The Dodo (ii)

My ideal existence didn’t last for long. The meals came less often, the plates came less full. I complained to Kidd but he seemed to be losing weight as well. My health began to fail and I lost the progress I made – it was a slippery slope back to the realm of illness and delirium. Eventually, I lost the energy to read. All I could think of was food.My eyes could barely on the words while I fell into a half dream state.

Puffins and feathers colliding, collecting into fractals I dived through. With a blink I was back on land, standing on the mountain that shadowed my home. I saw the Gnasher in the distance crash through sandbanks and paddocks – riding a wave of blood, bone and screaming souls – sailing upon the land as smoothly as on the sea. A shout echoed from behind me, I turned to see my mother pointing behind me. The Gnasher, a beautiful ship corrupted by some unseen evil, rumbled behind me with its bow cracked into a mouth. Its maw was lined by splintered wooden teeth but its insides were flesh. Someone screamed in the distance and I was consumed, sliding down its gullet till I came to rest in a warm pool housed by a cathedral of bone, its arched ribs were slippery and impossible to climb. My skin felt sticky and then gelatinous, dripping off my body like melted butter leaving my glistening muscles naked underneath. I screamed but the only answer was a breathless laughter. A man’s obese silhouette stood in the distance, he held a lantern and watched me with glee. This man was the source of the corruption, I was certain. He laughed while I screamed till my mouth bubbled away though my jaw bone still flapped away through the bloody stew of my face. I had no mouth, yet I screamed on- I was nothing at all but pain, dead, yet the agony continued, red hot pain pouring down my raw nerves which floated in the syrup of my remains.

I woke startled and swung my fist at the darkness. The punch connected with something that groaned and fell down to the floor.
“Who arr ya?” I spurt out, still half asleep.
“God’s blood! It’s Kidd, put down those bloody weapons,” he grabbed my shoulder and from the warmth of his hand I knew he was not a ghoul. I apologised and then he explained why he was sneaking around during the graveyard shift.
“I brought you some food I stole from under the quartermaster’s nose.” He handed me several loafs of bread and some foul smelling cheese.
“They’ve got all the stocks right under their noses, lucky for you I don’t smell as bad as the rest,” he grinned.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said shoving a handful of bread into my mouth.
“Just don’t punch me next time. And don’t worry about it, there’s plenty more where that came from. ”
Plenty more? Why are we being starved then?”
The boards above us creaked, “I’ve got to go, we’ll talk later.”
Like a shadow diving into an inkwell, he disappeared without a whisper more.

I ate my fill of the bread and that stinking cheese (I was hungry enough to eat the paper out of my books at that point) and hid the rest inside under the behind books on the shelf. With my belly full I got some well-needed sleep. But it didn’t last long, I woke up again to the sound of boards creaking above. The footsteps of a very heavy set man paced up and down the deck while incoherent shouting went on.

“WHERE? You bastard— where the devil—-” was all I could pick out of the muffled argument among some curses that are too obscene to repeat to you.
More shouting echoed down to my cabin and I clung to the hammock. Was it a mutiny? Was it Davy Jones taking his tax; the souls of sinful sailors as they slept? I knew not until I saw the planks directly above me bend under the weight of the beast. The hairs on my neck stood up. It froze and began sniffing, softly at first, and then had its nose right on the floor so that I could see its horrid nostrils through the cracks of the floor. The sniffing stopped, beads of sweat rolled down my face and rested on the tip of my nose but I couldn’t dare move a muscle. The paralysis clung to the air and even the ship seemed to stop swaying, but it ended with a single word that he grunted through the boards, “Food!” I heard footsteps running down the stairs, and my door burst forth to a more frightening figure I could have imagined. There stood the silhouette of the man from my dreams. It was as if he had stepped out of the veil of dreams, he let out the same breathless chuckle I had heard before and pointed one chubby finger at me.
“Gotcha.”

 

The Dodo (i)

A good rest was all I needed. Now with my back stretched and my head on straight, I can tell another tale for you. It’s a tale I’ll need vigour for. Vigour and strength are required because of my obligation to punch anyone who calls me liar or questions the true events of this story – doesn’t matter who speaks out, a pirate, a prince, a pauper or a poet – be it man, woman, or child I’ll wallop them. Especially the children! They’ll need to hear and learn from the journey of the Great Gnesher, that is if they want a chance at surviving the jaws of this vicious life which we have all been involuntarily spawned into.

The adventures of the Great Gnesher and her fearsome crew have been argued about for the past two decades, from sailor inns to princely halls across the globe. I am sure many a merry fist fight has been fought over the facts and events of her journey, I am sure because many of them I have started myself. Decidedly I am getting long in the tooth now and my fists merely bruise fools rather than break the hinge off their jaws. It is time to set down what I saw as a crew member on her maiden journey – though not a very maiden like – and the fate of her crew. Hopefully, when I pass onto the next life there is room at the Great Feast for a writer because I fight today with pen and paper rather than sword and axe.

You know how I was found by the Great Gnesher, in few words, a mess. I felt as if I had melted away with the iceberg I arrived on and that this strange hammock I was strung up in was a manger, I was a babe once again. The delusion that I had been reborn or reincarnated wasn’t much an err from the truth, in that the day I was rescued was the start of a new life for a young Leif Erickson.

I woke up in a room under the deck. Compared icy ocean I had lived in the past week this was heaven, an oaken cocoon oozing comfort. I spent my days here illuminated by soft lantern light and my hammock rocked by the gentle swaying of the ship. I was so intoxicated by this comfort that I felt a shock of guilt when I realised I had forgotten about all those that I had left behind.

Apart from a filled bookshelf left by the previous occupant, the last pilot of the ship, all I had for entertainment was stories told by my carer, the young lad William Kidd. He was barely older than me, on the brink of becoming a man, he was sprouting a thin blonde moustache that could only be seen in candlelight. He told me stories of the crew and the places they had travelled.

I listened passively, not having the energy to ask many questions.
“Today the Captain came out of his cabin for once, everybody ducked their heads thinking someone was about to get the lash… but it was only to grab a leg of turkey from the kitchen…” Kidd was a natural born storyteller and maybe that made him a natural born leader as well in the years to come, he knew exactly who he was, where he came from, and where he was going.
“Oh Tahiti was heaven on Earth, the land of milk and honey, no miserable snow and no rain, no offence to Iceland Leif…”
“No offence taken, it only snows 10 months of the year anyway.”
I laugh remembering those times but not for long, the memory is tinged with what was to come.

It was a peaceful and comfortable experience but in that soft womb, I felt guilty that I forgot about my mother, my father and of course the puffin. The puffin was being kept by Cohen, the First Mate. I met him only briefly while recovering — when I saw the way his spindly fingers reached round the door I already knew what sort of man he was.

“I am taking care of your little birdie, he is too tired to come see you though…” he spoke lazily, letting his bottom lip droop down. He was a lazy liar too, every time he lied he simply pointed his droopy eyes at the wall behind me, unable to make the sheer effort to make eye contact.

“Thanks,” was all I could mutter, feeling greasy having just talked to him.

“And don’t get too comfortable,” he prodded me in the chest with a bony finger that he used to comb back his greased black hair, “You’ll be earning your keep up on the high ropes soon enough. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!”
He left laughing with such a lack of enthusiasm that he didn’t seem to even convince himself.  Cohen was the type of man that thinks he’s clever for taking advantage of the sick and helpless, which was the exact state the puffin was in. I needed a plan to get back the bird.

However, that wasn’t Cohen’s only sin to speak of, Kidd told me many tales of his singular brand of functional insanity — which I have never witnessed in another man before or since.


Part 1 of XX ->

The Puffin (ix)

Something was enormous moving below. I could feel the vibrations in the water. Ropes of flesh began floating upwards. With every flash of lightning, red and bleeding they reached closer to us. Out of the darkness, where the limbs came from, a glowing red disc sizzled as it had just be taken out of a forge. But it floated closer and closer and the water bubbled and then I realised it was a giant eye gazing with fury. When the lighting struck again I saw it in full view, in the centre of the growing wave; I would have thought it a rotting corpse if not for the single eye that stared into mine. Its gaunt arms pulled everything it grabbed into its beak that gnashed with a mouth adorned with pin-like teeth. Every aspect of this terrible thing was stretched and elongated, as it had been flattened under the pressure of the sea.

Flat as a page – if it turned to the side it would have disappeared. But it was looking straight at me and snapped its beak at just as the puffin did when I pulled it from its cage. It tendrils broke through the surface of the water to either side of me, they swung in the air as if held by a blind swordsman. It mouth came closer and steam began to boil as the sulphurous bubbles of its breath exploded around. Staring downs the beast’s gullet I pondered my certainty that the puffin is indeed completely a bird.

My thoughts were interrupted by lightning that struck again, on the very nose of the beast. Again and again, it struck the beast. I nearly passed out from the putrid gas that rose, the only thing that has come close to that smell is the bursting of a bloated sea-corpse. Coincidentally a sea-corpse is what I believed I was about to become, the towering wave we had been ascending was tipping over. The wave crashed and I shut my eyes. Darkness, only darkness remained.
I’ve read much about the world, in libraries both decrepit and magnificent, since that terrible night and can only piece together one theory. It must have been Zeus striking down a vengeful Titan back into the depths, and it was merely a coincidence that I sat in the midst of their war. I dreamed that I was Zeus in the clouds looking down and striking those who displeased me. Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t a dream, it was death, and the afterlife is mostly comprised of wreaking revenge on all who wronged us, I was a karmic angel with a score to settle. But my wings burnt up in hatred I spat over the world and I was emblazed all over and I fell like Icarus, my limbs curled up involuntarily like a dying insect.

I fell back down to Earth with a freezing shock and woke up on the iceberg. Or what has left of the iceberg anyway, I was lying half way in the sea, my right hand still death gripped upon the knife embedded in the ice and my left clutched the limp puffin. I would have climbed out of the water had I not felt like half a man, my ribs broken and I could barely flex my fingers. I shook the puffin with my weak hands and it squinted to look at me annoyed that I had woken it from its dream. Maybe it too had been dreaming of wreaking havoc on its puffin enemies, or the shark that had given it that scar above its eye. Or maybe it had been dreaming of punishing me. I questioned why I had kept it alive all this time, just to suffer. I looked around for answers but only a white fog surrounded us.
The iceberg was breaking away before my eyes, we must have been blown a great distance south in the storm. Once again my mind turned to killing the puffin, out of mercy this time, not for food. I knew its pain well. The adventures in children’s books never describe the agony the heroes must go. The prince battles the dragon but the story never speaks of his burns that take months to heals and the nights he wakes up screaming from nightmares.

Another point was the puffin’s body might sustain me for a couple more days, I could drink its blood as well.

I could go on and list every reason it was logical to kill that bird, but despite every reason and every obligation – I couldn’t take that birds life, it wasn’t mine to take. I threw the knife into the ocean and decided that Fortuna would be our murderer, I’d not dirty my hands. And just as that knife hit the water’s surface, a rope landed on my shoulder.
I gripped it and it went taunt, its end lay hidden in the mist.

The rope felt ordinary but I still shouted, “Are you heaven sent?”

“Are you daft?” A voice shouted back, the mist cleared and there stood, not a rope thrown by St Peter, but a ship. Its exterior black and charred though it looked as strong as Samson. The sailors beckoned to me and I tied the rope around my waist and I hugged the puffin to my chest. The pulled me up in silence when they saw my condition, some have said I looked like a corpse and they feared they had pulled a ghost up onto their ship.

That was the circumstance of how I first planted my feet on the deck of The Great Gnasher, which was then captained by the not so great Captain Cohen. My feet didn’t stand planted for long however, I passed out as soon as I felt something solid under my feet but was caught by a boy with blonde hair about my own age. The two dozen souls who kept the ship running also found time to nurse me back to health, two dozen souls that Gnasher had also rescued, who all had stories just as crazed and desperate as mine. The story of the blonde haired boy who caught me is especially strange and just as triumphant, it is the story of William Kidd.

That story is for another time though, I am yawning between words and my eyes feel dewy, salivating with a hunger for some sweet dreams. Time for bed, and if you feel like sleeping too I’ll meet you in the land of nod. Before you close your eyes to bliss, please heed this advice; make sure you are not sleeping on an iceberg!


 

<- Part 9 of 9

The Puffin (viii)

Wildernesses stretch out over the majority of the world, so I think it would be fair to refer to it as just one entire wilderness, as all wildernesses offer the same thing to young men, treasure and death. From all my travelling it has struck me that the wilderness is the world, and everything else – the small towns and cities, are mere oddities compared to the overwhelming stretching wilds. Call it sea, desert, or jungle; it was here before us and will be here after, without hesitation, its vines’ll grow over our roads, ruins and bones. Men and women who have become stranded in a wilderness know greater peace and horror than civilisation will ever be able to provide.

So it was, that I had been in a tranquil daze for much of my remaining days on the iceberg. But now that relief was beginning to fade. The Puffin gave out less food, its strength was failing as mine was, I had no solution to this. The waiting and silence ate away at me, just the warming sea ate away at my iceberg. If only I could float away with it, to evaporate and let my problems disappear into the mist.

I wished for something to happen, anything to break the unbearable boredom. A grinning djinn must have floated past just that moment, and granted my wish. My hands shook with fear as I saw the dark clouds congregate on the horizon, they flashed glares at me, planning my demise in deep grumbling thunder. Though my hands shook in fear, inside I was sunny and glad that change was coming at last, even if that change was from this life to the next.

The puffin must have sensed the tension in the water, it returned early from fishing and hid under my arm. We didn’t have time for the last meal – the clouds were already above. A light rain fell, I said a prayer for mercy for my Mother, who would have to live for herself — for myself, who would be judged at the Gates shortly — and for the Puffin, the last friend I would ever make. The rain fell harder and the waves breathed in and out faster. Each one growing twice the size of the last until we were surfing down a mountain of foam. Slipping off the ice I dug my knife into the surface and with my other hand gripped onto the puffin. My eyes closed involuntarily because of the sheer force of the wind, raindrops became thrown needles. For hours it seemed we clung on while the world collapsed around us.

In a false moment of peace, I made the mistake of opening my eyes. At that moment, were in the bottom of a trough between the waves. So high were the waves, so deep was this trough; that I saw the seafloor and all the inky black monsters that crawled and slithered in the darkness who looked back at me hungrily. Lower we sank towards the creatures, they’re pale mandible screaming in ecstasy for our sun-kissed flesh. We rose just as their black tentacles licked the bottom of my feet. All I could see was the pure hatred in their inhuman eyes as they realised they had been betrayed by the Great Above once again. Pulling my eyes away from theirs, looked up the slope of the mountainous wave that towered over us. Lighting struck behind it, illuminating it like some ghastly celestial lamp. All its contents became visible. Atlantean tragedies and comedies painted on broken murals swirled by, Egyptian chariots raced each other- skeleton hands still gripping the reins, these ancient wonders were only ever see by Moses, a puffin, and me. But behind these wonders lay a terror unlike any.


<- Part 8 of 9 ->

The Puffin (vi)

On that block of ice I wasn’t think of eating arms however but I did convince myself that it would be alright to eat the poor puffin, someone had to survive, and it may as well be me. I set about freeing it from the cage, no point eating it while it was still stuck fast with tar, it would take forever to get that out of your teeth. I had to near pull half its ruined feathers in the process but finally I had it out. Sensing its freedom immediately, the puffin wriggled out of my grip and waddled like a mad goose to the waters edge. It took a run up and spread its wings out to take off – I cried in despair, my dinner was about to fly away – but to my joy it fell flat into the water. I sat down and watched it swim away. The stories are true, I thought, it is both fish and bird. But I didn’t enjoy this revelation because it meant that I had just lost my only food. Dark clouds brooding behind my eyes, I felt a tantrum coming on. My mind was just as trapped on this ice as was my body. I had no one to blame, to shout at, or to hit but myself. I stomped around the iceberg but soon that became tiresome and I hit myself. It started with slaps to my face, which stung both my hand and my flushed cheeks, but my energy dissipated, my arms hung by my chest and I could only flick my ears as I cried into my jacket. I tired to sleep but could only cry more as my mind would not rest and continually went over my failure to capture the puffin again and again. You will be ruminating as I died slowly, a creeping and twisted voice whispered to me. But the thoughts did eventually come to an end and I once again had a dreamless and hungry sleep upon the iceberg.

I woke up to it snuggling under my arms, I decided to deal with it in the morning and for now let it share my warmth. All throughout the night it shivered , I wonder how long it had tried to last out in that cold ocean. “Poor little persistent thing at least you will be warm in my belly,” I told it, which its only reply was to look up at me with its beady eyes shaking in its skull like a lost child on the verge of tears. Then it occurred that it would be more compassionate to end its suffering now. I looked down again at the half feathered thing but it was no longer looking at me but at the tin of worms.

“Hmm,” says I, ” It wouldn’t hurt to fatten you up a little.” And so I picked up a worm and wafted it in front of the puffin, who did not hesitate to snatch it up. I saved the rest of the worms for fishing because I knew this little puffin wouldn’t feed me for long… oh how I was wrong.

And so that morning  I slipped out the gutting knife out of my boot with the intention of using it on the Puffin. I whistled and it waddled to me at once, more obedient than that long lost donkey. How long it was it that I sat listening, drenched in melancholy, to his fading heehaws?How hungry I was now. I grabbed the puffin and pressed its small face  into the ice with the knife at its throat. I closed my eyes and prepared to paint the ice pink with his insides, but then I had an idea.


<- Part 6 of 9 ->

The Puffin (v)

There lay the puffin, a tarred wretched thing, its wings were stuck fast to its cage. This ruined my carefully planned ascension to become the apex predator of the sea. Instead of a huge fish, I had caught another hungry mouth that needed to be fed. I sat for about half an hour, thinking about what to do. Of course, I was tempted to eat the poor thing and it would have had no choice in the matter. By now your mouth is probably watering at the thought of dining on one of these tasty birds, grab your handkerchief and watch you don’t smudge these words under your dripping mouth. If for some reason you are not salivating then I have one question for you. Do you live under a rock? Crawled out from some jungle cave have ye? Jutted your chest out, strut upright on two legs and put on the stolen spectacles hanging down off your hairy neck to read my solemn words? I’ll explain for the literate cannibal — who is a minority, I am sure — the pleasures of the puffin’s flesh. For the one who has found this message in a bottle on some island would only know the taste of coconuts, fish, and his kinsman’s flesh.

Take this puffin caught in front of me for example, if its line had not broken somehow and it was taken into a port it would immediately be chopped into various fish shapes. Puf-fingers, puffin fillet, Puff-ella for the Spaniards, and beer battered puffin and chips for the Brits. From the gutter to the throne, from the peasantry to the clergy, all of society convinced themselves a bird was a fish. Everyone played along in this mass conspiracy and every man, woman and child thought themselves the sole bearer of the truth. All because humankind was sick of Fish Fridays. You would find it impossible to see a wink or hear a giggle shared across the dinner table on a Friday evening, not between a loving family nor even a band of thieves. It would only take one brave and very foolish person to simply whisper: “A puffin is a bird” for the whole charade to come smashing down on the sharp rocks of good reason. This doesn’t include sea folk who find all this ‘fishy business’ very amusing and very profitable.

That said the puffin is still a very tasty fish, though a fraudulent one. I assure you all of these puffin meals I mentioned, dear savage, taste better than human flesh. Nothing worse for body, mind, or spirit than to steal another property, especially the tender cuts of his buttocks and back. Beg forgiveness for what you did to Captain Cook – even as he tempted you with his poorly chosen name. O’brother eat a wing, rather than an arm!


<- Part 5 of 9 ->

The Puffin (iv)

With a grin, I slipped the first worm onto the hook and let it fly over the water. It cut through the thick fog, I could not see where it had landed but determined when it hit the water by the vibrations that swam up the fishing line. Like most games of great patience, fishing was as easy to me as doing nothing – which was all it really took after all.

My patient will have been trained, I was not born with it. Whenever my father would leave for the sea – in which he would be away for up to two years – I would hug his knees and beg him, “Please stay Pa, I’ll miss you.”
“Be patient Leif, be patient and it won’t seem like so long.” I didn’t recognise it as he said these words but there was a deep sadness in his eyes. He was lying, it would be a very long time till I saw him again. Even Hel, who has been patiently hiding underground for eternity till she can snatch Baldr’s soul, would feel the strain of this wait. But I took my father’s advice on faith. I started practising being patient being standing and doing nothing for hours. It was a way to spend the hours after playing with toys became boring, and it was better than the small games boys with no fathers play: skipping stones, throwing a ball against a wall, talking to toys, learning how to shave by yourself. I played all these games but the most challenging were the waiting game. I started staring at walls, then my feet and then finally the sky. My mother thought it was strange and wanted to take my to a doctor but when I told her I was trying to bring back Pa quicker she burst into tears,

But all the patience training I had done was wasted, when finally it could have have been used to save my life, for the line began to pull just a minute later after casting it. There was a great commotion behind the fog. Squawks and garbled screeches echoed out of a foam cloud which I pulled closer and closer. What crazed beast had I wretched from the deep? Is that the Kraken’s wicked beak which cries hungrily for my gizzards? I pulled with all my strength as it resisted with a courage that was unusual for a fish. By the time I had it in sight my arms felt limp. Falling to my knees with exhaustion I looked up to see with disbelief it was a woven cage that my hook had pulled in – and sinking further into disbelief I saw that imprisoned within this cage was a Puffin, deep brown eyes stared out from behind the bars where frightened but neither blinked nor looked away from me – its would be reaper. A caged puffin just like the dream I had of my father’s bird trawler. Had the fog plucked it from my leaking dreams to trick me? I hauled onto the iceberg, this was no trick it was physically there and it began to make a confused moaning sound. I nodded in agreement with whatever lonely feeling the trapped bird had expressed. It went silent and all was quiet, we were like a frigid pair at a dance who both have no idea what to say or do next.

<- Part 4 of 9 ->