A ship sails silently through the sun-gilded waters

A ship sails silently through the sun-gilded waters. Its sails ripple in the wind as the sea ripples around its base. It is large and stalwart, made of a dark, strong wood with a gold plated prow. Its destination is the very tip of the horizon, where the cherry-gold sun peeks its eyes over on its way down to the depths below the visible world.

Aaron awoke with a start. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead and he shook violently, awaking from a dream that escaped him seconds after he awoke. His throat scratched terribly and his eyes watered. He took a moment to wipe off his brow. Then, with a shaky hand, he threw off the covers to his bed and sat on the edge.

Looking down at his lap, he could see he was not in his usual bedtime outfit of boxers and a t-shirt. He wasn't even in his clothes from the night before, as he so often was. Instead, he was clothed in a sickly teal gown that smelled faintly of sterilization, as the room did around him.

"What the…" Taking a groggy look around, he could tell that he was not in his own bedroom, but a hospital. A plastic tube was attached to his naked arm. For the life of him, he didn't know why he was there. Hoping that he was still dreaming, he closed his eyes and reopened them. The bare hospital walls were still there.

He fell back down onto the hospital-issued pillows. How had he gotten here? He strained to think of the events of last night, but they wouldn't come. He rubbed his eyes vigorously.

Memories began to trickle back into his head of the night before. He could remember being alone, in his room, on the floor. He could remember staring up at the ceiling in a daze, a multitude of wavy lines dancing a ritual dance about him. Aaron winced, it hurt to think so.

He remembered a gun.

The ship glides past a smattering of lush and verdant islands. The sand of their beaches glimmers in the sunlight, and flocks of birds weave through the trees that populate them. The ship pays them no heed, instead it sails diligently upon its course to the horizon. By now the cherry-gold sun is but a sliver upon the horizon, and streaks of deep purple have begun to set themselves upon the blue sky.

While he lay in his bed straining to think of what might have put him in a hospital, a dwarfish nurse rapped upon his door. "Mr. Mason," she said softly, "you have a visitor.

"Alright…" he said, a bit out of sorts. Behind the nurse entered the most beautiful woman Aaron had ever met strode in. She was tall and slim, with a crop of flaxen hair that fell neatly down her forehead. She smiled at him.

"Good morning, Aaron," she said.

Oh crap, he thought, I had a date with Shannon last night, didn't I?

"I missed you last night, Aaron. You gave me quite a scare." Aaron faintly remembered her being there last night. He remembered the doorway to room opening, letting in faded ribbons of white light. He remembered her face, swarthed in that light, looking down on him. The image was too blurry to tell whether she was grinning or frowning at him, but he could remember a startled gasp.

"My God, Shannon," he began, "I'm so sorry. I meant to meet you, I'm so, so sorry."

Shannon had been Aaron's girlfriend for nearly a year. He met her, oddly enough, at a party, where they were both smoking marijuana. She looked angelic when he was high, and he suspected as much vice versa. He couldn't quite remember what they did that night, but he awoke in bed with her, a bit sobered up, and like a proper gentleman, asked her out on a date.

It was instant love, one might say. They saw each other quite often, accompanied by the marijuana and tequila, and not long after that, heroin and cocaine. That was one thing Aaron had always liked about Shannon, she wasn't like his other girlfriends, too "concerned" about him because of his drug problems—that was what he craved, someone to share them with. In a drugged state or not, he truly loved her.

The ship has now passed any remnant of land, not even a single albatross has crossed its path. It is all one endless bound of sea, an unwavering panel of glass that the ship passes through with ease. The cherry-gold sun has given way to the filtered night, although its reddish haze still lingers in the air. From here until eternity, the ship is safe on its clear, crystalline waters.

"I forgive you, Aaron. I always do, don't I?"

"Yes, you do," he replied. "And I love you for it."

She grinned feebly. "But Aaron, I want you to know that I'm concerned about you."

Oh God, he thought, there's that word. She's "concerned" for me.

For nearly seven months, Aaron and Shannon's relationship had been one endless fiesta of drugs, alcohol and sex. It was a vibrant lifestyle, although with the partying came screaming, black eyes, and broken beer bottles, both of them were too stoned or too drunk to remember any of them by daylight.

They weren't the only ones who enjoyed it, either. They went to countless parties where such things were partaken of, with others who enjoyed it as much as they did. Aaron could remember awaking with Shannon one morning in a basement downtown, only to find the host of the party, who had fallen asleep with a joint in his mouth, dead as a doornail. It scared him so much that he wouldn't go anywhere with Shannon for nearly a week, that is, until he got a couple of bottles of tequila into him.

They had both gotten laid off from their jobs, which weren't much in the first place. Aaron bagged groceries at a local supermarket, and after not showing up to work for many days, finally showed up, but stoned nearly to the point of death. Shannon, on the other hand, had somehow procured a nice nine to five job that paid little, but more than bagging groceries. She was also better at making up excuses for missing work, so good in fact, that she wasn't fired until they found a couple of empty "Cuervo Gold" bottles and a half-smoked joint in her desk drawer.

"Shannon," her boss had said to her on her last day of work, "I want you to know that we all care about you deeply here." He gave her the business card of a local rehab clinic. "Please take our advice, as friends. Get yourself some help."

Her reply, was simply, "Get off my back, jerkoff." Aaron had thought it a hoot when he had heard about it later. "What do we need them for," he had asked. "We have each other, and that's all we need."

His words soon proved not to be very true, as money got tight and they had a harder time maintaining their vibrant lifestyle. Soon enough they could hardly pay for all the weed, all the crack, all the booze. They sunk deep into a pit of despair, to the brink of suicide. Aaron had actually held a gun to his head once or twice, but had never had the courage to pull the trigger.

He remembered a gun from last night…

As the ship sails on, it soon learns that with the fading from day to night, the sea soon fades from light to dark as well. The eternal pane of glass that it cut through so easily earlier has become a choppy mass of black, writhing as if in horrible pain. A light rain drizzles down from the streaked clouds, and it is painfully obvious that good times are not in store.

"But I'm also concerned for me," Shannon said.

Despite her curt comment, Shannon did seem to take her boss' words to heart. At time she seemed truly interested in visiting a rehab clinic, she had even done so much as mentioning it to Aaron.

"I don't know," she had said to him. "What do we have to lose?"

"Everything," Aaron had said out of pure misery. "Our lives, our money. Who's going to pay for this, Shannon?"

She shrugged. "Our families?"

"Maybe yours will, but mine won't. Not in a million years." She had then suggested that maybe hers would pay for his treatment too, but he sternly refused.

He had never actually believed she'd take the initiative to go to a clinic, but he soon found himself alone all the time, staring at the blackness of his walls in the dark and holding a revolver to his head. Shannon all the while was at the clinic, beyond his grasp. Those were dark lonely night, he cried incessantly, like a little girl almost, for himself, for Shannon.

He loved her, he truly did. He decided, one cold night in his bare bedroom, that, for her, he would quit his dirty habits and become a model citizen. He straightened up, and, borrowing money from his parents (who were delighted in his transformation as well) went and studied to become a car mechanic. Soon, Shannon was out of rehab, and he was cleaned of his drug habits and apprenticing at a local garage.

At least, that's what he had Shannon believe. He still sampled drugs now and then, got drunk, got stoned, but all in the privacy of his own home when she was not there. She seemed very happy in her drug-free life, and he loved her enough to keep her away from the stuff. He wanted everything for her—and her for him.

"Concerned for you, my love?" he asked, his voice dripping saccharinely.

Soon the light rain turns into a full-fledged storm. The ship rocks violently, swaying back and forth on the pinnacles of black sea, nearly tipping over with each motion. The safe, but cowardly thing to do would be to turn back, out of the storm—but no, the ship maintains its course toward the horizon. Besides—it's too deep into the storm to get out now.

She nodded. "I'm afraid I have grave news for you, Aaron."

He grimaced.

Not too long after that, Shannon decided to surprise Aaron at his job by showing up for an impromptu lunch. She arrived, armed with a picnic basket and a smile, Aaron armed with a look of shock and a joint.

"What are you doing?" she asked, her eyes widening.

He had no real answer. He merely looked at her, the thing protruding from his mouth, a bottle in his hand. "I… ah…"

"Is that what I think it is?" Well, of course it was.

"I'm sorry," he had said to her. "It's very hard to cut cold turkey. I'm sorry, babe… don't you ever have the insatiable urge to…"

"Yes," she said without hesitation, taking the joint. She sat down next to him, and grinning, took a very long drag of it, then stuck it back in his mouth. "Speaking of turkey," she said, nonchalantly handing him a sandwich.

And, so it seemed, Aaron and Shannon were up to their old tricks. Every now and then, they'd share a bottle of tequila and a joint. Still, Aaron wasn't forward enough to invite her back to his place to have one of the wild nights they had so enjoyed before, instead, one joint and one bottle were enough. At least, that's what he told himself.

Before long, one joint was not all he was enjoying at home. Soon he found himself deep into intoxication and a drugged stupor, every night of the week. He saw Shannon less and less because of it, although all the time he was deep in his pathetic misery because she wasn't there with him. She was really all he longed for when he took the drugs and drank the alcohol, when ironically, they were the things keeping him from her. He had always assumed that Shannon was doing the exact same thing at home.

So, in the second depressing period of his life, he repeatedly found himself holding a revolver to his head. Nearly every night now, he would load a bullet into his revolver and hold it up to his head. He had told himself repeatedly that he would be better off dead, but he had never quite believed it. He would put it in his mouth, under his throat, but no matter what he tried, he could never pull that trigger.

It made him quite lethargic around Shannon, to the point where she could see the misery in his eyes. "Aaron, dear," she said to him one day, "is everything alright?" All he could do was nod. "Well, I want you to know, that if anything is wrong, you can always come to me. You do know that, don't you?" Again, he could only nod his affirmation.

As he stared down at his hospital gown, memories of a gun came back to him once again…

It is soon apparent that the ship is in serious trouble. The waves have gotten to nearly three times the ship's size, and while it has been lucky so far, it can't hold on for long. The seas roar with a raging fury, howling and clawing at its boards. Soon enough, they are successful, a plank on the bow of the ship snaps, letting in the black seawater.

"Aaron, it's not good for me to see you anymore." His jaw fell to his knees. "It was you that brought me back to drugs, back to alcohol. And that's dangerous, Aaron… you have to realize that I'm out of that part of my life. Now it's obvious that you're not, Aaron. I don't know if you'll ever be, but I hope so, I really do."

He nearly started sobbing. "Shannon! No, please I love you!"

"I know, Aaron, I do."

"No, you don't!" he proclaimed, jumping off of the bed and getting onto his knees, pleadng. "I love you with all of my heart and soul, don't leave me!"

She said very plainly, "do you love me enough to stop using drugs or drinking alcohol?" He was speechless. "I thought so. Until you're ready to get out of this hole you've dug yourself into, you're dangerous. Dangerous to yourself and me."

"Dangerous!" he exclaimed. "How am I dangerous?!"

She looked at him quixotically. "Aaron, do you even remember anything about last night?" He merely stared at her. "Do you remember a gun…"

That board isn't the only one that snaps. As soon as it goes, others start to as well. Soon, the entire bow of the ship is in splinters, the rest soon to follow. The gold nameplate spins, falling into the ocean, never to be seen again. Dark shreds of wood are tossed into the endless sea.

Soon, Aaron stopped seeing Shannon at all. He spent his nights—his days, too—at home with cocaine and beer. He wept uncontrollably, missing her deeply, and confused as to why he couldn't put all of this behind him and merely be with her. It was what he truly longed for, but he felt he could not have it because of some perverse inferiority, so he drowned his sorrows in a sea of drugs and liquor.

That is, until she called him one dark night and said "Aaron, please see me." He accepted gladly. "At the bistro. Seven o'clock, tomorrow night."

Tomorrow night soon slipped into tonight, and tonight, without warning, soon slipped into last night. It was that night—that dark, painful night—that Aaron strained to remember. A gun…

Images came flooding back. He remembered looking up at the ceiling in the middle of that odd ritual dance. He remembered the smell of liquor and urine. He remembered the feeling of something cold against the side of his head. It was a gun, he could remember it now. He had popped a bullet into it hoping to kill himself, but just like all those other nights, he couldn't do it.

It was then that Shannon walked in the door trying to find him, as he had been absent for their date. He could remember her face, looking so angelic as she looked down on him. Then he remembered her trying to wrestle the gun away from him, yelling something that in his stupor he couldn't remember or even recognize.

Oh, God, a shot…

Looking Shannon over, he saw something he had neglected before: Shannon was in a teal hospital gown as well. Her eyes held a deep fatigue, black lines encircling them.

"Oh my God, Shannon…"

She pulled her gown down around her shoulder, showing a patch where a gun wound must have been. "I was very lucky, Aaron," she said. "A little bit lower and you would have struck my heart. Killed me instantly." His eyes were wide with fear and sorrow. "The doctors say I'll be alright—thankfully.

There is no longer a ship. There is only a mass of splinters upon the sea. Some are on the seabed. The cargo, the passengers—all no longer exist, in full. They have been ravaged by the horrid sea, split apart and devoured. Some of the debris floats—the flotsam—the splinters of light wood that always float to the top. Some of the heavier cargo, the gold name plate, other things sink to the bottom—the jetsam. After the wreck, they disappear to the bottom, never to be seen again, lost in the dark, murky depths of the sea. The flotsam, on the other hand, washes onto the shores of a distant island, perhaps to be used for another purpose, kindling perhaps. But the two, the flotsam, the jetsam, shall never meet again, and the good ship shall never again be whole.

"And so you understand that I cannot see you anymore, Aaron. I'm sorry, I really am. If you ever find your way out of this whole, be sure to contact me. I love you." With that, she kissed him on the cheek and exited the hospital room.

He lay on his knees, staring down at the hospital floor. God, how he wished he had his revolver…