Monday, August 26, 2013

A Pirate's Tale

Sometimes I hear a song, and a music video pops into my head fully-formed. This happened to me the first time I heard a certain song, way back in 2008. I had these images of a pirate and his ship (basically the last half of this story) in my head, and eventually I started wondering what his story was. Why was he on the ship in the first place? Who was he? Well, of course only I could tell myself that, seeing I made him up, so I wrote the story story below. Please note, this is not what the song is actually about at all, it's just me using the song as a basis for a short story. I'd love to know if anyone can guess what song inspired it before reading the last line! If you can guess (or if you had any other guesses) let me know. Also please suggest other songs for me to do the same thing with! 

Captain Christopher Anthony Johns was a bad, bad buccaneer: a low-life scoundrel pirate of the high seas. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum and all that. The only things he lacked were a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder: he had no time for attachments anyway. Johns' only mission in life was to raid ships and steal their treasure: gold, jewels, spices... hell, even old family heirlooms would do, just as long as he could sell them off for a profit. One of the most notorious pirates in all of the Caribbean, the name Christopher Johns sent shivers down the spines of many a man.

Surprisingly, he had rather the opposite effect on women. Although nearing his fortieth year, Johns' full head of curly hair, unsettling blue eyes, and a certain amount of charm meant that he was a firm favourite with the town's female population. Although he accepted their affections - and gifts - without protest, none had been able to win the man over: his love of money and the sea kept him distant, both physically and emotionally. 

One such young lady was the 20-year-old Miss Sarah-Jane Martin, formerly of Liverpool, UK, currently living with her parents in Spanish Town, Jamaica: Johns' hometown. Sarah-Jane was the daughter of a playwright, and herself a promising seamstress, working on not only clothing, but also sails for the many ships moored at the port. Johns had often caught the girl staring at him whilst she sat on the docks feeding the seagulls. He  convinced himself that thought nothing of her - young, blonde, and too gosh-damned happy all the time, she was far from Johns' cup of tea. 

Perhaps he was simply too proud to admit that he could possibly be taken with the daughter of a playwright of all things. But aside from that, his life was upon the sea, not the land. Word was out that a Spanish vessel was to pass by nearby in just two days time. Johns barely had time to pack a few belongings before setting off for his ship.. As he made a final check on his supplies for the journey, a familiar voice called out to him. 

"Mister Johns?" It was the blonde girl, Sarah-Jane. She stood on the docks, looking up at Johns on the deck of his ship, and holding out what seemed to be a brand new sail.

"I thought you might need this. My father says that the wind is due to pick up shortly, there's a storm coming and if your sails rip, you'll never make it back in one piece."

He frowned slightly at her. This was probably the most thoughtful gift he'd ever received - most women tried to win over his heart with bottles of whiskey and rum, or tins of snuff. This girl actually seemed to care about his well-being. How novel. Other women had wanted him for his looks: they had seduced him, they had lusted after him, but they had not cared about him.

He accepted the sail with a word of sincere thanks, and then cut his ship loose from her moorings, spun the wheel to starboard and was off. He tried not to glance backwards, but he couldn't help himself. There she stood, smiling and waving him on his way. He raised his hand in a small salute before turning to face the open ocean. 

Although Johns enjoyed captaining his ship himself, she was too large to be maintained by one person. Also aboard were the sailing master, three mates and several sailors. The authority, however, belonged to Captain Johns: if he said bear West, they would bear West even if it was into a hurricane. If he said drop anchor, they would drop the anchor in the middle of Spanish territory. He was the boss and everyone knew it.

Evening approached swiftly and, as Sarah-Jane had predicted, a terrible headwind had picked up, reducing the ship's speed to only 3 knots. Johns could still see the land he had left behind from the porthole of his small living quarters below the deck. 

Although small, Johns' quarters were composed of a sleeping area, and - more importantly - an office fitted with a desk and several wooden shelves. Upon this evening, Johns sat at his desk, staring intently at a small book of parchment, in which he had written down the names of every ship he had ever seized. Guadaloupe, Fernanda, Rosalita... the list went on for several pages. Tomorrow, he would hopefully add the name Alejandra to the list. But for the first time in his life, Captain Johns wasn't sure that he even wanted to do so. Something had made him re-evaluate his life. Something had made him see where he was going wrong.

She made me a sail, whether I need it or not. If the winds get very bad, that sail could save my life. If not, at least she was thoughtful enough to have made it for me.  I could write the name of another ship on my list, or I could just go back to port, marry her, and have a real life. A life free of treasure and gold, but a life filled with love. All at once, a life flashed before his eyes: not his past, but his future. Abruptly, he got up from his desk and swept his hand violently across the top, knocking over a bottle of ink and upsetting a stack of parchment. His seized the book in his hands, and made his way to the deck, swaying with the motion of the ship, and trying desperately to keep his balance on the narrow staircase. 

He stood on the edge of the deck and tossed the book as far as he could into the ocean. It flew apart, some pages spilling into the water and others flying through the air. The empty covers sank to the bottom of the ocean, and came to rest - open and upside down - on the seabed, never to be seen again.

Heels clicking against the polished wood of the ship's deck, Johns made for the stern, his loose-fitting cargo pants billowing out in front of him, and the air biting at his exposed face. He could still see the land. He could outrun the storm if he turned back and made for the port. He climbed the rigging to the top of the mast, ignoring the heavy winds threatening to blow him off and land him in the ocean. Atop the mast was a small lookout point - a dangerous place to be even in calm weather. The storm was gaining on them, and from up here, Johns could see the waves whipping up and beating against the side of his vessel. 

He pulled his spyglass from a pocket and raised it to his eye, imploring the device to be strong enough to see back to the docks. He could see the streets, the one thousand or so run-down fisherman's houses, almost seeming to lean into the terrifying wind. But that was not where his interests lie. He tried to focus on the docks... and then suddenly he saw her. There she was, all blonde and windswept in her dress and coat. Still watching his ship, hours after it had left. 

He jumped down the rigging, landing heavily on his feet and almost losing his breath. He turned sharply and sprinted flat out to the bow of the ship. He hit the wheel running, his entire body slamming against it. He grabbed it with both hands and spun it with all his might. He had to turn the ship around. In front of him, the storm clouds taunted him. Behind lay the safe port... and Sarah-Jane. He continued to spin the wheel, until the ship had rotated 180 degrees. The he steadied the wheel and slumped over it, wiping sweat from his brow. His crew did not question him: he was the boss, of course.

That's right, Sarah-Jane thought, watching the ship sail back towards her. You belong with me, not swallowed in the sea. 


*The song was 'Swallowed in the Sea' by Coldplay. Please excuse any factual errors about 1700s pirates, I tried to be accurate with the help of Google, but it's not 100%. Credit also goes to the book I'm reading at the moment, Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes, for helping me get into this mindset. (The story is my own invention though, no plagiarism.)

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