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Letters to the Dead, A Salty Short Story

The lamp on her desk was burning low.  Dinner had been cleared away hours ago.  The hypnotic flicker of the lamp’s wick was aiding sleep in its bid to overtake Grace’s efforts to work a while longer.  She rose from her seat to stretch and revive her sleepy mind.  As she took a turn about the cabin, she could hear the sounds of laughter and talking out on deck.

“A breath of fresh air is just what I need,” thought Grace.

She stepped out on deck under a great canopy of stars.  The night was clear and cool with naught but a new moon to compete with the starlight.  The Siren Song seemed to be suspended in the dust of a billion diamonds.

The breeze was too slight to move the sheets, but the Song was carried along on her course by a friendly current.  The men on watch had gathered together on the main deck to swap stories and keep each other awake.  Many of them were enjoying a pipe as they told their tales, and their faces were set in an orange glow as they puffed.

Grace walked up just as they were all chuckling at the ending of a young sailor’s wild fish story.

“Hands to your stations,” the watch commander ordered as soon as he realized his captain was standing there.

“Belay that,” Grace smiled.  “I too find sleep hard to chase off during these late watches.  Carry on as you were.” She took a spot near the railing where she could hear and still watch as they glided through the stars.

“It’s a wonder we’ve yet to hear of a sighting of the Flying Dutchman in all these mad tales,” Bellamy, the rigger’s mate chuckled.

“I’ve never seen the Flying Dutchman, but I’ve seen a ghost ship before,” piped up one of the young riggers.

“You don’t say,” scoffed Bellamy, egging the lad on.

“Aye, sir, ‘twas several years ago while I was aboard a trading sloop, theCrowley.  Oddest thing I’ve ever experienced, without a doubt.”

The men sitting around him all shifted toward him in anticipation of his tale.

“We had been trading in the Lesser Antilles and set course north forPuerto Ricowhen the weather began to turn foul.  The sun had set into a furious bank of clouds to our west.  Not long after sunset the winds began to pick up and stir a heavy chop.  The captain set course to try to makePuerto Ricobefore the worst of the storm, but by about midnight we were being tossed about in a high sea.  We’d already been knocked around so much in the dark that we couldn’t be sure which direction we were pointed.

I had been below decks helping to secure the cargo that had gotten loose, when the riggers were ordered to haul in the canvas.  We had all gathered on deck when the lookout spotted something off the starboard side.  We all went to the rails for a look, when out of the mist and spray we could see the lights of the aft cabin of a huge merchantman.  Above the railing over the cabins, someone looked to be swinging a lantern to and fro.  To a man, we all thought the ship was signaling us to follow.

Under the circumstances there wasn’t any compelling reason to do so, but the captain gave the order to alter course and follow the other ship.

In about half an hour’s time the mysterious merchantman lead us around the eastern side of an island that we had no idea we were near.  It led us around to a sheltering deep water cove on the leeward side of the island.

As we dropped anchor and made fast to ride out the rest of the storm, the other ship disappeared.  We rode out the night alone and saw no sign of her the next morning.

The next day we sailed all around that little island worried that the ship that had guided us to safety had wrecked during the night.  But, we found no sign of wreckage anywhere.  It was as if the storm had swallowed her whole.  There was nothing more to do, but sail on.

InJamaicawe traded much of our cargo, and the captain decided to carry a shipment of sugar cane back toLondon.  As soon as we made for open water the lookout spotted a ship on the horizon in a direct line of our course.  Throughout the day we gained on her but not enough to make out who she was.

The next morning was shrouded in fog, and the navigator had to mind the compass carefully.  When the cloudy mists finally burnt off in the midday sun, we found we had nearly caught up with the ship from the day before.  We were close enough that she looked much like the ship that had saved us from the storm several weeks prior.

Thinking it might be the same ship, the captain decided to come along side and hail them.  As we approached we could see more details of the mysterious ship.  The lines of her design were old.  Nothing like her had come out of the shipyards ofEnglandin over 30 years, and yet, she looked as though she were sailing her maiden voyage.  She showed no signs of decades at sea.  The paint seemed fresh and there were no patches to be seen.  All was quiet as we drew

Letters to the Dead

closer.  There was no noise, not even a sign of a crew aboard.  Everyone aboard theCrowleyheld their breath rather than break the eerie silence.  As we came along side, we could see no one along the decks high above us.

The captain hailed, but there was no response.”

The young sailor’s face grew tense as he told his tale to his rapt audience.

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