Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gone, a suspense story.

          In the distance they could see her. She looked like a tiny spot, rising and falling; on the crest of one wave, and disappearing in the trough behind the next. As they sailed closer, they could make out what it was. It was a dory. On the transom was written “Mary Celeste.” There was no one on board.
          No one had heard from the Mary Celeste for many years, and now this dory appears. They hauled her aboard and headed back to dock. They’ll never know the story I can tell.
          We were thirteen days out of New York, somewhere south of Bermuda. Yeah, that’s right, the Bermuda Triangle. There were 10 on board, 8 crew and 2 passengers. We should never have taken on those passengers.
          It came like a ghost from the north, white squall. The seas picked up in a heart beat; 40 to 60 feet. They came at us from all directions! We were rolling like a top that has lost its spin. The cargo shifted. We were listing badly. The Captain knew that we were gonna capsize and called “Abandon ship.”
          I scrambled to the life boats, pushing to get in front of everyone else for a chance to board. Suddenly the ship lurched to leeward, heavy seas washed the decks, dories crashed over each other and into the sea. I heard the wrench of wood splitting as our hopes of survival turned into kindling. All but one disappeared under the waves. [1]
          The passengers were terrified, scraming to be heard over the din, “Help Me!” The crew knew what to do. I couldn’t swim, no one could. I looked around for something that would float, anything.  I grabbed an empty keg and over the side I went.
          Down into the cold water I sank; down, down, down, clawing at the seas, clawing for air; losing grip of the hope that I carried from the ship. My face broke the surface and I inhaled a lung full of spray as I tried to cling to  that bit of life that I still had. Groping for that keg, my fingers pushed it further away as my hands swept the murky water in front of me.
          The dory was empty, the wind was carrying it away across the waves. Men were watching it recede in terror. Suddenly a face appeared out of the water, coming up from the bottom. Was he one of the passengers? He seemed to appear from the sea. No one had seen him before. He grabbed me by the collar and dragged me toward the fleeing dory.
          When I finally clambered into the dory, there were 5 men already on board.  That passenger was a young fella, about my age. That made 7 in a dory big enough for two fishermen.  We were cramped like bodies thrown into a pit, sitting on top of  each other, getting washed by the cole, salty seas crashing over the gunnels. It was pitch dark. I couldn’t see the sky. The North Star wasn’t there. I never knew where I was, or where I was going. I never guessed that I was going to hell.
          I forgot to bring either food or water. There was only the harpoon. I thought that I might catch enough to stay alive. I couldn’t.  It turned out that the harpoon was used for something much more sinister.
          The days passed. The sun burned my skin,  my eyes started to protrude from my head as dehydration took hold. I looked like death. I was wondering who would be the first to die. Starvation is not a pretty way to go. I had seen it before. No rations, no hope, except... fish and birds would have to suffice for now, if I could catch any.
          The rising and falling of the seas had a sedating effect on me, and I would drift in and out of consciousness. Sometimes I would spy a fish, and I’d grab the harpoon, throwing it madly at any target, hoping to get some food. Sometimes the harpoon would find it’s target, staining the sea red with blood, I would eat for a while. With my belly full, I would plan what I would do when I returned to New York; plan the wonderful feast that would be waiting for me. After a few days the stench of the drying meat turned what little I had into chum, as I retched any morsels that entered my stomach.
          Up and down, awake, asleep; dreaming, always dreaming. Dreaming of roast beef, of kegs of ale, of warm sheets; dreaming of someone standing over me with the harpoon pointed at my heart; waking up with my heart pounding so hard it would choke me.
          That young fella spoke only to me. He’d lean over and whisper in my ear,  “That man over there, the one with the mustache, he’s evil. He gonna kill you tonight when you’re sleepin. Then he’s gonna eat you. You have to do somethin before he kills us all.“ I looked at him, I could see myself reflected in his eyes. I scowled at him, and turned toward the horizon, looking for something that might bring hope, looking for something...
          The men were splayed about in the boat. No one spoke. We each looked at the other, like they might to be our next dinner. “Come on Luc, see if you can catch us somethin else to eat.”
          The weakness went into my bones. Dazed. Longing for an end to this torture. I could see people walking toward the boat. Were they walking on the water? How could they do that? Were they carrying the carcass of a hog, or was it something else?
          One night, I rolled on to the harpoon. It stuck me in the leg. I could see my blood starting to stain my pants. How much blood could I lose before I would die? Everyone else was asleep. I decided. I started with the oldest fisherman. I knew he wouldn’t survive. At least that is what I thought. I grabbed the harpoon. It was quick, in the heart, then cut off the flesh and throw the carcass overboard. The fish went crazy eating that old guy. The others said nothing when they woke up. I laid the meat all over the boat, letting it dry in the sun. When I got hungry, I just had to reach for a slice, and chew.           I cut up his clothes to make line, and tied bits on the harpoon for bait. I used him for about 8 days. Everyone ate. Then the starving began again.
          I don’t know what was worse, the thirst, the hunger, or thinking that the other guys are looking at you; wondering if they were thinking the same thing I was. I knew what I had to do to stay alive. Draw Straws! I shaved sticks off the gunnel. I picked one. I was safe, so was that passenger. The others weren’t. We ate again. The crew got fewer.
          Nights the passenger would sit beside me. He and I would take turns sleeping; keeping watch on our hide, keeping the harpoon in easy reach.
          The days and nights rolled across the sky, the stars appeared to dance around. Polaris would be at the bow one day, and at the stern another. There would be wild winds and calm days, for days and days. I tied a shirt to the shaft of the harpoon to try to catch some wind. I was too emaciated to hold it up. Time to eat again. There were only two left, me and the passenger.
          At night, I would look at the stars. He would look into the water. He said that the others were following us, that he coud see them in the water, that their bones were caught on the hull of the dory, and it was slowing us down. Neither of us could sleep. There was no trust. He looked at me, I looked at him. I no longer spoke, I no longer planned who would be next. There was no planning. It was certainty. It was just us.
          I held fast to the harpoon. I knew that if I could hold on to the harpoon, that he wouldn’t kill me. I was not going to be anyone’s filet. I dozed.
          He was coming toward me, fire in his eyes. I looked into his eyes, and saw insanity. I knew that he was going to kill me. We fought for the harpoon, and it flew over the side. We both reached for it. I fell in. I grabbed him. He laughed and said, “So, you think you finally got me. I’ll see you in hell!”
          I grabbed the harpoon. I stabbed him. He held on to me as the life seeped out of him. I was dying too. How did I get this wound?  I couldn’t get free of his grasp. Slowly I sank to the bottom. There was no other. There was only me and the devil.      

[1] Dories will still be strapped to the decks of freighters and fishing boats to be used in case of emergency. They are still the finest seaboats ever built they ranged in size from 12 to 28 feet. The most common was the 12 foot Bank’s Dory that held to fishermen and all their gear. This same boat was also roomy enough to hold their catch of fish. The 12 foot Dory at all other dories had their lengths measured by the length of their bottoms. The 12 footer was actually 15′6″ overall length. The other most popular away for a Dory was the so-called Newfoundland Dory that measured 15 feet on their bottom.

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