Here is the second installment of “Patch” a story written in writer’s workshop in my third grade class. Click here to read part one.
The story picks up during a storm at sea. Patch Macarthur is the defacto captain of a three masted sailing vessel that has been struck by lightening. We know that he has killed the real captain and has sent several horses, their cargo, over the side. Unless they can get the ship turned into the wind their ship, The Windsong, will capsize and they will be doomed…
Patch, Part 2
Patch went to the small locker where the guns and ammunition were kept. He gathered a powder horn, tightly corked, and slung its leather cord around his shoulder. He picked up twenty lead balls, placed them in a cinched leather pouch and stashed them into the pocket of his trousers. They felt heavy and comforting. He gathered some oilcloth that was used to keep the black powder caskets dry. He wrapped the musket in several layers of the water resistant material and tied it tightly with a piece of stout leather cord. The bundle was clumsy but not too uncomfortable as he tucked into his sash.
Try as he might, he could not ignore the stinging itch he felt in his eye. He didn’t understand the situation as a doctor would, but Patch had an infection. A bad one. He was feeling feverish. He knew something was terribly wrong.
As he worked his way to the deck he remembered the events of the previous day. The captain, Howard Smythe, was a scoundrel who got just what he deserved - just what he had coming to him. Patch scratched around the frayed black eye patch that barely hid where his eye used to be. He remembered approaching the captain’s cabin holding the pistol he stolen by bashing the lock on the firearms cabinet. He’d used a heavy iron grappling hook to destroy the lock. A stubborn lock it was too.
Patch had the feeling that he would kill the captain as soon as he hired on as first mate. He felt it as soon as he saw the captain’s clean, white shirt, the way he combed his hair back with grease like a dandy. Patch had mutiny in his heart when he smelled the aroma of real stew coming from the captain’s private cabin while he and the rest of the crew were eating moldy bread and what passed for dried beef. Dried beef indeed. It was nothing more than leather. It made the crew sick to their stomachs. There was hair still on it and those who ate it were fools. They were given food unfit for dogs while Smythe ate stew.
He knew he would kill the captain when he saw how Smythe treated the horses. The horses! They had better to eat than the crew. It had to stop. Patch knew that he would be the one to stop it. No one else had the guts.
Patch took a moment to glance out to see the horses. They were still alive, blast them! They all swam in the same direction, waves crashing over them in smothering tons. Still they swam. It may have been herding instinct or it may have been coincidence, but the horses all headed together in an easterly direction.
Patch and the other sailors were frantic to raise some sail. He felt the uncomfortable bulge under his belt, but he did his best to ignore it. The waves were higher now than they were just moments ago. They had to bring the ship into the wind. If they didn’t, they would all perish. The men were falling onto the deck and crashing into the rails. Trying to hold onto the lines to raise the sails was all but useless in the wind and waves now. This crew was used to danger. Most of them, including Patch, had looked death in the eye on a number of occasions. Life on the sea was like that. Danger was always present. But so was hope.
A wave swamped the deck and water rushed into the hold. The ship was sinking. There was little anyone could do to stop it now. For the first time in many of these men’s eyes there was fear, real fear, fear of losing their lives to the sea.
There was a sickening crash, a splintering shriek as the wooden hull scraped a reef. The men looked at each other in wide-eyed terror, their screams muted by the almost deafening howl of the wind. The ship was lifted by another enormous wave and, this time, simply dropped onto the reef as it fell into the trough of the wave. Huge planks splintered as easily as a man might snap a toothpick.
Most of the crew was dashed into the sea with that thundering crash. A few clung feebly to pieces of the ship although the remains were too small to support the weight of the men for long.
The waves continued to bury the men and the remains of the ship. Some, simply winded by the violent smashing of the ship against the coral went down under the waves and never rose again to the surface. A few clung to loose boards until they were buried under the merciless sea, never again to fill their lungs.
Patch and a long bearded seaman named Barber were the last survivors of the shipwreck. Both managed to cling to a capsized dinghy. They would not let go. Patch held with almost supernatural strength. The waves crashed over his head and shoulders trying to rip his fingers from the gunnels. He would not let go.
Barber lost his grip a few times but always managed to regain his handhold. Desperation gave the two men strength. Never had either of them fought so hard for their very lives. Fingers bleeding and gasping for breath, the two clung desperately to the inverted boat. They would not let go. Their clothing, saturated with seawater, tried to pull them down with its weight. The lead balls in Patch’s pocket were an additional weight he could jettison easily enough but he had the strong feeling that he would use them.
Minutes turned to horrifying hours as the pounding continued. Eyes stinging, shoulders aching, bruised from being continually smashed into the small boat, fingers and nails bleeding, lungs aching from breathing in sea foam, frantic, forlorn, frightened, they would not let go.
Both men’s throats were parched and swollen from involuntarily drinking so much seawater. Their bodies ached for fresh water.
Gradually the sky lightened and the sea calmed. The waves slowly released their grip on the two soaking, nearly drowned men. When the swells were only a few feet high, Patch knew it was time to take action. “Barber!” croaked Patch, coughing and wheezing with the effort. “Make your way to my side of the boat, you lubber!”
Barber, nearly spent with exhaustion, worked his way around to the other side of the small craft. “We’ve got to right this thing, or we’ll go down with the others. Are you with me, man?”
Barber looked up stupidly as if he hadn’t a clue what Patch was talking about. “The boat, you idiot! We’ve got to turn this thing over or we’ll lose our grip. Help me!” he pleaded.
Patch reached up and grabbed the narrow beam of the rowboat. He hoped that the oars were still lashed to the inside. If not, they would simply bob around hopelessly, at the mercy of the currents and the wind. There had to be land nearby somewhere or else where would this reef have come from? “Boost yourself and grab hold as I have,” he shouted at his almost senseless shipmate. Barber didn’t have Patch’s strength, nor the cunning.
Finally, he kicked and lunged and grabbed at the small keel. His numb fingers slipped and he fell back, gurgling into the water. “Again,” said Patch, in a voice quite like a parent talking to a young child. “Try again, man. It’s our only hope.”
Again, Barber kicked hard in the water, reached for the keel of the overturned boat and again he slipped and fell back into the sea. Coughing and sputtering, he surfaced, his tangled hair spilled into his face. “I can’t do it,” he sputtered.
“You must!” Patch could see Barber’s strength giving out, as was his own. “Do you want to die with the rest of that sorry lot? Give it your all, or you surely will.”
Barber took as deep a breath as his tortured lungs would allow, held onto the boat, submerged himself, kicked with all his strength and barely managed to grab hold of the keel. “That’s the way, man!” Patch encouraged. The boat slowly tipped in the direction of the two men. When it did, Barber began to slip yet again. Patch did not waste the moment. Holding on to the boat’s slender wooden beam fiercely with his right hand, he relaxed his grip with his left and quickly entangled his fingers in Barber’s hair.
“You will not let go!” snarled Patch. “Now hang on ‘til we get this confounded boat righted. You do not want to die.”
Barber seemed to regain some of his strength. Maybe it was the pain in his scalp. Maybe Patch convinced him that there was hope, but he did hold on. As Patch released his hold of Barber’s hair, he grabbed the beam with two hands again.
The boat slowly tipped. As the opposite side of the dinghy rose out of the water, Patch lunged upward and held fast to the side. The boat rolled and he pushed backward and outward so as not to be hit. He held his breath and went down. Patch was under the surface when he heard the dull thunk of the hull striking Barber’s head as the boat flipped. It was a hard hollow sound. Patch knew it was probably the end of the man and, when he surfaced again, knew that he was the lone survivor of the Windsong.
Patch waited for Barber to surface, holding out no real hope. “He wouldn’t have been much help anyway,” he grumbled, as he continued to grip the side of the dinghy. “But at least he was company.” When it was clear that Barber was never going to rise, Patch reached in and began splashing water out of the boat with his cupped hand. His throat ached with thirst. While he was surrounded with water, he dared not drink.
After much of the water was splashed from the boat, Patch hoisted himself over the side and landed gracelessly on the floor, letting in still more water. Patch knew he would have to do something to get most of the water out. The sea had calmed considerably but now that it was becoming late in the day, there was a chill in the air. He removed his worn left boot and started to bail. After a while he dared to stand. He was dizzy from exhaustion and thirst but he needed to find out which direction to row.
Far in the distance he spied a crust of land with waves breaking against a sandy shore. He also saw faint, small shapes roaming along that shore… the horses. “Those devils,” he whispered. He unstrapped the oars from the sides of the boat and fitted them into the rusted oarlocks…