Benny could hear her screaming. Over the waves and the screeching of gulls, Christy's voice rang out. Pumping his arms, Benny fought the current. If he could make it to the parameter dingy then he could orient himself. From there he should be able to see her.
A wave crashed down, hammering him under the water. Something clicked in his inner ear and he wondered if the power of the wave had snapped his neck. He could still feel his fingers, and while his toes had gone numb, he assumed that meant he could still use them. Trying again, he managed to push himself up, breaking the surface into the frigid air. He didn't know which was colder.
Christy cried out again. She sounded closer, but her voice felt more urgent. Kicking his legs, Benny straightened himself in the water and started swimming with purpose. The dingy was twenty, maybe twenty-five yards away. He let his mind wander to how close that was. If he were on solid ground he could close that gap in seconds. It was nothing. A jaunt.
Fifteen yards now. His body began to burn. Part of him enjoyed it, like the acidic burn in his legs at the end of a match. Chasing the ball down the pitch into the corner, either fighting to reclaim it and create an opportunity or fend off attackers until the final whistle. It gave him life. Made him grunt and struggle on even as water smacked like ice into his face.
Five yards. His body felt encased in ice. If he stopped kicking there was no doubt in his mind he would sink to the bottom of the ocean, freeze over, be uncovered a millennia from now; a perfectly preserved specimen from a long-dead race, from a long-forgotten epoch. They'd put him in glass cases all throughout whatever shiny new empire emerged from the frost of this age. A traveling curio for kids to point at and mock. He would be the thing that haunted their dreams, and lurked under their beds at night. If they even slept in beds.
The buoy nearly crushed him. He had been riding a wave, hoping to use its momentum to push him through the final stretch, but he crested too suddenly. And by the time he was able to right him self and look up, the next wave had rolled in and was holding the dingy high above him. A yellow-gray god towering over its subject, holding his life in its non-existent hands. He screamed when it crashed down next to him. He didn't know what he did when the bottom punched through the water like a bullet and hit his leg, snapping the bone, but scream was certainly not the word for it.
He managed to wrap his arms around the beacon. It took him centuries to climb onto it and steady himself. He refused to look at this leg. The muscles twitched and throbbed in discordant rhythm, like he had lost all control and each individual fiber was seizuring.
The scream came again, but this time it sounded faint. He scanned the sea but there was nothing. Head, arms, fingers. Nothing. He tried calling out to her, but his voice failed him. Water surged around him, spraying him with a fine mist. His fingers were numb. He knew they were wrapped around the buoy's struts, but unless he was looking at them he couldn't be sure.
Again he tried shouting Christy's name, this time with more success, but nothing came back to him. He turned to the buoy and tried removing the service panel. His fingers shook violently before him. The sight of them, pale, wrinkled, and curled in an arthritic gnarl sickened him. He was going to die. He was going to freeze to death, slowly, and either be discovered frozen to the buoy or drop into the sea and be fish food for some lucky fish. There would be no posthumous discovery, no museum tour in the year 4028, no photos and theories and speculations about who he had been or how he had lived. He would not be remembered like the lava-caked lovers of Pompeii. He would just be dead and forgotten like the rest of them.
Jabbing at the buoy, the panel popped open and the screen behind it flickered to life. "Yes," he whispered. His voice sounded like a strained squeak, but it ignited a warmth inside his chest that gave him hope. As if the act of living brought live back to him.
Positioning his hand, Benny pointed his rigid pointer finger at the dials. He hoped his hands actually were frozen, that would make this easier. If they touched the keys and went soft, or simply snapped off, then he might as well hurl himself into the water now and end it quickly.
Pressing his finger down, the key responded and hte