"Skiers" by Dorothy Thompson

You can't see through it. Can't see what's behind or in front of you, just a cozy feeling of warmth as if those things no longer exist, or ever did.

"We're off course," says the Watch, as if he could feel that, sense that, with no way of knowing for sure.

The Mate considers this, mathematical probabilities run through his head. Something jogs in his mind. Heisenberg, a mid-century physicist looking for nuclear particles. If you can't find them where they are, perhaps you can find them by where they aren't. Heisenberg revolutionized atomic research. The uncertainty principle.

The Mate considers this, if you've no idea where you are, you're probably off course. Don't know for sure but it's a likelihood, a mathematical probability. But does it mean anything? Perhaps there's an inverse to it. Like Heisenberg's theory, if you know where you aren't, maybe you can use that to find out where you are. Or at least deduce from that...

But it's boring, tiring. Being lost...is old, worn-out, been doing it too long, too long now, past too long. The hours and unending hours in fog seeming like years, seem like your whole lifetime is spent within these hours. And the fog, the fog is everywhere, the fog is all there is. There is no time, no place, no nothing but this.

We're in a fog, he thinks, and no way out. Perhaps we've always been in fog. Sure feels like it. Perhaps we'll never get out. Like Kafka, should've read Kafka instead of O'Neill, he thinks, maybe there was a way out. But it was boring, no point to it, being lost all the time and reading Kafka.

Mathematical uncertainty "the Captain's in the chartroom, navigating on a star. He can't know where we're going 'cause he don't know where we are" lines in a song by Joe Walsh. The Mate considers this, but then the fear takes hold again. If you're off course in the fog, what's the likelihood you'll smash into something in the fog. Crash into something, a reef, a rock, another ship, and break apart and sink beneath the waves, forever and gone forever.

That's the fear, the fear of fog that everyone has felt since they went into it. The fear of death in sudden unknown quantity. A smacking smashing sound and your heart breaking, sinking before you do, knowing for those brief moments of knowing that there'll never be any more moments of knowing, as you sink beneath the waves.

Now watching and waiting for that moment, and nothing else. Looking for it, as if the certainty of sudden death is almost better than the not knowing, the uncertainty, the constant fear. And if not for the angst, the knot in your gut, it's almost like you don't care, either way. Just to get out is all, just to get out and away from it, is all.

His thoughts return to the Captain. Locked in his quarters for days now, since the storm. Not coming out, not answering, not taking his meals. What's he's up to? Drinking himself to oblivion, or...killed himself maybe. Hanging from the ceiling by a rope or a cord and swaying now, back and forth with every movement of the ship. Like a self- made puppet trapped in its own strings, dangling in the web of its own conceit.

And no way to get to him, locked in his room, his quarters. Should he assume command? Assume the Captain has relinquished his command, leaving him in charge, the Mate. In charge, and all their lives depend on him. Do they know that he's in charge? That all their lives depend on him, and his own life too. Will they listen to him, will they follow, will he lead? And what to do now, now that he's in charge. Change course, maybe.

"What's our heading?" he hears himself ask the Watch. But he didn't ask that, knowing that the instruments are gone, fried in the storm, the lightning. No instruments at all, no computers, no navigation. No way of knowing. No one to call and ask for help. It's all up to him, just him alone, just him.

The storm had hit, rocking the boat. But storms are a part of life, unexpected maybe, but there nonetheless. Sometimes they kill you, or change you forever as if you were nothing more than a random cork bobbing in the immense ocean, swayed by the currents, drifting along alone to nowhere.

This storm had almost sunk them; an incredible effort just to survive, just to stay above the water. It knocked out all their instruments and left them here in the fog. Underway, under their own power, but not knowing where.

His father had died, the Mate's father. Father died and that left him in charge. But he wasn't ready for that. Ran away, joined the Merchant Marine to find some direction in life.

The Captain comes down from his quarters, after so many days, so many hours. He makes his way down to the deck, feeling his way through the fog, hands on the railing, slowly counting the steps. The Captain comes down to the front of the deck, alongside the Mate and the Watch. He looks and them and the fog, hands on the railing and throws himself overboard.

"Man overboard!" yells the Watch, but he doesn't yell, doesn't say a word. There is no reason to. Just looks at the Mate. The alarm is meant to alert the crew to stop the ship and search for the lost soul. But no reason for the alarm, no reason for him to yell. The lost soul can never be found, no reason to even try.

Just looks at the Mate for something to say, an explanation, but nothing comes to his mind. Just his training, what he's been taught and told. "What are your orders?" he finally asks him. "Full speed ahead," replies the Mate with as much confidence as he can.

Mikael Covey lives in Dakota with his four-year old girl. He's written a half-dozen (unpublished) novels, lots of short stories and miscellaneous stuff. Some have appeared in Litkicks, 3:AM Magazine, WordRiot and others. Find him writing about lit and writing at Daily Kos and his blogsite. You can get in touch with Mike at his web page or his Myspace site.