The Mariner

Part One

(go here for my disclaimer)

           I was not privy to these events. Had I been, I fear these writings would never leave my desk to reach you.

            I dare say events, though you may know them better as myths or legends. Stories to frighten little children and daft men. Should your mind be so narrow and stringent that it leaves no space for doubt and, consequently, belief, I urge you to stop reading.
Should you care, however, to hear the tale as I have and make up your own mind, then, by all means, please carry on.
It all began with the story of a mariner – a tenebrous, albeit trite ghostly seafaring tale passed on from sailor to sailor, each adding a bit of his own flavour to it. A story I grew up with and knew by heart. At first, it gnawed my infantile mind like a plague rat on a rotting carcass, haunting me even in my dreams, denying me rest. As I grew older, the juvenile me mustered the courage to put it behind me and would pay little to no attention to it lest someone was twisting and turning the narrative to an overly grotesque perversion. I needed not for some self-proclaimed bard to enflame the pestilence of my infancy. Thus, I was swift in either correcting them or leaving the premises, for I knew best how the story went, and I would not suffer their abominations.
Then the story, like any other, died out and I had all but forgotten about it, leaving it to rot in some distant corner of my subconscious. It was only after I met Sergei that the old wounds ached anew, for he claimed this was not how the story ended.
I am getting ahead of myself, however. Let me tell you about the mariner first, lest I befuddle you even more than I already have.

            A couple of centuries ago, right around the age of oil and the newfound electricity, a man was cruising the black night seas on his tugboat. The lone vessel was drifting across the dreary waters, inching his way home, where the mariner’s family awaited, when the ship’s radar picked up an unusual reading. The man strained against the pitch-black veil of the night yet his tired eyes could make out naught. He nictated and went back to the open monitor that shew a large object heading on a collision course with the tiny tugboat. He reached for the radio and tried to hail what he believed to be a ship of sizeable proportions only to receive static from the other side. The vessel had appeared as of thin air and was threatening to plough him thru, leaving only a vague memory among the inevitable wreckage. The mariner grabbed the rudder tightly, attempting to steer clear of his impending doom, when the radio crackled once again.
A heinous laughter reverberated in the cabin and he thought he could hear the electronic voice call and curse his name with a manic tenacity amidst the gibberish of the apparatus. He shook his head, clasped the rudder ever so tightly and, trying to shut out the nagging feeling of dread, peered into the darkness of the night anew, in search of a way to avoid an untimely demise. The cackle and cuss from the radio had halted yet he could not bring himself at ease. The mariner rubbed his eyes and once again strained them against the impenetrable darkness, finally beginning to distinguish a dim shape in the unfathomable vastness of the sea. His eyes suddenly widened in horror, as he stood aghast at the sight unveiled before him. The radar’s desperate plea had grown louder still but fell on deaf ears; there was no need for it anyway, for he could finally see the ship he was expecting – although not the ship he expected.
‘Lord have mercy on me,’ he murmured as he let go of the wheel. A gargantuan, derelict galleon was drifting towards his tugboat, swaying with the waves. The torn sails leaned against the slight breeze and spread about like cobwebs, enveloping what appeared as charred woodwork. Try as he might, the mariner could see no soul aboard the mysterious ship save the lone black bird circling hypnotically around the rocking empty crow’s nest.
A chilling gust of wind brought in a shroud of fear and for a moment, it seemed as if time had stopped within the tugboat cabin. The mariner knew of this ship, for it has been the talk of many a sailor, yet never believed it.
‘You will drown in your own blood,’ crackled the radio for an instant, before a dense fog descended upon him, devouring both sight and hope in its thick cold embrace.
Then it was gone.
As the mist cleared, a sliver of light found its way in the gloomy cabin and the mariner dared open his eyes. The galleon has vanished as abruptly as it had first appeared, leaving only the vague memory of her and a lurking sensation of unease.

            The mariner adjusted the course of his lone boat and sailed silently towards his home. Whether or not what he saw that day was real or just a momentary figment of his imagination manifested is something neither him nor I ever questioned. Nevertheless, you could understand how such a tale, told with the utmost care, can pull people in and instill fear in the weaker mind of a child. For many years, I was content, and perhaps foolish, to take the story for face value, until I finally met Sergei that fateful night on the deck of the cargo ship I worked on. We were both in the same company when a sailor told the story of the mariner and the phantasmal galleon. I, of course, listened to him half-heartedly, showing more courtesy than interest, as I was busy with my scribe work. It was the irritated grunt of Sergei that yanked me from my trance, as he claimed this was not how the story ended.
This statement instantly took me in, but the old man refused to discuss it any further and left our company on a short notice. I found out the next day he had been retired to shore and I was left disappointed.
Years later, I sought out Sergei again, driven by curiosity and, at the time, unconscious longing for closure. I was already anchored myself, so it was not hard to locate the old man and urged him, rather pathetically, to tell me the rest of the story.
Now I wish I had never done that, for after many a plea he finally obliged and thus I learnt the true fate of the hapless mariner.

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