“Strange things I do be tellin’ ye. They do happen, out on the briny sea,” The old gnarled sailor said, his right eye covered in a leather patch, and his left hand naught but a hook of brass, next to his one veiny, bony looking regular one.
Marlin was his name, and he had been a sailor for 60 of his 74 years. He had sailed and knew everything there was to know about the tall ships. He’d fought battles and had his share of prize money and more. And he had more than his fair share of glory and fame, serving on ships of the line, 2 and 3 deckers, frigates, and others as well. He had served later in the Merchant Service, when the wars were done, and been rewarded for deeds and cleverness done by him and his captains. The old man was grizzled and lined by his experience at sea. His hair was iron gray, and his cheeks stubbled and pockmarked, the skin underneath like old leather from wind and sun.
He wore a shirt of black and white horizontal stripes, and a blue kerchief tied in a seaman’s knot at his throat. He wore duck trousers and well tended and warm leather soled shoes with striped socks. And there was his pride – his dark blue peacoat, a woolen garment that kept a sailor snug and comfortable in the chill and damp. It had been patched and mended, but still serviceable. On top of his head was a dark blue woolen knitted cap, pulled low on his mass of unruly iron-gray locks.
It was said the old dog had money, but chose to live on simpler means. Some said he’d gambled and whored away his fortunes in prize money, like a proper jack of the waves. But that didn’t matter so much, because he seldom paid for drink or food at the Mad Jack’s Tavern. There always seemed a sailor, young or old, that had heard of Ol’ Marlin and took care of the man, but for the price of one of his wonderful tales of his adventures at sea.
He clamped down on the little pipe that he’d filled with tobacco and was puffing rings of fragrant smoke as he sipped at his mug, and glanced around at the ring of younger sailors sitting at the table.
The 3 of them were poised, waiting for the oldster to begin his tale. They were ready to listen.
The senior midshipman, a boy probably no more than 17 years old, and wearing the blue peacoat of his own, with a blue waist coat underneath, white hose and trousers, and black shiny buckled shoes, his cap on the table with the other mid’s, spoke up. “Can we get you anything else, sir? I mean we want to make sure you’re taken care of tonight, but we’d love to hear a tale or two?” Hawkins was the boy’s name, and he had a good voice, one that would carry over the wind when the sails were singing and the wind was raging across the waves. He was thin, but wiry and sure of himself, and probably a bit of a lady’s man – or would be, assuming he didn’t get himself killed in combat, now that the latest war was on.
“Aye, lads.. There be a tale on ol’ Marlin’s tongue, tonight, and it don’t be no fish-tail, neither.” The old sailor chuckled at his little jest, and one of the boys, one wearing glasses and was probably only 14, chuckled, as he saw the words in his mind. The others laughed to, a moment later, as they got the pun, and Marlin warmed to the group of lads.
“Well, let me tell ye,” old Marlin began, smiling at once, then refilling and tamping his pipe, while he was talking. “I was on the ol’ Triumph, and we was coming back from the Battle of Camperdown, back in October of 97,“ he said. His old one blue eye looked up at the ceiling, as if to pluck details from that well remembered time. “And I tell ye, we were stuffed full of Dutch treasure, and had 3 others o’ them Dutch prize ships behind us, as we sailed out in the North Sea back towards home. Triumph was down to a skeleton crew, having to man all those captured ships! This was back in 97.“ He repeated himself, but the boys didn’t care, as they were already rapt, having heard of that fantastic victory of His Majesty’s fleet. “Don’t ye know… it was a good year for this ol’ sailor! The year before I lost this un “ he pointed to his eye, and the boys all gulped. “We’d lost a few good lads, and the scuppers ran with blood, and rhe ol drunkard of a sawbones was finally earning his keep. But our lads were manning all those captured prizes, and it waz what was workin’ us hard, with gales blasting us on our travels home. But! The whole crew was gonna be stuffin’ their pockets with prize money when we got back. Ahhh, those were the days!” He lit his pipe once more from a candle and then settled in to puff up more smoke, as he continued his tale. “Now, have you lads ever heard of the ghost ship, The Sea Mist?”
The boys looked at one another and all three shook their heads no. Ol’ Marlin nodded, knowingly, and he puffed on his pipe, and continued. “Ahh well. The Sea Mist is a ghost ship, they say, that was cursed long ago by the sea gods, and it was captained by a half demon that they do call “The Beacon”. Why, do they call the demon, The Beacon? Well, that’s because he .. or she… can fool sailors to come to the ship, like it were a barky in distress, and then he has you! Only ship that ever got away from the Beacon was the Ol’ Triumph and her prizes.
“I was on the Cap’n’s barge crew – we was pulling out to one of the prize ships that had lagged behind, and since there was lots of fog, and the area was becalmed – which was odd, due to the fact we’d just had a blow so hard our sails were nearly torn to tatters. Anyway, as we pulled towards the two decker, we saw this bright light hanging from another ship that no one had seen before. It was an old triple decker, with 94 guns if it had 1. She was strange, outlined with green glowing eldritch light through her sails, And there was this horrible thing that we saw as we got close.. These giant tentacles that had reached from the bewitched ship – Right from under her, and had grabbed hold of our prize ship! There was no sign of the crew save a few lads that were moaning like they were sick or dying, begging for us to come save them, either huddled against the rails or hanging over them like they was rafs drying in the air. We pulled up against the sides, and climbed aboard, and what did we see?! We did see the undead! I swear the shambling sailors from the Sea Mist was fish-belly white and dressed in seaman’s gear like sailors from a hundred years ago and more! And they were a-guardin’ the Beacon! That’s right – right before us was the Beacon. Now don’t ask me to describe this creature, because no one of our crew saw the same thing. But I suppose I can tell ye what I did see.”
Marlin paused at this moment to take a long drink from his mug, before he spoke again, his voice getting hoarse as he continued to talk.
“As I was a sayin’, I guess I can tells ye what I saw… I saw a teenage boy, with wild white hair, almost like the medusa’s, ‘cept not all snake-like, but it was like it was alive and writhing like a mass of eels above his head! And he had on these bizarre goggles, and a long red cloak. All he had on besides the cloak was these ankle bracelets.. And he was stark naked under the cloak! The lad had these lip rings and hissed at us like he couldn’t stand the sight of us. I won’t tell ye what else I saw on him. It was just too disturbing! “ He stopped to gulp from his mug, wiping the back of his hand against his lips, before he continued, as if the memory still disturbed him even today. “The undead crew formed a ring around the boy, as he shambled towards the tentacles that held the ship. “
Marlin paused again, but to clear the ash from the bowl of his pipe in the ashtray, as he then took another drink before continuing.
“We could see that the prize crew had tried to stop the pirate undead, but they hadn’t been able to – who could overcome witchcraft like that? But then the Beacon bowed to the crew, holding up a necklace of strange black pearls! I swear the young man winked at me! And said in a voice I’ll never forget.. It was like he was speakin’ right into me brain.. “Come to me if you want eternal life.. The Sea Mist awaits ye all, “ And then those black giant octopus tentacles surrounded the beautiful boy, and lifted him off the ship, and did the same for the undead crew too, taking them all back to the Sea Mist.
“And then.. We all fell asleep! That’s right, we all collapsed and didn’t know another thing for at least another hour. And when we woke, the Sea Mist and the Beacon was gone. And that be the true tale, as much as I am sittin’ here, tellin’ this tale to you, today. “
The 3 boys were all wide eyed and looked from one another. The middle boy, Charlie, leaned forwards, “What.. what happened then? Did you try to chase the Sea Mist? What did the other’s see? Were the undead sailors from just one crew, or were they from all the crews that they’d raided before? What was.. “
That’s when Vince Hawkins interrupted, “Calm down, Charlie.. Marlin’s told us quite a tale, and he looks like he’s tired and wants to smoke his pipe in peace.”
“It’s ok, lad,“ the old sea dog said, as he smiled a gap toothed smile. “I don’t know what else I can tell ye, other than the captain was as baffled as the rest of us, but I do tell ye, that I was sorely tempted at one point, during those moments, when the Beacon offered us a spot on his boat.. Or her boat- some of the other men saw a woman – some saw an old woman, some saw young, nubile ones. Some saw an old man, or something in between what I saw. We each recon each of us saw something different. But we were all offered that chance to come aboard the Mist, and live the life of the sea forever. But serving such a creature ? We’d be doomed for hell as our only port of call, in the long run. Unless, of course, the Sea Mist ne’er gets caught out. “
After another round of drinks and some good natured talk among the seafaring men, the boys all thanked Marlin for his tale, and even Charlie was satisfied, slipping a few coins to the old man for his fine story.
A young man came to sit down beside Marlin. He was dressed in a red velvet cloak, and had on an officer’s uniform, dark blue and white and tall black boots. It was stylized perhaps. Gold-leaf captain’s epaulettes were on his shoulders. His hair was long, and white, and was draped down his back, to his waist, and he was almost beautiful in the way he looked. He was lean and thin, and had strange black rimmed round glasses. “So, Marlin, have you thought over my offer?”
Marlin started, the memories of the Sea Mist fresh in his mind was even more crystallized and present now, with a clarity that years and faded memory had tried to diminish. He recognized both the voice and the person sitting next to him. He looked around the tavern, and no one else seemed to be paying attention to him or the young looking man sitting next to him.
“Thought…thought it over? What, from all those years ago? I .. but..”
The young man smiled and placed a small white hand on Marlin’s brass hooked hand, and gave it an affectionate squeeze. Marlin gasped, because he could actually feel the hand through the hook, as if his real hand were still there. Or the hook could feel like his real hand had. “It’s ok, I know it’s a lot to take in. But I’m offering you a chance to .. turn the clock back, and regain maybe something what you’ve lost? Besides, you don’t have a lot of time left to wander and spin tales on the docks, my friend. Death will be coming for you soon, but I have a way around that. “
“If.. if I join your crew on the Sea Mist, right?”
“I need a first mate, Marlin. I want you.”
Marlin took in a deep breath, and started to cough, and he wheezed a bit too. The consumption was starting to get worse, as that stupid young doctor had told him it would if he didn’t stop drinking and carousing so much.
A chill come through his body, but when he looked down at his hand, he’d made his decision. And The Beacon had known it. Because when he looked down, his hook was gone, and his hand was a real hand again – young and strong, as was the other one. And he didn’t need the eyepatch any more, either – it had vanished, too. He was young and handsome again, like back on the old Triumph, back in 97. He looked into the silver backed glass mirror over the bar and could see his reflection. His lungs were clear. And he could breathe deep again. He stood up and felt alive and strong again.
“I guess, you’re my captain, my captain,” the young Marlin said, giving the pretty young man a salute.
“There now, that’s enough of that nonsense. We’re not so formal on the Sea Mist, Marlin. Now, if you need to spend a day in port, you have 24 hours to put your affairs in order, send off any messages…”
“You probably already know I don’t have any such thing, else I wouldn’t be here in the taverns a spinnin’ tales til the proprietors shoo me out the door. “
The Beacon smiled and flicked his tongue over his snake bite rings. “Well then, let’s go, First Mate.. We have to make sail – wind and tide, and all of that, yes?”
Story by: Derynn Shepherd
Hair- Tableau Vivant \\ Hairplay – Front Blow (The Arcade)