Memories - Part Two
by Martin Hall
I was a captain once, I think. Captain of a ship. Wasn't I? Was I a good captain? No. I can't have been. If I had been a noble soul, would this be my fate? Surely not. What did I do? Was I a killer? Did I send men to their deaths? Perhaps. That sounds familiar, but I have seen many men die in my time. I have seen sharks tear men in half beneath my uncaring eye. I have seen those men look up to me as they turn the waters red. Are they alive at that moment? Am I alive now? Time plays tricks with me. All that I have to remind me of who I was is agony. Agony and red water.
"Poppycock!" rasped Roderick Upham as he wiped a gnarled hand across his mouth. Another shuddering cough escaped him and he staggered to his feet. "A
man can't drown in his own house! These physicians don't know their own business!"
"That's what they said, sir. He was a criminal, they say." Abbott paid little attention to his master's sour temper. The servant stood crisp and impeccable as he related what he heard, a sharp contrast to his crumpled employer. "In this very town. The more excitable element of the rabble believe his end is the result of a curse."
"Blast you, Abbott, if you don't keep your ridiculous ideas to yourself I shall dismiss you from my service." The old man waved his withered fist at the manservant, who bowed in acknowledgement.
"As you wish, sir. I venture that the town is better off without this Clayton fellow, anyway."
Upham's eyes widened as he lifted the poker to stir the fire. His hand shot to the mantelpiece, steadying him on the warm stone. His back to the servant, he cleared his throat. "Clayton? This wouldn't be Edmund Clayton, now would it?"
Abbott's voice showed surprise. "The same, sir. How did you know?"
Upham turned his back to the fire and smiled. "If a man seeks to conduct his business free of deceit, theft and piracy, then he must know the type of man to avoid. Aye, Abbott, long have I known Clayton. We are indeed better off without him." His voice took on a more relieved tone. "Now, the hour is late. I must to bed." The old merchant hobbled to the door of his drawing room like a crab, and left his servant to douse the fire he had just stoked. As Upham laboriously climbed the stairs, he felt light-headed. Free! That blackguard Clayton had blackmailed him for twenty years, and now it was over! No more living in the shadow of fear, no more hiding the money he had to steal from his own shipping concerns. As he reached for the handle of the door to his room, something struck him. Drowned? He shrugged. More than likely one of the villain's associates had choked the wrecker to death. No matter. It was over. Tonight, thought Roderick Upham as he opened the door, I will sleep the sleep of the just.
waves part beneath me, and I can do nothing to stop them. Was I one of
those men? Perhaps. Another captain steers a grim course for revenge
and death. I see it all. All the captains come here sooner or later. They come
to see me. Again I try to remember who I was. Something in my mind forbids me
from knowing. Pain. Part of me no longer feels it. Part of me will always feel
it. I am sure it has driven me mad. Do they have a name for me? If they do, is
it my name, the name I once had for myself?
I will see them all suffer.
watched as Clayton's man pulled the knife from his first mate's throat
and let the dead man's head fall to the rocky beach with a dull crack.
Cleaning the blade on the man's jacket, he turned to the rest of the wreckers
as they dragged the sodden cargo up the beach and onto their wagons. Upham felt
his chest tight, and his eyes darted around the beach, taking in the wreckage
and the gulls as they picked at the lifeless fingers of sailors he had once shaken
the hands of. He shivered in the grey dawn as eyes that saw nothing stared up
in horror and agony at the sky, at him. As he walked away from the torn ruin
of his ship, he felt as if the eyes of Legion were upon him. He forced a smile
upon his face as he neared the wreckers. Clayton, the leader, was clapping his
men on the back and laughing as they pulled seaweed from a cask of rum. Steel
clattered noisily into the wagon, as if protesting its theft. Clayton threw his
arms wide as Upham picked his way across the rocks.
"Captain Upham!" he shouted. "How does it feel to be a rich man? It feels good, yes?" He paused for a second, then nodded. "Good! We are all of us rich men now, sir! Beats the honest trade, I should think." He whistled through his teeth.
Upham nodded slightly, his face a shade of pale green. "Yes, it does." He looked back over his shoulder at his vessel, lying stricken on the jagged black rocks. Seabirds swooped and jousted over the fallen men who had fought to save the ship he betrayed. He felt something heavy in his palm. A purse clinked as Clayton closed Upham's fingers around it. He looked back dumbly at the weighty bag of coins. Then again, he thought, there's always the compensation for cargo lost at sea. He frowned and spat at the ship, then turned away from it smiling. The past is gone, he thought. Wiped out. A fresh start with the means to make a success of myself. Those fools can stand in my way no longer. After years of failure, Roderick Upham was finally going to get what he deserved.
come to gloat. They look at me, sneering. They believe themselves my betters,
but at least I know I am being punished. I long for them to complete
their tasks. When their hate does not drive me, I rest. When I rest, my own hate
drives me. I long for the air when I lie in the depths, for only the misery of
others allows me to forget my own. Here, in the air, I know that is a lie. Nothing
can ease my suffering. The floor of the ocean, the pits of the Abyss. One is
much the same as the other. Movement brings awareness of time, and I know that
an eternity has passed without ending my suffering. The ship pushes ahead, dragged
towards another hated target, another soul bartered away for a moment's revenge,
and I remain still, staring across the dark waves and longing for the solitude
of the depths.
I cannot remember the last time I moved.
The storm roared outside, threatening to batter Upham's townhouse to pieces at any moment. The old merchant paced angrily to the stairs. "Abbott!" he
yelled, sucking air into his shallow chest to bellow again when lightning flashed.
For an instant, the foot of the stairs lay illuminated, shiny and slick. Abbott's
fingers were coiled about a poker. Abbott's arm itself had been carelessly tossed
on a valuable rug. Upham's admonishing yell hissed out as a terrified squeak.
As lightning flared again, he made out the footprints, blood and salt water,
that were marked clear as day on every step. A slight breeze chilled the old
man's back, and he turned slowly around, his hand shaking.
"Who's there? Come out!" His voice swerved madly between fear and anger. "I have done you no wrong! What have you done with my servant?"
"No wrong." A voice thick with malice breathed the words out of the darkness at the top of the stairs, mere inches from Upham's face. A smell like a carcass washed ashore flew out of the shadows at him. Upham's stomach reeled in disgust. His face creased in revulsion.
"This is the wrong you have done me, Captain." A figure stepped forward. Upham opened his mouth to scream, only to have a hand, weathered to bony leather, dart out and grab his jaw. It cracked. Upham bellowed inarticulately. The creature smiled. Sun and salt water had reduced it to little more than a leathery carcass, but the impossible voice that broke out of its ruined throat stirred some distant guilt in the old merchant's heart. His eyes went wide. The hollow pits of the monster seemed to bore into his soul.
"Make no mistake, Captain. You are the last. But you won't go quickly."
They held Roderick Upham down, and water rushed into his lungs. Dead faces, pecked by gulls, stood grinning above him as he drowned. An old man is no match for the strength of Legion's revenge.
A sword strikes the bindings by my hand. I come free from the ship. For a moment, I feel released. Blessed. My thoughts turn to revenge on them.
They held him down, and the world grew dark.
I spin as I tumble free. As the waters close over my head, I see them. My killers. They shuffle listlessly, their eyes free of the hatred they once held for me, puppets to another man's fury, like so many since.
They hoisted Upham into the air, water trailing from his ruined mouth. Against the odds, the old man still lived. Marlowe himself bound the object of his hate to the prow of the cadaverous wreck that floated in the bay, sealed his unholy pact. Eternal suffering. Marlowe smiled as the waters began to fill the ship. The dead men simply drifted away into the depths without so much as a murmur. They paid their price willingly.
Fire breaks the black ship apart. They do not feel it, my killers. They are broken to pieces without complaint. I glare up at them from the depths, hate consuming me. One among them, the captain, feels fear. Agony. He puts his hands up, futile. Nothing can shield him from the fires, and they tear him to pieces as I would those who rose up against me. As I lie on the floor of the ocean, the remains of the ship drift down to embrace me. I am pinned in place, trapped before I could even move. Another captain is lost to Legion, and I remain. I remain to hate them all, to see that they suffer. I scream my name triumphantly into the uncaring depths. They die because I will it, the evil and righteous alike. I cannot be denied. I am hatred.
The sharks begin to gather.
As the ship that would become the Black Freighter drifted into silence and nightmares, Roderick Upham screamed silently, his eyes wide with horror and madness, a figurehead condemned to impossible immortality. In time, the silt settles and the terrible creatures become little more than folk-tales.
was a captain once, I think...