I wasn’t really happy with this story. I had the weekend to write it, but it was a full weekend of parenting and I really only had two hours of writing / editing time. Less a story and more of an improvised draft. Required elements were: action adventure / middle of the ocean / gavel
There’s a crack as the captain strikes the sound block, the gavel affixed to the stump where his right hand should be. One count of theft, another of attempted murder, and a third, far more serious charge of smuggling myself aboard, a member of the fairer sex. And with that, I’m to be taken to the mainmast and strung up from the yardarm until dead.
There’s no malice in his decree, no recognition. Just another stowaway fustilugs.
A rough tug under each arm as I’m hauled backwards, my feet kicking uselessly at the deck. They lift me on to makeshift gallows, binding my hands behind my back and a laying a heavy rope around my neck. The executioner, a louse-covered molly called ‘Pretty Edward’, grips my chin to jeers from the mob, and plants a foul-tasting kiss on my mouth.
Idiots. My childhood was spent in ships such as these. If they wanted to be done with me, they should never have let me near the rigging.
I kiss back, clamping down with my teeth and tearing his lower lip from its moorings. As he squeals, turning and dabbing at his face with tremulous, flapping hands, I leap through the hoops of my bound arms, bringing them to the front. Then it’s three steps forward, planting a foot on Pretty Edward’s back, and I tumble toe over tip to catch the hangman’s cord with my feet.
It holds, tied fast. The crew cheers. I’ve looped my right ankle around the cord. With the other foot, I stretch the slack rope taut, then leaning fore and aft, building momentum to swing myself in an ever-increasing arc, as I’ve seen the young men do when playing at Mallakhamb in Maharashta.
As the spectacle fades, the laughter turns to shouts. Crewmen are clambering up to the scaffold, cutlasses drawn, determined to cut me down and run me through. Each turn of the pendulum brings my face perilously close to the points of their outstretched swords.
Another deft twist and I take the rope in my hands, slipping my neck from the noose and hoisting myself towards the mainsail. But it’s short-lived. The crew tugs on the cord tangled around my foot, near wrenching my leg from the hip. The shrouds slip away, and I’ve gone over the starboard prow.
There’s a ringing pain and a moment of dizziness as I’m smashed against the side of the gundeck, wriggling about at the end of the rope like a hooked fish. The Calypso’s band of cut-throats and madmen lean over the side, gripping my tether. Not content with a quick death, they want to keelhaul me under the boat, dashing me to ribbons against the barnacles on the hull. It seems I’m to be saved from the hangman’s noose, only to be drowned or mangled, my mother left unavenged.
They draw me along the bow, and I’m battered pell-mell. My shoulders ache. The wet rope tears at my leg. My fingers, slick with sea spray, scrabble uselessly at the mouths of each cannon as it passes by my head. They pelt me with bottles and apples, and although their aim is poor, I cop a few scratches from the glass where it shatters against the protruding metal of the guns.
At last, I manage to catch one, breaking it against the hull and sawing at the rope to set myself free. But it’s too much. As the fibres of my web snap apart, my body goes limp and I’m gone, presumed drowned beneath the waves.
It’s the water that saves me, the shock of the frigid ocean bringing me back to the surface. Those barnacles aid me too, giving me purchase as I clamber up the back of the rudder. If the captain hadn’t dropped sail for the execution, I’d likely still be in the water, watching as the Calypso sped away, or eaten by some deep ocean beast.
I hang there for an hour or more, the blood thrumming in my ears, my vision now red, now black. Then, as their blood cools and the crew go back to their chores and duties, I clamber in through the stern chaser portal and find a quiet spot among the powder barrels to nurse my bruises and sleep.
That night, as the captain lays in his featherbed at the aft of the ship, I’ll scale the stern and slip in through his portal, a knife in my teeth, to finish the job.
His eyes will open, bleary with diddle. Maybe he won’t see my mother in my face. Maybe she was one among thousands. Or maybe they’ll go wide with recognition as the knife slides into his throat.
He and I share the same nose, after all.
I’ll take his gavel-hand as quietly and deftly as I took his life, unscrewing the head from the shaft and teasing out the piece of cloth from inside.
Then I’ll find a new spot to hide, bunking down among the stores til we make land. And then I’ll climb ashore with the other rats, the map from my father’s gavel as my only inheritance.
And I’ll quietly disappear.