By ben kinkaid · 01/03/2017
In a manner both hesitant, in that meek, bookish way, and stubbornly bold, the man stepped forward on to the boat.
Not unfamiliar with boats, in design or navigation, he knew well enough to step forward lightly and anticipated the swell that would set the boat against him in an instant. The fault, of course, was not with the boat but with what lay beneath, and this was the reason that he had stepped forward in the first place.
Ragged white hair billowed out from underneath a hat not unfit for a pirate, and defiant brown eyes stared out over the water. His coat clung tightly to him, promising a warmth that the water betrayed. Salty mist doused his stubbled chin as the strong wind raced its way down the docks silencing everything but the elusive whisper of the sea.
“We can wait, Mr. Turner, sir,” murmured a member of the crew, appearing, as if to tentatively assist. “No one’d think less of ye’, sir, for turning away on a night like this.” He fumbled with a knot. Turner turned his gaze to the man who willed him to abandon ship. The glance was indicative of his disdain at the thought of turning back, though only he was truly aware of what he hoped to accomplish on this trip. He carried himself deftly to the bow, though his slight limp seemed only to add to the imagery of piracy.
“I shan’t wish to proclaim that I am unafraid, nor that fear unmakes a man, though you appear an unmade man before me.” Turner spun again to confront the short man that had followed him up the deck. The rolling of the waves made seriousness difficult, but he continued nonetheless. Raising his voice he said “Any of you that wishes may leave, for I do not care for any one of you to lose your heads when struggle ensues. Those of you capable and willing, we set sail at once!”
The North Sea was violent as it threw the ship from lull to crest. Turner and the remaining crew gripped rigging and framework with the same vigour that they might have, had they been holding a loved one on the face of a cliff. Turner’s sodden overcoat, waistcoat and shirt all proved futile in protecting him from the cold as rain transformed swiftly into ice. This bitter chill bit at his skin as the wind howled, daggers of ice striking at his face, chest and hands.
“Tie me to the mast!” he roared to the sailors, as immense waves crashed down over the deck. He ran up the length of the boat, grabbing a stretch of sail as the boat tipped vertically down a wave nearly ten times its size.
Pulling himself from his knees and scanning the deck, he pushed the strands of hair from his eyes. Only eight men remained, to wait out the snow storm by his side. He didn’t bother to stand for long, dragging himself desperately before the next impact. His companions lashed him to the mast, as they did to each other. All nine of them now prisoners of whatever God ruled over the forsaken depths.
The next eighteen hours were gruelling for any man. Piercing bodies of water tortured their frames from below, as the blinding hail cursed them from above. Stinging, consistent and malicious, the uncovered skin was marred by ice. Most beaten was Turner, whose clothes were torn, revealing pale, wounded skin, to which the elements showed no mercy. But still his eyes glistened with wonder. This was the goal. This was the experience. To live to paint this with his now bleeding hands and to accurately convey the tragedy of loss. To show the contrast between the beauty and hostility of nature. The man to his left wept in fear, and the tears seemed to freeze on his skin. He babbled incoherently and all Turner could comprehend was “I don’t want to die…don’t want to die”. Darkness made their anguish timeless, there was no escape in the black. All men looked to the east for the light, the saviour. Only then would it be over.
The remains of a boat settled in the docks. The same docks that it had departed from the day before. Eight husks of men cut themselves from their material shackles. One did not rise. No man left the boat, though each stood feeble, embracing the companionship experienced through shared horror. In turn they all looked to Turner, it seemed right that the instigator might say something. Turner looked each one of them in the eye. His shirt hung open across the chest, his trousers in tatters, his face raw from the brutal attack of the night.
“There is no pleasure in such a voyage, that one might experience the world. For when one asks for experience, more is shared than he wished.” And with these words, the man, Turner, made his way onto the land. Not in the same hesitant and yet bold manner with which he had once stepped forward. His walk was heavy with the burden of six dead men, his limp worsened in the cold crawl stern-ward. His defiant stare missing as he looked out tiredly across the land. Perhaps it was the sun, or some trick of the light, but a glisten of wonder still remained.