Thomas B. Macy
P.O. Box 927
Windsor, Colorado 80550
The wood groaned and the ship vibrated.
“What was that!” The whites of the old man’s eyes stood out against his face.
“Just a change in the wind,” said I. “Are you going to wager or worry?” One small candle did little to drive his fear from the dingy darkness.
“Your wind should wash the smells from this hold,” he grumbled under his breath.
With at least a bit of his attention back on the game at hand, we each threw our die onto the deck.
The Mate beside me raked in his winnings…then paused and made a loud sniff. “The only stench down here is that of a land lover.” He slapped the elderly passenger on the back.
As the ship mounted the top of some large swell, the old man rose to his feet and grabbed an overhead beam to keep from falling. “Wouldn’t it be…better on deck?” His face was suddenly considerably paler.
“Nah!” I said, laughing inside. “This is much nicer.”
Awkwardly keeping his balance, he slowly returned to a squat.
The Mate laughed. “Before this trip is over, you won’t even notice the swells. Besides, if you don’t like the accommodations, you’re free to join our other guest.”
The old man glanced to stern where the other paying passenger slept, curled up in a peaceful ball, his long hair and beard splayed out like some woolly blanket.
With our next toss, the ship’s deck creaked loudly and, in a sudden flight skyward, lurched to meet the dice.
The old man scrambled to his feet again. When the ship dove down between the waves, he staggered forward, falling on top of the Mate.
Untangling himself from our guest, the Mate looked at me. “Captain?”
I nodded. “Up we go!...You,” I pointed to the old man, “stay put.” The last thing I needed was for a passenger to get washed overboard.
Only minutes before, a gentle but steady breeze from port and stern drove us soundly on. Now the sea rose up in mountains of water, and the wind beat at us. “To starboard!”
As the men on deck fought to trim the sail, a blast of wind hit the ship and it listed to the side. The ropes whined in the sudden gale.
“Lower the main sail!”
Clouds boiled above us with a greenish cast, pregnant with water. Its wind pressed into the partially trimmed sail tipping us further…further…as the crew clung to the bulwarks and rigging.
“Lower the sail! Or we’ll go down!” I shouted louder. They had to hear my voice over the tumult.
The yard almost touched the seas.
“Captain!” cried the Mate. The crewmen no longer worked the sheets; they hung on just to keep from being washed off. He scrambled forward gripping the bulwark for support, reached out with his knife, and cut the halyard. The yard lowered and the sail collapsed.
With a groan the ship fought to right itself, slowly, battered by the wind, but up.
“Throw the cargo over!” We were taking on water.
“Just do it! If it shifts, we’ll go down!” I turned to the crew and yelled over the screeching of the lines in the tempest. “If you want to live…get rid…of the cargo!”
As quickly as they threw it over, it disappeared, consumed by an angry sea. Little by little our ship road higher in the water.
“Sir,” yelled the Mate, “the more we toss out, the stronger becomes the gale.”
Curtains of water from the storm above sought to bury us while troughs between the swells tried to swallow us.
“What do we do?” cried a crewman.
“Guide the ship toward shore!”
The man stared... “Which way is that?”
Water, foam, and the darkness of the storm hid the coast. And without the sun, I had no idea what direction was north. Like a piece of wood in a river, we had been turned in endless circles. His guess was as good as mine. “Clean out the hold…and pray!” I pulled myself carefully to the tiller. We needed to steady the wild gyrations of the ship. Like water in a shaking pail, the swells beat us from all directions.
The Mate grabbed on as well and helped pull the rudder. “Ever seen anything like this?”
I shook my head. “It fights us at every turn.”
“Like it wants us right where we are.”
I seized a crewman who cowered against the lee bulwark.
“I been praying like you said,” he whined.
“Help the Mate.” I pulled him up to the tiller. Grasping lines and railings, I worked my way to the hatch and climbed down into the dark. The old man lay on the floor moaning. The ship rose with a twist and water sloshed against him. As I bent over to comfort him, he gagged on vomit. The other passenger snored in the stern. The ship quivered and shook his body; water splashed upon him; but still he slept. Shaking my head, I made for the hatch.
Up on deck, the wind howled against any forward motion of the ship. The breath of the storm blew into the reefed sail raising the yard enough to billow the sail toward the stern. With the sound of thunder, the mast cracked and splintered crashing to the deck in a pile of timber and tangle of lines. The hair on my arms was too wet to bristle, but my knees threatened to give way. The gale fought against every move I made. For the first time in my life on the waters, I found no course out of the storm.
Hand to hand, the crew passed boxes and bags up from the forward hold and over the bulwarks till none remained…a fruitless effort now that the mast was gone. These men faithfully served with me for many seasons. They had wives and children. I gritted my teeth. What have I ever done to deserve such an end! One more trip below. The passengers should be told. We did not have much time left.
The old man moaned in his sickness. Sliding into the abyss would no doubt be a relief to him. The other fellow was still propped in the stern. How could he sleep! The storm was about to batter the ship into pieces and kill us all. Yet his body moved limply with each twist and leap of our vessel. I kicked him. "Get up! Pray that you don’t die!"
He bolted upright and glanced wildly about the hold. “What…?”
Steadying him with one arm and supporting myself with the other, I forced his momentary attention my way. “This storm is unlike any I have ever seen.” Grabbing his beard, I pulled his wandering gaze back to my face. “It strikes at us and there’s nowhere to go.” Again I forced his face back to mine. “Nothing I’ve done has been able to save us. All that’s left...”
Breaking away from my arms, he made a mad pan of our surroundings, gasped, and stumbled toward the hatch. Throwing open the cover, he thrust his head out and, as quickly, pulled it back shutting the lid. Except for the small candle, darkness again filled the hold. The fear in the man’s eyes consumed him. He paced about, stumbling over the other passenger. The sea beat upon us as if it were alive and trying to get inside. With each crash, he grimaced and moved away from the sound, tossed into the hull by wave after wave.
“Sir,” I said trying to explain to him what was happening, “the ship is in a storm. You can’t escape it. There’s nothing…”
“No…no!” He raised his voice to overcome the endless pounding of the seas upon the ship. “I don’t fear this storm. Even death does not cause me concern. But I do fear my God.”
The fool! Who didn’t fear death? “Where are you from?”
“I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land. My name is, Jonah.”