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Amid a vast expanse of bright blue, there was a tiny patch of brighter, vivid orange.

A seagull soared down towards the eye-catching beacon, thinking it might find something worth eating. It got very close, its wings beating a miniscule wind of their own on to the battered face contained within the orange halo, but then the face - the man - made a sound.

His eyes flicked open, his mouth yawned and from it came a kind of short moan, almost like a bark. One arm appeared from below the water, over the side of the orange life jacket, pathetically flicking up into the air to ward off the feathered visitor.

The noise and the feeble gesture were enough to scare away the gull, which flapped once, twice, and was gone. The floating man was left along once more.

His eyes - opened quickly, without thinking, at the noise of the bird - stung. They were dried and sore, blistered around the edges and red inside. He could see very little.

But he could see the sky. It was a good day for sailing. Sunny and warm, but with a decent breeze forcing medium-height clouds overhead, visibly shifting position as he watched.

The sun was not yet very high, nor very strong, but he could sense its rays reflecting off the water around him, seeming brighter than they ought and hurting him. He closed his eyes to shut out the glare, and winced inwardly at the pain this caused him. But no more sounds came from his mouth. It was far too agonising to move his dry, cracked and bleeding lips.

He struggled to think coherently. His mind felt detached, mobile, as though the animal parts that dealt with pain and survival had been assigned some kind of autopilot of their own, set to guide his body to safety without his conscious help. But his thoughts were spinning, spiraling elsewhere.

Where was she? He tried to remember what had happened on the boat. His last memory was of yelling to her through the storm winds: "Hold on! Stay where you are!"

But the power had already failed at that point, and he could hear the sound of pieces of rigging slapping against the mast, metal-against- fibreglass, an artificial, industrial noise. He could also hear the hull splintering below his feet. And he thought - did he? - that he heard a scream.

In the pitch dark, with waves breaking over the stricken boat every 10 seconds, swamping the deck and sluicing down into the cabin, he tried to make his way to her. He tugged himself along by a rail that ran the length of the deck, screwing his eyes up against the rain, the waves and the wind, using his mental map of the yacht as a guide.

But the image of his beloved boat was not the same as the one his hands reported back to him. The rail was twisted, broken. His weight - or the impact of another wave, he wasn't sure - bent it further out of shape and sent him sliding across the deck, further from the cabin entrance.

He thought he could remember another scream - or was it his name being called? There were more horrific sounds. A shocking, painful double- crash both above and below; the mast falling out of its fixings towards the deck, as the outer hull beneath his feet simultaneously cracked into pieces. Everything lurched.

Now the memories became more confused and nightmarish. He thought he remembered seeing the stern - with the boat's name and home port, Neopolitan, Weymouth, painted on it - flying past him, impossibly fast, as he was carried by a wave. He thought he remembered seeing sharp rocks, illuminated by the emergency light on his life jacket, flying in another direction. He thought he felt some agonising pain as his foot struck one of them.

There had been more dreadful noises. The groaning, cracking sounds of the yacht breaking to pieces on the rocks. More screams. And the endless crash of wave upon wave upon wave.

And the seagull. He remembered coming to, with a seagull flapping over his face, snapping open his ruined eyes and seeing its bright yellow eye fixed on him.

It was dawn now, he realised. He must have been in the water for several hours. Without warning, a great sob of terror, despair and sadness broke from his lips. It hurt to move them - it hurt to move anything - but he could not stop himself. He cried, great dry heaves of his chest and deep-throated moans. But no tears. His salt-ravaged eyes were too dried to allow any tears through.

The motion of the waves sent his helpless body bobbing and turning, one way then another. As his grief subsided, he became silent once again and simply lay there, face upturned to the rising sun, arms, legs, and torn foot trailing around him like the tendrils of a jellyfish.

There was no passage of time. He just knew that whenever he managed to open his eyes - or one of them, anyway, as the right eye had almost sealed itself shut - all he saw was sky, wavetops, and the occasional gull overhead.

But after some time - when his blue lips had begun to shake uncontrollably - his brain made a sudden connection. His good eye flicked open, staring straight up, and even his numbed arms responded weakly to his brain's sudden instinctual instruction to survive.

-- Seagulls! Seagulls mean land!

The thought acted like a heating element inserted in his spine. With sudden purpose and determination, he tried to turn himself in the water, and raise his head up. But his chilled body wouldn't respond. His head remained fixed to the top of the life jacket. Not deterred, he feebly wafted his arms through the water in an effort to turn through a circle.

The sun told him of his progress. He could sense it slowly moving behind him, then to one side. And as he turned, he waited every now and then to be lifted up by the action of a wave.

A cliff face loomed. Just a few hundred metres away. Tantalising, teasing. Again, he choked and almost began his crying again, but caught himself and coughed back the emotion.

-- Survive! Swim! Survive!

With the weakest of movements, he turned himself face-down, the life jacket floating up and hitting him in the face, hurting his lips and chapped nose. With both arms he desperately paddled forward, kicking as best he could with one leg. The other leg was only half there - he could not really sense it, nor instruct it to move for him.

He paddled, and kicked, and grunted, and heaved himself towards the land.

There was no passage of time. He could not tell how long he spent wriggling through the ocean. He noticed the rain start again - and tried feebly to catch some droplets in his mouth - and the wind get stronger. The waves grew larger, but this only lifted him higher and gave him a better view of the cliff. As it neared, he thought he saw a thin strip of sand at its base.

A manic laugh hissed through his teeth as he got closer. He felt the waves lifting him, carrying him in towards the beach, towards survival, towards a future.

He felt the exhilaration of winning, of fighting back and winning.

He felt the numbing horror of what he had lost.

He felt the final, strengthened wave lift him from below, felt it push his injured foot against his leg at an odd angle, and even thought he felt a tingle of ecstatic, agonising pain from it.

He felt the wave breaking over his head, tumbling him down in an aquatic somersault, felt the sandy surface of the beach rushing up to meet him.

His head hit the sand at speed, and twisted violently one way, then the other. A breath - or a gasp - hissed out from him. The wave retreated, and left him, like a piece of driftwood, draped across the sand.

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If you've read Upsideclown and old articles here, you get the idea. Submissions are always welcome: We operate a strictly hands-off editorial approach (we won't even correct your spelling). Once submitted, your article goes to the vote by the seven clowns. A majority, and you're in the queue for Friday publications. Go on -- And if you want to know more, hints or clarifications: come ask us in talk.


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