Congratulations @lustrousonion for and interesting sailor's tale, "Cold Fish". Contest (168) - Theme: "Resurrection" courtesy of @Lancie. All eight stories were very good in this contest. Coming in 2 votes back were @misteralcala with "Last Spear's Hunt" and @BeckyJean with "Madeline". Thanks again to all the forum members who entered and who voted. _________________________________ Cold Fish (1,885 words) S'not a thing to take lightly, the raisin' of the dead. Tis a dangerous world out there, for certain. One don't circumnavigate this here gobstopper of a globe as many times as I have without finding something what scares ye. Tain't found the sailor yet who don't shiver just a little while a sea burial—be it a religious to-do with with all the trimmings, or whether it be caused by a sinking hull givin' the crew an unsolicited foot bath—plays out afore his eyes. Death is a cold fish to have for supper, but in time is a meal we'll all gnash between our teeth. Wise be to save up a hunger for it so as it tastes something like good. Aye, danger is the route and death be the destination. Or is it now? Suppose we'll see 'bout that afore the night's end. “Cap'n!” Ayers called from the deck. “They be arrivin'!” Hearing this, Captain Ely closed his worn, leather-bound log and left his cabin. Above, the sky was a never-ending swath of purest blue. The islanders were already huddled on the beach, their son-bronzed skin shining like new pennies, their raffia skirts dancing in the wind. The captain called for the row boats and leaned against the rail. “It's a dark spell these natives be castin',” Bullbock whispered anxiously in the captain's ear. Bullbock was a long, stringy sort of fellow with hair so red it was shocking. Thin was the normal state for a sailor, but Bullbock was the extreme. Any meat he had to spare got eaten away by his constant nerves. Ely suspected, though he would tell this to no one save his log, that the young man would not last out the remainder of the year. Ely picked his teeth. He glanced sideways at Bullbock. “We all be natives, laddie, of some land or another.” “Not us, cap'n,” Ayers chirped, as high-flying as he ever was. “We're born of the sea. Salt be flowing through our veins. And should any of us here be having souls, I reckon they be covered in barnacles.” That earned Ayers an appreciate slap on the back and a gruff, liquor-coated laugh from his captain. “Aye. I reckon they do at that.” Bullbock's face grew tight. “We all be having souls!” He said to Ayers. The first mate grinned wickedly in return. “Cap'n, we oughtn't be giving fuel to their fire.” Ely dismissed him with a single glance. “Come now,” the captain said, raising his voice so the crew would hear. “Let's get our briny bodies ashore. Today we be seeing somethin' to tell the little 'uns for years to come. Today, men, if those natives be true to their word, we're in for a tale.” Bring up body, Vooatoo had said. Bring up dead. “So roll those barrels, lads! And don't forget the geedunk!” The real geedunk, butter and cakes and the like, were nothing but foggy memories. The sailors had been at sea a long time and had long since run out of any food worth envying. On shore, the sailors gave their gifts. The exchange of food was a gesture only, symbolic, and the islanders were very aware of this. In return for the salted meats much past their prime and the hard crackers that had to practically take residence in one's mouth before softening up enough chew, the sailors received a cornucopia of fruit, baskets of shellfish, smoked meat and jugs of local alcohol to store in the galley, as well as anything else, it seemed, the islanders had to spare. They would have given the shirts off their backs if they'd had any to give. “Rock, rock,” Vooatoo said while pressing precious stones into the captain's hand. “No.” Ely firmly shook his head. He gave the glittering jewels back the would-be translator and tried, for the islander's sake, to look regretful. “'Tis the way must be. There'd be a curse upon us if we took these gems, and we don't be wantin' that.” Vooatoo wrinkled his soft, expressive brow, turned to his kinsfolk and delivered the bad news, or some version of it. They had been through this before—many times before. Yet the islanders wailed as if in surprise and gestured pleadingly to captain. One word. “Take,” they must be saying. “Take! Take!” Ely shook his head vigorously until some of the protest quieted. It was unfair exchange and both sides knew it. The captain wished he could take those pretty rocks, if only placate the people. But the sea was already too dangerous a home; there was no need inviting a hex on your head. You don't never take nothing shiny from a native, lad, old Captain Paget had told Ely on his very first voyage, so many years ago. The further ye go, the more dangerous those morsels become. Tain't no sailor's ever seen the benefit from it. “Ye barrels.” The captain gestured at the pile behind him. It was a pity to part with the goods, and he was sure all the men felt the same. Through no small perils had they sailed and into no small dangerous had they plunged to now see the fruit of those labors essentially given away. It helped to see the jolt of excitement run through the group of islanders upon this news. Reverently, each brought a hand up to stroke the battered wood casks. Their gift was appreciated, that was clear. “Sank you,” Vooatoo said, something the captain hoped wasn't a prediction. Hearing these words, the islanders took them up and began a chorus, bobbing their heads up and down in thanks. ”Sank you. Sank you.” With their prostrating finished, the islanders led the men into the forest of their island. Found there was a skeleton, stranger than any Ely had ever laid eyes upon. He had, in fact, seen many. “A fish?” Ayers asked. For indeed it did look like a monstrous fish with its egg-shaped body and three fins. If it was a fish, it was a fish with only one eye. “They be odd remains. As though the beast still be wearin' its skin.” Bullbock spoke up then, his voice wavering like a piece of raffia in the breeze. “'His back belike rows of shields tightly afixed together.'” The captain paid him no heed. While the sailors pondered this dead shape, the islanders rolled the barrels towards the behemoth and peeled back a piece of its skin. “Tis not a fish, laddies,” the captain said with his eyes fixed upon the great body. “No fish at all.” “Cap'n?” Each asked. Ely faced his men. “Tis a ship.” Vooatoo stood near the large body. He smiled widely and waved to the captain. “Come,” he urged. And so the captain came, went to the body, the hull, and put his hands upon it. The sailors, fixed where they were, saw their captain, their leader, a man who had weathered many storms, shake. Then the sound of his harsh laugh reached their ears. Their captain was laughing as he had never laughed before. “Metal! All metal she be!” Ayers was the first to step forward, quickly followed by the rest of the men. They too reached and pet her smooth skin, skin that was hard as nails. All followed but one. Bullbock was wringing his thin hands. “'His rows be tightly sealed. His chest be hard as rock...'” Using roughly made tools, the islanders cracked open the barrels. The familiar smell of sperm oil filled the sailor's noses, bringing up memories of flaying and boiling on deck, while the islanders used a funnel to pour the precious oil into the belly of the beast. “Leviathan,” Bullbock mumbled. “The devil's animal.” Ayers spun to him. “Did ye not hear, ye great pillock? This be a ship of old! Made of metal!” He took Bullbock by the shoulders and gave him a shake. “She don't belong to the sea.” Then, lower, “Ye two have that in common.” Bullbock snarled, his face twisting with hatred. “Fool! It is a monster. A horror! 'A club be nothing to him.'” Quicker than Ayers could follow, Bullbock picked up a fallen log and wielded it against the metal body. A thunderous boom issued forth, hollow and weighty, echoing inside the hull. Bullbock screamed and raised his weapon again. Islanders descended on him from all sides, shrieking in pain as if their own flesh had suffered the blow. “Idiot!” Cried Ely as he pushed through the throng. Bullock was flat on the ground and held by an abundance of arms. The islanders were gentler than called for, in the captain's opinion. He grabbed the madman's face and gazed into unseeing black eyes. “In a swoon. Too long at sea, I reckon. Ayers! Bind our wayward matey to that tree and feed him a swallow of fresh water.” “Aye, Captain.” “Vooatoo,” Ely looked to their translator, wondered how to express that sometimes a man could travel too far. Sometimes it was as if the line connecting his anchor to home snapped, and the man had to face himself for what he was: adrift. There was no way Ely could communicate this to Vooatoo, so he didn't try. Instead he bowed his head, shook it. Vooatoo smiled easily, open. Free of Bullbock, the islanders gather around the ship. They stroked the place the wood had struck it. But it was a good ship, and the only damage it showed were a few light scratches. Each barrel had been emptied. The fruits of the sailor's labor now resided in very different ship indeed. “Here,” Vooatoo explained. “Here bones. Now come upper.” And yes, there he was, a middle-aged man painted from head to toe. “Upper go in.” And yes, there he went. The ship opened in a new place near the single eye. The painted man closed himself in. What terror! the captain thought. The islanders began a chant. “Bring bones life,” Vooatoo said. A terrible exhale, a whine. The sailor's gripped one another's shoulders, and the chant gained speed. “Bring up bones,” Vooatoo whispered. He said it again, like a prayer. And then it happened. The fish of metal became a bird. It rose shakily, hovered above the ground. The captain had stopped breathing. The chanting also stopped. In this silence, Vooatoo fell to his knees. The ship rose a little more, a little more, until it was high above, until it was over the water, until it was a spot on the horizon. Fixed to his tree and without notice, Bullbock fell out of this life. That night, back in his cabin, the captain wrote down his tale. This is no salty yarn I be tellin', and not a Poseidon fairy tale, neither. The globe is wide as it is tall. There be no end to the mysteries it holds or the ancient relics it preserves. Tis a lucky sailor that finds a stone when walkin' on the beach, and in that stone the shape, perfectly imprinted like a flower petal in a book, of a creature ages passed. I confess to ye, never would I have thought much of it. But now I wonder-- What fuel will awaken this shape from the sleep of death? What blood be flowing in its veins?