Sam F. Hutchins is the author of "Not Drowning but Waving" Cycle Six, Intrepidus Ink, June 2024.

Action Adventure

        On the beach, in the darkness, two men handed out life jackets. They gave one of the men in our group instructions on how to turn the engine on. Then they disappeared. Others pulled the dingy out into the water, and we climbed in, waiting for the motor to start. It took several pulls on the cord before the outboard engine croaked to life, and we were propelled away from the sound and sure-footed sands of the beach. 

        We were cramped and stiff in the boat. Waiting was long, so I counted how many were with us: thirty-three, including Mum and me. Most of them were young men, but there were some children and even a pregnant woman. There was another kid my age, at least he looked like a teenager, maybe only twelve, though. He was on his own. People weren’t really talking to each other, just holding on to the safety ropes. 

        Even when the boat began to sink, they still hung on to the ropes, but then they were also shouting at each other, screaming, splashing, clutching their neighbour. Mum pulled me away, swimming. 

        “Maya, we have to float. The coastguards will find us.” 

        She pushed herself onto her back, and we floated side by side, like stars holding hands, and listened to the others go silent one by one. Some tried swimming at first, those who could, but they couldn’t swim for long. Some held on to empty bottles or clothing that floated, but soon the fabrics began to sink. And those clinging on sank too, before resurfacing–airless. Once or twice, a body tapped into us, very gently. Long tendrils wound themselves around the fingers of my hand. 

        “Don’t look,” Mum said, but the sound was worse. 

        Then I wasn’t so sure–the silence was worse. I wished Mum would say something else. She was saving her energy: we had to concentrate on breathing and floating, perhaps for hours. 

        The blackness was so clear that hundreds of stars, maybe even thousands, studded the sky; I decided not to count them. I couldn’t find a shooting star, but the permanence of the universe calmed me. I tried to pierce its depths, thinking of myself as a still, beating heart held between the heavens and the deepness of the water below. Suddenly, there was one: a shooting star. I tugged on Mum’s hand and made a wish. 

        I also tried tugging again on my dud life jacket, but I knew this wouldn’t help. I was so cold–I tried wriggling my toes in my shoes. Why was I still wearing them? 

        There was a faint glow in the sky. It wasn’t where I thought the sun would be, but then I didn’t know where we’d been heading for the last few hours. I didn’t even know if we’d been following the tide or the wind. I was tiring, even as the waves grew bigger. The salty water slopped into my mouth, making me splutter, and I spat it out. I couldn’t feel anything anymore–so cold, I couldn’t even feel Mum’s fingers interlocked with mine. Mum wasn’t speaking.

        A faint vibration in the distance, in the air, picked me up. The noise came closer and the waves jostled. I pulled my arm out of the water and held it against my forehead, against the sun. A helicopter. Breaking my star shape, I threw an arm up and waved for help. The pilot veered away; hadn’t he seen me? Coughing, choking, I tried to lie back again, but it was difficult holding onto Mum’s hand. I didn’t want to wake her. 

        I was floating and thinking: not waving but drowning. I wanted to fall asleep, like Mum, but one of us had to stay awake to look out for the other. I began to dream until shudders jerked me awake, and I opened my eyes wide, thinking, not drowning, but waving. To be found. I gulped in air.

Sam F. Hutchins, Not Waving but Drowning, Cycle Six, Intrepidus Ink, June 2024

Interview With Author Sam F. Hutchins

Intrepidus Ink: This story is immediately intense and riveting. What craft decisions did you make to evoke Maya’s emotions, and too, the reader’s?

Sam F. Hutchins: I thought it important to use Maya’s words and thoughts, and to keep the sentences short. I also wanted the tone of the story to reflect her feelings of isolation and support whilst in the sea (the salty water, her mother for example) – for this I was inspired by the poetry of Stevie Smith. Although it is difficult for Maya to be seen at times, there are points of light in the imagery.

II: The story’s imagery is stunning–from the dark beach to the stars, even Maya’s shoes. That tidbit is devastating yet so effective. Tell us about her shoes and how it shapes our experience.

SFH: Maya’s shoes began as an image of survival: they keep her feet warmish through the water trapped inside. But the shoes also help Maya keep her mind fixed on her survival: she might not be able to move – she has to stay in the star fish position in order to float – but she can still wriggle her toes and look at the stars.

II: Your work is gorgeous! Please share your latest and upcoming projects, and don’t be shy. We love celebrating with authors.

SFH: I have finished my second historical novel, Holding a Wolf by the Ears, the sequel to my first published novel, Boudica’s Daughter. The stories are set in Roman Britannia and show indigenous resistance to the Roman occupier of their lands, and include elements of romance, humour, adventure, and female empowerment. I have also finished a fantasy adventure, The Dry Sea for older children. My next project is about the true story of a Romanian Jewish doctor who worked for the French resistance in Paris during the Second World War. I am seeking a literary agent.

Author Bio

Sam F. Hutchins, author of "Not Waving but Drowning," Cycle Six, Intrepidus Ink, June 2024

Sam F. Hutchins grew up in London to a single, working-class mother and an unknown father, something which motivates her interest in self-identity and the past. She now lives in France, where she teaches English literature and creative writing at Orléans University. She is the author of the historical fiction, Boudica’s Daughter and has just finished its sequel, Holding a Wolf by the Ears.

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