The Voyages of the Waved Albatross
Author's note: This is only the first two chapters of a longer book, which I am in the process of making, if you... Show full author's note »
BonesDawn was growing, gray and cold in the heavens when the sailor regained consciousness. A hammer was beating inside his skull and his hands shook feverishly. The sky was weeping torrents, sheets so thick that nothing could be seen after the eyes had traveled six yards. The alley in which the sailor lay was dank and deluged by the locks of water that rolled lazily down the roofs of the houses on either side, then fell, in seemless perpetuity, to the ground. The offset tone of a violin crept through the pin-needle spaces between the raindrops, barely making it past to meet the ears of he who remained lying in the backstreet.
A foghorn sneeze echoed out of the sailor’s mouth, searing his brain. Grunting, he pulled himself up via the wall, dragging his muddy hat off the ground and balancing it on his head. Planting a hand firmly on the right-hand wall, he inched forward, his feet sliding in the mud, leaving a track that looked inhuman. With clouded mind and awkward body, he staggered, almost on all fours, towards the first door that met his eyes. A neat sign next to the door read ‘Cropper.’ He raised his fist weakly and banged on it as hard as he could, afterwards falling to the ground, unconscious. A well-groomed man in a sharp brown suit opened the door, and then, although against his better judgment, without giving a second thought to the strange sight on his doorstep, he dragged the sailor to his guestroom and heaved him up onto the bed (an arduous task, considering how large the sailor was). The reluctant Samaritan put his new tenant’s things into a drawer beside the bed, attended to his head, forced some water between his lips, and then retired to his room.
Later, he came down to find that the sailor was not in his bed, but standing like a stone at the window, staring down at the street.
“Morning, sir,” he muttered into his jacket. A hoarse cough escaped him, sending shivers through the room. “Where be me things?”
“In the drawer beside the bed,” the host said after a pause. The sailor leaped to the drawer and took out his belongings, checking them as if to make sure that they hadn’t been meddled with, while eyeing his rescuer skeptically.
“Profession?” The notes of the word were half threatening, half enquiring, but all-around ill-willed.
“I am a…a doctor,” Cropper stammered, taken aback by his patient’s behavior. “But really, sir you should not be out of bed; your body needs rest. You’ve got a bit of a cold.”
“Educated, I presume?” the sailor persisted, ignoring the doctor’s statement.
“Well, yes, of course.”
“Ye can read and write? Know yer grammar?” The sailor’s eyes were now slightly tinted with amusement and delight.
“Yes.” Dr. Cropper was astounded by the eccentricity of the questions. The sailor stood and paced the room with his hands clasped behind his back, suddenly oblivious to the doctor standing in the doorway.
“Devil take me,” he was murmuring to himself. “Coincidence, or fate…oh, not even the wisest can say. But I’m starting to feel that there is some outside power on these seas, predetermining the destinies of we who cannot but walk down the road and meet our fates, only deciding whether we meet it with a smile on our faces or a scream boiling in our chests.”
The onlooker stood there and gaped at him from the threshold.
“George,” Dr. Cropper’s wife said from the kitchen situated through the door to the left. “I didn’t know you had a new patient.” The doctor didn’t answer; he just stood silently in the doorway, looking at the sailor, who paced back and forth across the floor. Dr. Cropper’s wife, Rebecca, touched her husband on the back, and he came abruptly to his senses.
“Sir, you really must rest if you wish to recover quickly!” The sailor stopped short, turning his raging eyes on him.
“Me name is Mark Bones.”
“Then, Mr. Bones, as your doctor…”
“I have not engaged you,” the sick man interrupted.
“I have appointed myself because of your condition. Consider it a deed of goodwill towards one who needs it.” The sailor scowled with annoyance at his words. “And so, I must insist that you return to your bed. You’ll catch pneumonia if you don’t rest and recover.”
“For your sake,” he said after contemplating a bit, “not that it matters to me.” He muttered after the doctor had left.
The latter, once out the slim door of his patient’s room, called his ten year-old son down from his room, and said to him, “Ben, I need you to be our new patient’s nurse. Bring him anything he needs and come to me or your mother if you need help with something.” The boy nodded and went to peek through the guestroom door at the sailor, who had lain begrudgingly back down in his bed. And thus began his stay at Dr. George Cropper’s house. He had asked the doctor for a quill pen, which he employed much of the time scribbling in the ragged sea-chart that he always kept beside him on the bed. He often called on Ben to sit beside his cot and tell him about the cove, scrawling briskly on the brown paper any significant detail that Ben did not have the wit to pay thought to. His mood changed continually; one minute speaking soft words to everyone who came in, the next bellowing horrible insults to anyone within hearing of his deep voice. The doctor eventually forbade his son to go into his patient’s room, but still felt that it was his responsibility to see that Bones recovered from his illness.
When the black dankness of night dampened the landscape with chilly fingers clutching at the throat of the world, Bones’ fiery temper became dormant, and he went into a hazy trance, staring into the oak wall across from his bed, his mouth moving slightly sometimes, forming cryptic words from the innermost depths of his soul, which appeared to be manifesting themselves in his mind for a brief moment in time. Occasionally, he would sing loud and long to himself, failing entirely to hit high notes and pitching his voice as far as he could until it cracked.
“I’ll tell ye the story of Pierre le Grand, a fighting buccaneer!
He commanded a crew of roving men with gold rings in their ears!
He sailed out from Tortuga, and out to sea he did run,
He made for the passage of Cuba, where a Spanish Galleon,
Had fallen behind the Spanish fleet and laden with gold she was,
Rashly he decided to take her, and he did this because,
He had sailed all day and up to noon without capturing a prize,
And what he did next Exquemelin saw before his very eyes!”
This rather poorly written and even more poorly performed tune was an extremely unpleasant experience for the doctor and his family. But it paled in comparison to what happened on the fourth night of Bones’ stay. Bones had fallen into a light sleep, and Mrs. Cropper had decided to tidy the room up a bit (the patient had thrown scrap paper borrowed from Dr. Cropper to every corner of the room). When she came to the drawer at the bedside, and stooped to fish a bit of paper from under it, a startled cry left her trembling on the floor, with the sailor sitting like a birch tree in his cot, a look of horror masking his face.
“Step away from me things woman!” he boomed, tempestuously. “Or by the devil I’ll…I’ll!” Mrs. Cropper couldn’t move, the cold vice of shock turning her limbs to wood. Seeing the paper still cradled in her arms, and the now clean chamber, Bones slumped into the pillows, and the fire in his eyes lessened. “Excuse me, lass; scared the spirit right out of me, ye did. Now you listen here now, you keep out of me things, and I won’t make a peep when you come in here.”
Finding her strength, Mrs. Cropper stood and fled from the room, leaving the sailor lying in bed.
“George, you must make him leave!” she nearly wailed to her husband.
“No! He is ill! When he is fit enough to leave, he shall be gone. I promise you!” the doctor said firmly.
“I shan’t go into his room again!”
“You will not have too. I will take care of him, and all you have to do is tend to Ben and the rest of the house.” Mrs. Cropper tossed her hair back contemptuously and stepped out the door.
Around midnight, another incident saw Dr. Cropper summoned down to Bones’ quarters. A cry of horror awoke him from a sound sleep. He found the sailor sitting wide eyed in bed, his face pale against the dark panels behind him.
“Jack!” he moaned, finding a high tone in his voice to play with. “Jack! Jack! No! He is dead! I saw him die! But I’ve seen him now before me just as plain as day! He said he would not die! I’ve seen him!”
“Seen who?” the doctor asked wearily. Bones stared blankly at him as if recovering his senses.
“Not a soul,” he said after a pause, though it sounded more like a self-asked question. “Just a dream.” Doubt sheened his words. “Just a dream.” He sunk down into the pillows but did not sleep. He stared at the ceiling as if it might fall on him, hardly hearing the steps of Dr. Cropper going back up to his room. Visions haunted him that night; visions of a shadowy vessel sailing deviously through a misty sea in the black recesses of his brain. A sword flashed before his mind’s eye, and a rope coiled itself up into the mast of a great ship. No sleep found him throughout the darkness, and dawn discovered him with sunken, bloodshot eyes and hands like quaking glaciers. The doctor felt so sorry for him he allowed a bottle of grog to be given, which Bones drained with a burning eagerness, afterwards coughing up pale phlegm into his hands.
Two days later, only a trace of Bones’ cough remained, and the doctor approached that morning with an air of a man who has endured much and is about to remove himself from all discomfort. His movements were like that of a bird in search of a worm. A nervous energy seemed to bubble within him, but was suppressed clumsily, just before it boiled over.
“Mr. Bones,” he began, after taking a necessary pause, obviously not wanting to seem too hasty. “I have fulfilled my duty to you; seen you through the cold and tended to the horrid knot on your head that I found you with outside my door. So now, if it is not too much trouble” (he could not keep the heady tinge of sarcasm out of his voice) “I would ask you to leave and seek lodging for yourself, unless you are inclined to leave the cove of course.” Bones had hitherto been silent and apparently impassive, but when the doctor had finished his short dialog, he burst out in laughter that sounded like wooden boards clacking together. This lasted for a ridiculously long time, and when it finally ended in concealed chuckles, Dr. Cropper was quite annoyed. It sounded as if the sailor were mocking him.
“You, my good friend,” said Bones, “are the epitome of reserve, and I must warn you, no hidden emotion will ever escape me, sensitive as I am to such things.” Another fit of laughter followed these strange words, lending them an even more insulting aura. By the end of this, Dr. Cropper was very irritated, trying to work out whether or not Bones was mocking him, or just jesting, which put him even more out of sorts.
“Why do you mock me, sir?” He said with comical timidity.
“I would never! The very thought of mocking a true man of the Empire, a servant to the king, an Englishman, is a violation of my nature! How could you even entertain the idea that I…I who possess the utmost respect for you, would wish to make a fool of you?” The speech was so innocently spoken that even a man of a hard disposition would have believed it.
“Please forgive me, I had gotten a bit irked by your former words, and against my better judgment retaliated with a sharp tongue.”
“No, quite alright, Doc. Quite alright.” Bones’ eyes were laughing with pleasure. “I’ll get me things together this very moment, and leave ye to the serenity that ye deserve.” He went on talking as he tied his sash around his waist and stuffed his things into it. “I hope you realize of course that it will be utterly impossible fer me to completely leave ye until you yerself leave. So I will always be around, most likely to your great joy.” He was now out the door, and on the front porch of the house, the doctor close behind him, wondering in great distress what Bones meant. The latter, turning around to say a last farewell to Dr. Cropper, suddenly started, and gave an almost devilish leer that sent a twinge of ice up the doctor’s spine.
“Well, Doc!” he said heartily, pointing at the window on the right side of the door. “Looks like you haven’t quite gotten rid of me yet!” Dr. Cropper glanced at the sign that was on the window which read, ‘Room for Rent,’ and then back at the sailor expectantly.
“I’ll pay you three shillings a week to rent your room. What say you?”
“I…I-ah…” the doctor uttered a long broken chain of confused words, ending with a dull “um.”
“The first three paid in advance.” And he dropped three shillings into Dr. Cropper’s hand. “I’ll be back at nightfall.” Turning on his heel, he swayed down the street towards the beach, looking as if the slightest breeze might blow him off balance and send him falling to the ground.
“Two tankards of rum, mate!” he boomed to the bartender of the Roving Man’s Tavern, slapping a coin onto the counter. Once two mugs full of the brown drink were in his hands, he shambled outside and sat on a bench commanding a view of the beach and of the main-street of the town. He whistled loudly sometimes, after taking several long draughts from the beaker in his right hand. When he finished the one, he went and bought a third, though he still clutched one full tankard in his left hand. The morning wore off into midday; Bones slouched low on the stool, his stormy eyes turning away anyone who came near with a hurricane glare. A curd of cheese sat curling in the sun, looking like a large, sickly, yellow wood-shaving. The sand before the beach was a pleasant white that merged halfway into a gloomy gray. Silver-trimmed waves served as the hem on the royal garment of the beach, the high cliffs on either side, its crown. In the background, the two blue plains eyed each other, one with unbroken serenity, the other with ever-changing rage. The sea. The sky. Two conflicting emotions inside one great body.
Bones had been in reflection for some time, and now appeared to be agitated, standing and pacing, his hands behind his back, a torrent of curses spilling from his mouth. His eyes had become an inferno of swirling mist and battling waves. His jaw was hanging by its hinges as he swore.
“Damn the eyes on the addle-brained drivelswigger who had the last watch!” he cried. “The bastard had it coming to him, whatever ill fate befell him!” The curses he bellowed besides this are too horrible to be put down on paper, but to be sure everyone around him was stunned with their mouths agape by the time the fit cooled and he swaggered down to the beach, after returning one empty mug, and the second, which was still brimming. At the dockyards he addressed many a sailor in a fine, cheery manner, supported with a good-natured grin and a charming expression plastered to the corners of his face. As previously, whomever he spoke to found themselves confronted with a very intricate conversation that subtly led back to the details of the cove.
The sun had just touched the horizon, sending sparks of golden light rippling across the sea. When he returned to the town, he first stopped by the local tavern. He came to the doctor’s house well after nightfall, staggering and swaying far worse than usual, the empty bottle in his right hand probably accountable for that. A tremendous rumble shook the house when he slammed his fist against the heavy door.
“Doc!” he cried. “Doc!” But the doctor was late in coming to the door. When, finally, he unlatched it and let Bones in, he was in a stormy rage. He ended up bloodying his knuckles on the doorframe when his wild swing missed his host. Cradling his hand, the sailor entered the room. He crossed the floor shakily, and sat down on the sofa.
“Arr…” he mumbled. “Blast me…devil take me. Ashamed I am. I’m worse than Jacob, Carlo even, and them two is especially inclined to drink.”
Dr. Cropper came near with a timid step, only to find his arm in the vice-like grip of Bones.
“Please forgive me mate…” Here he seemed to wander into memories of his past. “Old Jack, not that black hearted villain, Jack Barker I mean…we two would sit at the bow, playing poker and talking. Arr…bless ye, bless ye. Tis not all silver and gold…tis not all silver and gold though…” His eyes followed the seams in the walls, coming to rest on the corner by the door to his room. His eyes fluttered, hung open a moment, then closed. His hands slacked on the doctor’s arm. Once he was snoring soundly, Dr. Cropper covered him up and retired to his room. One thought continued to run through his head: What will come of this?