“Yeah,” I said, softly cheering myself on. “That’s looking really good.”
Creaking floorboards grew crankier as my brother’s footsteps progressively registered on my ear canal’s uptake.
“What are you doing?” he asked, coming up next to me.
“Shhh..hold on,” I whispered so no more than the ink, quill, and my percolating conscience could hear. “Alright,” I said, triumphantly holding up my handy work at arm’s length and head height to admire it in an alternate light.
I’d just finished rounding off my year at England’s finest prep school, Lamebridge, with a hard earned ‘B+’. Thankfully, my only decent subject had been calligraphy, so I was able to give my ‘D-’ mark in mechanics a nice sprucing. Even my scripted ‘Top Marks’ at the header of my grade report looked pretty proffesoral.
Boregard took hold of the parchment. “Not bad,” he said, puckering his lips. “It could work.”
“‘Course it’ll work. That’s Lamebridge quality right there. Best education a shilling can fetch, eh?” I said, showing Boregard a stupid grin while nudging him in the ribs.
“I even made sure to match the color..Swiped the bottle from Perriwinkle’s office earlier this week..Notice the hint of blood? See?..You can see it right there,” I said, riding the belly of ‘s’ in ‘Top Marks’ with my pinky finger.
“Oh yeah. Yeah, okay,” he said, squinted eyes staring down the bridge of his nose like he was looking through a pair of reading glasses. “How’d you get the old codger out of his office?”
“Hhuh. That was a cinch,” I laughed. “I just gave a five-pence piece to a first year so he’d bend down and pretend to tie his shoes in the courtyard outside Perriwinkle’s window.”
“Yep. That will do it..Sad really,” he declared, brow lowered.
“Yeah well, I’m not here to judge,” I said standing, corking the ink bottle, and walking it over to the stationery station in the corner of the study. “All’s I know is that I’m not gonna get caned like I did last year..Shit, I still have the marks,” I said, my voice taking an underwater tone as I started the ‘shit’ remark. I’d lifted the backside of my shirt and craned my neck to get a look at the brownish-hued lines. The resultant effect was one of a muffled strain.
“Yeah, those still look pretty bad..But come on, Cornelius, your grades were horrible,” he said with a pitying laugh as he lifted his vision from my aft to my eyes.
“Yeah well, I had a lot of..stuff..going on,” I said, looking around the room for inspiration.
“Right. Anyway…Hey, I meant to tell you..I finally got my moccasins,” he said, excitement riding his face as he gave one of his feet a sidelong lift.
“Alright. Congratulations,” I said, squatting. I planted a forearm on the knee with higher altitude. For balance. The hand nonattached to that arm grabbed his lifted leg’s footwear and gave it a subtle stroke.
“Oo, pretty sharp,” I said, my comment contradicting the sensation I felt upon thumb caress.
“Yeah, thanks. And they’re quite comfortable..I’m floating on a cloud of comfort here,” he said dreamily.
“It’s about time, heh,” I laughed, standing. “Didn’t you order those things like a year ago?”
“Yes, I did,” he said, lowering his head to meet the moccasins’ sueden stare. “Maybe the new world is running low on Mocca skins,” he finished with concrete concern plastered to his face.
“Yeah. Tragic..What d’you figure a Mocca is anyway?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a place called Mocha Island..Some kind of animal on the island..Or chocolate. I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “Preacher Daniels has mentioned it before.”
“Oh, well then,” I said, rolling my eyes with a grin. “Where is Mocha Island?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere over in the new world probably.”
“Hm.” It sounded familiar.
Just then I heard a wave of hoof prints ebb up the house’s drive.
“Shit, that’s mom and dad.” I hurriedly grabbed the powdered wig I’d rested on the workbench to my left. I fit it to my head and said, “Okay..It’s showtime.”
An assortment of noises drifted through the front windows as my brother and I stood with feet welded, hands held behind backs, and expressionless faces lifted high.
“Hello hello,” my dad bellowed as he entered our abode.
“Hello, father,” my brother and I returned in stereo.
His heeled shoes pierced the heavy air with increasing potency as he neared. Once he passed the dividing wall between entrance hall and study, a smile cultivated on his lips. “How are you, boys?” he questioned.
“Good,” Boregard started. I followed, a bit slower on the volley.
“Don’t you both look smashing,” he said, gently grabbing Boregard by the collar and futilely straightening the military-precision of Boregard’s school uniform. He moved to me and did the same, followed by a shallow wink and a turn. “So how was term?” he finally asked.
“Good,” we stated in unison. I was a bit quicker on the draw that time.
“Am I correct in assuming you both have your reports for me to review?”
We answered at the same time. “Yes of course,” by Boregard and “Yeah,” by me.
“Well, let’s take a look then, shall we?” he said, planting a pair of square spectacles on his nose-bridge and a contemplative frown on his mouth.
Boregard forwarded his raveled parchment first. My father took the roll with his right hand and slid the ring of ribbon off with his left. Letting the letter unfurl, he tipped his head back and allowed his mouth to fall open. Scanning the document, a satisfactory “Uhuh,” could be heard escaping his split lips with regular interval. After a quick study, he rerolled the parchment and handed it back to my brother without bothering to replace the ribbon ring. Boregard grabbed the report with his right hand, but quickly shifted it to his left once he realized my father had not yet retracted his own right and sought a handshake.
“Well done, son,” my father congratulated as he led his stray hand up to my brother’s shoulder. Once he seemed satisfied with the embrace, he released and shifted to my fore, smile fading from his face. “Well, Cornelius, do you have your report for me?” he asked, buckling his top lip so it looked like he’d stashed a carrot spear between his gums and upper lip.
“Yes, sir,” I said, putting my moistened marks forward. The palms holding it had sprung a leak in anticipation.
Adjustment of his spectacles was the only response given as he accepted my proposition. His inspection of my report was far longer and more deliberate than that of Boregard’s. Little could be read from the expression on his face, but it looked like one of prudence.
“Okay. Very good,” he said, a grin erupting on his face as he handed the review back to me. “Calligraphy could use a bit more work, though,” he critiqued while shaking my hand.
“Yes, sir,” I said, trying to keep my smile within the realm of reasonability. It was difficult. I’m sure if dereigned, it’ve eaten my face whole.
“Well,” he started, turning his back to us and showing a pair of married hands. “Seeing as how you boys did such an excellent job with your studies this term, your mother and I have decided to reward you.”
“Hmm,” Boregard sounded, gratitude spilling from his nodding head.
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
“That’s right..The whole family will be taking a tour of the West Indies..We’ve just picked up your sister from the transport station,” he said with half ‘a glance across his shoulder.
I slighty shifted position, looking past my father’s figure and through the front window to see my sister, Amelie, stepping from our parent’s horse-drawn-carriage.
He continued, “We’re to take an ocean voyaging vessel across the Atlantic for two weeks as of tomorrow. Then, we’ll meet up with a private crew who will proceed to charter us around various areas of the Caribbean Sea.”
My engorged eyes glowed with an eager light. I leaned slightly back, allowing my heels to lift fractions while letting the thought, “Hoh hoh hoh HOwoh,” consumed me.
“That sounds amazing,” Boregard commented.
“Yeah. Really really…”
“Well, you only have yourselves to thank..Those outstanding grades are what allowed it,” he said, letting his eyes find mine and linger. “I’m just glad you pulled through, Cornelius,” he said, patting my shoulder.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Because if you didn’t, you’d be staying back here to help our dear neighbor, Mrs. Wiltstein, finish knitting her death-quilt,” he said, punctuating with another pat and a head-lowered look across his eyebrows.
Liquid panic pumped through my body. Luckily, my father didn’t take note. He’d turned and found a hand to his chin, saying, “Oh that reminds me..I need to send a messenger to the travel agent and give them the green-light on that fifth ticket.”
“Green light? What does that mean?” Boregard wondered aloud.
“It means to proceed..But ya know..,” father pondered a moment with his face upturned, “..I’m not sure where the expression comes from..I suspect it has something to do with the green light of dawn allowing the day to begin.”
“Ah, okay,” Boregard accepted, satisfied.
“Anyway, I’d like you both to come outside and greet your sister. She’s made a long trip, so go easy on ‘er, uh,” he said, seeming to aim the statement at me.
“Of course,” I said with forced innocence.
We followed the ol’ man through the front foyer. Amelie was awkwardly unloading her things from the luggage rack atop the carriage.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Boregard insisted, darting to Amelie’s side and grabbing for the trunk she was struggling with.
“Thanks, Boregard,” she said, permitting him to take control. My father observed with delight on his face and hands on his hips.
“How was your trip?” Boregard asked, grunting as he guided the case to the ground.
“Uhh,” she exhaled quickly, raised a hand to her forehead, said “long,” and briefly laughed.
“Hi, Amelie,” I greeted her back.
She turned to sweetly say, “Hey, Cornelius,” and give me a light hug.
“Long trip, huh?”
“Yeah,” she said with something like concern.
“That’s too bad..But you made it alright,” I smiled.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, looking down to the grounded trunk.
“Thanks,” she said, briefly laughing.
“Boregard, why don’t you bring that into Amelie’s bedroom,” father injected.
“Alright,” he agreed, hoisting the lengthy baggage between both arms and lumbering toward our homestead. The load’s depth disallowed him from extending his leg range to any decent degree. A dancing crossbow came to mind.
“Amelie, Cornelius..what do you say to brewing your ol’ man a nice cup of tea?” my father asked as he edged toward us, lifting an arm apiece to our shoulders. “..while I pick your mother up from the general store.”
“Of course, father.”
He veered off in the direction of the horses and began to disentangle one of ‘em from its reigns. I followed with a quick jog so’s I could run a hand along the runway between the other horse’s eyes. Oddly, just as soothing for the dealer as the recipient it seemed.
“Actually, Cornelius, while your sister’s working on getting that tea sorted why don’t you tend to Vonnegut here,” he said, motioning to the horse I was petting.
“Yeah. No problem,” I said, smiling at the horse, continuing the caress.
My father quickly unloaded a saddle and its bags from below the carriage’s driving perch and fixed them to the back of the horse he was reering to ride. “Alright, I’ll be back shortly,” he called, hefting one leg into the stirrup and heaving the other across horse-back.
He settled in the saddle as I said, “Yeah, okay. See you in a bit,” and attempted a wave. Unsuccessful. He made a soft whistling sound I’d practiced feverishly but couldn’t imitate, tensed his body, and shot off down the dirt road. I watched him ‘til he turned onto the main way, then rekindled my attention to the unprocessed gluestick in my embrace. I carried on stroking its sheen glaze of fur, developing a boner. Once satisfied, I actually gave the horse a hug, barely wrapping my arms around its girthy and awkward neck. I then debound the steed and began walking it over to the stable-house. A superficial conversation consisting of lip-flapping and snorting was exchanged until we made it to the red-painted door.
I swung the brick of wood back from its door-bridging holster and hauled the entryway open. A gust of must escaped, disheveling my hair. I opened the door wider and inled Vonnegut. Inside, I was ensnared by the sensation that a big bail of hay had taken a shit up my nostrils. I wanted to dislike it but found myself guiltily enjoying it. It was a sweet but earthy aroma. As a small smile slid across my lips, I steered the steed to his pen and led him in. Satisfied with the securely fastened latch on his stall, I meandered over to a tin bin hanging on the wall. I lifted the loose lid and fetched a few of its contents. Opening my hand, I tried to flick or pinch as many dead ants from the sugar cubes as possible without losing too much of the prize itself. Content with the content, I held an open palm to Vonnegut’s rubbery lips. As he tongued the sugar from my hand, I re-embraced a boner.
After sliding a moistened palm over my trousers, I gave Vonnegut some nuzzlage behind his left ear. He let out a sound similar to a deck of shuffling cards and feigned licking my arm with an up/side jerk of his head. Thankfully, he’d come to the understanding that many humans don’t particularly enjoy tongue baths. From animals. I gave him one last pat on the jaw and strolled from the stable. Door-locking wooden-brick secure, I began crossing the lawn toward the front awning.
Just as I was about to navigate the stairs I heard, “Cornelius,” from behind me. “How about helping bring some of these supplies in?”
I turned and saw my dad leading a horse which was ferrying my mom and busting saddle bags.
“Yeah, sure,” I said turning and walking to meet with them. Mutiny on the stair-climb mission fresh, I took ranks with the pilfering of saddle bag booty. “Hello, mother,” I said as I reached the steadily approaching trio.
“Hi, Cornelius,” mother returned. My father stopped with a seemingly telepathic telling of the horse to do the same. “How are you?”
“Good..You?” I countered.
“Very well, thank you.” I held my hand up to her. She took it and dismounted with a hop. “Your father just told me how well you did this term..My compliments,” she said, kissing me on the cheek and closing in for a quick cuddle.
“Oh..well…thanks,” I said, sheepishly turning away after she’d disembarked.
“So, as your father told you, we’ll be rewarding you,” she said with a big smile.
“Yeah, that’s what he said. It sounds great. Really great,” I said, nodding. My face turned a delicate shade of red. Not from embarrassment, but from guilt. Either way, I think they took it for the former.
“Well, you deserve it,” she said, sustaining the smile.
I laughed nervously. My complexion deepened in color, and I began rubbing the back of my neck. Luckily guilt and embarrassment spawn from the same family tree. Similarly featured siblings, for sure.
“..So, whadyu get?” I asked, walking to the horse and lifting a saddle-satchel flap.
“Oh..Just some food, toiletries, and a few other things,” she revealed, peering over my shoulder as I rifled through the bags.
“Ah, cool,” I said, yanking a telescoped spyglass from the bag’s bowels. Detracting it, I examined the neighbor’s drawn window curtains. Then I decided to check out the cupola on the horse stables. And finally, grabbed a glance at my dad’s right eye. “Ouwou, I see you,” I chimed in a sing-song fashion.
“Aaaagh,” he groaned, slightly convulsing like he was going into shock.
I lowered the lenses and exchanged a smile, retracting the telescope with the snap of my palm.
“Hey. Careful,” my father warned, his expression morphing immediately. “So how about taking this stuff inside?” he said, motioning to the bags which waited at the horse’s haunches.
“Alright,” I said, putting the telescope back in the bag and untying the knots that held the bag to its leather counterpart.
“Thank you,” my mother offered appreciatively.
“Mmmhm,” I returned. “No problem.”
I was feeling saucy, so I rested that satchel on the ground and made for the one opposite it. Untied, I hoisted the sister satchel over my shoulder and made for the brother. I wouldn’t be able to fit both of ‘em over my shoulders, so I’d have to hold the second at my side. I bent at the knees, grunted, and heaved. Once done I realized it was going to be a task. That second satchel was a heavy son of a bitch. I felt up to the challenge, though. I shuffled across the lawn trying not stir any part of my body above the knees for fear of upsetting the delicate balance.
Once I made it to the porch steps, I thanked god. The three fingers the shoulder satchel was latched to felt like they were about to burst. The pain’d steadily increased from uncomfortable to agonizing pressure to ‘Ow, ow, ow’ kind of acute pain that makes your face/genitals shrivel. Ignoring my newly forming vagina, I mounted the stairs with as little upper-body movement as possible and skimmed into the kitchen.
I rested one bag on the floor and the other on the table with an awkward straight-backed performance. “Aaaaah,” I let escape my vocals. A cool ocean breeze had just played with my face. Through the release I could hear the tinkling of broken glass.
“Mother fucker,” I said, glancing at the trio of constipated bowling pins attached to my hand.
“Good job,” congratulated Amelie.
“Thanks,” I thanked her, pulling items from the satchel that’d uttered whispers of destruction.
Steadily pulling and peering, I emptied the contents. Getting the right light by shifting my head and the bag flap’s position, I discovered the cursed candidate. A jar of pickled pigs’ ears. Gingerly extracting broken glass and pigs’ ears I popped one into my mouth.
“Oh, yeah..Ma an’ da’ go’ pickl’d pig ear’,” I muttered through munching mandibles.
“Really?” Boregard’s interest piqued. He leaned around the bag in search of a better perspective.
“Too bad we won’t be able to enjoy them,” Amelie commented.
“Oh no, thi’ i’ no prob’m,” I said, working through a pig ear as I withdrew another shard of dripping glass from the satchel. After swallowing, I stuck out my tongue to pluck off a few satchel-dregs.
I continued cleansing until all alien objects had been removed. I made sure to pile the pickled pigs’ ears and pieces of glass in separate mounds. Fetching a rubbish bin, I carefully swept the glass in with the edge of my palm. I put the rubbish bin back and landed myself a tin colander. With it I scooped up the slightly soiled pigs’ ears and took them to the welled water-spicket outside. I afforded the pressure-handle a rigorous pumping, gave the tainted goods a thorough once-over under the ensuing stream, and carried them back into the kitchen. Planting them on the table betwixt brother and sister I said, “There. Good as new,” and tossed one into my anticipating mouth.
“Not really..They won’t keep and they probably don’t have any flavor. All the juice has been washed off,” Amelie stated, picking one up and giving it an exploratory sniff.
“Just throw a little salt on there and it’ll be fine,” I suggested with a distorted facial expression. The combination of flavor-lack and newly acquired sponge-like consistency contributed to the snub-born expression.
Amelie answered with rolling eyes. My mom and dad entered.
“Ooh, pigs’ ears,” my dad swooned swooping in to grab one. He tossed one into his mouth and conducted a similar but subdued version of my recent grimace. “Hm..These aren’t exactly..what I remember them tasting like,” he said, crunching.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I accidentally broke the jar they were in, so I had to rinse ‘em off,” I admitted.
“Aha, I see..Well that would do it,” he hastened. “Not much flavor.” He said with near confusion on his face.
“Did you clean up the broken glass?” my mother asked.
“Yeah. I threw it in the bin.”
“Good. Well, I have some old pickle juice. We can let them soak in that to give back a bit of the flavor,” she revealed.
“You keep used pickled juice?” I questioned, chuckling and looking to Boregard in search of shared sentiment. He was looking off and only noticed my stare as I turned back to mother.
“Sure..For situations like this,” she said with eyebrows, mouth corners, and a single palm raised. She walked to the kitchen’s prep area, opened the cupboard above, searched for a second, and removed a jar of what appeared to be the perfect remedy.
“That’s..resourceful,” I laughed.
She returned my amusement with a smile. Placing the jug on the table she siphoned the colandered pig ears into it.
“There. Good as new.”
“Yeah..now,” Amelie agreed looking in my direction.
I didn’t bat an eye.
“So are you kids ready to leave tomorrow?” my father asked rhetorically, knowing full well we weren’t.
“No, not really,” replied Boregard.
“Well, maybe y’all should start packing up. We leave pretty early in the morning.”
“What time?” I curred.
“When the cock crows, we’ll start making way. Hopefully it won’t be long after that,” he said, glancing towards my mother. She was notorious for holding up the show. Boregard and I made her a plaque for Mother’s Day one year. ‘World’s Oh, Most Sweet and Sluggish Mother’ was inscribed on a Maple-wood slab. A handcrafted snail-shell lolly-pop was bonded below.
Amelie gave a smile and sleepy stretch accompanied by a slight, “Eeeh.”
“So why don’t you all get yourselves ready. I made a list of things I thought advisable to bring,” my father finished, handing Boregard a piece of parchment. He accepted it and began studying. Keeping his eyes on the list, he slowly rose.
“Your mother and I have already packed our personal belongings, so we’ll take care of the excess supplies.”
“Alright,” we agreed, ambling to our quarters with the mindset of readification.
“So what kind of stuff is on there?” I directed toward Boregard as we walked.
“Oh, just general stuff,” he cited, looking up. “Here.” He handed me the parchment.
I accepted and read, “Condoms?” aloud.
“What?” asked Amelie, tearing the tally from my fingers.
“Ha, I whas jhoking hu,” I stuttered with laughter. I was always satisfied when pulling one over Amelie. She played the situation off by silently studying without reference to either of our remarks.
We three continued walking, Boregard and I into our shared quarters and Amelie into her solo. Boregard veered to the table in the corner of the room and began quilling notes onto a parchment. I went to my closet and shifted an old trunk. Hoisting myself on top, I reached searching hands to the shelf above view. I finally found what I sought and pulled it down with a medley of clinks and shiffles. Ferrying it to my bed, I admired the durable fabric. I tossed it onto said bed and unfurled the drawstring holding its mouth closed. I peered in to take stock of the potential capacity a relative’s navy-rucksack afforded.
“Mmhm,” I sounded. “This’ll do nicely.”
“What’s that?” Boregard asked, lingering at his scribblings then finally looking up.
“Huh?” I made, turning to him. “Oh, nothing. I was just admiring the spaciousness of Uncle Buck’s rucksack.
“Yeah? Pretty good?”
“Yeah, definitely. I’ll be able to cram quite a bit of shit in here.”
“Oh, good,” Boregard returned, smiling.
He looked back to his parchment and I asked, “What’re you writing?”
“Just a list of things I’m going to bring.”
“Uhuh. Whad’ya got on there?”
“Mostly standard stuff,” he said shaking his head slowly. “Clothes, reading and writing materials, cards, telescope, star chart..”
“Wow, sounds like we’re in for an absolute adventure,” I observed.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” he consented casually.
I started sorting through my clothing, picking and choosing necessary articles. After I’d decided on a solid wardrobe, I began packing the rucksack with haste. Stuffing and stowing my stuff without much thought to organization. I filled roughly half.
“I think that should about do it,” I noted.
“Oh yeah?” Boregard asked, getting a better view of my efforts. “Doesn’t look like you’re bringing much.”
“I’m trying to streamline. I figure there’ll be plenty of opportunity to bring back some random crap..Who knows what kind of novelties we’ll come across on our travels, ya know?”
“Yeah, I agree. That’s good foresight.”
“Thanks,” I muttered while arranging the rucksack to use as a makeshift pillow. I rolled onto the bed, using it. My hands rose into a behind-the-head downside-up triangle and I asked, “So what do you think we’ll find over there?
“I have no idea,” he said, continuing to write. “I’m sure it’ll be interesting, though.” He looked in my direction.
“No argument here..I mean shit, we’re going to the other side of the planet. This’ll be a fair sight different than goin’ to Paris or Barcelona,” I laughed. “..Shit, there’re prob’ly some people that don’t even know this chunk of the world exists.”
“Oooh, this is gonna be awesome,” I finished, giddily.
Father walked in.
“Are y’all all packed up?”
“No. But I won’t be much longer,” Boregard answered.
“Okay..Cornelius, you’re finished?” he questioned, turning to me.
“Yep. Got it all right here,” I said, patting my pillow.
He eyed my meager pack suspiciously. “You’re sure you’ve got everything you need?”
“Yeah, definitely..I don’t need much.”
“Alright..Well, at least that’ll help balance some of your mother and Amelie’s things. I think they’re each bringing their entire clothing collection,” he chuckled. “And hey..if you run out of skivvies, you can always wear theirs,” he said, offering a forwarded hand. “I think they’re bringing a pair for each day we’re abroad.”
“Yipee,” I sounded, sarcastically.
“Anyway, you both better get to bed soon. We’ve got an early wake-up call and I want to get on the road at a decent hour.”
“Do you need any help packing the supplies up?” I offered.
“No, we’re just about finished, but I could use a hand loading the carriage in the morning,” he announced.
“Yeah that’s fine.”
“Alright. Boregard, can you finish packing with the hand candle?” he asked, turning to brosef. “I want to snuff the wall torch so Cornelius can get some sleep.”
“Yeah, that’s no problem.”
“Good,” he said, lifting the glass shield and bringing a bell-shaped snuffer up to the candle’s flame with a resultant “tssssss.”
He bode, “Good night.”
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” he finished, drawing the door closed ‘til only a thin slit of opening remained.
My mind loosened as I let out a sigh and some of the stiffness in my muscles. I didn’t directly fall to sleep. That ill-defined gray area of vivid nighttime day-dreaming swept over me. The realm in which lucidity parallels and even surpasses full-blown REM dreaming, but you can still sense your subastral surroundings. I was behind the helm of the ship we were to passenge, steering it through a variety of maritime perils. A woman drenched in flowing white shawls was clutching my elbow, ouhing/aahing at every effort I made. Eventually my vision engulfed me and I succumbed to a deep slumber.
“Cock-a-doodle-do,” the cock called.
I awoke with a start. My recent circumstances melted away. I reached to silence my cell-phone alarm clock, but caught myself as cognizance flooded in. I rolled back to my former position and moaned, “Nnuuh.”
Trying to remember my dream, I was sure I’d carried more with me. The only thing I could recollect at that point was someone doing a handstand. Face and even body type were a blur.
“Good god, I think that thing gets louder and louder every year,” I discerned.
“What?” Boregard asked clearly.
I didn’t expect him to be listening. “The rooster..It’s louder than I remember it.”
“Oh..yeah..maybe…I don’t know. I don’t really remember.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. It just seems like it.”
I lay in bed, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Sooner than later, my father walked in to break the silence.
“Are you boys up? Come on. Rise and shine,” he said, pulling the window curtains open. “Cornelius, I believe you offered to help load the carriage..Let’s get to it,” he reminded me, walking out.
“Yes, sir,” I said subordinately.
I launched my legs and did a half back-roll off the bed. Thankful I’d slept in my pantaloons, I threw on a shirt and looked for my shoes. I found them and slipped ‘em on with a slight struggle. The material was some sort of bonded leather. Not a lot of give. I put one hand on my bed, leaned, picked up my pillow, shouldered it, and walked out the door. I made it outside and took note of the crisp morning air. I could tell the summer solstice was drawing near ‘cause the crispness licked.
I walked to the carriage stationed afront our homestead. My father was on the roof, securing a crate with ropes. He looked up as I closed in, “Ah, good..Cornelius. There’re still a few more crates in the kitchen, can you fetch them for me?”
“Sure,” I said. I let the pack slip from my shoulder to the ground and turned around. I entered the kitchen and saw about a half dozen sealed crates littering the table and floor. I chose one at random and wrapped around it. My load was maximized with one per shuttle. Once carriageside, I looked up to my father and projected, “What do you want me to do with this thing?”
He turned to me with contemplation gracing his face. “Here..Can you hand it up to me?” He bent down and lowered his hands.
“Mmhere,” I grunted, struggling to hand it up.
“Alright.” He set it down, returned to me, and asked, “How many crates are there?” I half expected him to tack ‘again’ to the end. His heightened tone told me he suspected the answer, he just wanted clarification.
“Uh..six, I think,” I said, trying to mentally place myself in the kitchen to take a look around.
“Okay, okay,” he said, looking to his feet and following the carriage’s rooftop-perimeter. “Can you bring the rest..please?” He elongated the word ‘please.’
“Yeah,” I said, turning.
On my third trip, I found Amelie standing at the kitchen counter.
“Good morning,” I greeted.
She arounded and returned the regards. “Good morning…I’m making some tea. Do you want some?”
“Yeah, that’d be great..thanks,” I said, clutching at another crate.
“Ask dad if he wants one too,” she called to me as I exited.
“Okay,” I countered.
Outside, I projected the crate and a question to my father. “Do you want some tea? Amelie’s making some.”
“Uh..gnn..What kind is it?” he grunted while grabbing the container.
“I have no idea.”
“Sure, I’ll take a cup,” he affirmed, shimmying the crate into place.
“Okay,” I said, dusting my hands for effect and walking back to the house.
Amelie’d already taken the liberty of pouring a triumvirate of steamy teas. I thanked her, grabbed two, made some comment about how good they looked, and shuffled outside. Once carriageside I reached a tea up to my father, making sure to keep my grasp pivoted so the near-scalding liquid wouldn’t spill on the way.
“Thank you,” he thanked me.
“Sure,” I said, leaning against the carriage and beginning to blow on my beverage. I intermittently tasted the waters to find them heated beyond my lip’s liking. That fueled my keeping it cool and continuing to blow.
“Looks like this carriage could use a coat of paint,” I felt drift onto my head from above.
“Yeah? You think so?” I said, turning and inspecting. I took it to the level of circumnavigating the vessel. “I don’t think it looks too bad,” I finally diagnosed, looking up at my dad.
“Yeaha, did you hear what you said?” he asked, laughing. “Not too bad,” emphasizing ‘bad.’ “It’s at least a little bad and we can’t stand for that, Cornelius. This is not a not-too-bad family..This is a great family, so our carriage needs to look great.”
“Yeah, yeah I guess so,” I said, looking off and nodding with a subdued smile.
“..So when we get back, I think we should slather a coat on here,” he said, lightly tapping the carriage top with his toes.
“Yeah, yeah alright,” I shrugged, finding little to argue with. I took a sip and felt the perfectly tempered tea slide down my esophagus.
“What color do you think it should be?” he asked.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” I said, smiling. “What do you think?”
“Well..I think I’d like to paint the body blue and the trimming yellow,” he said through creased brows and analyzing eyes. He looked past his deliberate steps, probably imagining a freshly painted carriage. “How ‘bout helping me out when we get back. I could use an extra hand,” he propositioned.
“Yeah sure,” I shrugged again.
He tilted his head back and drained his cup. Handing it down to me he said, “Here, can you take this back to the kitchen?..And bring out some more crates while you’re at it, would ya.”
“No problem,” I said, bending down and screwing my teacup into the ground. I wanted to give it a nice firm hold so as not to spill in my absence. I went back inside and noticed the three remaining Birches chatting up our kitchen.
“Good morning, Cornelius,” my mother mentioned.
“Good morning,” I smiled back at her. “How are ya?”
“Good,” she answered, sipping on her hand-encased teacup. “How’s the carriage loading going?”
“Yeah, it’s good,” I said, setting a cup in the sink. “Almost finished..Just a couple more crates.”
“Alright, good. Well, in that case I need to get ready,” she said, resting her cup on the table with a muffled clink. The remaining tea absorbed most of the clink’s quality.
My mother walked out of the room as I walked to one of the few crates still sitting on the kitchen floor. I squatted down and picked it up.
“Do you want me to get the other one?” Boregard offered.
He carried his cup to the sink and lowered it. As I exited the kitchen I could hear/feel the shock waves of Boregard crouching to the floor. I moved slowly so he’d be able to catch up.
“So, how’d you sleep?” I asked when he reached me.
“Good. I was pretty tired, so it wasn’t too difficult. You?”
“Yeah, good. I didn’t really wake much or anything…Do you remember your dreams?” I curred.
“Uuh,” he indifferently sighed, tilting his head up. “Yeah, sort of. Not much though..It dealt with my being a squire in training. I was taking a horseback-riding level-progression test and there was a fire. I ditched the test and helped transport spectators to a designated safety zone. I’m not really sure of the specifics, but in the end I was knighted for my valor. I wasn’t even up for a knighthood yet. I was still at first level squire..That was pretty pleasing,” he explained, turning to me.
“Sure. For good reason.”
“Do you remember yours,” he finished, turning back.
“Uh, not really. All I remember is someone doing a handstand..It’s a shame because I remember waking up and having a decent connection with the dreams, but once I tried remembering ‘em, they fizzled,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s what happens. It’s too bad because dreams are so entertaining. It’s like an action novel you’re the center of,” he described.
“I fully agree. You can be the king of Scotland or a lowly garbage burner, but you can be assured some crazy badass shit’ll happen.”
We reached the foot of the carriage and looked up to our dad.
“Do you remember your dreams from last night, father?” my brother asked.
“Uuh, let’s see..I seem to remember something about saving your mother from a dragon. I don’t remember too many details though..Well, wait..I do remember the dragon had two heads and that one was bigger than the other. And your mother was wearing a yellow dress, but that’s about it,” he said, relowering his head and stretching his hands to us.
“Do you remember what color the dragon was?” I asked, holding my crate up.
“Hmm, I think it was a reddish-brown color.” He clutched the container and swung it to the opposite side of the carriage without breaking his form much. He swung back and grabbed my brother’s waiting crate. With a similarly smooth motion, he placed that crate next to mine. “How many more are there?” he asked.
“I think there’re two left,” I answered.
“Perfect,” he observed looking back to the carriage top. “Yeah, I can fit two more right here,” he said to himself looking at and around his feet. “Can y’all go and grab those?”
“Sure,” we stated with synction.
We wandered back.
“Ohp, I just remembered who was doing the handstand in my dream,” I triumphed.
“This girl I had a thing for from school..Her name was Navra..Yeah that’s right it was Navra Hyltren,” I said, nodding.
Boregard mumbled, “Abra cadabra.”
With that, Navra’s clothing vanished. The image in my mental foreground fizzled as I heard sizzling coming from the kitchen. When we entered, I found Amelie grating cheese at the table and my mom standing over a spitting skillet.
“Ah, what’s on the menu?.It smells excellent,” I said, drawing up to my mother.
“Scrambled eggs and toast..Do you want mushrooms in your eggs?” she asked, half turning.
“Alright, can you go and tell your father his eggs will be ready in about ten minutes?”
“Yeah, sure. We have to go take the last two crates out to him anyway,” I said shuffling to one of the remaining crates. I lowered then lifted and followed Boregard to the threshold.
Mother called back, “Boregard, do you want mushrooms in your eggs?”
We trekked back to the carriage, delivered the goods and the message, then headed inside to our waiting breakfast. It was delicious. Our mother’s home-prepared strawberry preserve was an excellent accompaniment to the al dente toast. The eggs were fluffy and filled with an assortment of oddities. And the milk was fresh from the cow’s udders.
After breaking our fast, we were assigned to gathering our odds and ends, aiming to be ready for departure within the hour. I made a superficial sweep of my shared quarters, trying to kick-start an awakening for anything I’d miss. I came to a decisive ‘not really’ and went outside for a smoke.
Walking out to the barn, I focused on the soft rustling my feet made as they passed through the lengthy grass. My favorite smoking spot was a short length of wood jutting from the broadside of the barn. Coming to it, I took a seat. As I nestled in, I pulled the spittoon at my feet fractions closer. My right hand wandered to a back pocket where it found a leather pouch my sister had fashioned from a retired saddle-bag. I opened it and unfastened a briar pipe from the inside flap. Resting the pipe in my lap, I opened the pouch and began packing the pipe’s bowl. I was in the mood for a hefty helping so I filled the pipe to the brim, packing it slightly. Subsequently, I removed a flint rock and a strip of iron. I readjusted my position and began striking the flint toward the pipe. I’d gotten good enough to where I could catch a spark on my second strike.
I quickly brought the pipe to my mouth and leaned back making short draws to ensure a lit load. I could hear crackling and feel warmth on my face as large puffs of smoke drifted skyward. Breaking pace, I pulled a drag deep into my mouth cavity, inhaled a little, and exhaled lazily. Instantly, my posture slackened, my scalp tingled, and my mouth tasted like tires. I was fingering heaven’s padlock.
“Alright, let’s get this show on the road,” I could hear my father call from afar.
My eyes slowly opened and focused. I gingerly repacked my pouch with paraphernalia and stood. The nicotine persuaded my head to continue rising even after I was fully erect. I took a few steps forward and let the world swim toward me. The consistent color strokes of the sky seemed to swirl in a crisp blur. My head rushing delights faded as I reached the house’s front porch.
“You all set to go?” my dad asked as he exited the door.
“Yep. Sure am.”
“Alright then..Here, carry this,” he said, thrusting a large handled-case into my breadbasket.
“No problem,” I accepted.
The walk to the carriage was borderline difficult. The long bulky trunk was designed to be carried with one hand, but its cargo capacity screamed for a two-handed haul. I dealt with the situation by leaning my upper body away and thrusting my ass toward the case to bounce said load against my hip with every step. The setup helped bring my center of gravity back to me. With a display that was neither graceful nor shameful, I made it to the carriage.
While my dad strapped some last minute luggage to the carriage-top and the rest of the family jumped in, I gave our horse, Vonnegut, a few strokes behind the ears. After my father finished packing, I saw him send my mom the ‘one minute’ gesture and jog back to the barn. I patted Vonnegut’s neck a few times and strolled over to the carriage’s entrance. As I was stepping inside, I caught a glimpse of my father walking back, musket nestled in the crook of his arm.
“Okay. Everyone comfortable?” he questioned, peeking his head into the carriage cabin.
A medley of affirmatives was given. After the last had passed, he launched onto the driver’s perch. I heard two knocks permeate through the roof. Then, a muffled whistle caused the carriage to softly lurch. We were on our way.
I hadn’t noticed how tired I was ‘til we were moving. The gentle rumbling of the vessel had sedating effects, so I shut my eyes and slowly slipped into the warm embrace of alpha waves. A vibrant picture show consisting of vibrating-color explosions swept over me. An indistinguishable amount of time lapsed before I felt the carriage slow to a stop.
“What’s going on?” I asked groggily.
“I don’t know,” my mother returned while pressing her eye against the glass of the carriage door. “It looks like a horse may’ve lost a shoe up ahead.”
“Oh yeah?” I looked out the window I’d been leaning against, but saw nothing more than thick timberlands catching up to our cart. We stopped and I could hear/feel my father jump from the driving station. The door opened and his head emerged.
“I’m going to see what’s going on here,” he said, nursing his musket. A look of calm-alert graced his face. “Sit tight..I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Okay,” said my mother.
He shut the door. The sounds of crunching leaves faded into the distance until they were exchanged for muffled voices. Some sort of conversation carried on for a matter of minutes. I lost interest and began to drift back into a submerged state as the remaining members of my family talked about the potential for what was happening outside.
Just as I was about to slip into a steady stream of surrealism a loud gunshot rattled the air. I sprung to a vertical position, eyes wide. Another gunshot followed and my head jerked on its swivel toward the door. I looked to my mom. Her mouth was open and I could hear air slowly escaping. I turned to my brother with questioning eyes. His head motioned in the direction of the sounds and I nodded. We both stood to a stoop and made our ways to opposite doors. Since my mom was across from me, she grabbed my hand and begged that I, “Be careful.” I squeezed it and turned the door’s latch with the alternate grasp.
I pushed the door forward. Sunlight flooded in. I looked back at my mom and pulled my hand from hers. “Hold on, we’ll be back in a minute.” My eyes moved from mother’s to Amelie’s to complete the rounds. I stepped onto the top rung of the ladder leading to the ground and peered over the edge of the open door. After a couple seconds of searching, I saw my father kneeling over something on the ground.
“Hey, dad,” I yelled.
“Yeah…I’m okay,” I heard.
With that I jumped onto the ground and looked back at the carriage for some reason. I walked toward the scene ahead of me as I caught Boregard’s image in my peripheral. My father’s back was hunched and turned to me.
“What happened?” Boregard asked as we neared.
Father’s head turned and distinctly said, “I shot this man.”
“Why?” I asked as I stepped to father’s right side.
“He shot me,” was his reply.
I kneeled next to my father and took stock of the sight. A boy not much older than myself was vacantly staring at the forest canopy above. His facial skin appeared as waxy as his gaze. I looked to his torso and found a pool of blood where his clothes had reached saturation point. I’d never witnessed as much blood. It reminded me of a can of temper paint I’d once seen spring a leak. The color depth was so deep I became momentarily transfixed.
Even though the question had already been asked it was all I could think of, “What happened?”
A bloody gun that wasn’t my father’s was lying on the ground before me. “This man tried to hold us up. He said his horse lost a shoe then he pulled a gun on me. I tried to wrestle it away..He shot me but I was able to turn it on him.”
“He shot you..Where?” Boregard asked anxiously.
I turned to look over my father, but made no note of harm. He lifted his left arm and held it horizontally. The forearm was drenched in glistening. If it weren’t for the lush sunshine, it would’ve been difficult to read the injury against his dark brown shirt.
“Hhuh,” I inhaled deeply.
“How bad is it?” Boregard asked as he circumnavigated it with his head, trying to get a better perspective.
“I don’t know. Let’s find out,” my father suggested, carefully rolling up his sleeve. His actions seemed to infuriate the flow of blood. By the time he’d gotten his sleeve past his elbow, both arms were slathered in red sunshine.
“Go get your mother,” he said calmly.
I didn’t say anything, but only rose and ran to the carriage. I jerked open the door and nearly yelled, “Mom, mom come here. Dad’s been shot.” That was all I could muster, so I sprinted back. I slid up alongside father with mother not far behind. She took a look and unwrapped the scarf from around her neck. She took his forearm in her left hand and began blotting blood away with her right. The scarf was surprisingly absorbent. Once a decent degree of cleaning’d been done, a gash similar to the overall proportions of a horizontal bic-lighter could be seen. Each time the blood was soaked from the wound it would fill almost instantly.
“Hmm, this doesn’t look too good,” mother diagnosed. “It could be worse though. It looks like the shot only grazed the tissue, so we won’t have to dig out a bullet, but we’re still going to need to sew it up.” My mother had been a nurse in days gone, so her prognosis could be assumed accurate. “Cornelius can you fetch my day case?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure..Where is it?”
“It’s under my seat.”
I turned and got up quickly, nearly tackling Amelie. I skirted her and hastened to the carriage. I only climbed half the carriage steps, leaned in, grabbed a broad leather satchel, and ran back.
“Here,” I said, plopping the baggage next to my mother.
“Thank you..Alright…” she said, opening it and peering in. Digging around, she finally pulled out a small tin case with a red ‘+’ on the lid. She lifted the lid to withdraw a piece of material riddled with needles and a small spool of thread. “Honey, did you bring any alcohol?” she turned to my father and asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s in the crate at the front right-hand side of the carriage.”
“Cornelius, can you go get that, please?”
“Yeah,” I said.
I hotfooted it over to the carriage and climbed onto the roof. My father’d tied all the crates to the carriage-roof railing with a long length of rope. Luckily the knot holding it all together was positioned near the crate in question. I loosened the knot and lifted the lid of the crate enough to peer inside. Finding a liter-bottle of gin, I worked it outward. I slid the lid back but left the knot loose. The rooftop wasn’t too far off the ground, so I crouched and bounded down. Under normal circumstances I probably would’ve been able to make a successfully casual landing, but since adrenaline was coursing through my veins and time was ticking, I landed and immediately sprung forward, flailing my arms in search of stabilization. I teetered onto my right hand and used that to launch myself into a more upright position. I skidded upto my mom and thrust the gin in her face.
“Herehuhuh,” I panted.
“Thank you.” She struggled with the cork for a few seconds and handed it back to me. “Can you pull the cork out?”
“Yeah,” I said, grabbing it. I tried wrenching the cork out with my hands but failed. I resorted to my teeth. That was effective. I handed the bottle back cork-free.
She took the bottle, held a rag to the lid, and began bringing the bottle’s bottom up/down. I turned to my dad’s wound. It looked surprisingly good, considering the short time it’d taken me to get the bottle. The majority of blood had been wiped from his arm and he was holding a relatively clean cloth to the carving. On the ground below, lay a thoroughly bloodied piece of material I assumed to be Boregard’s shirt, judging from the buttons and the fact Boregard was shirtless.
“Alright, lift that up,” my mother commanded father while holding her sterilizing agent at the ready. He lifted what appeared to be Boregard’s undershirt. My mother placed the cloth on his arm and pressed down hard. “Okay. Now hold that there.”
My father’s jaw tightened, but he did as bid while my mother dipped a thread into the bottle’s mouth, held it there with her thumb, and flipped the bottle’s bottom up.
“Okay, lift,” she commanded. My father did so, she splashed some gin on the still bleeding lesion, and handed him the bottle saying, “Drink this..You’ll need it.”
He took it from her and threw it back three times, shaking his head violently on the third swig. My mother pinched the wound between the fingers of her left hand, sending blood bubbling out.
“Alright Boregard, can you hold this together while I’m sewing?”
“Yes of course,” he returned. He squatted, set his knees to ground, and scooted forward.
“Hold out your hands,” she told him.
As he did my mother nodded to them at my father. They were spritzed with gin.
“Okay. Here. Do what I’m doing,” my mother mentioned. Boregard brought his hands to father’s arm, pinching the flesh she released. “Drink up, honey..This is really going to hurt,” my mother said, laughing lightly to father. He grimaced and she gave him a swift kiss on the lips. His grimace dissolved then he kissed the bottle, bringing it back with his head.
“3.2.1,” my mother counted just before beginning. With the thread through both portions of flesh, my father’s breathing escalated.
My sister stood up and walked away, my father took another swig of gin, and my mother pursued the second stitch. The look on my father’s face was stony.
Boregard did a good job of holding father’s arm and wound steady while mother did a good job of working quickly. In less than three minutes, she had successfully closed the gap in father’s forearm with a total of 16 stitches. It wasn’t pretty, but it looked like it’d hold.
“Okay, let’s get cleaned up,” my mother offered. “Cornelius can you get the water jug out of the carriage?.It should be next to where my day case was.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I got the jug and brought it back.
“Alright, Boregard, here..hold out your hands,” she said, taking the tank.
Boregard held his hands up to the jug’s lip as my mother poured. Since the blood was fresh, it washed away quite quickly. He flung his hands and flicked his fingers to rid them of excess water once he was satisfied with the cleanliness. My mother produced a washcloth with which he dried his hands.
Mother then turned to father. She washed him off as best she could sans soap, splashed some gin on the sewn wound, and wrapped his arm with a bolt of cloth. When all was said and done it didn’t look too bad. The only sign something was amiss showed as a bloodmark skidding across the makeshift bandage.
“Alright, how’s that?” she asked.
“Hurts like hell, but I’ll be fine..Thank you,” returned father.
“My pleasure,” my mom smiled widely.
“You should put your arm in this to relax the wound though,” mom said, draping a ring of material around father’s neck. Father adjusted its placement with his right hand and said, “You’re the doctor,” smiling.
“What are we going to do with this man over here,” Boregard questioned, gesturing to the recently deceased.
“Well..We don’t have room in the carriage to take him anywhere so I suppose we’ll just have to put him over on the side of the path and hope for the best..We’ve lost enough time as it is without having to deal with the local Lord,” father answered.
“What about the horse?” I asked.
“Hmm, let’s tie him to that tree over there and hope someone’ll take care of him,” he offered, pointing to a nearby tree with his good arm.
Remembering the reason for the ruckus, I checked the horse’s shoes. All in order. I exhaled deeply as I rose, took the horse by the reigns, and led it to the tree father’d picked out. I tied it up, making sure the knot was good and tight, sent it some positive energy in the form of caresses, and wandered to where the dead body’d been relaid.
I stood before it. With the sun at my back, I cast a shadow on the already shady character. My eyes swept over the corpse, absorbing as much as they could. I kneeled down next to it and pulled the hat from its head. My earlier assumption that the boy was a couple years my senior was then modified to an age closer to mine. The face showed a plethora of youth. I picked up one of the hands and gave it a study. Well-weathered. Obviously the hands of a farmer’s son. I dropped the boy’s hand wondering what sort of force made him resort to crime in the middle of the day.
A distracting glimmer caught my eye. There was a piece of metal sticking out from the boy’s pocket. I reached, grabbed, and pulled. It was a silver pocket watch which looked like it’d seen a few seasons. I opened the clasp and noted it still ran. Opposite the clock face there was an inscription that read, ‘Bite it right ‘cross the heel’ –KB. I stared at it for several seconds trying to make sense. I repeated it to myself twice, “Bite it right ‘cross the heel … Bite it right ‘cross the heel.” I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the quote, so I closed the clasp. Hesitating for a heartbeat, I pocketed the watch.
“I wonder if the boy stole this watch,” I thought to myself.
“Cornelius..give it a rest. Let’s head out,” I heard being called to me.
“Okay,” I shouted, stood, and swashbuckled back to the carriage.
“What were you doing over there?” Boregard asked.
“Oh nothin’, I was just checking out the body.” I put an arm around Boregard and pulled him to the side. “Take a look at this, dude,” I said, fishing for the pocket watch. I found it and put it into his hand. “I got it off the kid.”
Boregard held it, staring. He turned it over, then back, and opened the clasp. “Bite it right ‘cross the heel..KB,” he read. “What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s a cool watch..Still works,” he said, looking up. “So you didn’t have any problems touching a dead body?” he asked, wrinkling his face.
“No, not really. It wasn’t too bad. I guess I got the willies a bit, but mmeh,” I sounded, shrugging my shoulders. “Whatever.”
“Come on over here, boys,” my father shouted while motioning to us.
I slipped the watch into my pocket as Boregard and I answered our calling.
“Alright, I’m gonna have y’all steer the cart ‘cause I need to get some rest,” my father swayed. “Do you think you’re up for it,” he said, looking from one of us to the other.
“Good, good…Boregard, I’m gonna have you handle the firearm,” he said, bending down, picking up the musket, putting it in Bo’s open arms, and patting him on the shoulder. “I know you can handle it, but be careful” he smiled.
“And Cornelius,” he said turning to me. “I’m gonna have you lead the way.” He pulled a folded map from his back pocket, unfolded it, and pinched it with his left fingers. He launched into a navigatory explanation, “So this is where we are right now,” he revealed, pointing to a small circle on the map. “I’ve plotted the course we need to take with this dotted line, here,” he said running his finger along a segmented line. “You’re gonna need to turn here and here, then this is where the marina is,” he said, looking to me while his finger highlighted a large ‘X’ on the map. “Got it?” he asked.
The question sent a breeze of booze across my nostrils. “Yeah, I think so,” I said, studying the route.
“Good..It shouldn’t be terribly difficult…If you get tired, I’m sure Boregard won’t mind switching off with you..Right?” he asked Boregard, turning to him and placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Good, good. I want Boregard to keep track of the musket though..I’ve seen you when you get a gun in your hands, Cornelius..Hahaha,” he bellowed loudly.
I smiled wide and tried to breathe through my teeth since the source of a musty booze breath was mere inches from my face.
“Alright, let’s get a move on, shall we?” he nearly shouted, slapping both our backs synchronously. “I think I’ll keep the hand-shooter in the back with us.” He grabbed the boy’s gun from a lamp holster on the side of the carriage and turned around smiling. He and the remainder of the family piled into the carriage.
“Shotgun,” my brother shouted and ran up to the driver’s perch, climbing on. I followed. I found a comfortable position on the seat and took the reigns with both hands. I glanced at my brother and tried to mimic my father’s whistle. I couldn’t quite pull it off, so I gave the reigns a snap and yelled, “Hiaa.” The carriage jerked and we were off.
The still summer air quickly shifted to a cool breeze. I held the reigns and felt a surge of power course through my veins. I exhaled deeply and turned to my brother to share the enjoyment. He was looking along the sidelines but noticed my attention and caught the smile, contaged. I leaned back and let the countryside roll by.
I checked the map several times to be sure I was making the correct turn. With Boregard’s endorsement, I veered down a well-traveled road that promised resulting in the marina. The road widened and welcomed several tributary roads as we continued down it. Eventually, I saw a hand-scrawled sign that read, ‘Marina- 5km’.
“Alright..Check that out,” I lightly commanded, tapping Boregard’s shoulder and herding his attention to the sign.
“Yeah. That’s assuring..Not much left to go.”
“Nope..Not at all…You know what time the boat leaves?” I asked.
“Uhh..Sometime around eight I think. I’m not sure though.”
“Okay, cool. So we have plenty of time.”
“Yeah, sure,” Boregard returned with creased brows and puckered lips.
“..I wonder what it’s gonna be like out on the ocean. Being in a boat..Shit that’ll be awesome,” I commented.
“Yeah. The only boat I’ve ever been on is the ferry across Sommerset Lake. I have a feeling this will be quite a bit different.”
“Hhyeahu,” I agreed, amused. “I hear you can even get sick on an ocean vessel..It has to do with the waves or something.”
“Yeah. I’m told that the waves affect your equilibrium. Your body has a hard time locking in a frame of reference so it tries to purge out of confusion.”
“Not everyone gets it though. Some people don’t feel sick at all..But even if you do feel sick you’ll get used to it after awhile,” Boregard explained.
“Yeah. I’ll get used to it right as we’re making port in the West Indies,” I scoffed.
I relaxed my posture and admired the sunset. Pastels were painting the picture beautifully. Had the horses not been fully animated, I would’ve surely lost the path in my revelry. A thin layer of clouds paralleled the skyline, absorbing an assembly of colors. As the sun sank below the horizon, a wave of delight crashed against my shoreline with the appearance of an archway spelling out, ‘Hampton Marina’. I promptly pat the carriage wall with the palm of my hand to advertise our successful arrival.
Navigating the marina, I pulled into a parking spot near the check-in station, yanked the reigns, gave Boregard a quick smile, and dismounted the driver’s perch. I opened the carriage door and announced, “We’re here.” The passengers slowly stirred, coming from a light slumber.
My mother was the first to respond. “We’re here? Oh good…Honey, we’re here,” she told my father while gently petting his knee.
“Hmm?” he asked groggily. The booze had obviously affected him.
“We’re here,” mother responded.
“Oh, okay..Can I have some water?” he croaked.
“Yeah..Here,” she said stooping, picking up the mostly-empty water jug, and handing it to him.
He accepted and drained the rest of the water with the tilt of his head. “Aaah,” he sighed. “That’s better..Alright…” He rose, stumbled out the door as I backed away, made it to the ground, and said, “Ohp, sorry, honey.” He held an open hand to my mother so she could stabilize while exiting.
“That’s alright,” she laughed.
I turned away and noticed my sister in a full body stretch on the other side of the carriage. I tried not to ogle, but it was difficult with a pair of breasts on such flagrant display.
“Do you have the tickets somewhere, honey?” my dad asked my mom.
“Yes..They should be in my day case.”
“I’m going to take them to the ticket office and check in,” father followed as my mom sought the tickets.
“Okay..Here they are,” she said, handing him a blank envelope.
Father went around the carriage and entered the ticket office. I followed. The building was a small wooden cube with the word ‘tickets’ sprawling across a large sign just above the front entrance. The word’s letters were all capitalized in fading black paint.
The inside was as nondescript as the outside. Opposite the entrance was a long bench-table, riddled with papers and quill-filled inkbottles, stationed in front of a closed door. I imagined the door leading to a small room containing a chair, stacks of boxed papers, and crates of inkbottles/quills. A woman wearing a broad dress was on our side of the table, talking to a balding man on the other. Their conversation came to a finish about a minute after father and I entered. She left as Boregard excused himself passed her.
Boregard neared me so I directed his concentration to a knot riding the wooden wall to our right. “Take a look at that thing,” I said, stepping closer. There was a starburst of varying wood tones orbiting a binary knot system. The second knot in the system almost didn’t register due to its dwarfish size. “It’s weird looking.”
“Sure is,” Boregard answered. He stuck his pinky finger in the larger knot and tried to thread it through the smaller. The second knot was too small so he only managed a protruding bubble of skin.
“Alright, boys let’s start unloading and loading,” my father started, turning to us. “Ship leaves in an hour..We should have plenty of time, but we better get a move on seeing as how I won’t be much help,” he said, lightly lifting his left arm to show off the bloodied sling.
Boregard and I jogged out to the carriage and began relieving it of luggage. In less than ten minutes all the crates were on the ground.
“Father, what should we do with these now?” Boregard called out to nowhere in particular.
“Load them up into this,” my father answered, wheeling a cart down a ramp close to the ticket station. The sling recently relieving his left arm was bunched under his armpit and he appeared to be wincing. “Then we’ll cart everything over to the boat…Sorry I didn’t get this sooner. It would’ve been a hell of a lot easier to load those crates straight into here, but someone else was using it until just now,” father explained, intermittently nodding to the ship, the crates at our feet, and the large double-wheeled barrow between his hands.
He pulled up and deposited the cart as we acknowledged. Boregard and I went to work transferring the crates from ground to cart. We finished around the same time father’d rallied all the loose luggage and placed it on top of the cart’s crates. Since it was a fairly hefty load, Boregard and I each took a handle and guided the cart along the platform at the lower level of the ship. Making it to the gangplank, we paused. I turned and saw father tending his left arm.
“This thing looks a bit unstable,” I commented.
“It sure does,” Boregard agreed, eyeing up the loading link between ship and pier. It was a segment of well weathered wood about fifteen feet in length and four or five in width. Sections of missing wood narrowed it to three feet across in some places. “Alright, how about I guide from behind and you from up front. That way, we can keep a better eye on the luggage..Make sure it doesn’t fall off.”
“Yeah, that sounds good..Hold up, I’ve got another idea,” I said running off. I came back holding the stout rope used in securing the crates to the carriage-top. “If we throw this on there, I think it’ll help.”
“I agree…Here,” Boregard said after walking to the opposite side of the cart and holding up his recently clapped hands. I unraveled a length, held the end with my left hand, and tossed the remaining coil of rope with my right. “Stay there and I’ll pass it back to you,” he said. Each exchange involved Boregard snaking the rope through the underbelly of the cart before I’d throw it over the top, making sure to catch crates in the rope’s snare. The process finished when we ran out of rope.
It happened on my possession, so I tied a pretzel knot and said, “Okay. I think this’ll work.”
“Yes, I think you’re right,” Boregard agreed, testing the integrity of a crate. “But we should still be careful.”
I took his advice from earlier and found the front of the cart. I rested both hands on the cart’s rim, in the crevice between a couple crates, and told Boregard I was ready. He counted to three and we pulled/pushed. It was a bit of an upward struggle ‘cause the ship was higher than the dock. As we neared the gangplank’s middle, I noticed the extent of its flexibility. Each step we took sent the slim strip into a nervous jitter. While it may’ve been unsettling, it was little else. We made it to the main deck without a problem.
Working the cart past the deck’s threshold was the most difficult part of the ferry. It was a gauntlet of chipped wood and flattened lines. The cart’s season-softened wheels helped ease the relief and the securing ropes helped calm anxious crates.
“Where’re ye goin with that?” we heard coming from our left. I turned around and took sight of a bearded man with a stout stature and proud beer gut.
“Uh, well..We’d like to put it in the hold,” I said, smoothing the back of my wig with my left hand.
“Right over yonder,” the man answered with the swing of his arm. “Should be a fella to help ye find yer place.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what the man meant, but I had a good idea so I said, “Thank you kindly,” taking a shallow bow.
Boregard and I pinpointed the hold’s hatch and started making our way. It was slow going because Boregard seemed under the same spell as myself. Craned and swiveling necks revealed the obvious truth that we were both taking our first steps aboard a seafaring craft. I’d seen images of ships in textbooks at school, but I’d never actually stepped foot on one. Boregard’s experience was similar.
The vastness was captivating. The expanse from bow to stern. The towering masts strapped with grand canvas sails. The number of ropes enveloping the ship. My head swirled with input. It was almost too much to process. Then my senses detected a scent of seasalt combined with sun-baked wood. Serenity enveloped me. The thought, “What have I been missing all my life?” cruised through my mind. The urge to rip off my wig swept over me, but was repressed with realization that the ship was gently rocking.
My eyes darted to find the source of a soft flapping sound while my head held stock still. It finally followed my eyes and I noticed the level of staining and patchwork on the sails. I then drug my eyes along a rope that went from the tip of the fore boom up to the middle of the top sail. I was in awe. My salivary glands were in overproduction, but I neglected swallowing. When I finally did, I had to lower my head to get it all down.
I think my movement made Boregard snap back into reality. He turned to me, gave me an impressed grin, and said, “Yeah..This is…good..This is good.”
“I fully agree.”
In the throws of speechlessness, we walked on to the hatch. At the hatch, a hinged grating was up and resting on a vertical wooden pole, bearing access to the hold below. I looked down and saw steps steeply descend the darkness.
Boregard peered in and said, “It looks pretty dark. I don’t know if there’s anyone down there to find our place or not.” He rerected, went to the pole the hatch-grating was resting against, and withdrew an oil lamp from its perched hook.
“Yeah. I think you might be right.”
He then walked to a lamp residing on the foremast, took a lighting stick from its tray, lit it and in turn lit the lamp his hand held. When he came back it smelled strongly of fish, but the ample light was appreciated.
We were saved from our blank stares when a man wearing a tri-cornered hat approached us and asked, “Can I assist you, sirs?”
“Uh, yeah..We’re looking to put our belongings in the hold..Do..you..know how we go about doing that?” I attempted.
“Yes. I can tell you where your designated area will be, but I’ll need to see your tickets,” the man said, looking from me to Boregard.
“Right right..Uh..We don’t have our tickets..Our father does,” I said, patting my vest pockets and looking to Boregard.
“Yes. I’ll go and get them,” offered Boregard.
He handed me the lamp and ran off, down the gangplank. My eyes were pasted to his back, willing him to accomplish the mission quickly.
“And where might you be headed?”
“My family and I are going to the Caribbean Sea..We’ll be chartering a private boat to take a tour once we get there,” I answered.
“Oh really? That sounds like quite the adventure,” the man said, smiling.
“What will be the duration of your stay in the Caribbean?”
“I think about two weeks.”
“Do you know where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing?” he asked.
“Ya know,” I said, pausing “not really.” I’d not bothered to get the finer points of the itinerary from my parents.
“Well, it will be nice nonetheless..Sugar plantations. Beaches..The water will be lovely this time of year..Just watch out for pirates,” he warned, eyebrows raised.
“Pirates.” I repeated the word and tilted my head. I’d only just heard the term. I could associate the name Sir Francis Drake, but he was a privateer under the orders of the crown. He only attacked merchant ships flying flags of foreign nations. “Would he attack a small pleasure cruiser with little to offer?” I asked myself. “Probably not.”
“Okay, I will,” I answered thinking little of it.
Boregard ran up with a blank envelope clutched between the fingers of his right hand. “Here you are, sir,” he said, handing the man the envelope.
“Very good.” The man opened the flap and removed five tickets. He spread them like a hand of cards and looked over each one. “All correct, let me show you where you can put your things.” He whirled his head around, seeming to search for something. I took the hint and held out the oil lamp. “Ah, cheers,” he said, accepting. “And it’s lit too..Extraordinary,” he praised, giving my back a pat. “Follow me, then.”
He started heading down the stairs as Boregard and I began unfastening the luggage holds.
The man turned and said, “Oh, no no. Let me show you where you are first..You can deal with that lot afterwards,” beckoning to us with his hand.
We yielded and followed the man down the steps. The hold was impressively dark and the oil lamp could only muster faint shadows of light. Ahead of us, the man glided beneath the low ceilings checking metal plates nailed to the rafters for location verification. His experience was incomparable to our telltale awkward hunching.
We passed rows of sectioned holding areas. About half were occupied. Eventually the man came to a halt and turned on a heel. “All correct. This’ll be it, then,” he said, gesturing to a cargo zone on his right. “You all can use these four plots..Numbers..” he looked down at the tickets in hand, “forty-seven through fifty,” and motioned to a quadrangle. “If you need more space, I’m sure something can be arranged,” he said, smiling. “Now, if you follow me, I’ll take you back up to deck and you can get started..Any questions?”
“Uh..yeah. Is there a cart down here we can use? Or do we have to carry everything by hand?” I asked timidly, embarrassed by the message my question sent.
“Sorry, I’m afraid there’s no cart to speak of..You’ll just have to manage,” he said, shrugging.
“Yeah, okay. It’s no big deal..I was just wondering,” I shrugged back.
“Alright then, shall we?” the man said, presenting our path with an outstretched arm.
Shadows of gridded rafters disproportionately sped past us as we made our way back to the surface. Once on the deck the tri-corner hatted man said, “Here we are..And here you are,” handing the lamp to Boregard. “I wish I could help, but I’ve got to get things in order to set sail..I’m sure you understand.” With that he walked off.
“Alright, let’s get to it,” I said, rubbing my hands together.
Boregard set the lamp on the floor and we went to work. Once we’d removed the rope I stopped and asked, “Okay, how are we going to do this? We need the lamp to see ‘cause it’s dark as hell down there, but if someone holds the lamp then we’ll only be able to take one crate at a time..You definitely need two hands per crate.”
“That’s a good point..but..” Boregard said turning and searching. He picked up the lamp. “What if one person loads a crate then the other puts the lamp on top of the crate they have in their arms,” he stated in question form, setting the lamp on a crate.
“Yeah. That could work..Here. Do me up,” I said, having picked up a crate.
Boregard grabbed the lamp and set it on top of the crate I held.
“Yeah, that’s not bad,” I claimed. “It could work…Alright. Grab a crate and let’s go.”
Seeing as how I had the lamp, I started navigating the stairs first. The lamp’s center of gravity was a bit fragile so when I descended the stairs, it began shaking and almost immediately toppled.
“Mother fucker,” I exclaimed as fish oil leaked all over the crate I held. Thankfully it didn’t set the wooden crate alight. “Hey Boregard, hold up, hold up. I need to relight the lamp. Can you fetch a starter?” I said, craning my neck.
“Absolutely,” he replied, set his crate down, and walked away.
While Boregard did that, I gently set the crate down, put the lamp on the floor, and ran my hands over the gritty ground. I found a stray piece of wood and used it to scrape the excess fish oil from the crate. Just as I was tossing the oily wood into the darkness, Boregard climbed down the ladder with a lighting stick in his hand.
“Where’s the lamp?” he asked once he’d made it to the hold floor.
“Uh, I think it’s over here.”
The lighting stick provided enough illumination to reveal the lamp’s reflective surface. I picked it up by the handle and held it out to Boregard. There was enough oil left for it to light without a problem.
“Alright. Here..Can you put it back on my crate?” I asked, handing the lamp over and bending down further to hoist the crate at my feet. I was already stooped due to the low ceilings.
“Of course,” Boregard replied as he set the lamp atop my box.
“I’ll wait for you while you get your crate,” I said, smiling.
He returned the smile, licked the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, extinguished the lighting stick, and ascended the stairs. I heard his footsteps wander to where a refuse bin might’ve been, then return. As he climbed down the stairs with crate in hand, his head swiveled from one side of the crate to the other, eyes checking footing. I waddled back as he made it to the bottom branch.
“Lead the way,” he sang.
We made it to the 47-50 sector and deposited our load. The return to resupply proved easier. Getting lost in the hovering flame of the lamp’s spout was hardly worth the finishing-school level of balance and stamina necessary to keep the lamp from toppling off the crate. The low ceiling made it especially difficult. Pinpointing the right combination of arched-back, arm-erection to avoid knee-knocking the crate, and shuffling speed was tough.
When we resurfaced, two conclusions were made. It was best if one person carried a crate down the stairway, then was passed the lamp. Difficulty in negotiating the stairs with lamp and crate was established on the first run. We also agreed to take turns nursing the lamp. It was a venomous journey of battery-acid circulation through the veins when dealing with all the elements, including the lamp’s delicacy. I made two stops to compose myself on the first run.
Our method was effective. We were able to finish lugging everything to the storage zone within fifteen minutes. And to our satisfaction, the four designated lots had plenty of space to spare. Tethering ropes were attached to the posts coordinating our storage lots, so Boregard and I made sure to utilize them before rising to the surface.
Once there, we took stock of our exhaustion but bucked it up and wheeled the cart back down the gangplank and to the ticket office. On a wall facing the bay, ‘carts’ was painted in fading letters. We settled the cart there and Boregard ran into the office to let the ticket agent know we’d returned it.
Before Boregard rejoined me, I could see the rest of the family chatting with Preacher Daniels. I forwarded the message when he returned by nodding, swinging my arm, and saying, “Look who’s here.”
“Aha..I wonder what he’s doing here.”
“I don’ know..Let’s find out, uh.”
We walked up to catch the tail end of Preacher Daniel’s sermon. “And beware of the evils that lurk within the hell-send, rum. I have heard many-a story of Satan coming to call on the playground that lies behind the sugar and spices. It may taste like heaven, but trust me..it is the antichrist. I think we all know what happens when alcohol tastes like the sweet nectar…” At that point, Preacher Daniel’s was drowned out by the circles I started toe-drawing in the dirt. At first I just drew circles and their counter, then I realized he was still droning on so I put forth a bit more. Eventually an army of circles was organized against an army of lines. The battle never took place because the preacher finished lecturing and wandered to where Boregard and I stood.
“Ah, boys..So good to see you,” he said, placing a hand on each of our shoulders. “I hope you took my words to heart.”
He seemed to focus more attention on me, but I only responded by giving a subtle nod and a ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ expression.
“My my, it has been an eternity since I’ve seen you boys,” he admitted, stepping back, ruffling our wigs, and looking from face to face. “Don’t you both just look biblical..With your broad shoulders,” he said, patting our shoulders. “And your rosy cherub cheeks,” he said, trying to grab our cheeks but failing. We’d lost our baby fat long before.
Boregard blushed and lowered his head smiling while I just stood. Perhaps it was blatant, but I asked, “So..What are you doing here?”
“Cornelius..” I could hear my mother whisper under her breath.
“Well, I’m here because I will be taking the carriage back to your homestead and looking after your animals whilst you’re away.”
“Are you going to be staying at our house?” I returned.
“Off and on, I presume…I promise I won’t touch any of your things, Cornelius,” he said, smiling and politely punching my arm.
I couldn’t help but return the smile.
“There you go..That wasn’t so hard.”
His statement made me want to retract my actions with every ounce, but I reluctantly held the smile.
“Do you have the key, Preacher?” my father asked.
“Yes, Mrs. Birch here,” he said, turning to my mother and giving a quick bow, “blessed me with it earlier.”
“Brilliant…Well, I hate to cut our conversation short, but I really think we must be getting a move on..The boys need prepare to help row,” father deemed.
“Oh, so they’ll be down in the galleys.”
“Just until we’re out in open waters, yes.”
Puzzled, I looked at Boregard. His face seemed to read the same sentiment. He turned to me and shrugged.
“I find it odd that your vessel has a galley,” noted Preacher Daniels.
“I’m told it’s a retired warship..But you’re right, it is a bit odd to have a full galley on a transport…Hey, it’ll make for a wealth of maneuverability. Especially in the bay here,” father said, gesturing to the water.
“Amen to that.”
“Preacher Daniels, do you have the feeding schedule for all the animals?” my mother asked.
“I believe I do,” he said, patting his smock’s left chest pocket. “It shouldn’t be a problem regardless..I grew up on a farm, so I’m sure I can manage.”
“Oh, that’s right..Well I’m glad you’re comfortable doing this. We really appreciate it..Thank you,” my mom responded.
“Think nothing of it. It’s my pleasure.”
“Yes, thank you very much,” my dad agreed, grabbing the preacher’s hand with his and shaking boldly.
“Of course, of course..God bless you,” he beamed. He walked over to my mother and Amelie, kissed them each on the hand, reshook my father’s, and wandered over to me and Boregard. “I hope the two of you remember what I said about the evil lurking in Rum..It’s a powerful drink that can conquer even the strongest will,” he warned.
“Mmmhm,” I bobbed my head drowsily.
“That will be it then,” he nodded. “A safe and prosperous journey to the lot you, eh..Make sure to take care of that arm, Mr. Birch.” He smiled, looking to father with lifted eyebrows.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” said father.
“Of course, of course..You are all in my prayers.” He turned and made sure to kindle eye contact with every member of my family. “And I will expect an excellent souvenir upon your return..Hahaha. I’m only joking,” he laughed with a hand to his belly, still trying to capture everyone in his gaze. “And I’ll make sure to give that mess down the road my attention,” he said with gruff on his voice. “On that note, I bid you, Adieu.” He took a low bow and swiveled from one end of the semicircle to the other while remaining lowered. He rose, flattened his shiny hair, and retreated smiling. Warm tidings followed him as he approached our cart.
I waved, but I wasn’t waving at Preacher Daniel’s back. I was waving because I thought I felt Vonnegut’s eye whites massage me. Either way it looked like I gave a shit. But if it needed to be known, I would certainly opt for Vonnegut’s cue smooth coat over Daniel’s crusty rhetoric any day.
I watched Preacher Daniels mount the driver’s perch as a man from the ship shouted, “All aboard.” I turned to the ship just in time to see a man standing on the railings lower his hands and jump down.
“I think that’s our cue,” father noted. “Are you boys ready to row?” he said, coming between Boregard and I, putting on arm around only Boregard’s collar because I was on father’s lesser side, and beginning to walk.
“Yeah, I ‘spose so,” I said uncertainly.
“It won’t be that big of a deal. They’ll just have you row until we’re out of the bay. It shouldn’t take terribly long..I would be joining you, but..well,” he said, looking down to his left arm, then up at me.
We walked toward the gangplank to wait in line for the ticket checkers at the deck entrance. There were about twenty-five passengers ahead of us when we joined the ranks. We made it to the ticketeer after a matter of minutes.
“Tickets, please,” the man with the feathered stock cap declared.
“Well I don’t have them. One of you boys does,” father said, looking at Boregard and I in turn.
I suddenly realized I’d been the one the storage manager’d given the tickets to after explaining where our effects should go. I pat my pants pockets but felt nothing. Molten ‘Oh shit’ started at the back of my neck and pumped all the way to my forehead, setting my scalp aflame on its course.
“Yes, that’s right..I have them,” Boregard said, producing the envelope which carried our tickets.
“Thank you,” my father remarked. He upended the ticket envelope with his right hand, let the tickets spill into the crook of his immobilized left arm, grabbed them with the free fingers of his right hand, and offered them to the serviceman.
The man accepted then inspected each ticket in turn. Satisfied, he waved us on board. Bodies saturated the deck. Idling passengers blended with crew members moving to get things situated before the launch.
“I’m told the captain will have something to say once everyone is aboard,” my father declared. “So we’re supposed to wait up here,” he said, checking the deck out.
Father awkwardly herded us to a spot on the side rail, opposite the gangplank.
“You mentioned before that Boregard and I would be rowing..What’s that all about?” I directed towards my father.
“Well, they need volunteers to row the boat out of the bay. It will take less time than trying to catch wind and it won’t be that difficult. So I signed the two of you up in the ticket office,” he explained.
“Hm..How long do you think we’ll be rowing?”
“Oh, I don’t know..Fifteen minutes, maybe,” he said, frowning in contemplation. “Not long, though..I wouldn’t worry about it,” he finished with a smile and a slap on my back.
I smiled and lowered my head. I turned and looked along the hull to the waves lapping against it. The oar holes could be seen breaking the surface on the way to the water. Imagery of oars swinging long arcs across the water, then cutting through, flashed in my mind. I lifted my vision to where I thought the horizon to be. It was well after sundown, so I couldn’t grasp anything past the fifteen foot influence of illumination aboard.
Reaching that, I turned back to the deck center. Just as I was raising my eyeline, a man took the stage. “Hey ho,” he said with raised hand and voice. “I’ll be your captain for the voyage.” I recognized him as the tri-corner hatted man who helped Boregard and I deposit our cargo. “And if you have anything to say about it, you can bring it up with our first mate..Mister Premance, here,” he said, hooking a man by the shoulder and hauling him close. The man he grabbed was of average height and build, but was fronted by an abnormally large mustache. “Mutinies are frowned upon though..So-ohp, I almost forgot to give myself a proper introduction. The name’s Captain Cardish..For those of you who grow close, you can call me Captain Jim..But let’s not skip straight there, shall we?” he proposed with a smile. “I’m sure a lot, if not most of you, will come into my comfort zone, but why don’t we get started on a formal footing, if you don’t mind.” He let the information linger as he scanned the ranks of passengers. Generally overlooking, subtle nods were allocated to a few.
He held his hands behind his back, looked to his feet, and took a few steps. “Now, I know you all fancy yourselves as sailors, but please..while we’re en route, do not touch anything,” he said, stopping to solidify the point. “If you think there might be something amiss, don’t hesitate to inform one of the crew. But do not try to correct the situation yourself. I can not stress that enough..We’ve had situations in the past where Johnny Do-Right has good intentions, but ends up doing a world of bad…Don’t you worry, my crew is a fully trained, fully capable,” he strengthened that sentiment with a lifted finger, “group of people who I guarantee will have no problems keeping the ship tight as a drum..All correct..Now that we have that ugliness out of the way, I can move on…Breakfast is from 6:00 to 7:30. Lunch is 11:30 to 1:00. And dinner is from 6:00 to 8:00. Now this isn’t a pleasure cruise, it’s a transport, so I’m sorry to say but meals will only be the basics. They’re certainly not bad, but they’re certainly not fluffy either..Let’s see. What else? What else?” he asked himself, rocking toe to heel. “How about I introduce our crew then I’ll show you around the vessel..This is not a particularly large craft, so we have managed to minimalize the crew through the combining of certain duties,” he smiled. “As you already know, this is the first mate, Mister Premance,” he said, sidestepping with pivoted hands on the man’s shoulders. “This is the quartermaster, Mister Algiers.” Mr. Algiers was blonde and sheepish. “This is the second mate, Mister Depistle,” he said, patting a man whose eyes said he relished not being first mate. “This is the ship’s carpenter, Mister Woodrey.” Mr. Woodrey fit. His name matched the broad build and burly disposition of a man destined to stave off gnarly splinters with his calloused hands. I was transfixed by the hairy arms connected to those hands. “This is the ship’s surgeon, Doctor Fielding.” I tore my inspection from Mr. Woodrey and planted it on Dr. Fielding. He was a slight man with long fingers and warm eyes. “You’ll want to come see him if you’re bothered by any ailments.” Captain Cardish moved on to the only woman I perceived as being part of the crew. It was easy to see why he was nonconcerned by the usual wares of feminine distraction on a ship during those times. She was a large lass/lard ass. Her physique spilt her breasts directly into her belly. I wanted to be impartial about the whole mess, but I wasn’t. I’d come to the conclusion she was in the running for least attractive woman I’d ever laid eyes on. “This is our chef, Madame Bullion,” he said, smiling at her. She smiled back and he continued. “This will be our cooper, conner, and boatswain..It sounds like Mister Dunhill will have his hands full, doesn’t it?” the captain said, laughing and patting the bearded man who welcomed Boregard and I to the ship. “And last but not least, this will be our entertainment for the journey, Madame Madrielle.” I looked to the woman he’d approached and handled the shoulders of. Not by just planting hands on her collar, but wrapping his palms around the fleshy side-section of her shoulders. I was surprised to find she was a crew member. She possessed a certain air the others didn’t. Something I couldn’t quite place. It oozed from her doey eyes and graced posture. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, but she absolutely exuded sex- if a hormone hound at my age wasn’t aroused by anything with a pair of breasts and a breath. After Captain Cardish introduced her, she cast her eyes over the crowd and started reeling. I could feel myself being physically drawn to her. I almost lost balance before forwarding my right foot to stabilize. “She’ll be wooing us with her captivating cadence,” the captain said, looking to her and winking. She returned the gesture with a broad smile to the onlookers. “..Ohp, and I almost forgot. This is her husband, Mister Anderson. He’ll be fulfilling the swabbing duties aboard our ship.” The man he motioned to looked completely disinterested by his surroundings. “Now, any one of these people can accommodate questions or concerns as well as I can, so don’t hesitate to approach them..I chose my crew as diligently as Jesus chose his disciples. I have my full faith in them..Well..Jesus was betrayed,” Captain Cardish finished, looking to the sky under a hushed tone. “..Haha. But that’s neither here nor there,” he said with a sweeping smile. “So do I have any questions at the moment?” he asked, looking over the crowd.
“Yes, sir,” I heard from my left. “Can you tell us what route we will be taking?” a random man asked.
“Good lord, I nearly forgot,” Captain Cardish announced with an adjustment of his hat. “Thank you for reminding me,” he said, smiling at the man, jogging to the base of the main mast, picking something up, and raising it above his head.
“This is a chart of the waters we will be navigating.” He lowered the framed map to his shoulder and steadied it with a hand and a head. He pointed to one side of it. “This is the King’s England..Here is mainland Europe,” he said, moving his finger down. “And this is the dark continent, Africa.” He stretched his arm to the opposite side of the map and made generalizing finger-circles over ill-defined blobs. “Here we have the Americas…We will be making way from here,” he rotated the map to his turned head, zeroed in, put his finger on it, and presented to the audience, “Brighton..in about twenty minutes. Sailing along the southern English coast and crossing the Atlantic along this line,” he said, drawing his finger across the light blue body in the middle, “following the trade winds..Then, in give or take two weeks, we’ll make port in Port Royal, Jamaica..That two weeks depends on a few things..Velocity of the water’s current, number of storms we encounter, and run ins with..” he raised and tilted his head, puckered his lips, narrowed his eyebrows, and blinked as he said “sharks.”
“Are there a lot of sharks where we will be traveling?” a random woman asked.
“Yes, there are a few. There are a few,” Captain Cardish answered, nodding. “If we don’t have any problems we can make port in two weeks. If we do have problems..it could take up to three.” He clapped his hands once and held it. “So let’s cross our fingers, eh?” he said, separating hands to do a double-handed finger-cross while smiling. “Now then, why don’t I show you around the ship right quick..Follow me,” he said, waving then weaving through the crowd to the front of the boat. “This ship was built in 1565 for the Royal Navy. It served with a good track record for about fifty years, but was retired due to fear of technological competition..We can’t have those French dogs one-upping us, can we?” He yelled with head thrown back to project his voice.
“Here, here,” a few people from the crowd and crew returned.
“Since retirement, it’s been used as a transport..Mostly around Europe to begin, but since the big commute, we’ve been heading to the Americas..It’s seen its fair share, but trust me, it is in excellent condition. I would trust Molly to the ends of the earth,” he shared with a lick of emotion tonguing his voice.
Once he worked his way to the front of the ship, he turned to us and said, “This here is the bowsprit,” then craned his neck in the sprit’s direction. It was a long bolt of wood with several anchored sails. “This piece is crucial for a boat with two masts. Without it, the sails would be too narrow to catch a stitch of wind..Even boats with only one mast have them. It tends to allow for a better boat to sail ratio,” he explained with a hand hanging from an overhead rope. “If you look to your feet, you’ll see the forecastle deck..When navigating tricky waters, this is the spot the conner stands to direct the helmsman. It roofs most of the crew’s quarters..And that, jutting from it,” he said, pointing to an intimidating tower of wood, “is the foremast. It stabilizes the majority of the sails..If you’re interested, I’ll name the sails for you later, but not right now.” He excused himself through the crowd and descended the deck’s steps, jumping over the last. “This is the main deck. This is where it all happens,” he said, extending T-squared arms. “Dinner will be served here. Meetings, announcements, celebrations, events..This will be your town hall for the next two weeks..Mind the railings though, they can be shorter than perceived,” he cautioned, patting one. “We’ve lost a few to whale sightings. Now, we can turn ‘er around but it takes a few minutes and most people aren’t as strong of swimmers as they should be or think themselves to be. Especially with ocean currents factoring in..Moral of the story, watch yourself,” he advised with arched eyebrows. “And before I forget, I’d like to mention that the esteemed Madame Madrielle will be performing some lovely melodies for us this evening.” The fingers of his raised-palm pointed to her general whereabouts in the crowd. “Right here at 8:00 pm,” he punctuated, pointing to the ground, and winking at most likely Madame Madrielle. I looked to her as she sent sweeping beams to the crowd. “I assure the performance will aid in the digestion of dinner, so I hope to see you all there,” he smiled, said “Alright then,” and clapped. “Here we have the main mast.” He ran his hand vertically to mimic the position of the mast. It appeared girthier than the first. “This is the heart of the ship. The core..The main sail is tethered to this one, thus providing us with the power of propulsion…We used to have a crow’s nest at the top, for long distance sighting, but a nasty storm took it out, and we thought it best not to rebuild,” he told us, peering up the length. I followed his lead but couldn’t make out the mast’s top from where I stood. The oblivion of night engulfed the upper portion. “Here, as most of you have probably familiarized yourselves with already, is the hatch which leads to the hold. Called the hold because it possesses most of the belongings you all brought with..The tour will neglect that part of the boat. It can get a bit tight,” he grinned. “Onward and upward,” he said, moving to the steps that led to the back of the boat. He climbed, each step singing its refraint. It was an old ship so it sang with gusto. Once dozens of feet started striking the steps, an orchestra of sound could be appreciated. From groans and squeaks to moans and crackles. “This is the quarter deck of the ship,” Captain Cardish called, after everyone had made it up the stairs. “If the main mast is the heart of the ship, this is the brain..As you can see the steering mechanism is here,” he said, gesturing to a stationary wheel with eight protruding phalluses. “It is connected to the rudder at the back of the ship by a series of ropes and pullies which snake through the base of the quarter deck..The rudder is what guides our course. It points the boat in whatever direction the helmsman sees fit..And of course, the helmsman is the person behind the wheel…He’s using these,” he said, walking to the wheel and placing both hands on a windowed case in front of it, “to map the path of the ship..The compass and charts.”
“Do you use a star chart?” someone from the audience asked.
“Absolutey..As much if not moreso than a geographical chart. The stars and sun are the only frame of reference once out in open waters, and half the voyage is done without the sun,” the captain said, smiling.
“How do you measure celestial body locations relative to the ship’s course?” my father asked, caressing his clothen arm sling.
“That’s an excellent question, good sir.” He reached to the side of the chart case, dismounted a strange object, held it high and said, “This is what’s called a Davis quadrant.” The device was a series of bows and bands. Two arc-sprouting angles of like direction were joined by a common length of wood. The shorter, stouter angle was decorated with three third-dimensional accessories. Two were on the angle’s arc; the remaining at the origin. The lengthier more acute angle was on the opposite end and side of the bridging wood-band and carried only one third-dimensional accessory. That arc’s bow extended past the bounds of the angle. “It is used to plot our location relative to the sun..or moon. What you do, is you take it in your hands here,” he said, grasping the excess bow of the large arc with his left hand and a brace between that angle’s legs with his right hand, “with your back to the sun. You look through this sliding slit here,” he said, demonstrating the slide of the accessory on the large angle’s bow then putting an eye to it, “and line it up with this strip of wood here.” He took his right hand from the angle brace and tapped the accessory at the base of the second angle. “You always want to have this piece lined up with the horizon, hence it’s name, the horizon vane..So this piece,” he said, bringing his right pointer-finger back to the slider fixed with the larger arc, then up to the horizon vane, “this piece and the horizon all want to be level..Are you all with me?”
Murmurs of affirmation.
“Then, you take this slider and position it so the sun casts a shadow on the horizon vane,” he said, adjusting the stout angle’s slider, “Add up the angle of each slider and you can calculate the sun’s altitude…Now, here’s a little trick specific to this quadrant. I’ve added a sliding lens to the back arc so that on an overcast day you can still pinpoint the sun..through opposite means. Instead of casting a shadow onto the horizon vane, a light is thrown upon it..It comes in handy,” he admitted, nodding and lowering the contraption. “It can get pretty clouded over out there,” he laughed. “So that’s how you position yourself with the sun. If it’s nighttime and the moon’s not bright enough to use the quadrant, you use what’s called a sextant.” I couldn’t help but sniffle and shift my eyes to Madame Madrielle. Captain Cardish remounted the Davis quadrant while walking around the chart case, stooped, and opened a couple cabinet doors at its base. As he rose, he lifted an object that shared similarities with the quadrant, but looked completely different. It was difficult to see due to the poor lighting, its meager size, and Captain Cardish’s increased distance from where I stood.
“This is a sextant.” He slowly showed a short telescope fitted with a pie wedge of thin, webbed metal. It appeared to be made from metal because it caught and carried the mild light. It was about the size of a fully grown man’s expanded hand. “It can be used to approximate the sun’s altitude, but to due so you basically have to stare at the sun..I usually use it for pinpointing star locations..It’s quite simple. All you have to do is look through this lens,” he said, pointing to the short scope, “find the horizon, and adjust this slider here until you capture the body in question.” While explaining, he swiveled a clicking pendulum pivoted just above the scope. “These mirrors here,” pointing, “bring the horizon and the body into the same image on the scope. Once you have the horizon lined up with the bottom of the body you read the degrees, do your calculation and there you have it…It can be tough to determine which star you’re actually looking for though..I’ve had some run-ins with miscalculations because I was looking at the wrong star. This scope’s finder isn’t the largest.” He laughed and patted the scant telescope. “Any questions?”
“Brilliant, why don’t we take a look at your quarters, then?” He put the sextant back in its cabinet, bypassed the crowd, and went down the stairs. He waited for accumulation at the entrance to the cabin just below the quarter deck. Once satisfied, he said, “Alright, the lot of you will be split into three different groups..One group consists of two families. They will be staying in a couple rooms adjacent to my quarters here,” he described, rapping the closed door he was leaning by. “A group ten large will be just below that in the aft chambers, and another group of ten will be in the bow of the ship. Just below the crew’s forecastle compartment..If you show me your tickets I will be able to tell you exactly where you’ll be bunking.” Widened eyes. “While I’m doing that, why don’t the rowing volunteers go down to the galley with Mr. Woodrey here and get set up,” he said, giving a nod and a come-hither gesture to the approaching monstrosity of a man.
Cardish received Woodrey with an open arm, laying a hand to his shoulder. Woodrey closed in and Cardish’s arm wrapped to Woodrey’s upper back. Low mumblings and nods of agreement by the crowd followed.
Woodrey broke from the huddle and bellowed, “All volunteers over here,” beckoning to follow with his beastly arm.
Boregard and I looked at each other as father nudged us in Woodrey’s direction. My steps shuffled at first, but grew larger until they stopped in Woodrey’s immediate audience.
A small group of about ten gathered and Woodrey said, “Follow me.” He was a man of few words. He spoke boldly and to the point.
We followed him to the cabin below the forecastle deck. He opened the door and I noticed a laddered gap to the left of the entryway. A lit lamp wearing a wide metallic cone-hat for light projection hung above the hole. Woodrey squeezed into the opening and lumbered down. The group pursued. The ladder was old and seized every opportunity to voice its age, but it was sound. The dim light degressed as I descended, so I barely outlined a small wooden door rising on the right. I continuously checked to see if the hands below me were in danger of being stepped on. At one point they stopped. So did I. Eventually they carried on and I quickly came upon solid footing. I turned around and stooped through the door behind me.
The galley was a long low-ceiling chamber similar in proportion to the hold. It was a bit narrower due to the curvature of the hull’s influence and it was more adequately lit. Five or six sets of benches loosely perpendiculated the contour of the hull. Aside each bench was a rectangular slit in the boat’s body where I assumed the oars would be positioned.
I followed the person ahead, to the end of a line filed between the benches. As I walked I could feel the grime decades of water stagnation produced. When all the volunteers had arrived, Woodrey spoke up. “This is the galley. We’ll be rowing from here. Two people to a bench..I’ll tell you where to sit.” He walked down the aisle, divvying people as he went. “You two here…You two here…” he would say, acknowledging pairs with a horizontal ‘Victory’ sign. He made it to me. I was paired with Boregard and we sat on the left.
After assigning place spots, Woodrey went to the front and opened a long slender aperture about the length of the room’s width. He bent down, held his arms in cradle position, and tripped something that sent a slew of wooden poles tumbling into his arms. He stood and began walking backwards. At each bench, he shifted one of the poles from the pile and inserted it into the rectangular slit at the end. “Hold this,” he’d say.
He worked his way back, dispersing oars with agility and accuracy. I was thoroughly impressed. When Boregard and I were handed our oar, I noted the aged wood probably weighed thirty kilos. And it was unwieldy as hell. I looked to the weathered wood my hands rest upon, wondering what kind of things it’d seen. How much adrenaline, bloodlust, fear, anger, misery and joy had been transferred to its veins. I felt its calloused history in my hands and wondered if any of those emotions would be translated to my constitution.
I looked up with the sound of clinking and saw Madame Bullion distributing small cups and pouring steamy liquid into them. I accepted the cup with my right hand and a “Thank you.” Peering in, I inhaled through my nostrils deeply.
“What do you think this is?” I asked Boregard, continuing to squint at my cup’s contents.
“I don’t know. I was just trying to figure that out myself,” he said with a pursed cheek.
I took an exploratory sip, but it was too hot to determine the flavor.
“I’ve heard of coffee and its description, but I don’t think this is it,” Boregard assumed.
“Yeah, I don’t know.” I’d been blowing on the liquid since my sip, so it felt time to take another. “It’s like mildly flavored water,” I assessed, smacking my lips.
“Mmmhm…I’m not quite sure,” Boregard indecided.
Its warmth was refreshing, so I continued sipping.
“So, how do you think this is gonna be?” I asked.
“The rowing..Do you think it’ll be tough?”
“I don’t know, maybe,” Boregard answered, taking a sip of the beverage. “We shouldn’t be doing it for too long, so I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Yeah.” I looked up and saw Madame Bullion and Woodrey having a hushed conversation. Eventually she came around to collect the empties. She got to me and I slammed the rest of the drink down so’s I could give her my cup. She held out her hand and I filled it asking, “What was that?”
“It’s called tea,” she said with a smile. “It’s made from shredded plant leaves.”
“Really? It’s quite good..Thank you very much.”
“You’re very welcome,” she answered, smiled, and carried on.
I felt guilty about my initial repulsion of Madame Bullion. She seemed to be a sweetheart. I couldn’t help but watch her pass. She continued collecting cups and headed to the door. A verbal exchange was made with Woodrey then she disappeared behind the door next to the oar depository.
“We’ll start rowing once Beatrice is back,” Woodrey declared.
I assumed he was speaking of Madame Bullion. I leaned over to peer through the oar slit. Night’s drapery blanketed the scenery with darkness, so I had to imagine what the sea looked like. It wasn’t a serious stretch because I could hear the water lapping.
I felt the hard wood in my grasp and gave it a tug. Nothing. I tugged harder. Same result. I looked to Boregard and he took the hint. We both laid into it with scarce results.
“This might be somewhat difficult,” I laughed.
“Yeah, well. I think it will be quite a bit easier if everyone is pulling,” he offered.
“Yeah. But still.”
“It is a big boat,” he shrugged.
Madame Bullion reentered the room and touched Woodrey on the arm. The gesture gave me pause, but I didn’t have time to delve.
“Let’s do it,” Woodrey nearly shouted. He moved to the back of the room. Madame Bullion followed. They sat on benches at opposing sides of the room. “We’ll be rowing backwards,” Woodrey declared. “The boat will be going that way,” turning, he gave a vague point, “so look this way.”
“Men on the docks will be pulling ropes to help us move, so…Take your oar in your hands and-” At that moment I heard a loud bell sound. “-put it forward..lower it.. now pull..really hard…Pull,” he growled.
I pulled to the extent my back would allow. To my surprise, I felt movement.
“Do it again,” I heard yelled. “Pick up your oar and put it forward.”
Boregard and I did so.
“Pull.” The monosyllabic word, didn’t even sound like language. It more resembled a sound bite of elephant flatulence drowning in a tin of milk. But it had the desired effect. The tendons in my back quivered with the tension, and the boat moved. This time to a higher degree.
As Boregard and I forwarded the oar, I looked to him and smiled. It was returned. Manual labor always afforded me a decent dosage of personal satisfaction. Especially when leading to instant results.
I pulled again and watched Madame Bullion’s right forearm ripple. A hint of jealousy over the fact she was more of a man than me caused a jolt of energy to surge through my pull. After the fourth row, I could feel the boat pick up speed and start to gather a consistent cruise. After the sixth row it could be assumed that we were past the influence of the dockmen and all our speed could be chalked to the rowers. On the ninth row I could feel the oar being carried by the relative current.
“That’ll do,” I heard Woodrey call. “Hold your oar and I’ll come get them.”
“Shit. That wasn’t bad at all,” I turned to Boregard and said.
“No. It sure wasn’t.”
Woodrey came by and jerked his head implying we slide the oar into his arms. We did so. He nodded. “You all can go to the main deck.We’re done down here..Dinner should be served soon.”
Dinner was a wham-bam affair. We were given a plate with utensils, passed a basket of buttered bread, then a drum of raw onions while Madame Bullion made the rounds with a serving platter of pork. Everything was delectable, but it lacked that certain atmosphere food enjoys being in company with. The sit-down, savor-the-flavor, kind of dining experience which exponentially heightens any meal was lost to a rushed melee of basket passing and plate teetering. There was no table to speak of so most people resorted to balancing their plate on the side rail. It was girthy enough, but the pitch of the boat caused a couple plates to be lost to the insatiable appetite of the sea.
Halfway through the meal, Madame Bullion came around with glasses and a pitcher of water. I immediately drained mine upon filling and asked for more. Bullion obliged, but offered a telling smirk. I read my haste on her face and countered with a sheepish grin.
Dinner finished with little incident. Once the Birch bunch cleaned their plates, Madame Bullion collected the cutlery and whatnot in a large basin.
“Mmm. That was good,” father admired, shifting his sling and rubbing his belly.
“Mmmhm,” mother mentioned with a hint of something on her voice that told me she knew she could cook better.
Father turned to her and smiled. She reciprocated.
“Yeah. It was good..I wonder if we get dessert,” I thought aloud.
“I hope so. I could go for some dessert,” Boregard said, lifting his arms and performing a mild stretch.
“I think I could too,” father smirked.
Mother and Amelie refrained from saying anything, but it was easy to see the crave on their face.
I looked around the deck and pinned Madame Bullion offering an open tin to the passengers. She made her way to us and I peered inside to see an assortment of colored hard-candies. I grabbed a red one and popped it in my mouth. A wave of flavor engulfed my receptors. Sugar with a hint of something similar to strawberries. It was delicious.
I leaned back to enjoy the soothing sounds of lips smacking candies when I noticed Madame Madrielle setting up a music stand on the far end of the deck. I was momentarily transfixed by her figure and its bend. She footed the legs of the stand and went into the forecastle cabin. Minutes later she returned leading one end of an oddly shaped couch. Her husband was guiding the other. They placed the one-armed couch in front of the music stand. Mr. Anderson walked away as Madam Madrielle seemed to comment. His nonreaction made me wonder if she had, in fact, commented or if he was just a prick.
I noted that my candy had whittled down to a suitable size for chewing, so I did. An explosion of extract pummeled my tongue. The candy shrapnel was sticking to my teeth, making it difficult to chew. I closed my mouth, let some saliva build, and swished it around the sugary-glue produced lock-jaw. It took about thirty seconds to dissolve the situation.
Once I finished swishing, Madame Madrielle presented herself with a, “Hello..Good Evening,” and a wave.
The crowd turned, hushed, and sent a few scattered ‘hello’s in return.
“How was your dinner?” she asked.
“Good I hope..Would you like to hear some music then?” she inquired with a slightly raised volume.
The general consensus was yes.
“Okay. Well, I’ll play you some…I’ve got my nyckelharpa here,” she said, raising an odd instrument I’d never seen before. It looked kind of like a violin, but it was broader, it seemed to have more strings, and there was a row of rods jutting from the neck. “..So I hope I can meet your musical needs..I’ve been playing it for about a year now, so bear with me, please. I’m still trying to work out the kinks.”
She sat on the couch, swung her legs up, and settled into an extended position. She maneuvered the nyckelharpa so the head pointed at her feet, raised her bow to the strings and said, “This song is called ‘Strangers’.”
She maneuvered the bow against the instrument to produce sounds unlike anything I’d heard in that context. A cornucopia of musical makings cascaded over my ear lilies. I heard sounds of trains going over tracks, Arrow-Root tree frogs fishing for a mate, the wind rustling the highest in a school of Bilberry branches, and the sound/feeling of vibrations emanating the atmosphere after a gun’s been fired. Madame Madrielle blew on her horn of plenty and I surrendered my cold sweat and a couple drops of urine. It only took a few minutes, but her music wrang me through.
She took it up a notch, dropped it, and said, “Thank you,” as people began to clap. I was too smitten to offer anything more than a modest effort, but I feel my heart was in it. “That song was written by my friend and I a couple years ago. We had originally composed it for an entirely different instrument, but I feel it works quite well on this one here,” she said, giving her nyckelharpa a low lift.
“Mmmhm,” I sounded under my breath, “Entirely.”
“This next song, I wrote maybe ten years ago. It’s about my father returning to the sea. You see, he was a fisherman, so when I was growing up he would be away fishing for months at a time, come back for a week or two then disappear again. It was always difficult to watch him go..But now, oddly enough, I’m the one saying goodbye for my call to the ocean,” she laughed. It resonated throughout the crowd. She lowered her head and said, “It’s called Back to Black.”
Bow danced with strings scattering an array of notes, pitches, and switches. I still don’t understand how such a range of sound was coming from the instrument. I was swept by a swath of chords that cut but carried me. The song ended and applause rippled. Dumfounded, I weakly attempted clapping. The results were similar to the first timid display.
Madame Madrielle lifted an arm, gave a wave, and said something like “Thank you.” A smile that could cure impotence graced her face and galloped through my blood vessels.
Her set lasted about an hour. I was riveted the entire time. My eyes never wavered. When finished she stood, bowed, and thanked the audience for being so attentive. I watched as she carried the nyckelharpa to her quarters, then return for the chaise lounge with her aloof husband. I don’t believe he watched the show.
“That was great,” Boregard said, leaning toward me.
“She’s..really something, uh,” Boregard continued. I turned to him and noticed his nodding smile.
“Yeah..Yeah. Absolutely,” I said, turning back and watching a crowd member refuse to let Madame Madrielle carry half the couch. Her husband’s eyes were on a roll. She relinquished, watched the sofa go, and accepted the offered hand of a different fan.
“I really like that fourth song she did,” Boregard offered. “It was quite well done.”
“Yeah, you’re right..It was very upbeat.”
“Yes..Definitely..Do you remember what it was called again?” he asked.
“Uuuh..I don’t know..It was French, wasn’t it?.Something like Le Jour d’..d’avant, I think.”
“Yeah, that’s what it was..Le Jour d’avant,” Boregard told the main sail. “Quite good.”
“Have you ever seen one of those instruments?” I asked. “It was pretty strange, eh.”
“No, I haven’t..I’m not sure what it was or where it comes from…It looked like it could’ve been Persian,” he assessed.
“Yeah. That definitely sounds possible..I have no idea, but it was making some crazy sounds..Unlike anything I’ve ever heard,” I said, shaking my head.
“It was quite bizarre..Why don’t we ask her what it’s called,” he said, thumbing and leaning in Madame Madrielle’s direction.
It took me a minute to digest what my brother said. I couldn’t grasp the concept of personifying the entity I knew to be Madame Madrielle. She was a fairy tale, a story book, a square triangle. She couldn’t exist as a person with hopes, dreams, goals, or emotions. A conversation with her would be impossible, but I found myself following Boregard’s lead.
We shuffled our way to her, wreathing through the crowd. She was talking to someone, so Boregard and I politely stood in her foreground. We’d come in the midst of a conversation, making it difficult to determine what was being discussed. It seemed someone was telling Madame Madrielle about their experience as an orchestral chair. She looked detached, but I could’ve easily misread in my state. Soon enough, she welcomed us into the conversation by volleying a look between Boregard and I while smiling.
“Hello,” Boregard started.
I followed his lead with a “Hello” and a tight lipped smile.
“Hello,” she returned.
“We really enjoyed your show..It was great.” Boregard said.
“Yeah. It was great,” I echoed.
“Oh. Well thank you very much..It’s so nice to receive praise from such strapping young bucks,” she siqued.
I could feel the blood rushing to my face and nether regions. More the former. She seemed to notice, brightening her smile. My chin instinctually jerked to my chest. Realizing how foolish I must’ve looked, I tried to give the move purpose by pretending to wipe something from my pantaloons. When I re-raised my head, Madam Madrielle was staring at me with an intimidating smile. Blood swarmed. I put my hands in my pocket. One fingered my penis while the other fingered the pocket-watch I’d acquired from the dead boy.
She laughed and said, “What’s wrong?”
Blanks were drawn.
“..Do you dislike compliments?” she asked me.
“Uh..No. No..I like compliments..I just..” I could feel more blood collecting, “had something on my pants,” I said under my breath.
“What’s that? I’m sorry,” she said, leaning in with an ear accentuated.
“Uh..I had some food on my pants.”
“Hmm,” she almost pondered, eyeing my crotch, “Yes..Well, I think you got it,” she offered with a devilish grin.
I wondered if her expression was linked to my, by then, raging erection. Regardless, I conceived possible reasons. On one hand, she imagined my manhood and enjoyed. On the other, she was amused by my schoolboy inadequacy. I was torn between arousal and embarrassment. Needless to say, the heart was pumping.
Lost for words, I asked, “So do you like this ship?”
Her smile flickered. For an instant it drooped, but immediately regained its original fervor nearly unnoticed. “Yes..Yes I do,” she said. “It’s been a good home to me.”
“Wow. Yeah..Yeah, that’s great,” I stuttered.
“How long have you been making these trips?” Boregard asked.
“Mm, about a year and a half,” she confessed, puckering her lips.
I could feel my member pulsing with life.
“How many individual trips is that?”
“I think it’s been four now. This will be the fifth,” she said, nodding.
“That’s amazing..What got you into this line of work?” he asked.
“Well, as you may remember, I mentioned my father being a fisherman. So, I don’t know. I suppose I was just drawn to this lifestyle.”
“That’s incredible..It seems like a very fulfilling choice.”
“Yes, thank you..I would have to agree,” Madame Madrielle said, smiling.
I stood staring. She turned to me. I remained motionless and she said, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go to bed,” with a slight breast-exhibiting stretch.
“Good night,” wished Boregard.
“Good night,” she returned.
“Good night,” nodded the stranger still standing there.
“Good night,” I lagged.
With that Madame Madrielle turned on a heel and sauntered back to her foredeck dormitory. I watched her walk, wondering if she was purposely giving her hips a bit more bounce. Once she disappeared behind the dormitory door, I turned to Boregard and said, “Mmmhm.”
The stranger roused from his daze, bid us a good night, and walked off. Boregard and I exchanged words about how much of a vixen Madame Madrielle was, then sought our remaining family members. We found them and discussed sleep as a plausible option. Boregard and I had yet to see our quarters, so they led the way, snaking through people and doors. The room we were to sleep in was minimal, but effective. There was a large bed under a round window set into the back wall. Just afront the bed was a spanning set of sheets and blankets which allowed a narrow by-path. The ceiling was low and the scent was somewhat musty, but it was inviting.
“So, here she is,” my father said, one arm sweeping and one arm swinging. “This will be our place for the next couple of weeks..So, get comfortable…Your mother and I will be taking the bed while the three of you bunk on the floor here,” he said, making various head motions to acknowledge me, my siblings, and the surroundings.
“That sounds good,” Boregard said.
I remained silent, but nodded. My peripheral vision picked up Amelie’s expression, noting its subsatisfaction. I let it slip from my mind, turned to Boregard and said, “I got dibs on not middle.
Amelie quickly followed with, “Me too.”
“Yeah, I don’t mind sleeping in the middle,” Boregard chivalrously admitted.
“Good,” father punctuated. “Let’s get ready for bed then, shall we..Captain Cardish said we can wash up in the next room.”
My family followed father to the water closet while I darted back onto the deck. I was surprised by how quickly it’d cleared. Minutes before told of masses more, but by then only a couple clusters of people remained. The place had adopted an eerie atmosphere with the lack of light and passengers. I walked to the main mast, passed it, and stood at the spot Madame Madrielle performed. My brain told me I could feel something on that spot. My eyes closed and a picture show of dancing umbrellas flashed across the screen. The umbrellas shifted to shades of rain. I opened my eyes and continued seeing specks of water against the dusty light. I thought the artist may’ve mistakenly transferred my thoughts to reality, but then I began to feel the rain flick my skin. My face squinted, I looked up, and eyelids flickered with kisses of rain.
I casually moved back to the quarter deck, enjoying the sensation afforded by light rain. I stopped at the side rail, trying to find the waves. I stared at the wave shadows, filling in the details with my mind. The rain picked up, becoming less than pleasant, so I went inside. I peeked in our room, saw that most of my family members were settling into their niches, and carried on to the washroom. I entered, pinpointed the water jug, and picked it up. I poured some water from it to my left hand, catching the runoff in a basin below. I switched hands, adequately rinsed my right, set the jug down, and ran both hands over my face.
I dried my face with the just less than drenched towel and walked back to the room. Boregard and Amelie were on the floor, eyes closed and placid. My mom was tending father’s bandages, commenting on how well the wound was healing. I gave them a nod and “Good night,” sliding under the covers. I took my wig off and tossed it on the floor at my feet. Lying back, I felt the sway of the boat for the first time in a while. At first it was disconcerting, but after a couple seconds it grew to be quite relaxing. I imagined myself to be a stationary fixture on a spinning top. With the thought of the top spinning to spell the word ‘hilt’ in cursive, I fell asleep.
My dreams were of catapults and horseback riding. The next morning I awoke with a movement made by Boregard. He was trying to work his way to safety without waking either Amelie or I. Even though he was doing so carefully, I could feel the sheets shifting. I opened my eyes, blinked a few times, and rubbed them rigorously. I inhaled/exhaled deeply.
“Good morning,” I heard in a whisper. I rose and noticed Boregard staring at me.
“Good morning,” I returned, rubbing.
“How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Mm. Really well,” he said with a big grin.
“Oh good.” I swiveled my head to take in the surroundings. Mother and father were absent with bed already made. I was impressed by the made bed. I’d been entirely indisturbed during its making. Amelie was still asleep to my right and the door to the hallway was ajar. I turned to my left and noticed the outline of what I took for a closet door. I stood up, brushed my pants to flatten the wrinkles, and applied my wig.
“Where’re mom and dad?” I whispered.
“They’re out on deck,” Boregard answered.
I raised my eyebrows and gave a slight chin raise, indicating my position on leaving. It was somewhere between an inquiry and an insist. Boregard obliged and headed out the door.
The deck was busting with millers. Boregard lifted a finger and lightly exclaimed, “There they are.”
My mind’s eye drew a line from his finger and I saw our parents leaning against the side rail. We weaved through people and sidled alongside our parents.
“Good morning,” we both said.
They turned to us returning, “Good morning,” in turn.
“How did you sleep?” mother asked.
“Very well,” said Boregard.
“Good,” said I.
“And you?” we asked together.
“Yes, I had a very nice sleep, thank you.”
“Me too,” my father said.
I shifted my head and weight for a more apt viewing of the ocean. I lifted a leg, crossed it with the prominent, and leaned more heavily on my elbows. I stared at the ocean, deciphering the color depth of the water. The artist had really shown their skill with the swirling medley of blues and whites. The colors seemed more potent than I can ever remember witnessing. Especially where the water captured the glare of the sun. I thought I might be looking through reality’s canvas into the next.
I could feel the wind play with my wig, so I took it off and pocketed it. I lifted my head and vocalized a subtle, “Aaaah,” like I’d just relieved explosive blood-built pressure from my fingers. I spent the better part of an hour ogling water from the base of the hull out to the horizon.
The routine aboard was pretty fixed. Wake up, eat, loiter on deck, eat, watch the birds, chat, eat, re-fall in love with Madame Madrielle, star gaze, and finally sleep to dream of various rhythmics.
One night I was in the midst of dreamily thrusting my penis into Madame Madrielle’s vagina when I lurched into the darkness of reality. I realized I was no longer sexing the Madame and gave a sigh. My senses focused. I could hear commotion coming from behind me. I turned and heard sheets rustling, then father jaggedly muttering about getting something and/or lighting a torch.
A torch was lit. Mother’s flickering figure backed from a candle and the room poured into view. Father was frantically searching for something; tearing up the bed sheets and swiveling on his knees.
All of a sudden he stood stock still, pointed and said, “Cornelius- the corner behind you.”
I turned and looked in the direction he pointed to see a giant rat scuttling along the floor-wall crevice. I leapt, clutching my stomach, to my feet. “Holy shit,” I exclaimed. Luckily, I’d shed my pants before settling to bed, so my skivvies blatantly displayed my erection. I noticed and tried to suppress it without much success. The material was too thin to subdue such punch.
“Get it. Get it,” my father yelled.
I didn’t move. I wasn’t quite sure what getting it entailed. Maybe stepping on it. Throwing some sheets on it. Tackling it and ripping its jugular out with my teeth. I neglected those options to stand and stare at the hairy thing.
Father stumbled past me, tripping over Boregard and paying little heed. He gathered some sleeping sheets and pounced. After wrestling around, he scrambled up and busted out the door. I turned to see my family’s empty expressions and followed after my father. I stood in the doorframe leading outside and swabbed the deck with my eyes. I found a figure quivering over the side rail. I approached it. Just as I neared it, father’s face appeared with a broad smile.
“Hahaha. Got that little beasty,” he exclaimed.
“Oh yeah?..Good deal.”
“Right over board,” he said, turning to the railing.
“Father, you’re bleeding,” I said, looking to the shiny red bandage on his arm.
His expression shifted and he said, “The thing bit me.”
“Really?.Ooh,” I said, eying the blood drenched shreds. “Looks like it reopened your wound,” I commented, concerned.
“Yeah, it does..Son of a gun,” he said, staring down his upturned forearm. “I better get your mother to take a look at this.”
He began walking back to the dormitory. I followed. As we neared I could see mother standing at the brink in her nightgown, perhaps timid to put on a show. Her face welled with worry.
“Are you okay?” she asked as we advanced.
“Yeah, yeah,” my father sighed. “But that little nasty reopened my wound,” he said, lifting his bloodied left.
“Hhhuh,” mother inhaled deeply. “Oh my gosh..Come here. Come here,” she said, taking father by the right and leading him into our room. They sat on the bed. Mother gingerly unwrapped the cloth. Another loud inhalation, “Hhhuh..How long was it biting you?” she asked, eyelines creased.
“I’m not sure. I think a bit..I remember feeling it in my dream, but I didn’t wake immediately.”
“Can someone get me a pitcher of water, please?” mother distressed.
“Of course,” said Boregard, springing into action.
Mother pivoted on her knees to fetch her day case. She opened it and withdrew a small glass bottle and some fresh bandages. Boregard returned with a pitcher, the full load swishing.
Mother put down the various hand-held items and accepted Boregard’s offering. She took the pitcher’s handle in her right hand, steadied its belly with her left and poured it over father’s ragged wound. Water and blood soaked the bed. I was almost surprised mother didn’t seem more concerned about the bed, but then the circumstances weighed in. She thrust the pitcher back at Boregard, and uncorked the small bottle from her day case. A flood of clear liquid spilled onto father’s gash. Father hissed and mother moaned, “Mmm. This isn’t looking very good..I think we should wake Captain Cardish.”
“You think so?” father asked, defeated.
“Yes,” she said, corking the bottle and rising to her knees. “Come on.”
Mother took father by the arm and they scooted off the bed to shuffle out the door. Boregard followed with the pitcher. I broke my stare from their exit and walked to the bed to retrieve my sheets. Rifling through the clump I found them blood and water soaked. Deciding against their bounty, I stooped and crawled into place next to Boregard’s.
“Can I share your sheets?” I asked Boregard as he reentered.
“Yes, of course,” he said, bending over to help me adjust.
“That was pretty intense,” I assessed wide eyed, while situating.
“Yeah,” Boregard agreed, pulling covers over himself.
“I hope father’s alright,” Amelie input.
“Yeah,” Boregard and I harmonized.
The mood wasn’t very conversational, so we three shimmied into sleeping positions. As I was getting comfortable, I felt a rigid object beneath me. I fished for it and pulled it close to my face. In the dim it read as my recently procured pocket-watch. That was the first time I’d seen it by candle light. When I rotated it between my fingers, I noticed the light didn’t affect it the same as its surroundings. It was as if the artist had instilled internal luminance. Fondness flooded, but remembrance for what the watch represented registered and I threw it in disgust. It clattered at my feet. I could feel Boregard shift.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
He mumbled something and resettled.
It took me longer to get to sleep than usual. I couldn’t help thinking about all the recentries and what they held. When I finally did sleep, I dreamt of horseshoes and calligraphy. Lucidity was poor. I could only remember flashes of happenstance.
In the morning I awoke to an empty room. I put on my pants and wig and went out on deck. I searched but found no familial faces so I swashbuckled to the side rail and admired the ocean. The hypnotic wave-undulations captured and swallowed me.
My jaw slackened and a hand rested on my shoulder. For a second I didn’t understand the sensation, then I turned to meet my brother’s face.
“Father’s not doing so well,” he solemnly disclosed.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s in the infirmary right now.”
“The infirmary?.Still?..From last night?”
“Yep, Come on..I’ll show you,” he said, hurriedly walking to the front of the ship. He passed through the cabin door and descended the ladder-well to the left. I followed and saw him dart into an opening on the right. As I came level with it, his head popped out.
“In here,” he said.
I crouched into the hole and slightly erected once in the chamber. The ceilings were low, so my erection was around seventy-seven percent. My nostrils inhaled a scent I was unfamiliar with. Sweet tanginess.
I followed close behind Boregard. He strafed to the side and opened the scene to me. Father was centered under a slightly swinging suspended-candle. Sweat was dripping from his face to a shirtless chest. His unbandaged arm was tattered and bloody. Mother was behind him to the right. Amelie was next to her. Then Boregard. On father’s other side was a man I recognized from Captain Cardish’s introduction, but couldn’t name. To his left was Captain Cardish. Faces were slack and staring at me.
The silence was unnerving so I said, “What’s going on?”
“Your father requires surgery,” the unnamed man said.
“Surgery?.Why?” I asked.
“The wound on his arm is infected,” mother shared.
“Infected?” I said like I’d never heard the word. In fact, I had heard the word. It usually meant death. “By the rat?”
“We believe his arm was infected before being molested by the rat..That certainly didn’t help, though. It made the wound messier and more difficult to clean..There isn’t much we can do other than remove the arm,” the man said. Regret bubbling behind his kind eyes.
“Remove the arm,” I said to myself. As casual as removing an unsightly mole.
“How will you remove it?” I asked.
The man made a gesture to a nearby table. On it was a large hacksaw.
“Well, I’ll leave Doctor Fielding to it, then,” Captain Cardish said, excusing himself. My head turned to follow Cardish as he moved past my immediacy. I saw how sunken his eyes were.
I looked to the doctor, then my father, then mother. My widened eyes absorbed the severity. The doc moved to the tabled hacksaw and stared.
“Should we do it now, Doctor Fielding?” my mother’s shaky voice asked.
“The sooner the better,” Dr. Fielding answered with un-blinking/wavering eyes.
My father grunted. Amelie squirmed. The remaining audience persevered through noncommision of any activity. Dr. Fielding grasped the hacksaw handle with his right hand and shifted it to a basin of liquid. It swished and slopped the clear liquid as he dunked. He removed his hands, turned and said, “Do you drink?” to my father.
Father’s face eased, he gave a bubbled purse of the lips and said, “Yes.”
Fielding handed father a nondescript glass bottle, and said “Drink this.” He watched the statement sink and turned back to his work station. Father tipped the bottle with his right hand.
Amelie shuffled and shied from the scene saying, “I think I’ll go upstairs for a bit.” She was looking at father. Father didn’t respond. He only took another swig. But mother did. “Okay,” she said. Amelie dropped her head and faded away.
Dr. Fielding spun and dragged a high slender table to my father’s side. “Put your arm on this, please,” he requested.
Father did so. Fielding massaged father’s arm with a cloth he’d doused in the hacksaw’s sterilization basin. Fielding turned and a blast of the sterilizing agent met my nose. Tears welled. Father threw the bottle back. Mother sifted through father’s hair as Boregard anxiously shifted. My eyes shimmied between spective parties and a tear ran down my cheek. After a few minutes Dr. Fielding turned with shimmering hacksaw in hand and said, “Alright..Ohp, just a minute,” he said, blowing a puff of air and producing a short rope. He tied the rope around father’s upper left arm. Father cringed with Fielding’s tightening. “Alright,” he again declared.
Father looked at him with glassy eyes.
“Can you hold his arm?” Fielding asked, looking to me.
I dropped my jaw and uttered, “Uhh, yes..Yes, of course I can.” I closed in and met eyes with my father. “I’m sorry,” I feel my eyes exhibited. I didn’t make a sound for fear of betraying myself. Father’s hands were sweaty in mine. Dr. Fielding deposited a large tub under the slender table father’s arm rested upon. He rose and placed the hacksaw’s blade on father’s forearm, just below the elbow joint. My jaw was slack. I looked to Boregard. His was the same.
“Here we go,” announced Dr. Fielding. Mother inhaled sharply and father tightened his grip against mine. Dr. Fielding dragged the saw blade across my father’s arm. I felt his arm go rigid as blood squirted. I looked from the cascading blood to his face. Wide eyes, flared nostrils, and a clenched jaw governed the gore. A guttural groan accompanied the sweat rolling down father’s reddened face.
After three saw volleys I could feel the blade catch bone. Father’s hand vibrated then lurched as the saw made it through one of his forearm bones. I looked to his face. It was flaccid. Vibrations joined a gentle hum as the saw-blade licked the second bone. Another couple seconds and the forearm gave. Its grip steadily weakened as blood rushed from the gaping hole opposite the hand. I let go as soon as I realized what it was.
Blood was pouring from father’s upper forearm. Dr. Fielding quickly put a cloth that’d been soaking in the sterilization basin onto the stub and tightly tied a rope around it. I looked to my mother’s face. It appeared as drained of color as the disembodied forearm. She interraldically wiped sweat from father’s face and tears from hers.
I turned to Boregard’s dead set stare. He looked on father’s unconscious face with grim. Mother’s expression was the same.
Dr. Fielding disturbed the silence by saying, “I’ll be back in one minute.” After he exited, I could hear his steps ascend the ladder. His absence felt eternal. Not even a breath broke the stillness of the room’s air. I was so consumed by thoughts I didn’t notice Fielding’s return until his passing arm brushed mine. I slowly looked in his direction. My eye was caught by a glowing-tipped rod he held in his right hand. He set the handle on his workbench, leaving the heated tip suspended over open air, and made to untie the cloth covering father’s wound.
Once untied, Fielding tossed the rag on his workbench and picked up the metal rail. He gave my mother a glance as he planted his left hand on father’s elbow. Blood gushed. Without hesitation, he brought the molten metal to father’s perforation and held it there. The crackle of searing flesh and the hiss of extinguishing flame preempted father’s jolten awakening. A scream escaped his lips and widened eyes, then he slumped back into unconsciousness.
Fielding removed the metal. The room smelled of fried swine. I realized my mouth was open, so I closed it. Scanning the scene, I saw a couple accompanying open mouths.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” Dr. Fielding mentioned as he carried the disheartened rod from the room, “to bandage him up.”
Eventually he returned and set to bandaging father. When he was finished I stared at the lacking table father’s arm rested upon. My eyes tricked me into seeing the absent portion of his arm. It was strange convincing myself that his forearm and hand weren’t actually there. I wasn’t a fan.
When Fielding finished, he recommended we go upstairs and let father sleep. “He needs his rest,” he explained.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him,” he said as we exited.
On arisal to the deck, the flailing wind felt different than before. I was generally a strong proponent of chilled air in its ability to stimulate the senses, but on this night the cold air had a hostile and unwelcome tone. I pulled my overcoat tight and hastily huddled across the deck. I went into our quarters and collapsed into my nest without saying a word or making eye contact to/with anyone.
I woke feeling unsatisfied. Sleep had neither refreshed nor calmed my mind. The events of the previous night immediately churned through my thoughts. I propped myself and looked around. The room was empty save a few inanimates. I gave a surly stretch and rose to my feet. Already fully dressed, I stumbled out the door to the edge of the deck. It was raining quite moderately, so I retired to the room. I didn’t feel like converting my memories to reality by joining my family in the infirmary, so I rifled through the room’s meager contents and stumbled across a book. “The Wonderful World of Witling”
I sighed and opened the cover expecting to be bored out of my mind by tricks of the wood chipping trade, but was pleasantly surprised when I found the book was directed towards improving your level of wit. Over the course of the next hour I learned activities such as reading, writing, and calming the mind all contributed to heightened wittiness. After browsing the book for some time, I told myself I could extrapolate the remaining details.
I put the book down and turned to the circular window. The rain appeared to have subsided, but it was difficult to tell through the mineral encrusted glass. I stood and stepped onto the deck. The rain clouds had thinned and blue blotches could be seen peeking through. A flicker of adrenaline fluttered through my adrenals. I moved to the siderail and leaned, enjoying the wispy air for a moment. I pulled out my smoking pouch and packed a hearty bowl. I lit it and took long deep drags of the rich tobacco. The nicotine sent shudders through my body.
I finished, remembering my father’s state. I decided to check out the infirmary, so I pocketed my paraphernalia and pushed myself from the railing, walked to the forecastle cabin, climbed down the ladder, and entered the infirmary.
“Hey, Cornelius,” I was greeted with.
“Hi,” I said, looking at the faces in the room. It was populated by my immediate family members. “How are you doing?” I directed at my father.
A smile sprung on his face, “Pretty good..considering.”
“Yeah, sure sure..Does your arm hurt?”
“Absolutely, but it could be worse..It’s funny, I can still feel the fingers of the hand that isn’t there,” he described, smiling and looking to the table where his hand might be if it were still attached.
“Really? That’s bizarre.”
“When I try moving them, I can really feel them.”
“Huh,” I said, not knowing how to handle the situation. I looked around uncertainly. “The weather is pretty nice outside,” I offered.
“Yeah, we were talking about going out on deck to enjoy it,” he confessed.
“Absolutely..We definitely should.”
“We’re going to wait for Doctor Fielding to change your father’s bandages then we’ll go up,” my mother explained with a forced smile.
“My ears are burning,” I heard from behind me. Fielding approached and stood next to me. “How’s the patient doing?”
“Good good,” father said, puckering his lips and nodding his head. “..About as good as a person who just had his arm sawed off could be, I suppose,” father added with raised eyes and laughter on his voice.
I was surprised at how well he was dealing with things. I’m sure I would’ve taken the blow a bit more personally. I guess he didn’t really have much choice. Either he could mope and bitch about the situation or he could accept his serving with grace. I respected his decision.
“What did you do with the amputated arm?” asked Boregard.
“I tossed it overboard..We don’t want those rats to get any more bloodthirsty than they already are,” Fielding answered with lowered chin and raised eyebrows.
“Yes. You’re right,” Boregard agreed, nodding. He said, “Feed the fish,” to no one in particular.
“Mmmhm…Shall we change your bandages, then?” Dr. Fielding directed at father.
“Yes,” father said, looking at his aborted forearm.
“Alright,” Dr. Fielding said, walking to his workbench and unraveling fresh bandages. He went to father and slowly unwrapped the blood-stained bandages. Father inhaled sharply as the blood-caked wrappings snapped from his blemish. Fielding fetched and began applying the clean dressings. Less than a moment later he was finished, saying, “Alright, there we are. It’s looking very good, Mister Birch,” he commented.
“Well, that’s good to hear.”
“But we’ll need to change these bandages around nightfall to stave off another infection..Let’s say,” he said, looking to his naked wrist, “seven o’clock.”
“I suggest getting some fresh air to let that bite breathe a bit,” Fielding proposed.
“Yes. Actually Cornelius was saying the same thing,” Father said, smiling at me.
I captured his smile with a blank expression. I wasn’t quite sure of what was going on.
“Well then,” Fielding stated, turning to me.
I returned his look with a deeper sense/expression of confusion.
“I think my efforts aren’t much needed anymore. I’ll be around the forecastle quarters if you require my services,” Fielding finished.
“Can we go up on deck now?” father asked, looking around the room. “And enjoy some maritime scenery.”
‘Yes’es and nods met his request. Shifting and shuffling ensued until we were out in the open air of the main deck. Getting father up the ladder was an unsettling endeavor. It was a mix of his casual resentment towards needing help and everyone’s efforts in balancing between pity and assistance.
The deck was alight under the midday sun. Most of the clouds had burned off, casting the worn wood in a dulled golden glow. A few billowy bulbs floated under the sun creating a picturesque contrast to the wavering ocean.
A clip of a conversation caught my ear, “That ship is about to make portage with us.”
I turned to see the speaker and saw them gesturing in the opposite direction. I turned further to find the frame they suggested, and sighted a ship heading towards ours. It was a big thing with red sails and a white flag flapping out front. It wasn’t much larger than our ship, but it was certainly stouter. The sides bulged below the rails and the sails seemed a bit broader.
I could see commotion bubbling aboard the approaching ship. Its members were running around potentially preparing for something. As they got closer I made out the people’s décor. The word ragtag came to mind. Multicolored getups consisting of headbands and oversized earrings scurried about on deck. I’d never seen dress quite like it.
Just as I was about to tap Boregard’s resources/shoulder, somebody aboard our boat yelled, “Pirates.” With that a roar erupted from the other ship and mayhem set in. A wave of rope-tailed iron grappling-hooks soared across the space between the two ships. Some immediately anchored themselves in solid wood, while others missed that particular make of mark, blindly seeking refuge.
I heard a loud rip from above, looked up, and saw an iron hook splitting the main sail into two wildly waving segments. The hook finished with the sail and swept the air. A gurgled scream introduced itself. The rogue hook’d found harbor in the right shoulder blade of a bystander. I looked to the opposite end of the grapple and saw two men furiously yanking its rope with expressions of blood lust licking their faces. The onlooker who’d rooted the hook hurled across the deck and planted in the siderail with sickening limb positioning.
Once the grappling hooks made port the pirates strained against their tension, effectively reeling our ship in. As they neared, the detail of their skin grew to the level of scar detection and I could see the dulled whites of their eyes. It almost looked as though the artist had cast their eye sockets in permanent shadow, regardless of their position relative to the sun.
I felt our ship lurch as it made contact with theirs. Blades wavered and unshaven faces hooted as a few threw themselves aboard our vessel.
I didn’t see it coming. But I heard it. As the first swell of scallywags touched down on our deck, a rhythmic thumping grew steadily headier until I saw Mr. Woodrey charge in with a weighty looking war-club. He landed a hit on one man’s belly, then another’s head. The man he hit in the midsection dropped his sword and crumpled, clutching his stomach. The man hit in the head looked to’ve been knocked unconscious but before he could fall he was swept up in Woodrey’s unbroken stride and thrown overboard. I wanted to look to my family to see their reaction but I couldn’t peel my eyes from the scene.
Another mass of pirates jumped to our ship and I could feel a hand wrap around my upper chest, pulling me back to the forecastle cabin. I blinked near painfully dry eyes. As I was hauled inside I saw Mr. Woodrey do battle with a sword-swinging pirate. Of the little knowledge pertaining to sparring I possessed, it looked like Woodrey was winning. Just as the door swung shut I saw a passenger get stabbed in the chest by a sideburns-sporting pirate. The pirate put his foot to the man’s chest and kicked him off the bloodied sword, laughing. The door shut.
I was pulled downstairs and led into the infirmary, spellbound by what was happening outside.
“Hide in these cabinets,” my father growled.
I opened the cabinet door I was nearly thrown against and crawled inside. It was dark. I sat hunched, listening intently. I could hear all manner of pattern-varied footsteps, screams and shouts. After the course of a few minutes so much adrenaline had been released into my bloodstream I could actually feel myself bursting from the cabinet and charging upstairs to join the action. My body had graduated from twitching to shaking. It was all I could do to respect my father’s wishes and refrain.
The adrenaline waves waned until I heard a set of footsteps descend the ladder. A surge of the stuff rushed through my body and my heart felt tight. I cracked the cabinet door so I could see into the room. A man stepped into the yellowed light. He wore heavy boots, baggy and disheveled but ultimately ripless pants, a tattered shirt that displayed his chest hair, and a red bandana atop cropped hair. He walked slowly and set his heavily-stubbled complexion to scanning the room; led by an obviously well-used blade. My mouth opened and I could feel the muscles in my throat tighten.
“Holy fuckin’ shit,” I thought to myself. I tried to stabilize my breathing. It sounded like a chain-smoker’s wheeze in the confined space.
The man passed a row of vertically elongated storage units and a door swung open. My father leapt onto the startled man, brandishing the saw used to dislocate his forearm. He stung the man’s sword carrying hand, making the man drop his weapon. A yell was cut short as father smacked him across the face with the flat of the saw. My father only had access to one fully operational arm, but it was powerfully built. I imagine a blow dished from it would set some stars to sight.
The man was knocked off his feet, but slowly rose. My father’s foot connected with his face, sending him sprawling. Father bent down to pick up the broken man’s blade. He must’ve heard the same footsteps I did ‘cause he jerked upright just in time to meet another man’s iron. A second foe I didn’t even realize to be there sunk his sword into father’s gut.
A low moan escaped father’s lips and he toppled; his eyes still carrying the surprise. My mind was arace with input. It bubbled with single syllabic sounds and incomplete connections. I don’t think an entire thought was constructed, but enough to send me flailing from my hiding space and lunging towards the armed man. He looked up as I was almost upon him. I didn’t have a solid plan of action, but it didn’t matter. I tried to tackle him, and all went black.
hyuh huyuh. it wasn’t that i was tipping it was that i was topping. flip flopping on top of the world. urld ur e l ed.
Excuse me. i could see trees and dreams floating below. How would they know I didn’t have access to the real rhythm? Is’m you about to route the right flight pattern? Cause that would be deeply peachy. What do you have against my wig? Is it that bad? I tend to enjoy the ploys accessed by such spt systems. Ttrrreeaaat. Treat. Where is that? who is that coming from?
“ohp ohp ohp. I see you?” I smiled. “why don’t you let me feel your steel? It might be flighty for the boths of us. hUh uh uh.” I thought I might make a.. “Hey, hey…hahaha I knew that. I fucking knew that.” rata tatat. Clouds of doubts wound my way. Titanous flight patterns make me free. She kepts my tills milled. Fill the saucer with floss..’er…uh..how about that’s the ticket? Does that work the smirken..shirken..send..
I saw channels of wooden panels pass my periph.
Vvveewsh you’s is doing fluids. Oops, who is it? Rue tastes good, dude. But only if the right seasoning’s instilled. Hanght. Ranght. I I just want to see the world. fresh beest. Whooo, going west. Set the rest to that coordinate complex, please. Fees and me’s tax the flax attack. Wait, wait..attack. what’s..the..attaaaack. I thought I said, red. Didn’t i? I’m perplexed. Perplexed with an emphasis on ed. Ed. You’re an Ed, aren’t you?
“Hey, heeeey, who’s carrying me? unhand me you dapper dandy. I thought we were in this together.” Sssp ssp pssssh. Where is the meredis? I thought I left it in the tin flin.
Red yellow swirls of unfurls. Counter, wait no clockwise. “hi, how are you? I just thought I’d mention that I have a..a…a think. I think I can do stuff to you.” Rea rea reason is ripped. It’s just that I wanted to say.. “really, really rehea eaueally.” Steep depths help belt out tunes to the two of you.
My head raised and captured something. Feet. My head slumped and I felt frry..i want it to the strew. Eew, is that what you meant? Red eye. I’m red eye. Ready..wait…is..this..a dream?
I looked up. More feet. Blurry, but there.
Hes, heess, I beat the deet with heat.
Wait. No. No. My head reraised. Blurry.
“What we, haa here is a bu..of…”
My head rested again. No, no, no. I bolted upright. An arm wrapped around my neck. Darkness settled.
Weeehtled but better..The world came back into focus. I brought my hands up to my throat. A hairy arm cradled my neck. I struggled and it tightened. I fought against the arm and felt my brain soften, but I didn’t lose it. Foggy images came into view. A semicircle of bodies.
“Who’s the captain here?” I heard.
Smoke blowing. Billowing. Pillows packed with paradise- My mind was having trouble stabilizing.
“Bring ‘im here.”
Sssh..it’s quiet time. Hai? No..Maybe so.
The sssh of the man’s dragging feet was more of a shtrrssh as I recollect.
“So this’ll be the captain of the ship?.Hahaha.” I caught a clear image of a sword running through Captain Cardish’s center.
He slumped and buckled to the ground. Blood began to pool.
“Fuck you,” I distinctly heard come from the crumpled mass that was Cardish.
The incident caused a jolt of adrenaline to pour into my system. I struggled against my captor and my head was awash with pain. A pang of it epicentered on the crown of my head, expanding and evolving with depth. The inside of my head throbbed with something more than pain. A dizzying ache that made me want to vomit and loosened my ability to think. I closed my eyes, winced, and gave my head a light shake. I winced further. The pain felt like it had grown beyond the borders of my skull. I was haloed with it. I reopened my eyes and was greeted by a whirl of images lacking color. I tried to focus, but my vision was nothing more than a kaleidoscope of shit.
“I could see fine before,” I told myself. That slightly comforted me. I raised my head, steadied my breathing and focused on not focusing too hard. “Just let it happen…It will.”
The world slowed whirling and came into focus. Color had’t quite returned, but at least I could see. I quickly absorbed the situation. A large circle at least thirty strong consisted of pirates holding the passengers of my transport. Some of the passengers struggled, others didn’t. I saw my immediate family members, minus my father. I gagged and felt dizzy. I lowered my head to compose. I calmed and continued assessing. I noted Madame Madrielle’s tear-stained face. I bubbled.
The circle centered on a man wearing a tricornered hat displaying the Jolly Roger. He had a thick build and an eyepatch covering one eye. His blatant posture told he was in charge and his tone told he didn’t give a shit.
“Who’s on next?” he asked, head swiveling.
A woman was shoved towards him. It was my mother.
“This one’s been givin’ nothin’ but guff,” a gruff man said, lowering his arms. “Keeps complainin’ ‘bout ‘ow we tipped ‘er ‘usband,” the man snorted.
“Oh?.How’s this?” he asked her. “Care to join him?” he continued, closing in on mother’s face with a crooked smile.
He graciously accepted, laughing while wiping his cheek with a coat sleeve. “I think she’ll pose a nice pinchusion,” he called to the audience, finishing his sweep of the crowd by running his steel through her. My eyes widened as I saw her fold. Before I could move into action Boregard jumped from his captivity and sprung on the aggressor.
The blade which’d just plunged mother quickly moved to Boregard’s torso as another pierced his back.
“aaAahHH,” I let forth as I leapt forward.
“Oohh,” I moaned as I lifted my body from its place. My head blazed with pain. Searing, it licked my brain and made my eyes roll back. My hands grabbed my skull and my jaw tightened.
“Euhhhh,” I let through clenched teeth.
I rolled to my side and fell a couple feet. A blast of pain shot through my shoulder, up my neck, and seemed to blow the top half from my head. I was free for a few seconds, then the pain came back to fill my head pixel by pixel. I exhaled and put my hand to the floor. I felt heavy chains and heard them clink as my left hand swept. I rose to my right elbow persuading my eyes to adjust to the light. Gradually, vision afforded me glimpses of cascading moonlight. Circular lets allowed beams of light through the stars in my sight. I looked around counting ten total. I figured they were about four feet from the floor. My head sunk and I put a hand through my hair. The sensation on my scalp lessened the flames burning my brain. But only slightly.
I noticed my wig was gone and my eyes began to water. I don’t know if it started as crying or not. Perhaps from the pain. Or maybe, strangely, it actually had to do with my absentee hairpiece. Regardless to how it started, my watery eyes triggered emotions linked with seeing my family fall. Pretty soon I was sobbing, snorting the liquids trying to escape my wrecked head. That carried on for around ten minutes.
I heard chains rattle.
“Who’s there?” I called into the darkness.
“Who’s there?” I repeated.
A couple feet in front of me, I saw slight movement. It was difficult to register in the dim lighting, so I shuffled over. I felt something on my leg hold me back. My hands leapt to it. An iron shackle was clamped around my right ankle. I jarred it to test its integrity. Solid. My mouth fell open and I hurriedly turned to the location of the movement from before.
I nudged it saying, “Hey,” assuming it was a person.
“Hey,” I said again a bit louder.
“Shh,” it responded.
“What the fuck is going on?” I feel I nearly yelled. My head exploded.
“Shh. Be quiet,” it said in a terse tone.
I lowered my head and raised a hand to it. “I just want to know what the fuck-”
I heard a door open. I looked up. Light poured from an opening at the opposite end of the room. A man carrying a torch walked in.
“’o’s makin’ all that racket?” he asked. He looked at me and briskly walked over. He was a thin man with a shaved head and cold blue eyes sunken in pitted eyesockets. A gnarly scar ran down the length of his left cheek.
“What’a you doin’?”
“Uh-uh..I’m…Where am I?” I landed on.
The back of his hand met my face. My head jerked and I vomited. I lifted my head, spitting, and looked to a spinning image of the man before me.
“I’m the one ‘o’s askin’ the questions,” he spat. “Now..what’a you doin’?”
I didn’t answer. I looked at his heavily scuffed boots, smacking my lips at the taste of sick.
“Answe’ us,” he commanded with his Cockney accent, leaning in.
“Shut the fuck up,” he yelled, kicking me hard in the chest.
My mind was blinded by pain. I opened my mouth to express the sensation, but all the wind’d been knocked out of my lungs. I lay back choking on my own breath. Through the white haze of pain-influenced vision, I could see the torch light recess as the man left, laughing. My chest convulsed as I tried for air. The convulsions blended with retching as my stomach tried to empty. There was no food in my belly so I dry heaved a few times. When heaving suppressed I brought a hand to my sternum to see if the man’d hollowed my chest with the kick. It hurt like hell but it felt sound, so I slowly rolled back and forth.
After a minute without air exchange, I was able to take short gasps into my lungs. I opened and closed my mouth like a fish, attempting to facilitate the process by swallowing air. I continued to roll, hoping that would massage my lungs back into working order.
With five minutes of rocking and rolling my breathing steadied and I felt a hand on my chest.
“I’m sorry,” the hand whispered in the darkness.
My only response was a mild grunt. I didn’t want to make a disturbing response, and I couldn’t muster the breath to offer anything more intelligible anyway. The hand lifted, but I felt its calm linger.
Pain overwhelmed my senses. Exhausted, I fell-asleep/passed-out on the floor.
The next morning I woke feeling off. My head was filled with cotton, my chest ached something awful inside and out, my throat was shredded by stomach acids and a lack of water, my back was stiff from sleeping unevenly, and my muscles felt like someone’d lashed me with a length of taffy.
I rose and groaned. “Uuahhh.” My head swam. I felt like vomiting but was able to repress the urge. I looked about to gather my surroundings. Snaking the floor in front and all around were black metal chains. The chains were strung through loops on the floor and a cuff on my ankle. With my back against the hull, to the immediate right was an empty bench about a foot and a half off the ground, a foot wide, and six feet long. To my immediate left was another bench. A bundled shawl occupied it.
“The hand from the night before’s under there somewhere,” I thought to myself. I stared at the figure wondering who lay beneath, but thought better of disturbing them.
I braved getting up to see the rest of the room. Hoisting myself upright I felt the blood pool in my brain, threatening consciousness. I slumped onto the empty bench and exhaled deeply, lowering my head and trying to catch my senses. The membrane keeping my brain from scraping my skull felt like it’d grown spikes with the lift. It didn’t help that my brain also felt to’ve swelled.
I held my head in my hands for several minutes. The discomfort subsided slightly, so I raised and looked around. Fourteen benches identical to mine lined the wooden walls. Mine was either in the first or the last row. Difficult to say. My assaulter entered from the opposite end, but he could’ve been coming from the front or rear of the ship.
Each of the benches had an accompanying bundle strapped to it. The circular outlets tallied twelve, not ten, as I’d counted the night before. The room was long, the walls were curved, and there was a door at either end.
I decided the only differences between this room and the galley of the ship I’d recently resided were the rectangular oar slots versus the circular ones, the chains, and the grime concentration.
I slid over to the hole next to my bench and looked out it. The day’s stage was adolescent. The sun had risen, but it was low. The water was crisp and sparkled against the shallow sun’s reflection. I made note of the ship’s movement relative to the water. I was at its aft. As I stared at the water, realization my family had been killed hit me and my eyes welled. My lower lip curled and I started to silently weep, my body throwing itself into noiseless convulsions. I doubled over, putting my head in my lap, cradling it with my arms. One of my family members’ face would sweep past my mind’s eye and I’d bury my head deeper.
I’m not sure how long that carried on. It felt like a while, but it probably wasn’t.
“Eat up, ya scurvy dogs,” I heard a grizzled voice say.
I jerked my head up and saw a portly man handing out bowls. He had a thick bushy beard and large hoop earrings. Scallywag Santa. Each of the benched figures accepted the offer readily, taking the bowl with both hands.
When he got to me he handed over a bowl, looking at my face. “Buck up, kiddo,” he said, winking. My tongue and mind were tied. A blank stare was all I could conjure. Last night’s treatment was worlds away from the familiarity of the man’s sentiment. My eyes followed him until he disappeared through the door he’d come.
Once the door shut behind him, I turned my attention to the bowl he’d given me. The brim was neared by a sloppy white substance and propped a metal utensil. I adjusted the bowl so it rested in my left hand. With my right I pulled out the metal utensil. A spoon. I ate greedily. The substance didn’t carry much flavor, but it certainly quenched my thirst and satiated my hunger. The lingering pain I’d grown accustomed to even extinguished a bit.
I finished as much slop as the spoon would allow then set the spoon on the bench and went to licking the bowl. Satisfied by its emptiness, I put the bowl next to the spoon and wiped my mouth with the back of my left hand and each cheek with its corresponding shoulder.
I edged to the wall and hunched against it, bringing my right foot onto the bench. I looked at my shackled ankle and leaned in to examine. A hinged iron-loop encircled my ankle. Opposite the hinge, a linking rig consisted of a slender rectangle with a bifurcated pin through a slit in the middle. The pin was fixed to a link on the chain snaking the floor. It looked like the shackle could be taken off if the pin was removed and the slender rectangle opened.
I studied the pin. It was tightly V-shaped with 45 degreed wings at one end and a fastening at the other. I imagined the width of the rectangle’s slit nearly matched the diameter of the pin’s kissing limbs. If the angled wings were narrowed, I could slide the pin through and open the slender rectangle.
I tried pinching the pin’s wings with my fingers. Nothing. I then positioned the assembly so I could use the bench’s edge as a pincer. It could’ve worked if the bench had more of an edge, but decades of seawater and wear splintered its rigidity. I noted this, putting the bolt on the bench and using one of the chain links to push the winged pin. I could slightly bend one of the two wings before losing composure of the orchestra and cutting through my cuticles with any of a number of iron ridges.
“What are you doing?” I heard come from in front of me after my fourth attempt.
I looked up and met the eyes of Madame Madrielle. For what seemed like a full minute, I couldn’t muster any more than monosyllabic moans and grunts- “Uhb…buh…hh.”
Eventually she uncomforted and averted her eyes. She quickly returned them, lifting her eyebrows and asking, “Are you..alright?”
“Uh..Yeah..Yeah, I’m fine..Why?” I asked, immediately thinking it a stupid question.
“Well, because you didn’t answer when I asked you what you were doing.”
I got my shit together. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m just a little shocked to see you, that’s all.”
“Why’s that?” she returned.
A list of answers ran through my head- ‘You’re eyes envelope mine.’ ‘Thinking about your hand touching me gives me wood.’ ‘I think you’re the cat’s pajamas.’…I settled on, “I thought you might have been killed.”
“Yeah, well..I wasn’t,” she said, looking down with something that sounded like defeat on her voice.
“Haha..Well, at least you’re still alive,” I said. Unsure if that was the right thing to say.
“Yeah, maybe,” she muttered, still studying her knees.
“What do you mean, maybe?” I almost wanted to laugh then realized a shackle captivated my ankle.
After a short spell of nothingness, a loud sigh caught my ears. “Hhhh..I mean maybe I wish I had been killed,” she said, emphasizing the ‘had been killed’. I felt I was a grade schooler walking onto a university’s turf.
“Oh…Yeah.” I sat, staring at her. “Yeah..I guess..being a slave isn’t very cool,” I said, looking to my ankle brace and resting a hand on it.
She was silent for a while, then said, “So where’re you from?”
“Uh, a small town called Lysteria..You heard of it?”
“No,” she said shortly.
“It’s pretty close to Lamebridge.”
“You?” I asked.
She replied and we continued idly chatting over inconsequentials. I eased into myself, realizing she was nothing to be afraid of or nervous around. And Madame Madrielle warmed up, deathwish dwindling. So we made ground.
A couple hours into the conversation, the man bearing breakfast brought us lunch.
“’old out yer bowls,” he said, cradling a sizable mess-pot. We did so and he produced a large ladle, scooping brown goop into our bowls. I took a bite and noticed the similarity to breakfast’s taste and texture. The only difference was color. I looked up at him and he winked. Apparently a winker.
He shuffled off and I asked Madame, “What do you think?” as she studied a spoonful.
She put it in her mouth, chewed, and said “I don’t know,” between bites. “Could be better, but it’s alright.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
We finished our bowls and sat in silence, digesting.
After a couple hours of dozily noticing the motion of the waves, the door opposite our end opened. The cold-eyed shaven head peered around the corner and gave me goosebumps. The food in my belly started digestive reversal. Not that I felt like vomiting, I could just feel the food travel backwards.
The man presenting the features kept the eyes set to Madame Madrielle and stopped walking once he reached her. “’ello deary,” he said, tilting his head from side to side. I suppose it was to absorb her qualities at different angles.
She made no response, so he said, “That’s aw’right. You don’t have to say nuffin’..It’w be more romantic that way.” He bent down and fiddled with her chains. From my position I couldn’t see what he was doing, but soon enough he was rising, saying, “Come wif us then, love,” and grabbing her by the arm.
She jerked her arm away and turned her head in the other direction screaming, “Don’t touch me.”
“Aw, come on. Don’t be like that. I’w show you a good time,” he offered, attempting another arm grab. His grin was sickening.
She once again refused and he slapped her. I felt my blood heat. I edged my seat. He looked to me and said, “If you know what’s good fer ya, you’w keep seated.” His hard gaze and my remnant pain stifled action. He turned back to her and forcibly hauled her upright. She struggled, yelling obscenities as he dragged her from the room.
I watched them go, kicking myself for being a coward. Rationality calmed me. I knew I couldn’t’ve gained anything other than a couple lumps. Still, I felt I’d let Madame down, so tears welled. I drifted to the hole in the wall and tried to lose myself in the affects of the ocean. It worked for a while, but emotion caught up with me. I watched the majority of my family members being murdered and now I had to watch my only friend being dragged to her doom. Awesome. I cried.
Tears came for a while, surprising me with the sheer volume. I didn’t realize I had so much water in my body. The other people afore me made no note of my state. So, I mildly wept to myself for some time. I didn’t want to overextend my resources, so I kept it pretty consistent.
I’m not sure how long I was in that condition, but eventually a man I’d never seen came through the door. It was difficult to make out identifying features, but I could see that he was gathering oars from the front chamber.
He shuffled down the row telling people to grab one as he passed. I was the last to be handed one. He passed me and said, “Alright, turn to me,” with a raised voice.
The bundled persons afront me turned in my direction so I did the same.
“We need to gain some ground, so we’ll be doing a bit of rowing..Afterwards I’ll give you some water,” the large, almost bored looking man said. “So let’s get ready, uh,” he continued, looking around the room. “When I count to three I want you all to put your oars through the vents and into the water…One..two..three.”
I followed the man’s intructions. Dull scrapings sounded from around the room. The oar-wood’s weight didn’t quite match that of the previous ship’s. I thought it something to do with the usage. As I slid the oar through its opening, I noticed large chunks missing from the shaft.
“Alright, when I count to three I want to see the lot of you rowing, uh..Forward to back, right? Alright..One..two..three.”
I rowed, pulling with the little strength I had left. The strain awakened the pain in my head and chest. I cringed.
“Heave,” I heard.
I leaned forward with the oar and pulled back. A blade pierced my chest plate and I again leaned into it with, “Heave.” After three heaves, the pain charged through my body like a pack of startled wildebeests, making me dizzy. I hugged my oar and vomited at my feet. A pair of black-booted feet joined mine in the blurry image. I hastily gulped a sample of saliva and stomach acid.
“Had enough, then, lad?” I heard.
I slowly rose my head to look at the man. His eyes stared at mine. They were the color of enshadowed shallow-seawater. Greenish brown.
“How ‘bout takin’ a break,” he said, grabbing my oar, pulling it in, and putting it on the floor.
Before I could answer he’d retaken his post, nonchalantly chanting, “Heave…Heave…”
I finally closed my mouth, slid across the bench, and leaned against the wall wondering, “What the hell is going on?” I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the mixed bag of treatment I was receiving. My captors weren’t all bad.
I lay my head against the hull of the ship and sunk into the rhythms of motion and sound. The gentle rock of the boat and the eddying sounds of heaving.
After a half hour of accumulation, I opened my eyes and erected. The pain was a residual glimmer. I looked around the room seeing the row master standing at the head of the choir singing, “Heave…heave…” In the opposite direction, a crew of ten oscillated their oars in time. I turned to the floor where mine lay and went to pick it up. The row master caught on and helped me lift and slide it into place. I gave him a nod and went about getting into the rhythm. Pain would swell when I overexerted, so I kept it steady. I wanted to contribute, but I didn’t want to strain myself. As long as I kept the heaves to a minimum I could stave off the pain.
“Oi,” I heard after twenty minutes of rowing. I turned to catch the sender, but the door was already closing. I looked up at the row master as he shouted, “Alright, let’s pull ‘em in.” He walked down the aisle helping hoist in the oars. I pulled mine in and put it on the floor.
The row master returned, stooped, and picked up my oar saying, “Here we are.” He continued down the aisle, announcing, “Just here, then.” I watched as people piled their oars into his open arms. Once at the back/front he loaded them into the oarperture and picked up a spouted tin.
“Hold your bowls for me, and I’ll fill ‘em up,” he said, walking up the aisle pouring.
My bowl didn’t hold water for long. I gulped aggressively.
“Looks like we’re about to get into it..See you lot later,” I heard. I turned and the man vanished behind the door.
I didn’t know what ‘getting into it’ meant, so I set my bowl down and rested against the wall pondering. Perhaps another raid. I started thinking about my family and the fact they were gone. I could feel the foreshock of a water works rattling me, so I breathed in and lowered my head, gathering myself. And I knew crying is good, but I was just tired of it. I didn’t feel like having wells of emotion spew forth. I wanted to relax, so I made a game of counting grains in the wood. It was a ridiculous game, but it was accessible. In a ten inch square I would count the number of grains riding two of the square’s legs. I would then multiply those numbers together and compare with a physical count of the grains. If the count matched the math within ten, I would get a link on my chain. If the comparison told greater than ten I would lose a link. It was simple, but effective. I lost myself in the absurdity, trying to define a mark as one grain or five. Characterizing chaos can be tricky.
I finished with the game having finally acquired enough links to reach the floor. It was faulted though. There was no blue ribbon or pat on the back for winning the game, just grim realization that I was in a tight spot. I looked out the window to feel a sense of space and saw a ship on the horizon. I could only just see it from the corner of my view, but it was definitely approaching fast. Or we were approaching it fast.
Then, we were on it. I could see the screwed fastenings on porthole windows and hear screams and shouts, sprinkled from above. It was difficult to see out the oar’s-opening at any angle, so I couldn’t watch what was happening. I sunk my head as mental images merged with the sound. Remembrance of my abduction leaked into my brain canal. I curled up on my bench, fetaly positioning.
The noises continued for a while. I lay with my eyes closed trying to associate the sounds with something like a party, but it was difficult to break from the reality. Flashbacks of seeing family members killed kindled with feelings of inadequacy for letting it happen, making me want to vomit. I clutched my stomach waiting for the urge to simmer. Eventually I lost track. The sounds dissipated and I somehow delved into sleep. I wasn’t aware when it happened.
I woke in a funk. Not that I’d been walking on sunshine before, but things were starting to catch up with me. Realization that I was alone, imprisoned by my family-murdering captors only to witness more slaughter mixed with the muscle stiffness of two nights uncomfortable sleep. I was pissed.
After sulking down breakfast, the man who’d shanghaied Madame Madrielle walked in dragging her. He’d dragged her from the room earlier, but her energy was different then. She’d been trying to tear a tooth from the devil’s mouth, but now there was no struggle, only a light attempt at walking. He half-carried her to the bench next to me and enforced the shackle.
“Madame Madrielle,” I whispered.
The man glared me into submission. A glint of light caught my eye. I searched and found my pocket watch dangling from the man’s pantaloons. I knew it to be the one I’d come across due to its dance with the light.
“Where did you get that watch?” I asked defensively.
“Wha’ d’you say?”
“Where, where did you get that watch?” I stammered.
“Off some bitch we plugged. Hehe, said it was ‘er brothe’s,” he sneered. “What’s it to you?”
My nostrils and eyes flared. My pulse raced at the thought of him raping Amelie. I could only assume that’s what he meant by ‘plugging.’
“Oh,” the man smiled, stepping closer. “Me thinks we’ve got ‘er brother before us.”
The man’s rancid breath penetrated me. “I tell you..her pussy was soo sweet.”
The man hardly finished his sentence. With one quick movement I sprung up, threw a chain around his neck while rotating him by the shoulders, and rammed a knee into his back as I pulled the chain with all my strength. I could feel the cartilage in his trachea crush. He made a gurgling sound and I dropped him. His hands grabbed at his throat. His body spasmed. Five times I stomped his face with my full weight and he lay still. He was fairly gangly so I didn’t have much problem delivering him to the aisle. The buckets of adrenaline dumped into my system certainly assisted.
I unlatched the watch, pocketed it, and kneeled next to Madame Madrielle saying, “Madame Madrielle..are you alright?”
No answer. Only a soft sobbing sound.
For the next hour I tried comforting her, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. How do you console a recent rape victim? “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal..And hey, look on the bright side- you got fucked.” All I could do was sit next to her, rubbing a rounded back.
Some time later the meal server came around. He usually served the front first, but that time he immediately set to walking down the aisle. Probably drawn by the body on the floor.
“What’s ‘appened ‘ere?” he asked casually.
I looked up at him and shrugged my shoulders once he’d turned to me.
“Did you do ‘is?” he asked gesturing to the crumpled form.
“Well done, smif..I’m impressed…All by your lonesome, eh,” he said, shaking his head and smiling through a brillo beard. “Good riddance. He was a right prick anyhow…Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this,” he said, bending down and grabbing the man by the underarms.
I watched spellbound as he dragged the man’s body away. I hadn’t devoted much thought to what my captors would do once they found the lifeless body I’d created, but I wasn’t expecting praise.
Twenty minutes after the corpse’d been dragged from the room, the lunch server returned with another man. The second man was fairly clean cut. He had short hair, an impressively long goatee, and the cleanest clothes I’d seen since aboard. As the lunchman picked up his pot and went about it, the trim man headed for me.
“The captain would like a word with you,” he said, bending down.
I gulped. “O..kay.”
The man produced a pair of pliers and pinched the pin through the slot in my shackle, freeing me.
“Come with me then, please,” the man said, rising and offering a hand.
I accepted and was half-hoisted up. I turned to Madame Madrielle. She was looking at me. It was the first time our eyes’d met for days. I let it linger as long as I could. Led past the server, I looked his way. He returned my lost look with a wink. I followed the man through the door.
“This way,” he said, ascending the ladder.
At the top, he looked at me and knocked on a door to our right.
“Dozo,” I heard called from within.
The door was opened and I was ushered inside.
“Ay, here he be..Feared by all on the seven seas.” The man I recognized to be the captain displayed yellow teeth and gave a twirl of his pointer finger. The other man nodded and left, closing the door behind him. The captain casually circled me. Close enough that I could smell wine and fish.
He revolutionized and stood before me, staring. I captured long hair braided in two pony tails, unkempt facial hair, sunlicked skin covered by a black eyepatch, and a metal rod piercing the flesh between lips and chin; before I had to look away.
“So..ye tipped a man o’ mine,” he said with thickness on his voice. “Would you think this deed to go unpunished?”
I returned my gaze. “Uh..I, I don’t know, sir.”
“How would you think about me chopping yers into little bits and feeding the fishes,” he said, half-dancing around me, then pulling in close to my left ear.
I swallowed. “I, I don’t think I’d like that very much.”
“Haha..Course not. Who would?..As it is, I can’t say as I’m ripped over yer action. I’m always saddened to see a mate lost, but right like this one..not s’much..Giffer…What do they call ye?” he asked.
“Uhm..My, my name is Cornelius Birch,” I admitted.
“Cornelius Birch..Cornelius Birch,” he repeated to himself a bit softer the second time. The volume was dually affected by his lowering head. “Cornelius Birch,” he lifted. “I like it..The name’s Captain LeSautte,” he said, grabbing my unoffered hand and shaking it. “Pleasure ‘a meeting ye..Where’re ye from Cornelius?”
“Lysteria. That’s so? I’m from Hedgerow.” A place a couple villages over.
“Oh alright..Yeah, that’s pretty close…How did you like it?”
“It was shit,” he spat.
I remained silent, not wanting to stir the pot.
“Did you present that rotting carcass, Lamebridge?”
“Yeah I did, but I had to cheat to get through,” I said, feeling it was the right thing to disclose.
“Ooh, a good honest cheater, eh, u uh,” he laughed. “I myself took a few shortcuts en route through that piece.” He slapped my shoulder a couple times. “Stills be your family, boyo?”
“Where’s your family?” he chuckled
A flash of my family being killed burned into my brain. “They were murdered,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Oh, my poor boy. Crushes me to hear that,” he said, resting his hand on my shoulder.
I jerked my shoulder, letting his hand fall. “By you,” I finished, staring into the man’s dark eyes.
“Oh, that’s rough. It really is,” he said, lowering his eyes. “I’ll hope you don’t go blaming me for that.”
“Of course I fucking blame you,” I yelled and started to cry in immediate succession.
“A thousand apologies, then…There, there son..How’s about coming over here and fetching a seat,” he said, leading me to a table.
I didn’t resist. I slumped onto the bench below the table.
“There’s a lad then..Care for some poultry?” LeSautte offered, sliding a large plate of cooked-bird in front of me. I looked at it through steaming eyes. Instantly my belly rumbled. In the previous few days, the only action my stomach’d seen was purging and generic porridge. And I knew eating would take my mind off matters.
I leapt at it, ravenously tearing hunks of flesh from bone. It was the best meat I could remember eating. My senses were obviously skewed, but the tender flesh was heaven sent.
“Might ye have something to wash that down,” he said, tipping liquid from a large jug to a dulled-metal chalice. I grabbed for the drink and took a gulp. It was cheap red wine. Bitter as hell. One swig sent bubbles into my brain, lifting it. I immediately followed it with another.
Hours of feasting and drinking put me in a state. I was high on food-induced endorphins and alcohol. The food wasn’t great but it was as good, if not better than the food aboard the transport. Good food in my empty belly mixed with large quantities of wine to deliver me cooing.
“You can’t tell me that old prat Perriwinkle is still rummaging around there,” LeSautte bellowed before taking a hefty swill of wine.
“Sure is..Sure is. Acshually, jus’ las’ year he got reprimind-reprimanded for feelin’ up some firs’ year,” I stumbled.
“The old coot’s still at it, is ‘e? Fucking tumbler. He deserves to be runted.”
“I know. I know,” I said at the top of my voice.
The nearly clean-cut man who brought me in entered.
“Hey, I know you,” I said, pointing.
“‘Course you do..This’ll be my first mate, Mister Mister,” told LeSautte.
I burst into laughter occasionally slurring the word ‘mister’.
“Sir, we have a situation on deck. Will you join me?”
“Naturally, but first you’ll see to our new recruit getting proper quarters.” Captain LeSautte stood and motioned for me to get up.
I slid off the bench and staggered into a stand.
“Take watch over that time-piece why don’t you..Went through a lot to find you,” Captain LeSautte said, leading me to Mr. Mister.
I looked at him and pointed while slowly winking. One eye followed the other, keeping me in iridescent darkness until Mr. Mister led me out the door.
“Okay. I will be taking you to the crew’s quarters. You’ll be bunking there now.”
“Right, right,” I agreed. “Hey..wait wait,” I said turning and bursting through the door. “Hey man, you got any more of that wine?” I asked the Captain.
“Hahaha, you lush,” he said, handing me my refilled chalice.
I grinned and took a sip. I raised the cup to him and stumbled through the door. Mr. Mister caught and steadied me. He opened a door and led me across the deck with the chalice plastered to my face.
I was directed to a bed and found myself lying down. I tried to take a swig of wine, but missed my mouth pouring the stuff over my front.
“Ooah,” I moaned.
The cup was taken from me. My head rolled back and I passed out, mouth ajar.
I awoke to something poking me. My eyes opened, but they wouldn’t focus at first. Blurred images met my aching brain.
“Uuh,” I exhaled, propping onto an elbow. The opposite hand rubbed my eyes to dissolve the foggy membrane. Eyelids lifted. A clearer, but swaying scene greeted me. Gradually, my surroundings slowed and I registered a three-man strong semi-circle standing over me.
“Oi..What’a you doin’?” a man asked me.
“Uh..uh,” I stammered.
“Didn’t you hear? He took Madeyes’ place..Offed ‘im.”
“No shit? Is that right?” I heard another man’s voice say. “Wish I would’a had the pleasure meself.”
“What’a you go by, boy?” I heard, but didn’t think to answer.
“Hey, what’s your name?” someone asked lightly shaking my shoulder.
“Uh..Cor-hugh uh ghu uh,” I cleared my throat. “Cornelius..Do y’all have any water?” I asked massaging my throat. A water jug was handed to me. I took a long draught and swept a backhand across my lips.
“Cornelius, uh. Good to meet you.” A hand was thrust in my front. I shook it and some others. I tried to smile, but was blinded by brain dehydration.
“Looks like you had a right time,” someone said, pointing to my chest. I looked down to see a port stain spread across my shirt.
“Yeah, hehh,” I laughed/sighed. I lay back and closed my eyes.
“Let’s leave ‘im be,” I heard, accompanied by excroaching footsteps.
I went back to sleep and woke on my own accord. I could tell the water’d helped. My skull felt less pressurized. I lay with my hands behind my head pondering. “How the fuck did I get here?” “What’s Madame Madrielle up to?” “What is my pillow made from?” “Did I really smash that dude’s face?” “Am I going to fit in here?” “Where are we right now?” “Where do I get something to eat?” “Where do I piss?”
Light shed from the opening door at the edge of the room. Mr. Mister walked in.
“How are you?” he asked reaching me.
“Yeah. Fine, I s’pose,” I said, running a hand through my hair. “Is there a head around here somewhere?”
“Surely, just through that door to the left,” he said, pointing to a door opposite the one he entered. “It looks like you could use a new shirt,” he said, eyeing the think-piece on my shirt.
“Oh, yeah,” I concurred, looking down.
“I’ll fetch one for you while you facilitate the toilet.” He walked through the door he’d come.
“A-alright,” I stuttered, a bit back-taken. I stood swaying. I blinked hard, got my bearings, and walked to the door forementioned. I went in, took a leak, then looked in the mirror. My face jarred me. It seemed to be more cast in shadow than was appropriate for the lighting. I altered angles, taking it in. I shrugged off the effect, chalking it up. Malnourishment meshed with a hangover wouldn’t do much for your complexion, I told myself.
“Here we are,” I heard from the next room.
I walked in. Mr. Mister was holding up a soiled brown shirt. It was difficult to tell what the original color had been. It was brown and looked to’ve always been, but its tattered state made me wonder. I shuffled toward him staring at the shirt. I accepted it, feeling the material. It was ripped and torn, but the parts still there were sturdy. It had stiffness I couldn’t yet explain. I later found it to be from the salt in the ocean air.
I said “Thanks,” tossed it on the bed, took off my current shirt, and buttoned that one up. It felt alright. A bit loose, but it would work.
“Good..Are you hungry?”
“Follow me then.”
Mister went through the front door and descended a ladder on the right. We went down to where the infirmary on the other ship would’ve been. I entered and saw a table with five guys sitting around it eating. To the left was an area that looked to be where the food was prepared. Mr. Mister steered me there. There was a counter with trays of food on it and an iron oven surrounded by various pots/pans behind it. I got a plate and loaded it with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and fish filet. Mister seated me and took off before I could ask about Madame Madrielle’s release. It’d been on my mind.
“Ye ready?” someone asked turning to me. I recognized him as the man who’d served me meals below.
“Fer the action.”
“Action, what do you mean?”
“We’re ‘bout to take a ship,” he said calmly, but giddiness poured from his eyes.
“Oh.” I took a spoonful of mashed potatoes, “I don’t know if I know what you mean,” and put it into my mouth. I had a good idea of what he meant.
“We’re gonna capture ourselves a ship.” Yep.
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“We level ‘er and hop on,” another man explained. “Then tip the people ‘n take their shit.”
“I’s pretty simple,” the bushy bearded food attendant added.
“Yeah..It sounds..like..it,” I said, having difficulty swallow. “Sounds good though,” I forced, staring at my food.
The men carried on, talking of how many people they were going to kill and the kind of booty they’d get their hands on while I slowly stared the food down my mouth. Halfway through my meal the majority of the men left. One said, “See ye up there.” Another said, “Well played bestin’ ol’ Madeyes,” and offered a handshake. I accepted. “Yeah. I saw ‘is face..brutal.” A couple more handshakes followed. The meal guy went back behind the counter and I silently finished my food.
“Ye want any more there, smif?” I heard come from behind once I’d finished.
“Oh. No thanks,” I said, turning.
“We’ve plenty,” the man said, lifting his beard-matching bushy eyebrows.
“I’m fine..Thank you,” I smiled and turned back.
Mr. Mister came in and said, “I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“What?” I said, looking up at him.
“We’re about to attack a ship.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking at the table.
“Captain LeSautte would like you to be on deck to see it first hand.”
“I..I don’t really want to,” I said, food unsettling.
“I’m afraid the captain would really prefer it..I must insist.”
I looked at him, held his stare, and finally said, “Alright, I guess so,” falling prey to apathy.
“Good, I’ll come get you when the time is right. I’m assuming you’ll be in the crew’s quarters,” he said with a slightly heightened voice.
“Yeah, sure..I guess,” I said, starting to slump away. “Oh, Mister Mister,” I said, erecting and turning back.
“What do you think about releasing Madame Madrielle?”
“Madame Madrielle?” he asked with nonrecognition on his voice.
“Yeah. She’s another slave down in the galley..She’s a good friend of mine.”
“I don’t know..I can ask the Captain for you,” he politely smiled. “But I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
“Yeah..Okay…Thank you,” I said, trying to smile back.
“Good.” He turned and walked away.
“Hey Mister, what do you think of this-” Cooky caught up with Mister and began talking. I didn’t listen to what was said. Both left. My mind sunk into thoughts of what was about to happen.
I got up, put my empty plate on the cooking-corner counter, stretched, and ascended the ladder. I walked into the crew’s quarters, found the bed I’d slept in, and slipped in. I closed my eyes but didn’t sleep. Eventually, I heard muffled yells. Ten minutes later, someone entered the room and rattled me.
“Let’s head up, shall we?”
I opened my eyes. Mr. Mister was smiling at me.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, rising.
I followed him out on deck and saw another boat, tethered by the rails to ours. It was smaller and had yellow sails. People were scurrying about aboard the other ship. I stopped walking. My skull prickled with perspiration. Mister looked at me and beckoned to follow. He leapt over the jointed railings and turned to me. I mimicked him.
“How about waiting here? Just try taking it in,” he said, pulling a blade from his belt and handing it to me. “If necessary, don’t be afraid to use this…It doesn’t look like you’ll require it though,” he said, turning to scan.
I took the sword mentally measuring it. I guessed 3.47 kilos. Mister glanced back then jogged off. I looked behind me, saw no one and backed into a leaning position against the railing. I picked up the sword and studied it. It was gun-metal grey iron, unfinished and quite nicked. There was a thin cross-guard with one quillian curving down to the end of the hilt. The hilt had no noticeable third dimension. The entirety was of roughly equal thickness. A quarter of a centimeter. From the hilt, the one-centimeter wide blade narrowed to a fairly sharp tip. I slipped my hand around the hilt noting its uncomfortability. Not very ergonomic.
I heard a scream and looked up. A man was standing over a kneeling older-woman. She looked to’ve collapsed into the position with entry of the man’s sword into her stomach. The man kicked her off his blade and ran away. The woman slumped. I turned, but the woman’s face was still in my mind. I couldn’t shake the increasing vacancy of her eyes.
The image morphed into my mother’s demise. Seeing the fire in her eyes extinguish made my skin burn. I looked to the dead woman’s buckled body. My stomach fluttered and I nearly upchucked. Looking for composure I turned back to the pirate ship. I thought on it for not more than a couple seconds and hopped over the doubled railings. The faces of the woman and my mother floated affront my mind’s eye and I vomited. Since I’d recently eaten I could pick out different elements of my meal. Most notable were the carrots.
I stumbled through the forecastle-cabin door and made my way to bed. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. Looking back, I wish I would’ve pursued Madame Madrielle, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.
I collapsed onto the bed, letting the sword fall to the floor with a clatter. My face lay buried in the pillow. I had a rough time falling asleep. It was the middle of the day and I’d gotten decent rest the night before. Drunken but lengthy. And my nerves where charged with witnessing atrocities. I’d have to pay. The pillow made its way over my head and I eventually passed out. Probably more from a lack of oxygen than anything else.
The dreams I remember were odd. The first entailed an old man trying to sell me a fish without any meat. All it consisted of was flesh-flaked bones. I rejected the offer and ran into a hole that wound and swept through a variety of trees. The path I walked turned into a tongue. My feet gradually slowed to a full-hilt stop and I was stabbed in the belly with a blade. The pommel on its hilt had a face that laughed at me. I spit on it. The saliva bubbled and the sword dissipated.
My next dream was scattered and less lucid. I was a child. My hat wouldn’t fit. I went to the store with my mother. I wanted candy. Mother’s face turned to the older woman I saw murdered. I cried. Riding a horse. Tree branch hit my face. I fall. I’m older. I jump into the tree and catch a bird. It laughs and melts through my fingers. I watch it fly away. I fall from the tree.
The next three months were a blur. Everything was so new and fresh my brain didn’t time-line the same.
Immediately after that first raid, I cozied to the notion of piracy. Once the boys got back, they woke and showed me their shinies. The row master with the murky green eyes garnered a golden necklace he claimed would fetch a high price at the next stop. The cook with the bulging beard got his hands on some new steel. The hilt was highly polished and had a crown-shaped pommel, green jewel cresting the crown. The curved quillian, designed to guard the hand, had help from flowering metal-petals sprouting from it. They were positioned to allow easier access with a left hand. And the cook happened to be left handed. On the straight blade were chiseled ripples running the length. It was an impressive sight. Its beauty captivated the cook, but its left-handed practicality captured him. He aimed to keep it.
Another man I hadn’t yet met went by Riff. His birth-name was William, but came by the nickname shortly after making it aboard. Something about having a dirty mouth or ‘rough lip.’ We related as he was around my age with a murdered family. He gave me a set of calligraphy quills, apparently noticing the lust in my eyes upon presentation. I felt guilty accepting stolen goods, but the feeling soon passed once I realized their quality.
I put them to paper keeping a daily journal, jotting down dreams, and occasionally attempting to draft a drawing. My hands also kept limber with the swordlery lessons given by Mr. Mister. Since the cook’d graduated to a new blade, he gave me his old one. It didn’t much matter that he was left handed ‘cause his sword didn’t have the curved quillian, only a t-shaped cross-guard. The blade was much stronger while lighter and more curvaceous than the one Mr. Mister’d given me.
Mister’s proficiency in swords was well conveyed. He was a good teacher and I, sponge-like. I was immersed in learning the craft. It was handy, entertaining, and improvement could be readily seen. The possibilities with ability didn’t seem to have an end in sight, so motivation to get better was high. A lot to learn. I would knacker Mister for lessons incessantly. At night, while the crew slept I’d solo-practice on deck. Using both blades at my disposal I’d ravage the foremast- lacking animated competition -but neglect to admit to overheard comments about how the mast was getting thrashed.
It was advantageous using two swords. The weight and design differences helped me with variability. My improvement was tangible. At first it was easy to convince Riff to spar with me. He was better than me. But with all the practice I put in, I surpassed him soon enough. He flat out refused to gaff after a couple close calls.
We were both fairly competent, just not enough to hold back properly. The clincher that convinced him of enough was the time I came close to disemboweling him. It ended up being a superficial cut, but he had to get his side stitched nonetheless.
I taught him I was naught to be messed with and he taught me how to drink. Growing up in a religious residence while spending schoolyears at Lamebridge didn’t afford me much access to alcohol. His favorite game he called shillings. There’d be a full shot of rum at one end of the table. From the opposite end, a person would try to toss/bounce a shilling into the shot-glass. If they made it, the opponent had to down the shot. If they missed, it was the opponent’s turn. The beauty lied in its simplicity. And taking the shot was always fun. The person assigned it did a handstand leaning their feet against a wall for support. The other person would gently rest their steel on the handstander’s top row of teeth and pour the shot down the blade. It was fucking brutal. More often than not a dose would go up your nose. Rum up the nose isn’t pleasant, but if you broke from the stance before the whole shot was down the blade you had to knock on Captain LeSautte’s door naked. That was better left undone. If he answered, which he did half the time, he’d either chase you around with a hot poker from his hearth or make you do some inane task like scrub the deck with your tongue. I had to do that. The splinters were a bitch.
Debauchery didn’t end there. Amidst that time I lost my virginity. It was to a hooker. That was special. We pulled into Tortuga to resupply and sell some of our booty; I ended up scoring some.
During one of our discussions Riff discovered I was still a virgin, so he made it his personal mission to remedy the situation. When we arrived in Tortuga the first thing he did was take me to a whorehouse. The place was seedy as hell. There were all manner of people sleeping/passed-out on the floor and front desk, and it smelled of cheap perfume mixed with stiff b.o. Riff knew the drill. He called out, “Roses are red,” and a haggard old woman trying to cover her age with too much make-up crackled, “Whada you want?” He explained the scenario and she led me upstairs. I had the option of choosing from three rooms. Since Riff was paying I had a choice-blind. With a little more cash, I could’ve chosen the woman upon physical witness of the availables. That probably would’ve been preferable, but oh well. When I opened one of the three doors, I found a plump woman asleep on the bed. The mistress came in and roused her before I could say otherwise.
I was left alone with the rounded woman. She came over to where I stood by the door, pulled my pants down, and started sucking my cock. No “Hi, how are you?” or “What’s your name?” or “My, my you have excellent bone structure.” just right to business. I hadn’t been regularly masturbating once aboard the boat due to my proximity with large amounts of men at all times, so I came within thirty seconds. It was off-putting to hear the hooker’s laugh after cumming. Really strange. I was still hard so she threw me on the bed, took off her clothes, and started riding me. I was horrified. Eventually, thank god, I lost my boner and she got off me. As soon as she dismounted, I grabbed my stray clothing and got the fuck out of there.
Riff was waiting with a grin. I gave a subtle head motion and he followed. He asked how it was, I told him, he told me I smelled of pussy, and that was the end of it. I wished my first time would’ve been with Madame Madrielle. I daydreamed about it all the time. A lot had to do with the fact I visited her almost every other day. Her face was fresh in my mind. I couldn’t do it though. Even if I knew how to wrangle a woman, I’d be too giggly and squeamish to go through with it. I liked her too much.
No, it was good my first wasn’t emotionally attaching. Animalistic fucking just to get it out of the way. I may’ve ended up damaged goods if my first was too intense. I didn’t want that, so I tried to keep my face to faces with Madame plutonic. Or they just happened that way ‘cause I was a pup and she didn’t give a shit. Only after the fact would I turn our sessions into something more risqué.
I repeatedly tried convincing Captain LeSautte to liberate Madame Madrielle, but no dice. He claimed he couldn’t afford to lose another slave after my release. I disagreed, but lacking leverage the only thing I could do to soften the situation was visit her as often as possible. During my visits I’d bring down choice bits of meat. Sneaking them to avoid jealousy amongst other slaves. We would talk about life outside the ship. The new things I was learning. What she would do if she was freed. How I would free her. Things changed after my first killing. She was aware of it because I told her almost everything.
It was my third raid. We were taking a merchant ship flying the flag of Sweden. A guy was giving me shit because I wanted his wife’s pearl necklace, so I thrust my sword into his chest. It felt odd watching him drop. I was more shocked by how little I felt than the scene itself. Mayhaps calloused by the fact that everyone I’d ever loved, other than schoolyard fancies, was dead. I told this to Madame Madrielle and she went cold. She said I was changing. Turning into a scallywag. I disagreed and she told me to look at my eyes. I did and they were encircled by darkness. I excused it as a trick of the light.
After that I visited her less and got into it a bit more. More drunken bullshit, chasing prostitutes, stealing innocent people’s property. I felt on top of the world. I was having a blast and didn’t look back.
Riff declared my pirate status official with my first piercing and ingrained with my first tattoo. Riff did the honors of piercing my ears with an eel’s teeth. It hurt like shit and bled more than I expected. Both of them. I got two. One in each ear, leaving the teeth as the piercing pieces.
My tattoo was done by Captain LeSautte. Apparently he’d been an artist at one time, so he was happy to keep the trade up. He used a barracuda tooth dipped in octopus ink to render an image of the British Isles on the underbelly of my forearm. That was also quite painful, but in a different way. The piercings were a blast of white hot pain while the tattoo was a mountain range of pain. Consistent ups and downs with noticeable variation, but nothing drastic.
I had it done in one go. It took a while and I was drunk on adrenaline by its completion, but it looked solid. LeSautte was certainly a capable artist. And with all the time spent together, my bond with the Captain strengthened. For some reason he took a liking to me. He told me I reminded him of his friend’s cousin’s nephew. I didn’t know what that meant but I went with it. Even after the ink set, we would delve into all manner of discussions. His rise to the top. His dealings with different cultures. How he lost his eye. My boring upbringing, which would be quickly skipped over. And most importantly, Persephone’s Pencil.
He explained it as an artifact of old. A gift from Hades to Persephone for satiating her stimulus craving. Trapped in the underworld, Persephone grew weary. So Hades had the powerful object forged. Legend told it to be a tool with which Persephone could create anything. It mimicked the power of the gods in defining lines of reality hence creating anything of a physical nature.
LeSautte spoke of it fondly. It was his golden goose, his magic lamp, his MacGuffin. The only problem was no one knew what it looked like or exactly where it was located. The story went that Persephone escaped the underworld through a door she drew, was recaptured, and the pencil was expelled. Apparently placed on the floating island, Mocha, to be guarded by the Mapuche people and their ill-described monster.
My mouth watered with every mention of Persephone’s Pencil. But I kept it cool, fearing LeSautte’s tied tongue with realization of my raging craving for the piece. I wanted him to tell me all he knew, so one day I could attain it for myself. Shit, with it I could have anything desired. My family back, a beautiful manner, piles of gold, my estranged family-horse Vonnegut, a delectable woman. I didn’t get ahead of myself though. How the fuck would I ever acquire it as my own?
Roughly three months after I’d been named swab, I woke in the middle of the night. I’d been dreaming of taking a leak. Luckily, I caught myself ‘cause I was on the verge of letting it rip. I got up, groggy, and stumbled to the toilet. I released. Once emptied, I noticed the burning in my belly. Still unsatisfied, I decided to head down to the kitchen for a late night snack.
On my descent down the ladder I heard strange sounds. Thinking better of barging in on something, I kept it quiet. When I entered the eatery, I saw a man ramming a tabled woman. I slowly edged closer, sounds of discomfort apparent.
Then I saw it. Madame Madrielle’s head appeared behind a shoulder of the man. I froze. Her face was grief-stricken, her hair was matted, and her disposition was awash with misery. The word rape and the image of Amelie’s face fronted my mind. Molten rage coursed through my veins, flaring my nostrils and pulling my ears back. I searched the room and found a blade leaning against the bench below the table. I grabbed it and ran it through the man’s back. He let out a roar, turned, and I again plunged staring into the row-master’s green eyes.
“Cornelius..what are you doing?” he groaned, looking down then back up at me.
I didn’t answer, I just let him slump to the floor. I looked up and saw Madame Madrielle displaying her vagina. I’d dreamed of a moment like it for ages but the sight made me sick. A few tweaks and the scene could’ve been serene; instead it was repulsive and made me want to vomit.
I rushed to her, stepping over the man’s body. “Are you alright?” I asked, holding out my hand.
She didn’t say anything or move. Tears just continued to stream down her face. After ten seconds of lifeless staring she jumped up and hugged me. I dropped the sword and wrapped around her. She leaned back, repositioned, and planted her lips on mine. I was lost.
She broke and said, “What are we going to do?”
“What do you mean?” I said dreamily. My face was soggy with her tears and saliva.
“You just killed one of your fellow crew members..I don’t think the rest will be too happy,” she incurred.
I pondered on it. “Yeah..Yeah, you’re right…Hm,” I thought. My mind shot blanks. The recentries’d flooded my receptors leaving little room for rational thinking. Killing a coworker and first-kissing my special lady-friend all within a minute’s time melted my mind. “Let’s go,” I landed on thinking the best solution was to physically distance from the corpse.
I grabbed her hand and pulled.
“Wait,” she commanded.
“What?” I said, turning back to her.
“Where are you going?”
“Up..to the…” I had nothing.
“We have to figure out what we’re going to do..This could be big trouble,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Cornelius..we have to get off the ship,” she said, penetrating my eyes with hers.
“Uhh, yeah..Yeah. How do we do that?”
“Cornelius,” she repeated, rattling my shoulders, “you’re on the crew..Just think. How can we get off the ship?”
“Hmm,” I sounded. The vibrations from my mouth stimulated my brain. “Alright, there’s a rowboat tied to the stern. We can use that to row towards land..If I’m right we’re not too far off the coast of Dominica,” I said, squinting an eye and looking to the ceiling. “If the conditions’re right, it won’t be too bad.”
“Alright. Good,” she said, semi-smiling. “That’s something.”
“And hey,” I said, turning, “we’re in the kitchen. We might as well stock up.” I turned back and motioned her to follow.
She grinned, following me to the food corner. I ducked behind the counter and searched. I found four storage pots filled with food. They weren’t the freshest, but they’d do. I grabbed one and handed it to Madame. Another stayed in my grasp as I rose.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.” I hurried to the ladder. Before I climbed, I slowly swung around and said, “We’re gonna have to be extra stealthy,” emphasizing the extra.
She nodded. I blushed, gave her an elastic kiss, blushed harder, and mounted the ladder. It was a difficult climb with the pot in hand. Its handle helped.
“Are you alright?” I would intermittently ask on the ascent.
“Yeah,” I’d hear whispered back.
I got to the top and deposited my pot in the corner opposite the ladder channel. I made for Madame’s, hoisted it up, and put it next to mine. I closed in on her face, the adrenaline boosting my confidence. “Will you stay here while I get a few things?”
“Don’t move..I’ll be right back.”
I opened the door to the crew’s quarters and moved to my bunk. I tried to be quiet, but not too quiet. If someone heard/saw me sneaking around, they’d know something was up. We were certainly respectful of one another’s comfort, but we weren’t nancies.
I realized I was still in my skivvies so I slid some pants on. More clothing went into a bag. I tucked the better sword under my arm, slung the bag over my shoulder, and started walking out. I remembered my watch. I swung around and swiped it from my bedside table, pocketing it. I looked at Riff and left.
Madame Madrielle’d descended the ladder a bit. I leaned over the opening and signaled her to come up. She did. I helped her then bent down, handed her a pot, jerked my neck, and headed out the door. We went to the back of the boat where the rower was stowed. I set my stuff down and looked over the edge. It was ready to go. Rigged with a pulley system, all I’d have to do was slowly lower it. I quickly exhaled as I noticed two water jugs under the boat’s bench. I’d forgotten that key element and was thankful of its presence.
“Okay. We’re looking good,” I said, smiling at Madame.
She nervously returned it.
I bent down, picked up my bag, and threw it in. My sword went on the railing’s ridge.
I looked at Madame. “You ready?”
“Mmhm,” she nodded.
I took her hand- mine were sweaty. I smiled apologetically -and led her to the railing. She moved her hand to my shoulder and threw herself over the railing with my stability supporting.
“I think it’ll be easier if I lower you down and then jump in,” I admitted.
“Alright,” she said with something like fear in her eyes.
I gave a tight lipped smile and started lowering the boat with ropes. It was about three-quarters down when all of a sudden I felt an explosion of sensation in my right thigh.
“What the fuck?” I shouted looking down. A blade was protruding from my leg. “Fuck,” I said under my breath.
“It’s Cornelius,” I heard from behind.
I turned and saw crewmen coming toward me.
I took my sword from the railing and hacked at the ropes holding the boat. “Hold on, Madame.” It dropped, crashing into the water. The rope sailed through the pulley system and I heard another splash as the other side of the rowboat connected with the water.
“Go, go, go,” I shouted down. I tried turning but it was too late. There was an arm around my neck. Another around my wrist loosened the grip on my sword.
“Cornelius, Cornelius, Cornelius,” someone said. It sounded like Captain LeSautte.
“Cornelius, Cornelius, Cornelius what by Neptune’s nipples were ye thinking?”
I didn’t answer. I only shrugged my shoulders and eyebrows.
“Ye tipped one of me best men..And alls he wanted was to feed his scepter the nectar of Nymphadella…Do ye see a flag flyin’ anywhere that’ll say ‘Cornelius is Queen’?” he asked, looking around the room.
“Don’t you mean king?” I said, gently fingering the gash in my leg. The blood’d finally congealed.
“No, I surely don’t. Only a blinkin’ bitch would cut down a comrade for plowing the pink plot,” he said, circling the seat I sat in, voice raised.
I lowered my head.
“Why’d ye do ‘im in Cornelius?”
“I love Madame Madrielle,” I put it simply.
LeSautte scoffed then laughed. “Love, uh. You love ‘er..How many years’re you jugglin’, Cornelius?”
“And how long’ve you been familiar with ‘er?”
“Uh..about four months..Why?”
“Cornelius..” he chuckled to the floor, “I favor ye. You’re a fine ryan. And the crew takes to ye too.” Under the circumstances I couldn’t take the statement as a compliment. I stared on, “But ye’ve been a bit brash..Wouldn’t ye say?”
I didn’t answer.
“Not only did ye tip one of me smiffies, you set that tasty piece of ass free on me shore-port..That was me only one…And fer what?” he said with a wicked grin.
My answer was that of averted eyes.
“A schoolboy’s notion of love..Haha,” he laughed, holding his belly. “I’m carryin’ forty-five years under me drawers and I still can’t wiffle love…Could be the jade though,” he said, looking away. “Regardless, I ain’t gonna kill ye,” he said, looking back. Amusement wiped from his face. “But I have to rid me ship of ye..I’m sure ye understand.”
I almost nodded.
“We’ll be makin’ it a plank-walk then,” he smiled, coming close and patting my shoulder. “Hopin’ the blue beast doesn’t bite ye…Mister, get in ‘ere would ye,” he yelled over my head.
The door opened and Mr. Mister briskly walked in. “Yes?” he asked.
“Would ye be a dear and take our vel, Cornelius, ‘ere up on deck and prep ‘im fer a bath?”
“Of course, sir.”
Mister put a hand on my shoulder and I lifted. He led me out the door as I heard Captain LeSautte say, “See ye up there, Cornelius the Fearless.”
“Cornelius the Fearless,” I repeated to myself. Not too bad.
“Cornelius,” Mister undertoned to me before we made it through the deck door, “I’m sorry to see you go, but you fucked up.”
I didn’t answer. I was taken aback by the fact I’d never before heard Mister profane.
“You could have handled the situation differently,” he said, glancing back. Probably to make sure the captain’s-quarters door was closed.
“Yeah..Yeah, I know I could’ve,” I said, lowering my head.
“But I understand your feelings for Madame Madrielle. Which is why I’m giving you this,” he said, holding his upturned palm to me. In it was a rusted key.
“What is this?” I said, grabbing it.
“It’s a key to the shackles I’ll be applying to you,” he answered stoically.
“Ah,” I frowned thoughtfully. “Thanks.”
I pocketed it and he opened the door. The crew was standing on deck, near the already erected plank. The news’d spread fast. Cold glares met mine. I could understand why. Not only was it my second crew-member murder, but this one was well-liked by most of the men. I tried to return their stony stares with something resembling remorse. It was somewhat effective. I felt kindness behind some of the eyes. Especially Riff’s. His eyes spilled pity. When I walked by him, I nodded and a stray hand of his met my sidearm.
“You mother fucker,” he said, shaking his head.
I replied with a tight smile.
Mister stopped me at the base of the plank and bent down to fasten the shackles resting on deck. They were different from the ones that’d bonded me in the galley. They went around both ankles and didn’t have chain links, only a solid bar that pivoted at both ends. It doubtlessly limited movement.
Once the shackles were secure, Mister stepped back and sent a subtle wink with the eye furthest from the crew. My lips spasmed in a near-smile.
Captain LeSautte walked up and yelled, “Looks like we’re eyein’ a traitor, boys.”
Murmurs of agreement
“What’ll be the consequence of traiting then?” he asked with a cupped hand to his ear.
Various forms of “Make ‘im walk the plank,” were returned.
LeSautte smiled broadly and shouted, “That’ll be it..The plank awaits.” After which he growled, “Lady justice can be cruel.” He turned to me, wide eye shining in the sunlight. “I mive it bein’ you, but at least it’ll be a show, eh,” he said to me under his breath. “Get up there, ye mange,” he roared, lifting me to the plank. He was more powerful than I would’ve thought. “This is it, smif..Any last words,” he said, blaring his black-rooted teeth.
“Uh..No..Not really,” I said, creasing my brow.
“To the blue brew with ye,” he said, raising his sword then leaning in. “There’ll be an island two kilometers by northeast,” he quickly disclosed, countering it with an “Aarrggh…Stroll.”
I could feel his steel lightly graze my back. I walked down the length of the plank, hanging ten at the edge.
“Say yer swears, sweety,” LeSautte shouted.
“Wait,” I heard yelled from behind.
“What’s it?” asked LeSautte.
“He’ll fuckin’ drown.” I turned and saw Riff at the foot of the plank.
“And,” LeSautte responded.
“He isn’t a goddamn murderer. He’s a good guy.”
“We’ll let his creator decide if he’s damned.” I felt a sharp sting in my back. I jumped and cool water rushed up from under.
I surfaced and pushed my hair back. Difficulty treading water without the full extent of my legs was soon discovered. The sharp sting of salt in my wound was accentuated by an escalating ache in my muscles. I fished for Mister’s pocketed key, awkwardly treading with one arm and tethered legs. Searching for it I quickly cradled my pocket watch, smiled, found the key, and pulled it out. Just then I heard a loud splash not too far off.
Riff’d jumped in and was swimming over. “Fuck me,” he panted.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
“Savin’ your soggy ass,” he said.
I held up the key smiling and said, “I’m on it.”
“You have a fuckin’ key?”
I dived under saying, “Yep.” The sensation in my open eyes matched that in my open thigh. It was difficult to see, but I found the key’s place and put it in. Wiggling my legs, the shackles sunk. I looked up and swam to the surface. I was surprised at how far I’d down-drifted while trying to free myself.
“Ppsswah,” I said, surfacing. I wiped the water from my face and said, “Thanks for joining me..That was cool of you…You’re a good man,” I said, soggily patting his shoulder.
“Yeah, whatever,” he smiled. “But what the fuck’re we gonna do now?..We’re in the middle of the fuckin’ ocean..Awesome,” he continued, his tone changing.
“Hey, relax. LeSautte told me there’s an island a couple kilometers northeast of here,” I explained.
“A couple fuckin’ kilometers..That helps,” he said, exhaling loudly. “Wait..LeSautte told you..What d’you mean?”
“Right before I went overboard he told me that.”
“I don’t know..I guess he wanted to help me.”
“Hm..Alright.” He said, “Whatever..So which way is northeast?” seemingly searching the horizon for a sign.
“Well..there’s the sun,” I said, pointing at the glowing orb, “so it should be that way,” I continued, altering my finger’s course.
“Two kilometers..We’re gonna fuckin’ die,” he stated.
“No we’re not. Come on, Riff…We just have to pace ourselves…Lay on your back and do the dead man’s float.”
“Yeah, dead man’s float..That’s exactly what we’ll be doin’,” he said, sounding annoyed by his fate.
“Relax. You’re gonna waste your energy fretting like that..Just chill…And put a bandana over your face or it’ll burn like..like a..piece of meat.”
“Yeaha,” he said, laughing. “It’ll definitely burn like a piece of meat.”
I foraged for the bandana I kept in my pocket and found it. I laid it on my upturned face and began rhythmically pushing water towards my legs; attempting to point in the direction of the unseen island.
We continued on that course for a while. Chatting about this and that. Our bum-luck, what we were gonna do when we got to the island, Madame Madrielle, how tired we were, sword makes and models-
“Hey. What the fuck was that?” Riff shouted, splashing.
“Huh?” I said, lifting my head, but neglecting to remove the bandana from my face.
“Something just fucking bit me.”
“Bit you?- Ow..shit,” I exclaimed with the sensation of a sharp blast in my back. “What was that?” I said, erecting my position, shifting to a water tread.
“I don’t know, but something’s fucking biting me.”
I looked over at Riff. His head was swiveling, face turned to the water. I felt another bite on my leg. It wasn’t excruciating, but it definitely registered. “What the-” I started to say but stopped short, catching a glimpse of a large shadowy figure. “Uuhh,” I slowly exhaled. “Riff?”
I didn’t answer. I was searching, spellbound.
“What?..Fuck. There it is again. What the fuck is biting me?”
“I..I don’t know, but it looks pretty big.”
“Holy fucking shit,” he over-enunciated. “What the fuck is that?” ‘fuck’ prevailing.
“I..I don’t know. Just keep swimming,” I stammered.
“Keep swimming..What the fuck for?.We’re toast.” His voice broke at the word toast.
A spring of adrenaline sprung in my system. My heart raced and my breath escalated.
“Shit,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t good.”
All of a sudden my mouth felt exceedingly dry and my limbs felt fatigued. “Great,” I thought. The sensation was short-lived. My glands poured more adrenaline into my bloodstream and I clenched my jaw. I saw a blob bypass under me and I felt dizzy with chemical ridden blood.
Then I heard Riff laugh, “Haha.”
“What?” I squealed.
“They’re fucking turtles,” he disclosed.
“Turtles?” I asked. The word sounded unfamiliar to me. Or just too distant to be associated with the situation.
“Yeaha…Killer fucking turtles.”
“Haha,” I mildly laughed, scoping the waters for a glimpse; still unsure.
Just then a beaked head surfaced beside me. It was the size of a boot with equally leathery-looking skin. I tried to minimalize movement in attempts to avoid provocation. Its glassy eyes found mine and blinked. After five seconds it submerged. I looked to Riff. He was set on scanning the water.
“These things’re fuckin’ huge,” he said with mirth on his voice.
“Yeah..Yeah, they are,” I said, smiling; relieved we weren’t dealing with something of a more diabolical nature.
“So, how do we get these things to give us a lift?” Riff asked.
“Give us a lift?”
“Yeah..Ya know..take us to the nearest island,” he elaborated.
“Take us to the nearest island,” I said to the sun-bleached sky. It certainly wasn’t a bad idea, but was it plausible? “I..don’t know,” I said, thinking on the possibility.
“We need to rally these bitches.”
I looked into the lucid water seeing three distinctly turtlular shapes. I wondered why I didn’t see them the same before. Fear must’ve clouded my mind. I shifted thoughts back to the likelihood of a lift.
I gave a belated, “Yeah.”
A turtle swam close enough for me to touch, so I lunged grabbing the shell-lip above its neck. It dragged me through the water quicker and more efficiently than I would’ve expected. I let go after my nose’s capacity was maxed by water. I surfaced, rubbing the unpleasant tingle from my nose.
“We can definitely catch these things..The problem is directing them.” My statement went unheard. Riff wasn’t where I thought him to be. I spun around, looking without luck. After a couple seconds he exploded to the surface.
“Whouh..These things’re badass..We can definitely hitch a ride,” he hollered.
“Yeah..We just need to figure out how to direct them.”
“We can just ask ‘em. I’m sure they won’t mind.”
“Haha. Yeah, let’s just ask them. No problem,” I said sarcastically.
“Yeah, it shouldn’t be a problem..They understand me,” he said.
“They understand you?” I asked, laughing. “Whaht does thahat mea-”
Before I could finish, a surfaced turtle let out a loud bellow. I quickly looked from it to Riff, then back.
The turtle dove.
“Here watch this,” said Riff. He dunked his head under water for four seconds then resurfaced and looked at me.
Just as I was about to say something a beastly turtle launched from the water, spinning like a story. It crashed back into the water with a loud/volumous splash. The shock wave nearly immersed me.
I hastily spit salty water to make way for speech, but I was tongue tied. I only stared at the spot the turtle’d landed.
“Pretty fuckin’ impressive, uh,” nodded Riff.
“Yeah..What did you do?”
“I asked it to jump out of the water for us.”
“And it understood you?” I skeptated.
I looked through the water at the meandering shapes. “Come on,” I said to myself, shaking my head. I knew some animals were smart. My horse, Vonnegut, could comply with verbal commands, but that was after months of training. These turtles didn’t much look domesticated. I pondered the reality. Maybe it was a coincidence the turtle’d jumped while Riff was trying to prove a point and he ran with it. I wasn’t fully convinced.
“Yeaah..I dunno,” I said uncertainly.
“Alright check this shit out,” he said, remerging his head.
He lifted with the company of a turtle. It obediently floated next to him. He put his hand on its head and it blinked.
“Uh?..Uh?,” he sounded, lifting his eyelids and chin as if to ask, “Impressive?”.
I smiled. “Alright..Yeah..Cool,” I said, submitting. I turned to the turtle and said, “Can you understand me?” as clearly as I could.
It bobbed its head.
“Hm.” I stared. “Can you…speak?” I asked, frightened by the possibility.
It shook its head.
“Alright..Well, I guess that’s reasonable,” I said more to myself than my companions. “A turtle that can understand english..It’s not too farfetched,” I told myself. “So it should be a snap..We’ll just ask them if they can ferry us to the next island…Right?” I said, looking for confirmation from Riff.
“Yeah..Let me ask, though..I think they fancy me a bit more,” Riff said, winking. He bent in close to the turtle’s ear and whispered. The turtle cocked its head while listening. It ducked and dove below.
“So?.What’s up?” I asked.
“It’s gonna check with the others,” he answered.
“Yeah. Yeah, sure. Of course.”
The turtle returned to the surface and nodded its head. Seconds after, two more appeared. Their proximity allowed me to tabulate features. They were about five feet wide, including extremities, and ten feet long. Their shell was proportional, minus a couple feet for appendages. The shells’ coloration was a cornucopia of browns and greens while the vital parts were paradoxically dull yet vibrant blue. The only comparison I can make is that of a person’s eye color being earthen brown. The color is defined by the reference to earth/dirt, but the difference lies in the source of life hiding behind the eyes. The same effect applied to the turtles’ extremeties.
I watched one of the turtles sink. It rotated and rose under my treading limbs. I couldn’t help but be confused. Should I straddle it like a horse, sit on it like a stool, or lay my belly on its back? I chose the straddle. Its broad back made it difficult, but it was doable.
I looked to Riff. He was also rising from the water.
“This is fucking awesome.” The volume of his voice matched the volume of his smile.
I returned it.
“What now?” I asked.
“Where’d you say the nearest island was?”
“Two kilometers Northeast.”
He leaned in and said something to the turtle he was riding. It positioned and he lurched. Mine followed, fully submerging under water. But it left me a comfortable amount of breathing room above. And I needed it. Hanging on was a work out.
I was impressed by the turtle’s raw power. The degree of drag I must’ve been creating was a force to reckon and it was pulsing at a striking speed. I had to tightly grip its frontal shell-lip to keep from slipping.
“This is..This is,” I yelled to Riff, looking for words to describe the sensation. None were coming. “…awesome,” I finally said.
He turned, called out, “Fuck yeah,” and hooted.
I matched that sentiment.
The sea breeze and ocean water sprayed my face. It felt refreshing on my sunkissed skin. My mouth was dry and my limbs were tired, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t imagine any place I’d rather’ve been.
Every now and then the turtle’d take a deep dip under. I’d shift position, laying on its back. My elbows at a ten degree angle. It’d never go too low, but low enough to feel the affect. My eyes burned with fervor. The salty blast did them good.
The turtle was quite good at timing the dives according to my lung capacity. It would surface when my air diminished and I’d either remain laying or shift upright immediately. It spiced its regimen up so I did too. It took us about forty five minutes to make landing. I’m not sure, but I don’t think we were taken to the island Captain LeSautte mentioned being the nearest. I couldn’t believe it was only two kilometers from our start point. And I don’t see any reason Captain LeSautte’d be incorrect. Or lie to me. Whatever, though.
The shelled transports beached. Unsuntouched-skin-white sand met toothpaste-green waters with a pitch. The shallow water’s color could’ve melted my soul. I’d made birth in the Caribbean before but never with that direction. The color and clarity of the water could conquer any qualm. Easily including not knowing what the fuck was up.
When the turtles touched ground, I was calm as could be. The ride clenched it; the landing closed it. I casually slid off the turtle’s shell, feet burying in the saturated sand.
I waded to the turtle’s face and said, “Thank you very much,” resting my hand on its neck. It nodded and pet itself with my hand. I kissed it on the forehead, not knowing what else to do. I thought it smiled but a turtle’s beak makes deciphering facial expressions difficult.
“Was that rock and fucking roll or what?” interjected Riff wallowing my way.
“Yeah. Yeah, for sure,” I said, nodding.
He approached, holding out a sprawled palm. I met it with mine and we closed in for a back pat. I turned and saw my turtle merge with the fair waters. I looked on it longingly.
“What’d I tell ya..no sweat,” he said, giving my hand a supplemental shake.
“Yeah, absolutely..You were right,” I smiled. “Well done.”
“How’d you like that shit?” he asked.
“Whew,” I exhaled. “Amazing…Unlike anything I’ve ever done.”
“Yes, indubitably..That kicked ass for sure,” he said, pounding an imaginary table.
“Mmmhm.” I looked shoreward. “Shall we,” I said, gesturing to dry land.
We waded inward.
“I can’t believe those turtles understood what you were saying,” I said, turning to Riff.
“I know, right? That was pretty fuckin’ bizarre..But hey, who gives a shit? They got us where we need to be, right?”
I thought better of saying ‘maybe’ and said, “Absolutely.”
We trudged ashore, dragging drenched dressings. My clothes were soaked with saltwater and sand, making them feel ten times heavier. When I made it to appropriately dry land, I shed my shoes and socks, ringing the socks of all the water I could.
“I could go for a smoke,” I voiced.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Riff said, snapping a sock, ridding it of excess.
I felt the sun and reapplied the bandana I’d removed for the ride. It slumped over my face trickling water down my cheeks. A particularly spirited wave washed over my feet burying them in exchanged sand. One of my boots started sliding seaward, so I darted over plucking it from the foam.
I looked from my freshly wetted shoe to Riff. He was still working his socks. I dumped the pooled water from the shoe’s cavity, shaking vigorously. “What do you think we should do?” I asked.
“What d’you mean?” he said, intent on his socks.
“Uh..well,” I smiled, “We’re on an island that neither one of us’s likely been too. We don’t have food or water. Shelter..What do you think we should do?”
“Oh,” he said, pausing his practice to look up, “Well I ‘spose we should do some scouting, uh.”
“Definitely,” I said, lifting my head and squinting my eyes. I just then noticed the sting in my thigh. I twisted, trying to get a look, but it was difficult. I was wearing full-fledged pants and the wound was in an inaccessible position. I winced for no apparent reason. Once the wince settled, I was confused. It wasn’t the pain that’d made me do it. Was it the fact I couldn’t cater to it that made me wince? I brushed it off and picked up a seashell that’d settled near my feet. I studied it, admiring the beauty. I thought about keeping it but decided against that. I flicked it, saying, “You ready?”
“For what?” Riff asked, immersed.
“For exploring..I’m thirsty as hell.” My tongue scraped against my lips. My eyes and mouth frowned.
“Yeah, sure..gnuh,” he grunted, lifting from a squat. “Where d’you think we should go?” he said, scanning the beach.
“I don’t know..Let’s just walk and see what we find.”
We headed west. I carried my boots with my left hand. My socks were inside while my pantlegs and shirtsleeves were rolled up. I’m not sure why, but I felt cool. We walked along the coastline until we found a river emptying into the ocean. I ran toward it upon realization of what it was, dunking my head in the cool current. I drank until I felt drunk. I must’ve imbibed three gallons of water. After which I felt incorrect. My stomach’d swelled and my head swam. I let the feeling settle and drank more.
After taking our fill we changed course to follow the river inland. I intermittently dipped my lips in the cool water attempting to satiate my seemingly eternal thirst. The salt water and sun’d sapped my fluids something serious.
The vegetation grew thick as we moved inland. The shrubs and weeds turned to trees and grass. The chirping of birds became more common. And an unfamiliar sound filled the air. It sounded like someone was beating their living room rug with the intention of making music.
“What the fuck is that?” Riff asked.
“I don’t know,” I said with a creased forehead.
“Sounds like someone’s ripping ass,” Riff laughed.
I matched laughter. Riff’s charm may’ve been skin-deep but it was worth the world.
We carried on walking, following the primal sounds. As we neared I could hear the layers of sound produced. It wasn’t a monotonic thumping as I first thought. It was a medley of highs and lows that adhered to a similar rhythm. We made it to a point where they deviated from the stream so we did too. The brush was thick, but we barreled through clearing shrubs and vines with swipes of the hand. Exposed skin was a playground for the stray thorns riding hanging vegetation. I could feel cuts accumulating as we made it through the jungular growth.
All of a sudden the plants thinned and the noise grew thick. The area’d obviously been tanned by the hand of man. I could see people through the prematurely severed greenery.
I stopped short and said, “Wait.”
“What?” whispered Riff, stopping.
“Look at those people,” I said, nodding to the distant but distinct figures.
We paused, gathering the scene. There were about twenty people congregated around and within a clearing, drumming and dancing. Not only did their movements intimidate me, but also their general sight. Most of their skin was darker than I’d ever seen. Varying shades of a rich brown. Their hair was exceedingly curly and dark. I was perplexed. I’d never witnessed people of the sort.
“Look,” I said, failing to elaborate.
Riff’s silence told me he shared a similar sentiment.
“What..the..fuck?” he finally enunced.
I stood staring, trying to decipher the scene. The brown people were moving and swaying to the rhythm of the music created by four drum pummelers. Their taudy apparel covered naught but the nether regions. Flailing breasts made it difficult for me to be anything but aroused. And the sexual extent of their movements helped. Gyrating and pulsing pelvises assisted swinging breasts and heads in expliciting my mindset.
Riff and I were mesmerized. We sat in the shrubs, speechlessly staring for at least an hour. Energy and timing of the music and movement would fluctuate, but the general tendency was the same. My observation was mostly focused on a particular woman. She was a classic beauty seeming to be perpetually bathed in sunshine. Not just light, but sunshine. Even when shadows were cast on her, she radiated solar photons. Granted, her skin tone and hair color were a bit lighter than the others, but that wasn’t it. It was an inner energy pouring outward. I was engrossed. So much so, I didn’t share my thoughts with Riff. I decided to keep them to myself. Verbalizing my view would cheapen it and her. It would turn the scenario into something else. I wanted to keep it as was.
I saw a few break from the crew and wander off. I nudged Riff and nodded to the development. His facial expression said he was aware and curious. Ten minutes later cooking scents wafted our way. The foundation smelled of pork. It was carried by a variety of assistants I couldn’t place. At that my stomach rumbled.
Another ten minutes and the apparent cooks brought out pots of their creation. Some others carried utensils/dishes. Something I didn’t understand was said. The drummers and dancers slowed to a stop. It wasn’t an abrupt halt but a gradual decline. Members had staggered finishes, wandering to the food when done. Bowls were handed out. People sat with folded legs, eating and chatting in various cliques. The language they used was indecipherable. At first I chalked it up to distance, but after hearing distinct words I realized they were conversing in a foreign tongue.
“What language are they speaking?” I rhetored. I assumed Riff wouldn’t know, but asked aloud anyway.
“Fuck if I know,” he shrugged.
We watched them eat for a couple minutes.
“I can’t take it..I’m starving,” I said, lifting.
“What the fuck’re you doing?” he asked.
“I’m going over there and seeing if I can have some food,” I said, walking away.
Riff rose and ran to catch up. “Yeah, alright..Why the hell not?”
We made our way over, the closest people seeing us first. Their reaction wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t friendliness or shock or confusion, it was fright. Not every individual shared that emotion but most. As we approached, the ones closest ditched their dishes, rising, and ran off. Seeing this I held up my hands and bent my knees.
“What..what’s happening?” I asked Riff in a low tone.
“I think they’re scared of us.”
“Yeah…We’re friends..Friends,” I said, raising my voice, speaking slowly, and waving both my hands as I inched forward.
For the sake of coherency, I’ll upgrade their English level. Most were completely incapable while some were decent and a few fluent.
“What do you want?” a large muscle bound man bellowed. The depth and tone of his voice rattled me. His appearance helped. He was tall, thick, and dark with short, unkempt curly jet-black hair and a broad nose.
“Uhm..uh..We..just wanted to meet you,” I stuttered, intimidated by his booming voice, broad shoulders, and alien appearance.
“Meet us..Why?” he asked.
“We’re lost..We just arrived on this island and we don’t really know where we are,” I said, slowly lowering my hands.
“You a’e lost? Whe’ did you come from?”
“A ship sailing these waters..We were cast off.”
“Cast off..What is this?”
“We were..thrown off,” I said.
“Thrown off?.Why?” he asked, seeming to know something was amiss.
I thought quickly. It probably wouldn’t’ve been a good idea to get into the real reason so I said, “We were thrown off in a storm.”
“A sto’m,” he said, furrowing his brow. “There has been no sto’m here fo’ weeks.”
“Yeah..Well..it was further south..We were carried here by turtles,” I said, somewhat excitedly.
“Turtles,” I nodded.
“Big ones,” Riff injected.
The man turned to Riff staring at him. Seemingly noticing him for the first time. Riff held his gaze for a couple seconds, but turned away first. The man looked back at me.
“So what’re you doing here?” I eventually asked, uneasy.
He didn’t answer, he only stared.
“Uh..How..long..have you been here?” I said, unsure if I should ask another question.
He looked me up and down, then glanced at Riff and asked me, “Who a’ you?”
“My name is Cornelius,” I said, holding out my hand.
He looked at it, then grabbed and shook saying, “I am Bubeya.”
“Good to meet you, Bubeya,” I said, increasing the frequency of my shake.
“Have some food,” he said, gesturing to the grounded spread.
He turned and said something in another language, walking away. A thin woman with big eyes and a narrow face scrambled, bringing us two bowls of delectable-smelling food. I said, “Thank you very much,” and Riff said, “Thank you.” We grinned and she nodded, smiling sheepishly.
I put my face over the bowl and let the steam wash over it. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the culinary aromas. I sighed loudly and looked at the woman, moaning “Mmm,” while nodding and rubbing my belly. Her close-lipped smile sprouted teeth and she shied away. I looked to Riff. He smiled and we sat. I plunged my spoon into the food a couple times for no notable reason. I guess to test its consistency. I took a bite and melted. It was delicious. Unlike anything I’d ever tasted. The rich flavors blended and accentuated. It swished in my mouth for a few seconds then I swallowed. When the morsels made it to my stomach a pandemonial explosion ensued. I imagined a paper shredder on the fritz, spitting and spraying scraps of paper in all directions. My mouth watered so I delivered it a heaping spoonful.
“Holy shit, this is fucking awesome,” said Riff.
I raised my eyebrows, smacked my lips and said, “Yeaah.”
The remainder of the meal we ate in silence, savoring the flavor.
Assimilation was difficult. A couple reasons contibuted. Riff and I quickly discovered the colony to be a congregation of escaped slaves. Most of them had been working on various sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean. It’s unclear how they found each other, but they did and had been living together for the previous couple years. The colony started with just a few people but steadily grew to twenty two. All of which had roots in western Africa.
As former slaves their perception of people with a white skin tone was on the negative end of the spectrum. They understood that not everyone with white skin was an evil slave-monger, but bad vibes’d been ingrained. Making them see past our frosty exterior was a task.
Another major factor that made Riff and I’s acceptance difficult was the fact that few spoke English and we didn’t speak a lick of their languages. Some couldn’t even speak to each other. Most spoke various dialects from western Africa, which were similar but different. They were better off than us though. Having lived together for a stretch, they’d developed methods of communication involving common words and motions. They were extremely efficient at portraying their thoughts through body language.
Generally, they were a very physical group. Animated conversations and even more animated dancing sprees were the norm. Riff and I picked up some of that energy. It was extremely freeing to let loose, flailing limbs to the rhythms of drumming. I’d never before bought in to dancing. Especially not the brand they sold. I’d never even seen anything like it. The only dancing I’d been exposed to was formal ballroom-type dancing. I liked their kind much better and took to it aggressively.
That was a big reason they tended to accept us. Even though we couldn’t verbalize well, Riff and I were quite carefree. Not only could we lose ourselves in the moment and forget other people were watching when we danced, but we could carry on as if we were no different than anyone else. That seemed important. Riff and I had a lengthy conversation about it. We figured the best way to incorporate was to just act like we belonged. If we acted like outsiders we would be cast as such.
Another reason they found us acceptable residents was our applicable knowledge. I could construct animal traps. Learned while fox-hunting with my father when I was younger. My father was exceptionally handy and did all he could to pass his knowledge to me.
Riff’s claim to fame was a huge hit. Somewhere along the line he’d acquired the ability to brew alcohol by fermenting coconut milk. It was delicious and it got you sloppy.
The first batch was a big success. He was unsure if he’d be able to pull it off adequately, it having been awhile since he’d concocted. But the end-result was of top quality. Everybody got pissed.
Some people’d never had alcohol before. Like Sahra.
The unveiling of coconut moonshine was the first night I truly conversed with Sahra. We’d exchanged polite words before, but nothing extensive. It began with my curiosity about her hair. It was twisted into thick sprigs that bulged from above her thin face. She called them dreadlocks. I was fascinated by them. The stiff consistency, the tendency to sun-bleach, the way they held position so well, their sand and saltwater scent, the fact I could see sand and saltwater woven within but didn’t interpret it as dirty.
That conversation progressed to the life story thing. She telling me of her home off the coast of western Africa. The Canary Islands. She described her family, the climate, the culture, the scenery with wide eyes and a fiery passion. She would get so lost in her depiction. Furiously searching the proper words to do the place justice. Her large eyes darting. While pursuing a word she wouldn’t perturb, just calmly peruse her English extent.
She told of her abduction, her captivity, and her eventual escape. Kidnapped from her beachside house when she was fifteen, she spent three years in the servitude of a wealthy Spanish family on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. She attended to household affairs like cooking and cleaning, but was offered freedom when the woman of the house heard her husband raping Sahra.
After leaving Havana, she caught wind of an ex-slave community on the island of Martinique. It took much time and effort but she eventually made it there. It helped having her ownership papers, but that wasn’t an airtight contract. She could’ve easily been abducted again and auctioned off against her will. She knew this, so stealth became a virtue on her six-month journey. Her efforts paid off. She made it and had been with the group for a year.
I saluted her for the wealth of courage and fortitude displayed. She’d been through a great deal of ordeals by the young age of nineteen. Modestly, she gave thanks and shifted the discussion to me. We talked of my home in England, the voyage that led me to piracy, the real reason I’d ended up on the island. She listened intently, asking questions intermittently. Not too many, not too few. She was an excellent moderator. And I was largely impressed by her brisk consumption of English vocabulary. She was a quick learner. We even developed inside English-language jokes within the first conversation.
She didn’t let me kiss her on the night of the moonshine unveiling. But a couple nights later we shared a dance, kissed, then had sex. It was only the second time I’d ever had sex. And my first could hardly be counted. I didn’t much know what I was doing, but her experience made up for it. She was a vixen who not just had sex, but fully fucked.
She could swivel her hips to the seventh level. It was insane. And difficult to keep from cumming too soon. We had nothing else, so I’d have to use the pullout method. Retracting my penis just before ejaculation. She was adamant about not being impregnated, so I was on that shit. But after blowing my load I could stay hard, so we’d continue fucking for some time. Rock.
My situation with Sahra made me appreciate my experience with Madame Madrielle. She’d accelerated my amatorial abilities. I didn’t have to be squeamish and shy around Sahra. Madame Madrielle’d popped my cherry. I could be confident and nonchalant around Sahra eventhough I found her fiercely attractive and was drawn by her radiance.
Her English wasn’t excellent, but it was functional and improving. She wasn’t the kind of person to be uncomfortable with silence anyway. And when she spoke her ideas may not’ve been verbally concise, but they were certainly commercially concise.
We just meshed well. She was calm, cool, collect, intelligent, and she had a stunning body. I was wildly smitten by her. The way her hips moved when she danced made my dick harder than it’d ever been. It hurt. It felt like the skin was going to rip down the length and everyone in a ten foot radius would be drenched by a medley of fluids.
On the inside I was a soggy mess over Sahra, but I was able to keep it together around her. And my relationship with her definitely brought things together. The other members of the colony respected me for my treatment of Sahra, drawing closer as they saw I could assimilate.
My undertaking with Sahra even seemed to benefit Riff. Once the other women realized relations with us were possible and that we were decent people, the doors opened wide. He started associating with a cutey from Mauritania. Before being told she was from there, I’d never heard of it. Riff claimed its familiarity, but who knows.
Things were looking good. I was eating good food, having good conversation, dancing, having regular sex with an awesome/beautiful women. I took a lot of softly released deep breaths during my time there.
“Hey, come on man..Wake the fuck up,” I heard, followed by a supplemental nudge.
“Hmm,” I said, eyes unopening.
“Come on. We’re waitin’ on ya.”
“Who is?” I asked, almost annoyed.
I opened my eyes to see Riff standing over me. “Uhh,” I said doubtfully, looking out my hut’s opening in search of light. “The sun’s not even up yet,” I huffed and rolled deeper into Sahra’s embrace.
“Sure it is..Look, I see it-”
“Riff,” said Sahra. “Go away.”
“You hear that?.You’re disturbing Sahra..I’ll be out in half an hour,” I said, kissing Sahra’s forehead and noticing the numbness of my left hand. I pulse-clenched it three times laying my head back on a pillow stuffed with brush.
I was awake and fairly comfortable with that fact. I didn’t want to drift into a slumber only to wake sleepier than I was, so I tried keeping conscious. I stared at the palm-frond ceiling admiring its consistency. I figured it’d have to be changed in the next couple months. Plenty of legroom.
Fifteen minutes later I eased from under Sahra and stood, stretching. I down-gazed admiring her beauty and fondled a lock. Three of my fingers dragged across her back and I walked to the corner, bending to fetch a water-filled jug. I took a couple swigs. I found my shirt and pants, putting them on. I ran a hand through my hair, noticing it was the longest it’d ever been, and walked outside making a kissing noise in case Sahra was awake. I shuffled ten feet from the path and took a leak. I cracked my neck.
A rock barely registered when I stepped on it. My feet had calloused nicely ‘cause boots were neglected most of the time. The only occasion I wore boots was when I had to delve deep into the forest looking for dry wood after a rainstorm.
“There he is,” I said, smiling at Riff as I approached his seated figure. I held out my hand. He slapped it. “Why are you awake so early this morning?” I said, sitting next to him.
“Come the fuck on, Cornelius,” he said, shaking his head. “Do you really need me to dish it out to you?”
I shrugged, mumbling, “I ‘unno.”
“Jesus Christ..I was out of commission for the past two weeks. I’m achin’ to get back,” he explained with open arms swinging.
“Oh, alright,” I said slowly, pretending to finally understand. I knew why he was excited I just wanted to keep him on his toes. “Well, it’s good to have you back,” I said, patting him on the back. “How’s the toe feeling?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s good. No problem at all.”
“So, you’ll be alright out there?”
“Ppssh..abso-fuckin’-lutely..No sweat,” he said, twiddling a stick in his fingers. “I just wish the others would fuckin’ hurry up.”
“They’ll be here. Don’t worry about it.” I leaned back on locked elbows and outspread hands, looking up to the jungle canopy. I felt an ant crawl onto my hand. I let it continue to crawl up my arm until it reached the brink of my short-sleeve, then I flicked it off. I tried to follow the flicked ant, but it blended with the backdrop. I shifted eyes to my fingernails. Noticing some underlying soot, I dug it out with the opposing hand’s fingers. I couldn’t stop at just one. I had to clear all my nails. And considering I didn’t have help from classically defined tools, I feel I did a pretty good job. It did take some time though. The dirt wanted to shift from under one nail to under another when extracting, significantly lengthening the process.
“Hey..Good mo’ning,” I heard Bubeya’s rich voice boom.
I looked up and saw his whooping hand held out to me. I put my hand in his feeling it wrap around mine. He hauled me up as I said, “Hey Bubeya. How are you?” I hadn’t helped with the lug, but his lumbering stature didn’t need any. I was up in one swift tug.
“Good good,” he laughed. “Riff..Hello,” he said, turning to Riff. “It is good to see you back.”
“Thanks..It’s good to be back,” he said, bobbing his head.
“Would you like me to carry you?” Bubeya asked attempting but failing to stifle laughter. “Hahaha.” His voice resonated, sending birds above in flight.
“Fuck off,” smiled Riff.
“Ohkhay..Leht’s goho,” he said continuing to chuckle.
Bubeya motioned us to follow. We rose and did so, tailed by two men chatting in Hamito. They didn’t speak English so my familiarity with them was limited. They were nice enough. Always smiling and saying hello.
“Hello,” I said turning to them.
“Hello,” they answered in unison. Big smiles accompanied their progressive hands. I shook both in turn, said, “Good day, eh,” looking up, and forwarded.
“Yes, yes,” they said.
Riff also had an interaction involving handshakes and hellos.
We walked along a well-trodden path for ten minutes coming to the edge of the forest and the beginning of the beach. The sand pouring through my toes felt ironically smooth but gritty and had a calming effect.
We followed Bubeya to a dug-out pit reinforced with forest-timbers. He bent down, grabbed four wooden spears, and handed them out. He bent again, picking up another spear and a netted-bag fashioned from an iron hoop with thin but tough rope tied to it. The netting stretched two feet from the iron hoop and was tightly meshed.
“Okay..Let’s go,” he said, turning to us and smiling wide.
The other two men gave their approval and launched into the water, war-crying upon contact. Bubeya followed, burrowing into the water with a dive. I jogged after them, waded in, then piercing a wave with my hands and spear. I tried to stay under as long as I could, mentally mapping where my co-fishermen might’ve been. I surfaced some ways in, took a deep breath, and went back under.
When my head rebreached, I saw I was only eleven feet from the rest of the detail. Bubeya stood with water at his waist while it lapped at the other two men’s upper abdomens. I meshed breast-stroke with doggie-paddle and found a boulder to plant my feet on.
“The wate’ is good right now..Yes,” Bubeya said as I found my footing.
“Very good,” I answered.
“We will catch some fish then,” he said, slapping my back.
Bubeya and some other beastly-types’d carried boulders and deposited them on a sand bar to fish from. The placement was perfect. Deep enough to see and attack the clear waters without stooping and shallow enough to uneffect one’s spear hurl.
I scanned the water looking for fish. I heard a whiz and tinkle as Bubeya’s spear pierced the water.
“Ahaha..Got you,” he laughed, diving in.
The fish swam by in gaggles. Reef activity dotted the sandbar so they didn’t have to stray far from home to enter our arena.
One of the other men exclaimed something in Hamito and dove in. Bubeya surfaced with a large fish flopping at the end of his spear.
“A good one..Yes,” he said, sliding the fish from spear to netting.
“Well done, Bubeya,” I congratulated, looking on in admiration. He was certainly the most skilled fisherman in the community. Not only was his accuracy incredible, but the range at which he could impale fish was even more impressive. Extending a good fifteen feet from his position.
I heard labored breathing and turned to see Riff struggling toward us.
“What’s wrong?” I said, attempting concern. It was difficult to be serious around Riff.
“My toe’s still fucked up,” he growled.
“Oh yeah?.Not as ready as you thought you’d be, uh?”
“Yeah..Fuck it. It’s not that big of a deal..Just hurts a little,” he said, drawing up next to me.
“Maybe you should wait it out,” I offered.
“Eh, I’m already here.”
That was a good point. He wouldn’t have to strain much while fishing. And I could retrieve his landings if need be.
“Fair enough,” I said, getting back to scanning.
I saw a five-pounder darting-about ten feet away. I waited for it to enter my more solid seven foot range and let it rip. It missed and the fish swam on. I dived in to gather my spear. The salt stung my eyes, but only briefly. Over time they’d developed a thin skin, staving off the salty burn.
I surfaced and heard Bubeya’s bottom-dwelling laughter.
“Another one?” I asked him, paddling over.
He laughed and dived in.
I perched on the rock, set my sight to the water, and focused. Spear-fishing is ten-percent luck, twenty-percent skill, and seventy-percent patience; I’d once been told. My problem was the tendency to get ahead of myself. I thought my range to be something it wasn’t so my patience didn’t match my true skill level. I had difficulty being realistic. I felt I should be an instant expert, but I wasn’t. My experience was short-lived and my level reflected that. I was trying to artificially accelerate by making leaps I wasn’t ready for.
“Be patient,” I told myself. I stood poised, calmly waiting for a fish to enter a five-foot radial. After pussy-footing for what felt like ages, it did. I burst into action, throwing the spear. It sailed true and hit its mark. I clenched my fist, silently commending myself, and dived in.
I found my occupied spear and lifted it to get a look at my catch. It was a six or seven pound snapper. I held it above my head as I one-arm swam to Bubeya. He had the net.
“Hey, goo’ wo’k, Co’ne’iu’,” he said having put a spear between his teeth to afford applause. He stopped clapping, took out the spear, and said, “That one looks ve’y delicious.” He held out the fish mesh and I pushed my catch from the spear through the hoop.
We carried on fishing for several hours. Bubeya accumulating the most captures. Twelve total. Together, the other two men had seventeen. I had six and Riff had three. He blamed his number on the bum toe, but neither of us was ever stellar.
We swam in, Bubeya dragging the catch. The sea was calm so going ashore wasn’t difficult. Once free from the entangling water, Riff and I ran to the river not far off to wash salt from our skin. We splashed around for a couple minutes, accompanied by the others then wandered back to the point where the path met beach. We sat on the sand drying in the sun. When our fellow fishermen joined us, we idly discussed the day’s catch, taking claim and making comparisons.
Bubeya, Riff, and I walked back; Bubeya in the lead with the still twitching fish suspended behind his back. Impressively, he could erect his arms to a 120 degree angle with his back and hold the fish bag for the entirety of the ten minute walk. The position kept fish liquids from dripping on him.
Back at camp we parted ways, I heading to my hut. I changed clothes and lay on my bed. Sahra entered saying, “Hey, baby.”
“Hey,” I said, turning to her. “How are you?”
“Good,” she said, lying next to me. “How are the fish?”
“They will be delicious,” I said, bobbing my eyebrows. “Did you finish that mat you were working on?”
“No..no I am very close though,” she said happily.
After several minutes of shut-eyed silence she asked, “What is Persephone’s Pencil?”
I opened my eyes. “Persephone’s Pencil?” I said, shifting position. “Where did you hear about that?” I swallowed.
“My..masters would speak of it in Havana,” she said, visibly flinching with the word ‘masters’.
I noticed and gave her a gentle squeeze. “In Havana, uh..That was quite a while ago,” I laughed. “What makes you bring it up now?”
“I saw it written in your journal,” she admitted.
“In my journal?.Were you reading my journal?” I asked, almost offended.
“No..no I was cleaning and- It does not matter, but I saw it written there and I want to know what it is,” she stated.
I sighed and didn’t answer for awhile. “Persephone’s Pencil..is, supposedly, an object that can create anything,” I said, slightly emphasizing ‘supposedly.’
“Yes, I have heard this before..but how?” she asked.
I sighed a second time.
“Alright..Persephone was a goddess kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld,” I started.
“Wait,” she said laughing. “Who are Persephone and Hades?.The underworld?”
“Hahaha..The details aren’t important,” I said, waving my hand. “But basically Hades was the ancient god of the underworld, or hell, and Persephone was a girl he kidnapped to spend eternity with.”
Sahra nodded with an anomylous emotion behind her wide eyes.
“To keep Persephone entertained while imprisoned, Hades gave her a powerful gift..the pencil.”
Sahra stared on.
“Hades had this gift designed to create whatever the holder wanted-”
“Wait..Speak more slowly please,” she said, smiling and putting a hand to my chest.
“Sorry.” I’d delved into rattle-mode with my excitement. “Hades made the pencil so that the person holding it could have pretty much whatever they wanted,” I explained.
“Yes, but how?”
“I don’t really know,” I confessed. “I guess you draw something with it and that drawing turns into reality..I’m not exactly sure though.”
Sahra frowned. “Do you think this is possible?”
“I don’t know. Maybe..The pencil hasn’t been used let alone seen in a long time.”
“Yes..It would be nice, though. No?.To make anything you want..Wow,” she said, eyes lighting up. “You could have anything.”
I nodded, “Yep. You sure could.”
The conversation steered from Persephone’s Pencil to mundanities like how many fish I’d caught earlier, an interesting butterfly Sahra saw, what we would be having for dinner, guesses on when it might rain next.
Some time later, Sahra left to help prepare dinner. I continued lying on the bed pondering Persephone’s Pencil. I got so caught up, it felt like no time before Sahra was fetching me to eat.
I followed Sahra to the fan of food waiting in pots set on wicker mats. I picked up a fresh bowl and began scooping. The food smelled delicious. It was a medley of vegetables and fish sprinkled with spices. A bucket of goat’s milk was ready to help wash everything down. The milk’s servings weren’t much, but enough.
Sahra led the way to our casually designated seats; a couple rocks placed on the periphery of a large circular clearing. We ate, talking of the food, what she did to prepare it, how the goats were doing.
After eating we brought our bowls back to the center. A few women, including Sahra, collected the dishes and brought them to the river for a rinsing. I walked back to my stone, took a seat, and pulled out my smoking supplies. I’d made a make-shift pipe by hollowing a thick branch and a bulbous tree-knot then fitting them together. It wasn’t the best, but it sufficed.
Finding adequate plants to smoke was the snag. I couldn’t scavenge the herb garden ‘cause that greenery was called by the cooking crew. I had to rely on whatever I could find in the forest. Picking random plants, drying them in the sun, and giving them a taste. Some were better than others, but they could all be classified as shit when compared to Virginia-grown tobacco. A couple registered in a different realm and were reserved for special occasions due to their mind melting effect.
I loaded a bowl with a recent find, wandered to the cooking fire, stuck a stick in it, and set my load alight with the lit stick. I took a couple quick puffs then a long drag. It was alright, but a bit acidic.
I meandered to my stone and plopped down, puffing. Riff walked up asking, “How’s your’s today?”
“Yeah..It’s alright,” I said, extending my lower lip and lightly nodding. “You wanna try it?” I asked, offering it out.
“Nah..Thanks,” he said.
“How’s your’s?” I followed up.
“Tastes like ass.”
I laughed. “Yeah..Mine too, actually.”
“Man, when’re we gonna get some decent bacco?” he asked with longing on his voice.
“I don’t know,” I said, taking a long draw. “I don’t know.” I answered, “When we find Persephone’s Pencil,” in my head.
Sahra came back, lending me her gentle eyes. Riff took a hint and left. Sahra sat just in time for the drums to upstart. They started out slow, hardly noticeable. Ten minutes in, some funky shit was going down so Sahra rose and gave me a look that said I could join her if I wanted, but I didn’t have to. I did.
We started moving and grooving to the rhythms, working with each other’s intrinsics. We weren’t touching one another or even specifically dancing together, we were just accentuating the other’s movements. Every now and then there’d be a blatant display of unity but they were short-winded stints, tending to hinder the general flow.
Sahra and I gradually made our way back to the hut and had excellent sex. Charged by the kinetics of drum-dancing fireside we did some 69 stuff and some strictly fellatio/cunnilingus stuff, spicing it with different vaginal sex positions. No anal, but a little rimming.
“Do you want to find Persephone’s Pencil with me?” I asked Sahra after I was satisfied and assumed she was too.
“Yes..This sounds very good,” she said, laughing and wrapping around me.
I asked myself what the best way to obtain Persephone’s Pencil would be and figured I should find council in Bubeya. He was identified as the informal leader of aforesaid ex-slave community, so it seemed the most practical thing to do. I went to him with an opened mind, not expecting anything of sorts. But he delivered.
Whilst I explained the piece’s history he was all ears, except when asking for further clarification on words he was unfamiliar. I could see glimmers of greed behind his eyes as they gradually inched closer to mine. What better motivation to find an omnicreating device than that of a former slave’s? Someone who once had so little their own body wasn’t self-possessed. At first I felt hesitant to include Bubeya in the quest due to its implications, but I knew he had a solid mind and a good heart.
After I exacted the legend of Persphephone’s Pencil, we formulated a plan. He guaranteed the colony would be behind me with full support. That was a start. All we needed after the established manpower was to locate a seaworthy ship. That and info on how to find the island the prized piece resided.
I assumed and assured Bubeya that once a craft was ours to operate, the rest would fall into place. He agreed. But where to find a readily accessible vessel? He alleged the presence of a ship yard on the other side of the island. Elaborating, he explained many of the ships were being salvaged and could be easily reaped.
I took this as excellent news and asked when we might get underway. He advised us to take a ten man team across the island and scope potential. I fully concurred on the stipulation that Sahra and Riff could be present. He said it didn’t much matter who was with us as long as we had numbers. And white people.
A plan involving Riff and I as slave-masters transporting a troupe of slaves was devised. We were to set out the following morning assuming everyone was game. Bubeya was sure they would be.
I spoke to Sahra immediately after Bubeya. When I entered our hut she was working on her weaving.
“Baby, do you want to go on a trip across the island tomorrow?” I asked.
“Why?” she said, stopping and turning.
“Bubeya and I think we can get a ship at the shipyard to start looking for Persephone’s Pencil..It’s on the other side of the island..Not Persephone’s Pencil, the shipyard,” I said, laughing nervously. I don’t know why I was anxious. Scale of the project probably.
“Yes, this sounds good,” she said, giving me a loving smile. I melted and walked over to give her a kiss on the forehead.
“We leave tomorrow morning..Is that alright?” I asked.
“Yes. This is good.” She laughed for no apparent reason other than to ease my obviously manic mood.
“Mmm,” I said, caressing her neck. “Are you sure? It’s going to be a pretty large scale expedition..It’ll take months if not years and could be very dangerous.”
“Yes. I’m ready,” she said softly. I loved how she could be casual about the gravest of things. And it wasn’t apathy or ignorance, it was enlightened collection.
I hugged Sahra close, breathing her in. I held the pose for some time while we stroked each other.
“I’m going to go talk to Riff,” I said eventually, pulling away.
“Mmmhm,” she sounded. Our eyes lingered.
I walked out the door and over to Riff’s hut. He was sitting on the floor with his lady friend playing some sort of hand-slapping game.
“Hey,” I said at the entrance. They both looked up. I smiled at the Mauritanian girl and said to Riff, “Can I talk to you?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, creasing his eyebrows.
I jerked my head, motioning for him to follow me outside. He rose and said, “I’ll be right back,” to his lady. He trailed me to a spot twenty feet from his hut.
“What’s up?” he said as I turned to him.
“I wanna cross the island tomorrow.”
“Why?” he said, bulging his neck.
“Bubeya and I think we can get a ship at the shipyard,” I said.
“What the fuck for?”
“We’re gonna look for Persephone’s Pencil.”
“Persephone’s Pencil?” he said, lowering his head and handling the back of his neck.
His body language told me he knew of it. “So you’ve heard of it?”
“Yeah. I’ve heard of it,” he said, lowered head nodding, hand dropping.
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re fuckin’ crazy,” he said, raising his head with preraised eyebrows.
“Oh yeah?” I questioned, smiling. “Why’s that?”
“Oh..I dunno..because Persephone’s Pencil doesn’t fucking exist,” he said, escalating his voice.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Tssh,” he sounded, shaking his head while relowering it. He raised saying, “It’s a legend. An old fuckin’ wive’s tale..It’s a pipe dream, Cornelius. I’da thought you’d know that.”
“It’s not. Captain LeSautte told me about it tons of times,” I said defensively. In hindsight I was acting childish without realizing it at the time. “He showed me loads of old parchments pertaining to the pencil..And they looked pretty legit.”
“Yeah well, LeSautte is a fuckin’ loon,” he said, lightly laughing. “You can’t buy into anything that old kook is sellin’.”
I shook my head. “I think you’re underestimating him…What about the time we went after that beaver fur? Everyone thought he was off his rocker..But it turned out he was more than right…Or the time he stopped that vortex with a special potion? That was nuts.”
“Yeah maybe,” he said, looking off.
“This could be big..huge…The power to create anything, man. Think about it..Gold..Palaces..Ships..Anything you fucking want,” I said laughing, shaking him by the shoulders.
He kept his gaze fixed.
“So are you in?” I asked. “For the adventure?” I continued, eyes widening.
“Yeah..What the fuck?..Why not?…I’m getting bored anyway,” he chuckled, slowly turning to me.
“We leave tomorrow morning,” I said, extending my hand.
He exhaled, briefly took it, and trudged back to his hut.
“Good night,” I called after him.
“‘Night,” he returned.
I slowly made my way back home lost in thought. When I entered the hut Sahra was folding something. I smiled. She did too.
The next morning I woke with a start. A dream involving a pair of aggressive scissors jerked me into reality.
“What the fuck?” I thought. That was as complete as it got.
I slid out of bed and walked outside. I spied a large ant mound and watched it. A stream of scurrying ants was carrying bite-sized bits of leaf into the hole at its peak. I wondered what they would do with the leaves once inside- Eat them; Use them for structural support or bedding. I bent down and observed the ants intently. It was mesmerizing to watch their slightly chaotic movements while knowing they were completely intentional and organized. Somehow, it comforted me.
I wandered to Bubeya’s hut. He was standing outside it talking to someone. When I approached he walked over with arms open wide and swung them around me saying, “Hey..Co’nelius..How a’e you, my friend?” in a hushed voice so as not to wake anyone. His low, rumbling tone made me wonder if the island’s resident volcano was about to erupt.
“Yeah, good..How’re you?”
“Ve’y good,” he said, broad smile matching his broad nose. “You know Janaar don’t you?” he said, sweeping his hand in the direction of the man standing beside.
“Yes..Yes of course,” I said, shaking the man’s hand. He was tall, broad but lean, and had powerful eyes. He had once been a shipsmith and spoke excellent English. “Good morning..How are you?” I asked.
“Yes. Good, good. The air is crisp. I think we will have a fine journey,” he smiled with one palm upturned, seeming to feel the weight of the air.
“I..agree,” I nodded, pleased by the positivity.
Bubeya laughed. “Okay. When do we go?” he asked, turning from Janaar to me.
“Hmm..An hour?” I shrugged. “Does that sound good?…Can we get everyone together in that amount of time?”
“Yes,” said Bubeya.
“I think so,” said Janaar.
“We’ll meet in the clearing then?” I clarified.
They nodded and I walked off saying, “Alright..An hour.”
I stopped by Riff’s hut, peeked my head in, and said, “We’re leaving in an hour. Will you be ready?” finding Riff’s face.
“Yeah,” he said with sleep on his voice and in his eyes.
I left and went to my hut. Sahra was inside packing a few things in a small bag she’d made from skinned squirrel hides strung together.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hi,” she returned, looking up with a smile.
“What are you bringing?” I asked.
“Oh, some fruit, shell-necklaces to sell, my weaving, your pipe, uhm..aloe,” she finished, shrugging with laughter.
“Yeah, yeah. That all sounds good,” I said, nodding. “Do you think you’ll be ready in an hour?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Good,” I said, gently tackling her and fucking her on the floor. It was quite pleasant. Afterwards we nursed each other until it was time to take off. When the time arrived, we gathered our things and walked to the clearing.
Bubeya and Janaar were waiting with the rest of the camp. We’d decided on taking the whole team. But Riff was nowhere to be seen.
“Aah..Okay,” Bubeya said loudly, embracing me. “We a’e ready,” he said, motioning to leave.
“Ohp. We have to wait for Riff,” I said.
“Aah..Okay,” he repeated with a totally different tone. “He is not with you?”
“No..I’m sure he will be here soon though,” I said.
“Okay..No problem. We will wait,” he said, widening his stance and settling in.
I told myself I’d go get him after waiting for five minutes. He made it just before.
“Hey. Sorry,” he said, jogging up with his girlfriend.
“Yeah, that’s alright,” I said.
“No problem, Riff..A’e you ready?” Bubeya asked.
“Okay..Let’s go,” he bellowed, motioning for the bystanders to follow.
Bubeya took the lead as he had the most experience exploring the island. Among us, he would know the best passage across it. He led us to and along the river for some time. Diverting with a forty five degree angle once we started ascending a sizable slope. It wasn’t too steep and everyone was quite fit, so it seemed hardly noticed by the group. Riff’s bum toe was the only handicap and that barely registered. So we cruised to the crest straightaway. From it a spectacular view was available. We couldn’t see the entirety of the island due to obstructing slopes, but a large portion was available. Fort-Royal, the capital city, included.
The city looked stunning. Buildings blanketed the lush landscape and ships sprinkled the sea. It was thriving with life. We took a minute to reflect on its grandeur. Riff and I choosing to do so with the comfort of a puff. I offered some to Sahra and the others, but they declined. Riff’s girl partook in his, however. Apparently, he’d been able to corrupt her.
After enjoying the scene for a stretch, we started descending the other side of the slope. I watched the cityscape until it disappeared behind trees then turned my attention to the flora and fauna around me. There was a slight change in the vegetation. Certainly not significant, but noticeable. It was more exotic than the southern side of the rise. The dotting evergreen trees quickly thinned; making way for rampant tropical growth. More lizards and small furry animals scurried across our path. I assumed the differences were due to ocean and air currents altering the precipitation level or something. The rise itself probably had a bit to do with it too.
Bubeya led us until halting at the city’s outskirts. He and I hudled, discussing in hushed tones. He said something to the group in an alternate language while I called Riff over. The group single-filed and we began tethering their legs together with a length of rope. I hated to bond Sahra, but it had to be done. When I got to her I gave her an empathetic look and kissed her. She smiled and I tied. We finished. I motioned for Riff to come up front and converse with me/Bubeya.
“So we’re going to lead you through the city, trying to stick to back streets until we get to the shipyard,” I said to Bubeya, repeating the plan for lucidities sake. “If we get stopped, we just act natural and work our way through it,” I said, turning to Riff. I looked back at Bubeya and saw uncertainty behind his eyes for the first time since knowing him. I noticed his fists were clenched. “Relax, Bubeya. It’ll be cool,” I said, patting his shoulder.
“Yes..Yes, it will be,” he said, giving an exaggerated blink. His eyes stayed closed a half-second longer than normal.
I figured the best thing was to get underway quickly. I bent down and picked up the rope leading from Bubeya’s feet. “Alright, let’s roll,” I said, half-clapping. The rope hindered a full-on clap. I found Sahra’s eyes, lingered, turned, and started walking. I was in front while Riff brought up the rear. We each carried muskets the community’d come across while hunting/gathering.
We walked on a dirt road for a ways, not seeing a soul. Solitary cottages passed, eventually densing. I had a map of the city, as seen from the rise, outlined in my head. I needed to walk north and slightly west. The city wasn’t too big, so I estimated a twenty minute walk.
I checked my watch. If correct it was 2:30 in the afternoon. As I was about to click its lid shut, I noticed the inner face’s inscription. ‘Bite it right ‘cross the heel’ –KB. I repeated the phrase in my head and put the watch away, not thinking on it much.
Just then a grizzled man with a large gut and tattered clothing staggered up and said, “Any fer sale ‘r service?” looking along the line.
I side-nodded my head and he moved on. I heard him snort and spit, probably on one of the ranks. I grit my teeth but thought better of doing anything about it. We continued.
I could feel our proximity to the shipyard. My fingers tingled. Someone wearing a hat and overcoat approached.
“I need t’ see some papers fer these properties,” he said in a nasaly voice.
I lowered my musket, barrel resting when even with his chest.
“What?” I asked.
He backed up a bit and repeated, voice shaky. “I n-need t’ see some papers fer these properties.”
“Well, I ain’t got none, so you best run along,” I said.
“There’ve been a fair few slave liftin’s rec’ntly and-”
“Boy, does it look like I lifted these slaves,” I said, tilting my head, not remotely asking a question.
“Well, I don’t-”
“Son you bette’ get the fuck outta he’ befo’ you get shot,” I said, replanting my feet and sarcastically laughing.
“Yes, yes. Everything looks in order here,” he said, fidgetly walking on.
I watched him go and glanced at Bubeya. He was trying to hide his smile. We walked and made it to the shipyard within ten minutes. Its waters were busting with boats. There must’ve been two hundred boats of all types and sizes in the confines. My eyes couldn’t help but ramble. Much to take in.
Some ships were personal crafts and some were twenty gun warships. Some ships were shit while others were pristine specimens. And everything in between floated alongside.
I closed my slackened jaw and steered the gang to the shipping house at the other end of the yard. It was a huge building hitting at least a hectare in area. One side of it had a gaping out/in-let with the sea so ships could sail inside while another side had a large gate raised for pedestrial business.
I walked in. Scraps were everywhere. The repair reservoir for floating ships was empty, but the grounded portion of the building was littered with shit. Hulls, masts, sprits, sails, booms, looms, cannons, wheels, and reels. A scattered hodgepodge greeted my already sight-saturated eyes. I found the clerk’s counter and wandered over feeling drunk.
Atop it sat a service bell. I didn’t see anyone so I rang the bell. My eyes were magnetized back to the mishmash. They set to scanning and sorting. Footsteps approached. I turned and saw Madame Madrielle walking toward me. My bowels loosened.
I couldn’t see my face, but I imagine mine matched hers. We stood staring for several seconds, then she ran around the clerk’s counter and jumped into my arms. I held her and she kissed my forehead. I was lost in the embrace until I realized my surroundings. I set her down and searched for Sahra. Her softened eyes met mine and darted away. I ran to her without second checking Madame Madrielle.
“Sahra..Baby,” I said, grabbing the flesh below her armpits. “This is Madame Madrielle..I’ve told you about her haven’t I?” I asked, looking for her down-drawn eyes.
She looked up with a feeble smile and nodded, a pretear glaze on her eyes. I gave her a hug and kissed the top of her head several times. She wrapped her arms around me and looked up to kiss me. We kissed.
“It’s alright, baby. Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Alright?”
She nodded and gave a more forceful smile. I rubbed her back with my hands and slipped away. Madame Madrielle was waiting with a big grin and hands on hips.
“What’s up, Cornelius? I see you’ve been busy since we last saw each other.”
“Yeah. And same for you,” I said with a smile while looking around. “How did you end up here?”
“Come on back and I’ll tell you,” she said, eyeing Bubeya.
I turned, winked at Bubeya, who stood motionless, and found Riff. I put my arm around his shoulder and leaned in close. “Look after them, uh,” I whispered. He nodded, walking to the front. I slid my hand from him and sought Sahra. “I’ll be right back, baby,” I said, kissing her cheek. She nodded and I walked to the front.
Riff was saying hello to Madame. They’d acquainted, but they weren’t too familiar. I shuffled up and Madame motioned for me to follow. She opened the door of a small lean-to, which used one of the shipping house’s walls for support, and entered. It was stacked with papers. The stacks in the back reached from floor to ten-foot ceiling. She moved around a desk, sat in a chair, and offered a seat on the other side. I sat.
“So, Cornelius..what brings you here?” she asked nonchalantly.
“HahI might ask you the same thing,” I laughed.
She stared smiling. I stared back.
I didn’t feel like giving first, so I asked, “So really..how did you get here?”
She leaned back, sighed, then smiled. “Well…after I escaped the ship, I rowed for a while, not knowing exactly where I was going, seeing as how it was night, and ended up on this island.”
“After wandering around begging for food and peddling sex for shelter,” she said bluntly. I shifted in my chair and quickly licked my lips. “I ran across a man who offered me a job as a clerk at his shipyard…At first I scrubbed boats, eventually working my way here,” she said, spreading her arms to indicate present location.
“Well, it looks like you’ve come a long way..Well done,” I said, nodding and puckering my lower lip.
She exhaled deeply, raised her eyebrows while looking down and said, “Yep.”
She looked up laughing, “What about you?” She looked around my shoulder and through the window at the troupe standing outside. “You seem to be doing alright for yourself.” She looked at my face then the gun resting against my left leg.
I looked down laughing and adjusted my position.
“Care to explain?” she asked.
“Alright..Well I guess the last time I saw you I was lowering you into the ocean, right?”
“Right.” She gave a solitary nod.
“As you may know I got caught.”
“They speared me with a sword,” I said, lifting my right leg and lightly patting the underside. “It fucking hurt.”
She smiled. “I can imagine.”
“So, they made me walk the plank, but they gave me the key-”
“Wait, they gave you a key?..To your shackles?”
“I dunno..They wanted to…So, they gave me a key, I walked the plank, and Riff followed me in trying to save me, not knowing I had a key..We swam for awhile then were carried to the island by turtles.”
“By turtles?.What do you mean?”
“Uh..These big turtles carried us on their backs,” I explained with a straight face.
“Big turtles carried you on their backs,” she said slowly, squinting.
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it,” I said, side-smiling and waving my hand. “So we got here, to the island, and found this colony of ex-slaves,” I said, half-turning and gesturing back. “And started bunking with them to the south.”
“Huh,” she said, leaning back. “And who’s the lass you were getting cute with?” she asked with a wide grin.
“That’s Sahra. She’s my..well. You know..Whatever…She’s my girlfriend,” I blurted, blushing. I still had feelings for Madame Madrielle. They weren’t exactly sexual, but something similar. It’s hard to identify. Talking to her about Sahra felt awkward at the first.
“Uhuh,” she said, tonguing her lip. The action transferred to a smile. “How long have you been together?”
“Pppw,” I exhaled, sending lips extended. “I don’t know..four, five months,” I said, looking from the desk to her.
She nodded her head with a look resembling surprise on her face. “Wow..Good for you, Cornelius.”
“Yeah. I really like her..She’s awesome.”
“Good, good..So what brings you here?” she said, looking down and straightening some papers.
“Oh..Right..I need a ship,” I said bluntly.
“You need a ship? What for?” she asked.
I sat silently for a second deciding whether or not to tell her our purpose. “I want to find Persephone’s Pencil.”
“Persephone’s Pencil,” she said, laughing and lowering her head to shake it.
“You know it?” I asked. When I was learning of the pencil from Captain LeSautte, I thought better of telling her. I couldn’t free her, so I didn’t want to pump her full of false hope and fairy tales.
“Yeah, I know it,” she admitted, looking up.
“How?” I inquired.
“My father and [my deceased husband] used to talk about it,” she said.
“Oh yeah?.They knew about it?...What did they say?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know..The same stuff…There’s an all powerful pencil that can create anything, but nobody has seen it in centuries because it’s on a floating island no one can find…Or at least no one that returns can find,” she finished.
“Yeah..Yeah, that’s about..right.” I found it interesting how she said no one returning from the island could find it. So it was trackable, just not come-backable. I assumed that would have something do to with the Mapuches and their monster. “What do you think about it?” I asked with a forcefully elongated smile. It felt funny on my face, but I couldn’t shift my expression before Madame Madrielle answered.
“Uhm..I don’t know. I never really made up my mind..It sounds great, but who knows,” she said, shrugging.
“Well, I’m going to look for it,” I said. “And I need a ship.”
“Hmm,” she thought out loud. “You need a ship,” was repeated.
I leaned back as her eyes searched for something intangible. After a minute and a half of silence and Madame Madrielle’s massage of her upper forearm she said, “Alright I’ve got a ship for you..But I’m coming with you.”
“Oh yea- You’re coming with me?” I asked like I hadn’t heard her correctly.
“Allriight,” I said extending the word. “So you have a ship,” I continued, tone changing.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said, nodding and standing. “But we have to leave today.”
“Today?.Shit..That’s a bit abrupt, uh,” I said, leaning back like the statement had physical force.
“Well..I have a ship we can use, but if we want to take it, it has to be today…And, like I said, I’m coming with you.”
“Hm..Alright, I’ll have to talk to my crew,” I said standing, feeling like action was necessary.
“Yeah..Of course,” she nodded.
I hesitated, but walked outside. I went to Bubeya who was standing by Riff. “Can we leave today?” I asked, leaning in.
“Hm,” he grunted. “Today..This is very close.”
“You wanna leave today?” asked Riff also closing in.
“Yeah,” I said, turning to him. “Madame Madrielle says she has a ship for us, but we have to leave today.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I-,” I paused. “I..don’t know,” I said, rounding to the lean-to. “Hold on,” I said, skimming the two and walking back to Madame. She was leaning against the door-frame of the shipping office. “Why do we have to take the ship today?” I asked her.
“Because it’s my boss’s,” she confessed casually.
“Oh, a- You fucking pirate,” I said, shifting my thoughtful face to a smirking finger-point.
“Yeah, well,” she said, shuffling her feet.
“Alright, alright,” I said, nodding with a plastered smile. “So what’s the deal? You don’t like this guy or something?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she scoffed. “I just don’t really like my situation..It’s not a concern..Are you in?”
“Am I in?..Hmm..It’s weird being propositioned for the very thing I came here for,” I said, smiling and nudging Madame’s arm.
“Shutup..Alright. Well, we have to leave today..He’s on the other side of the island doing business today. He won’t be back until tomorrow, but we need to leave by tonight.”
“Alright, alright..We’ll definitely do it,” I said, nodding and holding up my hands. I didn’t include the crew in the decision-making process. I figured they’d agree anyway, and we didn’t need to waste time or an opportunity. “Let me let everyone know and start getting things sorted,” I said, turning.
I walked up to Bubeya and Riff. Both were ready for info.
“What’s the deal?” asked Riff.
“We’re leaving today,” I said, looking from him to Bubeya.
Both were briefly lost in thought. Bubeya was the first to comment. “Okay. Yes..It is good,” he said, smiling wide. He turned and began speaking to the person behind him in another language.
Riff said, “Yeah..Alright,” while rubbing his neck. “Today, uh?” he asked, looking up.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at my feet. “It’ll be interesting.”
“Pssh..Yeah.” He walked down the line, finding the Mauritanian girl.
I followed his lead and found Sahra. She was waiting with widened eyes. “What is up?” she asked, putting her closed hand on my waist.
I sidled up to her. “We’re leaving today,” I said, smiling.
“Today?” she asked.
“Yeah..What do you think?” I asked, finding her lowered face.
“I don’t know. It is so soon..But yes, it seems good,” she said with a smile and nod.
“Alright, good,” I said, leaning in and kissing her. “Hold on,” I said, walking away. I approached Bubeya and asked, “So, can we do it?”
“It will be difficult, but yes..I think we can,” he said, excitement underlying.
“Good, good,” I said, patting his hefty shoulder. “Hold on.” I walked to Madame Madrielle. “When can we leave?” I asked.
“Now,” she offered. “I don’t see why not. The ship is ready. He likes to keep it blue, just in case he needs to set sail in a hurry.”
“Uhuh uhuh uhuh,” I said, bobbing while stroking my chin. My cheeks sunk into my thumb and forefinger just before saying, “Let’s get to it then..Can you take us to this ship?” lifting.
“Yeah. Come on,” she said, walking past me.
I jumped to get my gun, shouldered it, and pivoted around to follow. “Alright, come on,” I said to Riff and Bubeya. “Actually, can you stay at the back?..Appearances,” I said, leaning in to Riff.
Bubeya followed and Riff waited. Madame Madrielle led us outside and along one of the docks close by. We didn’t walk for long.
“Here she is,” she said. “Mother Superior.”
“What?” I asked, staring at the ship.
“Mother Superior..That’s her name.”
“Oh,” I uttered, unable to look away. She was beautiful. Deep blue sails topped the exquisite wood work of her body. The ropes tethering everything together were unfrayed and uniform. They looked like they’d been threaded earlier that week. An expertly carved mermaid cupping bulbous breasts crested the prow of the ship. She’d obviously been well cared for.
The ship’s size was perfect. Large enough to command attention, but small enough to supply some stealth/speed.
“Impressive,” I said, laughing and turning to Madame Madrielle.
“Yeah, it’s alright,” she said, mounting the loading platform.
I followed, gesturing Bubeya to do the same. Boarding, I was blown away by the condition of the ship. All the ones I’d been on before had seen a few seasons; the wood on Mother Superior sparkled.
“How old is this ship?” I asked Madame.
“A few years..But we just finished repairs on it two weeks ago,” she disclosed. “I think it looks pretty good.”
“It looks amazing,” I said, quickly correcting her. My hands ran circuits on the wood’s finish.
“So, what do we have to do?” I asked her.
“To get ready?”
“Nothing..We just untie her and let the sails down.” She lifted a licked finger. “We shouldn’t have any problem getting out of the bay..Wind’s good right now.”
“What about food and supplies though?.We’ve got a full crew that needs feeding. We should pick up some foodstuffs,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “The post-repair christening voyage was going to be next week. It’s already loaded with enough water and dried food to last quite awhile.”
“Oh..Alright…Wow,” I said, near speechless. “Sounds..good.” I turned. “Hey Riff, start untying them, would you?” I said, gesturing to the troupe. I untied Bubeya and helped with the rest. “This is looking really good,” I excitedly said to Sahra after untying her and putting my arm around her.
“Yes, yes. Very much,” she said, squeezing me. I held it, kissed her, then parted. “Alright.” I kissed her forehead, smiled, and walked on looking for Janaar. “Ah, Janaar..there you are. Come with me, please,” I said, waving him on. He followed me up to Madame Madrielle. “This man knows his way around boats. Can you tell him how he can help?” I asked her, patting him on the shoulder.
I strode over to Bubeya. “Bubeya, can you find everyone with ship sailing experience and see if they can help get us ready.”
“Riff, help with those sails, uh..I’m gonna go let us loose,” I said to Riff, walking by and mildly referring to somewhere. “Hey, I’m gonna go loosen us,” I told Madame Madrielle.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” she said, working some ropes.
I lunged down the ramp and untied the bonds docking us. I threw the ropes on board until each’d been untied, then I ran up the ramp, kicking it into the water once surmounted. I found Madame Madrielle and said, “We’re all set.”
“Yeah. We are too,” she said, looking up.
The sails above unfurled and caught wind, taughtening. I felt motion and got a boner.
“Who’s at the helm?” I asked Madame Madrielle, stifling my wood while turning to the quarter deck.
“I sent Janaar back there,” she answered.
“Oh, alright..Sounds good…Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, but away from here. That’s for sure.”
“Mmhm, mmhm…Hey is it alright if we make a pitstop back at camp? It’s on the southern side of the island,” I asked.
She glared at me. I lowered my head, glancing away. “What?”
“Are you serious?” Angled eyebrows nearly hid the entirety of her eyes.
“Yeah. What’s the big deal?..We just need to pick up a few things..It won’t take long…What?” I asked, trying to laugh.
Her glare hadn’t broken. “What do you need to pick up?”
“I don’t know..cooking supplies-”
“We have cooking supplies.”
“We have food.”
“Personal items?.Like what?” she asked, hands fixed on hips.
“I don’t know drums..weaving..my pocket watch- Ohp, my pocket watch. We have to go back,” I said, slapping my legs in defeat. “We have to go back.” I shook my head and raised my hands like I didn’t want it to be so, but it was. “You know how important that watch is to me..Madame, we have to go back.” I made like I was going to walk away.
She sighed loudly. “Alright fine..Cor.nel.i.us,” she said, over pronunciating my name. “We’ll go back for your stupid watch,” she huffed, hurriedly walking back to the quarter deck; most likely to inform Janaar of the update.
I fingered my watch, letting a thin grin slip. Truth was I had my watch. I just wanted to make sure everyone else had their own personal treasures. I sought out Bubeya. I found him and told him a last run to camp was possible, so he should tell everyone to make a list of things they wanted to bring. He seemed very pleased by this. I told him only ten or so people’d be able to go ashore so everybody’d need to choose representatives. And Sahra and Riff’s girl were to have priority on departure. He marched away.
I saw Sahra leaned against the railing. She was watching Fort-Royal pass. I went to her. “Hey..How are you?” I asked, having planted both hands on the railing around her, then shifting to one side.
“Good, good,” she said, beaming. “This is so exciting..I can not believe we are doing this. It is such an adventure.” She bounced on the balls of her feet.
“I know, I know,” I smiled. “A journey..To find it,” I said, squeezing her arm with ‘it’. “It’s sure to be intense.” I retracted my hand and raised my brows. “And just imagine the pencil as ours. Imagine what we could do with it,” I said, holding an invisible bowling ball.
“Yes..The possibilities,” she said with wide eyes and drawn mouth. It could be described as a puckerless fish-face.
“Limitless,” I supplemented. “You can have whatever you want.” I kissed her on the nose and shifted subjects. “So Sahra, we’re going to be stopping at camp. Do you need to pick anything up?” I asked, gently poking her belly with the half-point joint of my finger.
“Hmm,” she thought. “Yes, I think so..I would like to pick up my weaving material..And maybe the doll that [the woman who freed me] gave me.”
“Yeah, yeah. That sounds good..Well, you’ll be able to go ashore for sure. About ten people will be taking a rowboat while the rest stay here..Bubeya and some others will be going.”
“Yes, this sounds good,” she said, wrapping around me.
We watched as the town was swallowed by coastline. After full engulfment, I went to find Bubeya. “Is everyone ready?” I asked him.
“Yes, everyone is ready.”
“Good. Can you bring them to the back of the ship please?”
I went to the back of the ship. “Janaar, how’re things going?” I asked, approaching the helm.
“Yes. Things are good..Miss Madrielle informed me of our stop at camp. We should be dropping anchor in about five minutes,” he said.
“Janaar, you rock,” I said, giving his shoulder a pat and squeeze. His concision left me emptied of words. “Good, good,” I said, delivering another couple pats then walking off. I stumbled on Riff and his girl, stopping. “Hey,” I said. He returned my ‘hey’ with the same while she smiled politely. “Are you going ashore?” I directed at the Mauritanian girl.
She nodded, “Yes.”
“Alright, we should be there in about five minutes or less. Can you go to the back of the ship?..That’s where the boat’ll be leaving from,” I said.
“Yes. Okay,” she agreed.
“What’re you gonna be doing?” I asked Riff.
“Shit, I dunno..Hangin’ out.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
I went to tell Sarah she should head to the back of the ship. I found her and told her. We walked to the ship’s back together, meeting a herd huddled around the rower-lowering device. They were divvying spaces on the boat. There would be eleven passengers including Bubeya, Sahra, the Mauritanian girl, and eight others.
Janaar announced he was dropping anchor. I heard chain links slide through the iron feed-holes followed by a splash of water. We slowed and people loaded into the rower.
I kissed Sahra saying, “See you soon,” and helped her over the railing. After everyone’d piled in, a few of us lowered the ropes until boat berthed with water. Bubeya unlatched them and rowed off with the help of another burly buck. I watched them ashore then found Riff to have a smoke.
We used one of our celebratory reserves, deemed for its ability to pave over brain waves. Halfway through the session I cursed myself for forgetting to remind Sahra of my stash. Riff calmed me, with assurance he had plenty to spare. I’d later find Sahra came through in the clutch anyway, bringing my entire bundle of smoke and picking some particularly bold buds on the way back.
When the collection-crew arrived we hauled them up and helped them aboard, handing possessions back in assembly line fashion. The whole operation only took about forty minutes of our time. We were drawing anchor within two hours of our departure from Fort-Royal.
Once in open waters, well off the coast of Martinique, Madam Madrielle, Bubeya, Janaar, Riff, and myself had a seat in the captain’s quarters to discuss our course of action. The conversation was mostly led by Madame and me, due to our knowledge of the pencil. But the others certainly weren’t shy about inputting their opinion.
Disagreements, disenchantment, and dysentery all had a hand in flubbing us up. That’s to be expected when talking politics for four days straight. With short breaks. I found it essential to massage the mind through extracurriculars including infusing the lungs with tobacco fumes and emptying the testicles and bladder. We wanted to maximize output. Relief of pressure was very necessary.
While sitting in the thoroughly comfortable chairs provided by Mother Superior’s former captain, we six pooled our shallow resources to conclude the floating island of Mocha lied off the west coast of South America and wasn’t floating at all. It was just invisible.
This deduction was determined with joint efforts. Madame and I agreed the island would be to the west of the Americas, but she nor her father knew its exact coordinates. Captian LeSautte had shown me his charts repeatedly, so I would have no problem pinpointing the island’s bearings. That was a gimme-agreement. The task came with establishing Mocha as an invisible island only to be seen once every few hundred years.
Madame Madrielle was utterly convinced the island could only be found by the light of a solar-eliptical event. Her evidence was credited to years of her father’s research. At first I avidly disagreed, citing Captain LeSautte’s information on supposed sightings of the island in its alleged area of aboding, outrunning riggings under full sail. My rigidity was whittled with Madame’s conviction. She was hardcore. And LeSautte’s accounts seemed flimsy.
My position officially shifted when she said the eclipse needed to be annular or halo-like. That claim violently wrenched me back to the mind-numbing boredom experienced during Preacher Daniel’s sermons. I rarely paid much attention during service, but some snippets stuck in my mind. One sermon spun the truth of god’s wisdom or something. It revolved around being able to find god’s wisdom by the light of the halo crowning the king’s head. Preacher Daniels was always comparing god’s wisdom to chocolate/mocha and god itself to the sun.
Dots connected. A haloed sun was what revealed god’s wisdom. Or Mocha Island. Could it be that religion was actually based on fact, whether intended or not? Was the pencil the wisdom of god?
Whatever. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that we’d unraveled the unknown. We knew where and how to find Mocha Island. A problem was revealed by Janaar. He was somewhat of an amateur astrologist, having immersed in the science as a child. He explained that annular solar-eclipses- when the moon blocks most but not all of the suns rays, creating a halo of sunlight around the dark side of the moon -were fairly rare. Especially when targeted to a particular point on the planet.
He went on deck to do some considerably quick calculations using star charts and the sky. After a few hours of observation and calculation, he told us that solar eclipses were not very rare, on average happening twice a year. But it was quite rare to have a repeated eclipse in the same area. Especially one that needed to be directly behind the moon’s shadow so an equi-widthed ring of sun rounded it. He said it would only happen about once every four hundred years. Lucky for us, one was due at our intended location six months from the discussion. September 1st, 1637. But, to get from our current spot to the supposed locale of Mocha, we would have to sail below the southern horn of South America and back up its spine. Bummer.
The journey was long. It took right around the allotted six months. Immediately after our fact-finding meeting, we set a course for the northeastern edge of South America. Sadly, there was no maritime route through the middle Americas, so a nearly complete circumnavigation of the South American continent would be required.
Janaar was at the helm, with Madame Madrielle and I sharing captoral duties. Bubeya was first mate. Riff didn’t much relish responsibility and being a fan of destruction he chose the role of munitions moderator. Others filled in the remaining tasks accordingly.
On route out of the Caribbean, we were approached by several ships. We didn’t give a shit what they wanted though. Mother Superior was set to full till at all times, reaching impressive speeds. We carried on disinterested in distractions. Especially by pirates, which were most likely the people seeking our attention.
Once we made it off the Caribbean shelf I could put my mind at ease. The only adversities we would have to face included fresh food and water and weather. The weather hit us hard when we neared the northeast corner of the southern continent. Janaar figured the hurricane that hit us had been whipped around the continent’s tip, intensifying winds and waves.
The horizon told of its approach, so we weren’t caught without socks, but we still managed to lose one. It was a middle-aged woman who’d been a part of the ex-slave community since six months prior to my arrival.
She was huddled with others in the crew’s quarters, waiting out the storm’s effects. A particularly aggressive wave tossed the ship, sending contents sailing. She was thrown across the room, her head connecting with a cabinet corner. I didn’t see it happen, but the dent in her temple told all.
The loss was, however, complimented by a gain. The storm must’ve shook something loose ‘cause one of the young females gave birth. I did see that. It was particularly bone rattling. But the amount of good vibrations it sent was worth the squirm. Everyone’s spirits seemed to be reborn with the baby.
Sahra’s included. She hadn’t been down by any means. But the new arrival got her wheels turning to the rhythms of motherhood. I side-steered the situation saying we could work on it once the pencil was acquired. That satisfied her for the time being, thankfully.
The birth did seem to bring good tidings. We’d been under the influence of said hurricane for over a week, but directly after baby spilled from womb the skies cleared, rudder was righted, and we were back on course.
Seeing those bright blue skies for the first time in weeks really made my heart flutter. It was a good feeling knowing we’d made it through the hurricane waters. And aside from the death nothing was too badly damaged. Granted, some of the sails had been a bit battered, but we had a solid team of skilled laborers. The storm didn’t do any permanent damage to Mother’s chassis.
Fortunately, neither did the stone-throwing natives we saw while nearing the shores in affordance of better views. The densest jungle I’d ever seen spilled into the sea from those shores. Bizarre creatures swung from vines and colorful birds crested the canopies. We talked of stopping, but the notion was soon put to rest when it was clear the aboriginals didn’t feel like having a chat.
Further south of the off-kilter jungle we finally did stop. We needed to resupply our stock of wood, water, and mammal meat. We dropped anchor in a shallow bay and sent a team of ten to collect necessary supplies. Bubeya and I were imparted in the trip.
We brought all the weapons we could wrap our fingers around, not knowing what we would witness. The boat’s former owner had been gracious enough to fully load it with a serious arsenal of guns and swords. All in near immaculate condition. I suppose owning a shipyard can afford such luxuries.
The precautions were superfluous. We didn’t run into anything more dangerous than wild pigs. Plenty of them at that. And each one was equally delicious.
Of the landlubbers, Bubeya and I were on hunting detail with one other strapping lad. Three more were on water patrol, and another four were out to score some wood.
Our hunt was smoother than could’ve been hoped for. We quickly stumbled onto a pack of boars easily slaughtered. They were lounging around a water hole sleeping, dipping, and drinking. I hated to shit on their picnic, but we were both hungry for flesh and higher on the food chain.
Twenty full grown pigs were hauled in to the Mother ship first. After unloading that cargo the rower was sent back to land to pick up forty logs of good wood and a comparable amount of saplings. Several boatings were needed for that harvest.
The water was the most difficult asset to gather. Not to find but to ferry back. We had a thousand-liter basin that, when filled, weighed almost exactly a ton. That’s a shitload of water. And it couldn’t be taken in stages. It was an all or none situation because of its unity and the fact that filling liter-containers to bring back and replenish the reservoir would’ve taken a fucking fortnight.
Getting that basin aboard was a bitch. It took every breathing body on the boat to lug that thing up. We had to tie the heaving ropes around the basin itself, sans rower, for fear the pulley system would buckle under the strain of the additional weight. We pulled it off though. I wish I could say ‘no sweat.’
When the water was deposited, we reeled in the anchor and set sail. Everyone was quite satisfied with the accessibility of resources we’d been blessed by. South America was certainly a land of plenty.
Relatively soon after our stocking, we made it to the southern tip of South America. Good goddamn it was cold. In the dead of a southern hemispheric winter, Mother Superior’s timbers were definitely shivering.
The icy land was home to a creature I’d never seen before. It was black and looked like a bird but swam like a seal. There was something infinitely charming about it. I developed an immediate fondness to it.
Whales came into my picture for the first time too. I’d never seen a whale, but I had heard legends of their glory. Amazing creatures. Gentle monsters that sent streams of water onto the boat as they lazily drifted alongside. And their call was one of a kind. It seemed to match their temperament perfectly. It was low and guttural, but light and airy at the same time. They were a good gatekeeper to the most majestic of oceans.
I think everyone was thankful once we rounded the Americas’ southern tip and entered Pacific waters. Climes warmed almost instantly and the sea seemed to have a deeper hue to it. It was odd, I’d grown so accustomed to the sun setting starboard that seeing it set on portside messed with me a bit. Not much, but a little.
As we furthered north, an impressive mountain chain steadily built. Its peaks reached striking heights. My scaling probably wasn’t the most precise, but they looked to stretch towards the heavens higher than I’d ever seen. I’d been to the Alpines in middle-Europe, but I would say the daunting peaks of the South American mountain range conquered those of the Alps. They weren’t as lush as the continent’s eastern coastline, but they made up for the lack of greenery with star-reaching scenery.
Several times during the journey I wish we’d’ve been able to drop anchor and enjoy the territory. I could only imagine what lay beyond the inviting threshold of the coastline. Some inspiring shit for sure.
The clock ticked in terms of Mocha and fresh water. After rounding South America it was difficult to find drinkable water. There were several rivers in the south, but we passed them saying we’d catch the next set. Once we reached the mountains, fresh water was something of a novelty. Barren seemed to be the anthem for that stretch of desolate coastline. We had to ration a bit, but not much. Eventually we found some. And none too soon. We were upon Mocha waters before we knew it.
-38° by -73°. Those were the coordinates identified by Captain LeSautte’s bounty of pencil folklore. They were easy to remember because a 38 in Botany is what earned me several back lashings after my third year at Lamebridge. And a 73 is what scraped me by fourth year French.
We dropped anchor at the site two weeks before the expected eclipse. It was only about a kilometer off the mainland coast. If Janaar was right about his calculations and navigation he would get first crack at the pencil. If he was wrong I would probably cry. A lot.
With two week’s time to spare we set about fishing and preparing for war. The fishing was easy enough. Those waters were stocked with piles of fish. It was ridiculous. You could cast a line and drag up a beautiful filet within seconds. It was easy as hell, but spear fishing was more fun.
Making war materials was sadistically satisfying too. Madame Madrielle and I had both heard legends of the bloodlusting Mapuches. Guarding Persephone’s Pencil with a fearless fury. And once past the Mapuches, if that was possible, a creature of unknown proportions apparently stood sleepless watch over the pencil. These obstacles would necessitate a serious compilation of combatables.
Mother Superior had an extensive collection of weapons before we boarded. Consisting of spears, swords, daggers, guns, and cannons. Her previous owner appeared to be a bit of a showboat. All were of the highest quality and in tip top condition. You could peel a tomato with each of the blades while the guns’ firing mechanisms were crisp as a cucumber.
The logs and saplings amassed ashore before helped add to the arsenal. We made every deathly device feasible with the supple wood. We made spears, shields, sling-shots, bows with arrows, clubs, bludgeons, war-hammers, and we even constructed a fucking catapult. We practiced its use by launching fish guts/heads into the ocean.
The other weapons were trained for in various ways. I’d given informal sword lessons throughout the journey, amping the volume as the eclipse neared. Everyone was included in the sessions. No exceptions. For a lot of people, it was their first time picking up anything deadlier than a kitchen knife. Including Sahra. But she and the others did quite well.
A wooden target was attached to the mast for archery practice. Those drills didn’t run quite as smooth. No one held any previous experience. But Bubeya took to it instantly. His proficiency in spear fishing certainly shone. One of his arrows went through the six inch thick target and into the mast, naught to be removed. The rest of us got steadily better, but were unable to attain his level.
With the remaining weapons, individuals chose their preference and proceeded to basically figure it out on their own. Maybe sparring with others. Trying to solidify shield technique and whatnot.
Strolling the ranks of emerging soldiers impressed me. I wasn’t expecting everyone to assimilate to the ways of the warrior so well. And I didn’t think it’d be the case, but we seemed to be all set.
Not a moment too soon. The eve of the eclipse’d approached quickly. I didn’t sleep that night. Possible and probable scenarios kept running through my head. Expected outcomes were dashed and rehashed over and again. I told myself not to delve too deeply, but my brain didn’t listen. No matter how hard I tried, my mind wouldn’t let it go. So, no sleep.
The eclipse was scheduled for 10:11 a.m. and would only be annular for about three minutes. We would have to be ready to rumble at a moments notice.
At 10 I was a bundle of nerves. Pacing, checking my watch, checking my gear. The authorities and I thought it best if we suited up for battle before the eclipse. We didn’t know what to expect and we had to be prepared for anything.
I myself was adorned with an array of armaments. I had a dagger strapped to each of my outer thighs. Two swords were Xed across my back. The double-sheath arrangement was made from dried and cured pig hide crisscrossing my front and back. The portion stretching across my chest held ten sticks of gun-powder dynamite cooked up by Riff. A pigskin quiver of arrows was attached at the back axis of the X. Between the quiver and sword sheaths at my back was a place for my bow. It was a notched roost angled at forty-five degrees so the bow’s flat handle could rest in the notch between the quiver and sheath while the string sat parallel to the quiver’s length. A dual-holstered gun belt was populated by a pair of pristine pistols and a chorus line of bullets linking the two by way of back and front faces. Topping off my ensemble was a self-designed set of chain-linked body armor. Small slabs of wood were ergonomically whittled to fit my form then linked by iron hoops and screws. The complex covered my neck, chest, upper arms, and upper legs with inch thick oak. I made a set for Sahra too.
After making sure my shit was in a row, I checked my watch and it read 10:11. My back prickled with perspiration. I looked up to the sun and saw a shadow creeping across. “Holy shit,” I said to myself. “It’s happening.” My eyes periodically averted to escape the sun’s brutal stare while watching as the shadow slowly overed it. When it made it to the sun’s center something happened. I could feel a change in the atmosphere. I looked at my surroundings. At first I couldn’t place it. Everything just looked different. Unlike anything I’d ever seen. Things, objects didn’t have the same consistency. I would never’ve considered reality grainy until that point. But it was, comparatively. Even though everything was engulfed in a dusk-like quasi-darkness it was much sharper. I looked at the back of my hand and could see the skin’s cracked composition clearly. It had higher definition. I looked at a wood plate overlying my bicep. I could see the wood’s pores. It’s like the world’d been filled in with a greater pixilation per inch. The artist had elaborated. I looked at Sahra’s eyes. They burned into me.
I heard gasps and utterances. I looked to where people’s attention was focused. There sat in the sea an island that certainly hadn’t been there before.
“Holy fucking shit.”
I stared at the terrainous bubble jutting from the water 400 meters southeast of Mother Superior. It was closer to the mainland coast and it glowed. I was transfixed by the image. My brain hadn’t accustomed to the visual-density adjustment. Tangibility was so rich. I wasn’t sure if it was the newfound clarity or the island itself, but it radiated.
“Alright, let’s get over there,” I heard someone roar, snapping me out of my daze. I looked whence the sound came from and saw Madame Madrielle pointing to the island. She looked to the helm, keeping her hand stationary.
From behind the wheel Janaar said, “Yes, of course.”
We started moving almost instantly. I’m not sure how he got the ship in motion so quickly. I saluted him. He was good.
The island neared and my body felt numb. It was an interesting sensation. I’m only really aware of it after the fact. It wasn’t like my foot had fallen asleep and I could feel my deadened and/or awakening nerves; it was that I’d utterly forgotten my body. I was so entrenched in the island’s apparition, everything else was lost. Even the brain that’d been relentlessly churning for the past week or month had shut down. I think I even drooled a little. Until Janaar’d pulled into a small bay at the island’s northeast corner, I didn’t budge a muscle. I assume some others were in a similar state.
I may’ve heard the rattling chains and the splash of the anchorage, but I’m not sure. And I’m not sure of how long I stood in my catatonic state before rousing. Rocking with the ocean, staring at the island’s shore in silence.
A hand gently rested on my shoulder. I turned. Sahra’s eyes were all I saw. Witnessing their beauty after the island’s made me want to cry. I was on overload. And I think I did cry. It’s hard to say because my brain wasn’t functioning properly. I do know I went in for a hug and held her for awhile. Eyes closed in escape of the excess.
“Cornelius..Let’s get a move on.”
I looked up and saw Madame Madrielle standing with hands on hips. Not in an aggressive way, but in a surefire way.
I reclosed my eyes for a moment, then slowly unhugged Sahra. I looked at her and asked, “Are you ready?”
She nodded, drawing her lips between her teeth.
“Alright,” I said, turning to Madame. “What’s the plan?”
“Well, Janaar did an excellent job of placing us. We can drop into the water and wade ashore because the water is quite shallow..I think we should put the explosives and catapult on the rower though,” she said.
My eyes were lowered and I was nodding. Trying hard to focus on her words. “Yeah. That sounds good,” I said, looking at her. There was nothing particularly new, so I didn’t have much trouble swallowing it. Madame and I had spent countless hours concocting plans for different scenarios. At that point it was just a matter of picking one.
“Bubeya and some others are loading the rower right now..We need to get moving to keep at least a shred of surprise…We can’t be waiting around all day, announcing our presence by just sitting here,” she said, giving me a telling look before walking away.
She was absolutely right. I was impressed by her ability to keep it together at such an intense time. I smiled and kissed Sahra, saying “I’ll be right back.” I went to find Riff. “Are you ready?” I asked him once found.
“Yeah,” he said, glancing down at the small arsenal hanging from his person.
“Do you see what I see?” I asked, leaning in and almost whispering.
“Whata you mean?” he said, turning around to follow my gaze.
“No, like with..stuff. Does it seem..clearer to you?”
He stared at me and said, “Yeah..I think it’s the eclipse or something. But yeah..It’s fucked up.” He raised his eyebrows and mouth-corners.
“Ahlrihght,” I laughed. “Can you help get everyone lined up on portside, ready to rock?” I said, patting his shoulder and walking off. “You look good, by the way,” I said, turning and winking. “Total warrior.”
He smiled and flashed an upturned thumb. I walked around spreading the word on getting over to port side. Most people were already doing or had done so. Once everyone was aligned Madame Madrielle said, “Let’s go.”
The stocked rowboat was lowered and people descended the ropes tied to the railing. A flash of insight revealed me impressed by the way things were running. Not only was my help not needed, I was a worthless pile while the others cranked away.
I heard splashes as people dropped into the water. I took off my belt so my guns and hand-made bullets wouldn’t be water-damaged while going ashore. When it was my turn, I briefly mounted the railing then skimmed the rope moonwalking down the hull. The water was chill, but nice. I turned and waded inward. I suddenly felt a wave of empathy for the troops storming Normandy on D-Day. Walking into an unknown world with unknown consequences. Death heavy with potential.
I passed people as I tried to catch Madame Madrielle. She stood on the beach talking to Bubeya and Janaar, obviously formulating. I walked up as I reapplied my belt and adjusted my armor.
“I think we should head that way.”
I looked up and saw Madame pointing across the plains to the left side of the island’s rise. “It looks more open..The forest comes too close to the water for my liking on this side,” she said, shifting her point to the right of the rising greenery.
“Yes. I fully agree,” said Janaar, nodding.
“Yes. This is good,” agreed Bubeya.
I stared on, nodding with a “Yeah.”
Madame Madrielle turned to me and said, “Cornelius, so good of you to join us..Can I interest you in a- Wake the fuck up.” Her voice altered from sarcastically sweet to overly assertive, smacking me for emphasis.
“What?” I asked, attempting to sound hurt by her words and actions.
“You’ve been in a funk. It’s time to snap out,” she said, hitting me again.
“Wha-” I said, looking down at where she’d hit me. I knew she was right, though. I’d been brain deadened by the arrival of our then current footing. “Yeah, I know,” I slowly admitted. “But it’s cool, I’m alright.”
“I hope so.” Her left cheek contracted. “Alright, Bubeya and Janaar, I want you two taking care of the catapult,” she said, gesturing with her pointer and middle finger. “I already have Riff looking after the explosives, but, Cornelius, I want you to help,” she said, turning to me.
“Gotcha.” I gave a single nod.
“Alright. Excellent. Let’s go,” she said, about-facing and marching on.
I looked for Sahra. “Hey..Are you alright?” I asked, finding her.
“Yes, I am good,” she said, giving a timid smile.
“How’s your gear?” I asked, running my hands over her equipment.
She looked down saying, “Yes. I think it is alright.”
“Good…Are you nervous?”
“A little, yes,” she said.
“Yeah, me too..It’ll be fine, though..There’s nothing to worry about..We’re gonna get the pencil and that’s it. No problem.”
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you too,” she returned closing in for a hug. We hugged while walking. It was awkward, so we didn’t keep it up for long. And we didn’t want to lose the group. After I kissed her hair, we undid and walked in silence while holding hands. I sound-spotted some hushed chit-chat, but it was mostly silent.
We crossed a relatively flat plain on our way to the eastern side of the island. On the walk I’d noticed the sun’d returned to a full orb and my person’d returned to its original grainy makeup. But the island itself was still strikingly lucid.
I watched the wilderness we walked along with a wide berth. It was a relatively average forest with deciduous shrubs and trees. Looking at it gave me the willies though. It seemed to have an aural pulse. Not of sound but of energy. It was alive with puissance. After identifying the feature, I tried to keep my eyes and mind off it. It felt better to watch the calmness of the ocean and feel the softness of Sahra’s skin.
I turned to her, exchanged a smile, then looked forward. I’d heard a soft whistling and noticed an oddity with the person in front of me. Their eye seemed to’ve sprouted an arrow. Their head rolled back. I could hear life escaping their mouth with a wheeze as they dropped to the ground.
While following the body’s course, I noticed an arrow erecting from my chest. Sahra saw it and let out a scream. My legs failed and I fell to my knees as I heard someone yell, “Get down…Shields to the front.”
I stared at the arrow, confused. I felt Sahra’s hands wrap around my neck and her head press against mine. She was crying. I suddenly noticed the sensation in my chest. It was a dull burn. It didn’t feel very life threatening. I grabbed the arrow and pulled. A flare of pain made my eyes and nose water. It wasn’t too bad though. My armor’d stopped the arrow from going any deeper than half a centimeter. Sweet action.
I looked up and saw figures charging towards us, spilling from the woods. A group of five exploded in a fiery eruption. I realized I’d heard the preemptive whoosh of the catapult. Other assailants charged through their smoldering comrades. I pushed Sahra down and pulled out my guns. I let off eight shots, spending each of my guns. So much other fire and arrow power were simultaneously produced, I’m not sure how many people I killed. I’d say a strong guesstimate is three or four. Not bad.
I put my guns back in their holsters and pulled out my bow as raw and refined explosions sounded. I fit an arrow to string. In the process I caught a glimpse of Bubeya. He was unfurling a fury. In the two seconds I sighted him, he must’ve let off ten arrows. It was unreal. And I know his aim was spot on.
The aggressors were progressing on us. They were close enough for me to make out the white war-paint on their tanned faces, the dangling feather’s tied to their loin cloths, and the consonants on their tongue. I assumed these were the Mapuches I’d heard of. I let an arrow rip and watched as it rocketed into a chest, putting the owner on the ground. As they fell onto their front, the arrow in their chest projected through their back. I shot another one. It pierced a person’s face and sent them careening.
I watched a spear sail through the air and land in the person’s upper chest to my left. I targeted the attacker putting wood in their belly. They dropped, clutching a bloodied stomach. I became aware my nostrils were flared. I heard an unrefined explosion and saw its flash from the corner of my eye.
The attack was approaching. Somebody yelled, “Face to face,” and everyone started rising. Blades clanged with wood as the Mapuches closed in. I pulled out my swords and barreled forward, making sure Sahra was behind me. I caught a pair of Mapuche eyes with mine and swung both swords down hard. My blades burrowed themselves a foot below the victim’s shoulder-line. I horizontally pulled them out and turned to bury steel in someone’s face and belly. I kicked them off as I felt a spear glance off my armor. I smiled and swung around, bringing my sword through an unsuspecting neck. The severed head dropped with the body and buckets of blood. My heart pumped wildly and my penis twitched.
I turned to find Sahra. She was to my right side battling a large Mapuche. She was doing well, but I could see hints of fear behind her blood stained face. I leapt forward, with an “Aaaah,” windmilling my steel upon the foe’s skull. It sunk deep. Their eyes rolled back and their tongue jutted. I gave Sahra a loving smile. I felt a spear imbed itself into my thigh. I quickly pinced it with my swords. The action sent it somersaulting into the groin of a Mapuche. I then put a blade in their mouth and dragged down, bisecting their neck. Blood sprayed across my face. Some got in my mouth and I spit.
I heard a nearby scream and turned to it, fearing for Sahra. She’d been stabbed in the arm by a Mapuche spear. I leapt at the guilty party knocking them down as I repeatedly stabbed them in the face. Ten times did the trick.
I rounded and found Sahra. She’d collapsed to the ground. I resheathed my steel and kneeled alongside her. Tears leaked from her eyes as she looked into mine. I gently cradled her arm and looked at the injury. It wasn’t too bad, but it was bleeding moderately.
“How does it feel?” I asked.
“It hurts,” she groaned.
“I know. I know..I’m sorry,” I said, kissing her forehead. I tore my shirt sleeve and tightly wrapped her arm with the scrap. “Here. Come with me,” I said, helping her up as the chaos surrounding carried on. I led her to the nearby waterline and splashed some saltwater on her arm. “This’ll help,” I said.
She inhaled sharply. “It burns.”
“I know. I’m sorry..It’s better than it getting infected, though..Right?” I asked.
“I like you with both arms,” I said, smiling while rubbing her stomach.
She laughed and kissed me. The moment was nice, but I couldn’t let the others fight without me.
“I have to get back,” I said, splashing water on my face to wash away the blood. “Do you want to stay here?” I said, standing.
“No,” she said, rising. “I am going back too.”
“Yes, of course..We cannot let everyone else fight for us when we are still able to fight, yes?” She bent her knees, dipped her hands in the water, rubbed, and rinsed away some of the blood accumulated while killing.
“Absolutely.” I gave her a quick kiss and led her back to the scene.
We looked to be doing pretty good. There were no fresh Mapuches pouring from the forest and their numbers had significantly dwindled. I could see a few of ours had been grounded, but we were holding well. The training’d definitely paid off.
I watched Bubeya as we approached. He was certainly one of our most gifted warriors. His proximal weapon of choice was the warhammer. He wielded it with ferocity. Fueled by powerful muscles, the hammer caved faces and collapsed chests. The opponents’ consistency seemed clay-like, offering little resistance.
Bubeya swung the hammer like a baseball bat, striking someone’s skull. Blood splattered and the back of their head tickled their spine, neck flexing like a green twig. I looked away and found a Mapuche to battle. They were yelling. I was able to cut off one of their arms. That sidetracked them.
When I first saw the Mapuches emerge from the wilderness, I was certainly worried. But searching the current scene and seeing the fairly meager opposition, I was convinced of the outcome. The state loudly declared our eminent and nearly immediate victory.
Even though Sahra was injured, I felt confident enough to leave her side. The only Mapuches remaining were either maimed or being maimed. I went to find Madame Madrielle. I saw her leaning over a body. Approaching, I could hear her speaking, but I couldn’t make out the words. Once directly behind her, she swung around looking irritated.
“What are you doing?” I laughed.
“Trying to get information about the pencil, but nothing doing..I don’t think these people speak English..Or French,” she said, wiping her hands on her pants and standing.
“Yeah..Most likely not…So,” I said, looking around. “Looks like we did pretty good, uh.”
“Yeah. Absolutely..That was easier than I thought it would be.”
“Yeah, totally,” I said, grinning while bobbing my head vigorously.
“I don’t like it.”
“What? Why?” I asked, giving a lopsided look.
“Because Persephone’s Pencil is supposed to be the most powerful object in existence. And all we’ve seen guarding it so far are some back-woodsy natives.”
“So, there’s got to be more,” she said.
“Yeah. There is..The monster, right?” I answered.
“Yeah. That’s what I’m worried about.”
“Well, whatever..We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” I smiled. “Cheer up,” I said, nudging her arm.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, smiling. Blood was smeared across her face and matted her hair. “Alright. We need to rally everyone and figure out what we’re going to do next.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
“Why don’t you start doing that..Make sure everyone’s got a full compliment of weaponry. Salvage from the bodies if you need to,” she commanded.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, saluting and clicking my heels. I started turning. “How are you by the way?” I asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said with something obviously weighing on her mind.
I walked off and found Riff. “Hey, buddy. How’d you do?” I asked, patting him on the shoulder.
“Fuckin’ awesome,” he said, smiling. “I got forty of the fuckers..That’s with the catapult, but still.”
“Forty? Yeah, that’s impressive..Alright, good for you,” I said, holding out my hand for a five.
He slapped it and asked, “You?”
“I’m not sure. I wasn’t really counting..Maybe ten.”
“Ten? You pussy,” he said, laughing.
“Yeah, well. What can I say?.You are what you eat,” I said, lightly ribbing him. “Anyway. We gotta round everyone up, uh..Compile our resources.”
“Yeah, for sure,” he said, looking around. “Looks like we’ve got about a dozen left, including us.”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s pretty good,” I said, impressed.
We set to calculating statistics. Including me, we had eleven people, meaning we’d only lost fourteen. About a hundred Mapuche’d been killed. I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio.
We had plenty of guns, but our bullets were scarce. I hadn’t used any from my belt so we divvied those up, leaving everyone who wanted bullets with ten. I hadn’t used any of the dynamite on my chest either, but there was plenty of that to go around. Blades and bows/arrows were in high supply, along with every other weapon of choice.
After all was said, we’d definitely whupped some ass. We moved our fallen comrades to the waterline and left them to be dealt with later. We didn’t have time to do much more. There were pressing issues. But we told ourselves we’d come back and perform a proper burial when the time was ripe.
We washed in the water and went to the edge of the forest where the Mapuches’d originally emerged. There was a narrow path with a trailheadstone at the entrance. Some kind of language was chiseled into it, but no one recognized the dialect. We thought it as good a place as any to head inland, so we did.
The path was well maintained. No greenery strayed onto its face and it was wide enough for two people to walk alongside one another. I know this because Sahra and I walked side by side.
The hike’s elevation escalated pretty quickly. A peak peeked through the trees ahead. We climbed toward it. On the ascent, I scanned the area taking note of the trees and animals that populated it. The template was a fairly standard temperate forest. Nothing noteworthy.
After twenty minutes of scaling, we conquered the top. Through the trees a view of the entire island was available. It was almost stunning but nothing much special. Kind of disappointing actually. It didn’t seem like the place was harboring legendary artifacts of power and splendor.
Then someone said, “Look..Ove’ the’e.”
“What is that?” someone else asked.
The group crowded, trying to find where attention should be focused. I caught a glimpse of a dull glow in the distance. A depression which looked like it could’ve been a lake, radiated. By light of day it hardly registered, but there was definitely something there. If it hadn’t been pointed out to me, I probably wouldn’t’ve noticed.
I squinted my eyes to see if that helped refine my search engine. Nope. We all stared at it for minutes on end, discussing. I didn’t know what it was, but it certainly had an effect. Everyone excited over it. Potential for it being the pencil was high. We eventually carried on, unable to decipher from that vantage. But the site was set as our goal. The mysterious aura captured my eyes until engulfed by the canopy.
The downgrade was more gradual than the rise. Climbing had been a bit of a scramble at times while the descent was a casual depression. The path lazily wound down the slope, allowing promenade through glades and groves. My eyes’d adapted to the thicker vision, embracing the adjustment. Colors were vibrant, details were crisp, and I was enthralled.
Not far along we came to a fork in the path. The well-maintained main path curved off to the right while an obviously forgotten path, overgrown by vegetation, curved to the left. The view from the hilltop would suggest going to the left, but the path didn’t look very inviting. It’d be a task to get through, due to the hanging vines and overgrown shrubs in the walkway, but we all had keen blades for clearing a passage.
Somebody noticed a large stone with a centered carving. The stone was at the access and the carving was oddly familiar. It looked like a sprig of wheat. I knew I’d seen it before, then it hit me. I pulled out my pocket watch and sprung the cover. There at the center of the dial was the same design.
“This way for sure,” I said.
Everyone turned to me.
“How do you know?” asked Madame Madrielle.
“Just trust me..I’m positive.”
She stared at me and I stared back, certainty in my eyes.
“Alright. If you say so.” She exhaled and shrugged.
We headed in the path’s direction. I studied the pocket-watch reading the quote on the inside cover. ‘Bite it right ‘cross the heel’ –KB. “What the hell does that mean?” I stared at the watch, repeating the phrase over and over. I told myself only time would tell. I followed my hand as I put the watch away. With my eyes off the road I bumped into somebody’s back. I looked up. The group had stopped in front of a towering rock wall. I looked down its length. It stretched indefinitely into the forest’s depths. I wondered how we hadn’t seen it from the peak. It must’ve been twenty feet tall.
“What now?” someone asked.
“Can we climb it?”
“Maybe we can climb a tree and jump over.”
“Maybe we can just go around.”
“Excuse me,” I said, pushing my way to the front. I drew a dagger and began chiseling into the wall with it.
“What a’e you doin’, Co’nelius?” someone asked me.
“Hold on..You’ll see.” I continued digging until I had a sizable hole. I withdrew a stick of dynamite and slid it in. I glanced back. “Here..Stand back,” I said, backing up a bit.
Everyone got the idea as I lit a match. I sparked the dynamite’s fuse and jogged back a few feet.
I went forward to check the dynamite’s work. The dust settled and I saw that a bowl of material’d been blown away. At the midpoint was a pin of light. The blast’d just worked its way through the wall, allowing for light from the other side to shine through. Judging from the curve of the missing chunk, the wall was about four feet thick.
Assuming I wouldn’t need my second dagger, I jabbed it into the crater and piled it with dynamite. I was able to support nine sticks with it.
“Alright, get back..This is gonna be a big one,” I said over my shoulder. I lit one and ran a ways back hiding behind a tree.
Dust and debris were thrown from the focus of the explosion. I closed then squinted my eyes, letting things settle. When the coast’d cleared, I walked to the newly created hole. As I neared, the dust sunk and I could see through the wall to the other side.
“Holy fucking shit,” I exclaimed.
“What is it?” someone asked, running up behind me. I think it was Madame Madrielle, but I didn’t bother responding or acknowledging her presence. I was transfixed by what I saw.
Through the hole in the wall color ran buck wild. It didn’t obey the laws as I knew them. A tree could be yellow with reddish blue polka dots that spilled from its trunk oozing to the ground. A flower could be black, flash to bright white with sparkles, then go back to black with a hint of swirling-purple that floated off into the sun leaving the black to go gold. Borders didn’t bind the color. It ran wild and untamed doing as it pleased.
I stood, staring at the extravaganza, lost in the surreal spectacle. Before I realized it, I was being pushed from behind by others attempting to cop a view. My face was practically through the hole in the wall and I could smell something sweet. I didn’t turn around to see, but the bumping and pushing felt to be aggressing.
“Stop,” someone yelled.
I turned around to see who. Madame Madrielle was standing with hands on hips. The look on her face read rage.
“What..are..you doing?” she asked.
No one answered.
“Behaving like a bunch of animals.”
I hadn’t seen the development, but I thought she was overreacting a bit.
“If we’re going to get through this we need to be respectful and supportive of each other.”
Yeah. I guess that was true.
“We can’t be pushing each other around like we’re at a Johnny Thunders show.”
I didn’t understand the reference.
“There doesn’t need to be any pushing or shoving..We’ll all get through, because that’s where we’re going,” she said, gesturing to the hole. “Just settle down..We need to keep our heads..Especially once we cross this wall..We don’t know what we’re going to find and from the looks of things it will be pretty unpredictable. So, we need to stick together…Alright?”
Murmurs and nods met her. She was right. There could be some weird unpredictable shit through that wall and we were gonna have to band together.
I went to go find Sahra.
“How are you?” I asked her.
“Good. And you?”
“What is beyond the wall?” she asked.
“Whew,” I exhaled. “I don’t know how to explain it. “But I think we’re going that way, so you’ll see it.”
She nodded and said “Alright” with uncertainty on her voice.
“Alright, I’m going through first. Then Bubeya and Janaar. Then Cornelius..Cornelius,” Madame Madrielle raised her voice calling for me.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Do you want to come through after Bubeya and Janaar?” she asked me.
“No. I think I’ll bring up the rear,” I said back.
“That’s a good idea..Then Riff, why don’t you follow up Bubeya and Janaar.”
“Okay,” he said.
“And the rest..you know what to do,” she said, turning to the wall. “Alright, follow me.”
She stood at the threshold, staring. She seemed to be hesitating. She climbed through and was lost to view.
“Come on,” she said in a high pitched voice.
Bubeya and Janaar clambered through the wall. I inched forward, following the rest. The colors leapt as I neared. I looked at Sahra. Reluctance showed in her face. I put my arm around her and touched her head with mine. We made it to the hole. Everyone on the other side was rubber necking, checking the landscape.
I helped Sahra crawl through then I did so. I noticed the other side didn’t feel any different. It just looked utterly unlike anything I’d ever seen. As my boots touched ground, pulses of iridescent color emanated like ripples in water. I watched as the ripples banked and bounded in all directions once connecting with other sets of feet.
I looked at Sahra’s face. It’d maintained its original consistency, but waves of shimmering swept over it. My hand crept towards it, cutting through the silken stream. The current rushed around it and I cupped her cheek. I smiled and kissed her.
“This..is..amazing,” I said, laughing.
“Yes.” She gave a broad smile and kissed me again. “I cannot believe it,” she said, shaking her head. “It is..It is..not real.”
I smiled looking around. “I know.”
What I imagined to be a bird flew past overhead. Trails of color twittered and flickered falling like confetti. A speck landed on my out-held hand. It started spinning, evolving into an expanding swirl until it’d consumed my hand. Then the head of the operation shot off, tail circum-following. I watched as it rocketed away, straight and narrow. It passed through a person and a couple trees before it was lost to view. Saliva accumulated and I swallowed.
“Alright, let’s go,” shouted Madame Madrielle. “This is fun and all, but we need to move…Stay together,” she said, slowly. “We can’t afford to lose anyone…Cornelius? Are you still at the back?” she asked, swinging her head, searching for me.
“Good. Let’s head then…Stay together,” she said with a scolding tone.
We began walking down the ill defined trail. It was difficult to identify, but it could be done. The colors strayed wildly at times, but they tended to format.
Walking from behind gave a good vantage point. I could see everyone’s swiveling heads and pointing fingers; following them to some spectacular shit. There was so much to see. The land was chalked full of activity.
I heard a scream. Everyone stopped, searching for the source of the sound. I saw a woman staring at the ground. Her arm lay there. Unscathed, just lying there. She looked from her stump to the arm and back. It was difficult to call the loosened connection on her person a stump because stumps are usually dull. This was crisp as a razor. It looked like someone’d cleaved her arm with the keenest of blades. But there was no blood.
As I stared at her I noticed a transparent streak forming in her other arm. When it’d passed all the way through, her arm hung in the air for half a second, then dropped. She screamed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The injury was completely unsuggestive. I had no idea what was happening.
A streak formed across her leg, felling her when all the way through. She lay on the ground crying, limbless and infantile. Everyone stared on. The streaks continued, picking up their pace. They cut through her torso and face. Sending the severed pieces to the ground till she’d been completely erased.
The crowd stared speechless until Riff said something, “Uh..What the fuck was that?”
No one answered.
“Did y’all fuckin’ see that?.That was some fucked up shit.”
I looked at him. His eyes were creased and he was searching for an explanation in the other witnesses. His eyes found mine and he ran over saying, “Cornelius..what the fuck was that?”
He put his hand on my shoulder and I said, “I don’t know.” I shook my head and repeated, “I don’t know.”
I continued searching the ground for evidence of the woman. None was found.
“What should we do?” someone asked.
No immediate answer. Eventually Madame Madrielle said, “Let’s keep moving,” in a shaky voice. “We need to keep moving.”
The group began ambling forward. Speech was seldom. So was head swiveling. The incident seemed to really cap people’s emotion. I myself was dumfounded. What the fuck had happened?
We carried on down the trail as it steadily dropped in elevation. The drop coincided with a taming in the surroundings. The colors were still crazy as hell, but they were satisfied by keeping within the lines. And the pace of color change had drastically slowed. It wasn’t as much of a willy-nilly free-for-all.
Another scream blasted through the air. I would’ve expected some sort of reaction from the surroundings ‘cause of their virtual vividity, but nothing. I hunted for the root of the hubbub and gathered a woman petting who I knew to be her husband. At first I didn’t understand why, then I saw that his form was dissipating. His outline was expanding and fading. His colors spread and thinned as his wife clawed at him, shouting something in an unfamiliar language. It only took a matter of seconds for him to completely assimilate into the atmosphere, blowing away like a cloud of pollen. The woman cried and dropped to the ground. Someone tried helping her up, but she refused. Pulling away to paw at the grass.
We all stared on in silence, sentiment heavy. No one said anything for a bit, but you could tell people were shitting their pants. That was the second inexplicable phenomenon of evanescence. Lame.
People milled, too shocked and confused for fear. Reasonable explanation didn’t exist so fright wasn’t registering. One person had been erased and another had been thinned out. What were we supposed to be afraid of?
We moved on silently, confused and confounded. I held Sahra’s hand and two others half-dragged the fresh widow. If that’s what you could call her. I’m not sure her husband died.
We walked. I kept replaying the cerebral footage of the man wisping away. It was weird. “How?..” was all I could come up with. That was as far as my dissection of the scene got. How.
“Hey the’e is a lake,” someone pointed out.
Everyone shuffled and adjusted to see where the person was pointing. Sure enough, through the fog of bizarre coloration, a lake could be deciphered. By that time the color’d settled quite a bit. Objects stuck with one color. It wasn’t the most practical coloration- inclining to look like a negative photograph -but it was better than the nauseating swirls and pulses.
As I looked on at the lake I noticed a faint hue enbubbling it. I realized that’s what we’d seen from the hilltop. I was just about to comment when yet another shriek ripped through the air. I looked over and saw Riff’s girlfriend staring wide-eyed at her chest. I followed her eyeline and saw a big black streak tearing across it. Another carved its way along and she screamed again. Riff held her shoulder with one hand and fingered the vein with the other. I watched him bring a finger up to his face and rub it against others. His fingertips were coated with a shiny black substance. She rescreamed as another tore across her front. Riff traced the lines, looking bewildered. He put his hand on her face, smearing it with black. The marks on her torso lengthened and deepened. He hugged her with confusion. She backed off, vibrating. The lines grew thick. She convulsed as they consumed her. She screamed. The lines became more aggressive cutting across her quickly, whishing sounds accompanying.
At the markings’ core something difficult to explain happened. It looked like frayed paper crumpling and buckling, wearing and tearing. A piercing white light showed through the tear. The girl was gone. She’d been completely consumed by the marks. Suspended black streaks in her stead. I tried to look into the white light at their center, but I couldn’t. It was too blinding.
Another inexplicable event occurred. The light dulled as a translucent material covered it. It looked like a creased and wrinkled piece of frosty glass’d covered the blinding window. The frayed flaps framing the window’d been bent back. A bright white void could be seen through the tape-like material. I edged closer, mesmerized by the sight. My hand moved to the mess as I closed in. When I was just about to touch it, I saw a flash of something through the jumble. Don’t feel like describing it. I yelled as my hand jerked to my chest. I ran and didn’t look back.
I ran. The downhill slope helped my speed by extending my stride. I embraced the awkward sensation. I wanted to get away from what I’d just seen lickity-split. I could hear people calling after me, but I didn’t care.
I made it to the lake and jumped in. Or at least attempted to. The lake’s surface was hard. It wasn’t frozen, it was just a solid substance. It was slippery though. When I tried jumping in feet first my legs connected, slipped, and I was sent sprawling. I lay on my back as the group approached. Bubeya helped me up asking, “A’e you okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine..Thanks.” I patted him on the arm. I saw Riff. His face told of distress. I went to him and gave him a hug saying, “Sorry, buddy.”
“Yeah, wh-at-ever,” he said, choking over his words.
“That was fucked up,” I said.
He attempted a laugh, but it just brought on a stream of tears. He shook in my arms and I patted his back.
I pulled away trying to think of something to say. “She was..cool,” was all I could come up with. He looked at me and almost smiled. Then all of a sudden Riff was ripped from my arms. I followed his body and saw it in the mouth of a big bi-headed creature. The head without Riff in its mouth was snapping at the one with. It bit his dangling limbs and tore. Riff’s blood showered us onlookers.
“Oh,” I moaned. I felt like vomiting. I clutched my stomach and was hauled from the scene by Bubeya.
“Come on,” he said, carrying me away. We followed the others as they ran up the lake’s embankment. I heard an explosion as we hid behind a gross of trees. Everyone was breathing hard. I looked at the faces before me. The only ones remaining were Sahra, Madame Madrielle, Bubeya, Janaar, and the woman whose husband had dissipated.
I fell on Sahra, hugging her. She wrapped her arms around me. I was thankful. I needed some love after the atrocities I’d just witnessed; as I’m sure everyone did. We held each other for a bit.
“We need to figure out what we’re up against,” Madame Madrielle declared.
I undid from Sahra’s entwine and turned. I looked at Madame Madrielle but refrained from saying anything.
“I have a spyglass,” revealed Janaar, producing a foot-long tapered-cylinder.
“Alright, good job, Janaar..That’s definitely a start,” she said, smiling. “Can I see it?”
“Yes,” he said, handing it over.
“Thank you.” She turned and belly-edged up to the base of a tree. Its roots’d amassed a mound of dirt, providing protection from the petrified-lake beast. She planted the spyglass to her eye and snaked it through the leaves littering the forest floor. She searched for a second then breathed in sharply, quickly ducking back. Dirt and debris danced as I heard a whirring sound from the lake. An explosion wrapped things up.
“Uh..This isn’t good,” Madame Madrielle explained. “Follow me.”
She crawled away. We followed her for a quarter of a kilometer trying to ask her what she saw. She didn’t respond to any of our inquiries. She finally stopped behind a large heap of deposit, leaning her back against a tree.
“What the fuck did you see?” I asked her.
“This,” she started, “is bullshit.”
“What is?” I asked.
“That thing,” she said, gesturing to the lake.
“Take a look,” she said, handing me the scope.
I took it and shuffled up to the ridge of the heap. I put the glass to my eye and scanned the face of the lake. There, standing in the open was a creation I’d never seen anything like. It stood a towering twenty-five feet from head to talon. Its two heads each resembled that of a black Labrador’s. Long necks connected heads with a bulbous body which sprouted a long thick tail and four powerful legs. Black fur covered its entirety while a series of spikes covered the tip of its tail. A simple description would be a double dog-headed furry black dragon.
The clincher came with its forelegs. I watched as the bank where we’d just been laying was barraged by bullets from a rapidly rotating device on one arm and canisters of concentrated combustion from a firing mechanism on the other. After blanketing the target, the dog-dragon charged only to be stopped in its tracks by some sort of invisible wall at the edge of the lake. I thanked the stars for it.
I lowered the scope and rolled onto my back exhaling deeply, “Wheew. That thing is fucked up.”
“See what I was saying?” Madame Madrielle asked, half-extending a hand.
“Yeah..So what are we gonna do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“We need to find its weakness,” offered Janaar.
“Yeah..If it has one,” I scoffed. “That thing is intense..Have you seen it, Janaar?” I asked him, handing over the scope.
“Not well.” He answered, accepting it and creeping to the view point. He put the apparatus to his eye and studied for several minutes. “Yes, this is a formidable opponent. But we can beat it.”
“You think so?” I asked. “What do you suggest?”
He laughed. “We can beat it, I’m just not sure how.”
“Yeah,” I said, lowering my head to the ground, pondering. “Well we still have plenty of explosives..We can give those a shot.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” said Madame Madrielle. “Well..Hopefully it does,” she continued, smiling.
“Bubeya, can you help us out here?” I asked him.
“Yes, su’e. What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“I want you to be our catapult.” I turned from him to Sahra. “Baby, can I use this?” I asked pointing to her bag.
“Yes, of course,” she said, dumping its contents and handing it to me.
“Thank you,” I said, receiving it and sending a smile. “Alright everyone, give me all the dynamite you have,” I said, looking at each group member. “This is it.”
People shifted and a pile of dynamite grew in the center. It was a pretty substantial pile, amounting to about a hundred sticks. I fit every stick in Sahra’s bag but one. It was just big enough.
“Alright, Bubeya..You ready?”
He turned from the observation deck while lowering the spyglass and said, “Yes,” shuffling over on his knees.
I handed him the bag. “I’m going to put this last stick of dynamite in here and..well..you know what to do,” I said, lighting the match. He stood, but kept his level steady by coming directly into a stoop.
I lit the dynamite’s fuse and dropped it into the bag. Bubeya fully erected and slung the bag in one motion. We all scrambled to watch the bag’s effect. It landed just before the monster and slid into contact with one of its front legs.
“Perfect placement,” I said, slapping Bubeya’s hand. “You rock.”
A round of congratulations was made. We turned to see the blast’s aftermath. Nothing. The beast was running along the lake’s side scouting for a source of the attack. It galloped with a fury. Its two heads pivoting and swiveling with a mission.
“Fuck,” I said, lowering. “It didn’t do shit..How could it not do a..goddamn..thing?” I said, slowing my rhthym and pulling out my pocket watch. I popped the top and read the inscription. ‘Bite it right ‘cross the heel’ –KB.
“Can I see that thing?” I asked Madame Madrielle, whose eye was plastered to the spyglass.
“Yeah, sure,” she said, handing it over in defeat.
I targeted the beast and set to scoping its heels. It was on the move, making it difficult to zero in on feet. It’d slowed since its initial post-blast panic, but it was still prowling around. Eventually, I found what I was looking for. A red lever resided on its right back-foot.
“Fuck yeah,” I exclaimed, clenching my fist.
“What?” asked Madame Madrielle.
“It has a weakness,” I said, turning from her to Janaar. “You were right.”
“What is it?” asked Madame.
“It has a red lever on its right back-foot,” I said excitedly. I pulled out my dagger. “I think if I give it a tickle with this, it’ll..die..or..stop or something,” I said uncertainly.
“Oh yeah?” Madame Madrielle said with skepticism. “And what makes you say that?”
I handed her my pocket watch. “This..Read that,” I said, pointing to the writing on the lid’s inside.
“Bite it right ‘cross the heel..KB,” she read aloud. “What’s this?..What is this supposed to mean?”
“That’s my pocket watch..I think it’s referring to the beast ‘cause I checked and there’s a red switch on its back heel,” I said, nodding my head.
She lowered the pocket watch and looked in the direction of the beast. “What makes you think this pocket watch has anything to do with that thing?” she asked, nodding in the direction of the beast.
“See that sprig of wheat in the center of the watch’s dial?”
She looked. “Yeah.”
“It’s the same as the rock carving at the entrance of the path we took.”
She didn’t say anything.
“So this beast can be taken down with a strike to the back heel,” confirmed Janaar.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, nodding.
“So all we need is something to distract it while one of us attacks the heel,” he clarified.
“Yeah..Yeah, I suppose so,” I said, tilting my head and looking off.
With that, Janaar uprighted and jumped over the dirt/leaf/twig mound, sprinting a bee-line towards the lake look-alike.
I rose and shouted, “Wait..What are you doing?”
Janaar was nimble. He bobbed and weaved, darted and dashed his way to and atop the lake. The monster was less than a hundred feet away. It saw him and began chasing whilst firing. I followed. The monster pursued, slinging bullets and explosions, creating a grim wake. Janaar’s speed and agility were impressive, but the beast quickly gained on him. Bullets buried into Janaar’s back and legs, capsizing him. The monster leapt, pinning Janaar between petrified-water and dragon-paw.
One of the two heads bent its neck and ripped Janaar’s head from his body as I approached. I did so stealthily so’s not to disturb the beast. Sweat poured from my pores. I closed in on its hind legs and saw my goal. A red lever with ‘On’ and ‘Off’ at opposing ends. It was in the ‘On’ position, so I flipped it ‘Off’.
There was a guttural deflating that sounded like a hibernating bear’s exhaletory snore with a hint of whistle and the beast ceased movement. I ran to its front where Janaar’d been pinned. Little was left. Nothing more than a bloody mess. I felt sick and turned away. I saw the others approaching.
I wish I’d’ve caught sight of my face. I imagine it as a blend between elation and constipation. Difficult to picture. Which is why I’d like to’ve seen it. Sahra ran up and jumped into my arms. I caught her and pet her dreads.
“What the hell is this thing?” Madame Madrielle questioned, circling the stilled monster.
I turned to her and it. “I don’t know,” I said, walking to it with hand outstretched. Its fur felt like fur, but the skin underneath didn’t give. There was no fleshy elasticity. I knocked on it.
Ding ding ding
“What the fuck?..It sounds like metal,” I said, turning to Madame.
“Yeah, it does.”
She tapped it too.
Ding ding ding
“Huh..That’s weird,” she said. “What is this thing?” she asked, continuing to circle it.
“I don’t know, but check this out,” I said, motioning to the switch I’d offed it with. I bent down to narrow my point.
“What is this?” she asked, leaning in to get a close look.
“This is the switch I hit to stop it.”
“On, Off..What?..You just turned it off?” she asked, looking to me with a confused mug.
“Yeah,” I shrugged.
She stood, backing off to take more of the beast into her periph. She closed in to tap at it again.
I stood and walked to Sahra. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Yes. It is very strange,” she said, looking over it.
“Oh well..It’s beaten. It’s finished. We can get the pencil nowow,” I said, playfully elongating the word ‘now’ while spasmodically caressing her love-handles with the palms of my hands.
“Yes, yes,” she smiled, giving a little bounce.
“Alright. So, where is this thing?” I asked, swinging my head around.
“We saw the light over the lake before, yes?” she said.
“Yeah,” I slowly nodded.
“I have an idea. Follow me,” she said, taking my hand and sprinting off.
Sahra pulled me along to the spot Bubeya’s bomb’d gone off. There was a gaping hole in the lake.
“What if it is down there?” she said, pointing into the hole.
I pondered the possibility, looking up from the hole.
“Yeah, sure. I don’t see why not..It’s worth a try,” I said, staring into her eyes, smiling. I knelt down, then lay on my chest to get a better view of the lake’s innards. “I can see the bottom..I think we can drop down from here.”
I stood while Sahra nodded excitedly. I looked to the remaining crew members and motioned at the hole as they walked toward us. I turned back to Sahra and asked, “Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?”
She offered a grin and gently gestured to her chest. “Can you lower me down, please?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” I said, edging closer. “Here,” I put my hands on her waist as she bent down, then I grabbed her hands. “You ready?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she smiled.
I gave her a kiss and slowly lowered her in. We were at full arm extension when she said, “Let go. I can see the ground.”
“Are you alright?” I asked immediately after letting go.
“Yes, yes. Come down here,” she said with thrill on her tone.
I turned, slid my feet and body in, hung from the edge of the ‘lake’ by my fingers, then dropped. I hit the ground with a light thud. It was stiff, but giving. It could’ve been made of raw dough. I stood exhaling.
“Look over there,” Sahra said. In the dim light I could see her hand point to something at what would be the center of the lake.
There was a gently pulsing and flickering light. Like a distant star.
“What is that?” she asked with an excitement-shaky voice.
“I don’t know. Let’s go find out.” I grabbed her hand and started walking.
The walk turned into a jog then a run as we closed in. My heart was pumping and my mind was mush. It’s hard to say if I had a million thoughts careening through my brain or none at all. My mind was a vacuum offering little resistance. There was nothing but lucidity.
Nearing, we instinctually slowed our pace. There was a subtle rise leading up to a single podium. The podium seemed to be a light source. It slightly lit the surroundings and the contents on top.
“What is that?” I heard from behind me.
I turned and saw the shadowed figures of Madame Madrielle and the others approaching.
“Not sure,” I said absent-mindedly and turned back. Guess it wasn’t lucidity.
On the podium sat a small cubic wooden-box hollowed and holding something. ‘Pp’ was engraved on one side. Inside resided a single item. I picked up the cubic cup and withdrew the object within. It was a thin yellow cylinder about six inches long. One end was sharpened to a point while the other had a pink piece fastened by a strip of polished metal. The pink component was soft but resilient. At the end of the object, near the pink thing and its metal strip, was branded a number two.
I tossed it up a couple times to get a feel for it then turned, smiling wide. All atrocities’d been forgotten.
“Alright. Who wants first crack at this thing?”
I stood over the blazing heat, sweating something dreadful. From the time I’d decided, it had taken almost a year’s journey to get to that spot. A rocky crag overlooking the lava lake of Erta Ale in Ethiopia.
I looked at the pencil held in my right hand. I closed my fist around it and turned to Bubeya. He’d stood by my side through the whole thing. The only friend I had left. After everything he remained.
I thought of all the pencil’d brought me and I grimaced. The faux family members that neither sounded nor seemed the same. The piles of gold that brought nothing but greed and bloodlust from others. The murder of my wife, Sahra, and my friend, Madame Madrielle.
I touched the scar on my neck and shuddered. I tried handing the pencil to Bubeya. He refused, saying, “You do it.”
I looked into the bubbling fury. “Finally,” I thought. I gripped the pencil tightly, sweat squelching. I brought my left arm up and wiped my brow to clear the perspiration. On the way down, my arm slowed so its hand could wipe the corners of my mouth. I looked at Bubeya. He nodded. I turned to the fiery pit and opened my hand to once again look at its contents.
“You’ve plagued me for too long. It’s over,” I said, tossing the pencil in.