It is October 2001 and I am either in an eastern part of the Indian Ocean, or a western part of the Timor Sea, although, really, that is falling quickly into irrelevance.
Evening and darkness is now washing away all remainders of what would generally be described as a ‘beautiful sunset’, and I desperately don’t want to be in the water; sadly, the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, think a Zodiac with a hard bottom and big outboard motors) is no longer as safe as it would ordinarily be. Stray .50 calibre rounds have chased me out of it, and now tracer rounds, more often seen in dramatic footage on television, are ricocheting off the small waves in every conceivable direction immediately around me.
The RHIB, my beacon of hope has just copped another stray round, and has decided to start deflating rapidly. A current has shifted us, and the ship is looking dramatically smaller. I am now only able to see it when I bob over the crest of a wave. I have just realised I am vomiting, throwing away everything my stomach was holding; more burly to the fish is my first chilling thought. I must get out of the water.
The green ‘Pattern 50N’ salt water activated life jacket is close to choking me, but I am thankful for it regardless as I am a float on the seemly bottomless sea; the grey overalls sport reflective striping around the upper arms, sans bullet proofing, and are getting heavy. The boots I, until a matter of minutes earlier, had worn are now sinking rapidly somewhere beneath where I float, gone forever, and I really don’t like being in the water.
Off to Port of the RHIB is the reason I am wet, and why the Royal Australian Navy warship is throwing lead around. The Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel has refused to stop in the water, remaining underway en route Christmas Island. Hence the rounds across the stinking bow of an ex-Indon. fishing boat. It reminds me of an inverted wooden garden shed, and is underway without running lights. It is almost invisible in shadow against the ocean and the black of the sky; the two have blended into one in colour.
Sadly our sinking little RHIB is without running lights also. Rendering us too as invisible as the fish in the water, stuck between two much larger vessels, with one lighting the sky in phosphorous streaks of white. I can hear one of the other blokes screaming blue murder into a comm’s set, telling the ship to cease firing. It is to no avail, and I really, really want to be out of the water.
Charlie Oscar in this warship is the biggest, most incompetent, dangerous, fuck up of a Commanding Officer I have ever had the misfortune of working under. I heard he died some time ago, it made my decade.
The fear I have of stray machine gun bullets is equalled only to my fear of being in the water. It instills the most primal fears of man in me, I have been shot at before, but the water is truly terrifying.
I had seen couple of very large sharks about three quarters of an hour ago, they caused some dispute between myself and the two other lads. I believed them to be tigers, and they did not. There are VERY big fish in the sea.
There are rather odd currents here; I could easily be swept away in one, lost forever to the sea.
I could be crying, but I am too scared to acknowledge the fact or fallacy, and it has now become worse.
One of the other lads has screamed since he first entered the water, and he is drowning out all other sound, rendering me unable to hear hopefully of the salvation of an outboard motor coming to our rescue. The sea temperature must be around 20 degrees cent., and yet a chill is setting in. Incredibly the gun fire has stopped, and now like the vomiting, I am aware that I have been crying the whole time, even when I thought I had not. Trapped in darkness, inky black now, all I see is stars above, and I think, wait, something has just swum passed me, and it is big enough to cause me to float behind it in it’s after tow. I really want to be somewhere else. I really want to be back with my daughter’s and celebrating my 30th belatedly; but the thing has just brushed me this time and I have seen its fin ever so briefly. I want to go home, I want out of this! Gun fire has ceased.
Heracles in the form of a shark has hit me with the force of an angered Norse God beneath the water, and if it isn’t him, then what ever has hit me in the water has been hard enough to lift me above my waist from the water, there is a fin and a flash of pain, and I am now looking at myself from above disappearing beneath blood and turbulent water.
As I watch myself go, I see the other two lads that landed in the water with me, and we wander over to each other, strolling over the waves. Looking at one another I realise that now none of us are wet, all are ethereal and insubstantial to look upon. And, sadly with a shrug, everything fades to white.
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