> Back Issues > Issue VII > The Island of Dirty Old Men
by John Jacob Engleheimer-Schmit
you the story," said the captain, a burly sailor with limbs like stumps
and a square jaw to match. "The 'island is nowhere on the maps. It's mystic,
I suppose. The men were cursed, cursed by Satan himself. Ah, yes, the devil
was sailing with them that day long ago, disguised as a common sailor. They
invoked his wrath, all one hundred fifty of them, when they made him walk the
plank and then sailed away. So he doomed their ship and it sank beneath them
but as it were, there was an island not far off and the men swam to it, every
one of them making it. And 'in his wrath, Satan cursed them further. He cursed
them with longevity of life, but not of youth, and so all those men lived on
and on upon an island no one can ever find. They were without hope."
"That's a tale to be sure," said the first mate, a beefy sailor wearing a stocking cap and a striped shirt to match.
The other crew members nodded, there being only five others, all of sturdy build and toned brown by the ocean sun. Their hands were muscular and their shoulders thick, their eyes as hard as a life on the sea itself. They had mastered the craft they now sailed, a privately owned fishing rig, for many a year and they had come to know the sea and its mysteries and temper.
But now the captain leaned forward and looked at the newest crew member, one they had picked up just weeks before on an island east of Bangkok. This one was an exception.
"What do you think of that?" she asked.
Yes, she. The captain and all her crew were women. And now the captain's thick meaty arms rested on the table as she leaned forward, setting her squared jaw with determination.
The new crew member answered, "I think you women would not much like a port that had only men."
The captain's lips curled with a sneer and then she gave a gruff laugh. "That's no he," she said and laughed again, the other women laughing with her.
But the captain stopped laughing and looked again at the new crew member. "We have a little problem."
The new woman looked back at the captain, her build too being a sturdy one and her eyes seeming to know a life without mercy, one which the sea might have wrought.
"Ya see," said the captain. Some things have come up missing Things we need if we're to sail this craft safely. Things we'll need if we're to navigate a true course. Now we've checked your things while you were above and they ain't there. So I'm asking, did you throw 'em overboard?"
"So it comes to this," said the new woman as she leaned back in her chair, not seeming to notice the rocking of the boat. "I suppose I'm your only suspect."
The first mate leaned forward and adjusted her stocking cap. "We all know each other real well on this boat. Real well. I think you know what I'm talkin' about. Except, we don't know you so well. And so you are the only one who could've done it."
"I see," said the new woman, "I see, I see." She twisted her jaw about with displeasure and sized up the other women, no dainty crew this one. "I suppose I've been had," she said.
The first mate slammed her fist onto the table. "You admit it?"
"I guess I don't care to beat around the bush much," said the new woman. "And besides, it's too late anyway.''
She waved her hand towards the windows and the women looked to them quickly. Outside the night sky was being erased by an incoming bank of fog, one that hung 'in thin layers and flowed eerily over the boat.
"Curse you woman," growled the captain. "All hands on deck."
The women stomped up the stairs and the first mate pushed the saboteur 'in front of her as they followed the others up and onto the deck.
"I've never seen the likes of this, Captain," said one of the crew.
As well as the layers of fog that skimmed overhead, a thin layer also covered the surface of the sea, making it seem as though the ship floated on clouds.
The captain turned glowering eyes upon the new woman. "And no navigation equipment to guide us through it."
"We'll turn about," said the first mate.
"It won't matter," said the new woman.
The first mate bared her teeth. "I've had enough of you," she said with vehemence.
With a mighty shove, she hurled the woman forward. The woman stumbled headlong and fell over the rail into the sea. Only then could they see the large waves passing under them as the woman tread water and looked back at them.
"It's too late," she called to them and then threw back her head and laughed heartily, a deep, mocking laughter that carried to them over the water. "Just see where fate sails you, just see."
The boat continued forward and the woman drew farther and farther away, disappearing slowly in the mists but her laughter went on. The captain clenched her teeth with unease as she watched the fog draw between them and the woman, the laughter still clear. Laughing so strongly while swimming in the sea ought not to be possible. But then the fog began to muffle the laughter and the women cocked their heads listening to it still, and as it faded and faded, it became deeper and richer 'in tone, mocking them as they floated away, the deep voice seeming to inhabit the mist itself.
"I don't like this at all," said one of the crew.
The captain did not answer her but gave and order instead. "My mate and I will stay above, the rest of you go to bed. We'll handle this up here."
But only seconds had passed after the women went below that they came hurrying back. The boat was taking on water.
They sailed through the night, bailing water as they went but the flow was too strong and they finally looked 'into each others eyes and saw the truth there. Their ship was doomed.
The rays of the morning sun shone down through the windows when the first mate gave a cry down to those bailing water. "Land, ho!"
The crew rushed up and stared through the parting mists. There lay an island, lit by the rising sun.
"Head for it," ordered the captain. "By the time this boat sinks, we'll be able to swim." They did as she said and as the boat sank deeper, the island drew closer. Finally the time came to abandon ship.
The women gathered on the highest point and the captain gave the order. "Let's go ladies."
The women jumped 'in two by two, leaving the Captain and the first mate.
"Well," said the first mate. "As fine a place as any, I figure. And I doubt very much that devil o a woman intended us to make it this far."
With that she jumped, leaving the captain behind. The first mate's words struck the captain and with an expression of sinking dread, she looked off toward the island once more as water rose over her shoes.
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November 19, 2002
by David Kraybill
©2002 Beard-Kraybill Studios