I looked up at the great vessel set to be my home for the much awaited future. Gand and beautiful. The smooth curves of the wood. I could see the hands that placed every plank, reinforced every beam. Sails hung perfectly from the mast. The love and care in forming such a creation can be likened only to God himself in the making of man and all things fore and aft.
Oof! I am nearly knocked over by the brushing by of a burly arm clutching large cargo. A chuckle ripples through the crowd of men.
“Alright! That is no way to treat your captain!” John Moye, my first mate comes to my side. A slap on the back. “You’re alright.” “Of course I am.”
Boxes of silver and sand and earth were transported onto the ship in a few hours’ time. The crew was suffuse with exhaustion, but we were set to sail this afternoon, so there is no time to rest. A crew of five, two mates, a cook, and myself. Anchor released, sails set to course, myself at the wheel. The wind is fresh; sturdy and strong. We are on our way.
We were set to stop at dawn, as we entered Bosphorous. Custom officers boarded hastily, wishing us off soon. All was fine as they scoured they vessel, and we were off again at 4 pm.
Now through Dardanelles, more customs officers. The same country so Hell bent on discovering ills in our ship. I assure them that we are Godly men, I show them the crucifix that I wear about my neck. There seems to be no easing of worries. There were flagboats and guarding squadrons. They are quite thorough and are off again with a hurry to us.
At dark we passed into Archipelago.
At breakfast I was in good spirits, but the crew seem uneasy. Dissatisfied. The man who heads the sails barely touched his food. “You need your strength or we may never meet our destination.” I tried a chuckle, but it was met with merely a smirk from John.
I am checking our course when there is yelling from the rear. Fighting is not acceptable aboard my ship, and I move towards the noise to make this known. There is Arthur Harburg, my second mate, making quite an example of a crewman. “What is all of this?” I demand.
“He is refusing his work. Cargo must be tended in order to prevent corruption, or we all lose our pay!”
“Oi! Go check the course I will care for this.” He gave the crewman a final impenetrable look of threat before walking off to his new assignment. “What say you, then?” I ask the meek looking man in front of me. I do not remember him appearing so small before. He was the man who nearly took me down on loading day. “I say nothing. I have nothing.” He turns and walks away, towards the cargo hold. I look around to see most of the others performing their daily tasks in near silence.
I walked off to my cabin to pray.
I stood and looked out at our course ahead. All was difficult to make out, because a fog had settled in just after dawn. It was thick, but I enjoyed watching the bow slice through. A sharp knife through a thick luscious cake. I heard steps approach me, but I couldn’t fain to look away. The sight was magnetic, drawing me in. I felt as though I was being pulled closer, like something wanted me in the fog. I wanted to be stuck right in the center. My lungs filled and unmoving under the thick wet weight. “Petrofsky.” John’s voice startled me back to the ship.
“What of him? Does he cause another scene?” “He is gone.” “What?” “He was last seen last night. He took larboard watch eight bells. Abramoff relieved him, but he did not bunk. No accounting for. Not a trace.” “I’ll see to that.”
I spent quite a while on the search for our missing crewman, to no avail. The other crewmen assured me that they expected just such an occurrence. “What does that mean? Did Petrofsky plan a dive into the sea?” “No sir. But we knew. There is something aboard the ship.” I could listen no more, so I left for the bow. John caught me on my way. “I don’t like this.” “A missing man is nothing welcome, I know.” “There is trouble ahead.” He grabbed me by my arm, so that I would stop. With his hand wrapped around he dragged my body towards his. I never felt such strength in him. Such determination, and fear. “With the crew and without. I know there will be trouble. I can feel it.”
We awoke to a storm of great proportions. I felt the clouds among us. The force of the falling rain was enough to knock one down. I knelt in my cabin in prayer. I asked for a nearing calm, for a safe passage, for a clearing of the fog, and the ease of troubles with the crew. Quite the opposite was delivered to me when a knock came to my door. “Enter,” I respond as I rise from the floor. The door is opened as I turn to see one of the men, Olgaren. He stands quite still and silent. “Speak, man.” I watch as he closes the door, to my unexplained discomfort. “I have seen someone aboard the ship.” I am sure that my face displays some disbelief, and he goes on. “On my watch, I stayed behind the deckhouse for shelter from the storm. I saw a tall, thin man. Not anyone of the crew. He came up the companion way, and went along the forward, and disappeared. I followed along that way with caution, but when I got. I got to ththe bow, and… there no one. Then, I went went towards the hatchways. They wewere allll clo closed. All of them! I saw him, aand there was was no one!” He was in quite a panic. The kind that spreads through a ship like any disease. I grabbed him hard, and in his face I told him directly “I will search the ship. I will get to the bottom of it. You be calm. Be calm and don’t worry the other men!”
I got up to the main deck and gathered the entire crew. “We shall search the ship from stem to stern. Carefully! There is thought to be someone aboard, and we will fix this at once.”
I set off on my search with company at my arm. “This is stupid! A waste! It is a folly to give into their whims. You will demoralise these. Just look to me. I will keep them out of trouble with a handspike!” He stormed off to the helm, and I watched as the rest searched, then I took my place in the duty. With lanterns abreast, we were as thorough as the officers from days passed, and we found nothing just as they had. The men seemed relieved in our scant findings, and they all went off with a more jovial air. Me, I could not help but feel grim.
Today was as normal any other day I have spent on the see. The storm was still quite bad, but it kept us all busy. Not a hand was without a sail. The men seemed in good spirits, especially John. All seemed quite equipped and ready just as I know them, and I pray for this manner of being to stay.
I awoke to another missing man. John grabbing at and accosting the rest. I can see violence on his skin, in his blood, so I pull him away. There is panic and fear over the whole ship. He was lost after his watch ended, just like the first. Everyone demands double watch, afraid to be alone. I could no longer stand in the cloud of doom, so I made my way to the bow. “There will be trouble. I told you there would be trouble.” John is some bodies away when he says this, but I hear it in my ear nonetheless. In fact I continue to hear it long after he is done, as I walk through the storm to the very front of the ship. I can barely make out a thing ahead. I can see that we are entering the Bay of Biscay.
We were in the midst of some sort of maelstrom today. I am left feeling sick. Just feeling the gust of the wind brings me close to releasing the contents of my stomach. No one has slept and I see a lostness in the eyes of all my crew. A look that I’m sure they see in mine. As I sit here, the wind abates, and my second mate has volunteered to watch and steer so the rest may sleep. I pray for steadier waters.
More chaos this day. I came on deck to no one but the steersman. All were in an uproar. The second mate is gone, and the crew panicked, demanding two per shift. I agreed, and John and I decided to stay armed henceforth.
I woke today grateful for steady waters. When I looked out and checked our direction, I could see that we were nearing England. I was close to celebration when I felt John’s presence. He let me know that both men on watch were missing this morning. My being sank, but I managed to stay upright in his presence. “Who do we have? Who’s left?”
“It’s you, me, and two hands to work the ship.”
Haven’t been able to see past a foot for two days. Haven’t seen a sail, though we should be in the English Channel by now. I would want to signal help. There’re no men to work the sails; I would lower them, but I know we couldn’t raise them back up. All that I do is stare. Into the fog is where all of my energy goes. John is in mania. His strength is destroying him. As for the other, they work like the dead. Slow, stolid. They reek of fear. I loathe them. I loathe them all. All that I can do is stare into the fog and pray.
Horrors upon horrors this evening. At midnight, I went to relieve the man at the wheel, but there was no one. I stood just there, unable to move. I called for John as loud as I could. It didn’t take much. He limped towards me with gray skin, like paper it was so thin. His flannels looked torn though they were intact. His eyes wouldn’t stop moving; wide and racing. They looked red-ringed. His appearance was ghostly and not comforting in the way that I needed. He got so close to me, closer than he has ever been in all of our years at sea. We were the only ones there, yet he whispered in my ear. For some reason I think that I needed him to close and whispering; I think that he sensed that. “It is here I know it now.” I couldn’t speak, only shiver. “On the watch last night I saw It, like a man, tall and thin, and ghastly pale. It was in the bows, and looking out. I crept behind It, and gave It my knife; but the knife went through It, empty as air. But It is here, and I’ll find It.” He ran off, towards the hold. On a monster hunt. The way that he ran was crazed yet agile.
I stood and waited. I stared and breathed. I could just see my breath, and I could hear only it. At least it was proof that I was still there. I begin to pray. Pray for a clear in the fog, and that John will come back as normal. Then, I heard a knocking followed by a scream. My blood ran cold, and I watched him come towards me fast as a bullet. He looked madder than before; I couldn’t see the brown of his eyes, only white, and his face was grotesque.
“Save me! Save me!” He screamed into the fog. It absorbed every syllable. He seemed suddenly so desperately sad. His being collapsed into itself. His voice was steady as he said: “You had better come too, captain, before it is too late. He it there. I know the secret now. The sea will save me from Him, and it is all that is left.” He was off like a bird. With barely a revving step, he was in the sky. Arching away, disappearing behind a sheet of fog. In the silence he left I heard a splash.
I can no longer see the sun through the fog, but I know that it is there. I haven’t moved from the helm, not an inch. I saw Him… It in the night. I barely had time to act, and if he should come by again I fear I don’t have the strength. Dear God, and the Virgin, I pray you save my soul. I am a sailor, and my duty is with the trip. In God’s name I will tie my hands to the wheel with my crucifix because nothing will keep me from position. This is my place. God bless my soul.