I had spent countless hours sifting through the numerous ledgers and ship logs; I wasted an eternity indulging deranged ancient sailors still reveling in the glory stories of their youth and I had scoured the continents end to end in pursuit of knowledge I knew did not belong on dry land.
After all these years, I find myself old, wrinkled and oblivious all the same. I never set out to sea for every time I found myself portside, the ramblings of the old senile woman panged like an old wound, tethering me to the docks, as if a giant anchor had been tied about my neck, weighing me down.
The torture of the unknown and the guilt of a life unfulfilled drove me seeking regular solace at the bottom of a bottle of shoddy rum. As I regularly gulped down the bittersweet relief in the presence of the same old mariners that had been patroning the dusty cantina by the seaside, a perpetual ghostly tale made me quiver time and time again. Days became weeks; weeks galloped into months and months rolled into years.
Although stale and doddery myself, I still remember the everghastly story of the black captain, haunting the seas at night, yet it is just now that I ask myself: was that really the same story from my father’s journal?
‘It was a fine day for sailing,’ I could hear a veteran captain premise the legend once more, ‘The sun was shining bright, the wind was in favour and the sea was as calm as a baby sucking on its mother’s tits,’ a grin, a smile, a laughter from a cabin boy. The sailor held off until the crowd settled back a bit, then grew grim and mysterious, ‘And suddenly,’ he made an unnecessary dramatic pause in order to further grasp – or, rather, renew – the attention of the tittering sots, ‘A squall hit ‘em like there’s no tomorrow!’ the audience gasped. ‘Dark clouds gathered ‘round them and lightning rolled to the north. Thunder rumbled, a cold wind whined and the sun stood as if frozen high above them, a mere shadow behind the dark clouds. Rain followed soon after and the waves rustled like sheets, making way for…her.’ I knew all too well what he was talking about for I have heard it countless times before, but the younglings seemed mesmerized by the tale. I would not forgive myself had I spoiled their fun with snarky remarks.
‘Out o’ the sea emerged a monstrous galleon, with hull black as charcoal, her sails torn by the winds, masts dislodged and swaying in the storm and a crow cawed ominously..
‘Cawed?’ interrupted one of the sailors, ‘Was it a crow or a chicken?’
The old captain glared at the boy, grunted and resumed the tale as if it was his own.
‘The crew stood frozen on deck, uncertain of what to do. The storm was picking up quickly, but they couldn’t move an inch. Lightning flashed again and they heard the galleon creaking as she was slowly turning her bow, setting course straight for their vessel. The swabs panicked; they started running about, hollering and screaming in terror. Fearless as they may have been, the sight of this ghostly ship threw them off. The officers were trying their best to keep the crew in check, but they themselves were starting to lose their grip as she drew nearer and nearer. Only a few more moments untill she rammed them…’
I got up and left the decadent establishment. I already knew the end of the story, for it was always the same: right before the galleon collides with them, the sailors see a darkened figure with a black captain’s hat, a sardonic smile and a sinister glance in his eyes. A black hound appears as of thin air and yowls thru the storm, its roar more deafening than the loudest thunder and more chilling than the coldest winter. And then it’s gone – the hound, the captain, the galleon, all of it. All that is left for the sailors is a sense of unease and inexplicable terror. Some of them don’t make it back ashore, thrown overboard by their own delusions; most of them never set out to sea ever again. All of them reluctant to share their side of the story, however. All of them speak but one sentence of the whole ordeal.
Brave not the seas at night.
How the story began I know not. I am certain, however, that with so many iterations, the truth of what had really happened got wrapped and buried beneath a cluster of lies and fantasies. A story to frighten little children and daft men.
I had devoted my life to untangling this intricate web of delusions, my obsession costing me fortune and family, flinging me from the height of paranoia to the depths of anguish and back again. I fear my mind got irreparably damaged by this relentless and, ultimately, fruitless pursuit, and I know not when it will fail completely.
Truth begins with lies, my old man would say. I was but a whelp then and could not comprehend the meaning behind his words, and mayhaps I still don’t. It seems, however, that I am destined to perish much like my father did – chasing a legend.
I stood on the pier again, feet glued to the boards, eyes gazing the horizon beyond the calm, liquid grave of so many a sailor and whispered her words – and theirs – under my breath.
Brave not the seas at night.
A ship was making her way nearby, just outside the port. My eyes were weak and weary, yet I could vaguely distinguish a malformed, charred vessel in the murky darkness of the eve. My heart skipped a beat as I strained my vision, trying to make out any shape aboard and thought I glimpsed a darkened shade on deck. Pouding with sudden exaltation, I leaned over the rail, as if proximity would somehow compensate for my failing vision. I could still see naught but my ears audibly discerned a loud cackle coming directly ahead, where what I had already recognized as a galleon was moored. Realizing what I had set my eyes upon, I recoiled in sudden terror and fell on the ground.