Episode Nineteen – Hut of Refuge
Cam knows he’s dead as he hits the water. The surf is so cold that it knocks the breath from his lungs. He’s barely able to grasp onto the life ring that was sitting on the floor of his sailboat when he set off this morning as he’s pitched off the deck and into the icy water.
But part of him is still in disbelief. Shipwrecks are something that happen to old timey sailors on long voyages. They’re the stuff of The Flying Dutchman and The Mary Celeste. Not something that happens to twenty-five year olds taking their dad’s sailboat out for the day on a Cape vacation in 2021.
And yet, here he is, being tossed around by the waves as he watches the capsized sailboat slowly sink under the water. He’s wearing a lifejacket, if only because his mother insisted before he left the house and he’s not going to upset his mother. That and the life ring are the only things keeping him somewhat afloat.
The ship slides under the surf. If Cam survives this, his dad is going to kill him.
He takes a breath and tries to stay calm. It’s okay, he can see the shore from here. Or at least some strip of land. If Cam can get there, he can survive. He just needs to start swimming.
The wind billows and the waves toss him around, but once he has his goal in mind, he knows he can make it. He just needs to keep pushing toward the rocky little spit of land. It’s less than a mile and he was on the swim team in college. He’ll make it.
And he does. An hour later, Cam staggers to shore, falling to his knees in the rocky sand. He doesn’t recognize where he is, but it doesn’t appear to be a deserted island. So score one for him then.
As he stands up and starts slowly walking up the beach, he notices a small shack up by the dunes. It’s the only sign of life anywhere around him and he hurries towards it, shoving aside the idea that it might be the home of a murderer or something.
If a murderer does live there, he’s both absent and a minimalist. The shack is tiny, with only a small bed and table inside. Cam steps in and feels around for a light switch. Nothing. But there is a small lantern and a box of matches on the table.
The last lingering light of the day is still coming in, despite the heavy clouds of the surprise storm that sank his boat. Cam spots two cabinets and opens one. There’s a towel and a single set of clothes inside. He strips off his clothes and dries off, then puts on the pants and shirt he found. They’re huge on him, but dry and warm.
Warm and dry now, Cam decides to light the lantern. It casts a yellow glow over the shack and for the first time, Cam notices a Bible and a note sitting on the table. He picks up the note.
This is a hut of refuge, the handwritten note says. Rest here and be safe.
Not a murderer’s house then. Unless it’s an extremely crafty murderer. But by now, Cam is too tired, sore, and hungry to care. So instead, he gratefully opens the second cabinet to find a few cans of beans, Ritz crackers, and water bottles.
The beans are disgusting cold, but he’s grateful for them anyway. His phone is long gone in the water so he can’t call anyone for help. And it’s too dark to start walking down the unfamiliar beach again. So he knows that his best course of action is to lie down and sleep. Which he does before his head even hits the pillow.
Fifteen minutes later, Cam opens his eyes to see a set of steel gray eyes looking back at him. The face is young, curious, and gone before he fully wakes up.
He goes back to sleep.
Shortly after that, he awakens to a grizzled laughter and awakens just long enough to see the sea captain of every cartoon he ever watched flickering in the lamp light. He’s gone as Cam blinks.
This time he sleeps for what feels like at least an hour. When he wakes up, a man in a coral pink polo shirt toasts him with a martini, then slowly fades away.
They’re just dreams, Cam tells himself, pulling the rough blanket tighter around himself. I’m traumatized, of course I’m having weird dreams. I just need to make it through the night and I can get help in the morning.
The next time he wakes up, he hears…music? It sounds like sea shanties coming from somewhere very close and he very reluctantly opens his eyes.
They’re all there this time. The young boy, the old sailor, and the prick in the coral. They have their arms around each other in the lamplight and they sing with full voices that stop as they all turn and see him watching.
“He’s awake, then,” the old sailor says.
“Who the hell are you?” Cam snaps, sitting up in bed.
“We’re the ones that didn’t get here,” the boy tells him.
Despite his terror, Cam frowns at him. “What?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Yeah, I’m in a hut on the beach,” Cam replies.
“The hut of refuge,” the old sailor says. “A port of mercy for shipwrecked sailors.”
“But I’m not a-”
“Oh please,” the man in the coral shirt says, sipping his translucent martini. “I would have said the same thing. But a sailboat or a yacht or an old time schooner, they all go down the same.”
“But I made it,” Cam says. “I’m not dead. Am I dead?”
What does it matter? He’s dreaming anyway.
“No, you lived,” the old sailor says with a toothless grin. “Don’t be a fool. You made it to the house of refuge.”
“You made it while we didn’t,” the yacht captain says.
“And that’s worth celebrating,” the boy pipes up.
They start to sing again, a song of salt and brine and days of old. Cam doesn’t know the song, but that doesn’t stop him from singing along as he drifts back off to sleep.
When he wakes, the hut is quiet and the lamp has burned out. But the early morning sunshine is streaming in the dirty window.
He stands up and stretches as he looks out over the quiet ocean. Yesterday’s storm is gone, leaving behind a warm summer morning. His clothes dried overnight, so he quickly removes the battered old clothes he’s wearing and leaves them laying on the neatly-made bed with a quick whisper of thanks to whoever left them there.
Cam opens the door and is greeted by a cool brush of gentle air. He steps out onto the sand and looks around, half expecting to see one or all of his phantom visitors from last night. But the beach is empty.
He starts to walk, the beach silent except for the sound of the crashing waves.