Copyright © April 2017 by Theo Fenraven
Note: Times were different then, and kids grew up fast. Our modern laws do not apply to this story.
The ship was breaking up. Wiley felt it coming apart from inside the closet. Terror swept through him, and tears spurted so heavily, the material over the drawn-up knees he rested his head on was drenched.
He’d never see sunny Nassau again, nor toss bits of stale bread to the pelicans in the harbor. One of them had become tame for him, and he’d named it George. He wondered if anyone was feeding him now.
Wiley was going to drown. He tried to imagine swallowing water instead of air and couldn’t. All he knew was it would end him, and he’d hardly started.
“Wiley! Where are you, lad?”
He crawled out of the closet on his knees and looked up at Quill, who was white-faced and drenched head to toe. “We’re sinking.”
Quill raised him to his feet and hustled him out of the cabin and down the passageway. Wiley was shocked by what he saw when he stepped out on deck. Mayhem and destruction were everywhere, and the ship was badly listing to port.
“Watch where you step,” Quill said, guiding him through a tangle of rope and dirty sail.
“Where are we going, sir?”
“Over the side,” he said as they reached it.
Blimey, they were abandoning ship. Wiley had never been so scared.
Below, he saw through driving sheets of rain one of the two boats, bobbing on the roiling water and banging into the side.
“Down the ladder. Handsomely now!”
Wiley slipped and slid and fair fell into the boat. Captain Cager was already aboard, as were others of the crew, including Manny. Quill joined them, and they used an oar to shove off.
The wind was less vicious, Wiley thought, and the waves, though high, weren’t swamping them. Cupping his mouth, he yelled, “Storm almost over?”
Quill nodded and got on an oar.
Too late for the Black Hunter though. It was going down fast, already three feet lower in the stern than when he’d left it. Around them was nothing but wild water.
What would happen to them now?
They were in the boat for two days before sighting land. They’d been blown northwest. Manny had brought his store of salted meat with him, and jugs of water were frugally passed around. They were hungry and thirsty when they went aground, but they were alive.
Manny dramatically dropped to his knees to kiss the white sand and gave loud thanks to his god. Captain Cager and Quill were more circumspect, and Wiley followed their example, looking around calmly.
Palm trees ringed a clean beach, and the underbrush was thick. Brightly colored birds flew from branch to branch and chattered noisily. If they caught some of them, they’d eat.
They emptied the boat and their pockets, and took stock: nearly empty water jugs, two dirks (Manny’s was the biggest and sharpest), a couple pieces of salted meat, a chart the captain had stuffed in his shirt, a half-empty bottle of rum from his cabin, a bit of fishing equipment, and a compass.
Cager exhaled slowly. “It’ll do if we’re clever. We can use the glass from the compass to start a fire. Manny, that’s on you. Trent and Stovepipe Steve, make a sling with a bit of leather and rope—knock a few of those parrots out of the trees. The rest of you gather dry wood and keep your eyes open for fruit and edible greens. Quill and I will locate fresh water.” He glanced around the forlorn group. “Buck up, men. We’re going to make it, see if we don’t.”
“But where are we?” Manny asked.
“Storm blew us northwest, and that’s where the current took us, too.” Dropping to his knees, he picked up the map and studied it at length while Quill gazed over his shoulder. After a few minutes, he said, “I believe we are on an island in the Gulf. Florida would lie that way.” He pointed. “We’ll know more after we explore.” He rose and picked up one of the jugs, and Quill picked up another. “Take care as you go about your business. We don’t know who else is here.”
“What should I do, sir?”
Cager smiled at Wiley. “Catch us something to eat with that fishing hook and line.”