Tales From a Thousand Worlds

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The Bottle

The Bottle

I write this missive in that hope that one day, however scant that event may be, someone shall come across it and relieve me of the curse that I find myself subjected to. How I came by it, I do not know, for fates have dealt me this hand of doom blindly, as is their wont. Were it not for the fact that it had happened to me, I would scarcely have believed it possible. I also write this so as to remind myself of the events that led up to this, my memory not being what it used to. The events have left me doubting all that I have seen and experienced.

It began on the shores of England, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty two, where upon I embarked on the ship Trophy, bound for the colonies in Australia. Gold had been discovered there, and I, like so many others, felt drawn by the lure of it. By all accounts one needed to but stick a shovel in the ground to uncover gold. There was little to keep me home and so I sought out a ship to carry me to the colonies. The one that I selected was Trophy. I am a landsman and so know little of ships, but to me Trophy appeared a sturdy little craft, clean and well maintained. The captain was a saturnine man, long faced and not much for speaking. The crew themselves took after their master but they handled the ship well. The only one to stand out was the cook’s boy, a cheerful, talkative lad who spoke as much by himself as the rest of the crew combined. With him I spent most of my time on the trip south.

We made good time as we worked our way down the Atlantic along the coast of darkest Africa. No signs were forthcoming of the troubles that lay ahead. The sun shone for the most and the winds and the weather were fair.

Rounding the cape of southern Africa, we put in for a number of days for resupply. I took advantage of the time to stretch my legs. While the trip had been easy, I had taken some time to gain my sea legs and needed the feel of solid ground beneath my feet. And so I took in the sights and wandered where I would. It was on the second day of doing so, inspecting the markets there, when I was approached by a wizened old native, a man with a piercing gaze and disturbing words.

“Stranger, do not take to the sea his day,” spoke he. “Darkness lies ahead of you if you do so.”

It seemed most odd to me that he would say so, for we were not due to sail that day, and nor did I know the man. Could he have mistaken me for another?

“I do not sail this day,” I told him, “Yet if I were to do so, what darkness would there be?”

The man shook his head. “That I can not say, only that danger stalks the seas. And you say that you will not sail, yet you will still consider it I foresee.”

Thus saying he turned and shuffled away into the crowds, leaving me behind, bemused. It was an odd occurrence and I put it behind me, returning to my inspection of the markets.

As the day drew towards its conclusion, I returned once more to the berth aboard Trophy. There I met a hive of activity and the first mate awaiting me as I boarded.

“We were about to send a search party for you,” said he.

“Why for?” I asked.

“We prepare to sail again,” was all he would say, not deigning to explain the reasons why. The words of the old native came back to me, with his warnings. For a moment I considered taking his advice but the lure of gold on far off shores outweighed what he had said. Looking back now I could see that it had a grip on me that had sunk its claws in deep. I could think of little else on my trip, each day counted down with a growing desire to reach those foreign shores.

And so I continued my journey. The ship departed almost as soon as I had stepped aboard, heading out to sea.

The first few days as we headed east across the Indian Ocean passed uneventful and the warning given to me faded from memory.

But at the end of those days the wind that had driven us forward died away. The following morning dawned to a sea smooth and clear as crystal and not a cloud to behold in the sky. Not even the faintest puff of wind could be beheld. The sails hung limp and against the hull of the ship not a wave lapped.

After all the activity of previous days, the ship had hovering over it an aura of silence, for the crew spoke not at all, and the stillness touched me with a sense of foreboding. Perhaps this was what the old man had spoken of. Yet the crew did not appeared concerned, and as I spoke over the matter with the cook’s boy, I was to discover that such events were not unheard of. In time it would end and we would be under way again. And yet a nagging doubt plagued me. Were there not instanced where the winds had not returned in time and the ships was destined to drift to the end of days as the crew withered away?

My foreboding grew with each passing day. No change came across the sea or sky. Our stocks of water and food shrunk and rations were instituted. I do not know how long this course of events continued, for days blended one into the next. Days, weeks, months? Not even in my journal could I track the days for one read like the previous and the next.

The saturnine nature of the crew was tested when first the food and then the water at last were depleted. They became most vocal at that stage, for the prospect of perishing through thirst was not one that any desired. And yet what could be done about it? We had seen no other ships in all our time becalmed. We could not call up the wind and rain, merely pray for it, and we could not drive the ship forward without it.

And yet a curious thing became apparent to us as the following days rolled on. We no longer required sustenance. Oh, the desire remained at some level, a residual instinct perhaps, but the actually need did not. Neither hunger nor thirst touched us. I can not deny that it was an unnerving experience, and I was not alone in that feeling. The crew, rather than see the positive in what had occurred, saw only the bad. Why, from the way that they spoke it was if we had all perished upon the sea and what we now found ourselves in was the depths of hell. Perhaps they were not wrong.

Their moods deteriorated the longer that we remained becalmed and then the deaths began. The crew started to go insane from the situation that we were mired in and one by one began to do themselves in. Some leapt overboard clutching heavy weights, to sink into the crystal seas. That was an unnerving sight to see, to watch them sink down, down down until at last the gloom claimed them. Others dashed themselves from the heights of the masts unto the decks. The captain retired to his cabin whereupon a single shot was heard to ring out.

In the end only two of us remained, myself and the cook’s boy. Despite all that had occurred around him, he retained his cheerful disposition. I could scarce believe it possible. Only his attention to me kept me sharing the fate of my fellows. If I began to sink into the melancholy that had so taken them, his patter drew me back out again. It saved me, yet not completely. Days would pass wherein I would retain no memory of what had occurred. On occasions I found myself talking to dead crew, and even see them once more on the deck, labouring away at their tasks. It was enough to unnerve any and I could understand why the crew had sought to end their existences.

During the period between one of these lapses wherein I retained my senses, I besought a means by which my tale could be recounted to others. Should the winds return, I had no knowledge of how to handle the ship, and the cook’s boy was little better. Thus I began to write out what had occurred to me on parchment and slip it into empty bottles which I threw overboard. No currents tugged at the bottles, and with no wind either, they merely began to accumulate around the ship. I began to wonder if it was a Sisyphean task that I had begun. Yet I stuck to it. There was little else to do aboard.

I had no idea how long the cook’s boy and I lived out that lonely, monotonous existence. A lifetime, perhaps, or even two. All things end, though, even the purgatory in which we found ourselves. One evening, it seemed to me, the sky took on a different hue, an amber glow. I pondered if it were merely my mind wavering again, to see that which was not.

Then an event occurred that had me doubting my own sanity. I turned to the cook’s boy, and saw he too had seen what I had. A hand was descending from above, one of such immensity that it dwarfed the ship. It stretched out and clutched not at the ship but around, fingers dipping into the sea. Then it was lifting and the ship and waters around began to rise and slowly, slowly, tilt backwards, the prow of the ship rising higher.

I clutched tight at the mast and held on for grim death while the deck tilted away beneath me. Terror hammered at my mind, and all I could hear was laughter. I could not tell from whom it issued, the cook’s boy or I. Through that terror, I noticed a curious fact. The water upon which the ship rested remained still and flat as glass, even as it tilted back. Surely that could not be. The madness that had taken the others must have settled on me and it came to my mind to end it all, to release my grasp and fall to my certain doom.

As I prepared to do so, I looked up, along the length of the ship to the sky above, and there I saw a ring above, the ship aiming right for it. And there, in that ring, appeared a sight most incongruous; an eye, a giant eye, peering down upon the ship and my tortured existence.

The End

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One response to “The Bottle

  1. Dan B July 15, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    I found this very unnerving. More than once I felt a chill run down my spine while reading it. Nice work.

    Like

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