A sailboat with a crew of three goes down in a fierce storm somewhere between South Georgia and Gough Islands in the Southern Seas. All three drown.
Though one of them survives. For these are the rules: If you have been true to those you loved; if you have been true to your word; if you have not been vain; if you have followed you own heart; and if you have placed personal integrity over gain and comfort; then, just like gravity makes sure that what you drop will plummet, you now get to be an albatross.
The ocean extended in all directions like a blue-green sheet of undulating glass; in long, slow swells here where he hovered, vanishing into finer and finer motions toward the horizon where the water finally dropped away to form a perfect circle. The sun not so much glittered upon as glowed within this surface and the long slow waves spoke of recent truce between wind and water.
Yet, though the surface seemed at ease, the wind was not, perhaps heralding another storm, as it steadily poured through him from a distant west.
As he took this in, Lance thought nothing of it at first. This was as it should be. Ocean all around, pale circular horizon far off in every direction. Then it slowly caught up with him, this new perspective, this new sight. He saw all directions at once, and not only horizontally through all points of the compass, but globally too. He was wholly surrounded by watery, airy, weathery world, and as far as he could see: this undulating, windy stillness.
The clear blue sky above held only the occasional tatter of white cloud—busy little remnants not quite sure which way the pack had gone, looking here and there, chased by wind and curiosity—and directly below, the watery side of vast surface, the dark movement reached down and down.
Thoughts began to arrive, one by one, and in no hurry whatever. This was ocean. This was sky. This was wind. These were waves. This was him. Seeing. Thinking. Alive. Still alive. Still alive.
Dead. He was dead then? He had finally let go, lungs full of salty, unbreathable water?
As if fanned by these questions his thoughts, images really, began arriving with more urgency. And he remembered the raft, yellow, slippery, set on leaving him behind, and wondered was it still around. He scanned the surface for it. Again, his vision both curious and familiar, spreading out in all directions like air after an explosion, racing for the circular horizon. But there was no trace of the raft. No yellow anywhere to disrupt the windy stillness.
Nor was there any sign of the boat, of course not—he had seen it go down, had in fact gone down with it. Nor were there any signs of the storm, the rage that now flooded memory with violent spray and brutal wind. Only echo still lingering in these swells.
And of the others? No, no sign, of course not. And he remembered: they didn't even make it off the boat, trapped below when the mast broke and crushed the entryway, Adam with a broken ankle, he had slipped earlier in the day, unable now to move, and Tom with a severed thumb, trying to stanch the bleeding, crying openly from the pain, looking for the morphine with his good hand.
Lance had been at the helm when that final mountain of sea bore down upon them. He had seen it coming from some distance, taller, steeper than its brothers, and had in fact known: this was it, this was definitely it. He had yelled at them to hold on, this one looked bad, had yelled at the top of his lungs, but even so, in that wind he had barely heard himself.