Long foundered is our prow that feathered
                                                                                                                              The warm archaic wave.
                                                                                                                                                                             -Gene Derwood

The ship moved with the trade winds for a time, through warm waters and great schools of coloured fish, then inexplicably it began to drift. The vessel floated off and appeared to be wandering north, though the crew could not be sure how far north because the instruments gave unreliable readings that, when comprehensible, did not reassure. A week passed. The sea was cool even by day in these unknown, uncomfortable latitudes, and the nights were long and uncertain, with crew awaking for no reason, suddenly unable to breathe, choking as if already underwater. 

     The captain had trained for many years, and indeed, all his maritime experience culminated in the responsibility and command of this perfect ship, set to his specifications. So now he found himself at a loss to explain the unresponsive controls, the insistent tugging that came from who knew where and drew them steadily farther and farther off course. Some undercurrent perhaps? Why had the motor shivered, then shuddered, turned over, then ceased to speak or respond? He felt his authority faltering and acutely felt the unhappy rumours and suspicions spread among the crew as the ship wandered beyond the horizon. At night, the silent captain stood outside contemplating the strange drizzle falling around him, a fine rain noiselessly received by the blank waves and the wet deck at his feet. Alone, he looked up: the stars were lost in the murky sky; the guiding constellations, Virgo and Libra, were lost in clouds. Where was he? Lost in a bad dream, asleep on land? No, he was here, lost at sea.

     The next day, a slight gurgle below deck alerted a sailor: they were taking in water. The hull was soon repaired, for it was only a small leak, but knowledge of the craft's fragility now occupied all on board. Had the cause of the leak been something structural, something within? Or something without? Something without, the captain assumed, though unsure. 

   They had drifted far north now into a seamless night that stretched for days. Snow fell in the chill air and ice floes had been spotted: pole-ice adrift. Late in the afternoon, another leak. Panic, desperation: the cause was within, the hull unsound, the ship itself unsound perhaps: commands were issued--save the cargo, man the lifeboats, abandon ship. Evacuation plans and lists were drawn up to give a semblance of order to the confusion; life jackets and provisions were no sooner heaped than grabbed; crew piled into the lifeboats, hands took to the oars and paddled away until the frenetic splashing faded, engulfed by the unending chopping of the dark waves, the thickly clouded night.   

     The gutted, emptied ship foundered, then began to heave into the freezing seawater as the surrounding cold flowed unimpeded into her hull. No longer bouyant, she felt her true weight dragging her unerringly down into darkness, into a bleak, inevitable loneliness. The ship was going under, the black waters flooding her as she gasped for air. She became no mermaid, no fairy-tale fish; she became heavier still and, dense and unmoving
, sunk leagues for long hours until she had fallen so far that there was nowhere left to fall: with a muted thud, she clumsily struck the blind depths of the chasm bottom, the ocean bed. A delicate string of sparse bubbles sparkled up from within her, threading from the mouth of a stark, living figure: the captain clenching the long-useless helm.

      As numbness spread from the captain's limbs to his frigid chest and his slowing heart, he wondered about the strange currents that had led the ship astray: They had led him to issue what he had considered necessary orders, but could they have been part of a wider current, a less desperate and more hopeful flow, some gulf stream, an oceanic arc that in time might have sped them back to the tropics--perhaps in a short time, perhaps in a few weeks or a month? The ship had had stores of food and water to hold out for that long. It was the reserves of faith that had given out. His only consolation was grim: no matter now.        

      That night, the ocean froze to its very floor. Between the sheer walls of the trenches, sightless fish hung immobile, cast in the vast sheeted ice, while below and away on an abyssal plain lay wrecked and derelict the wounded ship and sunken captain, both alone and embedded in the silent blindness of solid ice, without knowing why or for how long.

Daniel Forbes

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