Friday, February 18, 2011

Patch, Part 3

Part 3 picks up with Patch, the mutinous first mate of the Windsong, as the sole human survivor of a shipwreck. He is desperate and alone in a dinghy in a calming sea. All is not lost for he can see land far in the distance as well as the hated horses. If you would like to catch up and read part one, click here. Read part two by clicking here.

This is pretty long for one post. Here goes…

Patch, Part 3

…”Those devils,” he whispered under his breath. He unstrapped the oars from the sides of the boat and fitted them into the rusty oarlocks.

His arms, aching and chilled, began to cramp as he pulled on the oars and the small craft pushed through the water toward the distant shore. His eye socket itched furiously and his good eye stung from the salt water.

He couldn’t believe that the horses had survived. He thought of the musket he had wrapped and bound in the oilcloth now tucked into his belt. He knew what he would do with that musket when he reached the shore.

He tried to remember the last time he had eaten. He hadn’t touched that sickening filth the captain called dried beef. It probably had no nourishment at all, probably would have done more harm than good. It would have been a mistake to eat that. He stole some of the captain’s stew after shooting him. He remembered calmly setting down the stolen musket on the captain’s table, its barrel still smoking, while he helped himself to what was left in the bowl.

As he pulled the oars and headed toward his destiny and this unknown land that lie ahead, he thought of his past. Patrick was his given name. Patrick Macarthur. That was probably why it was so easy for him to accept the nickname Patch when he lost his left eye. The first time he heard himself referred to as Patch, he flew at the man who had said the word. That man would never again make fun at someone for wearing an eye patch. After a while he had gotten used to seeing with only one eye. He could still sail as well as any man, shoot better than most.

As he rowed on he thought he could hear his mother’s voice calling to him from the past. Maybe it was delirium, but he could swear that his mother’s voice came through in the sounds of the wind and waves. He didn’t remember his father at all but he remembered his mum as a kind person with a quick laugh. It was her laughter he heard in the sounds of the sea around him. He wondered if she was still alive. How long had it been since he had seen her? Because Patch was not one to write, he had never properly learned his letters, her letters to him were left unanswered until, he supposed that she had tired of writing.

As his biceps bulged and his back strained from the pull of the oars, Patch’s mind returned to the horses. He knew how he would get some fresh meat. Those infernal horses. To Patch, this whole mess was their fault. Weren’t they the very reason the ship was sailing? Didn’t they have finer rations than the men who worked so hard with so little compensation? Didn’t Smythe fawn over the stupid beasts with his idiotic crooning voice while the crew headed into the worst storm he had ever seen? The horses. The precious horses. He’d show them when he got to shore. Yes, he knew where he would get fresh meat all right.

He felt the bulge of the musket and he knew where he would put that first ball; right into the neck of the light brown mare. He would do it as he stared into its big dumb eyes, the same way he had stared into the eyes of the black one as he dealt death to it. The stupid beast. The same way he had stared into the eyes of Smythe. He would be looking right into its eyes when it died.

While the sea had calmed considerably, the dinghy approached the shore through crashing waves. The foam rolled into the bow, soaking and chilling Path to his very marrow. The air was cold enough now so that he could see his breath. Steam rolled off his shoulders from the heat he generated through the labor of rowing. His fingers ached as they curled around the oars. He could see the horses running in a herd in the distance. His eye burned so much now that he had to control the insane urge to rip off the patch and scratch the itch that never seemed to go away.

The sun broke through the clouds in the late afternoon sky. It shown in a bright beam on the horses, casting them in an unearthly light. The golden mare’s tail and mane streamed out behind her as she galloped away from Patch. It’s beauty and innocence sickened him. He would show that one. Oh, yes.

He dragged himself onto the beach through the salty waves. His throat was as parched as if he had swallowed sand. Water was his first priority. As he slogged up the beach, he wondered if he was on an island or the coast of Portugal or Spain. They had lost their bearings. How long had they endured the storm? To Patch’s fuzzy mind it seemed like weeks although it had only been three exhausting days. The act of survival had stolen his chance to examine the charts before the wreck and since the sky had been so cloudy, there was no chance to shoot the stars with Smyth’s sextant.

He figured that if he could walk far enough along on the beach he would eventually run into a freshwater stream or creek running into the sea. All water ran to the sea.

He walked as quickly as he could, trying to conserve his strength. It was a black thought that something as simple as the lack of fresh water might be the end of him, especially since he could see water into infinity as he looked to his left.

His pace slowed as his strength ebbed from his legs. He dropped to his knees and crawled. He was a proud man, but not too proud to crawl. His only thoughts were water and the horses and the insane, unending itch that now reached like a burning hand across his face.

Just as he figured he couldn’t possibly go on, he spotted a trickle of water running down the beach in the distance. Green lush plants grew around it. There was no mistaking the gleaming, twisting creek that was water, his survival. He dragged himself the distance to the clear running stream.

Patch threw himself into the cool freshness. He gulped frantically. After quenching his thirst, he rolled onto his side, water streaming from his hair, face and neck, running from his scruffy beard. His stomach rumbled ominously. He fought the urge to throw up. He was not skilled in matters of medicine, but he knew that his body needed this water. He was exhausted, cold, near starving and dehydrated. If he wretched it could be the end of him.

Once again he felt the comforting bulge of the musket under his sash. He hoped that the powder would be dry enough to get off the shot. All he would need would be one straight into the neck of the golden monster. He looked forward to the expression of surprise he expected to see in the eyes of the dying horse. He stumbled to the beach and into the warming afternoon sunshine. It felt good on his neck and shoulders. He untucked the bundle from his belt. After untying the cords, Patch unrolled the oilcloth and pulled out the damp firearm. “Mighty fine,” he mumbled. “It’ll be good as new with some time in this warmth and sun. Hardly got wet at all.”

Most people would shudder at the idea of eating horseflesh, but to Patch those beasts were the reason he was here, the cause of the ache in his frozen bones, the pain in his shoulders and head. The horses were the cause of his hunger, his thirst, and by God, they would sate his hunger.

He could hear them galloping off in the distance. The sound was grating on him. The sickening thudding was nauseating. They were demons. He would kill them. He had precious little powder. Should he change out the powder charge in his musket? Surely the powder wasn’t so wet that this time in the sun wouldn’t dry it sufficiently. He would save the powder for the other horses. For he would kill them all.

Perhaps he could find a way to drive them off a cliff. But first he would kill the golden one. He would not rest until he did.

After he was satisfied that the water would remain in his gut, he rose and picked up the musket. It was warm to the touch from lying in the sun. It felt smooth, heavy and reassuring. The wooden grip was comfortable in his hand. He had no doubt the pistol would fire and do its job.

He could see the horses gathered at the same stream from which he had been drinking, farther inland. He shambled slowly toward them. His woolen clothes were fairly dry after lying on the beach in the cool wind and sunshine. His stringy shoulder length hair blew back from his face. He felt the comforting weight of the lead balls in his pocket and the corked powder horn swinging on its leather thong. He felt the cool evening air coming on. Mostly he felt the stinging itch where his eye used to be.

“Here, horsey,” he croaked. He reached down and pulled some green shoots from beside the stream. “I’ve got something here for you,” he crooned. The horses, still thirty meters away, pricked up their ears and raised their heads in alarm and stared. The golden mare was closest. Perfect. She was his target. “Here, horsey, horsey. You’re a good girl, ain’t cha?” Holding the greens out in front of him with his left hand, he gripped the pistol with his right. The horses remained still, wary. As he pulled the hammer back, Patch heard the comforting loud click as the trigger locked into place.

The mare looked at him and her head cocked to the side as she heard the mechanical sound of the hammer locking. She showed no fear. Indeed, she put her muzzle down as if he might stroke her head. He stepped forward slowly, his offering outstretched. “Oh, you’re a pretty little filly. You’re a pretty one,” he cooed. The mare snorted softly and relaxed her ears. This’ll be easy, he thought as he raised the pistol.

She sniffed at the greens as Patch raised the gun. He pointed it toward the right side of the mare’s head. Their eyes locked. There was a gentle trusting in the horse’s gaze, a soft brown light that almost seemed to come from within. Patch hesitated and brought the gun down. “Child’s play,” he said as he raised the gun again.

The mare reached out with her lips to wrest the grass from Patch’s hand. He could feel her stout whiskers against his wrist, her warm breath. Without looking away, she munched the greens slowly. A snort of satisfaction issued from her flared nostrils.

Patch looked deep into her eyes as he squeezed the trigger expecting the familiar, loud, smoky explosion. There was nothing but a dry snap as the hammer fell.

There was the spark of flint connecting with steel, but the gun did not fire. Their eyes were still locked. Something changed in the mare’s gaze now. Patch sensed some understanding in this stupid beast. A flash, a realization, a sparkle, and hatred – all of these shone in the large brown eyes in that one instant. Patch did not look away. Neither did the mare. That moment seemed incredibly long to Patch. As they stood there on the riverbank, there was an understanding between man and beast. The mare reared up and flicked her right hoof forward. The hoof caught the man under the chin. His head snapped back with a crack.

Patch felt his head thrust violently back – too far, too fast, too hard. He heard the cracking sound of his neck bones breaking and his spinal cord separating. There was a white hot flash of pain. He fell slowly and unceremoniously to the ground. His head splashed into the creek. His left eye, the patched eye was under water. He could feel the cool water on that side of his face. He could feel nothing else. The itching had stopped.

For a brief time he could see. The slender green leaves of the tall river grasses bowed in the wind. The dazzling sunset sparkled the water on the creek. The horses were worried. They knew he was dying. He looked into the eyes of the golden mare. He knew that she knew.

His last sight before dying was the watery vision of the golden mare leaning down over him. His last feeling was her warm sweet breath pushing his hair back from his forehead. Their gazes locked as Patch drifted off, drifted away.


Mamafamilias said...

Good story!

Emily Whitecotton said...

Excellent share. I really enjoyed the lead up to the end. When the gun didn't fire, I cheered a YES out loud. Such a cool story.

Chris Hass said...

I, on the other hand, would have liked to see Patch find some success there at the end. You know, maybe man and horse lying side-by-side at the water's edge - on the brink of death. I don't necessarily like cruel endings, I just like that others hate them so.

I really enjoyed the story. I've never written anything even a third that long. Impressive. I'd like to one day write a short story. However, I'll really have to work at developing a bit more stamina!