Monthly Archives: December 2017

Log #41: Meetings

 

When I woke once more, it was to the feel of tears on my hand, and warm fingers clasping mine tightly. I opened my eyes and saw, to my joy and surprise, a pale and drawn Balthazar Lynch seated in a strange wheeled metal chair by my bedside, weeping softly over my hand. Even as I watched, still somewhat befuddled by sleep, I saw him place a gentle kiss on my palm. Poor lad! I have been his only father since his parents’ death in a fire, the which drove him to life on the sea.

I moved my fingers then, gripping his (though without any strength), and he started and straightened, releasing my hand as though burnt by it. He winced, pressing a heavily-bandaged arm against his side, and dashed away tears with the other hand before he met my gaze. Then, as he saw my smile, his face burst into dazzling joy, and he caught my hand once more in his.

“Oh, Captain,” he said, “thank God you’re alive, sir. Thank God in Heaven.”

“I’m glad to see you, too, lad. Are you well?” I asked him.

“Aye, sir, well enough. I cannot yet walk far, but this chair gives me the run of the floor.”

“There is another of us here?”

He nodded. “Aye, sir – ’tis MacManus. He were shot in the leg, and splinters went into his gut. He cannot get out of bed yet, and it chafes him sorely.” He squeezed my hand. “But he’ll be joyed to hear that ye are awakened, Captain. We’ve been most fearful for ye, sir. Most fearful.”

I thought of the kiss, and looked at the lad – so young, he was. “Aye. Howbeit, I’m awake now, young Lynch.” I pulled my hand from his, touched at the place the doctor had shown me, and raised my bunk into a chair, so I could look at Lynch properly.

“Now we must plan our escape from here.”

 

Log August 18

 

Unfortunately, our escape must needs wait. We are very weak and in pain that, while not so great as experience tells me it should be, is still more than can be easily borne, especially if we must live the life of the pursued, with the hounds baying at our trail, as we might: Vaughn did not know the fate of Hobbes and the Sea-Cat, nor his devilish Shadow, but the foreboding of my dreams prevents me from thinking them vanished or purged from my world.

But despite pain, and worry of impending doom, I am grateful to our fates. Surely our wounds would have been fatal, had we remained in our natural time, or had my crew not found their way here and known to deposit us three at this place, where we recover our strength – albeit slowly – instead of mouldering in a grave.

It has taken much of yesterday and this day to be able to stand and walk once more; my legs were unhurt, but rising to stand on them sent such roils and twists of dizziness through my poor broken head that I could not remain upright for more than a few breaths at first. But with time and custom, the dizziness has lessened; I have regained my sea-legs. My shoulder requires that I wear my (elsewise healthy) right arm bound to my chest; the good doctor tells me the bullet broke a rib and then grazed and chipped my scapula – the shoulder blade, that is. My left arm, fortunately, is functional in the main; I have the use of all of my fingers, though I cannot bend the wrist, as the bandage encasing it is a hard as concrete. ‘Tis called a cast, as a plaster sculpture before the bronze – but ’tis a singularly ugly sculpture, as such. I am able to brace this logbook – the which was brought to me through the kindness of Miss Winslow, who has been most accommodating, her brusque manner notwithstanding, as I dreamed delirious and, apparently, called out for pen and paper  – with my cast left arm, and write in it with my weak, but dextrous, right hand. It will serve.

I will rest now. Tomorrow I will visit MacManus, who cannot yet leave his bunk.

Later:

Had a refreshing and exhilarating visit this afternoon. (To say true, I do not know the time, nor the day, but for the testimony of my caretakers; without window I have no inkling of the sun’s place, nor the moon’s color, and I am not allowed to rise and perambulate. More, I am not yet capable.) Aye, if I am to say true, ’twas not a visit, but an invasion, and ’twas not refreshing, but rather – terrifying. Perhaps it is my hurts which make me vulnerable, which makes me so womanish; I have never played the coward ere now. I admit, here in this log (which may never meet another’s gaze but mine), that I did fear that they might take me and abscond, and none might ever know of it, nor come to my aid. Lynch would know something had chanced, aye – but the boy’s gut-shot. These doctors may have worked miracles, with their white rooms and their ivies, but that? They can repair him, in truth? Or have they merely stretched out what few days remain to him? I bethought myself, while they stood there and looked down on me with eyes as cold and lifeless as those of a fish – or of a dead man – that perhaps Lynch would flag and fail, and MacManus might be quick to follow him to the grave, and then, as the Grace could be lost to storm or taken by Hobbes, there would be none to know of my fate, or to care. I thought that, and I trembled.

But I have pulled at a skein, and lost the pattern of the weave. I was visited, not half an hour gone, by la policia. They were polite at first, and as long as pleasantries were exchanged, so was I too. But then they began to inquire as to my injuries, and the events and causes and culprits thereof – as though I would forego mine own vengeance to them! Then I did recognize them as threat: then they became to me West English, as Ian O’Gallows has well-named the people of this place and time. The same sort of poxy bastards as those I had encountered in Florida, set in the same mold as the English soldiers who oppressed myself and my countrymen, who tortured us and beat us and cheated us; then did I know them for untrustworthy rogues, and then did I stop answering their questions, schooling my face to stone.

As it obtained, however, I had a rescuer: my new friend Doctor Kelashnikskaya. He had come in with la policia – there were two, named Drucker and Rice – and as they asked their questions, standing at the foot of my bunk, the Doctor stood by my right side, and examined me. Needlessly, methinks, as he had done a more cursory check not an hour before, but while he there stood and twiddled at my ivies and dithered at my bandages, it kept la policia mindful of my ailing condition, and kept them courteous. And then, as soon as they started in on who shot me, and where was I, and what was the name of the ship and where was she now (They obviously had some intelligence from Lynch or MacManus or both, which I dared not contradict but did not know what had been said, and so I said nothing at all.), Doctor Kelashnikskaya interjected with this pearl: “Gentlemen, Mister Kane’s head injury will very likely have caused some memory loss, and confusion, particularly about the time when the incident occurred.”

Aye: I grabbed at that lifeline, I did. For the rest of that encounter, I frowned and looked befuddled; I put my hand to my head as though it pained me, and I remembered nothing. Nothing at all. At long last, they departed, unsatisfied.

As he ushered the West English out of the room, I caught at Master Kelashnikskaya’s sleeve, and when he paused and looked back at me, I said, most sincerely, “Thank you, Doctor.” He nodded, and flashed just enough of a smile that I wot he knew the boon he had given me. A good man, he is.

I do not doubt la policia will be back, but perhaps it will not be soon: perhaps we will have sufficient time to do what is needful, ere they return.

 

August the Nineteenth

I have been humbled, this day.

I gathered all my strength and fortitude, screwed up my courage ‘gainst agony and travails, and made my slow and clumsy way down the hall to the room where lies my shipmate, Shane MacManus.

And there he lay, his leg wounded, his pelvis damaged by the bullet’s passing and the surgeon’s cutting. He may not rise from the bed – not even to relieve himself. I will not speak of the vile contraption with which these people invade a man’s body in order to evacuate it; suffice it to say that its discovery, upon waking from a long sleep, is horrifying in the extreme (most particularly when one has been told that there are ivy strands attempting to take root in one – and for one such strand to take root there, oh, gods and devils forbid it!), and its removal a torture which shames the cruellest gaolers of the English king. I cannot imagine how Shane survives its continued emplacement. Of course I did not ask, but only clapped his shoulder and gave him my deepest sympathy, in very truth.

Lynch had said he chafes at his state, and ’tis true. I have this log to occupy my time, and I have been spared many hours of inaction by my broken crown, for which I am now oddly grateful; the concomitant dizzy spells necessitate many hours of rest, which do nicely to fill the time – and defy the questioning of la policia, of course. Lynch has survived with some of the same medicine: the surgeons did invade his core to repair the bullet’s invasion and the terrible havoc it wreaked on the lad’s innards, and thus did he spend some days entirely in slumber. Then, when he woke, he had permission to move about, cautiously, and so was able to explore and exercise, to increase his strength and decrease his time as invalid abed. Too, ever since Vaughn taught Lynch his letters, the boy has spent hours reading all he can; he tells me that this place has something of a library, which he has availed himself of. Though for myself, I confess I wish that my companions, or indeed anyone, would let me prevail on them for a game of draughts; I have been so used to enjoying a game in the evening, even when all else had gone askew, these past months, but have lacked a fair match since losing Vaughn’s company to Monsieur Navarre, and now again to the vicissitudes of injury and pursuit.

But MacManus, though capable, does not enjoy reading nor writing (nor draughts, more’s the pity), and so rather than pass the time, such pursuits do stretch the time out. He is a man of action, one who would hunt throughout the day, and then spend the night carousing in taverns, be it drinking, brawling, dancing, or availing himself of a harlot’s generosities, it would matter not. Just so long as he was not as he is: trapped, immobile, damaged in such wise as worries him deeply regarding his future capabilities. He was too afraid and ashamed to inquire of the physician as to the subject of his possible gelding, but he was able to hint at his fears to me, and I did so inquire – and was able to reassure him fully, which I think did bring him some peace. Seeing that strong, good man so trapped, so enfeebled, and yet still and all a man of courage and tenacity, I know that I cannot complain of my wounds nor my discomfort. Not in the face of his so much greater suffering.

Lynch arrived in his wheeled chair as I sat with MacManus, and we did have a jolly time of it for a short while, ere the nurses chased us all back to our rest; I for one was glad of the excuse to return to my bunk, as weakness had crept up on me rather faster than I would fain show the lads, if I can so hinder their knowledge of my incapacity. Perhaps I worry overmuch, but I wish to have their confidence, and not their pity.

We did find a chance to discuss our tales for la policia: apparently their earlier visits had focused on MacManus, the only one of us to be cognizant when we arrived and remain so for those first hours and days. Even when Lynch had awoken, he said that they had been merciful and delicate, even solicitous with him; perhaps his youth and the severity of his injuries softened their hearts. Any road, Lynch was allowed to give little response, and so MacManus’s account has stood as the official record, thus far. We had been sailing on our pleasure boat, the Courser, when we had been attacked by pirates; our captain – one Hugh Moran – had sailed on to Jamaica, our original destination out of Dover, England (MacManus had rightly surmised that these strange-speaking West English would not be able to place the sources of our accents, though MacManus is as plainly Northern Irish as Lynch and I are southrons). We could not contact him aboard ship, but he would return for us on the way back to England. So shall we all say.

Now: to regain my vigor, I will now eat – though the food here, while largely satisfying, is most bizarre: the meat is both limp and burnt, the accompaniments are over-sauced and strange to the tongue, and the dinner and supper have both been companioned by a strange substance, of a violently brilliant hue, carved into cubes like dice, slick and taut to the touch, like the skinned flesh of an animal, and which wiggles most disturbingly when provoked. The nurses call it Gee-Yellow, and seem surprised that I will not consume it. It appears too much like jellied blood, which somehow still clings to life, and I am nauseated by the thought of it wriggling in my gullet. But apart from the gelatinous cubes, I will eat all I can, and sleep all I can.

Tomorrow I will explore.

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Log #40: Hospital

Log August 17

 

I will not say my situation has improved over what I found when first I awoke in this place, but at the least, I do understand it, now. Howbeit, I understand this place just so well as I understand any place in this world of 2011; that is to say, not so very well at all.

I drifted rudderless, in and out of my dreams, for many days. I remember seeing this place, the white ceiling and walls, the strange pipping of a tiny bird, slow and stately and regular as a funeral march, as if a sparrow were singing me to my grave, myself flat on my back and unable to move; I had some recollection of waking and choking on a thing which passed through my mouth and down my throat into my gullet as it was being removed, but the memory was strange and befuddling. I felt no pain, but I could not grasp and hold a thought, not a single one; and often I heard a quiet susurration, a whisper as of words spoke just beyond my hearing.

Aye: in my dreams, I did think this place to be Heaven, or Avalon, or Elysium, I know not what awaits us in that far-off country. But I bethought myself there, aye.

And then I woke, truly woke, and felt my mind catching hold; like an ox pulling a cart through spring mud, the great hooves slipping and sinking, and slipping and sinking, and then, at last, the hooves strike ground just firm enough beneath the muck to press back, and the cart begins to move: thus did I arise to the waking world. I knew myself alive, then, and in pain. My arms were strapped down, and my legs, as well. I had strands of clear stuff attached to my arms and my face, below my nose, and thin strands of white like spider’s webs or thread ran to my chest and brow; following them back led my eye to a tall white box, on a metal stand, with a quantity of depressions and obtrusions and dark places, numbers and letters and strange words written around and about, here and there. Above it on metal hooks hung two sacs of fluid, like wineskins made of glass; from these ran the clear strands to my arm. I felt a terrible thirst.

I attempted to call out, but could do no more than croak weakly. I fain would struggle against my bonds, but my strength had fled. Then the tall box gave a louder chirp, and then – cool, soft peace stole over me, starting with my right arm, spreading quickly across my chest and shoulders, my neck, my jaw, my head – and then again I slept.

When next I woke, the mud enmiring my brain was drier, easier to pull through and then out of. My pain was back, and the thirst; I bit at my tongue until I made enough spittle to swallow and ease my aching throat, and then I called out, “Hallloooo!” Soft at first, bare more than a whisper, but then a bit louder and stronger, and then a bit more with the third repetition.

After my fourth call, a door opened behind me, and soft footsteps padded in. A woman appeared at my right side, and smiled down on me. Neither young nor old, her golden hair tied back from her face, she wore a strange tunic and loose trousers, brightly colored and bearing images of – were those kittens?

Her cool fingers touched my arm, then my brow. “Are you awake?” she asked. “More than a quick breath before you go back under, I mean?” I frowned at her and tried to speak, but coughed through my dry throat. “Thirsty? Here, let me get you some ice chips.” She vanished. I croaked after her and struggled weakly, feeling like a toad tied to a board by a cruel boy. Did they plan the same sorts of childishly evil tortures for me as that toad would suffer of a heartless lad? I strained, but I could barely make a fist, let alone loosen my bonds.

The woman returned, a small cup in her hand. She touched something on the side of the bed near my hand, and suddenly the bed moved beneath me, lifting my head and trunk until I sat nigh upright. She held the cup to my lips, and when I opened, tipped it so that many small fragments of ice fell into my mouth; ’twas not unlike eating snow. They melted on the instant, and brought blessed relief to my raging thirst. The lady gave me a second and a third mouthful ere I pulled my lips from the cup.

She placed the cup on a tray and turned to the chirping box whereto my strands were tied.

“Where am I?” I asked in my toad’s croak.

“In St. Vincent’s Hospital,” she replied.

“And where be that?”

She looked somewhat strangely at me, and thus became familiar; now I knew myself to be, still, in the world of 2011, in the land of America, where all my questions are met with that same look. I could not suppress the sigh which escaped me at this revelation.

The woman returned to my side, placing cool fingers on my wrist. “It’s in Charleston.”

I said nothing.

She looked to my eyes and saw my befuddlement. “In South Carolina? In America? The United States?” When I showed no particular response, she put a hand on her hip, tipped her head to the side, and asked, “Say, where are you from?”

“Ireland,” quoth I.

She shook her head. “First time I ever met a white illegal,” she murmured. She had a pleasant accent, somewhat English, but softened in a way that seemed French to my ear.

My initial query answered so well as it could be, I moved to my next most pressing ignorance. “Wherefore am I bound?” I strained lightly against the strap crossing my forearms in illustration.

“You were struggling, flailing your arms all over. You kept pulling out the ivies.”

I looked wide-eyed at the strands attached to my arms, and I saw now that they pierced my skin – as if they were taking root in me. “Ivies? Why are there ivies planted in me? What hell is this, woman?” I began to struggle against my bonds, but I had not strength; the slight woman took hold of my shoulders and pressed me back against the bed-chair, restraining me with shameful ease.

“Calm down now, you just calm down. You need the ivies to get well again. They’ll come right out when you don’t need them any more.” I fell limp once more, already exhausted, and she released me. She arched one brow, hands once more placed on her hips. “And my name is not ‘Woman,’ it is Julie Winslow, RN.” She tapped at a card pinned to the breast of her tunic, which bore a tiny portrait of her. “You may call me Miss Winslow, for now.”

I turned my head away, shamed by my weakness and dulled by despair.

“I’m going to get the doctor now, all right? He can answer any of your questions.”

My innards growled then. “Will I be fed with more than mouthfuls of snow?”

“That’s up to the doctor. Just a moment.”

She departed, and then my throat informed me that it would appreciate another mouthful of cold relief. I looked down at the cup, placed on a tray that was easy to hand – or would have been, were my arms unbound and uninvaded. I looked more closely at my hands and saw that I was held only by wide leathern thongs, without locks; perhaps I could get my fingers to the clasp . . .

The door opened, and a manly voice said, “Well now, I hear someone’s finally had enough napping.” A man appeared at my bedside then, with white hair and beard. He wore a white coat over a blue shirt and a brightly colored neck-scarf; I had seen similar attire on Master McNally, and so took this man to be a gentleman of breeding, as well – as befit a medic.

“Aye,” I spake, my voice coarse. “How long did I sleep?” There was no window, no way to read the hour – or season, for that matter. By my dreams, it had been days, but what truth is there in dreams?

The medic repeated many of Miss Winslow’s motions, examining the ivy-box, placing fingers on my wrist while staring at an ornate golden torc on his own wrist, which resembled a compass. “What do you remember?” he asked me.

The shuddering blast of cannon. The stench of smoke, and salt spray – and blood, the corrupt stink of death. Hobbes, grinning like a skull, with a shadow-man at his back. Men rising from behind the rail of the Sea-Cat, thunderguns bursting, and screaming – my men – I fired and –

“I was – shot?”

The man nodded, his bright, intelligent eyes meeting my own. “Twice, once in the right shoulder and once in the left forearm. Both bullets passed through, but left you some fairly severe damage. You also suffered a fractured skull and a serious concussion, so I would expect your memory to be a bit fuzzy.” He drew a metal tube from his pocket, and with it, beamed a searingly bright light directly into my eye. I cried out, partly with shock at the brightness of the tube-torch, and partly with outrage at this imposition, and drew away. He frowned at me and at his tube, and then placed a gentle but firm hand on my brow, holding me like a fractious child, and moving more carefully, shone the light into my eyes for but an instant before releasing me, murmuring comfortingly all the while, to wit: “Don’t worry, I just need to examine you, only take a second, that’s it,” and so forth.

“Unhand me, sir!” I said then, and he did. When he was finished gentling me and prodding at my very sight.

He stepped back and put his hands in his pockets. “Do you know where you are?”

“Aye, the lass told me where I am. A hospital of the order of St. Vincent, though I do not know those monks.”

He frowned at me. “Do you know who you are?”

I stared for a moment. “Aye – I am Damnation Kane, captain of the good ship the Grace of Ireland.

Christ! I had not thought of her afore now; my brain still wallowed half in the mud of sleep. “Where is my ship? My crew?” I had a new thought, then, an explanation for my bonds. “Are you holding me captive? Are ye in league with the Devil’s Lash?”

He held up his hands placatingly. “Hold on, hold on, simmer down, now. You’re not captive, you’re not under arrest, and I’m certainly not in league with the Devil. We’re here to help you. The restraints are only so you don’t hurt yourself, and if you’ll promise me you won’t struggle or try to get out of the bed, I’ll take them off right now.”

I relaxed my limbs. “I am not held for Nicholas Hobbes? Nor for la policia?”

He shook his head. “The police will have some questions for you; we had to report your wounds, as they were gunshots, and the whole story isn’t yet clear. But you are not under arrest, or any suspicion, and you are free to go as soon as you are physically healthy enough.”

“I have your word on that?”

He paused, frowning slightly. Then he nodded. “You do.”

“Then ye have mine. I’ll not struggle nor fight you.”

He nodded again, and then he released the leather thongs that held my arms and legs. I tried to stretch my limbs, but was hampered by the strands of ivy. “Will ye take these out of me, as well?”

Now he shook his head. “I’m afraid you still need those. We are giving you fluids and antibiotics. You lost quite a bit of blood, there, and there was a fairly serious infection in the shoulder wound. Your friends bound it, but their materials were none too sterile, it seems.”

“What of my friends? Where are my shipmates?” I coughed at the last word, and the doctor took up the cup of snow and placed it in my hand; I emptied it gratefully.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about a ship. You were brought to the hospital, along with two others, who were also shot. They’re still here, and you can visit them when you’re feeling up to it. The men who brought all of you here left as soon as we took custody of you. The police have spoken to your two friends about them, but I don’t know any more than that.”

I returned to an earlier question. “How long have I been here?”

He paused, then said, “You’ve been here for seven days.”

Gods! I’d been shot twice, broken my head, and been feverish and delirious for a full week – and now I felt nearly hale, though weak and in pain. Not nearly so much pain as I would expect, howbeit. I nodded to the medic. “Thank you for your good care for myself and my compatriots.” I attempted to place the cup on the tray, but could not reach; the man took the cup from my hand.

“I want you to rest now,” he said. “In a little while I’ll have Miss Winslow bring you some soup to eat – and maybe a little surprise, if you’re feeling up to it.” He touched the side of the bed as had Miss Winslow, and I found myself reclining again. “Now you should try to sleep. It will help you get better.”

If he said more, I did not hear it. I fell into a deep and thankfully dreamless slumber.

I woke but slowly; as I lay dozing, the door opened and another woman came in, this one younger and darker-hued than Miss Winslow. I wakened further as she came to my ivy-box and examined its lineaments – why did they all stare at that box? And where was that damned cheeping bird, or the whisperers behind my head? – and gave her greeting. She smiled at me most prettily, and soon enough I had been brought upright once more – and the means of so adjusting my position shown to me – and she brought me a bowl of broth and a glass of golden juice, most delicious both, and surprisingly filling, though my gut did rumble ominously as I ate.

The doctor returned as I broke my long fast, and introduced himself as Albert Kelashnikskaya, a name I had to see writ on his portrait card ere I could repeat it. After a cursory examination and some idle questions regarding my mental state, he drew a folded paper from his pocket and gave it me. Then he politely withdrew – a man of quality, indeed.

It was a letter, from my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn, and reading it gave me more peace than even that good soup.

***

Captain Kane,

It is my fondest wish that this letter will soon find you hale and well, once more. My deepest regret is that I could neither return you to health myself, nor be present when these kind folk do so; but my own skills are far too meager for the first task, and our situation too dire for the second.

As of this morning, we are free of the Devil’s Lash. The Grace sustained but minor damage, apart from our casualties, and we had soon sailed out of sight of the Sea-Cat. O’Gallows has command, and after we are assured that you will be safe, we will sail elsewhere, to escape and perhaps draw Captain Hobbes away from you. I will not say where, as I cannot be sure Hobbes will not retrieve this letter. If you wake (and God will it so!), inquire of your companions, who will have the means to guide you to us.

God keep and preserve you, Captain, and us as well.

Llewellyn Vaughn

***

My ship was safe. My crew were safe, but for the casualties – and those were not so many that my dear friend Ian could not sail my ship to safety. Satisfied for the nonce, I held the letter to my breast, and thus slept.

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Book II: Chapter 1, of The Adventures of Damnation Kane — Log 39

Captain’s Log

But am I still captain? I am not on my ship. Where is my ship? Am I even myself?

I have slept long and dreamt – strangely. How long? How strange!

I dreamt that I was home, in my mother’s house. I awoke in her bower, the carved oak bench she was wont to recline on, the which I would steal for slumber whenever opportunity arose. And the dawn sun shone through the flowers that grew there, up trellises and down walls so that within the bower, all seemed a fairyland, without hint of human corruption in the sweet breath of nature. The perfume of the flowers drifted to me, and the birds gently chirruped, weet, weet, weet.

My mother came to me, moving slow as the tides, the sun shining on her face, her golden hair. She wore a gown of blue, and with gold shining at her wrists and her pale throat, she seemed the very sky itself, the heavens come down to bless me and ease away my cares.

“Are you home?” she asked with a warm smile.

“Aye, mother, I have returned to thee,” I said. I tried to arise, but – could not.

“Are you home?” she said again, and her smile faded. The bright dawn did as well, and a shadow crept into the bower. Again I tried to rise, but could not. Something held me to the bench, flat on my back. Helpless.

Then my mother raised her hands from her sides, and I saw she held an athame, the druid’s dagger, the weapon used for rituals. For sacrifices. “Are you home?” she hissed, and now her lovely face twisted with anger. Of a sudden her slow, tranquil movements flowed as quick as thought. And my mother stabbed me, and stabbed again. Behind her, in the leaves and vines and blooms, the birds chirruped on.

***

I dreamt I walked a road in the night, the moon bright above and a thousand thousand stars that danced musingly across the sky. From a thicket nearby came the slow sound of an owl hoo-hoo-hoo in the darkness. And as I walked, I felt a hand slip into mine, a hand soft and cool. I turned to look, and beheld – Genevra. My Genevra, alive again, in the perfect blossom of youth and health, as she had been once, but was not, that last time I looked on her. She smiled at me and said, “Hello, my darling devil. Give us a kiss, and then dash us away to your fiery pit.” ‘Twas such she ever said to me. I caught her up in my arms, laughing with her, her voice ringing like bells, like bird’s song, and I kissed her, aye, I did.

And as I drew back, her face looked as it had when last I looked on her: pallid and drawn, her eyes shrunk into her skull, her sweet lips drawn back from her teeth by the pain, her soft white throat swelled up like a frog’s by the buboes, her flesh blackened by that bloody English plague. They brought it to us after their city burned (When God wreaked his vengeance on them, aye, did he.) and they took my Genevra from me, and drove me thus to a life at sea.

That dying, agonized face looked back at me from my embrace, and now her grimace seemed a smile, and she licked her lips with blackened tongue and said, “Welcome to Hell, my devil, my Damnation.

“Give us a kiss.”

And she laughed like bells.

***

I dreamt I stood on the deck of my ship, my Grace, and the wind filled the sails and carried us over the waves. From somewhere far off, gulls cried, their harsh voices softened by distance into a gentle, regular note, repeating every second or two, Ha! Ha! Ha! As always, I looked to the sails, the lines, the coursing of the sea: all was as it should be, and I smiled as my heart swelled with joy, to be where I was. Where I belonged.

“Steady as she goes, Captain?” called a voice, and I turned to see my friend and shipmate Balthazar Lynch at the wheel. Gladly I climbed to the poop deck to stand beside him, clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Aye, we sail fine and true, and naught is ill in all this wide world.” The boy smiled at that, and I noticed the gleam of his white teeth, hale and straight and true, and the blush of health in his smooth cheeks – still too young to shave? – and the sparkle of his green eyes. He’ll reap through the lasses like a very scythe, I thought, as I have many times before, they’ll fall before him and aye, beneath him, too.

Then I noted a tear, bright and full, trickling down from the corner of his wide eye. “Why weepest thou, my lad?” I asked him.

He smiled bravely, though his eyes were full of suffering. “Because it hurts, Captain.” He looked down, and I followed his gaze to where a blade was sunk deep into his chest, and on the hilt were curled my own fingers. Blood burst forth from the wound then, hot and wet on my hand. I tried to release the dagger, but could not. I looked into Lynch’s eyes once more, and I tried to speak, but my tongue cleaved to my teeth, and my lips would not open.

“Please stop killing me, Nate. Please stop killing me.” And his face became Genevra’s face, and then my mother’s, and still the blade in my hand, in her heart, ran red with blood, and I could not let go.

***

I dreamt that I sat in a tavern, in a dark corner by the fire. I looked around the room – ’twas a fine place, a proper Irish pub, with smoking torches in sconces and warm smells thickening the air, though a cool breeze from the open door cut through the room and freshened a man’s breath. In the corner, on a raised platform, three musicians stood, tuning their instruments, fiddle and flute and drum, and the fiddle and the flute played a single note back and forth, back and forth, while the drummer tapped gently at the skin, a slow beat like a heart’s.

I looked to the bar, and behind it stood a man I knew, though he was dressed as an innkeeper, in an apron and shirtsleeves stained with food and ale: ’twas Sean O’Flaherty, my Quartermaster that was. At the bar sat Edmund Burke, who raised his mug to me, and I saw a long chain dangling from his wrist, and blood dripping down its length. Beside him was Donal Carter, sawing at a hunk of meat with a great, curved blade, and Elliott Shluxer, who had a barmaid pinned against the bar, hemmed in by his arms, though she laughed and tickled his cheeks. She glanced back over her shoulder, and I saw ’twas the Enchantress. She winked at me most saucily.

And on top of the bar, laid out like a roast goose at Christmas, was my cousin, Hugh Moran. And all of them sliced and tore at Hugh’s flesh, thrusting dripping chunks into their gaping, bloody mouths, and laughing as they swallowed. Hugh struggled, and tried to scream, but he had an apple in his mouth, and O’Flaherty held him down. Hugh looked at me, his eyes pleading.

I turned away.

“Would you care for a plate, Master Kane?”

The voice, mellifluous of tone and refined of accent, came from my table companion: Captain Nicholas Hobbes of the Sea-Cat, known as the Devil’s Lash. He sat in deep shadow, though I could make out the outline of his thin features, and the shine of his white teeth, the gleam of his eyes. He smoked a pipe, the white plumes curling idly between us.

I shook my head. “‘Tis not to my taste, sir.”

“Then perhaps a draught, to quench thy thirst?” From the shadows that enwrapped his side of the table, he pushed a goblet brimming with a red fluid. Wine? Blood?

I demurred once more. “I do not thirst,” I spake, but I lied – my throat was a fire, my voice cracking like a pine log on the hearth. I strained my eyes, peering through the smoke and darkness, and I saw that there was not only one smile, or one man’s eyes agleam in the dimness, but two: behind Hobbes lurked another, lost in the shadows but for the white of his smile and his gaze, the which gleamed hungrily.

“Then mayhap this is what you seek,” Hobbes said and across the table he thrust a pistola. As he leaned forward, he came into the light, and I saw that his face bore the waxy yellow pallor of the dead, and around his throat I saw two hands wrapped tight and squeezing, the fingers dark and scarred.

“Aye, I thank thee kindly, sir,” I heard myself saying. And I took up the pistol from the tabletop, pressed the barrel against my head, and pulled the trigger.

***

***

I am thankful that I have never been press-ganged. I’ve known men who have, and I have spoken with them about the experience. Some were pressed into a better life than that they left, for all that it was the British navy they now must needs serve; still, a British seaman gets food and clothing, a berth and companions, and if he serve loyally, mayhap even the gratitude of the Crown. And some, of course, were stolen away from happiness, from hearth and home, companions and kin, to be flogged like brutes and treated like beasts. These latter had escaped, while the former were generally released from service after some years before the mast.

But for all, that first waking was a memory that haunted. That first moment of awareness, when the last thing you recalled was a walk through dark streets, or perhaps a drink of ale or wine in a tavern by the docks, and now you find yourself with aching head in a hammock, or sprawled across the rough planks of a deck, on a ship at sea, moving with the waves when last you stood on solid land; in your nose the smells of salt air and a ship and men, and in your ears the sounds of wind and waves, sails and shrouds, and chanteys and shouted orders to rise and work – perhaps punctuated with a kick, or a blow from a belaying pin or marlinspike: every man to whom I spoke of it said that the confusion, the bewilderment of such a change, from landsman’s life to the world of a ship at sea, all of the world altered in the single closing and opening of an eye, had filled them with a terror and a despair that none had otherwise known. Their lives had gone, and they had no memory of the going. The sensation did not last long, but those moments were sheer and absolute Hell.

And now I know what they meant.

I am in a room with white walls, without window, with one door. I am in a bed, clothed but in a thin wrap like a robe made of parchment or threadbare linen. My arms are tied by leather thongs lined with some soft material, bound to the rails that run on both sides of this bed, and thin tubes are – attached to me, somehow. The tubes lead to a contraption of metal and white-lacquered stuff, with clear sacs like wineskins made of glass, filled with variously colored fluids. The thing chirps like a bird, though more regular-like. My left forearm is well-bandaged, as is my right shoulder, and both pain me severely. My head seems awash in porridge: somewhat thick and warm and impossible to grip are my thoughts. I have slept and woke and slept again, sometimes dreaming, sometimes aware, even as I have written this. I write these words on a bound sheaf of paper which rests on my hip, with a pen I found alongside the sheaf when I woke.

I do not know where I am. I do not know the fate of my ship, or my men, or even myself. I do not know how much time has passed, or what has befallen us since – I do recall the battle, though I know not how it has ended.

Aye, this confusion is terrible, in truth. I am adrift, and alone. It would, like those press-ganged men I have known, be the worst sensation I have ever felt in this life; except for that I have felt it before. When my ship sailed through time, stranding my crew and I three centuries lost from home.

Has it happened again? I do not know.

Sleep pulls me down. I fear my dreams.

Gods and saints preserve me.

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What’s Next?

Hello!

We have now reached the end of Book One of The Adventures of Damnation Kane. (Okay, we reached it last week; but I hate putting informational posts up directly after story posts; it pushes the story into the backseat, and I think it should always be driving. Which is probably why I’m unknown: story > marketing.) Starting next week, I’ll be posting chapters, a new one every Saturday, from Book Two, which includes a hospital, a hurricane, and a houngan; which sends Damnation to New York, into the Bermuda Triangle, and over the edge of madness.

But that’s not the exciting part.

The exciting part is that I will soon be publishing Damnation Kane, as an eBook through Smashwords.com, and as an actual paper book (I can’t tell you how excited I am about this) through lulu.com. The eBook will, for ease of use, be divided into four separate mini-books of about ten chapters each; the paperback will contain all of the chapters.

In addition, I have written nine bonus chapters, never before seen, that will only be available in the published versions, not on this blog. They will be distributed throughout the four eBooks (Three in the first mini-book and two in each of the others) and all will be included in the paperback. These chapters tell parts of Damnation’s back story, and the stories of several of the other characters, particularly O’Flaherty and Burke, the leaders of the mutiny. These chapters are no small thing; each of them is longer than pretty much all of the regular chapters; there is a lot in there. I think they’ll make it worth buying the books even if you have kept up with the blog all along. Though of course, I think the book will be worth buying anyway. Right?

As soon as I have the books ready for purchase, I will be taking the old chapters down from this blog. I’ll leave the first five or so, so that a newcomer to the story can get at least some idea of what’s going on; but otherwise, soon the only way to read Book One will be — to own Book One.

I hope to have the books ready to go before the end of 2017, and I will post updates here and on the Facebook page. I am also considering getting my own website/domain name, and combining this serial with my blog.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped in here and read my work. I hope you’ll consider buying it, as well.

For the nonce, get yourself a print of this awesome ship at sea, done in ink wash by my wife, the brilliant Toni DeBiasi (Whose work adorns the header of this blog, and will most likely grace the cover of the book). Go to her Facebook page and click on Shop Now to purchase. (Give her a Like and a Follow, as well, because her work’s incredible.) Thanks!

–Dusty

PS Ship

 

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Log 38: The End Of The Voyage

The Last Chapter of Book One

The night is dark, clouded, and in the darkness there is little more than silence: an occasional creak of wood and rope, now and then a pop as a corner of canvas flaps with a capricious breath of wind, sometimes a cough. Through the silence, something moves; it is large, and solid, and would bring notice if there were any nearby to sense its passage who were not already a part of it.

Then in the distance, like the opening of a sleeping eye, dawn begins. The growing light shows first the waves, like wrinkles in the blue-green skin of the world; and then the white sails appear, as if they catch and gather in the light as they do the wind, filling with the sun’s first gentle rays. As the light grows, the silent presence becomes the ship that rides over and breaks through the waves, now, as the breeze rises and sends the drifting water against the ship’s smooth hull, as if the dawn had woken the very air, the great ocean itself.

When the sun’s edge breaks the horizon, off the starboard bow, the man standing at the wheel squints and looks away. His eyes flash over the sails, which are buckling and heaving: the dawn has brought a new wind from a new quarter of the sky. The ships begins to slow, and its graceful motion becomes choppy – where it was a great owl, gliding through the still, dark air, now it is a jackrabbit, jouncing, jolting across the ground. The man’s eyes flick to the ladder that leads down to the next lower deck, and his lips thin. He begins to turn the wheel, then shakes his head and stills his hands. He coughs – louder than he needs to, likely.

A door opens on that lower deck, and a man steps out. He is tall: he must duck to pass through the door, and then he stands with broad shoulders and a straight back. Black hair blows on the wind, and blue-green eyes, the same color as the water below, squint in the sunlight which dazzles the ocean waves. His gaze goes to the sails, and he frowns; he crosses to the ladder and climbs rapidly to the top deck, where the man stands at the wheel, a relieved look on his face as the tall man appears. The tall man says, “Change course with the wind, Salty – three points north.”

“Three points north, aye, Captain,” the man at the wheel says, satisfaction in his voice. Even as he speaks, he is already turning the wheel to the left, and the ship shifts with a creak and a groan, and then slides into place like a lock into its groove, the sails snapping taut once more, the waves now rolling under the ship instead of crashing across it. The ship picks up speed and again glides like a bird in flight. The Captain claps the man at the wheel on the shoulder, and then stretches and yawns. He walks the ship, inspecting everything he can see and touch, now frowning, now nodding.

More men emerge as the dawn light strengthens and paints the sky bright pink and yellow and blue; the Captain hails some and orders them to the lines, to adjust ropes that have stretched and slipped, knots that have loosened in the night. Puffs of smoke begin to emerge from a small pipe, as the stove in the galley below heats up for breakfast. The man at the wheel is relieved; he hands over control of the ship with a comment on the new heading, and then he turns an hourglass set into the side of the wheel’s post just as the sand runs out. He stretches, shaking and flexing his fingers, which are scarred and gnarled though still strong, and then goes below, to the galley and food.

The Captain, having looked over the whole of his domain, now stands at the starboard rail, the bright sun warm on his face and the ocean breeze cool. He looks out at the water, the sky, the line of the horizon. Then he frowns. His body turns, his shoulders squaring, and his head leans forward as his eyes narrow. From a pouch at his belt he removes a brass tube, which he holds up to one eye.

In the lens he sees a scrap of white.

He watches it, moving only with the roll of the ship over the waves, for several minutes. He exchanges greetings with men who pass by on their tasks, several going to or coming from the head at the bow of the ship; some lowering buckets on ropes into the water, bringing them up full and splashing water across the deck, others re-coiling ropes that have shifted in the night or polishing salt spray off of metal surfaces.

The Captain lowers the glass. His expression is troubled. He begins to turn away, and then stops and looks back at the white scrap, which has grown somewhat larger, more definite, though still tiny. He glances at the men, then the scrap. Then his features firm, smoothing slightly: a decision is made. He raises his voice. “All hands on deck!” he calls, his tone strong but not urgent.

The call is repeated below, and within minutes, the yawning, bleary-eyed man who had been behind the wheel is the last to emerge. They have seen the Captain standing at the rail, and are gathered around him. The Captain looks them over, nods, and then turns and points. “Look there,” he says. “Lynch – get above. Take the glass.” He holds the brass tube out to a slender youth, who takes it and tucks it behind the wide leather belt about his middle. The youth jogs to a rope ladder and scrambles up, into the rigging above.

The other men line the rail and squint into the bright morning air. “‘At’s a sail, sure,” one says, and the others nod and mutter.

“There be some sailin’ ships in these waters, bain’t there?” asks a thin man with delicate features.

“Aye,” the Captain says. “But not with square sails. Lynch!”

The youth has reached the top cross-bar of the main mast, and now sits astride it and puts the glass to his eye, holding the mast with his other hand. He finds the white object on the horizon and frowns at it, his brows lowering as he strains to see it clearly, struggling to keep the object in view despite the motion of the ship, greatly exaggerated here, forty feet above the deck. Then he pales.

Below, another man, hard-eyed and bearded, mutters, “We be th’ only ship wi’ square sails – th’ only one for a hunnerd years. That’n can’t be such.” Another man nods, but he is frowning as he does so.

Then the bearded man’s eyes widen. “Oh, Christ in Heaven, no – “

The young man on the mast interrupts and anticipates him. “Captain!” he shouts, his voice breaking high and shrill. “It’s the Sea-Cat!

There is a brief moment of utter, shocked silence, and then a groan goes through the men. The Captain looks up and shouts, “Are ye sure? At this distance?”

“I stared at that bastard for two months, Captain,” the youth retorts. “Aye, I’m sure. It’s him. I can see the Scourged Lady on the bow.”

“And he’s closing on us,” one of the men on deck mutters. Indeed, the scrap of white has become a spot, now visible to all, and obviously square. The mutters rise, and feet begin shifting, hands clenching into fists around the hilts of swords and the butts of pistols.

The Captain wheels on them, his eyes bright, his expression determined, fearless. He speaks in a calm voice, just above quiet. “All right. He’s three, four miles off, still, and we’re running slow. O’Grady – go below and finish the breakfast, then douse the cookfire. We’ll need to eat well, so double rations. Desmond – can ye take the wheel? I need Ian on the lines.”

A man rubs at his shoulder, shrugging his right arm, testing it against pain. “Aye, Captain. I think ’tis healed enough.”

The Captain nods, then raises his voice. “All right! Raise all topsails! All canvas up! Desmond, go eat now, then on the wheel – follow the wind, wheresoever it goes, aye? We’ll sort out our course later. For now – speed! MacTeigue, with me. Go, ye sea-dogs! Hoist the sails!”

Men burst into action. Three scramble up the rope ladder to join Lynch above, where they stretch themselves out along the top yardarms, poles no thicker than a tree branch, their legs curled about to hold them up as they yank at knotted ropes. The knots loose, and sails unfurl; the men slide down the masts to the lower crossbars, and, grabbing at ropes attached to the corners of the flapping sails, tie them quickly to the crossbars. The sails fill, and the ship accelerates. The mast-climbers return to the deck, where a conversation has been rattling quickly back and forth between the Captain and MacTeigue, with much pointing of fingers and shaking of heads. The Captain finally curses and says, “Load them all anyway.” He shouts for his glass, which the descended Lynch jumps to put into his hand before going below to gobble oat porridge and sliced ham, with a cup of ale to fortify himself.

The Captain moves to the aft rail on the highest deck, where the wheel is, and looks out at the square sail on the horizon. He puts one eye to the spyglass, points the glass at the ship, and then stands there, unmoving but for the rocking of the ship beneath him, for half a glass – fifteen minutes. Behind him his men are finishing their barely-warmed food and are readying weapons, loading guns, sharpening blades, arming the ship’s cannons – twenty-four in total, twelve on each side, split evenly between two decks.

The Captain lowers his glass with a curse, rubbing at his watering eyes. “He’s still gaining on us,” he mutters. He strikes the rail with the heel of his hand. “Gods damn ye, Hobbes, ye son of the Devil’s whores.” He turns and looks at the sails above him, which are bellied full of wind; the man Desmond is on the wheel, now, a hunk of ham in one fist, and he has lined the ship up perfectly with the wind. “MacTeigue! O’Gallows! To me!” the Captain roars.

MacTeigue leaves the men loading the cannons, and O’Gallows, a tall, square-jawed fellow with golden blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes, ceases his harangue of two sailors who had apparently tied a poor knot in a line, and joins MacTeigue and the Captain on the poop deck.

“He’s faster,” the Captain says. “We cannot run this time.”

O’Gallows curses and looks back at the ship, which has indeed grown larger, the shape of her sails, her dark hull, a lighter smudge of a figurehead at the bow, all clear now against the blue sky. “If we turn now, he’ll match us,” he says. “We can’t trade broadsides with the Sea-Cat. She has more iron.”

“We can’t fight man-to-man,” MacTeigue says. “We don’t have enough men.”

“We need to cross her bow as she’s coming,” O’Gallows replies. “She’s got no fore-chasers. We can give her our broadside and then turn and run. If we hole her at the water, or break her mast, we’ll be faster, then.”

“But he’ll turn when we turn, and then it’s broadsides for all – or else he’ll follow close and grapple to our after rail, and board us,” MacTeigue says.

Suddenly, the Captain, who has been hunched over with his thumbs tucked into his sash, straightens and grins. “Not if we turn fast enough,” he says. “Go bring me the torn sail and some line, and two men to help ye,” he orders O’Gallows, who moves off with a puzzled frown. The captain turns to MacTeigue, after glancing at the sails, and then over his shoulder at the pursuing ship. “Right – starboard side first. Stagger the broadside – fire three above and three below, then shift the crews and fire the other three. Then have them cross to the port side and be ready to do the same again.”

MacTeigue is wide-eyed, mouth agape. “Nate, how, by Lucifer, are we to fire both sides at the same target? Christ’s bones, how will we manage to fire the one?”

The Captain slaps him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, cousin. The Grace will wheel and dance like a falcon in flight, I promise ye. Now go – ready the guns! Starboard first!”

As MacTeigue races off, the Captain shouts. “Kelly! We’ll be needing the sharpshooters – ready the rifles at the mainmast!” A large, one-eyed man nods and goes below, to the armory beneath the main deck. Just as he disappears, O’Gallows struggles up the steep staircase – almost a ladder – on the opposite side of the deck, with a large coil of rope draped over his shoulders. Behind him come two men lugging a long roll of canvas. They go towards the poop deck, and the Captain comes down to meet them on the main deck. He explains their orders, pointing and miming with his hands; O’Gallows’s puzzled frown turns into a mischievous grin, and he and the other two draw knives and begin cutting slits in the canvas, threading the rope through and tying knots.

The Captain returns to the aft rail and watches as the pursuing ship grows, men now visible aboard her. As he watches, the grin slides off of his face, and his eyes grow first worried, then determined. He makes a fist, and pounds it down on the rail, once, twice, three times. He strides away, barking orders as he goes.

***

She is close, now. She has clearly been battered and then repaired – there are lighter-colored boards, new wood not yet stained the dark gray of ocean-going vessels, in her hull, and her mainmast is taller, now, and raked, or tilted back towards the rear of the ship; the mainmast is also gaff-rigged, now, which it was not before – perhaps that is what has gained her more speed. They had been evenly matched in their last encounter, when the Sea-Cat had chased the Grace across the Atlantic – and, apparently, across three centuries, as well; but now the English ship is the faster of the two. She still has no cannon in her bow, but she is near enough that her men have begun firing muskets, hoping for a lucky hit; at this range, from moving ship to moving ship, there is no other kind of hit but a lucky one – but the man on the Grace’s wheel hunches his shoulders and ducks his head, nonetheless.

The Captain is standing beside the wheel, looking back over Desmond’s shoulder at the Sea-Cat. He does not duck. To his left and below, at the starboard rail of the main deck, O’Gallows and his two helpers crouch, waiting, an ungainly bundle of canvas and rope in their sweating hands. The Sea-Cat is not visible from where they are, and so their gazes are locked on their captain’s back, and the left arm he will use to signal them when the time is right.

“What the hell is he waiting for?” O’Gallows grumbles, trying to crane his head out to the side far enough to catch a glimpse of the other ship. He cannot – lucky, perhaps, as this would make him a target for musket fire – and he returns to his crouching and staring. “If they get too close, they’ll bloody well ram us and board even as we fire.” His gaze flicks to the two other men, who are exchanging worried frowns at these words, and O’Gallows falls silent and waits. Near them crouch six more men, including MacTeigue and the young Lynch, by three large cannons. They, too, wait, and stare at the captain’s back.

The Captain waits for – something. His eyes rove the forward rail of his enemy, seeking something, or someone, among the line of men firing and reloading muskets. Then, at last, he shakes his head and raises his hand, as his gaze flicks between his ship and the Sea-Cat, gauging a distance that has nearly become too close. But then he smiles. A man steps up to the rail of the Sea-Cat, a tall man, pale and gaunt, with white-blonde hair and deep-set eyes; from a distance, he has the appearance of a skull.

“Hello, Hobbes, you sodding bastard,” the Captain whispers. He raises his arm higher, and waves. The gaunt man lays a finger along his hat, nodding so slightly it is nearly imperceptible – then he draws his thumb across his throat in an unmistakable gesture. The skull grins. The Captain smiles in return. “Choke on this,” he mutters. Then he drops his arm and shouts, NOW!”

O’Gallows and his two men throw the tangle of canvas and rope over the rail, and then run to the lines securing the ship’s mainsail, which is gaff-rigged like the Sea-Cat’s – tied at top and bottom to a long pole that juts out to the side, rather then sitting fixed to the mainmast like the bar of a cross; this means the mainsail can be moved to catch the wind as the ship turns. The tangle hits the water and sinks, though ropes trailing from it are still tied to the ship. As the tangle is dragged through the water, it opens into something like a parachute, the corners of the square canvas gathered together and tied to the ship: a sea-anchor. Instantly, the ship begins to slow, and turn, as the sea-anchor swings wide and drags. Desmond spins the wheel, O’Gallows swivels the gaffed mainsail – and the Grace turns, as swift and graceful as a falcon, and presents her broadside to the bow of the oncoming Sea-Cat.

“FIRE!” yells MacTeigue, and almost as one, six cannons explode in red flames and black smoke. The three above are four-pounders, loaded with chain shot – a pair of cannonballs attached by a stout length of chain, which spin like a bola when fired – and are aimed high, at the masts and sails of the pursuing ship; the three below are eight-pounders firing round cannonballs aimed at the waterline of the enemy ship, intended to sink her. The chain shot strikes true, and the foretopsail is torn in half, spilling the wind and losing a fraction of the Sea-Cat’s speed, but the heavier guns are aimed too low, and the round shot splashes into the ocean.

“Raise your aim, curse you!” MacTeigue shrieks as he and his men scramble to the next three guns, their movements mimicked below.

“Ian! Now!” roars the Captain, and then he draws from his sash a pistol – a revolver – and fires several shots at the men who have been shooting at him. Now they duck.

O’Gallows leaves his companions holding the mainsail’s lines and leaps to the rail, where the sea-anchor is attached to the capstan for the starboard anchor – and where an axe lies ready. He snatches up the blade, swings it over his head, and with a single blow shears through the two-inch-thick rope that holds the sea-anchor in place.

At the same moment, the six remaining cannons fire. This time, all six hit, but again, the heavier cannons miss their mark, striking the ship’s hull well above the waterline, punching holes in the wood but doing no real harm. The chain-shot tears at the main foresail but does not destroy it.

The moment the cannons fire, Desmond spins the wheel back to the left, and with a groan, the ship begins to turn. The two men on the mainsail lines struggle to reorient the gaff to match the new heading – running with the wind again, straight away from the pursuing Sea-Cat. But they slip, their curses turning to cries of pain and warning; O’Gallows drops the axe and leaps to them; he catches at the rope sliding through their hands, and together, they get the mainsail under control. The rough hemp rope is now marked with blood.

“O’Gallows!” shouts MacTeigue. “Take the port guns here! I’m going below to aim for those blind fools!” He races to the ladder and disappears. The gunners move to the port side, which at the moment faces nothing but empty sea, and prepare to fire the cannons.

O’Gallows turns his head to respond to MacTeigue, but he has already gone below. He curses. “Captain! I’ve the gaff and MacTeigue’s below – ye must fire the guns!” He braces his back as a gust of wind catches at the mainsail, and his companions curse at the pain, but none of them lets go of the line.

The Captain curses and looks down at the sea. The sea-anchor, cut loose from the ship’s starboard rail, has sunk lower and swung under the ship – and now it comes taut on the second line, run around the stern of the Grace and tied to the anchor capstan on the port side. With a groan and a shudder, the ship, begins a second rapid turn, now to the port side. The Captain nods and then leaps the eight feet down from the poop deck to the main deck, where he grabs a slow match – a length of fuse, smoldering at one end – from Lynch and crouches by the touch-hole of a four-pounder. “MacTeigue! On your mark!” he roars.

“Aye!” MacTeigue calls from below.

This time, the Sea-Cat is not caught unaware; the pursuing ship begins to fall off, turning away from the wheeling Grace – presenting the larger ship’s port side, rather than her bow; a larger target, but a target that can also fire back.

The Grace turns, Desmond straining against the wheel, his face white with pain, O’Gallows and his two men straining against the mainsail lines, every other man straining eyes and ears, waiting for the order to fire to echo out from the lower deck, waiting for the target to come into view. As she does – and she is a large target now: the sea-anchor has slowed the Grace appreciably, and the Sea-Cat has closed rapidly even while taking fire – they can see that her side will be to them. “Prepare to fire!” the Captain shouts. “To fire stations after the broadside!” There is a chorus of Ayes in response.

Then they wait.

The ropes creak. The men grunt. The waves splash. The ships turn, and turn, and turn, and then – “FIRE!”

Six cannons blast from the Grace. The chain shot rips through the shrouds, cutting several lines and tangling others; the Sea-Cat’s sails sag and flap. And – at last! – two eight-pound cannonballs, each four inches in diameter, strike the hull just at the waterline and crash through, followed by the frothing sea. A cheer begins and is cut off as the Captain roars “PREPARE TO FIRE AGAIN!” and moves to the next set of cannons. Now is the dangerous time, when the Sea-Cat’s cannons – she carries eighteen on a side, and enough men to fire all, reload and fire again – may blast away, smashing the sails, the mast, the hull, the guns, and the men of the Grace, crashing through flesh and metal and bone, striking deadly flying splinters from the wooden hull wherever the cannonballs strike.

But she does not fire.

From below, MacTeigue again yells “FIRE!” and six cannons blast. The chain shot does little harm, flying mainly between the masts; another round shot punches a third hole in the hull at the waterline.

“FIRE STATIONS!” the Captain bawls. The men below run to the pumps; above they drop buckets into the sea and raise them on ropes, ready to douse flames; canvas sheets are lowered and soaked, ready to smother sparks, as well. O’Gallows and his two helpers tie the mainsail’s lines to cleats, all three flexing their shaking, bloody hands with hisses of pain. “Sharpshooters to the mast!” the Captain calls as he strides to the ladder up to the poop deck. “Ian – cut it loose!”

O’Gallows’s axe strikes again, and the sea-anchor slowly floats to the surface and falls behind. The Captain takes a moment to watch it sink, raising a hand in salute. Lynch and two older men move to the mainmast where they untie long rifles from a rack; they tie pouches of ammunition to their belts. Then one crouches at the rail, and the other two climb the masts, Lynch at the foremast and the other man on the mainmast; they straddle the yardarms and raise the rifles, taking aim at the Sea-Cat.

Now fire comes from the Sea-Cat – but it is musket fire, not the cannons. Their sharpshooters are in place, as well, and far more numerous. Lead balls whine and crack against the Grace, and the men duck and curse, but stay at their stations. MacTeigue begins to reload the cannons, but it is a slow and laborious process, especially for one man working alone. But he continues, undaunted.

Now the Grace’s sharpshooters begin to return fire – and it is immediately clear that something is different. The crack of the guns is sharper, flatter, and with almost no smoke; then after each shot, they move a brass lever up, back, forward and down – and they fire again. The man at the rail does not even move a lever, simply aiming and pulling the trigger, again and again, firing without reloading. Their accuracy, too, is far greater, and men on the Sea-Cat cry out and fall, one after another.

But the Sea-Cat, after the apparent mistake of turning broadside and then failing to fire any cannon, has already begun turning to follow, and now she is aimed straight for the Grace once more, and drawing closer by the second despite the damage she has absorbed, her momentum carrying her as the smaller ship slowly begins to pick up her lost speed. Not soon enough: for the Sea-Cat comes within pistol range, and then she turns slightly, presenting her left fore-quarter to the starboard and stern of the Grace.

The Captain, standing on the poop deck, locks gazes with his opposite number, who is now close enough that the whites of his eyes are visible. With a start, the Captain realizes there is another man, standing in the shadow of the Sea-Cat’s commander: he is dark-skinned, African or West Indian, and his head is shaved clean; he wears a strange robe and a brimless cloth cap. This other man is smiling, and the evil in his expression is enough to make the Grace’s captain shiver, even from this distance. The Captain looks away.

Just then, at a shouted command that is audible even on the Grace, so close are the two ships, a dozen men stand from behind the Sea-Cat’s rail, where they had been concealed from the sight of the Grace’s three sharpshooters. These men hold guns, but they are not rifles, nor muskets, nor even pistols.

They are thunder-guns.

They open fire.

A hail of lead crashes into the Grace. The two sharpshooters in the rigging are struck almost instantly; Lynch drops with a thud and a cry to the deck, and the other man slumps into the mast, dead before he falls from his perch. The men on fire stations at the starboard rail are struck, as well – how could they not be? – and one falls into the water and is gone in an instant. O’Gallows is struck, a bullet creasing his hip and spinning him about; he falls with a snarl and a curse, clutching at his injury. The third sharpshooter, the hard-eyed, bearded man at the rail, is hit when a bullet passes through the wooden partition concealing him, hitting him in the leg; splinters fly and slash his cheek and hands. He drops his rifle with a grunt, falling onto his back on the deck.

The Captain, seeing his men brought down so quickly, draws a second pistol from his sash and leaps to the starboard rail of the poop deck, firing with both hands, yelling curses at the top of his lungs that cannot be heard through the thunder of the Sea-Cat’s gunmen.

One of the men on the Sea-Cat is struck, then a second; two others shift aim and fire at this new threat.

The Captain is struck, twice, and is knocked back. He falls from the poop deck and crashes onto the main deck.

All goes black.

Ship’s Log

Llewellyn Vaughn, Ship’s Surgeon, recording.

We have escaped from the Englishman Captain Nicholas Hobbes and his Sea-Cat. That ship was slowed by our cannonade, taking on water and her sails and rigging damaged. They fell quickly behind after they fell off the line to fire on us.

Captain Kane lives, though he has not yet regained consciousness. I have bound his wounds, but he has lost some blood, perhaps one and one-half pints, judging by his pallor. A bullet remains in his right shoulder, perhaps lodged against the scapula, from the entry wound. The shot to his left arm passed through the wrist and away. Francis Murphy and Seamus O’Finnegan are lost, Murphy killed in the shrouds, O’Finnegan over the rail. MacManus, O’Gallows, and Sweeney were all wounded; I have removed a bullet from MacManus’s left quadriceps. I believe it was slowed by passing through the ship’s bulwark, and did little harm, but it may have splintered. He will have to be watched carefully. O’Gallows and Sweeney suffered minor flesh wounds, which I have sewn. Lynch is more grievously hurt, the bullet passing through his left side. I hope it did not strike the kidney. He fell to the deck and broke his arm, as well; lost consciousness when I set the bone. He has lost blood as well, and his slighter figure leaves him little to spare.

The ship is undamaged. MacTeigue has the command, while O’Gallows rests and recovers – he has torn nearly all of the flesh off of his hands, attempting to hold the mainsail as the ship turned, and Fitzpatrick and Doyle with him – and steers us for the nearest land, which is the coast of the same America we left behind. We have come some hundreds of miles north, but without the captain and after the confusion of the battle, we know not where we are, nor where we will strike land. I only pray it will be close to civilization, and we may perhaps find a surgeon who can save the lives of our wounded brethren. They are beyond my help, now.

I pray, as well, that the Sea-Cat will not find us again.

One last observation: I believe I have discovered the means by which Captain Hobbes was able to follow us across the Atlantic through the darkest night despite any subterfuge attempted by our wily and devious Captain. After Captain Kane fell, and I had performed my duty, I met with MacTeigue on the poop deck to give my report of our casualties. I happened, in my exhaustion, to lean on the aft rail, and I noticed a silvery light shining, though it was night, and there was no moon in the sky. Leaning out further, I discerned runes, old Celtic pagan script, painted on the stern of the ship. They were glowing, brighter than a lantern, with a silver light. I cannot read the Druids’ tongue, but I believe one of the runes represents the word for blood.

The Grace of Ireland is Captain Kane’s ship. His blood was spilled on the deck this day – and as I recall, the same occurred during our first encounter with Hobbes, in Ireland of yore. And again, the night we fought the Sea-Cat a second time and were hurled, by time’s tempest, into the Year of our Lord 2011.

I do not know an explanation which I can rationally accept. But three instances – hypothetical, not confirmed observationally but for this last – that makes a pattern.

I will discuss this with the Captain, if he survives. If we all survive.

Recorded this night, the 8th of August, 2011

Aboard the Grace of Ireland

Bound for unknown shores

Categories: Not-The-Captain's Log, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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