It was Sunday afternoon. The people were sitting, as one did, here and there, doing handwork, mending and such. Jeffery Mittens had patrolled the deck and finally settled himself in a spot of sunlight beside Styles. Styles was carving something into a whale tooth, but he reached down now and then, to run his hand over the soft gray fur. Cleveland was writing a letter. He had gotten one today, addressed in the sloping female hand which they all knew now belonged to Miss Cathcart. He had risen on his toes, half dancing with eagerness, and carried it away. There were a few places on any ship where a man could be alone and quiet. On the Indy such things were respected. Archie knew it could be otherwise. From far above Archie could hear the youngest mids, and other young boys skylarking, calling to each other, heedless as tropical apes.
There was cause for joy. He could see it, touch it. He could have written it out on a slate, QED at the bottom. So why? Maybe someday he would figure it---
The sound came from above, the boys voice high and sharp, unbroken yet by his years. It came down like a clean slice through the day, dividing forever before and after.
“Debris in the water, Sir.” Archie saw Horatio's head go up, his chin a wedge of pale under the shadow of his hat.
“Where away?” Impatient, the child should have said.
“Larbord Sir, three points.” That was an older voice.
And now, having been shown, they could all see it. Beneath the surface, beneath the blue and the kiss of the sun, ugly things moved, sharp and dangerous, and half submerged already.
“Oh, oh--” The voice had completely lost composure. “A man! I see a man!”