Wreck of the Daffodil
Fiction by John Connell
I don’t want to open my eyes. I don’t remember last night just yet, but I can hear waves rolling in and if I move my hands, I can feel them dragging across sand. The tide laps at my feet. I don’t want to open my eyes, but it seems I don’t have a choice.
I quickly sit up and immediately regret it. I feel a sharp pain in my side that runs down to my leg. I look down; I’m bruised and a little bloody. Eventually I’m going to have to deal with the fact of what happened, but I can’t bring myself to right now. I just look out at the ocean and see nothing.
We were sitting on your bed when I first told you my plan.
“That’s a stupid idea,” you said to me immediately after.
“I don’t think so,” I said, not wanting you to notice I was upset. “I don’t see how it’s different from you going to India.”
“I need to go to India to get volunteer experience for med school. It’s not a vacation.”
You stood up and walked over to the kitchen. I guess you had just decided that the conversation was over.
“You said that going to India was how you wanted to make a positive impact.” I said, following you. “OceanWatch is how I’m going to do it.”
“First of all,” you replied without even turning around, “you don’t know anything about sailing. You’ve never been on a boat. You’re not that strong or athletic. What do you have to offer them? You’ll probably get yourself killed.”
Okay. That hurt.
“You know, part of us dating is you believing in me. You always get on my case for not doing anything with my life and now that I finally am, it’s a terrible idea? Why don’t you just come out and say you want me to be just like you?”
I need to stand up and get off this beach. It looks like early morning. The sun is starting to warm my skin. I should probably find some shade before I get cooked. I try to lift myself up.
I cry out and almost lose my balance. My right leg can barely support me, but I can walk. Hardly lifting my feet, I trudge through the sand, gasping for air with every step. Farther up the beach, the sand and rocks give way to jungle. That’s the path I have to take.
Just before you got on the plane for India, you told me it was over. You were going to spend the entire summer there and couldn’t be tied down. That’s fine. I had my own business to take care of. You were still on my mind, though, when I boarded the Daffodil.
The Daffodil was an old, old ship. Probably “liberated” from some commercial fishing fleet, perhaps some group who had run afoul of OceanWatch. My stateroom was more like a closet. I didn’t have a window, but I did get a cot, a desk, and some drawers.
The first time I set foot in my stateroom, I had barely put my backpack down before I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Holmes, the captain.
“You must be one of the youngest volunteers we’ve ever had,” I remember him warning me in a low rasp from behind his great white beard. “You know this is dangerous work.”
“I do,” I told him.
Dave Holmes had made his career in OceanWatch. He was wanted in several countries. I read all his books. Even before I got it in my head to join, I knew all about him. I wanted to tell him how honoured I was to be led by the great Captain Holmes, but I decided I wouldn’t mention it. That kind of adulation wasn’t going to earn his respect.
We set sail shortly after. The crew of seventeen had assembled in the early morning, so the sun was rising behind us as we left. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the city until after it had slipped below the horizon. I knew you weren’t there anymore, but I knew you would eventually return. I wasn’t so sure about myself.
Breakfast was nothing fancy. Oatmeal and plenty of high-protein, imitation meat. The whole ship was on a vegan regimen. I sat at a table across from an engineer and a medic. They asked me what I did here.
“I’m just a volunteer. I’m not skilled like you guys,” I told them. “I’m a writer, though. I want to write about the campaign we’re on.”
That seemed to satisfy them.
The jungle is dense, green, and moist. My leg feels like it’s on fire and I hear the hoots and yells of faraway birds, or perhaps monkeys. Maybe both. Finding water is a priority. I won’t last long without that. As much as I try to listen for it, I can’t hear any nearby. My leg is just about ready to give out, so I delicately lower myself onto the ground. This isn’t ideal, but at least I don’t have the sun beating down on me now.
As I get into position resting my leg, I notice some thick, rubbery leaves close to the ground, heavily laden down with dew and just within my reach. I lean over and pluck one out of the earth, careful not to disturb the rainwater it holds. Slowly, and with a deep gratefulness, I lick the moisture from each of the leaves. I discover that I’m thirstier than I thought. I try and sate myself on as many leaves as I can, but it is never enough.
It took close to two weeks, but we had sailed all the way down the Pacific Coast until we reached the territorial waters of Costa Rica. Captain Holmes gave us our mission once we were off the coast of Tamarindo: keeping watch for turtle poachers. We were supposed to go down onto the beach and protect the sea turtle hatchlings as they journeyed to the water. It all sounded pretty simple to me; something that even I could manage.
“We’ve got to keep a low profile until nightfall,” Holmes said, “The poachers are probably going to be keeping an eye out for us as well. Best if we can get the drop on them.”
So we spent our daylight hours waiting. Holmes never sat still during that time. He wouldn’t stop walking up and down the deck, constantly scanning for threats. The Daffodil moved similarly, trying to remain undetected just outside of Costa Rican territory until the time was right. Just as night was beginning to fall, Holmes finally came back below deck.
“I’m diverting our course. We’re being followed.”
I looked above deck for what the captain was talking about. A handful of small, unmarked fishing boats quietly followed behind us.
“What’s our plan?” I asked.
I wish I had a plan now. I think I’m overheating and delirious. Did my leg get infected? I don’t think I’d be able to move enough to look at it to find out. I can hear each of my heartbeats, and each one seems to shake the jungle. Every calling bird and every monkey’s howl echoes your words: “You’ll probably get yourself killed.” My field of view hazy and vibrating, I roll onto my stomach and start crawling deeper and deeper into the violently shaking foliage. I lazily let some vomit fall out of my mouth along the way, but I don’t stop crawling. The shivers are coming on. But I ignore them. I have to.
A quetzal flies past overhead.
“Is this what you wanted?” it asks.
“Of course not,” I whisper back.
The bird rests on a tree some twenty feet ahead, barely visible against the canopy.
“Are you here for the right reasons?” it says.
This time I don’t respond to it. I won’t give it the satisfaction.
Captain Holmes didn’t give in to the poachers.
“Carry on to the shore. We won’t be dissuaded.”
I admired him for his tenacity. This is a man who had faced down pirates, poachers, and navies and still refused to give up his convictions.
The Daffodil attempted to turn around, sailing back in the direction of Tamarindo’s sandy coast. I heard a handful of metallic pings sound from the side of the boat, and one of the crewmen who was above deck rushed down to us in the hold below.
“The poachers are firing at us,” he said, voice steady but hands quaking.
“Alright. Let them chase us out into deeper water,” Holmes said, not hesitating for even a moment. “Every moment we keep them occupied is another moment they aren’t on that beach.”
We followed his orders. I remained below deck, helping out as best I could. The poachers kept taking pot shots at our vessel as we went further and further out to sea. I couldn’t help but think of how amused you would be if you could see me in this situation, being shot at by pirates. I couldn’t wait to get back to tell you about how I actually survived.
It’s after this that my memories started to fail. The sun setting as the boats chased us into dark, choppy waters. A bed of hidden rocks tearing the Daffodil in two. Following Captain Holmes above deck, only to hit the deck as the poachers kept firing. But that’s the last memory I have before waking up on the beach.
The quetzal keeps taunting me.
It speaks in your voice: “You’ll probably get yourself killed.”
I keep crawling, following it. Deeper and deeper into jungle. I am covered in dirt and dead leaves from dragging myself on my elbows.
“Shut up. Shut up,” I repeat softly, barely mouthing the words.
You would think this is hilarious. Me, filthy, dying, and marooned while you’re cleaning toilets for a surgeon in Hyderabad. Of course it goes down this way.
I lose the quetzal, but the jungle breaks. I’m back on the beach, in some secluded cove, far away from where I first landed. There’s a body down by the water—the tide is slowly embalming it with sand. As I drag myself out of the brush, I hoist myself up on a rock to see better. It’s Captain Holmes, pale and broken. Now it was my turn to laugh. It wasn’t Interpol or whalers or pirates that did him in, but the ocean.
I see some motion out of the corner of my eye. A handful of baby sea turtles are emerging from the sand and throwing themselves down the beach towards the water, towards Captain Holmes. I can’t help but laugh again as they crawl over and past him into the sea.
Shattered pieces of the Daffodil lie around Captain Holmes on all sides. Maybe after I rest I can dry them out, start a fire. Maybe a passing ship will see me. Then I can come back home, and when you come home, I can tell you about all of this.