The Sea Cook’s Cat

Baily, the ship’s carpenter, reluctantly sat up in his hammock, nearly missing his head on the wooden beam that stretched across the cramped quarters. As usual he was in a foul mood and didn’t want to work in the Captain’s cabin building more shelves. As he got to his feet a big black cat shot between his legs like a blinding flash in pursuit of an enormous rat.

“You devil!” he squawked while pulling his shirt on. “Startles me every time” he grumbled to himself as he trudged up the stairs and onto the deck. The blinding sun made him swear an undecipherable oath as he pulled his tricorn hat down over his brow. Seagulls screams told him they were getting near land. He didn’t have time to eat. The captain expected him at eight bells and he knew the penalty if he wasn’t there on time. The whip. Just the thought hurried his pace.

Jason the cook was sitting on a stool peeling potatoes (it was early in the voyage and the ship’s food supply was still well stocked) when a black cat sauntered in with a grin. Jason smiled because he knew Lucifer had recently dined on a rat. He stopped peeling long enough to pet the huge cat who was brushing up against his legs.

Lucifer was Jason’s cat. He paid good money for him at the last port because he was special. He was a polydactyl cat. His front paws both had eight toes each which he used to his advantage in catching prey. His prior owner said he was retiring from the sea and needed the money. A prized cat like Lucifer could make life a lot easier on the whole crew. Food containers were rarely breeched because the wily feline never stopped hunting. Day and night. But, for reasons Jason couldn’t understand most of the crew, and the captain, seemed to fear him. Some, like Bailey, just hated Lucifer and would have gladly killed him if he didn’t think the crazy cook would cut him up into shark chum. He’d seen Jason fight with a butcher knife when two pirate ships tried to capture their ship the USS Ohio near Port au Prince, Haiti. His eyes were glazed with blood lust as he lopped off pirate limbs with such savagery his own mates gave him wide berth in battles. No. It was best not to antagonize the cook.

Sailors in the 18th century were a superstitious lot. So it was no surprise that the crew aboard the USS Ohio thought a black cat brought bad luck, unlike the British and the Irish who wanted black cats and considered them good luck. The fact that it’s name was Lucifer didn’t help. It was also common knowledge among the crew that if a ship’s cat fell, or was thrown overboard it meant trouble. The act would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship were able to survive, it would be cursed for nine years. So no one bothered Jason about his black cat. Only Bailey dreamed about killing Lucifer.

Daniel had the devil to pay. He was caught stealing another man’s gold chain and given the worst task aboard the ship. The devil was the ship’s longest seam in the hull. He was given pitch to caulk that seam while squatting in the filthy bilges. He’d already received a good flogging – ten lashes – and endured the stinging saltwater thrown on his bloody gashes. The task could take days, but he couldn’t come up until it was completed. His moans of pain echoed eerily in the semi-darkness as Lucifer watched him with his curious yellow cat eyes. The lone candle flickered, almost going out, before returning to a steady glow that caused shadows to frolic in the filth. Then Lucifer came up to him confidently and asked, “Do you believe in God?

Harry and Spencer we’re enjoying a rare moment of rest by the scuttlebutt – a water barrel with a hole cut in it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. Rumors about what happened to their mate Daniel were rife among the crew and even officers. After a day of paying the devil the bosun’s mate had came down to check on Daniel. He let out a gasp of horror and vomited when he saw him. Daniel’s eyes were gone. Plucked out and sitting on his lap. His hair had turned from brown to pure white. He was peacefully chewing on his right arm, exposing bone as he ripped off gobbets of flesh. Nearby, Lucifer was curled up and watching the bosun’s mate scream for help.

The incident left all hands on board shaken. When Daniel’s condition was brought up to the captain he crossed himself and walked away without commenting. When they got to port a day later, Daniel was dead. The ship’s surgeon had sawed off his infected right arm but it was too little, too late. The ship’s log recorded seaman Daniel Phillips died from an infection from a self-inflicted wound. There was no mention of plucked-out eyeballs. Or his white hair. They stayed in port for two days unloading cargo and onloading new cargo. During that time one of the sailors deserted. A mate of his said he feared Lucifer more than getting strung up on the yardarm for desertion.

His work finished in the captain’s cabin, Bailey was below decks working on the wooden gun carriage that had been cracked in the last battle when he heard something, “You’re next,” a silky voice assured him. He gripped his hammer tighter and called out, “Show yourself, coward!” There was a rustling among the small oak barrels that held gun powder. Piles of rags and cannon swabs near them shifted with unseen movement. A sudden cold wind blew past him. The normally stifling hot gun deck seemed to cool down a few degrees as he listened for more movement.

“I’m not afraid of you Lucifer!” he screamed, sure now that the cat was indeed the devil.

A dark pall fell over the entire crew, with the exception of Jason who went about his normal day, content with the companionship of his cat.

A feeling of foreboding kept everyone nervous. As the days turned to weeks the crew’s fear’s were palpable. Strange little incidents were happening daily. Rope knots would inexplicably come loose causing close calls for sailors climbing the rigging. A bad case of “the trots” affected half the crew who squatted below decks over wooden pails for a week. Moral got lower every day. Rumors about Lucifer were passed around in hushed whispers. Meanwhile, Bailey had enough. His hate for Lucifer was white hot. It burned his brain and his patience, causing him to formulate a plan to kill the demon feline. He had to wait weeks, but the opportunity finally came.

He pulled out the wooden cage to capture Lucifer with from its hiding place. It was solidly built to hold the black devil captive long enough to throw him overboard. Everyone below deck was asleep so Bailey was careful not to make any noise. When he got to the base of the stairway leading to the main deck, he positioned the cage on it’s side with the door propped open with a piece of string leading to his hiding place by the scuttlebutt. Inside the cage was a live rat Baily had caught the day before. Using tough twine, he made a halter for the rodent that was tethered by a nail on the side of the box. The rat was on a short string stopping it from scurrying away. He waited for an hour before Lucifer struck! It was over in an instant. Bailey pulled the cord and the trapdoor came down on the startled cat who had the rat in his mouth. Dropping the half dead rodent Lucifer screeched so loud it woke everyone up. The sounds coming from Bailey’s box were blood curdling.

Moving swiftly he went topside and threw the box into the calm sea. Jason, who was asleep in his own little cubby was locked inside that night by Bailey. By the time he battered the door down Bailey had returned to his hammock. No one knew why the cook was rampaging around the room and what caused the screeches that woke them up.

A day passed before Jason decided something bad had made his cat howl like a lost soul, and the crew was complicit. The first thought that came to mind was he’d poison all the bastards. That way he’d be sure to get the perpetrator of Lucifer’s disappearance. It turned out that he didn’t have to do anything about it.

A terrible storm come up from the north causing massive waves that battered the ship like a toy for hours before it broke apart and sank with all hands on board.

With the exception of Jason who clung to a wooden box.

Miraculously, the seas were calm the next day when a ship came by and Jason was spotted by a sharp-eyed sailor. He clutched the wooden box securely to his chest as they helped him get in the row boat. Once on deck of the ship, the USS Vermont, Jason opened the box and pulled out Lucifer. To a man, the crew crossed themselves.

The end.

Under Fire

red and green tracers crisscrossing in the night sky

brass shell casings dropping on the moist forest floor

while soldiers on both sides die

for conflicting ideologies

from opposite societies

fleshy pawns

in global games of war

dead “patriots”

who faced the horror

of being

under fire

***

A Case For Mediocrity

fame, glory, and power motivate many

while others are content to be ordinary

the case for mediocrity

isn’t always easy to see

how living quietly

makes some happy

living without envy

and fame’s frenzy

can be

a friendly journey

without strife

the rest of your life

***

Memo to a Supreme Being

for the sake of humanity

bring us together in unity

we’re a troubled society

in desperate need of harmony

help us see

the absurdity

of denying diversity

so that we can live

together peacefully

***

Carp Diem

A Brief Look at Redemption

He rocks back-and-forth on the rickety wicker porch chair. He’s everyman, late in life with wrinkles distorting a once smooth face, and body. His life wasn’t spent seeking redemption in real time. His subconsciousness never gave a hint of being interested in the subject.

Memories did sometimes rudely intrude upon his daily routine and reality. As a combat veteran he was intimately acquainted with death. The sight. The smell. The moment he fired at a human being. The horror.

But he just keeps on rocking in his wicker chair every day, a modern response to Old Man River who just kept rolling on.

He isn’t plagued with regrets on not being “saved” by any religion, or by being led to redemption like a sheep on the way to being sheared.

Freedom is his redemption for being alive and having survived many perilous times in his long life. His arthritis a badge of honor. His physical scars medals earned during a long life of adventures. His silver hair a crown of achievement.

He makes no claims of having redeemed others from sins and stupid moves in their lives. He never wanted to lead others to the top of any proverbial mountain. He’s unaware of ever being anyone’s leading light in life.

He just keeps on rocking in his wicker chair every day, a modern response to Old Man River who just kept rolling on.

the end

Long Pig

A thick sea fog crawled up onto the shore and billowed out along the ragged coast like a creature from native folklore. Confused seagulls called out to one another as the rain increased in intensity. A lone figure blindly staggered through the slushy sand on the coast.

He was the only survivor from the “Wild Countess” a pirate ship that was shattered asunder by a terrible storm at sea two days prior. His clothes hung in rags off of his frail body as he limbed along the beach trying to find his way inland and possible shelter. The gods were angry at Sir William Treacher, who was once a respected member of the English Court before turning to piracy as a profession. If it wasn’t for the damn storm he’s still be sailing the high seas in search of easy prey.

Sir William was not a religious man, despite feigning to be one for most of his life. So he had no supreme being to pray to. He cursed his fate and kept walking through the driving rain.

The island that Sir William walked on was New Guinea but he didn’t know that. All he knew was that he hoped the inhabitants -if there were any – were friendly.

The village chief, Loo Kaupa, patiently listened to the eager young messenger Vihaan Tali, tell his tale. The excited young man was reporting that he saw a stranger on the beach and he was a white man. This was big news. It had been a long time since white men visited their island. Chief Loo Kaupa had to strain his memory to recall when the last time it happened. His chief advisor, and oldest man in the tribe, Ewanga-Goiba Ani, said it was a special event – just like the last time many moons ago when five sailors had washed up upon their bountiful shores.

Other elders in the thatched hut buzzed like bees remembering encounters with the white men and their wisdom. Some talked about the white man’s ability to navigate by the stars and to read the heavens for their position. Some pointed out other amazing technologies they shared, like the mangled telescope which stood in a place of honor in the chief’s hut. Alongside of it were two pairs of spectacles whose power of magnification awed the simple natives. A map of the world was proudly displayed upside down on another wall. No doubt about it, the tribe had benefited from the visitors and treated them like valued guests.

Sir William cursed when he stumbled again. His legs felt like leaden weights and he was hopelessly disorientated. He was hungry and thirsty. Finally he sat down on a boulder. The rain stopped as suddenly as it started. Steam rose from the ground as he looked around in disgust.

“Damn me eyes if this isn’t a poor turn of events,” he grumbled out loud as he emptied sand from his shoe. Nearby at the tree line that Sir William hadn’t discovered yet, two natives watched him with wide-eyed curiosity as the fog slowly dissipated under the sun’s warm embrace. They were instructed to observe him and not reveal themselves.

After an hour Sir William worked up the energy to walk to the tree line that was revealed between wisps of stringy fog that doggedly clung to the ground. When he found a running stream he collapsed beside it and greedily drank the fresh cool water until he involuntarily vomited. As he lay recovering on the river’s bank he saw a wild pig dash through the underbrush. The sight heartened him. There was at least one meat source on the island. He suspected that he’d find eatable tubers and berries to supplement his diet. His spirits raised as he relaxed by the stream and listened to the calls of exotic birds overhead.

Sir William’s first instinct was to run when he saw the heavily tattooed chief Loo Kaupa emerge from the dense undergrowth to greet him. The chief’s face was painted in a fierce grimace but he was smiling and holding up one hand as he approached. Even more reassuring, the chief was speaking in broken English.

Ahoy, Englishman!” he called out merrily.

With a sigh of immense relief Sir William hailed the chief and smiled broadly. His luck had finally returned.

On the way to the village other natives joined them. Some had dead wild pigs on wooden slings, while others had baskets of red and black berries. It was a festive group that hummed native tunes as they traveled further inland. Sir William’s thoughts turned to how he could exploit the naïve natives as he followed them into an enclosed compound.

Chief Loo Kaupa proudly ushered Sir William into his spacious hut and called for drink and food to be laid out on a long wooden table in the center. Naked and nubile young women brought in baskets bearing various eatables, from reptiles to mystery mushes whose smell made ones eyes water.

When two brawny naked young warriors brought in a whole roasted pig everyone enthusiastically clapped. Especially Sir William whose mouth was watering at the sight. It was a memorable night where everyone got drunk on the villagers favorite fermented coconut concoction.

A week later chief Loo Kaupa announced that Sir William would have the honor of taking messages to the villagers loved ones. It seemed a bit odd that the villagers themselves couldn’t visit their loved ones but Sir Will’s mind was fogged with the excesses he was indulging in.

Beautiful young women were selected to sexually please Sir Will for six straight days. On the seventh day chief Loo Kaupa informed him that he was a “long pig.”

“What’s a long pig?” Sir William hesitantly asked.

“They’re special offerings to please the gods,” the chief beamed happily.

Sir William’s heart quickened and he dropped the wooden gourd he was drinking from as several strong warriors edged closer to him while the chief was speaking.

The Great Spirit Father is honoring you tonight above all others. As a long pig, your sacred flesh will be consumed by everyone in the village this night, allowing you to carry messages to their beloved ancestors.”

Sir Will’s scream of horror rose to the heavens as the warriors closed in around him with long knives.

The end.

Tidbits of Truth

there is only one truth

in reality

there’s no guarantee

on what you hear or read

is not a partisan screed

facts are often muddied

with lies

that galvanize

people’s bias

until

tidbits of truth

break through

people must make do

with the tried and true

**

The Escort

He landed lightly on the mountain top

and looked down into the valley below

bathed in the sunset’s pink glow

with people retiring for the night

he had a job to do in the moonlight

a soul to escort away

by the end of the day

**

Be Still

Focus inward if you will

to that inner voice

that whispers be still

listen

breath

inhale

exhale

be open

to what’s

spoken

from the

heart

murmers

in the mind

listen

breath

inhale

exhale

be still

and learn

to be kind

and expand

your mind

Whispers in the Wind

She stood silent and still

listening to the spirits on the hill

a beautiful young wiccan she

standing straight next to a tree

listening to lost souls from eternity

whispers that soon became a plea

begging her to be set free

she listened compassionately

but it wasn’t meant to be

her magic wasn’t strong enough

to set the tortured souls free

so she returned every night

listening to their stories sadly

standing beside an old oak tree

dreaming of the day

when she could set them all free