Castaway can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Weird Tales, November 1947

Castaway

BY GEORGE WHITLEY

THE water, that at first had been so warm, enveloped him with a cold embrace that tried to contract his muscles, threatened to squeeze the heart itself to a standstill. The salt mouthfuls that he was now swallowing with almost every stroke choked him and seared his lungs. The smarting eyes were blind, no longer staring at the yellow line of beach that, at the beginning of it all, had seemed so dose. He no longer knew or cared where he was going, or wondered if he would ever get there. The tired limbs automatically went through their feeble, no longer rhythmic motions—but it was only some part of himself that must always refuse to acknowledge the ultimate defeat.

Perhaps he was already drowning. Perhaps it was only his memory harking back to some happier time, some period when the world contained more than this hopeless wet misery. For it was not the whole of his past life that flashed before his inward eye as a prelude to extinction. It was only the events just prior to his present predicament.

He was walking the bridge, warm in the afternoon sunlight, dry, the heat tempered by the pleasant Pacific breeze. And he was Time is a gigantic, circular wall; we are caught f or ever within its confines hearing the carefree voices of the dayworkers and the watch on deck as, swinging in their bo's'n's chairs, they joyfully slapped the company's peacetime colors, scarlet and black, over the drab, wartime gray of the funnel. They had every right to be cheerful. The war was over. The ammunition with which the holds were packed would no longer be required—and gone was the danger that a torpedo from a prowling submarine would bring the voyage to a premature close.

Fine on the starboard bow was the island. Lazily, he told himself that he would take a four-point bearing, would obtain a distance off and a fix. He went into the chartroom, leafed through the Pacific Pilot until he found the right page. He read "...when last visited, by Captain Wallis of H.M.S. Searcher in 1903, was uninhabited. There are one or two springs, and the water is good...."

Somebody was shouting. He put the book down hastily, went out to the bridge. The men on the funnel were calling and pointing. He looked in the direction they indicated, could not be sure of what he saw, took the telescope from its box.

The island—white surf, yellow beach, green jungle—swam unsteadily in the circular field of the telescope. But there was a fresh color added—a column of thick, brown smoke that billowed up from the beach, thinned to a dense haze against the blue, cloudless sky.

He had called the captain then. The captain had come up, surly at the breaking of his afternoon rest, but immediately alert when he saw the smoke. Some poor devil of an airman, he had said it might be, or survivors of shipwreck or losing battle.

The course was altered at once to bring the island more nearly ahead. In this there was no danger, the soundings ran fantastically deep almost to the thin line of beach itself. And the watch on deck laid aside their paint brushes, busied themselves clearing away the motor launch.

By this time the news had spread through the ship. The other officers came up, stared at the island and its smoke signal through binoculars and telescopes. Some of them said that they could see a little figure beside the fire, dancing and waving. And the captain, after careful examination of the pilot book and of the largest scale chart of the vicinity, was conning his ship in on such an approach that his boat would have the minimum distance to run to the beach, but so that the ship herself would always be in deep water. As additional precautions the echo-sounding recorder was started up and lookouts posted....

And that was the last of his life before this eternity of cold, wet misery, of aching limbs that moved on and on of their own volition when he would willingly have willed them to stop, of blinded, smarting eyes, of throat and lungs burning from t...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.