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Married to the Sea, My 1st Prize Winning Story in the Spring 2016 24-Hour short story contest
The 60-year-old Dellarae had been to nearly every port in the world, and she loved her sailors, perhaps even a little more than she should have. Dellarae had a fondness for those that had bedded down with her, experiencing her warmth and comforts in her cabins while storms and rough seas raged outside. Of all the men that had tasted of her comforts, there was one above them: Warren. Captain Warren Milley. He was so incredibly handsome, always looking the professional in his uniform, his commander’s hat and dark blue turtleneck sweater. She loved the smell of his pipe, how his dark hair was tinged just slightly with grey. She loved how he put his hands on her, guided her through dark times. Yes, there was no denying it, there had been many hard times too.
Once in the South China Sea, when pirates had decided they deserved what she had to offer without paying for it, she had to teach them some respect. Another time, violent storms off the coast of South America nearly had put an abrupt end to her useful life of service, along with the 43 souls that were on board. This time, the old girl, adorned in her best, her once brilliant white and red, seemed to be just drifting through life. She had served long and hard and her end was at hand. She knew this to be true and had prepared herself for it. But inside of Dellarae’s heart was a strong desire to keep going, to make it home one last time, to lay everything to rest.
Dellarae was alone this time, perhaps for the first time since her creator had launched her into the world in another century, another place. At that time it seemed so many were celebrating the great victory over the impossible that her creation was, using only the finest of champagne. Those early years were so wonderful, so full of glory and adventure. Now, as she travelled, a brisk breeze pushed through her hatchway, cooling her red flaky skin. She could almost feel the water lapping at the hull, a perfect mariner’s lullaby.
Despite that there were no sailors to man her, no Captain to steer her, Dellarae felt drawn Westward. Halifax harbour, that place where she had been made, was not more than a day’s sail from where she was, and she knew she could make it. She longed for Warren’s touch, but it was most important that someone, anyone took her back. It didn’t seem the same without the teeming life on her deck, without the loud throb of her twin diesel engines, but she was moving. She may not have control of what moved her, she may not even be moving under her own power, but Halifax was close, and she was going to be home soon, going to rest after so many exhausting adventures.
It was just a small flash of light off in the distance. At first, it didn’t seem as though it actually happened. Before she heard the sound of the gun firing, a huge explosion and 100-foot splash of water appeared 50 yards in front of her bow. “I need to get home; I want to get home.” Dellarae thought to herself, almost in a state of panic, and fought with all she had to change direction. There had been a time like this in the South Pacific once when a young sailor returned from liberty with a local woman and they brought out half of their ancient navy to bring her back. Dellarae had outwitted them; she would outwit these marauders, whoever they may be.
Another shot flashed out from far away. “What did I do? Why are they trying to keep me from my home?” Now she felt the explosion go off right beside her, and it felt like it tore out a part of her, like it disemboweled her. The smell of her own body torn open reminded her of a fire that had claimed the life of her beloved Captain Milley. No one saw the tears that ran down the side of her hull after they buried him at sea.
Now she was taking on water and the ships from far away were moving closer. She realized now what this assault meant. These were Canadian waters; she had become too old and too useless to anyone to be used for anything but as a towed target for Navy ships. Realizing this, the “Old Red Lady” as her men used to call her, stopped trying to struggle.
More flashes came, more explosions, Dellarae started to sink and, in a final act of defiance, she stopped still, making herself an easy target for a naval gun that tore her superstructure apart. Deep down through hundreds of feet she went, but still her soul lived, still her spirit went on.
“I’ll never let them raise me up again.” Dellarae thought to herself. “I’ll never for a thousand years let anyone learn the secret.” The secret was why she stopped struggling, it was why she wanted to be blown to bits to conceal her last hope at being wanted, being needed. Deep in her hull, many years ago, Captain Milley had carefully moulded and welded over $14 million dollars in gold to an inner wall of her hull, and now it was Dellarae who would choose when it could be retrieved and who she would bless with the luck to find it.