“A week out of harbour and the horizon is empty in every direction. There is nothing. Only the clouds in the cloudless skies and waves on the still water. It is enough to drive a man to madness.
“I have served on many voyages, sailed all the seas in between here and the persian lands and only once has the water seeped into my mind. Make no mistake gentlemen, my lungs as God gave them me have taken on their fill of water. Not more than a month from Kingston I took weight with the keel anchor and found myself facing Davy Jones locker.
“Maybe that is why I survived Providence.”
“Hark, no man survived Providence,” a mate called, his rum sloshing as he steadied himself against the main sail.
“If no man survived, then how come there are stories?”
The assembled crewmen hushed. The Sun was dropping towards the horizon and the captain, a particularly stingy fellow by the name of Benjamin, would wait until the stars themselves extinguished in the sky before lighting the tallow for the lanterns.
“As I was saying,” holding out my cup for a refill that was quick to be proffered, “only once have I questioned His Earth.
“It was a flight night, but a new moon in the sky and not a ripple upon the water. We had made way from Nassau not but a week before and had met lousy seas the whole way. On this night the captain was walking the fo’c's’le, as he had the nights before. A strange old man, with not a hint of life about his eyes and a dead leg whittled from mahogany. Tap, tap, tap he went, like a metronome for all those belowdecks.
“The night was dark and the still air warm and moist. Though the seas might hide it every man knew a storm was a brewing out beyond the horizon. The pilot came thudding into the galley in the third watch, his face twisted in the candle light, muttering strange thoughts to himself like a man possessed by a witch’s tongue. He went from hammock to hammock, shaking awake man and boy, until all were suitably ruffled enough to follow him to the decks above. And what did they find?”
The ragged group leaned in, pulling jackets tight against the cold.
“Nothing. Not a thing ‘cept for a wooden leg, cut from the finest mahogany.
“Come sun up and the captain is nought to be found. For the older men it is not the first time they’ve lost a captain, much less a man, although the circumstances are obviously abnormal. That night, the third watch is doubled; the nest above the top yard is cramped like a brothel with too few rooms after a long voyage.
“Sunrise and the water is still flat. There’s not a speck of land to be seen. It is the job of the navigator to tell the pilot where to point keel and it is on him whom the men place their utmost trust, beyond that even of the captain. And because of this fixation on accuracy, the navigator is naturally a solitary beast, a man more at peace with paper than fellows. No offence meant Mr Cintiago,” I said, thumping a boot against the deck.
“So it was, on the second morning, we went to our navigator and found only his wire glasses. His logbooks, so meticulous to a fault, had ceased on the previous dusk. His quill still in its groove. By this point the first mate was calling treachery; a murderer on board. Sinner of the worst sorts.”
“Who was it?”
“Pardon?” I said.
“The mate. Who was he?”
“Rollins. Rolls of fat and arms that could crush a keg.”
The man took the answer and nodded to himself, obviously agreeing to some previous memoir he had heard of the story and correlating the facts as they stood.
“So. Two nights. Two men of note vanished. On the third night the first mate and his second took the watch, but not before nailing shut every hatch and hole in that vessel. We men, we sat in the darkness, huddled around our lanterns, listening to them pace back and forth, back and forth on the decks.
“And when sunlight crept through the gunwhales and the few who had remained awake went to push their way forth, their hammering woke the rest of us. The nails, the finest in the Bahamas, had been driven deep. And no amount of hollering could rouse the two men who had stayed above. With not a body nor a peep, they had been presumed taken by…” I let the statement hang, took a swig and scratched at the scalp where my hair had been before the lice required more drastic action.
“There were twelve men left. In a ship hauling good almost seven long tonnes of sugar. Not even the rats scurried about. Twelve men. By the overmorrow all of them would be dead.”
Prompt originally posted by Aluk123 on reddit and received 7 upvotes.