Mirage

by Phoebe Rosenblum, age 14
Mirage Phoebe Rosenblum is a freshman at LaGuardia High School in the vocal studio. Along with short stories (her favorite things to write), she enjoys writing songs and poems. She comes from a family of writers and musicians, so music and theater play a very important role in her life. She’s been writing since a very young age but never really thought of it as her passion until she turned twelve years old. Ever since this life-changing epiphany, she’s been pulling and recording ideas out of her infinite universe of a brain.

“Do these twisted thoughts that entertain me make me a bad person? After all, they kept me alive. After all, those who didn’t think in these ways are now dead, i.e. every passenger but me.”

The slanted facade of nautical disaster, that I only narrowly avoided getting caught up in, didn’t paralyze me with fear, or at least not as severely as it would any listener to my tale: a tale that few are ever able to live to tell. The oddly cloudy sky made everything especially ominous, and being the dramatic person I am, it made everything feel more intense. Call me a thrill-enthusiast of sorts, but I just can’t help but add every aspect of a terrible situation into the sum of a great and horrifying spectacle. It was almost entertaining, in the sincerest way. Despite my excited viewing of the sinking yacht before me, while I did succeed in escaping, it was not with absolute exultance. I considered the whole thing a real inconvenience.

It was hard to tell what caused the ship to expose its ulterior motive of not doing what it was supposed to do. How rebellious, sinking like that. My kind of guy. If I were a boat being trod on day and night by 200 passengers, I’d sink too. It wasn’t any sort of re-enactment of the Titanic since no icebergs were in the area, (I had done my research.) This wasn’t the ship’s first time sailing, and I couldn’t imagine any other reason for the engine to not have been functioning properly. The only other option was that another yacht (with the same ulterior motive; poor troubled soul) collided with it. That was my theory, but I didn’t go around telling people about how I was probably right. In that moment, even I knew it wasn’t necessarily a good time to start bothering people with my nonsense. Everything I ever did was nonsense according to my “loved ones”, even when my nonsense wasn’t all that nonsensical. So I kept to myself as I had been told to do since a very a young age. When the shaking voice of our captain came over the intercom as the bearer of bad news, I didn’t bother looking for my family. As awful as it may sound, the thought of their deaths occurring in mere minutes was refreshing and motivating. If they were, at long last, going to perish, I at least wanted to see what it was like to live life untied from that pole of confinement.

They thought there was something wrong with me from the moment I was born, but I was just smarter than them. Just to help brush off the unsettling paranoia, my mother named me Candi, which is ironic considering nothing about me is sweet. There wasn’t anything wrong with me in terms of mental health. Although looks and speech may be deceiving as time goes on, seasons change, but people don’t. They didn’t change any more than I did as I grew up, and you could maybe say their cruelty rubbed off on me, but I had the last laugh.

Do these twisted thoughts that entertain me make me a bad person? After all, they kept me alive. After all, those who didn’t think in these ways are now dead, i.e. every passenger but me. It was liberating to watch everyone drown, exhaling their last inhales of the sweet air they would never taste again. Like I said, who cares if I’m being obnoxious or sociopathic or any other derogatory adjective? Wish upon me all the plagues you’d like, but I’ll just laugh when I escape them. I guess it’s a disturbing form of confidence, or maybe I am sick after all, but who cares? No one whose opinions I care about is alive to give me that overdue intervention. I don’t think they ever existed.

I soon realized that staring would not sink the ship any faster, so I decided to scope out my surroundings and potential itinerary. I had a cooler in my boat with a couple jugs of water, various dried foods, a flare gun, and other basic survival tools for unanticipated life at sea, and even though it wasn’t what the crew members had intended when packing supplies into all the boats, I had these provisions all to myself.

How did I get a lifeboat all to myself? It was not an act of selfishness, but more serendipity. How did I miraculously find out that the crew members had been lying about the lack of access to the boats? To make a long story short, one drunk bastard of a crew member managed to convince another one to not let people on the lifeboats. They claimed there was something wrong with the descent pulleys, but did I buy it? Of course not. Is that a plea I would normally believe for the sake of my own safety? Probably, but I had a hunch, so I went with it.

They then escorted everyone to the other end of the boat. I stayed behind and pressed an inviting red button. One of the boats began to slide down the side of the ship. I took a deep breath, jumped into it, and watched as more idiots bickered and fought rather than dealt with the situation at hand. My courageous decision to take matters into my own hands turned out to be more practical than staying with any authorized personnels. My skepticism of being in the lifeboat alone knowing I had the chance to save someone only lasted for a short while (I do have some morals, even if they tend to be temporary). But then I realized the horrible life of neglect I’d lived. People had scorned me, shunned me, ridiculed me, and I guess in that moment I was feeling particularly vengeful and vindictive. Now here I was, alive and alone, but feeling no need to fret. For me, it wasn’t a rare occasion to be alone, but this time I was alone and feeling happy rather than knowing I was alone because people hated me. I used this me-time to my advantage and thought of it as a form of meditation. Monks do eternal relaxation crap like this all the time. Maybe I could be a monk. An 18 year-old, white, female monk.

And then I saw a small head floating hilariously against the current. I cocked my head to get a better view of his effortless charade. He seemed relaxed in his strokes. Maybe he would be like me, I thought. Maybe he too was nonchalant and indifferent. He could be my mate; the two of us, floating along the Atlantic, dismissive of our situation, living happily ever after on our raft sharing dark joke after dark joke. I swam closer to him until I could hear his moans of restlessness. It looked like I’d thought wrong and he was just like another one of the scared passengers that drowned. He noticed me before I could paddle away.

“Help!” he sputtered. He was floating around the wreckage of a ship that didn’t look like the one I’d escaped from, but another yacht. I then looked around the corner to see the remains of my own yacht. I was right after all about the reason for the sinking, and it looked like another 199 people died out of 200 on another boat.

I figured I had to help him now, although I really didn’t want to. I steered my small boat closer to him and helped him aboard. He was getting my clothes wet which aggravated me, but it wasn’t like dumping him back in the water would better the situation. He clambered onto the opposite bench and sniffled his way through sentences.

“Th…ank…you…I tho…ugt…I was al…one…I was so…sca..red.”

I cut him off before he could continue. “Keep your mouth shut and catch your breath or I’ll kick you right off.”

He did as I told him with slight aggro towards my attitude. He stayed quiet for a few minutes. It was nice to be able to give orders to someone else and know they had nothing to do but obey. It never worked that way in my house with me in control. I surveyed the area but then I realized there was no point since I barely moved away from the wreckage at all. I guess my boat had gotten a little bit to the right and around but that seemed about it. I was still left to admire the same boring backdrop of two sunken ships, the refracted planks of wood shimmering against the sheets of bluish green and a few bodies were even visible. I winced the tiniest bit and looked down at my fingernails. They were shorter than ever from all the biting. I’d be left practically with nubs by the time I reached land.

By the time we reached land.

*** it, he was still there.

“Are you okay?” He asked. His voice was deep when he wasn’t choking. “You look a little uncomfortable.”

“Me? Uncomfortable?” I was insulted. “I’m fine. Great in fact.”

At this he raised an eyebrow but changed the subject. “Eames. Declan Eames.”

I hesitated at his abruptness. “Just call me Candace.”

“Candace,” he said. “Well, Candace, what is it that’s making you feel so great?”

“You’re surrounded by it,” I laughed. He didn’t bother turning around, or laughing with me. I could tell just from that that this prude would not contribute any additional enjoyment to this situation.

“I’m glad you’re not upset by it,” he said. “After all the accident will be burned into our brains forever, and our brains alone.”

He was glad.

“Oh well,” I said. “So, I don’t suppose you were on the Marigold?”

“No, I was on the Onyx with my wife and kids.” He looked down as if he felt guilty about even saying their names. He scratched the back of his neck and sniffed. “We were on our way back to England. It was the last leg of a long, exhausting trip.”

“I was dragged onto the Marigold by my family. Glad everything backfired.”

I wasn’t sure whether or not my goal was to scare the fellow, but even if it was, it didn’t seem to be working. He examined me with a quizzical yet intrigued eye rather than a horrified one. His arms were crossed and struggling to bend through the damp silk of his jacket, but he looked comfortable. Comfortable with me.

“Are you some kind of doctor?” I asked. “You look all fancy with your jacket and your name tag that I just now noticed. Who are you?”

“‘Who are you,’” he repeated with a laugh. “I’m a pediatrician in Liverpool. I lived with my wife Elise and our daughters, Etta and Eilis.”

“You like the ‘E’ names, don’t you?”

“Elise finds them attractive.”

“Yeah, well, now she’s dead.”

He looked up from his focused gaze and stared at me. Was he horrified that I would say something like that? Angry? Hurt? From the mere minutes we’d been together, I was already finding him hard to understand. I’ve always found it fairly easy to read people. He didn’t seem very put off by my pessimistic comments or overall outlook on life. I wouldn’t say he seemed completely intrigued either. It was possible there was a middle ground I wasn’t seeing.

Changing the subject, he quickly added, “I don’t suppose you’ve touched the water at all, have you?”

“No, I managed to stay dry.”

He reached over the edge of the boat and dipped his hand into the water, suddenly whipping his hand back out and practically drenching me. The upper half of my torso was now damp and the bottom of my face, too. He stared back at me with a stone cold expression.

“How old are you, may I ask?” I said to him.

“I don’t believe that concerns you,” he replied haughtily.

“I thought it was a feminine thing to refrain from revealing your age?” He laughed. “It doesn’t concern me per se. It’s your maturity level that has my interest piqued. You must spend an awful lot of time with children.”

“I’m sitting with you, aren’t I?”

“I’m a legal adult, thank you very much.”

“Are you just in a *** because I splashed you? Are we not allowed to have a little fun?”

“Believe me,” I said, stretching my legs in a very unladylike way. “I’m having the time of my life.”

The day went on. It wasn’t very sunny. It rained for a few minutes which wasn’t pleasant, but then the weak sun took over again. Declan found a notebook at the bottom of the cooler and had a pen clipped to his jacket, so he spent most of his time writing in the notebook which, after three days, was almost half full. I hadn’t really thought of the fact that I was now forced to share my generous ration of food and water with a man I was beginning to despise. Except Declan was hard to despise. I felt like he was hiding something. A psychological problem, maybe. It was hard to know. Anyone would have a problem with my attitude, but he didn’t. He didn’t really make anything of me. I was sure he was flawed in some area that caused him to be so laid back, especially for a child’s doctor. I wanted to know more about him, but he seemed fine to stay not very well acquainted with me.

He would dismiss every conversation starter, and those were things one could not get out of me often. He didn’t seem to understand who he was dealing with here, not that he would, but he would have to learn the newly tied ropes soon. I was Candi from Manchester with her insensitive, despondent, cynical, disheartening words. Why wasn’t he scared of me? Why didn’t he react? I hated being ignored by people who projected innocence that aren’t a member of my family, since those people are the easiest to frighten.

That’s how I could tell he wasn’t innocent.

A week or so went by, and I would always feel a strong urge to undergo some sort of social interaction. Although it was definitely unusual for me to feel something like this, I wanted someone to talk to given our isolated situation, and although it was unusual for me to want something like this, I wanted access to the human, with the ability to talk, comfort and all, sitting across from me. But he was so caught up in that little notebook (that I soon began to wish I’d come across first,) and I was deathly bored. I reflexively pinned a lock of hair behind my ear, shifted my weight, cleared my throat and prepared myself to try again giving him another incentive for interaction.

“What are you writing about, Declan?” I asked, for what it was worth. “You’ve been scribbling in that thing an awful lot lately.” An ‘awful lot’ was an understatement that was clear to both of us.

He looked up as if I’d startled him and stared at me. Maybe it was just me overreacting to his actions since, after all, we hadn’t spoken while making eye contact in days. His eyeballs were unusually prominent as if preparing to eject themselves out of their sockets. His lips were dry, his hair somewhat messy and he was shaking. He was nervous about something. Was it the fact that I was talking to him? Or just our current situation as a whole? I suddenly became concerned for his mental and physical well-being.

Why was I feeling so strongly infatuated with, not Declan, but his mannerisms and responses and overall feelings?

“Oh, just notes I suppose.” He laughed nervously and his eye began twitching. I was becoming a little scared; scared that I was scared of something, and that he was acting strange. I recalled back to a few instances from the past couple of days where he seemed particularly moody or estranged, not that we were well-acquainted at all. I think I felt more acquainted with him than he felt with me.

And given the circumstances and the differences between our personalities, that didn’t seem right.

“What are you noting in partic–”

“Would you like to read them?”

His hand was outstretched to mine before I could reply. Of course I wanted to read his notes and finally find out what had been distracting him all this time. Jesus, why was this so distressing? My concern for him was unrequited, but then again, why would it be? I was rude when we first met. I’m not sorry about it, because that’s just me. He’ll never change me. Neither will this entire predicament.

I grabbed the notebook from him. His feet were tapping the bottom of our raft and he seemed anxious about me reading his notes. Without further ado, I flipped to the first page, from our first day together. I figured this would be a diary of some sort, but it was really a combination of that and a regular field notebook.

He had taken note of the weather conditions, scribbled random messages about how he missed his family and he even wrote a few things about me. Not much, to my dismay, but he did mention me being callous and unrelenting and obdurate and other words I didn’t know the meaning of. I was pretty sure they all had the same related meanings and they were not things you’d want to be called. As I sifted through the pages, the words he wrote became less coherent and his word choices were questionable. As the words got shakier and not as well-constructed, the thoughts became more insane. He said that he’d seen the Onyx sailing through fog up ahead a few times and he was planning to try and get to it.

“Don’t read that part!”

Declan snatched the book out of my hand, looked at the page I was on and then looked at me as if I’d just read his deepest darkest secret.

“I’m…sorry,” I mumbled. “You never specified a stopping point.”

“Well, you’ve reached it.” He slammed the book onto the bench next to him. “I’m taking a nap.”

“Wow, I’m flattered that you felt the need to tell me.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not like you talk to me at all. I’m surprised you bothered to update me on your schedule.”

“Well, you’re welcome. I didn’t know my actions were a topic that interested you.”

I didn’t quite know either. “I never said they were.”

“I didn’t want to tell you,” he blurted out suddenly.

I stared him. “You didn’t want to tell me what?” He looked down nervously, still twitching. “Declan, come on, we’re stuck on a boat together. Whatever secrets you think you have, you may as well come out with them. After all we probably won’t last another–”

“Will you shut your condescending mouth?”

That got me to shut my condescending mouth. “I’m sorry, do you have a problem?”

“I do have a problem.” He stood up and started pacing, causing our small boat to rock back and forth. It worried me slightly. “The entire time we’ve been stuck here you’ve been expressing your pessimistic, sardonic, wry opinions that frankly I don’t care about.”

“Declan, you’re–”

“We are two completely different people. That’s it. And when the differences between us are this prominent, they shouldn’t be thrown together, but since we’re forcefully stuck on this *** boat, we should at least be aware of the fact that our personalities don’t mesh and try to work with it. Let’s both be a little flexible, shall we?”

He’s trying to change me. “Declan, the boat–”

“And another thing–”

“Declan you’re shaking the boat!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

He plopped down on the bench which shook the boat even more, but he looked like he wasn’t planning for his crazed rant to stop.

“Declan, if I were you I would stop right there. When I saw you I wanted to row away as quickly as I could. I saved your life despite the fact that I really didn’t care. You better be *** thankful for that.”

“Well, let’s see Candace, if I had saved your life would you have shown any thanks at all?”

He hadn’t used my name since our first day together. “You need to calm down and realize you can’t change people so that your life can be more of a breeze.”

“I’m asking you to be flexible,” he said. “Is that a word in your tiny vocabulary?” He was looking at me with bloodthirsty eyes and I thought he was maybe considering killing me. With what, it was hard to know, but he seemed like the kind of guy to get creative when necessary. I actually started to feel sorry and guilty for putting him through everything. For forcing him to deal with me. But that is not something I have ever felt before. I never care about other people’s needs, but I seemed to for him, and I hated that. Suddenly, his eyes wandered to a spot behind me. His expression dropped and he started shaking again. Not the kind of shaking when you get angry, but the kind of shaking when you have an adrenaline rush. He grabbed his notebook and walked right past me, staring off into the fog up ahead.

He opened his book and started writing without looking. He just stared mindlessly into the fog, but he looked perplexed. He was staring at nothing. He was examining. What was he doing? He was still shaking, too.

“Declan, what was it you said you didn’t want to tell me?”

He didn’t answer me.

“Declan, out with it!”

I was expecting something really important and possibly day-changing but what I heard was somewhat disappointing in its pointlessness.

“I didn’t want to tell you that I saw the Onyx!”

“Declan are you kidding me? The Onyx is gone! Your family is gone! Sit down and get a grip!”

“Look over there if you don’t believe me.”

He pointed to where the fog was. There was nothing there.

“I don’t see anything, Declan–”

“Look!” He put his hand on my shoulder, sending shivers down my spine. His shaking fingers were practically digging holes into my flesh. I was tempted to flick his hand away but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I let my eyes follow his index finger and then I saw it. A ship-like shadow in the distance.

It wasn’t really a ship, but for someone as vulnerable as Declan, it could have passed as one. I wanted desperately to believe it was a real ship, and sometimes I would let myself slip into full-belief of its existence, but the part of me that hadn’t lost itself pulled me back up and slapped me across the face.

My first thought was to get us to it and seek help, but my gut was telling me not to for a reason unbeknownst to me. My brain was telling me to steer the boat into the fog and where the ship was, but every time the thought threatened to cross my mind, the side of me that managed to stay sane was vetoing the idea. Was it not a good idea?

But then I realized what was happening. “Declan…”

“My wife, my kids, they’re still alive.”

“Declan, even if that was the Onyx, your family is–”

“It is the Onyx!”

He lifted his arm and before I could figure out what he was going to do, I grabbed his wrist. The muscles in his arm were tense but they softened at my touch.

“Declan, I need you to listen to me.”

“Do you see it too?”

The truth was that I did see it. From what I’d seen of the Onyx, the two ships did look practically similar. The thing was that I didn’t really have the clearest image of the ship in the distance. Whatever Declan saw was probably more defined and visible. Either way, I knew better than to let a hallucination fool me.

“Declan, I see it.” His eye twitched. He had gone absolutely mad. “But you need to listen to me. I know what’s happening to you. You’re having a hallucination. It’s the weather, that’s it. It’s the light and the refraction in the water. It’s creating images that are messing with your head. Whatever you see isn’t actually there.”

“Why should I be listening to you?”

“Because my sanity right now is more reliable than yours and don’t you dare try to convince either of us otherwise.”

He walked to the other end of the boat. “I know you think I’m crazy, Candace.” That was the third time he’d used my name. “I see the way you examine me, and you feel sorry for me. You think I’m just some miserable family man who can’t take care of himself in a harsh situation, but I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“I do not feel sorry for you.” It was kind of true. I did pity him, but I don’t pity people. “Declan, even if it’s the last thing I do, I’m not letting you give into the hallucination. You’re going crazy, and now that you know that that’s what I think of you, I don’t have to hide it. You need to get ahold of yourself.”

“I’m not listening to you! I’m going after the Onyx whether you join me or not!”

I was losing patience very quickly. “Declan, that’s not the god***ed Onyx! Your family is not there! It’s all in your head! How are you gonna feel if and when you get to the ship and realize that I was right and you were wrong?”

He stared me dead in the eye for a good ten seconds. He took off his jacket and threw it at me before spastically diving into the water. My heart stopped.

“Declan!” I screamed. The current was becoming especially strong but he fought it with such determination. I wondered what it could have been like to love my family that much.

He couldn’t leave me. He just couldn’t.

He ignored me. His arms ripped  through the waves and his struggling legs splashed me with water, but this time I didn’t mind. I wasn’t going to let him succumb to the hysteria, but he wasn’t going to let me help him. It was impossible to see this ending well. He was already feet away. I had to think quickly, but no matter how quickly I thought, it was inevitable that he be swept away by the lie-infested current, leading him to a place he wanted desperately to go to, but wasn’t what he thought. And ultimately, he would realize this and go crazier. The idea of freedom was being dangled in front of him as a cruel joke made by the laws of physics. The fact that images like these appear and mess with one’s brain is horrible, and it was the last thing I would ever want.

It was the last thing I would ever want for Declan.

Declan, a man who’d lost his family, a man with obvious struggles, a man I genuinely pitied.

I was too busy over-analyzing to realize that Declan had already reached the deceiving fog. It pained me to watch as he gave in to his own delirium and achieved nothing when he thought he could achieve so much.

It was as if his body melted into the water and rode with the current, like he had been doing this for the past few miles. I think I kept staring in his former direction hours after he left, maybe even days, but time was a myth after you’d been on a lifeboat for this long.

It was weird to be alone after being accompanied for so long. My vocal chords felt like a swamp that had no uses anymore. With no one to talk to, I felt myself going mad, but I was self-aware and looked at it as if I were watching a show. When you’re alone in a compromised situation, it’s easy to create presences that are purely for the maintenance of your sanity, but really, those mere ideas of possible companionship are what drive you crazier.

Declan visits me at least twice a day. He can’t communicate, or stay longer than fifteen seconds, but he comes.

 

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