About the author: Andrew Wehmann is a second year fiction writer in the NEOMFA program. He is a mutineer.
I haven’t always been captain of this vessel. When we left the Thames, I was merely a man tasked with many matters. I polished things. I polished the port cannons, and I polished the starboard cannons. I even polished the chase cannons. I polished the officers’ swords, and I polished off the then Captain’s secret batch of gin. For that, I was beaten on my back in the brig, the lashings polished off with seawater.
You see, other than the Captain’s stash, the ship was dry when we left the Thames, and dry it remained. “Work, and joy in work,” was the hook-nosed First-mate’s hourly call, up-tempo to minutes in hard water. As we traveled with the tradewinds, we worked, and some joyed in work. I found joy in the juniper daydreams of the Captain’s gin. “Praise the sea, remain on shore,” my brother had told me back in Kirkwall.
We found the seven white casks off the serpentine coast of Martinique, floating there in the aquamarine afternoon, white like ivory. Aboard the ship, the men wondered if the casks had been flung off a fleeing French galley or cast away by an overfull Spanish galleon. The oldest man aboard said the white casks had been set off from the island, sea jewels for mermen and their sea hags. I didn’t care where they came from because I knew they must contain only one thing.
“Bring them up there,” the hook-nosed First-mate said, and we winched the casks up port. The first two were empty, only splintered wood. The final five were our burden. The rope creaked and the net dripped, but we got the barrels on board, set them under the mast, all five like luminescent points of a constellation. It was evening, and we the men gathered around this new star on our ship.
“Move aside, lads,” the hook-nosed First-mate said. He slithered through the encircled men.
“Fetch the Captain, Stevens.”
With hammer in hand, the First-mate smashed hard on the nearest cask. He did it again and two more times. On the fifth bang, the white wood broke and some of the inner libation splashed over his dress. He peeled away a plank from the top of the barrel and peered into the darkness. He sniffed at the hole, wafting the vapors to his hooked-nose. There was something chthonic about the way his hooked-nose crinkled, like he’d smelled his future and it was hell.
“At attention!” an officer called. “Captain on deck.” And so he was. The Captain, blue robed and fair-skinned, parted the circle of sailors like Moses to the sea. He had sand in his eyes.
“What do we got?” the Captain asked the First-mate.
The steady splash of waves slapped the hull. Seagulls circled the crow’s nest. Every sailor on board was silent. The captain measured the crew with a single, slow swivel of his stout body. “Throw it overboard. Get it off my ship.” And he departed the circle.
“You heard the Captain, lads,” the First-mate said. “Toss this mess back into the drink where it came from. Work, and joy in work.”
By dawn, the ship was soaked and sans several sailors. At the helm, I set our course south into Spanish seas. We weren’t even to Trinidad before we polished off that entire batch of tasty tipple.