So, I found this “writing exercise”:
A plane crashes into the sea. Most of the passengers escape with inflatable lifeboats but they do not board them correctly. Your character ends up on a lifeboat that holds eight people but there are twelve people on it, and it’s sinking. Your character can either throw four people overboard and eight will survive or they will all die except your character, who will get rescued after the others drown. During the scene, the character should agonize over the decision and reveal his or her reasons for the choice that he or she makes.
And decided to go ahead and do it. Just wrote this in like half an hour – I know it is terrible writing, and all grammatically wrong (especially since I never write in first person), and I didn’t follow the prompt exactly, but I still feel like it was a good writing experience.
“We can’t all stay in the boat!” His voice was passionate with fear. My eyes stayed fixed on the wooden boards beneath my feet, afraid to look up– afraid if he saw my eyes he would choose me to be thrown off. Of the 12 people in the sinking lifeboat, I was not the only one who didn’t want to die.
It had started out as an ordinary day. Cold, but beautiful. The sky was a beautiful blue. I had taken an early morning flight – one of those 6 AM flights everyone takes, but nobody likes. There wasn’t much to do in the airport but watch people. It was just close enough to boarding time to not have time to pull out a book, but still a long enough wait to be slightly annoying. Across the row of seats was a family – a real young girl to have four kids. She must have started very young to already have that many – or had them by different dads. All four kids were screaming, in spite of the dad’s efforts to keep them quiet. I knew with my luck I would be placed right next to them in the plane. Then there was the pretty girl sitting next to the window, headphones on and looking so out of it, I wasn’t sure she would hear them when they told us to board the plane. I was never lucky enough to sit next to a pretty girl. Speaking of boarding, there it was. “Zones A and B.” Came out over the loudspeaker. I got up and stood in line. Usually, if you stood near the back of the line, the ticket person didn’t stop you even if you weren’t in zone A or B. And if they did, then all you had to do was tell them you were with the person who had just gone through. It worked every time. I didn’t pretend to be an especially moral person. My mom had often mourned to my dad, wondering how she had managed to raise a son who didn’t see anything wrong with stealing something or lying to get what he wanted. Me, I just figured it was due me. I had worked hard enough in my 23 years – been raised poor, helped dad on the farm – and just because I didn’t have enough money to keep up with everyone who’d been born luckier than me, didn’t mean I didn’t deserve it. I figured so long as I never did anything bad enough to go to prison, I would be all right when it came time to face, as my mom put it, “the wrath of God.” But anyway. All that was earlier today. Now all those little things, those small memories seemed like a decade ago.
The last remnants of the plane were sinking out of sight even as fat dude tried to convince some of us to get out of the boat. I glanced around – careful not to let my eyes go up to a level he could register – there were bodies everywhere. Only half the flight had even survived – most of them were thrashing and screaming in the water, which I could only presume was freezing cold, and then there were the lucky 12 of us who’d gotten on the only life raft that had actually been deployed properly.
“Why don’t you get off, if you are so concerned about our safety?” the pretty girl I had noticed earlier had a temper. But her voice had what seemed to be her desired effect – the fat dude who’d been spouting that the boat was only meant for 8 people sat back down. As if on cue, I saw the water slowly but steadily rising around the edge of the boat.
“Hey – it’s going down!” “It’s sinking!” “Someone do something!” A flurry of panicked voices rose as everyone noticed the same thing I just had.
“Four of you have to get off!” The young mom screamed at everyone else as she hugged her four kids around her. The dad was floating nearby – already dead. I felt a stab of guilt at having survived as I glanced over at him, and saw one of his kids trying to reach out to him before the mom pulled her back.
“I have a family” “I have an elderly mom.” “I am the president of my company!” A flurry of excuses came out of the more verbose victims, while the rest of us cowered in fear of being noticed.
The fat man got up again. “I told you so! Four of you get out!”
“You get out!” another man stood up, his rage almost equivalent to his fear. A vibrant argument broke out over whether or not to just throw people out. It made sense – sacrifice four and save eight – but no one wanted to die.
Suddenly, everything seemed to go into slow motion, as I glanced down again and saw the water rising more rapidly. It’d probably overtake us in about 30 seconds. All of us would die. My eyes scanned the surface of the water. It must be below freezing. It was cold enough in the boat – and all the thrashing, screaming people who had not made it to the boat were no longer moving.
Fear paralyzed my mind and seemed to stop my heart from beating. It became incredibly hard to breathe as I had a sudden realization. 23 years of my life had passed without making much of an influence on anyone. Nor had I expected it to. But this was different. Despite the lack of beating in my heart, my mind had a sudden clarity—I couldn’t, like the men currently arguing, choose to throw someone out – choose to end their life. I had never had such a strong moral conviction as this one, near the end of my life, as I now knew it to be. But nor could I play a part in letting all 12 people die. I couldn’t decide for any of them. I could only decide for myself.
I stood up and looked directly at the fat guy who, I noticed, was about to shove someone else in. I looked him directly in the eyes and said the only thing I ever in my life knew for sure was absolutely right.
“Ending someone else’s life is not your choice to make.”
And without allowing myself to think further, I jumped off the boat. I do not know if anyone followed me. Everything is still in slow motion. I can see the sky – still a beautiful blue – and the sun – so bright for a day so cold. And I can feel the water. It is coming through my clothes, piercing my skin – I don’t know how to swim. But I knew I didn’t know how to swim when I jumped in. In spite of the freezing cold, I know I made the right decision. I only hope someone else makes the right decision too. The water is closing above me – I can no longer breathe – and I give the blue sky one last look.