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I was eight years old when I first met Captain Tory and it changed my life forever. My father was often away on business for long stretches of time and since I had no desire to remain at home with my stepmother I often spent my time exploring the London dockyards. One day as I was poking through a pile of abandoned crates I knocked one over and got my leg stuck beneath it. I couldn’t free myself and I knew that since it was late in the day all the dockworkers had gone home and there was no one around to help. I had resigned myself to my fate of being stuck there overnight and to the inevitable scolding I would receive the next day, when I heard footsteps behind me.
I turned and found myself staring at a pair of black boots. “Are you alright there laddie?” His voice was deep and gruff. I looked up and saw that he dressed in an old-fashioned captain’s uniform. He was tall and thin with a face beginning to wrinkle and black hair and beard peppered with grey. I found him to be a terrifying sight because he seemed like a character who had walked from the pages of storybook. “Yes sir,” I squeaked.
“Are you sure about that? You look like you’re in a spot of trouble.”
I didn’t know what to do so I just nodded in response. I think he could tell I was scared of him because he just smiled, moved the crate and helped me to my feet. “There you go son. I’m Captain Tory by the way.”
His friendliness had dispersed my fear and my natural curiosity had replaced it. “My name is Benjamin.” I said firmly as I shook his outstretched hand.
As we walked back to my house he told me some stories from his days at sea. His tales of exotic places and dangerous adventures captivated me. My interest in him was so great that I immediately took him up on his offer to meet the next day. He had told me to meet him at the docks after they had closed for the night. This time he took me to his house, a small cottage by the river that I had thought was abandoned. We talked for hours and he showed me exotic souvenirs from his many adventures. His life was such an adventure, the kind of one all young boys want to have, and my enthusiasm towards him and his stories seemed to bring him some form of previously unknown happiness.
Over the next few months we formed a close friendship and my visits with him became the high point of each day. He was a friend to whom I could open up. I had always been a shy boy and had never gotten along well with other children. In fact, I preferred to be alone with my imagination. Captain Tory had had a life of such adventure that I didn’t need to use my imagination save to visualize the events in his tales. That he was such a mysterious and grown up figure helped this grow even more.
One night I had stayed later than usual because he was teaching me to play checkers. As it got later he appeared to become distracted and he was frequently glancing at his old clock. At about ten forty-five he got up, collected his overcoat and hat, and took the candle lit lantern he used for light off its shelf. He then turned to me and said, “There’s something I want to show you, come with me.” He beckoned towards the doorway and I obediently got up and ran outside.
We walked along the river for a while before stopping at the edge of one of the docks. Captain Tory stood there in silence looking out over the fog of the river. We stood silently till the boom of Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament upriver sounded eleven. He grasped my shoulder firmly and the muscles of his face grew taut. As the last peal of the distant clock faded away he slowly raised his lantern and muttered something under his breath. He stood there motionless for a while and I began to wonder if he was ever going to do anything. Then suddenly, he swung his lantern three times and slowly the schooner appeared. I watched in stupefied amazement as the old-fashioned wooden ship materialized out of the fog.
“Come with me,” he growled. He no longer seemed friendly. I was terrified and I wanted to turn and run but he had my shoulder in an iron grip. He gave up waiting for me to move and began pulling me down the stairs to the riverside. As he pulled me along my fear turned to panic and I began struggling wildly and shouting, “Let me go, let me go.”
“Shut up boy,” he snapped in return, “No one is going to hear you.” We had reached the shore by now, and there was an old rowboat bobbing there waiting for us. I was even more frightened now, and due to my growing despair I began sobbing hysterically. He muttered something about children and then threw me into the boat. He untied its mooring line and then climbed in and pushed away from shore.
The further we moved from shore the thicker the fog grew and when we reached the schooner I couldn’t see more then five feet away. I had calmed down some and though I was still terrified I climbed the ladder that had been thrown down from the ship. When I reached the deck and saw the crew I began to scream again. While Captain Tory had always dressed meticulously his crew looked like every picture of pirates I had ever seen.
One of them clamped a hand over my mouth and hissed in my ear, “Close your mouth boy, don’t you know that sound travels in the fog? ” I was quaking in fear but I kept my mouth shut. When Captain Tory had climbed onto the deck he grabbed my hand and pulled me into his cabin.
“Now I’ve been a bit rough to you tonight so I’m going to give you an explanation.” He looked at me expectantly but I just sat there in silence. He sighed and continued speaking, “I’m sorry I had to treat you so badly, but if I had told you the truth you never would have agreed to come. I’m going to tell you the truth now, but first I need to tell you my story.” He gestured for me to sit down before doing so himself. After he had made himself comfortable he began his story.
“A long time ago me and my crew were privateers commissioned by the governor of Bermuda to sink or capture foreign merchant ships. We were very successful and made ourselves a fortune. However, as we grew wealthier my crew began to care less about the lives of those we raided and less about capturing the ships. We would board the ships to take anything of value before sinking them. Eventually it got to the point where we would attack and sink ships just for enjoyment.” I was wide-eyed and attentive, much as I had always been during his stories. He noticed this and paused for a moment before continuing.
“We grew more and more sinful. We delighted in drinking and gambling in port and in murder at sea. One day after sinking a Spanish merchantman some of my crew noticed a boat in which some of the passengers and crew had escaped. The survivors included two young women and a priest but instead of letting them aboard my crew began shooting at the boat. I didn’t know about this at first but I doubt I would have done anything about it if I had. When I found out I just told them to inform me when they were ready to sail.
After my crew had had their fun with the survivors we sailed away and left them for dead. This was a greater evil then any we had done before but it had no effect on our consciences. We spent the night celebrating with the fruits of our murder so we were all still awake when our lights were suddenly extinguished and an unearthly fog rose around us. We made our way to the deck to see what was happening.
Once we had gathered, a sickly green glow emanated from the fog and a ghostly figure appeared above us. In an unearthly voice it told us that we were cursed men and were doomed to sail the seas forevermore, never again stepping onto solid land. The figure then turned to me and told me that as the captain I could walk on land once the sun had set and I would be given the opportunity to gain a peaceful rest if I persuaded someone to replace me as captain of this cursed vessel.
I have been trying to find a replacement for a very long time but no one I have come across has been persuadable enough. No one that is until I met you. You were young, imaginative, lonely, and adventurous; all the things I found were necessary for someone to even begin to be convinced. But even more important than this was that you were in need of help, not just when I found you but even now. I can offer you the help you need, just as I offered you help before.”
He stopped talking and looked at me expectantly but I remained silent. This time it was not out of fear or respect but because I did not know what to think. I was unsure of what his story meant and I was confused by what he had said to me. I was too young and inexperienced to realize that he wanted me to replace him. Unfortunately for me, this was exactly what he was counting on.
“Let me explain what I mean to you,” he said this softly, but it was enough to regain my attention.
“Yes please sir,” I stammered quietly.
“Very well, I want you to captain this ship for me.”
“What? But didn’t you say this ship was cursed?”
“I did, but this curse is what we made it. Our actions defined our punishment, just as your actions can define your rewards.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that all the adventures you have ever wanted are possible. Those stories I told you are not my past but your future. All you need to do to make this possible is to take control of this ship.” He extended a hand to me and said, “What do you think.”
My next action decided the course of the rest of my life. I was young and foolish and I didn’t consider any of the possibilities lying down each road. Looking back at it I sometimes wish I had chosen the other path. I will never know what I gave up that night. All I know is that for better or for worse I chose my destiny and I have to live with that choice.