Monday, April 2, 2012

"Come At Once." - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

Trying to cross the Atlantic solo had been called "the epitome of recklessness" by his wife. Now he wished he had listened to her, as his boat drifted, dead in the water, his satellite phone and other modern gadgetry suddenly useless. In his thirst and delirium, Giovanni thought he saw a ship making its way toward him in the fog. Three possible outcomes;  it would pass him, collide with him, or rescue him. But he never questioned its existence as he slipped into unconsciousness.


The cabin was freezing. Climbing through the mist of pain and fatigue, he swung shivering from his bunk and stood unsteadily. I've been rescued.  Must be a foreign freighter of some sort.  Pounding beneath his feet told him that the ship's engines were probably running at full capacity. When he opened his door, a passageway was teeming with people in various stages of dress;  he blinked once or twice, trying to clear the blurriness from his eyes. A steward indicated that Giovanni should accompany him.

On the outside decks, men swung lifeboats on davits, flung cargo nets over the side and rigged bosun chairs and slings.  Someone shouted to drop the pilot and side ladders while others raced to prepare the forward cargo cranes. Giovanni hunched his shoulders to avoid being jostled, and yet ... it almost seemed as though they walked through him. He chalked it up to fever.

The steward stopped to peer over the side for an instant to watch the ship slice through the water.  "She's a stout heart, she is.  Seven boilers, two 8-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engines, twin 3-bladed props. We'll get there, God willing and the boys stoking their hearts out. My mate - Giacomo Battelic - well, he's a stoker.  Chief Engineer Roderick covered the main gauge with his hat so the firemen won't see the pressure.  But they know, and it's all the same to them.  They've hearts to match the ship."

"We're pretty far north to be running at this speed, aren't we?"

 "We've bypassed four bergs already."  The man touched the scar on his cheek, then crossed himself. "Best go on. The Captain's expecting you."

 Damned curious layout for a freighter. Something odd about that steward.  And all of these people -

His reverie was interrupted by their arrival at what looked to be a dining room.  A sharp-eyed face with high cheekbones peered at him from below the Captain's hat.

"Well, well, none the worse for the wear I see.  All able bodied men are needed on deck right now, unless you're a doctor, in which case you can report to the third class dining room."

Giovanni hesitated. "I'm currently certified in CPR and AED. Would that be of use? And what is going on, may I ask?"

The Captain smiled. "I've no idea what any of that means. Our radio operator received a message from Newfoundland regarding private traffic for a liner. When we attempted to forward the message, we received a CQD from her. Therefore, we are headed to her last position at all possible speed. I don't know where you hail from or how you came to be floating about alone in the Atlantic, but welcome aboard RMS Carpathia."


His Rolex showed 3AM as the first rockets began to fire from Carpathia at fifteen minute intervals, in hopes of alerting survivors that help was approaching. At 4 a green flare was spotted from a lifeboat and by 4:10 the first survivors were being lifted onboard by means of ropes, slings and ladders. Giovanni worked alongside the other men, helping to pull women aboard who were so numb with cold that they could barely move.  Ash bags were being used to lift small children, and as one began to swing and twirl out of control, Giovanni slipped, lost his footing and plunged into the icy sea.


The cabin was freezing. Climbing through the mist of pain and fatigue, he swung shivering from his bunk and stood unsteadily. I've been rescued.  Must be a foreign freighter of some sort.  He opened the door just as a man in a crisp white uniform was about to knock.

"Hello there. The ship's doc will be by to see you shortly. In the meantime, there's hot coffee if you'd like. Oh, and the press is dying to interview you. We've notified your family, of course, but maybe you'd like to use the ship's line to call home?"

Giovanni took a deep breath. "Where the hell am I?"

"You're on board a US Coast Guard cutter. We picked you up after a fishing boat spotted your empty sailboat and reported it. Welcome aboard the Valiant. How are you feeling?"

"A little rough. I must have been unconscious quite a while.  You know..." His eyes strayed to a black and white photo of a ship on the wall.  "That looks like Carpathia. Whatever happened to her?"

"She was torpedoed in 1918. Some say she still plies the waters, forever seeking to rescue Titanic before she can sink. Time shifts, alternate universes and all that sort of thing. Myself, I don't know."  The man touched the scar on his cheek, then crossed himself. "Best go on. The Captain's expecting you."


The message Carpathia received (CQD OM means "maritime distress call, old man".
"Come at once. We have struck an iceberg. It's a CQD OM. Latitude 41.46 North, Longitude 50.14 West."

Top photo: Titanic at the docks, Southampton, April 1912. Photographer unknown. Wikipedia.


  1. Love the repetition of the lines "The captain's expecting you." Makes for a chilling mood!

  2. Very vivid. Thanks for the story.

  3. This is a great adventure, well suited to the vid and pic.

    I'm posting flash fiction (about 400 words) at RomanticFridayWriters if you have a chance to get across.


  4. Ooooh fantastic tale! I really like all the details you put into this piece to make it believable.

  5. Hi, Believe it or not...I was thinking of the fact he might have wound up on the Titanic (being rescued before it sank) before I got to the end of your story. Great story! Good imagery. Loved it.

  6. Loved it. Great details, setting up a vivid mental picture. So, a "was he or wasn't he" ending. Wonderful story Li.

  7. fantastic twisty tale. Loved it

  8. Very cool! I love twists from real events, especially ones that linger with regret in a very believable setting. Nicely done!

  9. Great little story. Nice and creepy. I'm hoping to visit all the blogs on the A-Z Challenge in April.

  10. Nicely done! I thought it was a time loop or a dead man's loop.

  11. I had read about this ship as a child in a book about unexplained mysteries--your dramatization brought me back so many memories of my own flights of fancy.

  12. Good story! Thanks for sharing it. I posted a piece of flash fiction on Monday. These are fun to write. :)

  13. A fine story, and great use of repeated elements. I knew I'd heard of the Carpathia, but had forgotten its significance until you set me straight at the end. A fine story, and great use of repeated elements.

  14. Oh wow.
    I love the way you used the repetition to set up the scenes.

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  16. I knew I recognized the Carpathia; I played in the pit my senior year for varsity choir's performance of The Titanic.
    Great story. Loved the alternate reality!
    I too am doing the A to Z challenge, and I look forward to reading what you come up with for the rest of the alphabet.


    The Fiction Diaries

  17. I like getting people in Carpathia's possible point of view.

  18. Hi friends! I love the old ocean liners, and the Carpathia and crew are especially dear to my heart. I wished to honour their memory.

  19. Oh, and I'll be around to visit :-)

  20. this is a great tale and well written - kind of ironic about the Carpathia, Li