Jake Spruance ’19
The floorboards creaked beneath his feet as he walked onto the deck. Sam gazed out over the expansive ocean, beautiful, but deadly. He lit his kerosene lamp; it was dark, save the moon’s faint glow. All of a sudden, the boat pitched violently, knocking him against the wall. It was never a good idea to walk on deck at night, he remembered; if a person was swept overboard, no one would ever know. Luciano Fernandez, the famous Italian captain, supposedly died that way. He gathered himself and hurried back down to his ward.
“Stupid Luc,” he thought “you could sail around the Cape of Good Hope with a broken mast but you died like that.”
Sam had been renowned for his ability to get his crew and supplies through dangerous waters for years; many had considered him the best ship captain in all of Europe. Then the Italian showed up out of the blue, guiding his crew through a hurricane without losing a single man or any cargo. The man received so much attention for this feat that Sam was nearly forgotten. Since Luciano’s death, Sam’s position had been reestablished, but never to the same degree as it had been before. He turned sour, longing for something to give him recognition. In the past he had primarily traveled to Asia and Africa; his whole life, he had never crossed the Atlantic. Consequently, Sam signed up to transport arms and munitions to Jamaica. If the goods did not arrive, then the king would lose ownership of the island to the Spanish.
“If that happens, I guess I won’t survive either,” he thought.
Rather than face a shameful execution, a valiant death seemed more favorable; he would die trying. Sam walked over to his bedside table and poured himself a glass of rum, beginning to feel significantly better. Extinguishing his lamp, he attempted to fall asleep, but he could not. His eyes were sore from days of unrest. He could not sleep, he figured, because his thoughts kept him awake. The cargo needed to be dropped off and that was all. Just that one simple task, but his conscious failed to drive away all of his fears and doubts. Eventually, his mind gave in to his body, and he drifted away.
Light peered through the windows in his cabin. Crawling out of bed, he donned his uniform, yawned, and shuffled to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he saw a man with greasy, chestnut brown hair, matted all over his head. His eyes, a piercing green. Sam was never tall, but few regarded him as short, for it made him angry; he tended to view the word “little” as meaning “insignificant.” He brushed the dust off of his jacket, holstered his rapier, and marched on deck.
“We ready to go?”
“Some storm clouds off portside, but it won’t be an issue, I assure you”
“Good. I’ll be on the bridge”
Sam walked away. He and his 1st mate Tom had known each other since they were schoolboys in their hometown of Banbury. The two would do everything together, from performing chores, to playing in Sam’s barn. While not related, the two called themselves brothers; Sam could not remember a time they had ever been separated. On Sam’s fifteenth birthday, he received a gift of a wooden boat, beginning his and Tom’s love for the sea. When they turned eighteen, they decided to enlist as boat hands on a family friend’s ship, who taught the two how to sail and navigate the ocean. From there, they climbed the ranks and Sam became a ship captain himself, Tom never leaving his side. The fair-haired man never protested Sam’s leadership; he instead accepted it with pride. He was somewhat shy, and the only person he would speak his mind to was Sam. It was odd how he felt constantly judged by others, leading him to hide his own opinions and agree with what others said to avoid any disagreements. However anxious this behavior made him, his desire for a better self-image birthed an incomparable amount of altruism and benevolence, which he lent to his friend Sam.
The bridge was practically Sam’s office since he was almost always there. On the wall behind the wheel lay a plaque with the words HMS Cardinal, and he kept a globe and sextant on the table next to it. The boat reeked of smoke because of the cheap cigars given to the crew. Sam held his breath, disgusted. He had to allow it so that the crew would not stage a mutiny. He watched the three canvas sails blow in the wind, also shooting ocean spray across the boat. Men began to swab the oak deck with salt water to prevent the wood from rotting. The only sounds he heard were the rocking of the ship and the quiet conversations of the crew. He gazed out over the sea. There was a black speck off starboard. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. It was coming closer.
“It couldn’t be land,” he thought. He called up Tom
“See that dot over the horizon?” he asked, “what do you think of it?”
“I don’t know,” Tom said, “maybe another ship?”
“But what kind of ship would be in the Caribbean?”
Their faces both turned stone cold. It could not be a British ship–that would be stationed in Jamaica. That left two possible options: a Spanish ship, or worse, raiders. They certainly could not avoid it, whatever it was. Steering away from the ship would mean steering into the torrent of rain opposite them, resulting in the capsizing of the vessel, while continuing in the same direction could result in massacre and loss of the precious arms cache. As the vessel got closer, they noticed a yellow and blue flag, but couldn’t make out any others. Tom looked at Sam with a face of confusion.
“The flag means that they want to speak with us. That’s a bit more diplomatic than I was expecting” said Sam
“Should we keep going straight then and wait for them to catch up to us?” asked Tom.
“I think so. Alert the crew,” he said, shaking his head.
After Tom delivered the message, the men went silent. None of them spoke; all awaited their fates. Now the boat was visible in greater detail. Spain’s yellow and red flag was absent from the mast. Now it was here. Their boat was only 100 miles east of Jamaica. Bridges extended from the opposing ship, and people began to walk across, all armed with swords and pistols. One man stood out from the ruffians, dressed in a blue and red uniform with golden epaulettes and a bicorne hat.
“Greetings. My name is Uomo Odiato, and this is my vessel, the Angelo Cattivo. You have something that I wish to have.”
The man spoke with a rich Italian accent. Sam thought he recognized him briefly, but the name he was thinking of did not fit with the man he saw. He glanced in the captain’s eyes, and then looked away, filled with a sense of repulsion and disdain.
“What is it, then?” Sam responded. The men around him remained silent, gripped with terror.
“I’ve been told you have a cargo of much value,” replied Uomo.
“No. That’s off the table.” Sam stood his ground in defiance, and his crew backed away from him.
“Well then. There’s something else I’d like instead, or, you know, I’ll just take both from you,” said Uomo.
Nothing moved but the wind.
“Say it already!” Sam screamed at the silence.
“I’d like one of your men.”
The crew’s eyes widened. They all looked at Sam, none of them moving a muscle. After what seemed like an hour of tense silence, one of them stepped forward.
“I’ll go,” said Tom.
All the men stood in awe.
“Any objections, captain,” Uomo sneered.
Sam glanced at Tom then dropped his head.
“I’ll take that as a no. Arrivederci, Signore.”
Tom looked back at Sam with wide, betrayed eyes. Sam stared at the ocean, his mind lost in his thoughts.
“The ends justify the means,” he thought.
The pirates left the ship with Tom and sailed away. The crew looked at the captain with hatred, and found that they did not recognize him anymore. The sun was setting and the sky became overcast. The boat would make it to harbor the next day. Wandering aimlessly throughout the ship with no apparent purpose, Sam was now as emotionless as a corpse. The crew still obeyed his orders, but avoided him to the best of their ability. This was the man that left his lifelong friend for a chance to be famous.
Later that night, it began to rain. The storm clouds had caught up to them, but the eye of the tempest was far away. Sam walked onto the deck and found utter darkness. Not a single celestial body lay above him. One of the more daring crewmen saw him and asked if he even remembered the day’s earlier events; Sam dismissed those thoughts as crazy, waving the man away. Now alone on the deck, he would finally be better than the great Luciano Fernandez. He began to sweat. Clutching his stomach, he swore out in pain, but no one heard his cries. He now knew the captain of the other ship. His hands felt warm and slimy, and when he looked down at them, he realized what he had done. Walking to the edge of the ship, he fell into the angry void of the ocean.