Down by the Dock

Our Sailor took the old man up on his offer, after a cup or two of coffee, his wits slowly returned. He had reached the resolve that he had been acting foolish this morning and felt ashamed that such sloth and villainy of carousing had taken him so far into the throes of a depression, not to mention causing him to miss his ship. He still felt like crap, but self-aware crap at least.

The words of the old man at the dock were running through his mind as he sipped down the  hot revitalizing beverage. Who was that old man?  How could he have come across him, right in his moment of need? What enterprise would cause a captain to search for his own crew, and such a desperate crewhand such as our sailor was? He did not design to think too much about it, a gift horse in the mouth and all that. Still, he seemed a curious little fellow and, as our sailor downed the last of his coffee, grounds and all, the old man’s curious style and what he had said compelled him to at least  go down to the dock at the mentioned time and get a measure of what kind of ship the old man ran and what company it would keep. If travels made way back towards friendlier waters, it might be his only chance in months or even a year to get off of this remote outpost town.

The winds of the day were rising with the sun. In little time he made his way back down the docks and rounded the warehouse on dock 7.  Moored to the peir was not a brig at all, but a sleek and relatively thin three-masted schooner bobbing and creaking on the slight waves.  He looked upon the ship and it seemed such a strange vessel from the stout and bloated craft he was used to seeing at home. Even here, this craft was unusually slim and beautiful in its sleek stance. Atop its deck was erected a stately and comforting looking cabin with rows of glass windows. The sails were rolled against the masts and it looked like a comfortable boat at least. Written over the back was the word “Wanderlust”. He swept his gaze to the gangplank and the dock where stood a queer assortment of individuals.

Eleven were made by his count, of people clad in such disparate garb as one dark-skinned woman with a long, loose, hooded garment that came down to her ankles with full sleeves. Her hood was down and showed her smooth skin-shaved head and she seemed to carry some kind of pack on her back. There were two tall, they must have been at least 6″7′, Scandinavian men with hair so blonde the strands seemed to radiate in the sunlight, their pale skin was reddened by the tropical sun and they stood silent and grimacing together with deep-cut wrinkled faces cast in their own shadow. They wore simple woolen tunics, one blue and one green. A child no more than 11 or 12 stood stoutly garbed like a pirate might with silk scarves and ornaments and even a pistol braced on his chest. There were then five sailors that our own sailor might have called “normal” on the first inspection. They were clad in boots and jackets of a similar in type to his own, he saw then that there was among them a tan Spaniard with black hair, a young lad with curly red hair,  an old man with long, greasy grey hair, a burly man with a massive gut but supported well by the rest of his frame, so it seemed, and a thin-faced man with brown hair who crouched atop a nearby barrel. These individuals stood about on the dock, not talking to one another, but seemed to be waiting on the words of the two remaining individuals: An individual with such broad shoulders and a puffing chest, it took a closer inspection to see that she was, in fact, a woman of such massive frame in a kind of officers coat, hat, and dressed smartly. Behind her was a sober and thin looking man in a long black coat, he stood cleaning his spectacles.

Our sailor made his way to the group and saw that the old man from earlier was exiting the cabin to stand up on the deck, the small man was smoking his pipe and took a moment to exchange a few words with the black-coated man. Our sailor walked up to the group of disparate people and came first upon the bald woman in the red hooded garb.

“Hello.” he said to her after a moment, “Is this some kind of passanger ship?”

She glanced in his direction and said “La tatahadath maei.”

He was taken aback and resolved to be silent.

“She says don’t talk to her.” Came the deep voice of one of the nearby Scandinavians, the one in the green shirt. The tree of a man did not uncross her arms or look back to our sailor but remained with as solemn a look as ever could.

“Oh.” Our sailor said.

“She don’t speak the King’s.” The red-haired lad interjected. ” Not sure, maybe she’s in the wrong port.” He began poking her shoulder as though she were an oddity. “My name’s Kib, Don’t know how the Norwegian knows her demon tongue, but he don’t speak much o’ anything I’m sure there’s a good reason to bring-”

The woman spun around and slapped his hand away and spoke sternly into his face, “La talmus ‘aya waqt madaa!”

Her dark eyes stunted the lad, striking him to paralysis down to his feet. He shook where he stood under her lasting gaze. Our sailor laughed at the stricken Kib with his bugged eyes.

The Scandinavian leaned over Kibs shoulder in his pose. “She said don’t ever touch her again.”

Kib put his hands up “No harm done, no harm done. Will you tell her Norwegian? Tell her I’m sorry.”

“Yaqul altifl ‘iinah asif.” The scandinavian said.

She did not take her gaze off from Kib for a beat before looking up to the scandinavian and nodding and turning her back to Kib.

The red-haired lad put a hand on his heart. “Lord above, I’d swear she put some spell on me.”

Our sailor was thoroughly amused, he had met enough young lads who go about the world as though it were something to poke fun at, all too often they met with the teeth of their own ignorance to how things worked. Still, he began to wonder if such a strange collection were to crew the ship or if they were merely passengers. Perhaps both.

He was about to inquire to the scandinavian how he had come to learn such a strange language and what tongue it was, for the bald woman before him evoked such an alluring curiosity of someone he had never seen before. He would have liked to know what lands she was from, but before he could ask, the large woman in the officer’s uniform on the gangplank spoke in a deep commanding voice.

“Captain Tilluck will see you one at a time to add you to the ledger. This man next to me is Dr. Lunding, he will write your names down and in his book, you’ll make your mark if allowed. The pay is for the passage and for each passage only of 30 marks per passage, if that doesn’t suit you forgotten lot, then you can wait for the next ship or otherwise begone. Each sailor on this vessel is expected to work to make their keep and pay. That’s for the captain to decide. The first passage is around the horn, so it is not for the faint of heart, but it is up to you whether you sign on. Furthermore, if you are signed on, you are bound to-”

She trailed off, as her eyes glared down at the young child with the pistol.

“What are you doing here?”

The kid jumped up onto a barrel. “I’m gonna be a pirate!”

This elicited laughs from everyone who spoke English, in the case of the bald woman, the scandinavian translated for her and she put a hand up to her mouth with pitying eyes.

The big woman in the officer’s uniform laughed heartily. “Get away with you, this is no place for a child, where are your parents?”

The child spit onto the dock. “I ran away and if ye won’t let me come then I’ll have to shoot!”

WIth that, the kid took up the pistol on his shirt and pointed it at the woman. Her eyes flashed wide and a moment later the hammer hit home in the child’s pistol. Nothing happened.

“HA! you’re dead now, Now I’m the captain!”

An uneasy silence pervaded except for the blue-shirted scandinavian and the man on the barrel and Kib who roared with laughter while the big woman glowered at the child. In a swift motion, she stepped off the gangplank, hefted the kid up with one arm by the seat of his pants and pitched him and his pistol with one arm into the water. The kid made a splash off the end of the dock and bobbed up a moment later, his little face redder than a storm bouy.

“Get on now, I don’t want to see you back here again! You wet little rat!”

The kid swam down to the next dock and climbed up, dripping out of sight…

 

 

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The Cousin of Death.

 

The sun speckled on the warm waters off the port. The ships were already stirring with the bustle of morning activity of sailors unfurling sails out in the bay and loading the lazes of their hulks still at the dock. The shouts and cries, the whistles of the bosun and the motion of the daily human feat seemed to be in full swing through the sun was still low on the horizon and the waking earth had seemed to only just be blinking open its eyes to the curious busy creatures among their floating oak towers and tiny crafts.

He had awoken in his bed, under the warm covers in the cool morning air, bottles of grog and rum strewn about the small room like so many moments taken from his memory or wit by the vile drink . Pressing him into the straw was a great melancholia and keeping his feet plunged under his woolen blankets was a paralyzing hesitation to embark on his life’s journey. His head felt as solid as an iron cannonball and it tethered him to this place of immobility as much as the rest. The dry humors of his body constricting his life to the thirsty dying retch he remained. Why must he carry on so?

Through the cracked window he could feel the warm breezes of the coast, hear the tinny sound of the blacksmith’s hammer, the knock of the carpenters, the rolling of carts and the “how d’you do”  of the regular people going about heir morning business. All living life had seemed to start without him and continue, and he wondered if not his own feeling, languishing in his bed was not the same as some diseased wretch in the sanitorium, wasting away while the world lived on without them. Did the rest of the world even exist beyond his room?

He could not raise himself until a bolt of realization coursed through him and his body heaved and lept from the bed. What physical motion seemed impossible a moment ago! As if such an incorporeal thing as a thought could tug him out to push him into the world with no wit or thought in his head other than the eternal dread of any person might when their actions lead them straying the jagged reef of life’s worst possibilities. He clambored for his boots, one under the bed, the other upon the dresser kicked up by uncaring and unremembering feet in the vaunted memory of the drunkerd. His coat in a pile under the coathanger and his bag cast to the far corner near the window. He looked out to the port and could see the ships and an endless curse rang like a fly’s wings through his mind.

He sped from the inn, dropped some crusty salt-stained coins at the innkeep’s desk, and drove into the air of the bright world. How pleasing the outdoor air is to a restful mind and how awful and foreign it is to the sloth. Passing the people and motions of the bustling street, he was as a passing specter he moving along at some speed, carried by his legs like a stork might stalk stiffly through the pond. The undulations of his own body with each step sent a twang of pain into his head and his desicated form. His chest tightened and heaving with painful tobacco resin coating from last night. How jovial and perfect it was last night, how understood and clear things were in such port rituals as drinking and smoking now seemed like the reaper’s work on him. The palms swayed above in the breeze and the cobblestones glistened wetly below, all under in the rising orb of the sun but he felt marred and dull and broken in the perfect world.

He knocked through the people of the market and burst forth hobbling down to the docks. Ships stationed there beginning to make the way out into the blessed open sea with souts from the captains. And yet here he was still on land. He rounded the far building and beheld his own ship, his lifeline back home, his pay and his traveling home. The sleek sloop was moving now a few yards beyond the dock. He could make out the figures of Tom and Jack and the captain standing firm in his big hat on the stern quarter. The jib and the mizzen were set and it’s pure white sails were luffing in the low breezes chariotting the craft out out out and away from him. He ran down the dock and dropped his bag by his side standing on this foreign port. He saw tom glance in his direction and point and laugh.

Utter despair was a single thought to him and it pounded with each beat of his struggling heart.

It was as he saw the ship make way for the open sea beyond the bluffs of the cove that he became aware of a presence next to him. It was a small old man with a big bushy beard. Bursting forth from his majestic whiskers was the stem of a pipe and it billowed the blue wisps of smoke into the wind. The old man’s ice blue eyes were looking out with him to the ship. The sailor had nothing to say, or he could not muster any words in his ruined and hungover state.

The old man spoke to him. “I can see in your eyes what I feel deeper in my heart.” He said.

The sailor furrowed his brow, glazed brown eyes lacking all wit or understanding.

“Did you miss your ship as well?”

“No…but I’d wager you did.”

“Drink and company kept me too long in the comfort of my bed. I see now that it’s not worth it, what a pitiful mess my life is, a horrid excuse I am living, a sham and a sloth and an utter waste my life is. I wish I could only sleep and never know what failure is or fall victim to life’s tragedies, such as this. For now, I am stuck in this port and I am assuredly fired for them to have let me here. I feel death, and I would rather sleep away all the ills of my life.”

The old man smiled between his beard and took the pipe from his mouth to chuckle.

“Does my failure amuse you old man?” he said, now turning to face him. The squat man only laughed even harder.

“Alrighty then boyo,” The old man said. “Remember now the comforting song of Morpheus does not ring in your mind and only freed from him, staunch and stark you stand as a ragged army crying loud into the passing sun as though it is a thing that can be smitten by the fire within. You must be never ceasing lest the dusk should feel cold on thy brow and wit trail away as a wisp. Envious are all the creatures and fools who wile their time in those dark halls, lost as a puppy taken by the great current of time, a spiteful and twisting river that confounds all who are lost to the shoals and rocks of old age, closer to that great ocean of all things and return to thy primordial ooze with never once viewing the trees or shores of thy life. Yet treading up as a salmon might toil, brings the same end save you find yourself in some small pool upriver, but it is their pool, their place of choosing, and O’ they shall jump waterfalls and brave the currents. And all those taken away by the currents of comfort will wag their heads over such a terrable trouble it was. Was it a comfort? Does it prove a greater blessing than achievement? Sleep aways nothing. True endless sleep comes the day after of thy life.”

“What?”

“Get some coffee, I need an able seaman on my brig and you’ll have to do. Dock 7 in an hour.”

With that the old man turned and left. The sailor hefted up his bag after a moment and made his way back to the town…