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Other "Down The Rabbit Hole" Posts:

2017: Lifeboat
2016: Atrocity Day
2015: Log of the _Blue Oyster_ (this one)
2014: Pile It On
2013: Door to Door Inferno
2012: Future Imperfect
2011: Freedom From Fear: The Home Front
2010: War of Terror: On The Front Line
2009: America Back To Work
2008: nonfiction break "The Power of Nightmares," a censored film about Islamic and Christian fundamentalism
2007: In The Hole, Spectacularly Not Winning
2006: Security & Space
2005: GlobAll War Of Terror

When things got bad, we put to sea.
My stepfather had been a Marine. Or as he put it, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” He liked to keep an ear to world events and listened to the BBC.
We lived in a small suburb of an even smaller tourist town on the central coast of California. During the summers we fished – and although the locals looked down their noses at us, we made enough money fishing to break even. The other nine months of the year, RT worked as a diesel mechanic and made some pretty good money at it.
I just enjoyed school when I was in it, because summers were hell.
So when I got home from school in early May to find the garage full of boxes and bags from a Costco run and the house half-packed, I thought was the most unfair thing in the world. We're going out fishing early?!? Teenagers are like that, you see.
Then I got a better look at the contents of the Costco run.
My stepfather liked to eat “solid” meals. That meant a lot of steak and potatoes. He hated rice – said it reminded him of the War.
So when I saw twelve one hundred pound bags of rice sitting on the garage floor with a tarp underneath, I knew Something Was Up. Beans too, and I hated beans even more than he did.
He handed me the keys to my mom's Pinto, a tiny car.
“Put what you want in the back. Then go to the library and check out books like it's the end of the world. Get back fast.”
It was, you see. I just didn't know that yet.
So I loaded a backpack with the typical stuff I'd be allowed to bring on a trip, plus my PDA and lots of batteries and chargers and the solar panel; then a duffel of clothes; and off to the library.

The small town library was pretty much what you'd suppose it to be. Maybe ten thousand books, a single paid librarian with a handful of genuine volunteers and a few “helpers” variously drafted from the schools and the court to do community service hours.
My library card was limited to twenty-five books. So I selected twenty science fiction books – half of them Heinlein – and thought about another five books.
I've had plenty of time to curse that decision. I had Heinlein ebooks in my PDA's memory and I could have used a lot of books I didn't have.
“Back to Basics” - a Reader's Digest guide to running a farm household.
A farmer's almanac.
A book on maritime weather prediction.
“Guide To Small Engine Repair.”
“Where There Is No Doctor” - a book on sanitation and survival medicine for remote areas.
Then I hit the Discard pile and the books-for-sale area, cleaning them out on science fiction (not hard – 2 books) and various non-fiction titles. By impulse I picked up a battered King James Bible. I'm not very religious. Little did I know I'd be reading from it, quite seriously and with tears running down my cheeks, before I slept that night.
That's when I saw it happen.
A woman climbed over the counter and BIT the bored clerk behind the counter!
Normally I'd do something. I'd get involved. I'm like that.
But when I thought about those hundred pound bags of rice, and what little I'd overheard on the radio (“global pandemic”), and how angry RT would get, I decided to go for the door with my plastic grocery bags of books instead.
The sheriff was there by the time I got to the car.
I heard gunfire as I left the parking lot.

When I got back home, the minivan was loaded to the gills.
RT had manhandled my mom into the passenger seat. She was typically pretty drunk by mid afternoon, and today was no exception.
“Clear the back seat.”
So I did. And RT dragged two large heavy duffels that clanked into the back seat.
“Pop the trunk.”
Cases of ammunition. Lots of cases.
“Drive to the dock. Don't stop for nothing.”
He then reached to his right side, checked something, and I saw the butt of a .45 pistol in his waistband.
Our county in California rarely issues concealed weapons permits. RT had applied and been denied. The deputy had explained that only jewelers and police would get them.
I knew his .45 was unregistered. So my stepfather the Marine was concerned enough to wear a felony on his belt.
He tucked his mechanic's jacket over the bulge and got in the minivan.
Thus we drove – without incident, except for hearing all the sirens – to dockside.
He went down to open up the boat. Blue Oyster, 32' Hatteras, converted for fishing with a bait box on the foredeck and booms on either side.
I got to walk Mom down the dock. Fortunately I'd had a lot of practice handling her drunk. There were things I didn't like RT for. My mom being a lush wasn't one of them. He'd tried to get her off the sauce, he'd sprung for counseling, he'd kept the liquor cabinet locked, he'd overlooked the items going missing and the money disappearing. He'd talked and talked and talked. Just as I had.
Wasn't happening. She was a drunk.
But still my mom.
The next half hour was an endless trundling of the dock cart up and down from the vehicles to the boat.
I noticed that he'd carried the duffel bags down first and loaded two of the shotguns, laying them down in the enclosed cabin where they would be out of sight but quickly accessible.
The bags of rice and beans were last and a cast iron bitch.
A few other people on the docks were doing what we were doing. Loading up. Like going out for start of season, but with a lot more hurry and no gossip and no talking.
RT handed me the car keys.
“Park them both against the far fence and walk back. Quickly now.”
I moved the Pinto first, then the minivan.
I was walking back from the minivan when I saw that RT had cast off and pulling away from the dock, motoring out to sea.
Son. Of. A. Bitch!
My mom was sobering up a little and looking out the back of the cabin towards the parking lot.
RT had all his attention on the harbor entrance and the sea.
I ran right back to the Pinto, started it, and drove full tilt to the rental kayak dock, running up to the startled attendant. Parked in the red zone even.
“Trade! Pinto for a kayak!”
I tossed him the keys. He stared as I ran past him and untied a kayak, careful to lay out the length of painter line and tie the end to my belt. I would need it shortly.
The rental attendant was still staring as I pushed off with a oar, my total equipment. No life jacket.
It took a few minutes to run down the boat, but RT was not looking behind and did not see me approach.
I came alongside on the starboard side and clambered over the side just as we were entering the harbor channel to sea. I turned, untied the kayak from my belt and tied off to the hydraulic winch for the fishing boom.
I heard a CLACK-CLACK of a 12 gauge shotgun chambering a round and did not turn.
“Back over the side, boy.”
Then I heard a second CLACK-CLACK.
“Put. It. Down,” said my mom.
“I'm the captain,” RT growled.
“A captain who's about to run aground. Steer the fucking boat, Ronald, then we talk about my son.”
He put the shotgun down carefully and turned back to the wheel, making a sharp turn and goosing the throttle just in time.
I made sure the kayak was tied off, got a second piece of line and tied it off a little further aft as well. I had a feeling we'd be needing it.
My mom kept the second shotgun in her lap for the next half-hour as we made the turns and went out to sea.
Only when we'd cleared the harbor entire and were well out to sea did anyone speak.
“The boy's useless,” RT said.
“Some people think I'm useless,” she replied.
“You can cook and fuck.” Pause. “When you're sober.”
I wouldn't say that to a woman whose son I'd just tried to abandon, who was not quite holding a loaded gun on me.
But that's RT for you.
“You're less mean when you're drunk,” she retorted
“Less,” he replied.
They were doing it again.
A whole conversation in shorthand. Hundreds of words, hours of screaming, compressed into a few sentences.
“You can't run solo. You have to sleep sometime. And fucking will not be your first priority.”
The threat in her voice was clear as a bell.
“He's a drain on rations. He won't take orders. He gets seasick.”
“Think of him as a part of the boat. Because without him, shortly thereafter you sink or run aground or catch on fire. Unless you were planning on tying me up and keeping me liquored up.” Pause. “And fucking me after I've shit myself.”
He thought about it.
“You keep the boy. I keep the booze. I catch you at the booze, I throw both the booze and the boy overboard. If he's good about it, I'll spot him the kayak and supplies.”
“Deal.”
I shuddered. But despite the breaking swells, I did not at all feel seasick.
“Secure the perishable s below.”
She did.
“Back deck,” he jerked his head at me. “Since you're staying, let's have a little talk after we heave to.”

We were well offshore, drifting in the swells with a sea anchor out to keep us bow-on and the engine cut.
The echoes of VHF radio traffic crackled from the flying bridge updeck. Lots of Maydays. Not much response.
The Coast Guard cutter had whipped past us headed somewhere in a hurry for something.
RT had two bottles of beer with the caps off in one hand. He handed me one.
I handed it back. “The other one, please.”
“Smart kid.”
He handed it over. He'd taken pains to keep a hand free the whole time too.
“So, begin the little talk. I'm the captain of this boat. You and your mom are crew. You do what you're told, when you're told. Back talk is only when we're stable, and I decide when we're stable.”
“Are we stable now?”
“Yes.”
“Well, Skipper, seeing as you tried to abandon me back there, and the only thing keeping me on board is the threat of my mom killing you both in your sleep, you must not think much of me as a human being.”
“Nope.”
“So what the hell? Why be so nice for years, and suddenly you reveal what a total fucking asshole you really are?”
“Because your mom loves you and I love your mom. Because by drinking water you cut down on our survival time by a gallon per day, and your labor is not worth your keep. Because you are the most abrasive little prick and you badly need the shit knocked out of you at MCRD, which is not going to happen now that it's the end of the fucking world.”
You had to know RT to know what he meant.
It was a complement. He thought I would actually make the cut to be a Marine, at least enough to be sent to boot camp.
“But if I am the one to tune you up, you get the wrong message and your mom turns me to cat food. So we have a problem. You'll take orders, I know that. But you do the wrong thing at the wrong time and you do stupid and you think you know everything. So how the fuck do you earn your keep?”
“Keeping you on your toes, Skipper, so you don't fuck up by leaving a piece of your wife on the shore. So I can remind you that the reverse osmosis purifier is rated for two thousand gallons, with two spare membranes also good for the same. Each. And we have two solar stills in the still packed lifeboat on the upper deck, in addition to the three hundred gallon freshwater tank and whatever dew we can collect and whatever fish fluids. Do you really think one hundred days is going to matter compared to one hundred and fifty, when we will run out of diesel long before that? Or did the diesel mechanic forget that we fucking run on diesel? This is not a sailboat!”
RT paused.
“We have full tanks, which is two tanks of one hundred gallons each. We have a range of about 300 nautical miles one way. Not enough for Hawaii, not that I'd want to go there, but enough to tie up at an offshore platform.”
I scoffed, visibly.
“Like we're the only ones who thought of that. Just how long will it take civilization to break down? Long enough for USCG Marauder to not give a shit about an honest to God national security threat? We could be out here for months waiting for your precious End of Days.”
“You believe me. Why?”
“The fucking library. I saw someone get bit.”
“Great.” With that, he immediately turned, got up, went forward and locked me out of the cabin, drawing the .45, gesturing NO with one hand through the cabin windows, and then went downstairs to reason with my mom.
It was beginning to get cold on the back deck in my T-shirt.
So I thought about it, opened an aft deck locker and put on a life jacket.
I crawled forward abovedecks, unstrapped the life raft, tied off the painter to a rail, and threw it overboard when the screaming below decks rose to its predicable crescendo.
It automatically inflated into a upside down spinning top, designed to keep six people alive for a week while going nowhere and doing nothing. I untied the painter, led it after to the kayak, climbed down into same, carefully tied off the lifeboat to the kayak, then untied the kayak from the Blue Oyster.
The two small boats and I started to drift away. I spent the time checking the inventory list of the abandon ship kit in the small inflatable lifeboat.
My memory was correct. No radio. Not that calling would do much good.
Then I heard a single gunshot from below decks.
About fifty feet away now, I saw RT come above deck with a shotgun in his hands.
He looked around frantically, then saw me.
I was still well within range for a clap shot, and a single spray of buckshot would sink the lifeboat. Might take two or three to hole the kayak, but more likely hole me.
He stopped for a minute and put down the shotgun.
“She turned!” he shouted.
“I don't care!” I lied at the top of my lungs.
Flare gun, six cartridges.
“Come on back!” he shouted as we kept drifting off. The Blue Oyster was a much heavier vessel, the kayak and the raft were essentially skidding on the surface of the water, and the wind blew on the life raft enough to make a difference.
I made no reply. I opened its watertight case and loaded the flare gun instead.
I fired a single flare into the air. It sparked and popped.
“What did you do that for?!?”
“My mom!” I cried, but only to myself.
Then I transferred the supplies in the lifeboat to the kayak, carefully and taking my time.
When I looked up, the Blue Oyster was a couple hundred feet off.
Then I heard the second gunshot.
I looked up.
RT was still above decks - but reclined against the ladder in what must have been an incredibly painful position.
I seriously thought about my options. A kayak with sea biscuits and solar stills.
No foul weather gear.
Not an option. I'd go hypothermic in an hour and be dead in three. I was already starting to get wet from salt spray. Soon I'd be soaked. No exposure suit.
So I tied off the life raft to the back of the kayak and did the stupidest thing I've ever done.
I rowed back to the Blue Oyster, taking my time and observing carefully as I approached.
He didn't move.
RT wasn't that good an actor.
I boarded from the bow, expecting at any moment a faceful of buckshot while armed only with a flare gun in my off hand. I still took the time to tie off the kayak. I hoped I'd need it again.
I climbed down the bow hatch, took the last few feet with a jump, and traded up for the fire axe we kept in the bow compartment.
Then I saw my mother's body.
Burns on her blouse. Contact shot with .45 to the center chest.
Blood in her mouth. And on her teeth.
I saw the other shotgun. Moved forward carefully, racked it – ejecting a live round as I did – and dropping the axe.
I moved after, climbing the short companion ladder to the upper cabin. RT hadn't moved.
But I heard gurgling. Nasty tissue hacking gurgling.
So I climbed up on the port cabin seats and looked.
RT's shotgun was in the scuppers. So was the .45. His hands were empty.
So I locked the cabin door, rummaged in the duffel bag for a pistol, made sure it was loaded and I had a spare magazine in the pocket of jeans I'd started the morning with a lifetime ago, and went forward, over the top and aft along the starboard side.
RT's hands were empty and he groaned, “MMM MM.” “MMM MM.”
He had attempted to kill himself with the shotgun. Operative word: attempt.
Instead he had managed to blow his face off, taking off his front jaw and ruining his face and his eyes. Nothing wrong with his ears, though; he'd heard me board and lock the cabin door.
He had a nasty bite on his right arm.
I had the floor.
“Hey, RT. Got a problem. You're not dead yet. My mom is though, I checked. Yeah, she turned. Hey, maybe you were going to turn.”
I made sure he was listening. He had stopped groaning his M's.
“I can't get close enough to you to handle you. You want to die, yes?”
He groaned, a lot. “MMM MM! MMM MM!”
“But after I kill you, I can't dispose of your body. You're almost double my weight. So here's the deal. It's bad but it's the best you get. Better than you offered me.”
I paused. A part of me found his hesitant “MMM” very satisfying.
“Get up and go overboard. Then I'll shoot you. That's the deal. I know it'll hurt like a bastard but that's the best I can do for you.”
He tried. I'll give him that much. He lurched sideways, braced himself with a hand on the ladder and then a hand on the port winch, and collapsed on the edge.
Then I had a thought.
I went forward again, unlocked the cabin door, left it open this time, and put on a surgical mask and gloves from the first aid kit – then a knife we could spare from the galley.
I cut his belt off from behind and pulled his pants down.
I wanted the contents of his pants pockets.
Then I tied a life jacket over him. Type II life jackets are set up that way, specifically so an able bodied crew member can help an injured one.
“OK, going overboard now. Good luck, and thanks for trying to take care of my mom.”
I pushed and pulled and he splashed.
“MMM! MMM!” he cried
I racked the shotgun, making sure the empty hull would land in the boat.
Then I called out, “You're fucked, RT. You didn't get yourself overboard, so I won't shoot you.”
His moans faded in the dying light as we drifted apart.

That was the beginning of my journey.



Ship's Log- Blue Oyster
Documented Vessel
Former homeport of Morro Bay, California
All entries made by Acting Captain Alan Coleman

1615 Left dock to escape contagious outbreak on shore. Crew consisting of Ronald “RT” Martins, captain, and Maria Coleman, first mate.
1625 Alan Coleman, second mate, rejoined crew with kayak.
1730 Cleared harbor mouth.
1700 Drifting four miles offshore with prevailing current north at approx 1 knot with sea anchor deployed from stern.
1705 Maria Coleman took ill and attacked Captain Martins, inflicting a bite on his right arm. In self defense, he killed her with a gunshot wound, .45 caliber slug, in close contact with the chest. Alan Coleman abandoned ship in fear for his life.
1715 Captain Martins injured fatally with a self inflicted gunshot wound to the face with 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.
1730 Alan Coleman reboarded and took control of the ship. Martins' body consigned to the deep.
1745 Maria Coleman's body consigned to the deep.
1800 Started engine and PTO briefly for power and hot water to decontaminate.
1815 Sunset (from tide table).
1845 Shut down engine and PTO. Crew employed about ship scrubbing decks.
1900 Abbreviated divine services read. “And the sea shall give up her dead.”
1915 Dinner. (Leftover Chinese food.)

– “Records of the Fall: Pacific Coast” University of the South, 2050

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