Froth builds on the rocky beach line. Layers over dirt and gravel, over drowned vegetation and puddled water. Over the dead man Alec fights to bury in the waves. Light peeks between heavy clouds, a cruel tease for those that remember the heat of the sun. At nineteen Alec is too young to be one of them.
Small boulders beneath his bare feet shift with a creak and Alec freezes. Hands pressed against the dead man's shoulders, he waits for the surface to give. Alec’s toes curl against slimy rock. Concentrating, he stretches his hearing, intent on catching the subtle noises made by eroding land. The water sighs as it settles deeper into sparse soil and his calves relax as the rocks go steady.
Alec resumes his struggles.
His skin’s battered; rain hammering at the thin layers of flesh protecting his bones and muscles. Pain radiates dully throughout his body. Alec looks down at his damaged skin and wonders how much longer he has. How many more layers until the rain beats him away completely, until the last barrier breaks and his body just, falls apart.
Ignoring the persistent ache of it, he wades further into cloudy liquid, pushing at the floating body in front of him. Waves slap over the man. Salt in the ocean spray stings Alec's eyes. The dead man is bloated with the gasses expanding inside his body and it's difficult to catch the correct current. Bracing himself against the tugging waters, Alec shoves down on the man's stiff shoulders, dunking the body deep. He releases his hold and stumbles back. Retreating to rocky shore Alec whispers a farewell, words lost in the drumming rain as his father's body disappears from sight.
Wind howls outside his shelter. As the land slowly shifts with the ever-changing tides so does his cold den, the area within the three pieces of twisted sheet metal diminishing with each inch the metal sinks until there's just enough room to crawl into and cower. Alec huddles inside, bent over with bare back pressed to the walls, just upright enough to peek through the opening and watch rainbows dance in the downpour.
Dim light sparks through the rain, casting a multitude of tiny rainbows around his shrinking island of boulders and mud. His father claimed that rainbows are a promise, one made long ago after the first life-destroying flood, the streaks of color signs that humankind will be allowed to continue. Proof to the contrary splashes around the island, and not for the first time, Alec's glad he's never bothered to believe his father's ranting.
Talk of rainbow promises always came after his father spent hours dream-speaking about desert heat and sunburned skin, of sweat and air conditioning, of droughts and clear skies. Alec would sit, frowning as he listened to his father drone on about things he's too young to remember or understand. He has only his imagination to fill in the blanks, images ignited through stories told by those unlucky enough to have been born before the world went to water. Unlucky enough to have experienced better.
Pressing a bony shoulder against the soaked floor of the den, Alec ponders the point of promises until his wondering turns to dreams of dry air and burnt flesh.
Distant voices break through his shroud of weak warmth.
Heart seizing, breath locked in his lungs; Alec creeps forward to peer into the foggy drizzle outside. There's banging on the roof above him, and Alec scrambles out of the structure, fearful of collapsing metal. Two men stare at him, appearing unsurprised at his sudden arrival and unconcerned that they've invaded his home. Alec wants to shout at them, to scream and snarl in defense of a home he no longer has the energy to hate. He's the last left on the island. It's to be his deathbed and he doesn't want company. He opens his mouth but his voice is stuck somewhere inside the vicinity of his throat, hiding.
"A walking skeleton. Perfect, just what we need." Rolling red-rimmed eyes, one of the men folds muscled arms over his chest then sighs at what he sees in the other man's expression, "Let this one be, Captain. There's no life in him."
Angered over the man's flippant attitude, Alec grinds his teeth and curses, gaze skittering around for a rock to crack the intruder with. There's a burst of laughter and Alec startles, violence forgotten in favor of alarm. Jerking back when the Captain steps closer, Alec frowns at the man's words. "Oh, there's life enough." The Captain's grin doesn't fade as he addresses Alec. "Don't mind Jensen, he gets cranky when we fail."
Despite the Captain's easy manner, Alec still can't find his voice. Lack of speech doesn't appear to matter to the men however, the pair living in their own moment, separate from him as they exchange a series of fleeting glances. Jensen mutters through the thickening fog, "Suppose we have failed, huh? As non-existent as he is, there can't be food at hand."
Alec's stomach squeezes, a lump of unused organ in the pit of his gut. Fish fled the island's waters two weeks ago; he assumes to seek calmer seas, and what little canned goods he and his father had dried up not long after, leaving them empty and tired. For Alec, hunger is a state that he's been intimate with since birth. Worldwide starvation a fact of life since the third decade of rain and Alec's had plenty of time to learn the art of dismissing bodily needs. His father's body was less adept at handling being without.
The Captain's smooth voice slices through the cold air, “Sorry love, but we can’t hang round much longer. There’s sunlight needs chasing, and we’re the crew to catch it.”
It's only then Alec notices the ship.
A large vessel, it bobs amongst the waves slapping against its sides, dull gray paint blending into both the weeping sky and the temperamental ocean. Unmarked by a name, the ship's presence is a palpable weight against his back, pushing him toward the shoreline. His voice at last slips from his throat to creep through the rain. "Yours? You...you have a ship? A working one?"
The Captain chuckles, "That's right. She's not much to look at, but she keeps us dry. And fed, surprisingly enough."
"Only when we're not failing, Captain." Jensen shakes his head and retreats to the dinghy ported in a rocky crevice.
Fingers clenching at his sides, Alec stutters noise, suddenly desperate to keep the invaders on the island. "What...what do you mean, chasing sunlight?"
The Captain's smile warms Alec's cheeks. "There's been more of it, sunlight. All over the world, reports of it breaking through the clouds to shine on what's left.” Pausing, the Captain leans close, the man's eyes boring into Alec's own. "It’s life, love. A signal that the Age of Drowning is nearly over. And signals, well, signals are meant to be answered."
Excitement pricks at Alec, eases under his skin to lick fire up his spine. "Tell you what, why don't you come aboard and see for yourself?" Eyes stroke up Alec's malnourished frame and the Captain's tone softens. "Sure we can fit you somewhere."
Alec wavers as the Captain spins toward the dinghy, joining Jensen in seven ground-eating strides. Light and warmth retreat with him as chills sweep through Alec, burrowing into his bones until he's trembling. There's a threatening pressure at the back of his eyes and Alec panics. He stumbles to the dinghy and throws himself inside. Staring at the wooden bottom, he ignores the knowing smirk between the two men and instead concentrates on keeping his grip. Alec tips his chin downward and glances at the shrinking island through eyelashes coated in sea salt.
Rainbows dance across the rocks, thin and fleeting, shadowy promises of survival.