A Midwinter’s Money Tale
It was well after midnight, but both of the bedrooms in apartment #226 of West Broadway were empty. Outside, snow was pouring down in great quantities. Big, white flakes glimmering in the crescent moonlight. Stacks of snow were piling up outside the window, soon making it impossible to see other things through it than shimmering ice crystals waiting to be shovelled away. Or melted away, more likely.
In the living room, a Western played unwatched on the TV. How the West was Won, starring John Wayne. His shots against the attacking Indians echoed through the silent walls, and inside the head of the man who was sitting in a couch facing the window. The man looked concerned, perhaps depressed. Or frustrated. It was hard to determine. His pupils reflected the glimmering snow crystals, but it was clear that his vision was somewhere else. Perhaps in the valve, one and a half hours earlier. Yes, perhaps was it so. The man quickly glimpsed to his left, where another couch – also facing the window – stood. Another man was there. Short, brown-haired, stale as dry bread. He did not return the gaze.
In front of the second man was a painting. Oil, very grandiose. Rembrandt? Maybe. A sad-looking woman was carrying a jug of water to the bed were three sick children lay. It looked as if they were about to die any minute, and the pendulum clock on the wall added to the depressive feeling the painting radiated. The man was staring at it with great intensity, his pupils reflecting the yellow shimmering of the jug.
Suddenly, the TV shut off. The second man looked to his right, and saw the first man with the remote control in his hands. He was still facing the window. The second man gave him a surly look, not letting his eyes leave aim for a good 45 seconds. But the first man did not return it; he was still staring into the cold winter night as he put the remote control down on a table beside him. The second man opened his mouth and started to form a syllable, but a tickling feel to his leg abrupted him from starting the sentence. He looked down and found a 50-dollar bill stuck to the hairs of his lower left leg. He released the bill and let it land with the other 300 bills spread out all over the floor. They were everywhere: on the sofa, under the sofa, under the table, on the carpet. Some had even found their way into the kitchen. It was a mess, a really bad mess. Probably the worst mess these two men had ever been through.
For the first time since the fight ended, they looked at each other. It was hard to read the eyes of the first man as he stared blindly into the second man’s now black-shimmering pupils. The second man tried again to open his mouth, but again he was interrupted. A siren howled in the background, appearing to be frightfully close. The first man quickly looked out the window, then back to the second man before he bent down to fill his hands with 100-dollar bills. He threw them at the second man, who didn’t move an inch as he felt the green sticky bills attack his body from top to toe. He looked at his watch: 2:35. Game over.
The first man lifted a new handful of bills, but dropped them as a gunshot suddenly broke the glass of the window and the silence of the tranquil midwinter night.
A Journal of a Sailor
(Written for a Creative Writing class at Ferndale High School, Michigan, in the spring of 1999, this story is partly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe)
I have a story to tell – a very fascinating story. It began in January of this year, when I was cleaning up the attic of my grandfather’s old mansion (which is soon going to be put on auction) in Boston. Somewhere, deep into the small and creepy spaces in the far parts of the room, I found an old chest – not a too remarkable discovery, of course; after all, my grandfather is OLD, and old people always store chests somewhere in their houses. But there was something out of the ordinary with this particular chest; I can’t really tell what, but something it was – something that made my eyes glow in the same way they do on children when they wrap their first present up on Christmas Day. The chest was locked, but with the help of some modern day tools, I finally managed to open it. Determined to find gem stones in there – or at least some gold bars from the Great Gold Rush – my face kind of gave out a look of disappointment, when I discovered that its only contents were a couple of worn-out sheets of paper – no gem stones, that was.
But after I took a closer look at those old documents, that brief look of disappointment quickly vanished from my face, like when a street light turns from red to green. The documents appeared to be a travel journal from a sailor named Howard Scott Taylor (I later went to the state library here in Boston, and made the remarkable discovery that he was an ancestor of mine – in direct line! His father had migrated from England to Salem in 1746, when Howard was four years old. Not too long after that, they moved to the fishing village of Gloucester, off the Massachusetts east coast peninsula. There Taylor had grown up, and spent the rest of his life).
The journal was very remarkable in itself. It made me go to the library for a second – and yes, even a third – time, making another research. This time on a very fascinating – and a little creepy, I would say – subject, which only legends can tell, and nobody can prove right or wrong.
But after reading the journal of my ancestor, I am more than anyone convinced that the legend is true. It may be very mysterious, horrific – yes, even bizarre – but it’s true. And that’s why I am writing this at this very moment. And that’s why I will give you a transcript of the journal, covering the mysterious voyage, that ended in total terror….
May 27, 1777
Greetings. My name is Howard Scott Taylor. I am an experienced sailor and also a newly educated oceanologist, and I am soon leaving on an expedition to the mysterious waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I have decided to start writing this journal, because I feel that something isn’t really as it should be. I don’t know what, but something it is. I keep having these visions that something terrible is going to happen. I never use to feel like that – hell, I have been on a dozen voyages by now, so I know how it feels like out there – and that’s not a good feeling I have at the moment.
Anyway, today the skipper and his navigator, together with some kind of scientist – a professor, it was – met me in the local tavern, discussing terms in which to make me part of the crew. As an educated oceanologist, despite my relatively young age, I know the lurks and surprises that might occur during a voyage. The skipper stated that it was very important for this particular expedition to have a person with my knowledge on board. Yes, he said expedition. Eagerly I wanted to know more about it, since science and the sea is the perfect combination in my opinion, and he told me that the mission was to study the wind’s impact on the shores off Cape Cod. He didn’t tell me any details, and I didn’t want to be too sneaky about information either – not at this stage, since I wasn’t even hired then – and I decided to agree on the terms.
I shook hands with the three of them, and was told that the expedition starts tomorrow morning. I’m prepared; I just finished packing a bag of miscellaneous necessities that might prove useful later on, plus, of course, a small supply of garments and other living supplies. Tomorrow the sails will hoist. I can’t wait!
This morning, at 8:55, we left the docks behind us, sailing off into the open ocean. The wind was breezing, but mild, and the sun was shining slightly. Some crewmen complained about freezing, but my excitement warmed me up. I have been on a dozen voyages, as I have mentioned before, but never such a voyage as this – a scientific voyage. By the way, the skipper announced just before sail-off, that there has been a little change of schedule. We have to deliver some goods up to Bar Harbor, a small fishing settlement in southeastern Maine, before we can start our scientific purposes. The crew seems to have created a good coalition already. The captain, Teddy Shackleton, his navigator, and Murdoch, our scientist on board, already knew each other from before. Then we have a cook, two mates, about ten crewmen performing various tasks, and McCoy, the ship doctor.
The vessel is a frigate of middle class and size – but a little bit bigger than what I am used to. In fact, this is her maiden voyage – Sally Scotia is her name – so it is kind of an honor for me to be present on such a distinguished occasion! The feelings of misery and despair I had before has by far gone by now; I know that this will be the voyage of my life….
(And how right you are, but not in the way you think, dear ancestor….)
This is our fourth day at sea, and so far everything is progressing well. We should be in Maine by tomorrow, I would presume. The skipper doesn’t really talk much about his plans; he is more concerned about making sure that everyone on board has a task to do – like a true captain should, that is. Murdoch, the scientist, doesn’t talk much either, except when he is in his cabin consulting with the skipper. However, Roddie Bowman – our navigator, he is – is a talkative young man. He has a glowing interest for Gothic literature, and he and I had a long and interesting discussion today about the topic, since I, too, find it interesting. Had I not had this love for the ocean, I would probably settle down as a writer somewhere. We also talked about the expedition itself. As I had predicted earlier, Roddie confirmed that tomorrow we will, if all goes well with our relationship to Mother Nature, enter the port of Bar Harbor. I asked him if he knew anything about the scientific experiments around Cape Cod, but it appeared to me that he didn’t know much more than I did. Apparently the skipper wants the keep the details undisclosed until it becomes an issue, and in that way get the most out of us all in terms of performance and concentration. He is a clever fellow, our beloved skipper.
Today, as predicted, we reached the docks at Bar Harbor (currently packed with dozens of fishing vessels – mainly smacks, schooners, and salt bankers) and delivered the goods. We had to stay docked for five hours, because of inspections on the ship that needed to be made to see so that it would make it out there on the ocean; as I wrote before, this is her maiden voyage, and so far we have sailed slowly as close to the coast as possible, to escape greater impact on the vessel. We used the time off to go to a tavern, Roddie, McCoy (the doctor), a couple of crewmen and myself, to have a chat and allow ourselves a last steady meal and a grog before the voyage would start “for real.”
We were all having a good time, and we talked about various aspects of the upcoming adventure. McCoy, a rather gracious gentleman in his middle forties, was most pleased of us – because so far, no one on the ship had been sick. I asked him if he enjoyed being a ship’s doctor – previously, in my own time as a sailor, I had never before had the privilege of having a ship’s doctor as a fellow crewmate – and he answered that as long as everyone stays healthy, it is a wonderful job! We all laughed. Dedrick and Stephens, two of our younger crewmates, were just as excited. They were both greenhorns in this adventure, and they were looking forward to their encounter with the big ocean. I remember my own first big voyage, aged seventeen, when my dad thought I was old enough to join the crew of a deliverance ship to Newfoundland. Nostalgia rinses through my body as I remember standing there at the prow, holding my hands on the rail, looking out over the beautiful ocean, approaching me with its squashy sounds from the waves, its fresh smells, and its salty tastes – wonderful! Anyhow, as I glanced out toward the ship from the tavern, I noticed that some crates were shipped into it – not away from it. I wonder what it might be that we had to ship here. Scientific equipment, probably.
As we all were aboard again, the skipper announced to us a new member of the crew – a robust, tall man, with blond hair and bushy eye-brows, looking forty-ish, I would estimate, who had a very determined look in his face – hidden excitement, maybe. Shackleton didn’t say much about the man’s task onboard, however. Maybe he was the replacement for one of our crew members, who encountered a notorious (and always as feared) “land shark” in the Harbor docks, and was robbed of all his possessions, which he, not too cautiously, had brought with him to wash. Struck with despair and sorrow, since all of his money was stolen as well, he lost interest in the expedition and decided to stay in Bar Harbor. We all waved him goodbye, and shortly thereafter sailed off – heading toward the beautiful waters off the Cape Cod east coast. Nostalgia rinses through me again, as a I see myself as a little boy, collecting sea shells from the Cod’s soft beaches. I smile, and I’m happy. Very happy indeed.
I fear that something is not as it should be – with our course, that is. It feels to me, as… well, I think that we are heading too much to the south; from Bar Harbor to Cape Cod should, with my estimates, be somewhat southwestern. But as I have noticed on the signs in the sea, and on the stars at night time, we were heading south-east at first and then just south. Strange. The navigator seems to be more aware of the facts than I am – after all, he should – and he has been seen discussing with the skipper a little bit more than usual lately. Probably he is into this, whatever it is we are doing. Or maybe I am just imagining; I am being a little too suspicious, I believe. Maybe my experience at the sea – especially on a masterful ship like Sally Scotia – isn’t that big, after all. That’s probably what it is. A good night’s sleep will hopefully wash my suspicions away.
I have not yet mentioned the food we eat; after all, that is what makes us carry on with this! First of all, let me state that the food we get here is by far the best food I have ever eaten aboard a ship. I remember my first voyage, as a look-out, when I had to live on beans and stale bread for three weeks! I’m lucky I was young and strong at the time…. But that was then. Now, in 1777, as a crew-member of rank (as an “expert,” I am classified in the same group of people as the navigator, the scientist, and the doctor, and therefore get the upper quality supplies, concerning food and cabin) aboard the Sally Scotia, I am being served potatoes, fine livestock steak and fresh onions almost every day; and I also have the privilege to eat as much as I want from the fruit barrels that are spread out throughout the vessel. (The lower grade crewmen are only – if only is a proper word; after all, skipper Shackleton is very generous to his greenhorns – allowed two fruits per day.) Salt port steak, beans, and flour is the standard dish for the “subordinates.” We all have the possibility to eat as many hard tack biscuits as we like, but they are absolutely horrible, in my taste – and in almost everybody else’s as well. Only McCoy seems to like them; in fact, I always notice him chewing on one of them when he passes by.
I have yet to tell you about my little cabin – yes, I have one just for myself! An experience I have never had before; I am so glad that I took those three years off for my studies, so that I could educate myself to something “meaningful.” My cabin – although small and a little filthy, I must admit – contains a bed and a little desk, with a lantern placed above it. It is there I am sitting now, and every other time when I decide to write in my journal. Our ship has indeed five other cabins of this size, one bigger (for the skipper) and an additional three, serving as sleeping quarters for the rest of the crew. There is one mess hall, where we all eat, a small little kitchen attached to it, a waste room, a navigator’s room (which Roddie uses for calculating our coarse in addition to his little cabin), and a huge storage room, where all of our equipment is being stored (including those crates from Bar Harbor which nobody but captain Shackleton – and who knows whom else – knows what they contain). All in all, this vessel is as modern and comfortable as a vessel can be; the skipper must have gotten a hot shot fund-raiser for this project! I am more than grateful to be a part of it.
Yesterday I was asked to serve as a look-out, since one of the boys – Stephens, it was – complained about severe headaches, and needed to rest; the other boys were unavailable, too, since they had their guards on other times during the day. Usually a guard has four hours on, eight hours off – and so on. I accepted without complaining; after all, this is how I started my career at sea, so I was looking forward to this moment of revival and even more moments of nostalgia.
All this happened last night, and I am sitting here now, very early in the morning, getting ready for a well-needed rest. But let me first tell you about what happened during my watch. I climbed up the ladder and reached the little watch cabin, which, very unusually, has a roof on top of it. It was very cozy, I must admit.
Anyway, the time when I started scanning the horizons was shortly after midnight, and most of the crew had already gone to sleep – except, of course, the responsible mate, a sealman, and Dr. McCoy, who was working with his patient in our little infirmary (he later came up to me in my look-out tower and told me about his patient, whose headache he had managed to cure by having tied the head of a buzzard around his neck, a trick he had learned during a stay in an Indian settlement). Satisfied as he was, that his patient had been cured, the good doctor returned to his cabin for some rest. I, on the other hand, had still two and a half more hours to kill, although I didn’t dislike a second of them.
When I had stood there for about three hours, after having watched the dark-blue, mystically lovely waters of the sea; the sound of brisk waves hitting into each other; and the total silence of the starlit sky above me, I thought nothing out of the ordinary would occur – but it did. I noticed, below me, that someone stepped out from the navigator’s room – but it was not Roddie, nor one of the mates. It was the man from Bar Harbor. Dressed in black clothing, he walked back and forth on the deck, carrying in his hands a spear of some kind – probably a harpoon. He seemed to make movements in the air with his weapon, as if he were practicing to handle it. After ten minutes or so he went inside again, and after that everything went back to silence again. I am very curious to find out more about this very strange man, but I am too tired at the moment; I will await a better opportunity. It seems to me that the man does not speak; he always sits by himself in the mess hall when we eat, and no one has managed to start up a discussion with him. Some have tried, but he wouldn’t talk. Only the captain, of all, has been seen actually conversing with him. He remains a mystery.
Last night I had a good conversation with the doctor over a game of cribbage, where we discussed a variety of things. I told him about what I had seen the night before, and he did not look too surprised. He had also suspected that it was something mysterious about this heavily built stranger. The doctor’s theory was based upon the fact that we were about to do some kind of an attack – maybe on a little island somewhere. That would explain the course we were currently heading – both he and I agreed that we definitely weren’t on our way to Cape Cod – as well as the crates that were shipped in Bar Harbor (probably containing weapons) and of course the man himself, who was likely a soldier of some kind, McCoy reasoned.
My own theory was not as dramatic as my fellow crewmate’s; I dislike the idea of covering up an expedition like this, even though I suspect it, for such a thing as an invasion! No, it has to be something else. I stick with the fact which we were told – that we would be making experiments off the Cape Cod east coast – but that the captain wanted to approach it from another direction. I, too, thought that the stranger was a soldier of some kind (the way he looks, something else than a craftsman would be a very illogical thing to presume), but that he was here just in case something would go wrong, or for someone we might encounter during our voyage.
Nevertheless, I proposed to the doctor that we both should keep our eyes and ears open, and update each other on the strange happenings going on around us. He thought it would be a good idea too, and we both went back to our cabins.
Today, for the first time, the skipper addressed me personally, and wanted me to come over to his cabin for a moment of discussion and a mug of grog. The cabin is, as one might suspect, a very astonishing sight – the captain definitely has a taste for weird art, as could be seen on his many sculptures – both wooden and china – which were shaped like giant octopuses and other species from the odder groups of animals.
Teddy Shackleton himself is a man of experience – at least in the way he acts. So far, I have yet to see a hesitant act from him, or a feeling getting out of his control. He is acting very calmly and distinctly skillful. However, I still get the feeling that he is the kind of person that likes to hold the information away from people who don’t need to know – which is reasonable, captain as he is. But is it democratic?
Today was the first time he talked to me about what my purpose would be, once our expedition would start; so far, I had only performed minor tasks on board, having spent most of my time relaxing and watching the silent ocean. There isn’t much else a sailor can do in his spare time; except, of course, singing songs with the others – “Rope yarn Sunday” is always a favorite, celebrating the work-free Sundays. Anyway, I was told that my knowledge of the sea would be very valuable later on, and he asked me a couple of questions, which I could easily answer him. My endless days of studying seemed to finally pay off.
While I was there, I used the opportunity to ask him about the deviant course we currently had. He gave me a quick and confident answer, as if he were prepared to be asked that exact question. What he told me was that bad weather storms were blocking the original route to the Cape, so that we had to sail around it. Not that I had seen any signs of storms so far on our voyage, but I trust my captain, and I am awaiting the day when my skills can be used, off the majestic coast of Cape Cod – the geographical pearl of coastal New England.
We have now been to sea for four weeks, and yet no sign of bad weather has been sighted. We should have had already reached the Cape weeks ago, if we would have followed the original plan. But even with the skipper’s backup plan, we should have been there by now. I mean, Cape Cod is just a Massachusetts peninsula – not somewhere on the other side of the ocean! To approach it from another direction shouldn’t take more than at the most, say, five days. We are definitely two weeks overdue by now. I am getting suspicious again, I guess, but this time I have reasons for it. And it is not just our course. Yesterday I had yet again to fill in for a greenhorn, who was sent to the doctor with a fever, to take the look-out. And again, at almost the exact time as of its previous occurrence, the man with the quiet personality went on his route, yet again doing those movements with the weapon he was holding. I wonder what he is here for. The same feeling I have recently gotten about Murdoch, our scientist aboard.
The reason why I am getting suspicious about him, too, appeared to me after our little conversation this morning. Curious as I was, since I until then not really had had a chance to talk to him – he was spending almost all of his time either in his study, or with the skipper – I asked him questions about his expertise, and what kind of scientific experiments he was about to perform; after all, if we ever make it to the Cape, he will be my colleague out there. I was eagerly enthusiastic to hear about his field in the scientific environment.
But he seemed nervous, as it occurred to me – as if he weren’t prepared to be questioned like that. I had caught him outside the waste room, by pure coincidence, I guess, and I thought that I could use the opportunity to have a little chat with him. But, as I mentioned, he seemed not at all as eager to tell me about himself as I was to listen, and he acted quite neurotically. He mumbled something about it being of no importance – that I “wouldn’t understand anyway,” or something like that. He surely left me in deep thought.
Something on this ship is not proceeding as it should. I was right about the bad feelings I had before sail-off. Tomorrow I will talk to the doctor again; he, alongside with me, seem to be the only sane persons aboard this ship. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done as soon as possible.
Panic aboard! Tragedy on the ship! I was awakened very early this morning, and was told by one of the boys that I had to rush up to the deck immediately. Shocked, I ran up as fast as I could, and discovered a crowd of people bending over something on the deals. I asked what was going on, but I did not need to, because I saw the terror that had happened with my own eyes. It was a body, and in its present state, it looked more like a butcher’s working desk – but it was still distinctive enough to be recognized.
It was Dedrick, who had served that night as the look-out. Someone – or something – must have attacked him, because blood was all over the place. The poor boy stood no chance to whatever it was; it must have killed him instantly. Some of us were in total panic, while others kept their cool. Personally, I felt something in between. Of course I was very shocked, especially since I knew the boy well, as we all did, but it was something inside of me that had, well, how can I say this… expected it. I knew that something was going to happen, sooner or later.
Before I could proceed any further with my thinking, the doctor approached me from behind – almost scaring me – and updated me with information that his profession made him qualified for. He confirmed to me what I already had suspected, that the boy must have died before he could hardly have taken a breath – which would also explain why nobody had heard screams for help when it happened. It wasn’t until Olsen, the mate, had gone out to check the railings in the morning, that the body was discovered. But the question still remains, why had Dedrick left his look-out? He must have seen something, and had tried to confront it – or, perhaps, just take a closer look at it (or, more likely, HIM) – without calling for somebody else, and then been caught off guard and finished.
Both the doctor and I agreed on that theory, but we did not discuss it more thoroughly. He had work to do, and so had I – investigative work. I knew – and still know, for that matter – what is going on here; at least I think I know, and tonight is the night to find out if my theory is true….
(After this entry in my ancestor’s journal, both the paper and the ink changed. The only likely reason for that, is that what is following must have been written much later on – which is very understandable, looking at its content and conclusion.)
I don’t know how to start this; I believe that no words are qualified enough to describe what I encountered that night – no words whatsoever. As I sit here writing this now, at this very moment, the shock is yet to leave me, and I doubt it ever will. Ever. Many men and women on this Earth are desperate to see or experience something out of the ordinary – something thrilling – but I doubt any single one of those people would like to see what I have seen, and survive. Let me start this as it began.
As the day of the murder (at that point, I was totally convinced that it was a murder, and I was as convinced of whom the guilty person was) progressed, I started my investigations. I made a short visit to the captain’s cabin, using the opportunity to look for extracurricular details in Shackleton’s behavior. But he seemed, a little surprisingly to me, I must admit, as shocked and sad as we all were. Maybe the skipper wasn’t involved then, after all. But that wasn’t enough proof for me. Okay, I did not suspect the captain personally of anything, but his closest men aboard – Murdoch and the strange man, that was – were still big targets for my suspicions.
I searched the ship for the scientist, but could not find him anywhere. The only hint was that the storage room was locked, although I heard voices from the inside. And as I knocked on the door, they quickly silenced. I couldn’t find the soldier either, so I could do nothing but draw the conclusion that he too was in there. They were planning something, and I was more determined than ever to find out what. One of my crew members had been brutally slaughtered, and I did not want that scene to be repeated.
I decided to get some sleep, and then stay guard for the whole night. I armed myself with a knife, which I had borrowed from the kitchen; I thought it would be needed as the sky grew darker above us.
But I was wrong; I did not need the knife. What I saw that night was something that not even fifty knives, thrown at the same time, would have been able to destroy.
Just after dusk, I went up to the deck and leaned down behind a couple of barrels, where I was invisible from both the look-out and any possible passers-by; I had carefully chosen the hideout during the day.
For the first time of our voyage, it was stormy. The storm had built itself up during the day, and it was now going on all around the ship – but luckily for us, not right above it – yet. Stephens was the look-out that night – which was good, since I knew the lad well, and in case he would notice me I could tell him the reasons why I was there without being afraid of it leaking out. But it was better if nobody knew my intentions, so I decided not to go up to the tower at all during the night. Olsen, a forty-ish brown-bearded fellow, stood behind the wheel; it was his final day as mate before his four days off. I did not know him well, but I trusted him, and did not think that he was involved in any way with what was going on onboard. The hours went by, and I waited for THE moment to happen – the moment when our strange heavyweight friend the soldier would come out and perform his doings in the air with the harpoon (or whatever it was).
But that moment never happened.
Instead, someone else walked by, when I least expected it, almost shocking me. I was very close to screaming, which would have revealed my hideout. But I managed to keep it inside of me, as the shadow approached from behind. It was McCoy – my dear friend the doctor! Was he involved?! Shocked, I sharpened my eyes and ears; a moment like this was what I had waited for. But McCoy…! I watched him as he walked by, and saw him enter the mate’s room. I wondered whom he was going to talk to in there, and, even more importantly, what he was about to do after he came out again. After a couple of minutes he walked out from there, with something hanging in his mouth. I had to really focus my eyes to see what it was, but when I saw the doctor light a match, I understood what was going on. He was a smoker! I did not believe that about good old McCoy, but a wave of relief rinsed over me as well; after all, he wasn’t going to do what I first had thought!
But it was then that IT happened. I am capitalizing IT, because I believe that what happened thereafter cannot be described in any other way.
As the doctor walked alongside the railing, on the opposite side of the ship as I was observing from, something shot up from the water, like a spear from a fighting warrior, and grabbed him. I lost all of the thoughts from my mind in that very moment, as I saw the monster – yes, a monster it was – tear my best friend into pieces.
The monster was huge – large like two frigates together; it had a head like a combination of a fairy tale dragon’s and one of a hippopotamus, and its body, as I discovered later, was about 350 feet long, with dozens of “humps” sticking up from the water. After it finished chewing on its prey (whose leftovers dropped down on the deck), it turned back into the sea and swam away, moving gracefully as a swan; it seemed to pay no attention whatsoever to me, or Stephens, who had run down from his tower as fast as he could, and was by then standing beside me at the railing. I think he tried to say something to me, but I did not answer. I could not answer. A couple of feet away from where I stood lay my best friend – or what was left of him – dead, and in the ocean in front of me I could no longer see whatever it was that killed him.
Then the ship started drastically to fall over…. The monster must have somehow swum around the ship, and was now about to total it. Absolute chaos erupted aboard, since the ship was at such an angle, that the bunks in the sleeping quarters and cabins would tip the people out of them, as a tea spoon releases the sugar in a cup of tea.
After that, everything blackened in front of my eyes, and I cannot recall any moment from what happened thereafter. My next memory is of myself floating on a piece of wood somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, exhausted and weak. But I somehow managed to find another piece of wood from the demolished ship – a bigger one, this time – and also a barrel of fresh fruit floating beside it! I managed to survive on that for a couple of days; and then, when I thought the game was finally over, I spotted land. However, I was not as excited as one might think, since the terror I had just been through haunted every moment of my thoughts and actions. My first impression was that the climate here was a lot warmer than in New England. As I approached the little harbor, as it turned out to be, a small fishing vessel picked me up.
The men in the little schooner turned out to be, believe it or not, Bostonians! As they found out that I shared their origins, they told me that they were on their way home after a two-month fishing route in these tropical waters, and offered to sail me home. They had just visited the island that was right behind us, and told me that it was inhabited by Britons. Afraid of being discovered, they explained, the men had hid behind some bushes to hear what was going on. The harbor was almost in chaos, as people were running around in all directions, and orders were being shouted out with short intermissions. Then a man came from behind, shocking them. Apparently in panic, he asked them to take actions. In his best British accent, one of the Bostonians asked him what was going on. The man, stunned by the stranger’s cluelessness, informed them of what was happening. What they heard was shocking. The Britons had heard rumors of an American attack; sources in Boston confirmed that a frigate was on its way to perform a secret invasion to take over the island. The Bostonians nodded, and told the Briton that they would “fight for their Queen and country.” The Briton proceeded with his tasks, as the Bostonians secretly walked back to their fishing vessel and sailed away. Their faces looked full of pride and satisfaction, as they told me their story. I could hear vague sounds of screaming voices behind me, as the vessel headed back to good old New England.
However, I was still too hurt in my mind (and in my body as well) of what I had been through, so I wasn’t enjoying myself much during the voyage home. After a couple of weeks I saw my old town again – good old Gloucester! But the happiness faded away quickly, as I once again saw flashbacks entering my mind – the doctor’s torn up body, the boy’s thrashed ditto, the sunken ship…. And now I sit here, in my little cottage on the seashore, looking out of the window, where sea gulls shout over who’s getting to eat the first sea worm… or who’s going to get the leftovers of a dead body….
The terror haunts me where ever I go – day as well as night. I hardly sleep at all, and the few occasions when I actually manage to fall asleep, the terror haunts me in my dreams. What I have been through is not an adventure. What I have been through is something not one single person would like to go through, no matter how much he claims that he wants to. And when the tragedy really happens, he wishes that he had changed his mind earlier. That’s how it works. I know. Because I was there.
Signed this twentieth day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1777
____________Howard Scott Taylor____________
I have done a lot of research after the discovery of the journal, and it is very likely that my ancestor stranded on the Bermuda Islands, before the Bostonians escorted him home. The ship must have sunk somewhere in the region of the infamous Bermuda triangle….
Howard met a woman named Mary Nevin two months after his arrival back home, and they had a son, Robert. But three months before he was born, Howard went out on a fishing trip alone with his own little fishing boat. He said he was going to get food for the weekend, but he never came back. His disappearance remains a mystery. He probably could not live with the sorrow he suffered, and decided to end his life where he thought he belonged – in the sea. Mary ended up marrying another man, who became the legal father of the child. That man was supposed to be my great-great-great-great-great grandfather – that is what the records say, anyway – but the truth is something else, needless to say.
That’s what happened to my ancestor. And it all started for me when I found that old chest, while cleaning up my grandfather’s attic.
As I call tell you, life is always open for new possibilities. We never now what we might discover. As in this case with this little discovery I made, which has changed my perceptions and thoughts about so many aspects in life. One detail can change a lifetime – one lifetime can pass without any of those details to occur. It’s up to destiny what will happen, or when, or how – if anything. But one thing is clear – if you get the chance, take it. If not, you might have done the decision of your life anyway.
(Included in the chest, I also found a hand drawing, probably from my ancestor’s own recollections. I have enclosed that on the page that follows.)