A short story...
Tales From Darkly Lit Times
The Last Great Storm
Two puffs of smoke flowed out of the captain’s mouth. One, two, like beads on a string. He crept along the deck of the ship. The moon was half shown and a certain mist filled the air. He heard his two crewmen still awake reeling in something at the edge of the ship. They’re joking about some flimsy model they saw on another crewman’s calendar. The captain took another deep inhale of his cigar. The two crewmen saw him and greeted him accordingly.
“C-Captain! How are yah? Nice night for a stroll…” The first crewman shivered from the cold.
“What’re you two reelin’ in there?”
“Last snatch of the evening, cap. Just a small batch o’ shrimp. Thought we’d at least see half a load, but this makes a pile of pebbles look like a mountain.” The second crewman shook his head in disappointment.
“Well, don’t look get all depressed on me, boys. Just clean this up and head on down. The others are indulging as we speak.”
“Aye, captain.” The two young crewmen packed up the shrimp and cleared away the equipment. When they finished, the captain hurried them along and told them to join the others.
“Not gonna drink with us, cap?”
“Oh, no… I’m fine. Tell Lozzie to share some of his stories… the ones from his early career at the warfront.”
“Heh, alright, cap.” The two crewmen stepped down into the lower level, and the captain stayed up top. He gazed down the shimmering seas with only the stars and moon letting him see it. He took a deep breath and sighed. He looked down, down at his wet boots and dingy pants.
“Hmm… another fine nighttime skyline, eh, James?” The captain spoke softly and cleared his throat.
“Yep.” A man with a short, half-gray beard and a dusty hat limped out of the doorway. “Not many calm nights like these lately… not since the last great storm.”
“Yeah, but weather report says nothing’s gonna hit us tonight. Don’t get all worried.”
“Ha! Yeah, I suppose. Then again, weather reports aren’t always… accurate.”
“Come on, James, let’s… let’s go join the boys. Come on, come on.” The two men slowly walked down the stairway and down the short hallway. They could already hear the laughter and glasses clanging from the common room. When they entered, men were shouting and laughing, drinks were littered all around and a couple of men were already out cold.
“So anyway, there was no way out. Me and five other men were waiting in the corners of this dark, dark room. One second, everything was as quiet as the seas are now. Then, all of a sudden, we started hearing this hissing sound. I gripped my gun and held it up, but I was shaking so fiercely I couldn’t aim it right. Everyone was sweating stress and tension. No one knew what would happen. That’s when it hit. Kaboom! A gas tank had exploded down the corridor. All of a sudden we hear gun shots and men shouting in Russian outside. No one had entered the room yet, but everyone was on edge. But then, we started hearing some of our guys, too. We couldn’t move though, ‘cause one dumb scream coulda sent those Russian armors straight at us. No, we had to wait some more. After about ten minutes, it got a little quiet again. I decided to poke my head out of the doorway and look around. I signaled my men to stay down and keep quiet. When I peered through, there was nothing! Absolutely no one. I looked down where the explosion happened, all I saw was a black explosion mark and a lot of smoke. I shouted out at our guys, but no one shouted back. It’s as if they disappeared, all of ‘em!”
“Even the Russians, Lozzie?”
“Aye, even the Russians. I rounded up my men and found a way out of the complex. I radioed in where we were and found out that everyone, including the Russians, had cleared out nearly twenty minutes before.”
“So, the shouting, even your men heard it?”
“You bet your ass they did. Everyone heard it. We had no idea what happened and could only imagine how. Needless to say, we started believing in strange occurrences after that day.”
“Haha, fine story, Lozzie. I noticed there weren’t any deformed, mutant wolves this time.” The captain cackled.
“Oh… I figured I’d leave that part out. Only me and my sergeant saw that, after all.”
“Right, right.” The captain grinned. “Well, I think I’ll hit the sack now. It’s getting… late. Ya’ll can party a little longer, but make sure you clean this place up.”
“Yes, sir, captain, sir.” Lozzie retorted. The men went back to laughing and drinking.
“Hmm…” The captain walked out of the room and stumbled down the corridor. He found his room and flicked the light on. There was a gray haze about him. He saw shadows in the corner of his eyes and felt dizzy. Errgh… need some aspirin... The captain waddled to the sink and opened the mirror cabinet. He quickly swallowed some pills and some water. The bed sat there begging for him to jump on it. He didn’t even bother turning off the light. He was out in a matter of seconds.
The tossing of the ship didn’t wake him. The captain was used to rough waters. No, it was the smell. The smell of something burning and smoke crawling along the ceiling. His light was still on, glowering within the smoke. His eyes popped wide open. He took a quick sniff and jumped up. He staggered towards the door. In the corridor, the smoke was everywhere. Just then, a crewman stumbled out of the common room coughing and dazed.
“What’sa matter, boy? Where’s this coming from!?” the captain shouted as he grabbed him by the shoulders.
“The… it was the lantern. When the ship started tossing, the lamp fell off the wall and broke. It was a kerosene lantern, and the table caught fire right away. What in the horrid hell is something that ancient doing on this ship?”
“It was an antique, boy. Now then, why didn’t you use the extinguisher underneath the sink?”
“The sink’s on fire, captain.”
“Move, boy, move!” The captain pushed the crewman aside and ran into the dining room. The smoke and flames were blinding. The captain choked on the smoke and staggered toward the back of the room. He found the emergency fire blanket and started on the card table. A crewman came in with a pail of water and dumped it on the sink. The fire was doused and Lozzie came in and dumped a pail of water on the table. The fires were out. The sink caught on fire when a coat on it had a sleeve on the table. The charred tabletop and sink were as black as the sea at night. What followed was a minute or so of absolute quiet. The captain was breathing heavily and facing the floor. That’s when he noticed how roughly the ship was tossing. He almost fell over when he reached for the wall. “What’s going on!? Is there a storm?” the captain bellowed.
“Aye, captain. It started near ten minutes ago.” Lozzie checked his left arm, it was burned.
“Dammit, what time is it?” The captain glanced at his watch. “Three twenty… no…” The captain started staggering and looking for something.
“What’s wrong, captain? It’s just a storm.” said Lozzie. “A storm hasn’t damaged this ship once in the years we’ve been sailing on it.”
“No… no, this isn’t just another storm. It must be… it must be another ivory hurricane…” The captain grasped his head.
“What!? Captain, that’s impossible. The last ivory hurricane was over ten years ago. Those meteorologists said there would never be another one.” Lozzie was short breathed.
“Aye, but they only said that to calm the masses. Those ivory hurricanes could never be predicted, they’d show up out of nowhere, even with the latest detecting technology. And they always started around three in the morning on this coast. The only way people could guess when one would hit was… was the abnormally calm sea before it struck, dammit!” The captain threw his hat on the ground. “I should have noticed. I should have realized that was the same calm… the same seas I felt ten years ago.” He started rubbing his face and took a deep breath. “Alright men! Wake up anyone still sleeping, especially the engine workers. This is just the start. The whirlwinds of Dante’s first level of Hell are nothing compared to the winds of an ivory hurricane.” The captain stormed out of the room and went up the stairs to the control room.
“Lozzie, hey, Lozzie. I remember hearing about these ivory hurricanes when I was a kid. What were they?” A young crewman walked up to Lozzie.
“What were they? They were the fiercest storms any sailor or citizen on shore ever experienced. They weren’t quite as insane as a real hurricane, but they were much, much crazier than your average storm. Now, the first one hit the shore of the Ivory Coast, which is how it got its name. But the ones that hit the west coast of Africa weren’t anywhere as fierce as the ones on this coast.” Lozzie rubbed his head. “No one, no scientist, could explain why they were hitting. Nothing could predict ‘em and nothing could stop ‘em. But as the captain said, the abnormal calm before they hit was the only warning anyone had. Now, no man was crazy enough to stay out at sea when a true hurricane was coming, but those you can see coming. These… these storms were the wars of the ocean. Waves up to seventy feet high and gusts that could flip a mountain. These storms started late, around three on this coast, and lasted all through the night. They usually ended by sunrise, but at that point the damage was done. And they’d always stop after they hit the coast, so of course governments didn’t bother too hard with relief campaigns. No, they tossed us sailors and port cities aside when our ships crashed onto shores and men were lost at sea. They put all the money and support into those damn wars. When the last ivory hurricane hit and it seemed like they were done, we were all too joyous about it. But I think deep down, every man, every sailor knew… they could come again, at any moment. The ten years of quiet must have softened everyone who was wary. Now it’s done hit us again, and we might not be ready for it…” Lozzie picked up the captain’s hat and started for the door. He stopped at the burned table and touched it. He shook his head and left the room.
As the night went on, the seas grew rougher and rougher. The waves started reaching heights forty feet high. The ship seemed ready to capsize at any moment. The men didn’t waver. So through the night, the crew of the ship shared a dance with fate and fought the immense storm. Suddenly, the waves crashed into the mast and the sail rolled out. The wind began carrying the ship across the waves. The captain realized it needed to be released.
“Lozzie! Lozzie! That sail needs to be cut down! We can’t have this ship carried off to the edge of the planet!” He squinted his eyes zipped up his coat. “I’m going out there!”
“Captain! Are you daft!? You’ll surely die if you go out there. One big enough wave will wipe you clean off the deck. You’re asking for a watery death if you step out there! No strange occurrence would save you!”
“I have no choice! I have to do it, or else we all might die.” The captain burst out of the control room and staggered toward the mast. A wave passed over the ship and he lost his footing. He fell to the deck but managed to get back up. He reached the mast and hit the emergency manual release for the sail. It fell to the top of the deck and covered the captain. He struggled to get it off as another big wave hit. He finally escaped the sail and crawled towards the doorway. Lozzie ran out to rescue him and dragged him back into the control room.
“Dammit, captain, you’re one insane man. You could’ve died!”
“But I didn’t, Lozzie, now calm down. Have you gotten through on the radio yet?”
“Are you kidding? All I’m hearing is the hissing of the storm. Nothing’s getting through.”
“This doesn’t make sense… the radio should at least be getting through.”
“Well I don’t know what to tell yah, captain, but it’s not going!” Lozzie seemed desperate and even scared. The captain saw that. He knew he couldn’t let this storm hit the men on the inside. Because then they would all give up hope and surely die. The captain seized Lozzie by the shoulders and yelled in his face.
“Call the men! The ones in the engine room! Tell them to lower the power output by ten notches. We need more control of the ship.” The captain staggered toward the ship’s controls. “Lozzie, get going!”
“Aye, cap!” But Lozzie hesitated for a moment before he finally raced down the corridor and down the ladder to the engine room. One crewman stumbled into the control room and saw the captain.
“Captain, what are you doing? Isn’t it the best thing you can do in a storm to stop the engine completely?”
“Boy, do you even know how ships are engineered? Oh no, those propellers down there are specially designed for storms. You need to stay in control and move as the sea moves on this ship!”
“Aye, captain.” The crewman hurried along down the corridor.
“Damn these entrenching seas and all who dare to follow it!” the captain yelled aloud. The storm continued to persist. The winds grew fiercer and the ship rocked so far it seemed it would tip several times. Yet it didn’t. The captain saw every wave coming. He steered the ship along as many waves as he could. He never fought against a big one. He showed his mastery of the ocean. He showed his skills over the seas. It wouldn’t seem to end. The captain was tiring quickly. He seemed ready to collapse just a couple of hours into it. Suddenly, Lozzie burst into the control room and panted heavily.
“Captain! A few of the boys smashed into the ship on that last big tilt. One’s out cold. Captain… the men are losing hope.”
“What!?” The captain furled his brow and hesitated for a moment. “Lozzie, take the controls. You’re the only other one on this ship who knows how to handle an ivory hurricane head on.”
“Aye, cap, but it’s been a while.”
“I trust you.” The captain rushed down the corridor and into the engine room. There were pipes everywhere and the ceiling was low, just less than seven feet. The captain guided himself along the room with his hand on the ceiling. Pipes were bursting all around him. The ship was struggling to keep together. The rough waters were tormenting the ship. She tilted and swayed, and all the while the men had to hold themselves together. The captain found two men grasping onto the side of the ship for dear life. “Pull yourself together, men!”
“Captain! This… this is just insanity!” The captain saw the crewman who had been knocked out. One of the shrimp wranglers was cradling him as he was rocking violently in the wavering ship.
“Take him up to the infirmary!”
“Captain, Seth’s in the engine room by himself! There’s a hundred things in there he could bang his head on and die from!”
“I’ll go to him, don’t you worry your scared little body about it.” He struggled to move on through the ship. The captain reached the main engine. The jolarian engine, a powerful new type of energy converter, rested at the end of the room. It was fairly small, just about the size of a small car. It was a powerful thing, and it provided power for everything in the ship, from the propellers underneath to the lights of each crewman’s room. A man with a gray beard was shifting his body and fighting the turbulence of the seas as he watched the engine.
“What’s wrong, Seth?”
“Oh, cap! It’s just this damn engine… they may be using it to power the sky cruisers in the military, but out on the seas, she isn’t any more capable than an old time steam engine.”
“That makes no sense, Seth.”
“Sense? These damn storms don’t make any sense!”
“Point taken. Cut off power from everything that isn’t going into powering this propellers and controls!”
“That won’t be enough, cap. Cap… this storm is just too much for a ship like this.”
“Ha! Don’t give me that pitiful garbage. I’ve lived through three ivory hurricanes in ships smaller than and half as powerful as this one. And I fully intend on this being my fourth! Now get back to tending to that engine because there are more than a dozen men on this ship who are counting on it to take us home!”
So the men toiled on. The ones who couldn’t do anything to help sat helplessly in the upper corridor. The captain watched as they whimpered and were rocked back and forth, crashing into the walls and each other.
“There’s only ten minutes left until daybreak. We’re gonna make it!”
“Aye, cap. I’m amazed the ship hasn’t capsized!” The storm had indeed been easing up on the ship and its crew. The waves began dying down and slowly but surely the winds grew calmer. Eventually, the entire ocean was done whirling. The sun finally rose, and by then the entire storm had subsided. There was no more rain, no more waves, and no more harsh winds. It was as if nothing had happened the entire night. Nothing but calmness. The men who were cradling themselves felt the calmness and got up. They crept towards the deck and walked outside. The smell of the air was intoxicatingly sweet. Some began to cry as they stared at the rising sun.
“I can’t believe it… It’s so beautiful…”
“Aye… That’s the sight you see the morning after an ivory hurricane.” The captain straggled outside. “There’s nothing quite like it. Once you’ve marched your way through Hell, everything seems so magnificent. You boys should consider yourselves true soldiers now. There was only a fifteen percent chance we would have survived that… Out of the countless ivory hurricanes that hit ten years ago, so few sailors came out alive…”
“But captain, you’ve been through three before this!”
“Yeah! You’d have to be a demigod to survive four ivory hurricanes. How on earth did you do it?”
“Heh, it’s nothing special, men… You just can’t lose focus. You need a crafty driver, a trustworthy engine crew, and a few metric tons of luck on your side.” Just then, Lozzie came out to the deck.
“Cap… that was the worst ivory hurricane I’d ever laid my eyes on. How in the rolling hell is this ship still sailing?...”
“Dammit, Lozzie, if you’re not gonna be here for first time I explain things you might as well not even ask!”
“Heh, nothing, Loz. Oh! Go check the radio. Signal the coastguard and tell them about everything. I’ve got a feeling this won’t be a one time occurrence…”
“Aye, cap.” So Lozzie rushed to the radio and began calling out through it. “Hello? Does anyone read me? This is the Haley. Repeat, this is the Haley. Hello!?” Lozzie continued for several minutes with no answer. The captain walked into the control room and saw Lozzie’s concerned look.
“What’s wrong Lozzie? Haven’t you gotten through yet?”
“No, cap… there’s… there’s no one out there.”
“Ridiculous, even after that storm, we shouldn’t be more than two hundred miles away from shore.”
“Cap… no one’s responding.”
“That doesn’t make sense… this doesn’t happen after an ivory hurricane… what’s going on?...”
The two men morosely stared at the deck of the ship. It seemed like a very strange sight to them. “Lozzie, do you get a strange feeling about that sunrise?”
“Aye, cap… something doesn’t seem right.”
“Where’s the binoculars?”
“In the cabinet above the first aid.” Lozzie continued staring at the morning as the captain rushed to the cabinets. He grabbed the binoculars and rushed out to the deck. He pointed it straight out toward the sea and furiously watched the horizon. He stared in horror as another sun began to rise up.