By Raji Singh
Creepy stories abound this time of year! But have you ever been frightened of …toes? We hope you enjoy this tale unearthed from the tombs of the Fiction House, a Halloween re-treat.
* * *
The High Seas players:
The Pirates- a scurvy lot
Their Capt’n- a lice-ridden fiend
Captain Polly – Capt’n’s enslaved parrot
Turt- a good-natured land sea creature – almost a garnishment for the pirates’ meal
The Captives: Buzzard, Mariner, R-r-rose Heather, Kunta- enslaved by the pirates.
The Walk-offs- The lopped off part of the foot, from the tip of the toe to ‘on back just a tad’.
(Buzzard is telling tall tales. They mask the captives’ clandestine mutiny)
* * *
Buzzard strokes the mast then pulls away with a dramatic flourish. “Slick-as-a-badger, gents, Kunta slid down the mast, unseen by all but me. Before I could get here to stop him, he tangled his feet ‘round the throat of your unsuspecting mate. Wrung his neck.”
Buzzard invents as he tells. By playing-into audience’s endless superstitions brought on by the fog and grog-life of the sea, he manipulates them into believers.
“Kunta’s the cunning deceiver that sliced out the Moroccan’s tongue. Fed it to his ravenous Turt, who ingests our languages – to use against humans in the future,’ I’ll wager.  That beak-snouted demon is heartless. So Kunta cuts out the heart of the Algerian for him to devour while it beat.”
( Morrocan’s now a mute, driven mad by the cutting – so he can’t relay what really happened; that Mariner’s the slicer-dicer.)
‘A vile, contemptuous evil pervades the ship,’ thinks Captain Polly. From her perch, she watches the sallow-faced crew. Their attention never leaves Buzzard who is wending about the deck. Parrot knows she must do something to save herself from the stealthy young badger-human Kunta and his shelled beast that her Buzzard warns of: But, what? With leg chained. ‘Only hope,’ she thinks, is this dream-lover bird, Buzzard – but, ‘oh how to woo a human?’
“Kunta stalks,” Buzzard rails. “LOPPING more walk-offs for his necklace; PLOPPING his victims overboard. Some of the walk-offs are quick, devious. They escape. BEWARE! These walk-offs gone-feral hate humans. They lie in wait to destroy us.”
“What the Buzzard says gotta be true,” a pirate belly-aches to the others. It’s after lunch. They sit on crates near the railing – so they can vomit. The Rasputin-of-the-word – Buzzard, his sly comrade Rasputin-of-the-poison, Mariner, has upped the dosage – just a smidgeon – so that the savvy-to-the-tricks-of-the-sea, dregs, don’t notice. They think only, ‘the waves are having their way with gullets.’ They tremble continuously, and sweat so much that their raggedy limp clothes seem starched from saturating then drying so often.
(The poisons keep Capt’n stupor-fied. The pentad of mutineers know he may prove an asset if alive. One of them always guards him in his quarters turned prison.)
Crew’s superstitions beckon irrationality. In their poison-induced hallucinations walk-offs come to life; stalk. They begin believing they sail on what is becoming a ghost ship that may be overtaken anytime by the walk-offs. As Buzzard spins his tale, the dregs mutter vows in a dozen languages, about skirting the mast after dark and keeping near the rail to avoid Kunta.
“That’ll never do,” Buzzard counters. “Kunta and his shelled vampire straddle the ship’s sides, leaping on the unsuspecting.” Dregs look warily over the rail, wishing for land. It’s a thousand miles off.
The usually mawkish-squawkish Captain Polly is quiet. ‘The monster walk-offs will see I am no dreg. I will reason with them. Teach them the humans’ many languages. (Captain Polly knows at least a dozen.) Oh so valuable I can be.’ None of Captain Polly’s self-assurances quells her horror of, while still alive, being plucked, de-beaked and de-clawed by Kunta and Turt.
When not stalking the deck with his flapping, Buzzard’s usually arguing in the galley with Mariner about the tactics of their tightly schemed mutiny. But they agree, fully, with the results.
“How’d it get to this?” the crew whispers to each other. “Turt’s curse, for ravaging his island for the shell and meat of his relatives?” Others think hexing, by a tribal witch in retaliation for stealing Kunta.
Ominous signs of the walk-offs – stinking dried blood trails staining the deck – swell superstitions. A once-tranquil voyage of plunder and pleasure is now, nightmare. “Why’s our Capt’n keepin’ to quarters? Even at his sickliest, he’s stayed the deck wielding his whip. Why’s he issuein’ orders through Buzzard?”
Buzzard, in this short time, seems to have been elevated to acting Captain. Many pirates are loyal to him – ‘only way to survive’ – as they struggle to man-the-ship to get close to land.
THE TALE OF MAMA L’S SECRET SLICKENS
Mariner, allowed enough chain to come up for daylight, listens to Buzzard’s tales from the galley doorway. Captain Polly watches Mariner wipe fish blood from cleaver onto his neck-to-knee apron. In futility, she gnaws her chain, wary of the time he might want her for a ‘fixin’. From the first meal, he cooked – it smelled sweet as any Amazonian jungle cuisine –
– pirates shoveled it in. When they spooned some into Captain Polly’s bucket, she sniffed, recognizing ingredients humans cannot. (plants from Leezian’ bayou; recipes, come courtesy of Mama Lucy.) Flying over the ‘Big Easy’ Captain Polly had seen their effect on critters. They went battier than during a Gone Luna. So now, Captain Polly is subsisting on the array of bugs flying close to her perch. ‘Oh,’ growls Captain Polly’s stomach, ‘but to fly free of this ship.’
Mariner found the slickens – kegs of North Africa’s plants, almost cousins to poisonous Leezian’ claw-root and twig-lick – during his first day in the galley. “One dasha’ claw banish evil spirits.” Creviced old Mama Lucy had ‘scienced-up’ Mariner in her cabin’s kitchen-lab. “Cure most ills. Two dasha’ twig cures yer patient of inflictin’ devils. Three-’a-each, ‘n the devil escape; slitheren’ inta another ta inhabitate.”
Mariner always uses two-and-a-half, insuring deferred insanity. He can’t give three to finish the job – crew’s needed to get ship to shore. If it appears madness may arrive before land, he lessens the dose. For Buzzard, Rrrose Heather, her ladies and himself he prepares simpler fare. For Capt’n, who killed most of Mariner’s dear friends from the commandeered ship, Mariner prepares meals with another cousin-berry – the dung-flower.
“Gaarente-ad’,” Mama’ll testify. “Tuz cause most-vile hallucinatin’, yea inde-ad’.”
Mariner looks from Buzzard, who is finishing a tale, and glances at Captain Polly. She imagines he’s saying, “Ready to join yer Capt’n, Captain?” She gnaws shackle even more desperately.
TALE OF A SAIL
“Hoist starboard keel. Set jig-rigging north, northwest.” Buzzard mangles the orders of the ‘silent-Captain’, Mariner, rendering them illogical. Doesn’t matter; bedraggled crew sails by rote. No doubt, Rasputin-Buzzard steers the emotions of fear; Rasputin-Mariner helms the mayhem triggering it.
TALE OF HOW THE WALK-OFFS ‘REALLY’ CAME ABOARD
Late at night: Cleaver descends. “WHAP!” A piercing scream, ‘THUMPS’, of running. Scream stops with watery “PLOP”! Someone yells: “MAN OVERBOARD.” In the shadows, Mariner wipes cleaver clean and oysters-out slimy walk-off from the tip of leather shoe.
All the crew now wears shoes. ‘Does ‘em little good,’ Mariner grins.
From her manacled spot near the helm, Captain Polly quivers midst a new revelation: ‘New Cookie’s got a key. He can come for me anytime.’
Mariner eases back to the galley and re-shackles himself. He stows walk-offs in the Capt’n’ humidor. In a few days, as just another small way to nudge Capt’n closer to insanity, he’ll have Rrrose deliver it to Capt’n’ new quarters – a six by six dungeon-like room, rancid from 50 years of storing smoked mackerel.
Capt’n sleeps constantly, awakens only to his own screams caused by hallucinogenic dreams of sea creatures devouring him alive – more of the effects from Mariner and Mama’s ‘slickens’.
THE TALE OF A ‘GOOD’ LIFE FOR SOME
Buzzard, Rrrose Heather, and the ladies they now occupy Capt’n’ plush quarters.
“You’ll live with the bloody walk-offs throughout hell’s eternity,” Rrrose Heather, veiled as fortune tellers Capt’n always visited when in ports, soothsays to him – her personal revenge for what he’s done to she and her ladies. She leaves the humidor with him in his dungeon.
THE TALE OF A ‘WORSE’ LIFE FOR OTHERS
Midst hot-cold sweats, Capt’n removes lid and reaches for a cigar. The slimy walk-offs feel like jellyfish, their stench, worse than the rancid mackerel. He pushes humidor. Contents spill. His eyes widen as hallucinations spiral into a parade of the moldy gray-green walk-offs tip-toeing to come choke him. Too paralyzed to move, he screams, continuously, curdling-ly.
Reverberations echo through ship and shake the mast. Crew looks up at the sails, expecting to see Kunta and his monster, their arms, fin-claws stretched in victory sign to show that they now control the ship.
Buzzard swoops from the ship’s wheel. What to expect? He is sure he’ll find Capt’n, dead.
Captain Polly hops on the wheel to steady the ship as Capt’n has trained her for times when an automatic parrot is necessary. Though she loathes Capt’n, she feels pangs of sorrow. That lasts just seconds. She sings in an ecstatic combination of a half-dozen languages. “Blow the man down, mate. Blow the man down. You gave us time, we blew the man down.”
The crew doesn’t share her joy. If Capt’n is dead, hope for survival is with Buzzard.
‘Who will be at his mercy?’ Many silently vow ‘to become his slave if he protects them from Kunta and Turt.’ Captain Polly’s had enough of being a chained slave. She has another idea.
Buzzard returns to the wheel, relieved that Rrrose’s act of revenge hasn’t killed Capt’n. Captain Polly hops to his shoulder, brushes plumage sensually against his neck, gently nibbles ear, coos, “Lover bird. Loverbird. I’ll be true to you.”
© 2012 by Raji Singh
(Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)
©2014 Raji Singh