The Unsinkable Imagination
The morning was chilly. An early rising sun was working hard to warm up the icy landscape. Dyllan was alone outside, bearing the cold in his favorite Spiderman jacket watching his breath, like magic, turn into steam in front of his face. The ground beneath his feet was slick with frost as he shuffled from his front yard out into the middle of the street.
Dyllan pulled himself away from his imagination and concentrated on the decision he needed to make. Before the fiery sun began to melt the ice off the deck and windows of his ship, he was convinced he needed to get out of bed and get some air. Dyllan stood with his eyes barely open. They were puffy, nearly swollen shut from a night spent agonizing over his decision.
He looked down the street.
The street was flat and endless. The sky was grey and blue and so was the pavement. Both blended into each other at the horizon and became one, indistinct and inseparable.
Dyllan turned and looked in the opposite direction. Along the street curb, in the gutter, water was flowing steadily away from him. He followed the water with his eyes all the way until it banked left and emptied into oblivion—the sewer—which he knew because his parents had told him once, that somewhere far away from here the water would meet the ocean.
Dyllan was a just a kid. He saw the gutter and he imagined a narrow channel in front of him; he saw the water and he pictured the innate danger of trying to go down the gutter to the open sea on the other side. The currents, the undertow, the obstacles; the sticks in the gutter were icebergs—the icebergs were sticks. The curb itself the channel’s towering walls staring down with an imposing glare; its eyebrows, the huge hanging seracs and icicles, were furrowed and forbidding.
Dyllan was the captain of a ship, a ship somewhere in the arctic sea with a crew of three men—men who had families. They were trying to get back home, but Dyllan had made the foolish mistake a chasing something not worth chasing after. He was a scientist, and his crew fellow scientists. They were studying the marine mammals of the Arctic: their changes in mating, their new patterns of migration, their food choice. Some scientists suggested that since the glaciers began receding the animals were being forced to adapt. That was Dyllan’s research. As captain and research lead, he decided to chase a pod of ringed seal that was moving strangely beneath the waters surface. Even though Dyllan knew he was endangering his life and the life of his crew, he allowed the possibility of discovery, the chance of fame, to drag him out into the open ocean, through a barely penetrable fog and toward the imminent black nightfall.
Dyllan imagined the discovery. He imagined the success. He imagined it would be worth it.
It was morning now, Dyllan and his crew still needed to get home. Black night had passed and yesterday’s fog had lifted. The pod had escaped and Dyllan was seized by opportunity once again. He stared down the gutter. He stared down the channel.
Dyllan walked back to his front yard and squatted down, searching for the perfect leaf to be his research ship, a leaf that was sturdy and rounded and would drift easily down the gutter. He scanned the grass meticulously, absorbing the details of everything around him. He picked one leaf and held it gently in his hands next to his face. Dew clung easily to the veins of the leaf. The morning cold had covered the leaf like it been powdered by large crystals of white sugar, the look of a frozen window that had been breathed on by Christmas morning. It had a pointed bow, a port and starboard side that curled into little lips, and a stemmed stern that made for an ideal mast.
Dyllan’s smile nearly reached his ears. He was five years old. Cradling the leaf, he stood up and walked cautiously over to the gutter. He spread his legs and stepped over the flowing runoff, keeping one foot firmly planted on the curb and stepping the other down onto the street. He stood on the deck of his ship, blowing warm breath into his frozen hands. “We can make it,” he thought. Dyllan hunched over, removing the ship from the safety of his arms and holding it by its thin mast. He dipped it cautiously into the water. The current tugged at the leaf. The pull was stronger than gravity. The tug was inside of him. He felt his stomach being pulled and his heart being pulled. He was a captain being drawn towards the freedom on the other side of the channel. He was in control. He did not fear anything. He was five years old and the captain of an unsinkable vessel.
His heavy rubber boots were planted firmly, a half-inch deep in the layer of ice on the bow of the ship. In front of Dyllan rose the steep ice cliffs that spilt a glacier in two. The narrow passage was cluttered with icebergs. Large splashes could be seen in the distance, white and misty, before the sound of ice breaking and bouncing down into channel reached their ears. There was risk—and adventure and on the other side, safety and home.
He let go of the leaf.
A heavy wake kicked out from behind the boat. The engine shook the vessel and its bow rose out of the water. The boat tore through the blue ocean, bearing forward at full speed.
The leaf was floating easily down the gutter. It bobbed up and down over small rapids created by cracks in the pavement or sunken sticks. The leaf spun and flowed with the gentle current, turning and bouncing and going around pinecones that breached the waters surface. Dyllan walked calmly next to his leaf, watching it dance through obstacles. Still, he was bent over slightly, ready to pull the leaf away from anything it couldn’t overcome, hoping his efforts would lend to the leafs making it down the drain.
“Hard pull of the wheel! Starboard side!” Dyllan shouted.
Alex strained as the port side of the ship began to dip down into the trough of an oncoming wave. Dyllan, who was still out on the bow, slid across the slippery surface and slammed into the safety rail, stopping him from being hurled into the sea. The wave they were trying to avoid rolled through the boat, spilling over onto the front of the ship. Boxes of equipment were swept from where they sat, smashing into the wheelhouse where Alex was trying to control the ships direction.
She started to turn right.
Dyllan’s tiny hand was stretched out, ready to pluck the leaf from the gutter. For a short moment it seemed as if it was going to run into a pile of sticks damming up the flow of water. But the leaf drifted out to the right, narrowly missing the potentially fatal catastrophe. It eased through the small buildup of rapids on the other side, and then slipped back into the calm seas, free from debris.
“That was too fucking close Dyllan!” Mike screamed.
He was red, not from the frozen wind whipping his face, but from the anger boiling inside of him. His finger was pointed back at the iceberg floating in the middle of the thin channel.
“We could’ve been killed—”
“But we weren’t” Dyllan said.
In his head he knew he had made a terrible mistake, but there was no turning around. The open ocean, safety was so close.
“We’re not dead! So just shut the hell up and help me reorganize this equipment.”
Mike started grabbing boxes and standing them upright. The two of them worked together in silence.
The leaf started to gain speed as it closed in on the drain. The water was smooth, only a few sticks floated off to the right and left of the direct line the leaf was making for the sewer. The leaf sped forward in haste, thundering through the water like a lightening bolt.
Dyllan was speed walking, staring down at the leaf as it cut through the current. A stick broke from where it clung to the concrete beneath the water. The leaf continued, floating forward, determined. The free stick bobbed out into the middle of the gutter, in the path between the leaf and sewer. It had no time to change direction, no current to follow to help it spin. The leaf was going too fast. Before Dyllan could even see the stick meandering into the line that leaf was on it was too late. The leaf slammed up against the stick. The stick wedged itself back down into the bottom of the gutter.
The stern of the ship sprang out of the water. The propeller spun hacked viciously at the air. It crashed back into the ocean below with a slap, sending small tidal bores in every direction. The bow crumpled. The steel hull caved inward. The wooden deck cracked and split open like a fault. The wheel spun uncontrollably in Alex’s grip. The back end of the ship swung to the left, slamming its portside into the iceberg.
“Shit Dyllan!” Alex yelled from the wheelhouse, “What the hell was that?”
Dyllan was laying face down next to some overturned research equipment, his hand wrapped tightly around a safety line. Alex burst out of the wheelhouse, sliding across the wet deck to Dyllan’s side. He dropped to his knees and rolled Dyllan’s body over.
“Where’s Mike?” Dyllan said.
Dyllan pulled himself off the ground. He scanned the deck. He scanned the water. No Mike. The front of the ship was destroyed. The safety rail was twisted, in some areas the steal had been pulled apart. Planks were ripped into pieces, broken and collapsed into the boats sleeping quarters. Water was starting to fill in the chasm that had been torn open by the iceberg.
The door to the boats engine room swung open with Kevin following the same arc. He whipped around the corner, using the doors momentum to throw him forward to a safety line. He was screaming. His feet ran in place on the slippery deck while his arms pulled him forward, one after the other, towards Alex and Dyllan.
“We’re fucked!” he said, “We’re fucked!”
Alex and Dyllan were loosening the ropes that held up a lifeboat.
“We’re fucking sinking!”
The hull of the ship was filling fast with water. The stern had already started to lift into the air again. The mangled safety rail at the front of the vessel was drowning beneath the gurgling white water that was swallowing their boat.
The three men wasted no time. They stood, holding onto what they could, sinking their weight down low to stop from sliding toward the bow.
The leaf, stuck against the stick, began to fill with water. Its stem stuck up out of the flowing current, its nose dipped and pointed towards the bottom of the gutter.
The boat passed sixty degrees, the three of them no longer able to stand and work slack into the lines that held their inflatable lifeboat. Their life vests were stowed in the wheelhouse, another impossible march away. They were on their knees, ropes wrapped tight around their arms to stop them from falling into the water below them.
The leaf was nearly buried beneath the surface of the water. Dyllan stood above it, indifferent. The five year old imagined himself the captain of a ship one day, maybe a pirate ship, maybe an oil tanker, maybe off an adventure to the arctic. He stared down at the leaf as it took its final breath.
Only the stern stuck out of the water now.
Finally, the leaf sank to the bottom of the gutter. It never made it to the sewer and out the ocean.