“The Kind of Game You Can Lose” by Sheila Dean

Posted: April 14, 2014 in "Real" Monsters


Occasionally I compose some writing that doesn’t match [or is a remote inverse of] the  hotly promoted, unending, commercial serial conflicts presented in modern media.  What I present here is short, sweet and a punctual end to conflict in story. Whatever criticism may come, I write vignettes to satisfy my own sense of a moral assertion in the form of a short fictional outcome.  I am compelled to do this or simply go insane. This is my simplistic interpretation of what it would be like to be lost at sea with a Fabian ivory tower analyst. – Sheila Dean


The Kind of Game You Can Lose


A skipper off the coast of a Pacific shore was caught off guard by a oncoming storm.   There were 15 people on board at the time of the onset of the storm.  Five of the crew were immediately swept overboard and drowned in the siege of cold waves. The power was cut off.  In efforts to see, someone lit a candle. The boat buckled under the weight of another enormous wave sending the candle, like a projectile sent from hell, into a pile of papers. The boat exploded in flames within minutes.

An announcement was made the boat was to be abandoned in the midst of this catastrophic storm.  Seven made it to the life boat.  No one knew how long it took for the storm to subside.  Minutes seemed like hours.  Most all were cold, half-drowned and certainly at a loss for words.

The storm pushed the boat into unknown territory. For days no one spoke.  There were often sounds of sniffles, some crying, coughing, and sneezing.  They were alive, pushed, disoriented and adrift in the unknown.

One original crewmember pulled his memories together of the anatomy of the lifeboat and moved to the back of the boat.  There he found cans of food and bottled water.  He checked his compass for direction.  He then stood, finally, to break the silence.

He said, “There is water and food on this boat. Please drink some fresh water.”  He passed out the water quickly everyone in the boat.

“My name is Marvin, remember? We are headed North, northeast.”   In a few minutes it was gathered that no one had a working cellphone and no one truly knew where they were.

Marvin was built like an Elk. He had trustworthy eyes that looked like polished onyx.  He cared for everyone on the boat.  He did not know if they were all the family he would ever see for the rest of his life.  So he cherished the lives in his care.

Most everyone on board was surprised by the kindness and warmed immediately to the prospect of survival contingency planning.   Everyone except for a prominent anthropology scholar, who seemed to question and argue down every decision big or small made towards a survivable outcome.

Finally, one of the passengers, the mother of twins left on shore pulled Marvin aside to share her concerns.  She peered into his face and whispered,”Marvin, I have two boys at home who need me. This man is trying to kill us all,” with concern. “Why is he fighting us all so fiercely for trying to get home alive?”

Marvin eyed the woman and then looked over at the scholar.  The scholar was not an invincible physical force. He weighed “a buck-fifty” by Marvin’s estimate.  Without a doubt he was the smartest man on the boat, but not the kindest.  Everything he had said sounded like the desperate noise of a trapped rat drowning in a cage.

“I can’t answer that for you.  You’ll have to ask him yourself,” said Marvin who made  a decision to wait back and watch the reaction of his existing crew.

The mother approached the scholar and said plainly,”You have found problems with every plan that would lead us home, why is that?”

The scholar suddenly straightened up and said, “We are lost and I do not trust my life with these people.”

The mother reasoned, “Yet, you have water and food and no one wants to harm you here. We all seem to want the same thing. What do you want from us?”

It then dawned on the professor that his experise would not aquit his motive to withdraw from surviving members of the ship.

“The food and water will run out. Then we wait to die. We will eventually vote to kill someone so the others can use them to fish,” the professor snapped.

This surviors scenario had some merit, but not much likelihood, as there were two expert fisherman on-board, condensation traps, flares and essentials.

No one said anything right away but all seeing each other, inched away from the professor.

“I see,” coughed out the mother finally.

Marvin had plenty of experience with desperation and morale as a crew leader.  These were all the people he had left.  He intended to care for everyone.

“Uhh, listen professor, we have what we need.  I suspect we will be out here for 15 days at the most the way we are headed.  If we need to fish, we can fish.  If we need water, we can collect it. So I wouldn’t worry so much.”




The professor stood to his feet shaking with rage and bellowed at the boat passengers,” We are out of food!  We are nearly out of water!  We are still at sea!  Someone will need to be elected soon to die for the rest of us!”

Marvin could see that his friend the professor was very attached to the idea of someone dying so that he could presumably live.  He could see he needed a little attitude adjustment as everyone’s patience and morale was wearing thin with the time spent adrift.

Marvin leaned over to the mother and whispered something to which she nodded. She suddenly said,”Okay, lets try a vote.”

“Who here would like to die today? Please raise your hand,” she said.  A few laughed under their breath and no one raised their hand.

The professor scowled at her saying, “You can’t be that direct! No one wants to die! You have to pick someone based on who has the least value to give to the surviving world!”

The mother tuned out the professor and wisely chose another direction. “Who here would give one finger so we could fish with it, if we were all starving to death at sea?”  5 out of 7 raised their hands.  The mother did not raise her hand, nor did the professor.

“Very revealing,” said Marvin, who could see where this was going.

“Well,” said the mother “It appears that neither you or I are willing to sacrifice for the others, Professor. Shall we kill the rest?” asked the mother, as she winked at Marvin and two other laughing crew members.

With that a fish flew into the boat and was pounced upon promptly by the professor.

Marvin had enough of this selfishness and pulled the fish out of his mouth.  The professor screamed, punching him in the face. Marvin picked the man up by his neck and pitched him overboard, saying, “It appears you have the least worth to the members of this small survivors ship. The council of survivors will find another way, as nothing you have to offer is usable as bait. Good luck to you, professor. Now you can trade flesh on your own perfect terms for all the fish in the sea. It all worked out.”

While all were hungry and thirsty, none complained of the little water they had and the small bites of fish they were given. They were rescued in 3 days. No one bothered speaking of the professor’s death by abandonment.

Why should they?  It was his public policy implemented expertly by those in charge on the survivors ship. Scholars are rarely given public acclaim when their policies are implemented.  He should have been satisfied by the intellectual outcome of his scenario. Someone was sacrificed to the open water to reinforce the surviving greater good of them all.

Upon arrival the accredited professor was an above the fold inclusion of those rescued as “lost at sea”.  Obituaries were written by major science journals opining his loss saying, “The fates were fierce with the professor whose work to save the environment and to suppress population growth across the world was among the most prominent in the field. He works will survive where he did not.”

The mother put down her newspaper, saying, “My sons survived and he did not.”


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