This story is by Kathy Roberts and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Tell us a story, Capt. Booker”.
The old man wheezed the last few steps and crashed with a thud on the bench.
“I’ve told them all”.
“Again. Again,” they shouted. “The one about the Wee People”. They were relentless.
“ Hmm …”.
He knocked the bowl of his corn cob pipe against the sole of his boot.
“Aye. Come have a listen.
“Let’s see. Twer’ the big storm of 1675. Fields were parched that year. The bounty had been meager; just barely enough for the summer. Already it was near Hallowe’en.
Folk got together to figure out what to do.
Ended up it was me and my crew’s job to catch ‘nuff fish to feed the entire town for the whole winter.
I talked to a few people I knew. They called others.
We met down at the wharf.
Unseasoned crew mostly. I wasn’t too comfortable with the first-mate in particular. He was a rookie. Been out to sea lots. The son of a retired captain I knew. I only had the skipper’s word to go on, but these wer’ hard times. Ya do the best ya can.
Shortly after dawn, we boarded. Town folk crowded the pier. Women waved hankies. Men shouted a hearty goodbye and wished us luck.
A majestic sight, it wer’, three full masts billowing in the wind.
I felt more than heard that old familiar creak of timbers as she rocked in the water, waves lapping her sides.
Crew wer’ in T-shirts. As soon as we were out of sight, I took off my jacket. Nice strong land breeze. Sea was ripe for fishin’. We let down our nets.
We trawled all day. By the time we moored that night, Water was as flat as a mirror. We checked our nets. Full. Bursting at the seams. More fish than we could pull in. We tied up the nets and let them drag beside the boat like saddlebags.
Next morning, the dawn was scarlet. Real pretty, but not a good omen.
By noon, a few angry little clouds had scudded in. The skies felt oppressive. That strong, steady wind we’d set sail with, was almost gale force.
A few hours later, a terrified first–mate hollered into the hole,
“All hands on deck.”
A few men scrambled up.
“Get on that rigging,” I bellowed. “Get those sails down!”
They scuttled up like spiders working their webs.
I wrestled the squall, trying to control the ships wheel.
The sea was vicious. At every swell, another huge wave threatened to overwhelm. The prow of the boat perched at a ninety degree angle – only for an second. Then “CRASH” it came smashing down, splaying walls of water to either side of the boat. The wind lashed out its punishing blows.
A jack lurched from the gunnels t’ward me. His shouts were weak.
“Sea’s too high. Catch’s too heavy.”
I ken the meaning right quick.
“Cut and run,” I roared back.
The jack skidded larboard to release our catch.
The deck was awash with the briny deep. The wind picked up our ship and tossed it like a cork in the ocean. We were at the mercy of the tempest.
The boys were drenched with frigid waters. Their hair plastered to their scalps every time a new wave surfed the deck. Blinding waters and deafening wind thwarted our every move. The storm took a powerful strike. The boys defended, and then attacked. The storm, like a woman scorned, threw another punishing blow. The sailors weakened. They struggled. They rallied and fought back. The ruthless gale picked up our boat and hurled her on the rocks. She split clean asunder.
We were flung ashore like a giant catapult.
Praise be t’ the Angels and Saints – no-one was hurt.
There wer’ jacks in trees, jacks on the ground, jacks everywhere.
First thing we needed to do was get out of that arctic blast.
We turned from the shore and looked for a lee shelter. I yelled orders and men gathered behind an outcropping of rocks. A little further inland we could see a small alcove. We assembled there. A sailor started a bonfire. Soon a roaring blaze started to thaw us.
The cook did a quick sweep of the shipwreck. He salvaged whatever supplies he could find. Ere long, the hash slinger doled out some kind of gruel (I think it was porridge and sardines). Didn’t taste too good but it sure did the trick. Another jack brought out the rum. There was the usual songs and stories. After a while, the boys began to nod off ‘till there was just me – staring into the fire.
I was getting sleepy. I looked for a good spot to sleep. I spied a lios (a fairy mound), complete with a tree in the middle.
Seems like a good place. I laid down, stretching to find a comfortable spot. I dreamt that I bartered with the Wee People. In exchange for me getting off their hill, they told me where our catch was.
In the morning I told the boys. We went to the spot and sure ‘nuff there was our fish still all trussed up in our nets. We skewered the bundles on two long poles and divided into teams to shoulder the weight.
I knew we were only ‘bout ten miles from town. Afore nightfall, we walked home.
We were some heroes in town that winter.
Eyeing the crowd I could see that the young boys were enchanted, the new sailors were wishing it was them, the older men knew I was swinging the lamp a bit, but they ALL loved my stories.