A Short Story
By Manelle Oliphant
Joseph stood on the ship’s deck where he’d served for the last three years and stared at the miniature painting his wife had sent. The picture showed his smiling two-year-old son in a sailor’s outfit.
“I show him your portrait and tell him about you every day. We are very excited you will be home soon,” her most recent letter had read.
Joseph smiled. The shortcut through the pass would allow them to be home in a few short weeks. He would see his wife and meet his son. Best of all he could now retire from the navy. The crew had made a fortune on this voyage. His percent plus the money he’d saved from his pay was enough to buy a small house.
The ship’s bell tolled and someone yelled, “Amar Pass ahead! Make yourself ready.”
Joseph stuffed the letter and miniature in his pocket as he ran toward the helm. Sailing through the pass required strict protocol. Every sailor must have their ears plugged and be tied to the ship. One man steered the ship with his hands tied to the helm. The pass’s smooth water held few hidden rocks, despite the high hills on either side. The pass itself was safe. Any danger came from the creatures who lived there.
Commander Weldmen would steer the ship, and Joseph’s assignment was to help him prepare. When Joseph arrived Weldmen handed him some rope. “Get on with things Midshipman. We don’t have long.”
“Yes sir.” Joseph took the rope and waited while Commander Weldmen plugged his ears with wads of cloth. Then he tied the Commander’s hands to the wheel. Weldmen nodded and Joseph ran to the main deck.
The pass was in view. The sight filled him with dread no matter how many times he’d seen it before. He took some rope from Billy, another Midshipmen, and tied himself to the railing. He double checked its tightness around his waist, and stuffed his ears with cotton cloth.
The only sound Joseph could hear as they entered the pass was the breathing inside his head. Huge boulders jutted up out of the water on either side of them. He looked toward the shoreline where the sirens sat.
They were ugly. They looked like women but green and blue scales covered their skin. Instead of legs they had long tails, which flopped in the water like a dying fish. When the ship steered close enough they bit at the sailors with their sharp teeth.
All the while they sang a song Joseph couldn’t hear. The song enchanted men to drown themselves. Stories told of only one man who heard the song and survived. His shipmates kept him from jumping overboard and he lived out the rest of his days in an asylum. Joseph shuttered when he thought about it.
The movement loosed the cotton in his left ear and it fell into the water. Horrified he watched it fall into the water, and the beauty of the song wrapped around his heart.
Joseph reached up and pulled the other plug from his ear. Waves of song flowed through him. The water, clouds, and rocks dazzled before his eyes. He looked at the singing women and sighed. Such beautiful women! His heart leaped in his chest when one smiled at him. Her teeth shined like pearls and her scales glistened in the sun. She waved him over. He waved back. He thought about feeling her cold skin and wet tail. He imagined putting his arm around her tiny waist and pulling her close. Would she let him give her a kiss?
He tried to jump over the railing but a rope tied around his waist stopped him. He remembered tying the rope but couldn’t understand the reason. There was no danger here. He grabbed at the knot with his fingers. It wouldn’t budge. Curse his knot tying skill. He pulled a knife from his pocket and sawed at his prison.
Someone grabbed his arm. Joseph looked up. Billy shook his head and reached for the knife. Joseph scowled and jerked it away. Wasn’t Billy his friend? Now, when he thought back, he remembered all the times Billy had betrayed him. Why hadn’t he seen it before?
Billy reached for the knife again. Joseph hit him with its handle. Billy’s nose started to bleed.
Joseph smiled. Serves him right. He finished sawing and jumped into the water.
Cold engulfed his whole body and a current pulled at his legs. The sensations invigorated his body. He’d never felt so alive. He kicked to the surface and looked around. The ship had passed him. He waved at the men who watched him from the poop deck. Silly fools, they would regret not taking this chance. He turned to the shore and spotted the flirt who smiled at him before. He grinned and swam toward her.
He ignored the current pulling at his legs, and imagined running his fingers through her long clammy hair. His muscles grew colder but rainbows danced off her scales as the sunlight hit them. He smiled again. His eyes had never beheld such a feast. He had never heard such a song. He ignored his body’s protests and swam closer. His whole purpose in life was to make this beautiful creature happy.
She was so close now. She smiled at him again with her beautiful arrow-like teeth. Inviting teeth. Oh, to kiss her mouth!
The current pulled at his legs again, he fought it, but his cold muscles protested. His head went under water. He kicked hard and resurfaced. He reached for her. She sang her song. He relaxed and sunk again. He looked up through the clear water. She grinned at him. Water filled his mouth. He didn’t fight. Water filled his nose. He breathed it in. He could still see her smile. He had made her happy. Now he knew every event in his life, good and bad, had happened to lead him to this blessed moment.
November 6, 1895
My Dear Mrs. Hansen,
I understand you have heard the news of your husband’s death. I write to offer you my deepest condolences. I served with your husband on the Greenfly for the last three years. He talked of you often, and was very proud of his son. He showed me the miniature you sent. He looks like a strong healthy boy who takes after his father. I was with him as he went overboard and I know he thought of you ‘til the last. Your husband was a good man, and a good friend. It was an honour to serve with him.
With deepest sympathies,
Midshipman William Smith
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