Here is an act of fiction from a few years ago. I wrote this in my classroom of third graders when we were working on developing our characters. Specifically, we were thinking about protagonists and antagonists. I mainly worked on my antagonist, Patrick Macarthur.
Let me say plainly, I know next to nothing about sailing, and it will be obvious to those who do, that I didn’t research to provide an accurate setting. In other words, I made stuff up. I await corrections and suggestions from those more knowledgeable about ships and such. This is longish for a blog post, so I’ll divide it into a few installments. I don’t really have a suitable title for it. I’m open to suggestions. For now I call it…
The lightening caught the sailors off guard. The bolt split the air in a thunderous crack and the main mast exploded into splinters. The men of the Windsong were nearly deafened by the crash. It was a miracle that no one was seriously hurt. It was not raining yet but the sky was an angry blue black. A few bright clouds scudded quickly beneath the blanket of darkness above. The wind howled a dirge through the rigging.
“What’ll we do now?” asked Scotts stupidly, his head ringing from the deafening thunder.
Patch raised himself from the deck. He was in charge now. It was never said aloud, simply understood. His command was by default. He was the best navigator of the crew. Without him they were all as good as dead. It was also he who killed the captain, although most among them did not look at it as murder. Smythe got what he deserved, they thought.
“We make due with the mast and sails we have left, you bloody idiot!” barked Patch. He was at a loss for novel ideas himself. “Get as much sheet up as you can. We’ve got to turn her into the wind or we’ll capsize!” The twelve men scrambled about, hoisting the sails and making fast the lines. The ship was awkward without a mainsail. The wind vibrated the lines as fierce gusts rushed through the rigging.
“Lucky we all weren’t blown to Heaven itself in that last bolt,” Patch muttered angrily to no one but himself.
Patch heard and felt a thudding sound from below deck. He cursed the horses below as if they were to blame for the troubles they were facing. His head ached. His old bones hurt. His left eye itched furiously. Rather it was his left eye socket where his eye used to be. It itched incessantly, almost to the point of driving him mad. Some would say that Patrick Macarthur was mad already. Some would say that Patrick Macarthur parted company with sanity years ago. Some would suggest that his sanity left him when he lost the eye. When the terrible itch began.
He had an idea. “Jonas!” he bellowed. “Release those infernal horses from below.”
“Release them where?” Jonas asked. “There ain’t no land round ‘ere, Cap’n,” he said as he stopped hauling on a rough line to raise the foresail.
“I know that, you bloody fool! Shove ‘em into the drink!” Patch raised a fist to his eye. He’d never felt it so itchy before. Never.
Without asking why, Jonas headed below deck. Huge waves pitched the ship and a seaman unsteadier than Jonas would have lost his footing. Jonas had seen worse. If they could make it without being struck by any more lightning, he knew he would probably get to see that pretty lass he had been getting to know back in London Towne. He thought of her as he climbed down the makeshift ramp to the stalls below. He lurched suddenly as an enormous wave crashed into the side of the ship like a battering ram. They still had not managed to face the ship into the wind. Until they could, there would be rough going. Jonas knew this. They were taking on water, but he had lived through worse.
He skidded into the door of the horse stalls, bumping his forehead on the thick oak planks. “Blast!” he cursed, wiping a smear of blood onto his sleeve. Jonas could barely keep his feet under him as the ship pitched and rolled. He reached for the rusty bolt and slid it noisily to the side. He could see through the window in the door. The heads of the horses were huge and hairy. The whites of their eyes betrayed their fright. It was cramped in their makeshift stable. The horses kept smashing into each other as the ship rose and fell. He didn’t know much about horses, but Jonas could tell they were in a panic. They whinnied and bellowed, their ears laid back in fright. What were they to make of the moving creaking walls, the pitching floor beneath their hooves?
As he slid the bolt to the side, Jonas pictured the lass from the tavern. He could almost taste the dinner he would have there; almost hear her tinkling little laughter. Gwendolyn. That was her name, wasn’t it?
Breeze, a tawny colored filly, pushed violently forward as soon as she realized the door was to be opened. The heavy wooden door to their trap flew outward on its hinges and swung around with tremendous force. Before Jonas realized what was happening the hinges screamed and the heavy wooden planks smashed into his face, knocking his head backward into the wall. Unconscious, bleeding, but still alive, he didn’t realize this would be his final errand.
The horses flew up the ramp as fast as they could, for they could see sky. Nothing could be worse than what they experienced below deck. Black, a fiery gelding, spun around once on deck. He skidded at the rail as the boat rolled. Patch watched as the horse reared up, kicking its front legs furiously at the air. The crew paused in their urgent work and watched as if in a daze. Black’s sharp hooves flew close to Patch’s head. Surely he realized the danger. He gazed into the eyes of the furious black beast and pulled one of the two muskets from the sash around his waste.
Black danced forward on his hind legs, his flailing hooves approaching Patch’s face. Patch stood his ground, pulled back the hammer and raised the gun. For an instant their gazes locked. Black’s matted mane blew forward around his head, rippling in the fierce wind. Patch’s long greasy hair blew back exposing a mask of madness. His eyes did not waver as he pulled the trigger. The cloud of white smoke blew directly into Patch’s face. He did not blink. The ball lodged into the shiny black neck of the creature and sent it toppling backward through the rail and into the frothy sea.
The horses were so frightened by the pistol blast that they fell and jumped headlong into the churning sea after their fallen comrade. None had ever been in water over their heads before, but instinct took over and their strong thin legs beat furiously and rhythmically in the ocean water to keep them afloat and moving forward.
Patch dropped his spent pistol over the side where it hit the water with a small silent splash. Looking at the doomed horses, he snorted his delight. “Good riddance to them and the rubbish who brought ‘em aboard this ship.”
He felt for the remaining musket stuck into his sash. He had a premonition. The others tore their bewildered gazes from the scene and started back at their task of bringing the ship into the wind.
Patch went to the small locker where the guns and ammunition were kept…