I own nothing of Once Upon a Time.
The moon gave only a faint light that night, not really enough to see by, but Ron didn't dare stop.
The engine had sputtered within hours of his escape.
Three days ago. That had been three days ago.
It was getting hard to remember.
The first night, he had come across a ruined bridge. It was hard to tell, but he thought a car had caught fire. It looked like there had been some kind of explosion. An accident? A desperate attempt to stop them? He couldn't tell. He'd just been grateful for a post he could tie the ship to for the night without any fear of them getting to him, the way they would have been if the bridge was still intact.
The second night, he'd found a sandbar. He wondered if that made him the first sailor in history to be glad to find one.
Exhaustion had granted him a little sleep. Before the nightmares (the memories) woke him.
No such luck tonight. There was no anchor in the small boat. Without one, he didn't dare stop unless he found some kind of mooring in deep water, not if he wanted to live.
He looked at the moon, trying to figure out how far it had moved across the sky since rising. How long before morning? How many hours had he been at this?
He found himself wondering why there wasn't an anchor, since the small boat seemed to have everything else, oars, life jackets, even a bucket for bailing.
He imagined someone, a man, grabbing the anchor as the only weapon available, and running back on land to help someone else, a woman, probably, someone he loved, someone he would die sooner than leave behind . . . .
Whoever had owned the boat had never had a chance to come back for it.
So, Ron tried to stay in deep water, away from the shore he couldn't see. The only way he'd come up with was to use the pole he'd found in the boat beside the oars, and try to check how deep the water was, then row further out if it seemed the water was getting too shallow.
So far, he hadn't touched bottom.
Come daylight, he would at least be able to see where he was going. He wondered how far he had to go to reach the sea, wondered if he would be able to make it across or if the current would carry him out of the channel to the ocean.
But, the worst that could happen out on there was drowning.
How long would it take? Days?
How long could he go without sleep, if he didn't find some place to stop?
If he fell asleep, if the boat drifted to shore . . . .
There were things worse than drowning.
He deserved them, he thought. Screams echoed in his memories. Blood, and death, and madness, and running for his life –
He deserved to die.
No, he had to try. His daughter was out there, somewhere. She was alive. Sane. He owed it to herto try.
He owed it to her, too.
Owed it, he thought, tasting the hypocrisy of those words. As if there was any way to balance that debt. Dead or alive, she could never forgive him – should never forgive him.
Her face haunted his dreams, sometimes dead – horribly dead – sometimes a fury with bleeding eyes coming for justice.
But, this was the only thing he could do to make it up to her.
If his daughter hated him for being alive, he would accept her judgment.
If he lived to see her. If he could keep clear of the shore.
When he closed his eyes, he saw nothing but blood, blood and claws and teeth.
He wanted to live. He laughed harshly. Yes, that was pretty obvious, wasn't it? With what he'd done to save his own skin. The price he'd paid. The price he'd made her pay.
But, if worst came to worst, he wanted to drown before he faced that again.
He'd seen one of them the first day, not long after the motor died when his arms hadn't even begun to ache with rowing. There'd been a small, dirty, starving dog along the shore. Probably someone's spoiled lapdog, back before the world ended.
He'd actually thought of whistling to it, trying to get it to swim out to him. He'd even thought of going in closer to shore if it looked like it would swim to the boat.
Then, one of them leaped out of the shadows. It hadn't even killed the dog before it began devouring it.
He kept rowing.
Drowning was the better death.
That's what he told himself, over and over again through the long night, when he couldn't stop himself from thinking about what lay behind him. He checked the depth, he tried to correct his course with the oars. He hoped to reach the sea.
He wanted to live.
He thought he stood a chance.
When the end came, it wasn't what he expected. Though maybe he should have. Half his prayer was answered.
The ship ran aground.
It made a horrible, grinding noise. Instinctively, he gripped the pole, holding it up as a weapon, wondering how he could have reached land without knowing it (because he was sailing blind in the dark, because he was too tired to realize he was holding the pole wrong or had touched bottom – No, he told himself, stay focused. See where you are. Figure out how you got here later).
But, he hadn't reached the shore. He could see the ripples of the water in front of him, the faint, white edge as they rose into the moonlight (he thought of teeth, fangs, something hungry – or some things – rising up all around him, ready to put an end to him . . . . He tried to clear his mind and concentrate).
He poked at whatever was in front of the boat with the pole. Something solid was in there, just below the water. Not a rock, from the feel of it. He wasn't sure, but he had the impression of metal.
Well, it wouldn't be a boulder left in the middle of a river ships had been going up and down for millennia, would it? Though, come to think of it, sandbars weren't wasting any time reforming. Maybe it was more debris, maybe a sunken ship, maybe a load of cars dumped into the river by people desperate to escape and nothing resembling a plan.
Rather like him.
He tried pushing with the pole, then the heavier oars. Tried going down to the other end of the boat, seeing if the shift in weight helped.
He was stuck here.
Maybe, he thought, with a dark amusement that was close to relief, he was finally going to die.
He remembered the story of An Appointment in Samaria. A man sees Death in the marketplace, and the Grim Reaper looks at him so strangely and so intently that he is certain he means to come for him. He flees to the house of a friend, telling him what has happened. The friend gives him his fastest horse and bids him ride for the city of Samaria, which is so far away, there is no way Death will think to look for him there.
The man takes the horse and rides. Years later, when it is the friend's turn to meet Death, he asks him about that day in the market.
"Oh, yes," Death says. "I remember that day well. I was surprised to see that man there, for I knew I had an appointment to meet him that night in Samaria and could not imagine how he could get there in time."
Ron had been marked for death from the moment he ran, maybe from the moment this insanity began. It had just taken him this long to admit it.
He found he didn't care. He deserved to die. His daughter . . . maybe she'd be better off without him, better off never knowing what her father really was, what he had done – better off in the care of people who would think she deserved sympathy as the child of just another victim.
He wanted to see her again. If he couldn't pay back what he owed where it belonged, he wanted to spend the rest of his life trying to pay it back to her.
He prayed she would be well.
But, now, at last, he could lie back and sleep.
For once, his sleep was deep and dreamless.
Till the claws reached out of the dark water and grabbed him.