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The waves bashed against the sides of the ship as though Neptune himself was trying to sink it. To “Bulgaria”, the sea was a bath, the storm was a baby, and she was a rubber toy in it.
Dasha leaned against the playroom window. The coolness spread through her forehead. She tried to listen to the wind, which was drowned by the children’s shrieks of laughter.
“Hey, Sunshine,” Dasha looked up. Alexander ruffled his little sister’s hair. Dasha didn’t look at all like her brother. He had gentle hazel eyes and a mat of shaggy brown hair. Dasha’s long ginger hair stretched to her shoulders. Her eyes were brilliant blue, and every inch of her face was covered with freckles.
“What’s up?” He asked.
Dasha got up from the chair and jumped on his knee.
“I don’t want to leave home. I don’t want to leave Anna and Sophie!” She broke into quiet sobs. Alexander pressed her protectively to his chest and stroked her carroty locks like he always did when Dasha quarrelled with her friends or cut her knee.
“Everything will be okay, I promise. Daddy has a job in Kazan. We’ll have a lot of money and get a nice big house. Yes?”
“With a pony?” Dasha said hopefully.
“We’ll see,” He stroked her head. “Will you perform in the show tonight?” Alexander asked. Dasha shook her head, her cheeks flushing.
“Em..., excuse me,” Alexander said indignantly. “And who wanted to be an actress?” He raised one eyebrow. And Dasha giggled.
“Come on Dash, it’ll be fun, and you’ll make your big brother proud!”
“Okay,” Dasha sighed, clambering off his lap.
“The rehearsals should be starting any minute now.” Alexander looked around. “There, see.” He pointed at a large group in the corner. Dasha waddled over, and Alexander watched.
That was when it happened. The boat shook and started heeling very quickly. Water came flooding in ripping the doors off their hinges and shattering the windows. Alexander felt a pain like a thousand knives in his back. He slid across the room plunging into the icy water.
People were scrambling for the exit. A tiny baby, tangled in the soft play net, was screaming for her mother, who was swept away by the sea of fleeing passengers. Alexander wadded towards Dasha who backed into the corner, frightened, kicking up to stay on the surface.
“I’ve got ya, don’t worry.” Alexander pulled her onto his back and swam towards the hole in the wall which had once been an entrance. The soft play was now completely covered by water. A limp body floated on the top. Alexander tore his eyes away from it.
“Everything will be okay,” he whispered, more to himself than to Dasha who lay on his back, sobbing and shivering, staring in terror how her brother’s blood mixed with the water.
By some miracle they managed to get out onto the deck, that is, what was left of it. Alexander staggered to the edge. The waves danced bellow them about twenty feet down.
“We’re going to have to jump, Dasha,” Alexander panted.
“No,” she whined.
“Dasha,” Alexander took his sister down from his back and turned her to face him. “This ship is sinking, and if we don’t jump now, we’ll both die.”
“And never see Mummy and Daddy again?”
Alexander shook his head. He knew that there was a very high chance they wouldn’t see their parents again even if they did jump, but he kept this thought to himself.
Dasha bit her lip and anxiously walked up to the edge. Silver tears were running down her face. The water was gaining on them fast, like a wild animal chasing its prey. If they didn’t move now, it would be too late.
“Please, Dasha.” Alexander put his hand on her shoulder.
Dasha turned around her face tear-stained. She took Alexander’s hand and they jumped.
They hit the water so hard it sent scourging pain through their bodies. They held on to each other and watched “Bulgaria” disappear.
With the last spark of energy Alexander paddled with his little sister clutching at his ankle. Water rushed into his nose and mouth, choking him. He coughed and spluttered. And coughed again.
“Alexander, look!” Dasha pointed at some land nearby.
“Safety, come on, Alexander.”
With one last almighty push Alexander’s feet touched the soft ground. He felt Dasha slide off his back, pulled himself onto the grass with Dasha crouching down beside him.
“We’re safe Alexander, we’re safe,” She held his hand in hers. Dasha’s hands felt warm. Alexander’s white t-shirt was now all red, yet he tried to hide the wounds from Dasha.
His eyes were closing.
“Don’t fall asleep!” Dasha said.
“Tell me a story.”
“Once upon a time there lived a prince and a princess. They went on a voyage to a magical land.” Alexander’s voice turned croaky and quiet as if every syllable he made hurt him. “But their ship was attacked by Neptune. He saw how happy the prince and princess were and got jealous and sunk the ship.” His voice was no more than a whisper, and silver tears trickled down his face. “But the princess stayed strong. They swam to an island. The Brave princess lived and grew more beautiful than ever. But the prince went to a magical land.”
“The one they were heading too?” Dasha asked.
“No,” he said shaking his head.
“Well, it wasn’t very nice for him to leave her,” Dasha said grumpily.
“He didn’t want to, Dasha.” Alexander put her face in his hands. “She was his little Sunshine.”