Matt Whelan

Malign Horizon

I was floating on an open horizon when, a sharp twist of fate cut my life short and threw me out of control.  Knowing why this has happened is a luxury I will never have and a sordid boon I will never wish for.  My only wish now is revenge.  Revenge for the people who took away from me that vessel is by rights mine.  In my mind there is nothing quite as sad as a ship without its captain.  My colleagues have placed me in shackles.  I am now chained to the same ship that I bought with everything I had.  How could a simple man who loved the sea have such malign luck?  My Hubris set upon by a strange usurper whose face now will haunt my dreams.  His hardened look and his scarred visage I had always understood, for they were the mark of experience, giving him easy command over the men.  I know nothing of him besides his appearance and the way he has always looked at me, like I was out of place and should be somewhere else.

The crew had put large manacles on me and tied me to the wall.  Large manacles fastened to my arms and feet bound me to a public prison where others moved around me.  I looked up at my former friend’s faces but none looked at me in pity or even acknowledged my presence.  As they walk I watched them.  They all looked the same to me, the same expression on their face, the same way of moving, and they began to speak in the same voice now.

I had been down in my prison for far too long.  Now the only sounds I could hear were the ships, the steady movement under my feet and a small dripping of water in the corner from the top decks.  I should have heard the voices of the others, but they were still silent.  However, I could almost taste the bile on the floor and the mossy algae the damp corner.  The room seemed to get darker as a lamp faded.  The wind blowing softly against the sides of the ship echoed around the room.  I closed my eyes to listen to this odd ambience.  When I opened them the crew had returned to my cell.  Three of the crew who I did not know by name walked down to me and untied me.  The third motioned for me to follow and walked up to the main deck with the other two men following me.  I could feel their eyes on the back of my head waiting for me to make my move.

On the deck I saw the new captain who was as I remembered him, only this time he looked more like my grandfather than my grim executioner.  He was smoking a pipe and looking out at the ocean when he swung around and suddenly stared at me.

His sudden interest in me was uncomfortable and made me very aware that I had never spoke to this man before.

“I know you” the captain said, taking the pipe out of his mouth.  “Young man gives up all of his worldly possessions to realize a dream.  I once was like that and see myself in you.”  The man turned back to the sea.  “We both love the sea and need this ship, each for different purposes.”  Again we both watched the water.  “Sadly our dreams conflict, and in different circumstances I could see us as friends.  I am not an unfair man and I understand you better than you understand yourself, so I will give you a chance to change.”  The old man walked over and placed an ancient rusted gun in my hand.  “There is one shot left in it and it is up to you to decide how to use it.”

The crew was still silent, but now watched us with a cautious interest.  I looked up at the faces now inspecting me. Their eyes looked at mine in a slow fear.  Their new captain served them better than I ever had.  The old man watched this scene unfolding with a detached coolness and a slight smile that said he knew what I would do.  I looked out at the sea again and a sad reality shook me.  The captain knew that my only option was to surrender the gun back to him or die by my own hand.

My face flushed with the shame as his audacious move turned against me.  The crew would cut me down the second I raised my hand against the new captain.  But now I raised my head and together the captain and I looked at the sea again.  The captain seemed weaker and older now as I aimed the gun away from the captain and the crew, towards the gunpowder stores beneath our feet.  He simply sighed and looked away from the horizon, no longer a captain but an old man as his ship exploded.

Now I am floating on the tide but I have more control than before.  For hours I have not seen the others or evidence that any survived the blast.  If they survived would they hate me?  My grip is tight on a railing that manages to float above the waves.  The cold weighs me down and pulls me under.  I used to have something to cling to but then it was taken from me.  I now cling to its fragments.  I doubt it will be put back together.  I am starting to lose feeling with my hands and I briefly glance down.  The railing I had grabbed resembled the old man’s face.  In surprise I let go, and left with nothing else, I cling to the sea.


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.