A Cretin’s Gamble
By Regina Campbell
Major Contest 2018: The Hate and Coat Award
Thomas Crooks swore as he slipped across the deck of the heaving whaler. The Verity had nearly been the death of him before, and it was threatening his life yet again.
Even her name bothered him tonight. She was a fair old lady, and had weathered much of the North wind’s anger before, but she was as honest as her name inferred. Despite being passed her prime among the modern steam-driven innovations, she stood proudly with sails billowing, haughty even, and she did not suffer cretins.
“Well, you old hag, the only man left to run you home is a cretin!”, Thomas shouted at the ship’s mast.
In answer to his audacious verbal abuse, the ship groaned under the sea’s infinite might. Lightning struck the forward mast leaving only the main sail with which to catch a way out of Ice Berg Alley. He, just like The Verity, was not going to make it through this tempest unscathed. Timing was crucial as the eye of the storm approached. He needed to make it through the passage before that calm threw him back into the tumultuous hubbub that threatened no escape.
Tearing through the uppers towards the helm after securing the lines sent his heart racing. Looking aft he could see the sun breaking through the nebulous, suffocating storm clouds. This false omen of hope leered at him, promising peace but only prolonging his journey passed the tenacity of his vessel.
Fear was overtaking him. He had done his best to ignore it, but it had been lurking in the penetralia of his mind since the Verity had first found herself stranded amongst ice only a few months ago. If he were an honest man, he would admit this fear, as well as the shame that rumbled in his gut. But he was not honest, nor was he going to easily fall victim to the gnawing of his memory. He would fight it.
He tore at his collar in a brash attempt to shield himself from the thoughts of those horrid cold months, trapped in winter. This wretched coat was useless. If he had known its cost when he had taken it from the young man’s flailing body, writhing as he threw the screaming mess over the side, he would have left it to rot along with the rest of the evidence of his crimes.
For days he had watched as the crew and its human cargo perished, unable to shift and not knowing if the ship would or could ever release herself from her frozen shackles. He had sat there, in his stolen coat, feeding himself while watching as each and every one of his charges expired. They had looked to him for protection and safe passage, unaware he was not their first mate, but a shallow reproduction of the young man with a fine coat who had been tossed over the side to appease Thomas’ greed for promotion. They did not know he had taken the advancement just as he had taken that coat – with pride in his audacity and resourcefulness. They did not know that his selfishness would make him think nothing of tearing flesh from frozen bones and feasting to ensure his survival at the cost of his own humanity. Agreement meant nothing at that point, and he turned to the fresh meat of his colleagues and vassals to sustain him until Veracity could free herself.
The ship heaved, throwing the mendacious sailor clear across the deck, leaving him clutching at the railings. She knew what he had done to survive. She knew the cost and she called on the rain to shower him like bullets, stinging him at every opening torn in his ill-gotten coat. Why should he escape at the cost of so many, she whistled through her lines as he struggled to keep her on course.
“You’re at me now, are you?”, he screamed at Verity. “You need me, you aging lurch, more than you know.”
Verity threw herself back from his direction, beam to the swell in defiance of his presence. He saw the wave, but only as it struck, taking out his footing and slapping him against the uppers.
The coat flapped at him in the breeze, as though giddily free of Thomas’ concern of maintaining his grip under each surge. Grasping, reaching, hoping, clawing at wood, Thomas sought after survival. Yet the coat soaked each drop falling from above and each splash from below. It grew heavy against his grip on Verity.
“God damn you, useless…”, Thomas screamed as his fingers slipped under the weight. With a final dowse from the sea, he slipped into air and then into cold as the coat pockets opened their mouths hungrily at the water, taking in enough to drag him into the depths. He struggled against the ocean’s pull, writhing for air, to no avail as above him, he saw the blurred vision of Verity’s hull swiftly cutting through the water to the passage.
The coat danced around Thomas in the briny expanse, joyfully dragging its thief towards the fate of its true owner while Veracity ran from her sordid past. With the wind behind her, she left her cretin awash in his own guilt and trapped in the tumultuous waters that swallowed him whole.