By William Mills
Story 3 Rum-the old enemy
Her hands were tied above her head on the cabin floor. A glance confirmed her feet were also shackled.
Her eyes were closed. Her skin shimmered as if with fever or, oh horror was it the waxiness of death? Yet a dew drop clung to her nose.
As I stumbled down the companionway steps my foot caught sending me spiralling towards her, my knees and wrists stinging as they broke my fall. Beneath me she was still. My eyes starred in disbelief at the stain spreading out across the carpet. My ears ringed with the cry of the seagulls as if in unison they screamed; “Oh foulness.”
It had all started long ago. One evil wet night, the rain sheeting down, and the bar manager outside lifting the shutters up to cover the windows in preparation for the oncoming gale, I was sitting in the Admiral Benbow, although these days they call it the Yacht Club.
Swilling my rum around the glass I was looking at the dark liquid which is the beholder of so much pleasure and pain, when Jamie staggered back in shaking the rain from him.
The Sailing Adventures of William
“You best be following Pete and making your way home before the wind comes.” He said, trying to look concerned for my welfare. In truth he was ready to call it a night.
In times gone by the wind would have whistled down the chimney blowing clouds of damp, choking smoke in our faces. Now, the bar manager turns down the heating thermostat in our smoke free environment.
I was ready for one last raucous chorus of ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest..’ But I staggered to the door and out into the night. ‘So much for all our mod cons.’ I thought. The rain stung my eyes just as it would have done 300 years ago.
I walked down to the jetty and stepped heavily into my wooden row boat. It lurched with my weight as I cast off and pulled hard on the oars. With a soft bump I reached the Barcy and hauled myself up over the coaming and down again into the cockpit of my floating home.
I stumbled down the steps into the cabin and lit the hurricane lamp. I lay down, my eyes alternating between the spitting hiss of the flame and the vodka bottle in my hand. Paraffin smells mixed with the pungent aroma emitting from my pipe as I used up the last of my stash.
‘Blind Pete has got some wacy bacy.’ I thought. He is not really blind but someone smashed up his face on account of him being an awkward sod.
Beaufort wind scale
I rolled out of my bunk and made it back onto deck. The wind had risen significantly making the rigging whine as it does when it blows harder than a six. Admiral Beaufort had devised that scale of his back in 1805 but its had a few changes over the years since.
Before then real mariners had measured the wind speed by the feel of it on the stump of their arm, and how quickly the smoke cleared from the muzzle of a gun.
You have never really been to sea until you have smelt the smell of burnt powder and seen a rough hemp rope around a sunburnt neck.
I fell more than climbed down into the tender. My befuddled mind was dimly aware my feet were in water more than ankle deep.
I was quickly blown away from the boat where I’ve lived these last three years since I got back from the Caribee. Even its ten ton 32’ foot hull heeled as the gusts pummelled it.
A passing thought questioned the wisdom of my midnight adventure. But madness is a state of mind and not of the sea on the old Admiral’s scale.
As I sat there in my little row boat pondering the perils of life I fear I must have succumbed to the evils of the drink and nodded off. A sharp forward and aft rocking motion shocked me from my revels. It could only mean one thing. The ebb tide had drifted me towards the harbour entrance and as soon as I left the shelter of the wall I would be exposed to the full force of the elements.
I fearfully peered over my shouldered as this rushing sound swept down upon me drenching me in cascading water as the wave broke.
In my state it was beyond me to comphrend my own folly. Davy Jones’ locker was starring me in the face.
Sure enough in that moment of my terror a bolt of lightning tore across the sky. “Oh horror!” I cried.
For I beheld an apparition in that split second of clarity. Illuminated before me was a white three masted barque. All ghostly pale the Flying Dutchman was before me. That ghost ship condemned to sail for all eternity around the world ever denied a port to call its own.
Another wave crashing over the side of my now dangerously flooded conveyance brought me back to my own predicament. The water was now above my waist. I looked back to where I had seen my future only moments before. Expecting to see nothing but black sea replacing my imagination’s fantasy, I starred awe struck as this black hull headed straight for me. So huge, I at first didn’t hear the hail from above.
“Catch Mister!” The voice cried. There was the slap of a rope landing over my head. Quickly I coiled my hands in its loops hoping to enmesh myself before the strain came. Grimly I clung on as the weight of the passing ship tore me from my sinking platform. My arms felt like the time I was questioned upon the rack, but that tale is for another time, dear reader.
I was dangling from the rope around my arms. One moment I was lifted clear of the water and next firmly sat down by my seat with the sea tearing by. I squealed with terror.
A gun port opened and an arm coiled about me. I could feel the thick sinewy muscle bodily pulling me in from the sea. But was it towards safety or a more hideous death than drowning?
I found myself lying on a bunk. My eyes adjusted to the warm glow which lit the cabin. On the opposite side a woman was sitting upright. Her blonde hair was swept back to the nape of her neck revealing small stud earrings. Her lips were of the full red variety. My eyes slip momentarily down towards to her open blouse before darting back to her piercing stare.
“That was a stupid thing to do. Being in out in a night like this.” She said in English. Her accent was foreign and her tone sharp. “Give me your hand.”
Without waiting for a reply she grasped my wrist and plunged a small hypodermic syringe into the back of my hand. I struggled for a moment before again being caught in her hypnotic gaze.
“What is it?” I mumble.
“Morphine.” She replies. “If we wanted to kill you, why pick you up?”
‘Why indeed!’ My thoughts wandered. First I was looking a long way down to the cabin floor. Then I was upon it looking up. ‘Hey, this stuff beats Blind Pete’s wacy bacy anytime.’ Was my last memory before drifting into unconsciousness.
Everything was very still. I was lying on my side in bed. I tried opening one eye, then the other. Daylight flooded through the porthole. I was in the lower bunk, the upper one a few inches above my head. I stretched out a leg, my bed was short as well as narrow.
‘So is a coffin.’ I mused. But then the living have the advantage of being able to do something about it. Throwing back the coverings I explored the idea of standing up.
My clothes were bundled up before me. Bending down was an experience but by the time my belt was buckled I was up for looking in a mirror. ‘No, don’t over do it.’ I reconsidered.
I tiptoed into a passageway that led to a ladder. The sound of the seagulls is the same which ever country you visit, or century you find yourself living in.
Climbing upon the deck I was momentarily blinded by the light. The ship was rigged as an old fashioned three masted schooner, the rearmost being the highest. We were tied to a wall in a familiar harbour. ‘It’s Dieppe.’ I thought. I gingerly stepped into the wheelhouse.
“Hello!” I called as softly as possible not wanting to be heard. Plucking up courage I tried again a bit louder. My voice echoed back to me through the stillness of the silent air.
Like the Mary Celeste the ship was abandoned. Not a soul on board. But this was in the middle of a busy port. Standing on the foredeck pondering my next actions I spied a hatchway I hadn’t noticed before, which probably led to the cable locker or a forward crew’s cabin.
Kneeling, I squinted below. I could see the legs and torso of a woman lying on the floor. I started to clamber down then stopped in horror as I realised she was bound hand and foot. I fell the last few rungs and knelt above her.
Suddenly there were stamps on the deck above and the sounds of trampling feet.
‘Oh God. They still have the guillotine in France.’ With this thought I let out a wailing screech louder than any seagull.
The footsteps above paused. Then a shout and the sound of running feet and the hatch above me was pulled up. With my discovery imminent I froze where I was; on all fours between the legs of a woman with my hands astride her waist immersed in her blood powerless to move.
What happened next? Coming soon……..further Sailing adventures of William.