Fox sat bolt upright in bed, realizing that she, and her sheets, were soaked in her cold sweat brought on by the recurring dream that had been haunting her sub-conscious. She glanced at the clock suspended on the wall. 4:45. Her friends would be awake soon. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep in such a short period of time, she slid down off the bunk, grimacing as her bare feet touched the freezing wooden floor, and padded noiselessly into the boat’s galley.
Fox groped around in the pitch darkness until her fingers came into contact with a light switch. Then she took a carton of milk from the fridge and sat down to ponder this nightmare of hers.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps coming down the hallway towards the galley. Hurriedly, she flicked off the light and sat motionless in the dark to avoid confrontation. Not a moment later, a hefty shadow strolled into the kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator door. In the pale light emanating from it, she could tell that the outline belonged to her friend Kenny, and that he appeared to be reaching for a sandwich. She held her breath as he tiptoed towards where she sat. To her dismay, he proceeded to sit on the exact same chair as she!
"AAAUGH!" There was a squeal of pure terror from Kenny, and Fox leapt up. Frantically, her comrade attempted to locate the light switch, but to no avail. In his haste, he tripped over the table and landed flat on his face with a loud thud.
"Please don’t hurt me!" Fox heard him squeak.
"Relax, Kenny. It’s just me." She chuckled at his awkward predicament as she again flipped the light on. Kenny’s eyes went wide. "Oh, er, Fox! I didn’t know you were here." He giggled nervously.
"No, really? I hadn’t noticed." She sat down at the table once more to finish her milk, and he pulled up a chair beside her. "So, what are you doing up?" he inquired as he started on his sandwich. Fox shifted her position. "I had a nightmare." The warning look in her eyes dared him to say more. He took the hint. "And what about you?" she asked, wiping off her milk mustache with the back of her hand. "Well, I just got up for a midnight snack," her friend replied rather sheepishly.
"It’s five a.m."
"Oh." There was a pause. "Well, it looks like I have to work on my timing" Kenny said at length. They both smiled. "Um, I guess I’ll go back to bed now," Fox told him, as she began to shiver—probably from the cold air, she told herself. He nodded, and resumed tackling his sandwich.
* * * * * * *
Fox sat in her bunk, stroking her black Maine Coon cat Hemingway until the rest of her friends arose. As soon as they did, she quickly got dressed, fed the cat, and climbed the ladder to the boat’s upper deck. There, the first rays of sunlight were beginning to penetrate the clouds, dancing on the smooth water like butterflies in a meadow. This was her favourite time of day, and she leaned on the railing savouring it until one of her friends informed her it was time for breakfast.
"I heard there’s a storm coming" commented Corey when everyone was seated at the table to eat. There were murmurs of surprise, and all heads turned in unison towards the window. Indeed, ominous black clouds were beginning to form on the horizon, like a fleet of warships, waiting for the signal to attack. "They say it’s quite severe, with winds of up to 50 miles per hour and possibly even hail or lightning," he continued. "At our present position, we can expect to encounter this storm at five or six o’clock tonight."
"Do you think we should try and get to shore before then?" Brian asked no one in particular. Jeff, the ship’s captain, shook his head in response. "No, it’s not worth the risk. Seeing we’re a good 200 miles from land, we probably wouldn’t make it before the storm hit. The closer to shore we are, the more of a chance we have of being run aground on rocks." Everyone nodded. Jeff knew what he was talking about.
"I think the best thing to do would be to furl the sails and anchor the boat. There’s not much else we can do besides that," Fox remarked. Jeff agreed. "She’s right. After breakfast, I want everyone to help me with the sails. There’s no use trying to cover more distance today; we don’t know exactly when the storm will be upon us, and I don’t want to take any chances."
* * * * * * *
Later, Fox couldn’t help feeling a chill run through her spine as she sat on the ship’s deck—the air was turning frigid with the storm’s slow yet steady approach, and all she was wearing was a T-shirt and shorts. Looking down, she saw that Hemingway was pacing back and forth at her feet. Obviously, he, too, knew of the impending tempest. Suddenly, Jeff appeared beside them. "Whatcha doing?" he asked. Fox shrugged. "Not much." They sat in silence, gazing out at the now churning ocean that stretched for miles in all directions as far as the eye could see. Just then, Fox felt a familiar urge: cupping her hands around her nose and mouth, she sneezed twice.
"Bless you," Jeff said. Fox barely had time to thank him before she sneezed again, delicately yet forcefully. "Bless you again," Jeff commented. Then, realizing for the first time that she was shivering uncontrollably, he added, "Are you okay?"
"I’m fine," she answered distractedly.
"Are you sure? You look kind of pale." An expression of concern spread across his handsomely chiseled features.
"I told you, I’m perfectly…ah…ACHOO! …Fine." She replied. Jeff handed her a tissue from his pocket, and laid a cool hand on her forehead. "Fox, you’re burning up!" There was no mistaking the anxious, worried tone in his voice.
She ducked away from his touch. "You’re wrong. I haven’t felt better." To prove her point, she stood up and began walking to the boat’s lower level with Jeff trailing closely behind her. Halfway there, she suddenly was overcome by dizziness and collapsed, caught by him just in time. He scooped her up gently, surprised at how little she weighed, and carried her to the bunks.
Inside, Jeff laid her down on the bed, thinking to himself how small she was—she couldn’t have been more than 5’2, yet all the men she worked with—including himself—were 5’11 or over. He was almost afraid she’d crack and shatter into a thousand glistening pieces at his slightest touch. Just then, Fox’s eyelashes flickered. Dazed and unsure of her surroundings, she looked around wildly, much as a caged animal would. "It’s okay, Fox," Jeff soothed. "I’m right here. " Before she could speak, he put a finger to her lips. "Don’t ask questions. You’re sick. You need to sleep." She was about to protest when he interrupted. "And don’t argue with me. It will make things a lot better for both of us. Trust me on this one." She glared back at him defiantly, her emerald eyes burning back into his until he looked away, knowing he couldn’t win.
Just then, three figures appeared in the doorway. "Hey, what happened?" Brian asked, surveying the scene. "Fox, are you okay?" Jeff answered for her. "I think she’s sick. Could you try to find a thermometer for me?" His stern look dismissed any further questions, and Brian scurried off to locate a first aid kit.
"Is there anything we can do?" Kenny inquired. Jeff thought for a minute. "Yeah, could you go and get a glass of water for her?"
"I’m FINE!" Fox managed to argue, but there was no mistaking the hoarse sound to her voice. Suddenly, Brian returned. Jeff promptly stuck the thermometer under her tongue. When the timer went off, it read 103.7. Jeff whistled in amazement. "Still think you’re just ‘fine’?" Corey remarked. Fox was just about to reply when she was seized by a violent coughing fit. Her friends exchanged glances. "Why doesn’t someone call the doctor and find out if there’s anything else we can do?" Jeff said. Corey nodded and hurried away.
At about that time the storm hit.
Though everyone on board was experienced at sailing, not one of them could remember a storm this extreme. True, Fox was unconscious a good deal of the time, but the storm enthralled everyone else with it’s sheer power. Torrential rain and vicious hail pelted the ship that now seemed so small and futile against Nature’s raw fury. Bolts of white lightning streaked across the sky blackened by clouds. And the ceaseless wind howling like a canine threatened to topple the boat.
* * * * * * *
Fox was drifting in and out of consciousness. At regular intervals, chills racked her petite body, and since the first day, her fever had ascended to 104.4. Her friends had wanted to take her to the hospital, but the tropical storm made travel impossible. Were they to raise the sails, the cloth would have been torn to shreds by the furiously screaming winds. Later, Jeff looked upon it as though the storm and Fox were connected: the worse it got, the worse her fever did too.
On the fourth day, Fox’s fever broke at 104.5. The relief was almost audible among her friends. That afternoon, Jeff sat on the edge of her bed, taking advantage of one of the moments when she was fully awake. "How do you feel?" he asked, trying to remain as subtle as possible. He knew that she hated to be fussed over, and if she had been in decent health she already would’ve given him a piece of her mind—a particularly sharp and expletive-laden one, as far as she was concerned.
"Okay," she replied. In truth, she still felt awful, but he had already worried over her enough as it was, and she was slightly embarrassed by it. ‘You know, you really had us worried there, Fox," he commented. "Well, you know me, I like to be the center of attention," she joked. They both chuckled. "Hey, Jeff," she said suddenly. "Thanks."
"Thanks? Why thanks?" he asked, puzzled. She shrugged. "You know perfectly well why." She looked up at him with reddened, you still striking, eyes. He smiled. "You’ve done the same for me before," he replied. Fox grinned back, but the effort of it combined with all the talking had made her feel worse than before. She winced slightly.
Jeff hadn’t been her friend for years without learning something. "Why don’t you try to get some sleep?" he suggested. "I’m fine, Jeff," she returned, but he could tell she was in pain. He felt her forehead. "You’re still hot." Just than, she slipped into a sneezing fit. He quickly handed her his handkerchief. She accepted it gratefully but was unable to speak.
Jeff couldn’t help noticing the way that she jerked her head forward with each sneeze. Nor could he ignore how her auburn waves fell forwards onto her tan face as she did so. He knew at that moment that he had never loved anyone more, and probably never would, than this spirited woman.
When the sneezing fit had subsided, Fox sighed. "On second thought, maybe I will try to get some rest." He nodded and tucked the cover up around her. "Jeff, I’m so sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you," she spoke hoarsely as she closed her eyes. "Don’t be." he replied. "It’s no trouble at all."
-C., age 12