Ship

~ a short story

~ art by Henry Moore

Rumbling roils slammed into their collective psyche. The table shook and nearly shattered. Swaying glows from the ceiling of the inner chamber’s lantern reflected the madness in their eyes. They flicked them to and fro, mirroring the waves that jarred them.

They looked to the captain and to his gun and to his blade. Back and forth between them they went, measuring his resolve and the distance to him and to the door back to the deck in equivalent measure.

Captain Foe’s hand slammed upon the table and resettled the attention of each of the men.

“‘Here there be monsters,’ they say… Aye, we’re beyond the edge ‘o the map we are.”

The four mates were silent as their captain eyed them to unknown ends. His flamboyant hat had been displaced to the waves, during the storm which had triggered this whole mess. Underneath it, the mates saw the loosely gnarled strands of hair, what little was left, upon the bald crown of his reddening head. Through his black beard, came the checkered presence and absence of his teeth in a mad smile. The metallic charms and buckles upon his working suit jangled as he aimed his hands toward them, a weapon in each and ready to go. One could not tell if the man drew breath at all, so frantic were his movements. Unblinking eyes kept a train on them and their restraints. How did he manage to knock us all out and restrain us to these chairs? was a common thought among the four shipmates now in this predicament.

“And now I got one of them before me, don’t I? … A monster!” Captain Foe barked hoarsely. One of the mates, Jacks, believed he saw blood trickle from the corner of his mouth, but he quickly lapped it up with a lashing of his tongue. The remainder would’ve fallen into the recesses of his beard, had it been there in the first place. Jacks had come to be unable to trust in his eyes over the last two sunrises upon the ship. He’d found out the hard way that negligence can kill. And if you stay up long enough, shadows start to move. And they can kill too.

“Too much fuckery to account for, ain’t there?” Foe shouted, beginning to pace around the table around his men. The trickling light from the lantern splayed upon him, presenting him as a spectre in the ambience. A spectre inquiring of us as monsters, ha. Tomas chuckled at the thought as he surreptitiously tugged at the ropes at his wrists. The expert snugness of the knots there, though unseen, did indicate at least a passing coherence to Foe’s machinations here. Nevertheless, Tomas intended on killing him as soon as he was free. Take control of the ship and end this madness, one way or another. He ties us here for a final confrontation. Well, it’s not going to go how you think it will, Cap! For every lurching tug and associated grunt of his efforts he did his best to coincide with the roil and boom of the ocean’s storming.

“Someone… or something is playin’ tricks!” Foe shouted into the face of the third man, Killingsworth. He raised his fingers in a count-off and lowered them back around the blade in his left hand as he spoke, “A slash in the mast, keepin’ us left. Along with the storm, the wind and tide takin’ us to god knows where! Two of me deckmen slain, their bodies mutilated to a bloody oblivion. Gah! And three chests of booty lifted overboard… or secreted into a chamber known only to a few … or one! A secret mutiny out o’ of the four of ya, is that it?” Foe paused to inspect the men. They were silent or grumbling, or with eyes downcast. “Or just a one? I’m gonna finda the truth, oh yes.” The Captain brandished his blade at eye level to Killingsworth, and then, when the man did not appropriately flinch, he drew it to the fourth man, Honer.

Killingsworth was not a superstitious man. The strange occurrences on the ship, to him, were the work of one of these four men. Not him. Maybe even the Captain, who was either mad or intending to scapegoat one of them to take the blame for his own strange crimes. To what end? That was the part Killingsworth hadn’t cracked. The sabotage to the ship’s bearing and the killings of their hands needed to possibly aright themselves back home, amidst this kind of storm, it was likely they were now doomed. The saboteur had killed himself along with the rest of them. The boat rocked once more, his chair scraped against the wood. Heavy rain pounded down onto the walls of the cabin. Were they doomed?

Honer was a superstitious man. And so, he spoke his mind.

“It’s a ghost! We’re on a haunted ship, Cap!”

Foe kept his blade at his throat. “Ya got some kind of insight into the paranormal, Honny? You stared into the void of the other side, have ye?”

Honer swallowed and almost nodded vigorously, before realizing it would bleed him out. “Ever since we returned from Shang, from out of that jungle … strange things been happenin’. Accursed things! No explanation save that the ship is haunted … or we are!”

“I knew it!” seethed Foe. His blade went away from Honer’s throat for the moment.

“What do we do?” screamed Jacks from across the table. “Tell us, Honer! Now!” He was frantic, his eyes wavering with a blinding wakefulness to the scene at hand. We are all going to die. We are all going die, he repeated to himself. He wished he could just kill Foe before they sank. That was Jacks only wish. He hated the bastard. Calls himself Captain but canno’ even keep his head in a storm.

Tomas began to laugh. The others stared his way, watching the man break. In truth, he used his laugh as a mask to his exertions. His shirt ripped at the seams where his biceps were hiding and his bindings were nearly free.

“I have a few ideas,” proclaimed Killingsworth. He angled to make eye contact with Foe. He feigned insights of his own into their predicament, ultimately hoping for Cap to release him so that he might make it to a lifeboat before it was too late. How close to land were they? Not close. Better than staying here though…

“Well… Let’s hear em, matey!” said Foe, with arms wide, his breath still spilling onto Honer’s face.

“Honer! How in god’s name do we exorcise our demon!” repeated Jacks with desperation nearing to weeping.

“We need to … kill the Captain. He’s our daemon. He is our deliverance from this hell!” screamed Honer. “He-

Honer’s next words ended in a gurgle as Foe drove the blade into his throat with ease. Jacks gasped. Killingsworth shut his eyes and thought of a new plan. Foe kept his eyes trained on the life draining from his mark. Honer smiled and blood poured from his lips. Foe drew back in revulsion. At his back, Tomas finished his maniacal laugh with a yell and a lurch over the table, both hands free and grasping at the back of Foe’s neck. A chill ran down Foe’s spine, and on instinct, he looked back to the suddenly open door of the cabin. Moonlight spilled onto the floor there, along with an overflow of rainwater. Standing in the door way were two short silhouettes.

“Dee and Dom?” he whispered. The two deck boys, they were alive after all! Foe blinked, and they were gone, backdropped by a stroke of blood red lightning in the darkening sky beyond. He despaired as he choked at the sight of the omen. “Infernal foes! Damn you back to the depths!” The Captain fired his flintlock into the darkness and the rain, hoping to dissuade the demons from entering. If they hadn’t already…

Startled at the shot but committed to the murder, Tomas wrapped his fingers around the Captain’s neck. Even as he pressed the fullness of his strength upon Foe’s windpipe, he drew out a simple realization that had been gnawing at him during the commotion but had yet to fully materialize.

Who was steering the ship?

It was then the whole boat bellowed in a crash. Jacks fell to his side, still tied to his chair, weeping. Water washed onto his face and he didn’t bother to move his head. Killingsworth picked himself up, bum still in the chair, and ran for the open doorway. Tomas, before fully finishing the job, ran to the threshold too. He needed to gain control of the boat before …

Landfall.

When the two men emerged from inside the cabin, the skies were clear and cloudless. A full moon, orange and red and screaming for their eyes to sight it was lofted there. A sprawling beach lay below the stern, and beyond it, a city amongst trees. All throughout the jungle were spires of gold. They sparkled in the moonlight. Killingsworth began to laugh aloud. Tomas just shook his head and inspected the boat’s landing. Not a crash, but a landing. How had they come ashore so cleanly? At their back, Foe carried Jacks over his shoulder, who was coughing up seawater but was very much alive. The four of them stood along the prow for many moments, staring out at their find in newfound peace.

“Gentleman…” Cap began, gathering himself. “Looks like the madness of that storm brought us to a city of gold! We’re going to be rich!”

“A magic storm!” whispered Jacks, holding on to the last vestiges of his mind. Killingsworth and Tomas had their arms around one another.

Foe felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned toward it.

“My glory! What a sight for sore eyes!” came a gurgling voice at their back.

All four of the mates turned. Standing behind them was a spectral figure. Honer, blood still flowing freely from the gash in his neck, stood there smiling, eyeing the gold same as them with pupils white as milk.

In an instant, all four of the men threw up their hands in fright and fell overboard. ~