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Viterbo University > TOUCHSTONE Magazine > Issue 67 > Literature > Untitled

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Untitled

By Joanna Carlson

     If you look closely at the moon, I mean look really closely (using your eyes, not a telescope) then you might notice something. It's possible if you stand still long enough and try not to blink. Now, your something and my something might be completely different, but even if they are that's okay, because that's just the fact of the matter. (And we all know that facts don't matter.) Sometimes, though, it's possible for your something and my something to be the same thing, and that is... something. Because, that means that we will very possibly be sharing the same moment, and just possibly sharing the same adventure.
      But! you say. Adventures are for kids in tights who never want to grow old, and who fight pirates, right? Well, if you are going to worry, you had better start now, because adventures can happen to anyone. Even you. Maybe one is happening right now, or maybe one just happened...
      And, one had.
     It was a normal day, as far as a normal day goes. A wet kitten was rolling in the grass. It stopped for a moment and lay on its back as the clouds rolled by overhead. One of them looked like a mouse. Another looked like a piece of cheese. The kitten, however, was loath to notice them because it was in essence a cat, and cats don't feel the need to notice something just because a narrator does. Besides, the kitten was waiting for a certain person to come outside and dry it off.
      This person slid open the screen door at the back of their house and stepped out into the humid heat of the day. Then she walked over to the cat and looked down.
      "Wet, huh?" she asked.
      The kitten murmured something. It sounded like, "mew."
      "I suppose you're expecting me to dry you off, then?"
      The kitten was silent.
      "Oh, alright. Come here." The girl kicked off her pink flip-flops and dipped down to sit on the grass by the kitten. It eyed her for a minute, then lazily rolled over and sat up. It gave itself a cautious lick, then wandered over to the girl in a "I'll come when I decide to come" kind of way. The girl covered the kitten with a towel and started to dry it.

     Meanwhile...
      Things weren't going as planned.
      The plan was to sail at noon. Noon. Didn't those idiots know anything? If you have a schedule, you stick to the schedule. You don't just laze about sucking on chewing tobacco until your internal clock (your stomach) sounds the noon alarm. It was simply unacceptable.
      Former Captain Bishop Henry was having a hard time of it. He seemed to think that the salt of the earth, or rather salt of the sea, sailors running the Merry Somethingorother were completely incompetent. And he was, of course, correct. When a crew is mostly made up of men who only came aboard in the first place because they were offered a free bowl of slop soup and then got talked into "helping out" for a couple of minutes (which turned out to be about three years worth of a couple minutes) then you're likely to have a few snags here and there. Having been a captain once himself, though, Captain Henry had a sharp eye for mistakes and could already feel another ulcer coming on.
      "You there! Yes, you with the red bandanna. No, not you-the other one," he barked.
      "Yes, yurhonor?" the sailor leered.
      "I demand to see the ship's captain immediately."
      "Who're you?"
      "I am Captain Bishop Henry, although that's none of-"
      "Well, you won't find any Catholics on this ship, Bishop. We're all pagans, we are. The last time they tried to convert us there was a mutiny aboard."
      "I don't care about all that. Just tell me where the captain is." Captain Henry had his hand wrapped around his sword handle. If only he hadn't promised his late wife not to use it except for making sandwiches.
      "The captain?" breathed the sailor, hitching up his pantaloons.
      "Yes, the captain."
      "Oh, him. Right. Nice to meet you, captain."
      "No, you idiot. I'm not the bloody captain. I'm asking you where he is." Captain Henry's already red face got two shades redder.
      "I forget," said the sailor.
      "Perhaps I can help you sir." A tall, skinny man with a faded scarf tied in a bow around his neck stepped around in front of Captain Henry. He flicked his dark hair out of his eyes in a spastic movement.
      "Peter, Peter Weatherwader, sir," he said, then stuck out a long hand. Captain Henry looked down at it, then squinted back up at him.
      "Well, Mr. Weatherwader, kindly lead me to your captain's quarters. Now, thank you."
      "Certainly sir." Peter wove in and out of the men on board until he and Captain Henry reached the section of the ship where the captain had his rooms.
      "Here we are."
      Captain Henry just nodded and banged on the door as Peter stood by a little ways off. When no one answered, he banged again.
      "Uh, sir-" muttered Peter.
      "Blast it all. I'm coming in," yelled Captain Henry as he shoved open the heavy door.
      The captain's quarters were the best on the ship and it showed. His outer room was cramped, dingy, dark, and smelled slightly of old something. It was also empty.
      "There's no one here." Captain Henry turned back to leave and walked face first into Peter.
      "That's right. Er, he left," said Peter.
      "Who left?" asked the captain as he tugged down his spotless white blazer.
      "Captain Morgan. A few days ago. They say he has a drinking problem. It's a shame really." Peter looked up when he realized that Captain Henry was oddly quiet in a loud sort of way. The captain glared at him for a moment, then let him have it.
      "No Captain! Why didn't you say so in the first place? Is everyone on this ship completely daft! No captain. Unacceptable! If you were my crew I'd cut you up into little pieces, make stew out of you, and then I'd make you eat yourselves for lunch!" Captain Henry roared. "I'd hang you over the edge of the ship by your hair and let the seagulls peck your eyes out. I'd make you clean the decks with your tongues and then I'd-"
      It went on like this for sometime. However, none of it was true. Captain Henry was mostly like day old bread; crusty on the outside, but soft on the inside. He was known to give chocolate truffles to his favorite sailors from time to time.
      Peter on the other hand knew nothing of this, and he was on the verge of passing out. He was what his mother liked to call "a fragile soul," and he generally tried not to get too excited. That was going to be a bit of a problem, considering the things that happened soon after.
      "Preposterous!" shouted Captain Henry. Despite the oncoming ulcer, he felt pretty good. Captain Henry was a firm believer that a good yell now and then was a necessary catharsis for the soul. In fact, it was almost like the old days again. Except then there were more men, better men, mused Captain Henry. With that thought the Captain paused and looked around for Peter. He was leaning against a wall, his scarf flapping in the faint wind.
      "What's the matter with you? Look like you've seen a ghost."
      "Sorry sir. I only-" Peter tried to stand up, but Captain Henry put a hand to his chest.
      "Just a minute there son, you look like a mouse caught in a trap. Why don't you sit down a minute. Stay right here and I'll get you some water or something. If I can find any on this sorry excuse for a ship. No captain..." Captain Henry went off to find something for Peter, or at least, that was the plan. []



***


      "Twenty dollars? Do you really think that's enough exactly? I mean, I'm going to have to make some major changes at my place. I'll have to buy another towel, and get at least a few more vegetables on my weekly market run. Then there's some kind of ring to show that she's mine, you know. I think at least thirty would be in order, don't you?"
     "That's highway robbery. I won't go any higher than twenty-five, and besides, she's already got her own towel."
     "Well, I don't really care about the towel, as long as she doesn't take that blasted cat along."
     Harriet had heard enough. She snuck quietly into her small bedroom at the back of the house and packed a bunch of clothes and things into her small suitcase as fast as she could. Before she climbed out the window she grabbed a rectangular box and stuffed it in her pocket. Soon she was running through the grass, knowing exactly where she was even though the full moon was covered by dark clouds.
     It would only take her fifteen minutes to get to Town if she ran fast, and she was one of the fastest runners she knew. The only problem was that no one went to Town; not if they could help it. The road that went through Town took about eight minutes, but most people took the road around Town that took three hours. And that was what Harriet was counting on. []

***


     "Uh, Captain?"
     "What is it Weatherwader?"
     "Should we be taking on this much water?"
     Peter lifted his feet above the three inches of water at the bottom of the small dinghy. "
     What! Confound it all. Give me a piece of your jacket Weatherwader. I think the hole is over here. Come on, any day now." Captain Henry watched Peter struggle to tear his jacket for a minute before reaching over and ripping off a chunk. Peter looked crestfallen. "Oh chin up, will you? It's not as bad as it could be."
     The Captain was right. Before dumping the two out into the ocean, the other sailors had given them about three days worth of food. This wasn't the usual castaway etiquette, but the sailors on the Merry Somethingorother weren't the usual sailors. The only thing they really knew about was how to keep the ship sailing in more or less a straight line so that they could play tenpin bowling on the top deck. Without a captain they didn't even know how to get the ship sailing in the first place, so they'd at least thought to keep Captain Henry around long enough to get going. Once they'd gone a couple of leagues, though, they'd had enough of his boisterous commands and decided that it was time to feed him and Weatherwader to the sharks.
     "I'm surprised your sailors don't know anything about walking the plank, Weatherwader," said Captain Henry as he bit into a crusty bread on bread sandwich.
     "Well, Captain, I'm sure they would have been glad for your instruction in the matter at a different time, but frankly I'm glad they didn't give you the opportunity to tell them just then."
     "Proud fools. I've been a captain for forty years of my life, and I'm the one who doesn't know what it means to feed someone to the sharks? If you asked them where the topsail was, they'd probably look down. I say that if you're going to do something, you should do it right. Keep that in mind Peter. Sandwich?"
     "I will, sir. Thank you, sir." Peter looked at his feet in the pale light from the full moon. The water was staying level, for now. []

***


     Harriet had forgotten something. Well, two things. First, she had forgotten the cat. That wasn't much to worry about. It hadn't ever really belonged to her. She knew it could fend for itself; still, she felt a little guilty about leaving so quickly. Second, she had forgotten about her father. He had lurked at the back of her mind all the time she was running. Now that she had stopped an image of his grim face floated up to the top of her consciousness. She was right in thinking that most people would avoid Town at all costs, but she hadn't stopped to remember her father's...determination. And his plan. Well, his plan for her. But Harriet was 17, what did she care about her father's plan when it involved her being sold to the highest bidder like some kind of third place cow?
     The only reason he came back home in the first place was that school had ended; usually she was on her own. And Harriet was fine with that. Actually, she was more than fine with that. A house all to herself, eating dessert first, peace and quiet for reading, what could be better? She didn't even mind that she had to have a part time job at Hester's Darning and Repairs to support herself. Hester made her pies to take home almost once a week and the pay was decent.
     But now her father was back, and he was trying to ruin everything. She might let him have the house and the pies, but there was no way (No Way) she was going to marry some guy named Ved just so he could pocket thirty bucks. Harriet was sure about this. However, she was slowly realizing that she could be sure about one other thing; her father wouldn't give up so easily. He'd track her like a rat by a dog, right into Town if he had to.
     It wasn't long before she found out she was right.
     Harriet had just gone around a corner in the dark, dirty Town, when she heard the shopkeeper of the meat pie store she'd passed a moment ago talking to someone in his doorway.
     "'Bout five foot six. Has dark hair, sort of long."
     "Could be anyone. Maybe a little more information..." the scraggly shopkeeper stuck out a thin hand and a bill was pushed into it.
     "Well, seems I saw some girl who seemed to fit your description a minute ago. She was wearing some kind of hood, though. Could have been anyone," he grinned a sickly grin.
     "Which way?" said Harriet's father.
     The shopkeeper nodded in the direction of the alley, and her father took off running. Harriet had had a head start, though. She ran through one winding cobblestone alley after another. They all looked the same, and she had no idea where she was. Suddenly, her father burst into the passage behind her.
     "Harriet! Stop!" he commanded.
     She didn't stop. She kept running. []

***


     "Are you awake, Weatherwader?" Captain Henry prodded Peter with the end of an oar. (The sailors had forgotten to take those away, too.)
     "Hmm? Oh, yes. I'm awake Captain."
     "Good. We're nearing some land now. We should keep a watch."
     "A watch for what, sir?" asked Peter as he yawned.
     "I don't know yet, but I'll know when I see it." Captain Henry nodded his head resolutely.
     Just then the moon slid out from under a cloud. "Will you look at that," said the Captain as he and Peter gazed up at it. "Gigantic, isn't it?"
     Peter nodded faintly. []

***


     She turned another corner and burst out into an open area. Harriet was on the border of Town now, and her father was right behind her and getting closer. She looked around. There wasn't anywhere else to turn. On her right was the wall that surrounded Town, and on her left was a rolling slope that soon turned into a sheer cliff. Without much choice, Harriet ran along the wall in the darkness until she could see that there were no more openings in it, and no way to double back. She looked back at her father once more and then made a decision. There was a section of cliff ahead that jutted out in a peak about 20 feet farther than the rest of the cliff. Harriet made a turn to her left and ran straight up it just as the moon slid out from behind a cloud. When she got to the end of the cliff she leapt off... and plunged straight down into the dark water below.

***


     Something went across the moon.
     Captain Henry turned to Peter and said, "you didn't happen to see anything just then, did you?"
     "As a matter of fact-" said Peter, blinking his eyes.
     He didn't get to finish his thought, because just then they heard a splash. "What was that?" Captain Henry adjusted his white tri-corner hat with one hand and frowned. He'd had enough surprises for one day, thank you.
     "I'm not sure," said Peter as he looked off into the distance, "but I think it's coming this way." []