1st Place 10-13
Stars on the Surface
by Noa Wang
The cold black saltwater clawed the sides of the white sailboat, pushing it back and forth between icy waves. The tar-like sea roared and hissed into the salty wind. It sounded like they were arguing. I slouched lower in my chair in the dusty boat cabin, scowling through the window and out at the grey deck. I saw my mother running around outside, yelling and waving her arms around at no one in particular. The sails were being whipped around viciously by the wind and looked like they were going to be torn to tattered white shreds any moment.
As I glared out of the foggy window, I remembered my friend, Chelsea. She would be in Hawaii right now, I thought bitterly. While she was basking in the flawless sunlight and humming along to her iPod, I got to sit in a plastic chair in a grubby cabin while listening to the sea gnawing the boat into salt-flavoured pulp.
I groaned and slumped even lower in my worn seat. I was so bored; there was nothing to do on this boat. Maybe my mom had something I could do outside, I thought half-heartedly. Anything would be better than sitting here, wasting away in this old cabin. I yawned, stood up, shuffled over to the door and pulled it open.
The wind hit me like a gust of icy sand as soon as I stepped out onto the deck. Shivering, I shakily walked over to the edge of the deck and stared down at the churning black water. The waves threw themselves at the boat, making it rock back and forth. I could feel it, swaying and tipping under my feet like a possessed amusement park ride.
As I watched the sea growl and roar below me, I felt myself falling forwards. I looked down at my feet. They were still planted firmly on the deck of the boat, so why did I feel as if I was moving?
I barely had a second’s warning as the boat tipped and I fell headfirst into the angry water below.
The water hit my back like an icy whip, sending sharp, searing pain all through my body. I squeezed my eyes shut as I felt myself fall beneath the cold sharp waves of the sea. This isn’t happening, I thought desperately. I’m still in the boat cabin, sitting on that beach chair. Everything – the freezing saltwater clawing at my sides, the shadows that seemed to be swallowing me, pulling me down into the darkness -it wasn’t real. How could it be?
I forced my eyes open. Underwater, I could just hear the dull, distant roar of the waves far above me. But I couldn’t see. Fear coiled itself around me like a snake, twisting, squeezing the life out of me…
I snapped my eyes open. No, don’t think about dying. You can swim, can’t you? I told myself angrily.
I turned to look up, and was shocked to see how far the sea had pushed me down. I tried to ignore the pain in my lungs and the pounding in my head, and kicked my legs as hard as I could. But the flickering white stars shining from the surface of the sea never seemed to get any closer.
Suddenly my head broke through the water, scattering water droplets. I gasped and gulped down sharp cold air, but then the churning waves pushed me back under.
I struggled to swim up the surface again, but the sea pulled me deeper underwater. My arms and legs burned like a fire was eating them up from the inside. The back of my head pounded like a huge bass drum and my lungs felt like huge chunks of ice inside of me. The edge of my vision seemed to go black as tiny pale sparks danced around in my eyes.
I stopped swimming and let myself go limp. It was hopeless, the waves were too strong. I would never make it back to the boat. I’m really going to die…
I couldn’t see the stars on the surface anymore, just the darkest, emptiest night sky that I had ever seen. I closed my eyes, and then opened them. There was no difference.
The pain in my limbs was starting to disappear, replaced by a cold, unfeeling numbness. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a large shape penetrate the delicate surface of the sea. Maybe it was a seal, I thought vaguely. Or a shark, coming to finish me off.
The shadowy creature approached with a frightening speed. But as it drew near, I didn’t feel jagged fangs tearing into my back. Instead, firm hands grabbed my shoulders and started dragging me up towards the distant surface of the water.
My eyes closed as I was pulled through the cold sea, towards the glittering lights of the world above. The pain in my limbs had returned but I couldn’t move my fingers. I felt strangely light-headed, as if I was floating among the planets in space rather than through freezing black saltwater. Afraid that I would go unconscious, I tried to pull my eyes open. I couldn’t.
Suddenly, I was hauled out of the sea with a deafening splash, and pushed onto a hard floor. Someone was shouting in my ear, pinching my shoulders. “Stop…” I mumbled. I struggled to say more, but I shuddered and coughed up bitter saltwater. Shivering, I opened my eyes. My family was crowded around me, along with a tall man in a diver’s suit. My parents had tears streaming down their faces, shouting my name. My little brother sat beside them, trying to ask me something, not really knowing what was going on.
“It’s all right,” I managed to mutter. “I’m fine now…”
My mother cried even harder, and pulled me into a tight hug. And I knew that to everyone, even my clueless brother, all that mattered was that I was alive.
All of the short stories I’ve written begin with a single sentence. In the story, “Stars on the Surface,” I had begun with the words at the very end: all that mattered was that I was alive. I thought of this sentence while I was waiting at the hospital emergency room. My grandfather was very sick and no one knew if he was going to make it. Because it’s true: nothing matters more in life than life itself.
– Noa Wang