Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

At the End of the World: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 16:59 EDT



August 8

    About half of the crew stood at the stern, watching King Edward Point dwindle in the distance. I wasn’t among them. I was at the wheel on the weather deck and was glad to be there.

    Despite everything that had happened, this was the moment when it all grabbed me by the balls. Knowing that the world was going down the toilet faster and faster, realizing I’d never see my mom again, learning more practical skills in a few weeks than I’d learned in my whole life, finding myself having to make a life-and-death choice more serious than most adults ever had to: somehow, each of those felt like steps toward the edge of a cliff. But now, I had stepped off and was free-falling into uncertainty. KEP was the last vestige of the old world, and I’d left it. This — whatever was before me — was all that was left. I was so terrified and so aware of being alive that I shook. No, I didn’t want to watch King Edward Point drop behind us: for me, it was already gone.

    Getting out of East Cumberland Bay was a dull job. The wind from the east that had brought us in yesterday was now in our faces, so I had to tack my way up to where the east bay met the west bay and then slip out into open water. Once there, we had the wind almost directly athwart the beam, so we picked up speed. We stuck close to the coast, though; the captain was aiming for Smolness Bay by 2 PM, at which point we would only have a few hours of light left.

    Lunch was cold fish, which probably had more than a few of us wondering if we couldn’t have stolen some food from the warehouse at KEP before leaving. Snow started as we angled into Smolness Bay. The captain got out a pair of binoculars and started scanning the shore.

    “What are you looking for?” I asked.

    “Seal. Elephant, but fur would do. Penguins. Seabirds.”

    Willow heard this, came bouncing away from the sheets. “Oooo!  Can I see?”

    “When there is something to see, yes,” the captain muttered. “But I’m not sure you’ll want to make too close an acquaintance with any of the animals.”

    “Captain, I came here to study those species!”

    “Ironic. Now you’ll be eating them.”


    The captain’s jaw set. “You’re a very smart young lady. I have to believe you’ve figured it out by now. We need more food, and we don’t have a net to fish with or enough fuel to trail one. And we can’t live on fish forever. On the other hand, the animals here are completely without fear of humans. If we take only outliers, and take them quickly, we shouldn’t even scare the others off.”

    Instead of recoiling, Willow seemed to lean forward into his words. At the end she nodded. “That’s true: we’ll need some red meat. So, we’ll have to hunt seal. But what about greens?”

    The captain nodded, probably more in approval of her rapid shift to practicality than anything she had said. “That’s the tough part. That’s why I haven’t let you young marauders near the power bars and why I’ve locked up the vitamins along with the meds. We’ll have to supplement very carefully. There is some edible — marginally edible — seaweed to be had, but remember: no one planted a colony here because you can’t survive on the local foodstuffs alone.”

    Willow looked along the coast. “So: seals. We’re looking for beaches, then. Particularly any that run back into valleys or grassy gaps. They always like a little extra room to waddle.”

    The captain looked at her like he’d found a one hundred dollar bill on the pavement. “So, you really have studied South Georgia’s wildlife.”

    “Ever since I knew I was going to come down here.” Her smile dimmed. “Although I think my plans to become a marine biologist are pretty much over.”

    Captain shook his head. “Maybe, but I suspect that knowledge will benefit more people than it would have before. Not many persons know the habits of these creatures. You do. And we have to be able to hunt them effectively. Starting tomorrow.”

    Willow sighed. “Okay. Tell me when your eyes need a rest.”

    I caught him smiling as she returned to her position near the mainsail. He caught my eye. “A good pilot only watches the swells and the tell-tales,” he muttered.

    “I’m doing so, sir. Question, though.”


    “How do you plan to hunt elephant seals, sir? I’m pretty sure I recall reading that the males average close to fifteen feet long and weigh in at over three tons.”

    By way of answer, he stalked past me, walking as easily and steadily as if he was crossing his living room, despite the swells. He went down the companionway, emerged from it less than thirty seconds later. In his right hand was a long, smooth-looking rifle with a big, squarish magazine protruding out from under it. “Ever fire one of these?”

    “No, sir,” I answered. Which was a true statement whether he meant that particular rifle or any gun at all. Hey, I grew up in New York City and L.A.. Not a lot of legal opportunities.

    But Chloe must have been staring back in our direction because she comes flying back from the bow, her lips wide, and her deck-coat flapping. I swear, you could dress her in three layers of shag carpet and you’d still know she was a woman.

    The captain looks up, sees her rushing over, frowns, then almost smiles again when he realizes her eyes are locked on the gun.

    “A FAL, right? .308. Well, 7.62 NATO. Great gun for deer, even elk or bear if you’ve got some distance and a brass set.”

    The captain did not have a wide range of emotions that he displayed. I think this was his version of being “charmed.” “You’ve fired one?”



    “Damn, I wish! Uh… sir. But a neighbor had one, and we used to hunt together sometimes. But that was, uh . . . a while ago.” She looked away as she said it, and then quickly up at me. Don’t ask me why, but judging from that look, I suspect that as Chloe had come closer to womanhood, her neighbor’s choice of prey had probably undergone a dire change.

    The captain tucked the weapon back under his arm. “I’m glad you’re familiar with rifles. You’re going to be familiar with this one, too, by the end of the week.”

    Chloe only nodded, but her eyes looked like her brain was yelling, “yippee!”

    I could see the mouth of Smolness Bay, now. “Once in the bay, what’s my course, captain?”

    “Due west. To Husvik.”

    Chloe and I looked at each other, then at him. “Sir, did you say Husvik?”

    “I did.”

    Giselle had heard and came stumbling over. “You mean the place you told Mr. Keywood we weren’t going to?”


     The others started gathering around the pilot house. “Captain, you lied to us!”

    He turned on Giselle very quickly. “I did not lie to you. I lied to Keywood.”

    “But you told us –“

    “I know exactly what I said, and it was this: ‘I told Mr. Keywood that I have rethought that decision, and that we are not going to Husvik’. So, when you asked if we were going to Husvik, I only repeated what I told Mr. Keywood.”

    So the captain was not only a ninja; he was a scheister-lawyer, too.

    He must have seen the look on my face. “You had to believe it, too, at least until we left the station. Because I couldn’t take any chance that he believed we might still go to Husvik.” He looked away. “Not that it will necessarily do us much good.”

    Rod was frowning, but not like he was angry: he was confused. “What do you mean?”

    The captain glanced over at me. “He can tell you. He decided to eavesdrop on Larry and me last night.”

    Everyone looked at me.

    “What did you hear?” Chloe asked.

    I told them what the captain had said about the odds of KEP making it to spring without a visit from pirates, and how, since he’d mentioned Husvik to Keywood, that it was now the one place he wouldn’t take us.

    Giselle was frowning like Rod by the time I finished. She looked back at the captain. “So, are you worried that Keywood didn’t believe you when you said you wouldn’t go to Husvik? Is that why it won’t do us much good?”

    The captain shrugged. “No, Keywood believed me. But by then, it was Hobson’s choice when it came to Husvik. Once I mentioned it, torture would pull it out of him. But even after I denied it, torture will just as surely will make him swear that we can’t be found there. Even a half-brained pirate will wonder if that can be believed. And if I hadn’t said anything? Well, they might have twisted him for other places we might winter over — and again, Husvik would have been high on the list. There’s a modern building there, as well as another original one that’s been kept up. The only inhabitable structures on the island, besides KEP itself.”

    “So we were probably screwed, no matter what,” Silent Steve summarized.

    The captain shrugged. “When it comes to being found? Possibly. But not when it comes to surviving.” He glanced at me. “Run to the end of the bay. Husvik is the last inlet on the starboard side. Make straight for it.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image