Indies Unlimited W.E. #6 – Harbinger

Photo by K.S. Brooks

The brig makes for port under full sail. What cargo and passengers does she carry and from whence does she sail? Is the sight of the ship a comfort or a curse to the denizens of the port town?

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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9 thoughts on “Indies Unlimited W.E. #6 – Harbinger”

  1. Lieutenant Maynard turned the helm over to his Boatswain as he descended the steps from the Quarterdeck. The men seemed to glide away from him in their chores, each sailor occupied in something that swept them off as he moved forward to the bow. Holding his hands behind him in the most dignified of ways, he climbed the forecastle and looked out across the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Today was the most glorious day of his life, and he was savoring every moment of it.

    He stood at the bow, rigid and frozen. He was intent on memorizing every detail of every moment from here on in, yet he could not seem to keep from daydreaming. How soon, he wondered, would he receive his reward? How soon before he was officially promoted? Who would do the honors? He hoped he would not have to sail all the way back to England just to have the King do it.

    This would secure him a place in the annals of History, he knew it. Leaning forward to get a clear view of the severed head that dangled from the bowsprit, he said “Welcome home, old boy. I can’t thank you enough for all the fame and glory that you’ll bring me.” The wind turned the head around until it faced him. Dead, open sockets gaped back at him, draining the smile from his face. He cleared his throat, regained his composure and made aft for the Quarterdeck.

  2. They said he must wear his best, even plodding down from mine site to dock in a one-horse cab that creased and tousled him. He stank not only of dust and sweat, and the closeness of others, but also of anxiety that dulled movement and thought.

    She was coming, see? Her letters seemed flippant at first, lacking in understanding of what she was to face, but she was coming. He wiped sleeve across chin and regarded the smudge. Dirt. Confusion: the whole courtship a lunacy, travelling to this beautiful but lonely place a folly. He had the money now to start something, but dared not yet hope for sanctuary or love. But it was there, a glimmer: a hill just visible from the road away from the mine. A house? Perhaps fruit trees? A rope for little boys to swing on over the river bend.

    He could do with a splash now. But from where he stood, ignoring the cabman behind him, he shoved hands in pockets. Wondered what she would be like. On the grim bay, the brig came alongside a jetty whose massive timbers still held saw arcs from the mill. It all looked illusory.

    He registered the ensign at half-mast, a yard of black crepe fluttering in a dying breeze. It caught his heart. A corpse on board: a dream over before it began. Then he saw her: a hesitant wave.

    “He broke a thigh and was gone,” were her breathless words. “Such a good captain.”

  3. Must make harbor quickly—but where? We’re adrift in the dire Straits of Malacca.

    That damned albatross perched on the bow hungry passengers ate—or was it a hungry albatross the damned passengers ate? Regardless, the bird was an omen, propitious, should be honored, cherished, a symbol of luck. Not fricasseed.

    Now we’re all damned. Ill luck dogs us. The pun is suitably canine, for somebody strangled, barbequed, ate the half-Pekinese mutt the remaining woman aboard –herself a buxom bad-luck bringer—bought in Shanghai. Even its ghost not housebroken, its yips still resound in the night.

    Ergo, ill luck since we weighed anchor. The typhoon tore our topsail, ripped the rudder off, and as for pirates who looted—

    Must find safe haven—where? The compass fell overboard in mid-ocean, the slippery sun refuses to show us East. The ship’s worms ate holes in the hull, already seawater seeps in—

    The navigator just shouted “Land ho!” He sighted a coconut floating, a wavering light, must be a port of some sort—

    But will the denizens welcome us?

    The sailors have measles, the captain—the clap. His parrot has parrot fever, and screeches curses obscene, all the ladies faint—several already fell overboard, though their loss only the horny first mate regrets.

    Now we hear surf on invisible rocks…Someone has placed a light—Be wary, frequently wreckers lie in wait to salvage, pilfer the cargo– Rocks wreck the remaining hull—

    One life preserver, wintergreen—

    I’m swimming, swimming, forever at sea—

  4. Charters walked down the hallway of the old house, his mind a complete contrast to the uniform he wore. Its shiny buttons on neatly pressed black wool; the high, white collar stiffly starched; the white gloves covering long, thin fingers, spotless; and leather shoes so highly polished his dark face reflected in their shine—he was a sight to see. His mind, however, was filled with dark thoughts. Very little shone there—only pain, sorrow and the memories.

    Suddenly, the tray he carried and its contents fell crashing to the floor. The fine, white English china now lay on the fine oak floor in chards. The new painting on the wall had stopped him cold.

    The painful memories he had so profoundly attempted to erase came rushing forward. The white billowing sails, the blue sky with the wispy white clouds overhead would have been beautiful had he not known that he would soon be stowed below ships in chains and filth, crowded by hundreds into a space that should have held no more than fifty.

    Wracked by seasickness and food that moved on its own—when there was any at all—they were near dead upon arrival.

    Suddenly, he was back to the present; the master screaming about the cost of the china and the beating Charters had coming. The mistress, wringing her skirts, swore it wasn’t Charters’ fault—she had plowed into him not looking where she was going.

    The mistress was the only good thing in this life.

  5. Jonathan was woken up from his slumber by the sound of drums and laughter. He got up with a start. The shores of Jamaica were clearly visible now. His heart beat wildly: was it the excitement of freedom, or fear of the unknown? Jonas wasn’t sure.

    Three years back, he had enlisted as crew on ‘Honey Isle’. The brig visited West Indies often to bring back sugarcane and spices to Louisiana and Florida. Then, the name ‘Honey Isle’ conjured images of pristine beaches, swaying palms, scintillating spices, and amorous native women.

    All that had come to nought. Not only was the crew overworked, Capt. McMahon seemed to hate him with a fetish. Did he envy his charm and expertise? Or did he suspect Jonathan would give him the slip one day? Jonas didn’t care. The brig would be anchored for a week. And Jonas would abscond on the last day, an hour before the brig departed to New Orleans. That way, they may abort a search.

    But something made Jonathan uneasy. When they left home, the Capt. had picked up a dozen bags, whose contents were a mystery. The Capt. guarded it ferociously, yet referred to it once or twice, in cryptic terms. The crew believed it contained additional wages, or expensive gifts. But Jonas had his doubts.

    Suddenly, a new idea dawned in Jonathan’s mind. He smiled wickedly, and let out a small laugh. One thing was sure. This time, the trip to Jamaica would be a memorable one….

  6. The boy listened to the swell of the surf upon the distant shore, trying to block out his fear and uncertainty of what was coming. The ship was rocking gently as it ghosted into the harbor. The boy peered through the gloom of the galley. It was dark, as it had been every day since he had entered the great, gaping belly of the wooden ship. The stench no longer impressed him, so long had it filled his nostrils.

    The sharp call of a seagull caused him to start. It was an unfamiliar sound, for the strange birds did not exist in his homeland. He peered through a crack between the boards near where he sat, watching as the ship slid alongside the docks. He could see ropes being thrown down to those on the ground, who quickly fastened them to the huge logs planted in the water.

    A long board suddenly appear just on the edge of the boy's vision. It was lowered to touch the dock and two of the men who sailed the ship descended. He watched as the fat one handed the skinny one a piece of cloth. The men had marked symbols on it, though the boy had no idea what they meant. The two were confronted by another, very stern looking, man who waved at the ship and made an inquisitive face. The skinny man simply handed him the cloth and uttered the only word in their language the boy understood.


  7. The Ship

    The helm goes over, the bow swings. Minute figures seem to slide from the rigging and boats are launched, training lines to tow the ship to the quay. Orders are shouted, hawsers are thrown and soon she is made fast. Calm settles on the warm afternoon.

    In the thick walled building beyond the mole, hearts are a flutter. Word spreads that the ship is in and everyone wonders who will be chosen, how many will be taken. Fear, always close in the background in this hellish place, raises its head and looks around. It seizes victims where a moment’s weakness enables it to get a grip, spreading terror in fearful minds. Some whimper, some tremble, others begin to weep. All share the dread of uncertainty, for no one who goes on these ships ever comes back.

    Soon voices sound beyond the heavy door. Orders are shouted and the tension mounts further. As the door opens, sunlight streams into the gloom, dazzling everyone within. Men hustle those nearest the door out into the blazing sun and along the mole. Soon everyone is moving in the long, linked crocodile. Slowly they tramp towards the ship, driven onwards by rough sailors swinging knotted lengths of rope.

    When the tide turns, the sails drop and fill with wind. The serenity of the ship heeling to the evening breeze is undisturbed by the terror in her hold. The setting sun glows rose pink on another slave ship setting course for the West Indies.

  8. ‘Captain, we approach Whitby, would you prefer to pilot us into harbour yourself or shall I?’ asked the ship’s first mate.

    Briggs looked up from the parchment on his desk. ‘I will take us in. Prepare the cabin for our passenger and make sure his instructions for the stowage of the cargo is adhered to. He was very specific about that; do it well.’

    ‘Strange instructions, Captain. I mean, our hold is water-tight why would we have to make sure it is sealed from all light too?’

    ‘The reasoning behind Mr Stoker’s instructions does not concern me. The man’s paid well to transport him and his cargo to Gibraltar,’ Briggs replied. ‘Come let me see what you’ve done in preparation.’

    The inside of the hold was draped in heavy black cloth secured to the wooden walls by large flat-headed nails. Even the tar-sealed hatch had cloth waiting to be nailed over, for when it would be put in place.

    ‘A waste of hold space, Captain. All that room for what? A wooden packing case?’

    ‘Ours is not to question Stoker’s motives. Satisfy your curiosity with the knowledge that when we deliver our guest and his strange cargo to Gibraltar safe and sound we will receive a bonus large enough to slake any query or doubt you have in mind,’ Briggs said placing a hand on his first mate’s shoulder. ‘Now, let us take the Marie Celeste into Whitby with skill and care and show this port how it is done.’

  9. Cool spray caresses my face and the salt tastes sweet on my lips. The scent of sea air permeates my being. This is my first and only love. I close my eyes and feel the brig as it cuts through the calm waters of the bay. The rise and fall of the waves still send shivers of joy down my spine. Here is where I belong, not bound to the hard unmoving land.

    I clutch the two gold bands that hang from my neck. My parents told me I was born in the churning waves of a storm, among the sugar cane and indigo of the hold. They were only passengers on that voyage, and fled the rocking of the ship as soon as they made landfall. But my destiny was established.

    Forty years have passed since I ran to my lover disguised as a boy, only days after my parents died. I was twelve, and have never left the embrace of the ocean. Now, as Captain, I sail the same route that bore me, delivering new shipments from the islands to these costal ports.

    The days of the brig are almost gone, overtaken by newer ships with smaller crews. But this is my life, my ship. There are no regrets. My heart races through the water like a dolphin and I long for the challenge of sailing into those crimson seas at dawn. Perhaps I’ll leave this world the way I entered, on the roiling waves of the sea.

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