Sea monger’s tale from the belly of Leviathan

Scarred Giant (detail)Image via Wikipedia

A languid gust of wind made its way across the vast ocean, gently rocking a way worn scooner. A sphere of the purest orange slid down the sky sundered upon the horizon and deliquesced into crepuscular bars on the endless stretches of sea. As a cartilaginous curtain was drawn across the waters a low radiance ignited from within the cabin of the skiff, sending white light to dance about it in centripetal patterns. The mother ship, Star of the East, rocked back and forth as the mates below readied themselves for the sail back to port in the Falkland islands

The luminance cavorted in and about the gruff hairs on Captain Doyle’s haggard face as he stared into his newly created glow, extinguishing the fire-bearing match. Once satisfied with his pipe, he had forged, he returned to his labor, mending his nets for another day’s work. Warped planks of the cabin formed chart-plastered walls that met with a low, arching ceiling that would cause the average height to stoop. The wood of the ship wailed with each wave that collided with the hull. Maybe tomorrow would be the day they’d snag a catch, on the way home..

The Captain’s heavily callused fingers ran across the mesh with a simple, blunt grace that could only be achieved with many labored days. He sat back, running a hand through the unruly masses of once tame gray that hung stiffly from his scalp. Looking over his craftsmanship he smoothed out the tattered tunic he wore, he had achieved a prideless content with his work. With both hands on his brazen, sea-stained leggings he slowly stood, sauntering to the cabin stairs. Ascending the stairs, he lifted his arched shoulders and straightened out his back, only to drop them once more.

Once standing on the c deck he was accompanied by the kaleidoscope of various baits, tackle, and equipment that littered the topside of the vessel. Leaning against the triple mast of the ship he gazed off into the infinite moon-clad waves that lapped up against the under side of the craft. With a spent hand testing his unshaven face, one could never tell if the old codger stood in profound cognizance or in an unconscious trance, taken by the silver leafed sea. In time the somniferous rhythms of the sea augmented his lassitude and lulled him into a soporific state. He slowly made a working man’s promenade, returning to rest with one more day behind him.

Auroral light poured into the cabin, herding the darkness into an unseen pen; it crept upon the mariner’s fatigued face. It tread so lightly as to only stir his rest, like a parent gently wresting the child from the Elysian fields of dreams. With this he rose sluggishly to sit on his dilapidated cot. Sore joints lurched into motion as he ascended the cabin stairs. The sea lay before him, placid and serene, it was as if the waters had been graced by Woden himself. Taking a swig from his phial, the hot searing grog eased the burden of his joints, and gave his head a pleasant buzz….

From the starboard side of the ship, young yeoman, James Bartley fetched a pail containing the day’s meal. He dug into the pail and extracted a salted piece of haddock. He took a seat on a poorly coopered barrel with his repast spread out in front of him. He consumed this with the least of relish and with it quaffed a small flagon of mead in the most perfunctory manner. Without hesitation the crew raised the ship’s sails with a heaving sigh, making the necessary preparations to set out for home.

The lookout from the whalewatch post, spotted a huge sperm whale about a mile off the port bow and gave the cry ‘Thar she blows!’

‘Where away?’

‘Three points on the weather bow!’

‘How far off?’

‘A mile or so!’

‘Keep your eye on her!’

‘Sing out when we head right!’

The ship’s sails were slackened and soon her scooners were lowered. A deadly race began between the Star of the East and the immense whale.

Young Jimmy BartIey was in the first longboat to reach the side of the prey. They crept up from the rear, so near that the harpooner leaned over and rammed his weapon deep into the whale’s vitals. As the stricken beast sought to free itself of the harpoon, James, and the other oarsmen rowed frantically to get out of reach of the massive flukes, the two-pronged tail which threshed the water to foam in the whale’s agony.

The whale sounded and eight hundred feet of heavy line streaked out of the line tub before he ended his dive. Then an ominous slacking in the line signaled the great fish was going to surface. But where?

The oarsmen readied themselves to pull for their lives. Without warning there was a splintering crash which sent the longboat spinning into the air. The whale thrashed about wildly, snapping at the men and the wreckage with its huge jaws as the water turned to a bloody froth before he sounded again.

Another longboat picked up the survivors of this encounter, but no one had seen young James, he was missing….

The wind now deserted the Star of the East and for hours she lay becalmed, wallowing in a light swell.

Shortly before sunset, the now dead whale floated to the surface a few hundred yards from the ship. In a longboat, the crew hastily fastened a line to the whale and the winch brought it to the ship’s side. The hot weather climate made it imperative that the whale be cut up at once. Having no means of raising it to the deck, the men took their flensing spades and peeled off the blubber as they slipped and slid along the immense back of this giant mammal and fired up the brick furnace called the tryworks to render it into oil.

Working late into the night, the tired crewmen removed the stomach of the whale and slowly winched it to the deck for flensing. Other members of the crew readied the try-pots. They were startled to notice movement inside the large sack, movement that looked like something living and breathing. The captain called the ship’s doctor who made an incision in the tough flesh. And out slid the doubled up missing sailor, James Bartley, as if he were suffering from severe stomach cramps. He was alive, but unconscious.

The doctor ordered Bartley drenched with sea water, a treatment which restored his consciousness but not his reason, for he babbled incoherently.

Bartley said that as he was cast into the water from the long boat he saw a tremendous mouth open over him and he screamed as he was engulfed by it. He then felt sharp stabbing pains as he was swept across the teeth and then slid feet first down a slimy tube that carried him to the whale’s stomach. He could breath, but the hot, fetid odor soon rendered him unconscious and the last thing he remembers was kicking as hard as he could at the soft, yielding stomach. Quite a row to hoe for this young apprentice, the Captain decided there and then, he needed immediate medical attention, and set the boat on a course for the nearest port.

As a result of his fifteen hours inside the belly of leviathan, Bartley lost all the hair on his body and was blind for the rest of his life. His skin was bleached to an unnatural whiteness that gave the appearance of being bloodless, he was as pale as Quietus himself.

With the urging aid of a southern tailwind the vessel made its way with good haste. A jagged rock jetty broke the undulating currents as the Captain came about it into the safety of his secluded harbor, landing his ship upon the surf laced beaches The captain made his way unto shore. From the beach Doyle followed a well-trodden dirt path, ignoring the emerald clad mountain scenery which surrounded him by every side. Leading a good distance away from the waterfront, the trampled way fell upon a ramshackle cottage. A loose collaboration of weather-beaten board formed walls under a light thatch roof. He had seen alot of things in his life at sea, but a man being swallowed by a whale was never one of them….he prayed that God would spare the young man’s life, as he instructed his men to deliver young Jim, into his overstuffed feather down bed.The ageless seadog couldn’t help but be reminded of the biblical tale of the same ilk, and the plight of a young Jonah.

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