Born and raised in Massachusetts, Deborah Trowbridge danced from an early age, graduating from Boston University with a BFA in theatre arts. She was an educator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a teacher for the City of New York. Since then, she relocated to Montana where she writes short stories, essays, and flash fiction. She is currently working on her first novel.
With little light, Mi-Cha* barely made out the signage in red paint: “For Emergency Only—Life Jackets.” Kneeling beside the two large containers, she remained calm in spite of frantic people pushing. Three teenagers rushed past holding hands; the girl in the middle cried for her mother. The boy on the end whipped into Mi-Cha, while holding his cell phone high. Desperate to stay with his friends, he kept going without a word.
Lifting the heavy lid, Mi-Cha called, “Here! Over here! Life jackets!” She pulled one out, handed it to the closest person. Word spread quickly. Panicked voices in the dim continued to rise and fall. Mi-Cha repeated, “Life jackets, over here!” Strangers reached greedily, jostled each other to reach her. Fear swirled, chaos was palpable, no one stayed to help, not a single person thanked her.
The ferryboat lurched unexpectedly, many standing slid as the boat creaked and shuddered ominously. Water streamed everywhere. Passengers screamed. Jacket in hand, Mi-Cha struggled to rise, and passed it to an anonymous figure. To avoid falling, she took baby steps back to the bins.
“Life jackets, here!” she yelled hoarsely. With a huge effort, she opened the second container. Her right shoulder ached, her shoes and pants were wet; Mi-Cha kept on. Her voice cracked; it hurt to swallow. With parched throat, she wanted the impossible, a drink.
Below, cargo shifted dangerously, producing a series of loud crashes. Another monstrous roll wracked the length of the boat. Mi-Cha lost her balance, toppled, slipped several feet across the treacherous floor. Her head slammed hard against the base of a metal railing, then everything went dark.
Seeping water inched its hideous way, lapped her sandaled feet, lifted her, a drenched human lump. Unconscious, she slid again as the ferry tipped.
Mal-Chin* wore a headlamp frequently used by rappellers or miners. He was steps ahead of his friend, Kyong,* when he pitched sideways, fell sharply against protruding metal. Piercing pain produced an involuntary yelp. He hung his head, tried to catch his breath.
“Are you all right?” asked Kyong.
“It’s my thigh. I’ll be all right. We have to get to the top.”
“Where are the stairs? We have to find the stairs,” said Kyong.
“I’m certain they’re just ahead,” said Mal-Chin. “The headlamp isn’t casting enough...” His voice trailed off as something heavy thumped onto his feet.
“What was that?” asked Kyong.
“I don’t know. I need a closer look.”
“There’s no time,” said Kyong.
Casting the light downward, Mal-Chin saw the crumpled body of young Mi-Cha. Her back arched like a cat, limbs still, her eyes closed. “Oh, my God!” he cried. “It’s a person, a girl.”
“Is she breathing?” asked Kyong.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Mal-Chin said, his voice rising. He had never seen a dead person.
“See if she’s breathing,” said Kyong, crouching.
“She’s not conscious,” Mal-Chin said. He lifted her eyelids. “They don’t look glazed. Dead people have glazed eyes, don’t they?”
“No, yes, I think so,” said Kyong. “Now what?”
“If she was your sister we’d take her, no matter what. Right?”
“Yes, yes, of course. See if there’s a pulse, feel her neck. No, her wrist, try her wrist,” said Kyong.
“My fingers are numb, I don’t think I’ll be able to tell...”
“Try,” said Kyong.
Mal-Chin flexed his icy fingers, searched the girl’s wrist with two. He wasn’t sure whose pulse he felt, his or the girl’s. Adrenaline fired up, his bruised thigh pounded. Mal-Chin’s chest tightened, frightening him. He detected a faint pulse. “She’s alive,” he said.
“Good. Let’s get her up and go,” said Kyong. “Now.”
Each took an arm, lifted Mi-Cha up. She was surprisingly heavy. Buoyed by their decision to save her, the young men gripped her firmly between them. Flickering light from the headlamp lit their precarious way through rising, murky water.