They say that everything happens for a reason.
Yet as he looked out into the black ocean, which seemed to be constructed more of fire than anything else at the moment, John couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t always necessarily for a good reason.
A freak storm. The forecast had promised clear skies and pleasant sailing all week long… Had a butterfly’s wings fluttered just a bit too precariously in some far away land? John wasn’t sure, but this… this was insanity. If he could capture the intensity of this chaos, bottle up the adrenaline and fear which pumped through his veins in a toxic rush, he thought it would be an accurate representation of what the biblical rapture was supposed to look like.
The sound of his name hit him like a sobering slap to the face. He turned to see his advisor glaring, his eyes alit with alarm. “Focus!”
Focus. Yes, that was his job, precisely. Focus. Dear God, what kind of hell had he wound up in for his first ever excursion? He wasn’t even certified yet, he was just in training… Feeling as though he were moving though a dense, mental fog, John began looking with the rest of them… the first on the scene, and they needed to search, to see if there were survivors… though based on that fire, and those shredded ruins, he found the possibility highly unlikely…
Almost as though he were in a trance, he turned and saw something to his left, far along the coastline… something that was not wreckage, revealed only now by the washing away of a long, dark wave of water…
John sprinted as fast as his lead-filled legs would allow, nearly falling sideways as he kneeled down beside what looked very much like a bloody, broken corpse. Rivers of red were pouring from a wound on his forehead. Strands of crimson that began to decorate one side of the boy’s pale face like a scarlet spider’s web. Instantly, it happened. That woozy, numbing sensation that rolled over his skin every time he saw blood. He swallowed back the sour taste in his mouth. He was really not cut out for this line of work, John had always known that…why he’d gone through with this…but he was here, now, a life literally in his hands…
He took a steadying breath.
The gentle rush of the cool water brushing against him felt like a sick joke. The way it soothingly washed across his skin, slow and calm… He couldn’t help but recognize the repulsive contrast to that relaxing rhythm of the waves and the inferno out at sea. Mother Nature herself, whispering a condescending line.
I am the storm that kills. I am the water that saves.
…it was just a kid.
He looked so fragile, the body in his arms, limbs battered and bent at awkward angles. Like the ocean had quite literally plucked him from the wreckage and flung him forcefully onto the beach, and this was how he had landed. John moved him only far enough to get him out of the cold, oppressive water.
He put his ear to his mouth. Took his pulse.
“Hey!” he screamed, the cry crawling out of his raw throat like a broken prayer. How was it that everyone seemed suddenly so far away? Had he sprinted that far? He waved frantically, desperately trying to get someone’s attention—he couldn’t deal with a death on his first ever expedition, not in his arms—not someone so young—
But the boy wasn’t breathing. Something in the back of his mind clicked. Instinct took over. His body moved in an almost robotic way, and soon he was pressing both of his palms to the boy’s chest…
Rhythmic. The correct amount of pressure. One, two, three… the world seemed to fall into a numbed silence. It was just his own voice in his head as he methodically counted. One, two, three…
Suddenly, miraculously, he coughed. John crawled off of him haphazardly as the boy rolled to one side, spluttering and hacking.
“Over here!” John roared, and this time several people turned to face him. They were rushing over, medical equipment in hand. John looked back to the convulsing form of the boy on the ground. He placed a hand on his back, afraid to do anything more in case he had injuries that he was unaware of…
“Jesus Christ, don’t you dare die on me kid…” he muttered as he scanned his body for any obvious indications of broken limbs. Other than the deep gash on his forehead, he didn’t notice any glaring warning signs… but that didn’t mean anything, he could have internal bleeding, or—
The boy turned his head fractionally, his eyelids fluttering open. Long, black eyelashes framed astonishingly blue eyes. Against the backdrop of his deathly pale skin and the lank, wet hair plastered to his face, those eyes sparkled with a fierce intensity. With life.
John couldn’t suppress the grin that broke out on his previously panicked face. The other EMT’s were nearly on them now, he could hear voices telling him to get out of the way. But he didn’t move. “That’s right,” he said encouragingly to the boy on the beach. The glint in his eyes was vastly reassuring. A stubborn spark, that of a fighter. John felt marginally less worried about him. “You’re safe now.”
The boy opened his mouth slowly as if to attempt speaking, but then the EMT’s were at their sides. John was pushed unceremoniously backwards, and the boy was surrounded, being examined by far more qualified experts than him. One of the other volunteers pulled him aside.
“Nice going,” she said. The brunette was still in training, just like him. John recognized her but couldn’t remember her name. He could scarcely remember his own at the moment, he felt so disoriented and hyped up on adrenaline.
“You may have just saved that kid’s life.”
She clapped him on the shoulder in the same way that a brother might. Not being able to articulate intelligent, coherent thoughts, John just smiled.
“Let’s go see if we can save any more, eh?” She turned her attention back to the chaos, where more teams of people were arriving by the second to aid. Small boats were being dispatched, going out into the water to look for other survivors amongst the floating ruins… John glanced dazedly out at the fiery sea. There was so much violent wreckage, and it extended so far out in the distance… it was an ocean of destruction. How that boy had made it to the shore…
Then he saw it. A head emergent in the water, eerily still- almost indiscernible against the background of flames—a pale face, floating—staring-?
“Hey!” John turned, hitting the shoulder of the person closest to him. It was the same brunette woman who had been walking with him before. “Someone is out there, someone—!”
But when he pointed back to where he’d seen the face, it was gone. Just wreckage and fire, broken wood and flames.
“I…how…?” His hand fell limply to his side.
The woman placed a hand on his shoulder, gently this time. “Out there? In the fire?” She spoke in a low, soothing voice, as though she were speaking to a small child. “Not likely… Besides, there are crews going out on the water now, to look out there—we’re supposed to focus on the shore…”
John just stared dumbly. This really was not the profession for him. He felt nauseas at the sight of blood, adrenaline rushes made him feel queasy, and now, he was quickly discovering, chaos caused him to see things…
“Right,” he said flatly, discarding the strange sight from his mind. A white face in the inferno, not struggling or in distress, but just… staring… He shivered. “Right,” he repeated, and with one last, fleeting glance out to sea, turned his attention back to the sandy shores.