Chapter 11: Midnight Plus 7 Hourswritten by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by Hausinge and Sifl-senpai
Kenny wrapped his arms around Butters from behind, resting his chin on Butter's head and looked around. There was a helicopter on the hull of the ship fifty feet away, its rotors spinning noisily. Three ships, a Coast Guard vessel and two smaller fishing boats, were moored nearby.
"We have to hurry," the Greek captain said. "This ship isn't going to be floating much longer. There's room for six of you on the helicopter; the rest will have to go by boat."
"The Rosens should go," Kenny said, looking at Wendy. "And probably you and Cartman should too. Who else?"
"Robin," Jane Shelby said. "He and I—"
"Mom, I'm going to stay here," Robin interrupted her. "Let some of these other people go instead."
James Martin stepped forward. "I'd like to take Nonnie out of here," The young woman who was clinging to him appeared nearly catatonic with fright. Robin's mother looked uncertainly at them and then her son again.
"His fingers will be fine, Mrs. Shelby," Wendy said. "Let's let these two go ahead of him."
She reluctantly nodded and put her arm around Robin's shoulder. While six of them made their way to the helicopter, the Captain began herding everyone else to two large inflatable rafts tied up next to the hull of the overturned ship. Two minutes later, both rafts were being paddled toward the Coast Guard ship, Stan and the Captain manning the oars of one raft, Kenny and the other rescuer in the other. They used a rope ladder to climb aboard the Coast Guard vessel and soon they all gathered together near the bow, watching as the two fishing boats drifted closer to the capsized Poseidon in what Mike Rogo announced was going to be "some sort of half-assed salvage operation."
"I hope they don't send anyone inside," Butters said tiredly. "I've seen enough people die to last me a lifetime."
Several crew members began passing out blankets and bottled water to the survivors. The Captain stepped forward carrying a very large portable phone.
"Your cell phones won't work this far offshore," he said, looking around at them. "But this is a satellite phone; it'll work anywhere. One of you can call your family back home and have them call the rest of your families. If you still have them, your phones should start working in a couple hours."
Stan reached for the proffered phone and looked around at their group. "Why don't I call my mom and have her call the rest of our families?" Just as he was about to begin entering his parents' number, there was a sudden outcry from several people around them.
"There she goes!" Robin shouted, pointing. There was a rush to the railing as the capsized Poseidon's bow abruptly dipped into the nearly calm sea. Her stern slowly rose high into the bright morning sky, her three propellers like enormous fans, as a loud groan issued from her as her superstructure was strained past its limits and everything loose inside fell toward the bow. The two fishing boats had reversed their engines and were backing away from the doomed ship. Stan wondered if anyone was still alive in there, dying before their eyes. The ship was nearly vertical when it began to slip beneath the surface with almost quiet dignity. The sea churned and roiled after the stern finally vanished beneath the water.
Mrs. Shelby detached herself from the railing a minute later and turned to speak to her son. "Robin, why don't you come inside with us now?" She looked at him expectantly.
Robin looked back at her for a moment and then shook his head. "No, Mom. I'm going to stay up here with my friends." He wasn't asking for her permission. "You guys go argue or something, okay? I don't want to hear that right now." He took two steps to stand at the railing alongside Stan, still speaking directly to her. "These guys helped me back there more than you and Dad ever did. I'm going to stay up here with them for a while." He turned his back on her and looked toward the debris-filled oil slick where the Poseidon had been just minutes ago.
Stan watched Robin's mother's eyes fill with tears. "All right, Robin," she said sadly. "Come inside when you want to."
"He'll be fine," Stan told her. "And he'll be right here with us, and when he wants to join you later, one of us will walk him there, okay?"
Once she'd left, Robin leaned his forearms against the railing between Stan and Tweek and stared out at the ocean. Stan cleared his throat and said cautiously, "Robin, I'm pretty sure your mom knows the friends you're hanging out with are a bunch of gay guys."
"I know she does," Robin replied. "I kind of had a talk with her when we were on that raft. She seems okay about it; and I told her I'll never forgive her if she messes up things with me and Pete."
Three hours later as the sun beat down nearly straight overhead, the coast of Greece began to emerge on the horizon in front of them. The captain approached them and said, "You should be able to use your cell phones now."
Tweek reached into the pocket of his ruined tux, surprised that his phone was even still there. He pulled it out and opened it, saw he was indeed getting a signal and was surprised to see that he had 37 texts and 1 voice message, all from C. Tucker. He wanted to hear the voice message first.
He pressed the phone against his head, barely able to hear the voice on the other end over the bad connection and the wind. Craig's voice, sounding distant and broken: "Tweek...I swear to you, if you just come home I'll never drink again. I..."
The message ended. Tweek played it four more times, getting more excited each time, listening for some hidden meaning in those fifteen words and not finding one. He read through his text messages next, each one some variation of call me now, each looking more desperate than the last.
He nervously entered Craig's number into his phone; the international call took quite some time to complete, and when the phone finally began ringing, it was answered immediately.
He closed his eyes. "Craig."
"Oh man, are you okay? I mean..."
"Yeah, I'm fine. We all made it out, all seven of us, about a half hour before the ship went down."
"I heard on the news there were eighteen survivors. Jesus Tweek, I was hoping you were one of them." There was an awkward silence. Craig, whose voice almost never betrayed any kind of emotion, added sadly: "You hate me now, don't you?"
Tweek rubbed his eyes. "No, Craig. I don't hate you. But I can't go back to how things were before either."
"Oh Christ, I know it. Tweek, come home to me. I'll stop drinking; I'll...I swear I'm going to fix this, okay? I've been thinking for hours that you might have died believing I didn't care."
Tweek smiled happily, wiping a tear from his eye and suddenly missing his sunglasses.
Craig continued, "If you want me to, I'll check myself into rehab; or whatever I have to do, I'll do it, okay?"
"Okay...ah, I gather we're flying to New York tonight, and then flying back to Colorado tomorrow. We'll talk about it when you get back from your uncle's."
"I have a better idea: How about I meet you in New York and you come to New Hampshire with me for a few days, and we'll fly home together."
Tweek's eyes widened. "You really want us to do that?"
"Of course I do. I have a lot of shit I need to fix with you. Call me when you find out when you'll be getting to New York. Tweek...I can't wait to see you again."
Tweek smiled. "I love you too, Craig. I'll see you tomorrow." He closed his phone and walked back to the rest of the group in time to hear Stan saying into his phone: "It's all right, Mom. I'm fine. We're all okay. I'll call you again when we get to the airport. Yeah, okay...you too. Bye." Stan closed his phone, stared thoughtfully at it for a moment, then walked over to Robin.
"Hey." Robin looked up at him. "It's seven in the morning in New York. Why don't you call Pete and see if he's awake."
Robin's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Really?" He eagerly reached for Stan's phone.
"Sure, man." Stan held the phone out for him, seeing he'd had trouble using it with just one hand. "Here, just go ahead and put in the number." Robin punched ten numbers into the keypad with his left hand, and Stan handed him his phone and went to sit down next to Kyle and Kenny. Butters was sleeping with his head on Kenny's shoulder.
"That was really nice, Stan," Kyle said.
"I had to, dude. You know?"
"Pete!" Robin said happily into Stan's phone. "Yeah! I'm okay! Well...I have two broken fingers and I have to go to the hospital and get a cast—" His eyes locked with Stan's. "Yeah, it hurts! One of my new friends set it, she's a doctor. I... I'm on a Coast Guard boat. We'll be in Greece in like an hour, and I guess we're all flying home together tonight." Butters was awake now, yawning and rubbing his eyes. Kenny nudged him and caught his eye, gesturing with his chin towards Robin.
Robin suddenly looked embarrassed. "It's really good to hear your voice too, Pete!" He looked at Stan helplessly. Stan made a shooing motion with his hand, and Robin nodded gratefully and walked to the other side of the boat, his voice fading.
"Sweet," Kenny said, looking after him. He looked at Stan and Kyle, who were also watching Robin talking intently into the phone. "I still say it's hard to believe we were ever once that young."
"I sure hope those two are going to be okay," Butters sighed.
Robin came back ten minutes later, walking slowly and carrying Stan's phone. He sat down next to Stan, giving the phone back after a long moment. "When we were saying goodbye," Robin said in a low voice. "Neither of us wanted to hang up. We just kept saying, 'okay bye, see you soon', back and forth to each other. He finally said 'I love you man' and hung up." Robin stared off toward the horizon. "He's going to meet me at the airport! He said he didn't care if he has to skip school, or hitchhike...he said he'd be there. And he said he wants to be the first person to sign my cast." Robin smiled. "But I told him he'd have to be the eighth. I want you guys to sign it on the plane tonight."
Nine hours later when the eighteen of them were on board a commercial jetliner the cruise ship company had chartered for the flight to New York, Robin filled his cast with signatures from all the survivors, leaving a large area on the cast next to his wrist clear for Pete to sign.
EPILOGUE - Midnight Plus 6 Years
Like they did every December 31st, the seven survivors of the Poseidon disaster gathered together at Butters' and Kenny's house. They'd quit 'celebrating' the arrival of the New Year, and instead got together to reminisce about how they'd all almost died on this night. Kyle had thought this might go on for a year or two, but now that it's been six, he'd begun to accept that this was going to be a regular fixture in their lives, at least for a while.
Craig was the only outsider they allowed into this gathering. He and Tweek were sitting next to each other on one of the couches having a whispered conversation. Tweek was drinking coffee from Kenny's skull and roses beer stein; Craig had a can of Mountain Dew.
"It's almost midnight," Kenny said, picking up the TV remote. "I guess we could watch the ball drop." It was a rerun from two hours ago on one of the local networks; they gathered around to watch the crowd in Times Square go insane as midnight rolled around. They were quiet as the New Year arrived, but when the crowd began singing Auld Lang Syne, they all sang along, both verses. Tweek and Cartman had taught them the lyrics the first year they'd done this.
At 12:05 the phone rang. "This is sort of late," Kenny said, turning the TV down and getting up to answer the phone. "Hello?" He listened for a moment with a puzzled expression, and then his face suddenly lit up happily. He snapped his fingers, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.
"Robin! Hey, man, how are you?" He listened for another moment, and then interrupted. "Hey, Robin, hang on a second...let me put you on speaker phone, okay? We're all here, all seven of us!" Everyone gathered around Kenny as he flipped a switch on the side of the phone. "There. Now we can all hear you."
"Hey, guys!" The voice was deeper, but there was no doubt that it was Robin's.
"Hey Robin," Stan replied first.
Without a pause came the same voice: "Hey Stan!"
"Hi Robin," Wendy said. "How's your hand doing?"
"Hi Wendy...or is that Dr. Testaburger? It's great now; it's like nothing ever happened to it."
"That's wonderful to hear, Robin. And you can call me Wendy...or Dr. Cartman."
Robin laughed. "So you and Eric...?"
"Hey Robin," Cartman interrupted. "Yeah, we figured if we could survive being in a shipwreck together, we'd probably survive being married to each other too." He put one of his huge hands around her waist and pulled her to him.
The other Poseidon survivors took turns saying hello. Once they'd made their way around the room, Craig deadpanned: "Hey Robin."
From the phone: "Uh..." They could hear laughter on the other end, coming from two different people. "Who's that?"
"This is Craig Tucker."
"Oh...hey Craig! So you and Tweek are still..." Robin's voice trailed off.
"Yeah. Me and Tweek are still." Tweek was standing behind Craig and nuzzled his neck happily.
"I'm really glad to hear that." The sincerity in his voice shined through, even though the tinny-sounding speaker. "And hey, there's someone else here, too. Say hi to Pete!"
"Well, hey Pete!" Kenny said. There was a chorus of hellos from everyone in the room.
After a few moments, Robin said, "Hey, I, uh, finally told Pete all about you guys. We're...together now too."
"Aw, that is fucking—sorry—that is awesome, Robin!" Kyle replied. "Um, how long have you two been...?"
"Fifty one days," Robin and Pete both answered, laughing.
"Not that anyone's counting or anything though," Butters said. "Congratulations you two, that is wonderful!"
"Thanks," Pete said, "It is pretty nice." They could hear the smile in his voice. "Hey, we wanted to ask you guys something. Robin and I want to drive out west for a couple weeks this summer after we graduate high school, go hiking and camping a couple days maybe, and neither of us have ever seen real mountains—"
Robin interrupted. "And we looked at your town on the map, and there's lots of mountains there. The thing is, we have to kind of do this on a budget. We were sort of hoping..."
"You want to come stay with us?" Kenny said happily. "Sure! Come stay as long as you want to; we'll show you all the mountains you'd ever want to see."
"Great!" Pete said. "Uh...and I wanted a chance to thank you guys in person for, you know, helping Robin."
"Oh dude, that was our pleasure," Stan said. "You have no idea how happy we are that you two called. We're grinning like a bunch of idiots here; well, all except for Cartman, but he's a heartless sociopath."
"Ey!" Cartman said. "Watch it, hippy!"
They talked for another ten minutes and once they said goodbye and hung up, the four couples stood together looking at the phone. Kyle took one of Stan's hands in both of his.
"Next year...how about we celebrate New Year's...instead of this fucked up anniversary of the disaster we lived through?"
Stan looked around the room and saw that all eyes were on him. He leaned forward to give Kyle a kiss.
"Sounds good to me, dude."
In the movie, after the hole had been cut through the hull and the rescuer called down, "How many of you down there?" James Martin had answered "six." To get from six to eighteen I added the seven people from South Park, Robin's parents...and saved three peoples' lives (four, counting Robin's death in the novel): Reverend Scott, Linda Rogo, and Belle Rosen.
The first time I saw The Poseidon Adventure was when I was 14, and I became rather obsessed with it. Because he was so close to my age, I identified pretty strongly with the Robin Shelby character. It wasn't until months later that I read the Paul Gallico novel, and it was my first major experience with a movie being very different than the book it was based on. I took Robin's death in the novel pretty hard...and the opportunity to write this story 40 years later sort of became a way to set something right with the universe. I figured while I was in there I would save a few more, so I gave them all happy endings. I just wish I could have saved Mr. Acres too.
Thank you for reading!