I had wanted to get this story in for this week’s MWBB, but it didn’t happen. Nor does it fit the 700 word limit. But it needed finishing. Credit, of course, for the last line.
The first night at sea, Donny sat at the Captain’s table. His second, he hung over the railing, heaving his grog into the waves. The third, he lay passed out in the corner while his crewmates threw rats at him. The fourth he spent in the hold with the Captain’s daughter. There was no fifth.
Donny hadn’t gone to sea voluntarily. His da’ rousted him from the hayloft with a pitchfork around noon on the day after Midsummer, and his words weren’t as gentle as his methods. The hay had absorbed most of the puke, but it couldn’t hide the soot, nor cover the smell of the mead he’d consumed in such great quantities. Some in the town wanted to kill him, but his da’ had a new wife, with a heart as soft as her bosoms, so Donny was given a choice between the musketball and slinking out of town, preferably on the far side from the smoking embers of the church.
He’d lied to get on board the Blackheart, spinning tales about a stint in the Queen’s navy, but the sailors weren’t fooled for a moment. They saw the way he’d stumbled when the first wave hit the boat, and how he grabbed the wrong ropes as the sails unfurled, but there was always room for a landlubber on board, especially when they’d need so many to man the tempermental cannons.
Dinner at the Captain’s table was a favor bestowed upon all his men the first night. Every other man at the table had been on board five years or more, but the Captain felt that it created a bond with his crew, one that helped the men get through the beatings and abuse that followed. Donny didn’t care about the honor, or the beatings, but he did care about the candles. The only place on board the Captain permitted open flames was in his dining room.
“It’s his daughter, you see. She’s afraid of the flames.” The first mate laughed, his eyes aglow from flames and grog, and the ritual of telling a tall tale to the new men on board. “You won’t meet her – he keeps her locked away from filth such as you, in her own cabin under the decks. There’s two rules on board that we all follow – aim the cannons at the other ship, and don’t fuck with the Captain’s daughter.”
More laughter ensued, and a clanking of mugs in the center of the table. Donny laughed, too, but the bit was in his teeth now. He hadn’t burned down the church just because he loved fire, and the challenge was too much to resist. “Has anyone? I mean…”
“Anyone fucked with the Captain’s daughter? No one still alive!”
The first mate pounded Donny on the back and saluted him with his mug. “Spirited man, ain’t ya!” Some instinct told Donny to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the evening – unless it was attached to his mug – and he was able to focus on the siren in the middle of the table. The flame traced peaks on his eyes as the ship crested the waves, and by the time he dragged himself back to his bunk, he was adrift on a glowing sea.
The next two days weren’t any better on Donny’s stomach, and the grog only helped as long as he had enough to settle him but not so much as to get him drunk, and that was a fine line that he couldn’t walk, not on the rolling seas.
The other men had their sport with him the third day, but the fourth, the skies grew dark and the mainmast was struck by lightning. Donny was now in the way, and the first mate wanted him gone for good. The lower hold flooded often during storms like this, and so they pitched him in. He wasn’t the first man to go down there, not on one of the Captain’s ships.
He was, however, the first to wake up when he hit the water. He wasn’t as drunk as they’d thought, and he was paradoxically scared of lightning. It was black as pitch down there, but he knew which way was up, and he found the hatch to the upper hold well before dawn.
The upper hold. Maybe the Captain’s daughter would be the ugliest in the land, but she’d have a dry bed, and maybe a wet bottle of grog. But the hatch was locked, and it took all night to pry it open. When the hatch finally gave way, Donny was hit with the most beautiful smell of his life.
He almost gagged from the strength of the sulphur, but it was a perfume he’d wear with joy. He’d smelled it before, when his da’ had found need of his musket, but never in this quantity. Never this pure. There was a small porthole in this hold, and at the next flash of lightning, Donny saw the Captain’s daughter in all her glory. He smiled. It felt good to burn.