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The boat to Catalina Island takes about an hour, but to get around to Two Harbors on the north edge takes an extra forty-five minutes. There are a bunch of high school kids on the boat, all wearing low-slung backpacks and ill-fitting shirts and each teenager you look at is another startling glimpse at the sort of person you must have been at that age. The boys lope morosely along the perimeter of the boat, some with headphones collared around their necks; the girls sit in the passenger deck in clusters and speak with looks of frightening intensity. You are alone on this boat. Or rather, the boat is crowded but you do not know anyone. You stand on the upper deck in the open air and the sounds of the ocean and the engines and the seagulls circling above are loud and overwhelming but the sun feels very good against your skin.

You are on your way to Catalina Island to meet some friends who are in California for the first time. They were married last year—you missed the wedding—and are taking what they are referring to as a ‘scattershot honeymoon,’ which as near as you can figure consists of staying in touristy hotels on every island in the continental United States. They are staying in a lodge in Two Harbors, which they called to tell you about very early this morning.

‘It’s much more authentic,’ Eric said. You couldn’t decide what he meant by that.

You gaze off the back of the boat, watching the widening white V of the wake. You can taste the salt in the air. Seagulls are bobbing and darting over the churned-up water and you wonder if the wake is stirring up fish, or plankton, or whatever it is that the seagulls eat. They let out piercing sounds before diving down toward the ocean surface and you watch them. You do not want to go to Catalina Island, and you do not particularly want to see Eric and Lavinia.

There is a general sense of movement around you and you turn to look and see that most of the people up here on the open-air deck are heading down the stairs (are they called ‘ladders’ at sea?) toward the front of the boat and you hear a little boy say the word dolphins to the woman holding his hand, who is presumably his mother. The bland off-white noise of the engines below and behind you makes everything else difficult to hear.

You are wearing cheap rubber flip-flops and the most casual clothing you could find in your closet. The flip-flops you picked up new this morning at a Rite Aid. You aren’t sure why but you felt a need to present a very relaxed California vibe to Eric and Lavinia. You wonder if it will look forced. You wonder if you care.

An older woman with dark grey hair stands next to you leaning against the bulwark. There is a thin-lipped smile on her face. You are turned in opposite directions—her toward the boat, you toward the ocean behind you. The two of you look at each other for a moment and you wonder what sort of person you look like right now, your stomach pressed hard into the back edge of a boat speeding through the Pacific, your cheap flip-flops already threatening to force blisters between your toes, your shabby teeshirt.

The woman says something that you cannot hear over the roar of the engines.

‘What’s that?’ you say. You turn your body more toward her.

She smiles that thin smile again and shakes her head in a tiny mute way. She mouths the words, ‘Never mind.’ She is wearing some kind of knit white blouse and embarrassing denim shorts and the skin on her chest is a deep and pebbled reddish brown. You have been at sea for twenty minutes. The wind that rips across the surface of the sea is startling tears from the small corners of the woman’s eyes, you can see.

‘I’m going to look at the dolphins,’ you say to the woman, and you immediately wonder why you’d say something as idiotic as that. Never mind.

You push yourself up and off the bulwark and walk to the stairs (ladder) and head down and you can see that almost everyone on the boat is crammed into the small viewing deck at the front of the boat. You can’t get up there. You lean as far as you can over the side and look forward and indeed there are dolphins or porpoises—whatever the difference is—leaping through the water at the boat’s nose, keeping pace with the boat, as if they believed that the boat were merely a colossal and steady dolphin. Beyond the slick dark grey of the dolphins is the impenetrable blue of the ocean. There is no sign yet of Catalina that you can see.

Lavinia wasn’t the first person you became friends with in high school but of everyone you knew she was the one you wound up spending the most time with, either through circumstance or hidden preference you still aren’t sure. She dyed her hair black and wore wine-colored tops almost exclusively which at the time seemed novel and daring, and maybe even was. The two of you considered yourselves to be far more cynical and realistic that the rest of the student body and Eric’s voice on the phone this morning summoned deep wells of embarrassment over who you used to be and who you used to think you were. Since high school you haven’t much spoken to Lavinia except the odd jokey comment on Facebook photos from back then. You’ve met Eric only briefly, at a party.

The boat hits a series of deep waves and there is the feeling of the whole thing going airborn for a moment as the prow skips over the water, the front of the boat rising and falling dramatically, nodding its head sort of, and you look toward the back of the boat to see if it too is leaping out of the water, if maybe the entire Islander Express is just going to bounce out of the ocean entirely, fly off into the sky somewhere, and you see something white and human floating on the waves, pushed aside by the boat’s wake, and it isn’t moving at all apart from that. It’s a person, out there in the water. It could only have come from this boat.


A. Run back up to the open-air deck to get a better look.
B. Call for help.
C. Look for a life preserver and jump into the water.
D. See if you can find the captain and get him to go back.
Alicia Harder's profile photoTam S's profile photoEvangeline Coe's profile photoTim Coe's profile photo
Huzzah! This must be the serious take on Catalina Caper (MST3K 204) that I never realized I needed until this moment.

So soon after the last one! B. Sounding the alarm is probably the quickest way to get help.
C because when others see you jump in they can sound the alarm. Man overboard! Good thing you're in your shitty casual clothes. Also this might be a good opportunity to upgrade those crappy sandals.

I hate that we're going to Catalina Island, btw. I was supposed to be one of those kids with low-slung backpacks back in my day, but was never given the middle school student award I so deserved, the one that got passage on the special Catalina Island holiday. I hope some weird and crazy shit is about to go down.
B. The power of self-preservation is too strong to jump in that cold water. Make someone else do it.
Also can our hero swim? /will he wind up stuck/drowning himself?

The cognitive dissonance generated by these stories when assumptions made by myself (about myself) about the character are overturned always leaves a chalkysweet taste in my mouth, like taking a bite of a powdered donut that's covered in baking powder instead of powdered sugar.

Swimming Powder. Our hero can swim because I can swim until the author says on the next page "you can't swim".
Tim Coe

You can't swim, you moron. THE END
I agree with B. because 1.) it seems like the fastest way to get help and 2.) I'm not about to just go leaping into water and risk getting sucked into an engine or something. Especially since the person shape is suspiciously still.
I understand if y'all want to take the gif +Tim Coe posted earlier as some sort of portent for this story, but given the opportunity in these sorts of situations I think one should always JUMP!

(Taking a life preserver along when you jump is prudent, mind.)
I figure jumping in is a chance for our anomic young hero to engage with the world feet first. (Plus there's a possibility for a "I saved her life; she nearly drowned"/"he showed up, splashing around"-style meet-cute.)
Yeah, sure, OK, call for help and watch the words get ripped from your mouth by the whipping sea breeze and tossed meaninglessly into the air like the leaves behind the batmobile.
Better than diving in the water unprepared and you know, getting eaten by a shark or caught in the rudder, or drowning, or getting nabbed by a kraken. or...or...
I'm certainly not choosing A because we've already determined that the shape is a person, so there's no point in first trying to get a better look when there may be a life on the line. D would be a waste of time; we don't know where the captain is and what we really need is a life preserver and a lifeboat. I'm very tempted to go with B in hopes that someone of some authority can man a lifeboat and go after this person. But I don't know if anyone nearby will be responsive or even hear my calls for help. And Carson makes a great case for C. Jumping in is the most productive way of acting in this sort of emergency situation. Others will call the shipboard staff for help once they see you go overboard. I'm going to believe that we've taken public emergency medical (CPR) courses at the local hospital and have become a skilled swimmer before reaching adulthood and by living on the Pacific Coast. So C it is.
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