I lazily stirred lemon juice into my tea, if the drink could be called tea. The liquid barely resembled the sweet nectar from back home in Mississippi. Not much I could do about it from a couple thousand miles and a few hundred years away though. I examined the crude distillery we used to desalinate water. I was beginning to think it may have been cheaper to sail to the arctic to harvest and melt ice than it was to boil and condense sea water. On the plus side, the tiny brewery in the same room cost far less to maintain. The product kept the crew happy, but I hated the taste of the beer we made.
I took some salted fish and pickled eggs from the galley. I stopped by Lenny’s tiny office on the way to my quarters. “Lenny,” I said as I popped my head into the room.
“Yes, Captain?” the scrawny, bespectacled man said.
“We should try to get our hands on more copper,” I said. “The stills are damaged. Also, I’d like to build a second one. We can start making something else. I’m sure one of the men knows a recipe for something awful.”
“Aye, sir.” Lenny, like most of the crew, spoke a dialect of English I barely recognized but could decipher.
“And, Lenny,” I said, “I swear on all that is holy if I catch you stealing from me and the crew again I’ll cut off your whole hand. I hired you as an accountant and quartermaster because I’m lazy. I’m smarter than you; I’ll catch you.”
“Aye, sir,” Lenny said as he pushed his glasses up his nose with a three-fingered hand.
I took my meager meal to my quarters. A desk took up most of the room. A thin wall divided my tiny office and my even smaller bedroom. I sat at my desk. I rolled up the silk sleeve of my red shirt and looked at the chronometer on my wrist.
I twisted and played with the various dials. The time device hadn’t worked since the witch Baba Yaga had struck me with lightning, stranding me in the sixteenth century. I had done what any adventurous young lad would have done though. I played pirate.
Historians would probably say the Caribbean a few centuries later would be the golden age of piracy. I disagreed. The western coasts of Europe and northern Africa were unregulated, unprotected, and constantly teeming with traders and explorers. As a maritime bandit, there was no better time to be alive. Assuming one didn’t get caught, that was. I heard tales of pirates being tarred, feathered, hanged, drawn, quartered, and then burned. I made a point to avoid capture at all costs. Scurvy and dysentery were also high priority concerns.
As I played with my time machine, my first mate burst through the door.
“Captain!” Orthwein shouted. “There’s three ships spotted leeward.”
“I’ll be right up,” I said.
I strapped my thick belt on over my blue trousers. I attached my sabre and holstered my pistol. I pulled on a thick, black overcoat and beat up old hat. I had to look as intimidating as possible in front of my crew. I stomped up to the deck.
“What do we have, gentlemen?” I asked.
“Three ships traveling together southeast of our position,” one sailor answered.
“Release all of the sails,” I ordered. “We want all of the power and speed we can get. Hard turn to port. Set a course directly for them. Open the gunports, and man the cannons. Get moving.”
“Sir, which gunports need to be opened?”
“All of them,” I said. “I want to overwhelm them as quickly as possible. We’ve got ships to rob.”
My ship quickly overcame the other three. Cannon fire held off two ships as my ironclad vessel pulled against the third victim of our attack. Hooked ropes and planks launched across the gap onto the deck of our target. Dozens of pirates rushed off our galiot, St. Elmo’s Fire, onto the other ship in search of anything valuable. I sprinted onto the ship to fight alongside my crew, slowly disabling merchants with my massive saber. My pirates slaughtered innocent sailors until all aboard the vessel lay dead, injured, or had dropped their weapons in surrender.
One of the captured men shouted in a language I didn’t understand, but vaguely recognized. “What tongue is he speaking?” I asked.
“Spanish, Captain,” one of my men replied.
“Translate for me.”
“Our captain wants to speak to whoever is in charge,” the survivor said through my interpreter.
“I’m the captain,” I said. “Bring me your leader.
“Our captain will only speak in his chambers.”
I jammed the barrel of my ridiculously long, snaplock pistol against the cheek of the sailor. “Tell your captain that we’ll speak on my terms, or I’ll have your comrades do so after they toss your headless corpse overboard.”
The man ran away into the bowels of the ship. Moments later, he returned with a white-haired old man in a black tunic and trousers.
“You look like a priest,” I said to the mustachioed man. “Are you the captain of these vessels?”
“I’m leading these ships on this voyage,” the man said, translated through my crewman. “My name is Juan Fernando de Bergara. I sail in the name of King Philip.”
“You’re a merchant vessel for the Spanish treasure fleet, I assume. How fortunate that I’d just happen to meet you in these waters. I have a proposition for you, Juan. I’ll allow you to leave, and I won’t pillage or destroy any of your ships. My men and I will provide you with protection on your journey. All I ask in return is a modest sum as payment.”
My interpreter and Juan Fernando argued for a few moments. My own men had trouble understanding my English compared to theirs. Sometimes, translation to other languages proved to be cumbersome. Finally, I received de Bergara’s response.
“Thirty percent of everything.”
“Impossible. These goods are not mine to bargain with.”
“You will accept my offer,” I said, “or we’ll kill you and take everything.”
“I will not stand for this extortion,” Juan Fernando said. “What is your name? I will report you to the authorities.”
“You may call me Cyrano de Bergerac,” I said. I formed a ball of blue light in my hand and held the glowing orb near de Bergara’s face. “Unfortunately, we will be taking over your vessels, Juan Fernando.”
I threw the energy ball into the air, and it exploded into a brilliant, blue flare. Murmurs of diablo and Erasmus swept through Juan Fernando’s men. I locked de Bergara in a headlock and pinned the barrel of my pistol to his temple. My crew spread through his three ships like the wrath of God, killing those that resisted but sparing any that surrendered. Within just a few minutes, I controlled de Bergara’s three vessels and those that survived of his crew.
I threw Juan Fernando to the deck. “Be thankful that you’re still alive,” I said.
“I am in your debt,” Juan Fernando de Bergara said.
“That you are,” I said. I turned to a crewmate. “Get me Orthwein and Lenny.”
With my first mate, my accountant, my interpreter, and Juan Fernando by my side, I explored the two ships. We traveled into the bowels of the first ship. Crewmen stripped rooms of everything but furniture. In the deepest hold, we found countless people shackled together, crammed into a space made to fit half as many people. “What is this?” I asked.
“Cargo,” Juan Fernando responded.
“This is not cargo,” I said. “Orthwein.”
Without question, my first mate followed my unspoken order. Orthwein grabbed Juan Fernando by the hair and jerked his head back. Orthwein slid a blade across the Spaniard’s exposed neck. The skin spread apart, revealing pinkish structures beneath for a brief glimpse before blood rushed from the wound. Orthwein kicked the dying man to the dirty floor. Juan Fernando de Bergara choked and gurgled as he slowly died at our feet. I clenched my teeth and took several deep breaths to steady myself. I had only killed twice since becoming captain of my vessel. Once I stabbed a man with a sword during a duel, and another time I shot a man in the back as he attacked one of my crew. Otherwise I only disabled or injured opponents while ransacking merchant ships. Such personal closeness with murder still bothered me, but murder was simply a fact of life at that point in history.
The crewmen and I unshackled the dark-skinned captives. I assumed they were Native Americans. “See that they’re fed,” I said to Orthwein. “Lenny and I will finish the inventory.”
The total stock of the three ships yielded insane stockpiles. The merchant ships carried various metals including silver and gold, pearls, gemstones, tobacco, silk, sugarcane, lumber, and a large variety of fruit, vegetables, and meat. Lenny and I divided the spoils to be shared equally amongst the crew. My men shepherded what remained of de Bergara’s crew onto a single ship. We forced the Spaniards to watch as we set the other two ships ablaze. I turned to the survivors. I light the air around me electric blue with an energy ball. “On this ship, I have left you with twenty percent of the goods you were carrying and half of your food,” I said. “The provisions I’ve taken are the price for your life. Before I set you free, any man who wishes to join me may board my ship at this time. All I ask for is devote loyalty and a willingness to fight.” Three men left Juan Fernando’s crew. “For those that choose to remain in service of King Philip, know this; if you retaliate against my crew, you will be killed.”
I threw the energy ball into the air and disappeared below deck.
Weeks later, I stood on the foredeck drinking a mixture of homemade rye vodka and tea with a touch of apple cider. When we’d go ashore in England or Spain, I would hear rumors in taverns of the demonic pirate with no name who threw lightning from his sword and fire from his hands. I began to enjoy my place as a pirate. Thanks to Juan Fernando’s contributions, I had built another ship, and appointed Orthwein captain of Calypso’s Envy. Unfortunately I had tossed Lenny overboard after I had caught him stealing silver from my stockpile. I hadn’t felt that bad about it since I technically didn’t kill him. I just placed the thieving bastard in a position that he could not possible escape alive. I had plans to become a pirate king, building my own empire of ships. I couldn’t allow such insubordination to thrive in my presence.
The cool breeze I enjoyed with my drink suddenly turned deathly cold, and the sky changed to a sickly swirl of grey and red. I watched over the crews on my two ships. The flesh of many men turned a pale green. Their eyes disappeared, leaving empty sockets that spilled black fluid over their faces. The men screamed in garbled tongues while clawing at their own flesh. The water beneath the ships churned and bubbled, sucking my tiny fleet into a maelstrom. Lightning and dark emptiness streaked the skies. Hideous, winged toads the size of horses appeared in the sky. Seven eyes and three horns protruded from the toads’ faces. The beasts had six insect-like legs, and massive pincers grew from the corners of their mouths. The monsters calmly circled in the sky above the ships.
What sort of hell had opened upon us? The crewmen that had not mutated looked to me for guidance and found nothing. After spending time in the Netherworld, I had entertained the thought that maybe sea serpents and monsters of the deep could be real, but I never imagined such grotesque beasts as those that rose before me could exist. Time stood still as my ships orbited the whirlpool. My crew and I stood in Hell, and I had no idea what to do.
A massive beast burst from the sea, destroying Calypso’s Envy as the creature rose from the depths of the swirling waters. Green scales covered its bloated flesh. Enormous dragon wings spread open on either side of a shark’s head growing on the demon’s back. Thousands of slimy, grey tentacles and serpents extended from the horror’s waist instead of legs. Empty, white eyes punctuated its smooth, black head. Six, scaly arms reached out toward the remaining ship.
Chaos broke out. The mutated crew members attacked and ate those that remain unchanged. The toadbats swooped down on the deck, grabbing anything that moved. “Kill the infected!” I shouted at my surviving men. “Ignore the flying things unless they’re close enough to touch you. Someone man the cannons! Fire at the eyes of the damned devil.”
I volleyed pistol fire at a toadbat that landed on the deck to eat my crewmen. The shot tore the beast in two, iron disintegrating its otherworldly flesh. I drew my saber and made my way to the mast, cutting down the infected men and toadbats as they drew too near. I grabbed the closest rope and climbed up to the crow’s next. There, I perched and waited.
As a toadbat flew beneath me, I dove on top of it. I latched onto its horns and dug my heels into the creature’s sides. As we thrashed about the air, the giant demon picked up St. Elmo’s Fire and forced the ship into its mouth. Cannonballs continued to soar through the air until the boat’s end, tearing through the demon’s cheeks and ripping toadbats from the skies. Near endless bloodshed spread out across the decks as men battled through their final minutes.
I gained control of the toadbat I rode. Kicking the beast in the sides, I ripped through the air toward the devil. I fired a pistol shot into one of the blank, white eyes. The monster convulsed violently as it cupped its hands over the eye. Hopefully the eye injury distracted the beast enough so that I could attack its brain. I steered the toadbat into a divebomb toward the demon’s face.
Moments before I drove my ghastly steed into the sea demon’s forehead, I stabbed the reptile in the head and dove into the air. I plummeted for several seconds before I slammed against the devil’s skin with a loud sploosh. I tried to hold onto the demon’s slick, scaly skin but I slid off the monster into the air over the maelstrom of water below. I stopped in the air as one of the devil’s six hands caught me from my descent. Slimy fingers coiled around my body and drew me in. Seconds later, I disappeared into the black opening in the demon’s face.
I slipped into the beast’s throat. Darkness, slime, and the smell of salt engulfed me. The walls of flesh around me rhythmically contracted and pulsed, slowly pushing me down into the demon’s guts. I panicked. I frantically threw energy balls in every direction. The walls stopped pulsing. Wind howled from above. Fluid crashed against me from below and launched me back into the air.
I fell forever before pounding into the swirling depths. Currents ripped at me from every direction. I struggled to swim to the surface, but I had no idea which way was up. My lungs screamed for me to breathe. I opened my eyes in the burning salt water. I spun about until I spotted sunlight. Fire filled my chest. I flailed my arms and legs, clawing my way to the surface.
Tearing out of the water, my chest heaved spastically as I gulped in air. Deep purple died the ocean. Bits of wood floated on the calm waters. Debris and blood were the only signs anyone but me had ever been in that tiny section of the seas. I swam to a nearby scrap of my ship. I discovered the bit of wood to be a sealed barrel as I wrapped myself around it. I clung to the floating container of booze. I prayed someone would find me before I died of dehydration, and that they wouldn’t immediately kill me. My chances of either working out in my favor were slim and slimmer.
Fuck my life.