Elisabeth Kinsey responds to our monthly historical photo prompt with her flash fiction, “Rescue the Perishing.”
“Rescue the Perishing”
Colonel Pike’s Winchester needed cleaning. Now, in the mouth of a devouring and cruel, giant saber-toothed sea lion, he pulled the trigger with a prayer and a memory, in rapid succession, flashing in his mind. Please God, take care of Miriam and Kate. Save the Idaho ranch from ruin. Maybe she can remarry, have more children …
The men had successfully axed at the giant polar bear’s ice shelf to create an island. As the grand figure floated away from their dinghy, frosted wind turned exposed fingers blue.
Soldier Fink shouted, “I’ve got one,” after spearing one of the sea lions through its heart.
The warmth of its deep, red organ (or soul?) sprung up in wiry, herbal flesh through frozen wind, invading nostrils with wild need of survival. The corpse sinking had a slow effect on the other sea lions. As they paused and felt its passing, the men were able to ax at the others’ flesh, a nick here, a cracked tooth there, and eventually they all fell away.
Looking back at their abandoned ship, the ice had broken free and the grand polar bear floated on her island into the distance. The dinghy hosted a motley sight — saber-teeth yanked-in and blood soaked, the crew took stock.
Fink’s stare dropped to Pike’s leg. “Colonel. Your leg. It’ll need a bandage.”
Pike dared not look down but nodded and grasped the one paddle left that wasn’t pulled into the cold depths of the polar sea. “We’ll take turns paddling, except for Rogers,” he called out, omitting the obvious about Rogers’ bloodied hand.
“I’ll start, Colonel.” Carter took the ore. The wood was heavier now with a sheen of icy blood. His whisker icicles shook as he spoke, and with every stroke he would shiver less. In seven strokes, though, a wave pushed them so far into an ice field, their vessel loomed further as they became trapped in islands of jigsaw-puzzled ice. Carter pushed the ore forward, poking at each ice piece and started with a low baritone, “Oh, rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from the sin and the grave …”
Colonel Pike straightened from his hunch and stilled his teeth to sing out, “Weep over the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save …”
Stokes, who had shoved his hands under his armpits, took up his ax and started to chip away, singing on, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save …”
Each month, Alternating Current Press presents an ekphrastic challenge for writers and lovers of history: We feature a different public domain historical photograph or illustration, and ask writers to respond to it. There is no wrong answer, and no set style guidelines. Poetry, prose, hybrid, fiction or non, experimental — Anything goes that has a history bent. The best responses will be published on The Coil two months after each challenge. Check out our homepage for your chance to participate in the current DaguerreoTyped historical ekphrastic challenge, and read all of the past archives here.