Вадим Иванович Кучеренко - The Strait of Death
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|The Strait of Death|
|Вадим Иванович Кучеренко|
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From time immemorial, the Strait of Death has claimed many lives of brave sailors who took risks going through it on their ships in order to shorten the way. One old sailor was the only one who once managed to survive after a shipwreck in this cursed strait. But he had to pay a very high price for his luck. Read a new action-packed adventure story “The Strait of Death” by Vadim Kucherenko, the writer known both in Russia and abroad.
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Вадим Кучеренко The Strait of Death– The sea, the sea, – grumbled an old man. – What do you know about the sea, boy? I mean the real sea, when you can’t even see the coast through the highest scope telescope, when the wind is a hundred knots and the waves are up to the sky… The "boy" who was being scolded by the old sailor might have been not less than thirty-five. And it didn’t seem at all that he hadn't seen the sea – it had left too much of a mark on his face and hands, and had thoroughly tanned his skin with sea salt and squalls. But not a shadow of resentment flickered in his blue, like the sea in clear weather eyes. They were sitting on the open terrace of the tiny wooden one-storied house where the old man lived, and from where they was a wonderful view of the port and the surrounding costal area. A cool breeze had been blowing steadily from the morning, pleasantly refreshing in summer, but very few people would enjoy it by the end of autumn. The old man was sitting ensconced in an old Voltaire-like armchair, cloaked in a warm blanket and resting his head on the back of the armchair, in a way that he was able to reach a bottle of madeira wine that stood on a roughly built lumber table. But he had no need in making efforts – his guest, who had one gifted him that armchair, brought the bottle and from time to time filled the old man’s glass with thick dark-cherry drink, raising himself for a moment from a comfortable old cane chair. The lower was the level of liquid in the bottle, the more talkative the host became. – I’m telling you, Anton, – the old man continued his speech – that you’ll never understand what the Sea is, until you experience a dozen storms, like those when masts are bent almost to the water level, and, at least one shipwreck. Such a shipwreck when you are not saved immediately from the water like some soaked puppy, but being drenched to the skin for a couple of days in a devilish cold plunge pool. Then you will really be able to tell what the sea is, and how much salt it has per a square-mile. The old seawolf himself survived a good deal of sea accidents during his long life, and never was onshore longer than one month at a time. He was very proud of this fact, and mentioned it whenever he could during a talk. Although the word “talk” was not suitable for uncle Egor (he went by that name along the whole coast). He wasn’t keen on listening to people, and every discussion would have been possible only in case he had been the one to talk. Falling that, and the old man became silent, started yawning or simply turned his face to the wall, snoring loudly, showing his brazing disregard. Uncle Egor considered that no one could tell him anything more than he had already known about the sea and seamanship. The other topics were nothing to him. As there was nothing except the sea in his life. – Do you remember how the old walnut-shell “Fortune” was cracked in two parts, virtually like a nutshell, near the Cape of Hope? – In his excitement, the old man wanted to change his position in the armchair in order to be able to gesture with his arms, and Anton helped him by putting a pillow behind his back. Uncle Egor impatiently pushed away caring hands and continued. – It was made of wood and as light as a feather, both of her halves were getting out from the sea for a long time since, as if they didn’t want to rest in peace. And the whole crew of “Fortune”, starting from a sailor boy up to the boatswain perched there like hens, including the captain himself. It was a laugh! Anton heard about that very first and thus unforgettable shipwreck of the old man so often that he thought that he would be able to see it with his own eyes. But he never mentioned that. – We had been sitting there for two days until a passing boat took us aboard, – the old man became silent for a moment, as the story was over. But it wasn’t typical for him to drop the leading role in the talk, and having finished another glass given to him, he immediately started a new story. – But what was that? Was it really a shipwreck? As if, pah! There were a lot of us – young fellows having fun as if we’ve had too much rum, and weren’t going be fish food soon. It is known that when you have buddies by your side, death is not scary at all. When you are alone – that’s when real fear comes, especially at night. I remember being washed away from the "Infanta" deck during the storm, don't remember how. The wave swallowed the ship and dragged me with it, hitting me with such force that I got knocked out. I woke up in the sea, holding a life savior. I still don’t know where it came from. Thrown around like a fishing buoy in the dark, swallowing mouthfuls of salt water. And then suddenly the sea became still, and the water began to glow as far as the eye could see, as if it was set on fire from the depth, and the flame reflected on the surface. I have never seen such a beauty, but the fascination was short-lived. I felt someone soft touching my leg as if it was a puppy. “What if it bites me”? And I can’t risk screaming. Who knows what could come out from the depths and what for? So I waited till morning when "Infanta" rescued me, I nearly died from a heart attack. God bless the captain. He was a good man, always taking care of his crew. Nowadays you can’t find a man like him. I was young, didn’t know much about the sea: is it kind or cruel.. Now I would not have been so much frightened, of course… The old man began to grunt, sniff and turned in his chair as if he tried to get up. But he was soon exhausted and fell back on the pillow again. His illness was called aging, and uncle Egor had no strength to fight with it. But he refused to give up and often repeated: "Once I go to see one more – then I’ll lower my sails for good." But he was the only one who still believed in it. Having spent most of the time at sea he never got a chance to start a family. As he would sometime say: “I am married to the sea, but it can’t give me children”. However, there was one girl who he used to like, but she wouldn’t wait for him and got married to a longshoreman. The profession is not as romantic as a sailor, but it’s more appropriate for a family life. Uncle Egor never blamed her because of that. He lived out his final years alone in an old house with a view of the sea on which he had spent almost all of his savings. And the money he had left was just enough not to starve. It was enough for him. Since uncle Egor “brought a ship to anchor” his life lost any meaning. He was in his final days, and if it were not for the cherished dream of sailing one more time, he won’t survive even a week on a shore. Sometimes he was visited by friends from the ship, but yet, less and less often. A distant relative occasionally came to help him to do household work. It could have been a granddaughter of that girl who refused to marry him but who still cared for him and told her descendants to take care of him. Uncle Egor had little knowledge of this and he didn’t want to find out more about this. This was his only connection to the bigger world. Anton listened to uncle Egor all this time, without interrupting him. He knew that when he leaves, the uncle would fall back into his memories of the past. But he took advantage of a short pause and asked: – Uncle Egor, what do you know about the Strait of Death? – Everything, – the old man suddenly got encouraged and was now all ears. – What do you want to know about it? – Was there ever a ship that managed to pass through it during the season of autumn storms? – No, – uncle Egor said confidently. – Not a single one. Never. In all my life – and I, boy, have lived at least three times more than you – I have not heard from anyone about this. All