The challenge was called "I Said Lunch, Not Launch." The task was to write a story in which a slight misunderstanding leads to different than expected results. This was my entry:
“Amber is probably graduating from high school this month,” Eric said.
“Yeah. I think my little Stevie did last year,” Mark replied.
“Stevie? I doubt it.”
“What the fuck?”
“I’m just saying. Wasn’t he a little…”
“I was going to say retarded.”
“Of course you were. And I wasn’t going to say, but will now, that if Amber is graduating, it is from one of those special schools for pregnant girls.”
Eight years ago
Exploring the islands of the South Pacific by sailboat was an almost life-long dream fulfilled for Eric and Mark. The two friends had kissed their wives and kids goodbye at LAX, flown to Australia, rented a boat and sailed off into their fantasy. And it was fantastic.
After a couple stops at ports, Eric and Mark realized that they preferred to be on the boat. Whether Bliss was underway or at rest, bobbing on the long, gentle swell, she was fast becoming home and they hated to leave her. Because they were spending much less time exploring the islands and more time sailing, they were able to cover much more of the sea than they had planned.
“I’ve spent my whole life in California,” Eric said as he gazed to the east, “and now I hardly believe that it exists. Doesn’t it feel like the ocean is all there is?”
“Well that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but yes, it is surprising how endless it feels.”
Eric couldn’t have been bothered less by his friend’s inability to match his enthusiasm. That was who he was. “Solidly grounded even in the middle of the ocean,” Eric thought.
“How far are we from the nearest land do you ‘spose. I’m talking island, continent, whatever?” Eric asked.
Mark studied the chart. “Something like 250 miles.”
“Hmm.” Eric chuckled.
“Nancy will kill you if she finds out how far we strayed.”
“Well then, let’s not tell her.” Mark smiled.
Mark had always been conservative, and his wife made him much more so, but Eric was glad to see that he was still willing to bend a few rules. Eric got up to take his usual spot on the front deck. He still had the fantasies of a young boy and sitting on the bow, looking forward, made him feel like the last man on earth. From that spot he could also keep a lookout for reefs and other potential hazards.
“Do you think dolphins fantasize about fucking on land?” Eric called back to the helm.
“What? What is wrong with you?” Mark laughed.
“Do you not enjoy taking your wife to the beach and screwing in the ocean? Seems to me dolphins would get sick of the water is all. They are warm-blooded mammals you know.”
“Really?! I didn’t know that.”
“No sense of humor! Poor Mark.”
Eric felt Bliss veer slightly to port and figured Mark must have spotted something he hadn’t. With Mark watching the sea, Eric felt free to lay back and relax. He had just nodded off when he heard about the last sound a sailor wants to hear--the high-pitched squeal of Bliss rubbing over coral. The pitch lowered and became a crunching, grinding, grating sound from hell. And then Bliss stopped.
“Get back here. Now!” Mark yelled from the helm. “The cabin’s filling up. We’ve got to get off!”
Eric looked around. There was a small atoll not far off. They were fucked for sure but he didn’t feel the urgency Mark did to abandon ship. Bliss was high up on a reef and he doubted it was coming off anytime soon. Still water pouring into the cabin was certainly cause for a quickening of one’s pace.
“What the hell happened?” Eric asked when he met Mark at the cabin door.
Mark had already begun throwing whatever he could up from the cabin. “Inflate the life raft and load it up! What happened? You tell me!”
“We ran aground on a fucking reef! What I want to know is, why?”
“Again, you tell me. You were on the bow. You told me to steer to port. Ten minutes later, we’re fucked!”
“I didn’t…” Eric thought back to his last words. “Oh for fuck’s sake! I said ‘Poor Mark’ Poor! Poor! Not, ‘Port.”
It had taken them several days, but they managed to paddle most of the Bliss over (once they had concluded that it would never be sea-worthy again) and had used it to erect a sufficient shelter. Even though the seawater had killed the boat’s power and they couldn’t radio for help, the men were confident at first that they would be rescued. After a few weeks, though, they began to worry that they had sailed too far off their planned route. And when months went by, they gave up all hope.
Neither man would have used the word, but they were lucky that the atoll on which they were now marooned had proven hospitable. The reef was home to plenty of fish and enough rain fell that the men were never without fresh water.
The men’s bickering rarely ceased. “You know who else is pregnant? Your wife. I wonder how long it took her to find another man?” Eric chided, before landing the final blow, “Poor Mark.”