Sunday, 1 May 2011

Something a little bit nautical

So as you are all well aware, the royal wedding happened yesterday. I didn’t watch it, because I think the very fact that we have a royal family is an abhorrent affront to justice and democracy. Wait, that sounds familiar… bugger, I’ve done this before. Well, this is awkward.

Here’s the prologue to a series of short stories that I want to write about a recurring character.

“Captain! Captain! Over there, on the starboard side! Look! On that island, there’s a person on that island!” Jamie yelled, his bare feet slapping on the wooden deck as he ran towards the captain. “It’s a little girl! We have to save her.”

 “No Jamie, we don’t. Best that we stay away from her,” the Captain replied, punctuating the last word with spite.

 “But, she’s just a little girl, she’ll die out here. That’s barely an island, it just a rock. You can’t leave her there.”

 “I can, cabin boy, and I will. She’s more trouble than she’s worth, that little girl.”

 “How do you know? She’s just a little girl.”

 The captain turned to look at him, a deadly serious expression fixed to his grizzled face. “She’s more that just a little girl, boy. I’ve been sailing for longer than you’ve been alive, trust me, you don’t want to get involved with that girl. The seas are vast and mysterious; they hide secrets and truths that no mere mortal can understand. We are only a tiny spec, travelling in something so vast that we cannot even begin to comprehend it. We are strangers here, travellers, alive only by the grace of the seas. There are things out there that don’t want us to be here and will do all they can to get rid of us. Trust me when I tell you that little girl is one of them. Now get out of my sight and don’t think on her any longer.”

 “Yes, captain,” Jamie said quickly and scampered off again, avoiding the starboard side of the ship. He went down below deck and started on some chores, trying not to think on what the captain had said.

 Not long after, Jim Porter lowered himself down the ladder and sat close to him, fiddling with an old pocket watch. Jim was as old as anyone on board and had been sailing for as long as anyone could remember. There wasn’t a lot about the sea that old Jim didn’t know.

“Don’t let the captain scare you, boy,” he began in a husky voice, “that girl’s not as bad as he makes out.”

 Jamie looked into the ruddy sailor’s face. No matter what expression he wore, Jim always looked ugly. His smile was broken by a rude scar that rose from his chin all the way through his mouth and up through his right eye, dissecting the closed and ugly socked. He had lost most of his teeth as well and half he left ear had been chopped off. “What do you mean?” Jamie asked.

 “That girl doesn’t cause anyone, any harm. She only tells them what harm will befall them. She’s a prophetess, as old as time itself, appearing to sailors and telling them of all the ills that will befall them. Nothing you can do will stop her prophecies from coming true.

 “When I was barely older than you, a ship I was sailing in, The Duchess I think, picked her up once. She was sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean, just like you saw. We brought her on board, despite the warnings from some of the older crew members. She didn’t say a word, so we assumed that she spoke another language, or was dumb or something. Even so, we fed her and gave her something to drink and she seemed content enough. Some of the men, though, looked into her eyes and swore they saw hatred dancing in them. That night, she came to Bill Jameson, a new sailor, just like I was at the time and spoke to him in riddles. I was sitting right next to him and I remember her words like it was yesterday.

 “‘Homeward bound, William?’ she whispered. He tried to speak, but she cut him off. ‘Your house is a home no longer, brittle, broken by lust and hate. You should never have gone to sea, William Jameson. The flames of hate will consume you, butcher.’ She told him, spite in her voice. Bill just sat there, unable to say a word. She walked away and none of the crew saw her again that night.

 “When we got back to port, Bill went home – he was married, with a little daughter and wanted to see them again more than anything, more than he wanted to get drunk with the rest of the crew. Well, he came back not long after and launched into the rum like no-one else. Didn’t say a word to anyone, just drank till he could barely stand, then he left with a pistol in his hand. Later we found out that he’d gone home to find it empty. A neighbour had told him that his wife had gone off with an old friend of his who’d promised to look out for her for him. Apparently she couldn’t bear to be away from him for so long while he was at sea. So he got blind drunk, took a pistol and hunted them down. Shot them all, his wife, his friend, his own daughter, then put a bullet in his own head, all as the little girl has predicted, if you think about it.”

 “Who is she?” Jamie asked, his chores forgotten.

 “No-one knows for sure. Some say she’s a witch, some say she’s a demon, some say she’s a goddess, some say she’s just a damaged little girl. All I know is that she don’t like sailors much and enjoys telling them that evil is coming their way. Best not to go near her, boy, she’ll only tell you what you don’t wanna hear.”

 “But surely what she says is going to happen whether she says it or not.”

 “True,” Jim paused for a moment, “thing is, poor Bill fretted for the rest of the journey home, wondering what she meant. Some of the older sailors told us all about the girl and Bill was filled with the worse sense of dread over what she meant. That’s why he hurried home so fast. That’s not something you want to be tortured with for any amount of time.”

 “Is that why the captain snapped at me like that?” Jamie asked, the thought occurring to him out of nowhere.

 Old Jim roared with laughter. “Well, boy, you do see some things, don’t you? More that just a slight hand and a turn of speed on you, eh boy? You’ve got something up here that most sailors wish they had,” old Jim tapped his head a couple of times. “You’ll go far on the high seas, boy, I can see that now. You’re right, of course, the captain’s seen that little girl before, years ago. He’d never told anyone what she told him, but he’s been mighty cautious ever since, watching over his shoulder, looking for something to come and be the death of him. Not many of the crew know this, though, it’s no good for sailing if you think your skipper’s got a bloody destiny to look forward to.”

 “Aren’t you afraid of what’ll happen, Jim?”

 Jim shrugged. “whatever happens, happens. I’ve been in plenty of storms and fights, seen plenty of dark destinies envelop ships and crews. I figure if it’s my time to go as well, I might as well go without trying to run from it. I’ve seen too many men run from that little girl’s words to know it never ends well.”

 With that, Jim rose and climbed the ladder back up on deck. Jamie returned to his chores and tried to get the image of that poor little girl sitting helplessly on the rock out of his head.

Obviously the girl is the recurring character. She had an interesting story that I’d love to tell, and there are a lot of other stories about her that I want to tell as well, obviously most of them won’t end particularly well…

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