A ship raised anchor on the shores of a dying island. The crew could not understand why the captain would go ashore in the first place. The island appeared to have suffered fire and flood. Ashen trees and rotting ones littered the sand, fuming in their own ways. It had an aura of death, disturbing the superstitious deckhands. All were happy to see the captain return, happier still to hear the orders to weigh anchor and sail away.
Yet, the question was raised why the captain would want to go ashore in the first place. He was a man of sensible nature, which was more than could be said for most of the crew. He returned empty-handed as well, at least, it appeared that way. Questions such as these gave the crew reason to watch the captain closely, but were left staring at the door to his quarters.
“What is he up to?” one foolish crewman asked. “I sense mischief…”
The others turned angrily towards the fool, one grabbing him by the front of his shirt. The crew demanded respect, as the captain had earned theirs with every action since serving aboard his ship.
The fool apologised bitterly, but sincerely regretted mentioning it. Yet, the fool simply said what was on every man’s mind. The crew hated themselves as much the fool, as they couldn’t help but agree. Most decided to brush it off as it never happened, but others decided to take action.
Two crew members discussed the island in depth, sharing superstitions and stories, their twisted fear concocting a greater horror with each story. Their restless hearts could take it no longer, both agreeing to spy on the captain later that night. Sneaking out was easy, avoiding the quartermaster was difficult, but both reached the captain’s door.
“Wait,” one whispered as the other reached for the doorknob. “Come here.”
The second joined the first in peering between curtains in a small window. It was uncomfortable, but both were treated to a dark view of the inside. Not a candle was lit, not a lantern burning. Instead, a flash of light surprised the two, illuminating the captain at his desk.
Thunder rumbled as the two deckhands tried to calm their hearts.
Returning to the window, they could now just make out the captain’s silhouette in the darkness. He didn’t move an inch, he didn’t even seem to breathe. The sight of their still captain only worried them, as he was in such a position that it was impossible for him to be asleep. Superstitious fear could not hold them back, they had to know that their captain was alive.
Without hesitation, the two opened the captain’s door and marched inside. Greeted once more by the flash of lighting, the two could see their captain’s eyes flashing white. One, the most fearful of the two, fell back in surprise, backing towards the door. The bravest stepped forward, examining the captain from across the table.
“He is dead,” he murmured. “His eyes have rolled back...he is so pale.”
The two approached their captain’s body, feeling a pang of sadness, but dark curiosity. Looking down, the two noticed an open box in front of their captain. Leaning close, one could see it was a crude box, sitting on a dirty, ashen cloth. The only clue of what was inside was the fade of the wood in the shape of a circle.
“We must tell the others,” the deckhand murmured.
“No, are you crazy?” the fearful one stammered. “I would be the first the crew suspects. Let’s leave him for someone else to discover.”
Without waiting for a reply, the fool left in a hurry, returning to his hammock below decks. The second was tempted to tell everyone, but once more, the fool’s words filled him with fear and left without a word. The two joined the sleeping crew safely, their nighttime adventure unknown to all, but each other. Both could not sleep, but soon the exhaustion of the day caught up with them, just before dawn.
The next day everyone returned to their posts, taking care of the ship and cleaning when they had free time. It seemed like an average day, one where nothing strange would happen, yet the two deckhands found themselves eyeing the captain’s quarters. The door remained closed, nobody discovered the body.
It was only around midday that the 1st mate approached the captain’s door.
The deckhands watched from afar as the 1st mate knocked on the door. The door opened, to reveal the captain, alive and well. The captain spoke with the 1st mate, marching out on deck, scowling at everyone like he normally did. The captain marched up the stairs to the helm, speaking with the quartermaster on what appeared to be the heading.
What terrified the deckhands most was the lack of any unusual behaviour.
“I thought you said he was dead,” the fool hissed to the second deckhand.
“He was, he was cold, pale, everything!” the other replied. “Now he is alive, like some sort of gh-”
The deckhand fell silent, exchanging a look with the fool. In their hearts crept a fear pure and true. It made perfect sense in their minds, but they could not see proof, nor tell anyone of their suspicions. Discussing it amongst themselves, they exchanged ideas on what they could do to be rid of the ghost.
The deckhand suggested a special brew, but the idea was crushed by lack of knowledge on how to make the brew, or give it to the captain. The fool then suggested they throw something at the captain, see if he was solid like a man, or immaterial like a ghost. It was an idea that did the least harm, so it was the one they stuck with.
Taking an apple from the cook’s pantry, the fool returned to the upper deck, walking casually towards the captain. The deckhand watched closely as the fool greeted the captain, stuttering with slight fear, before offering the captain an apple. Before the captain could answer, the fool tossed the apple in the air. The captain caught it with a grin, taking a hearty bite and thanking the fool.
“I am more confused now,” the deckhand murmured.
“What’s confusing you?” another deckhand asked.
The captain coughed, spluttered and choked. The scene frightened the fool as the captain coughed up the apple, spluttering blood onto the deck.
“Poison!” the captain choked.
The captain clutched a pouch of medicine in his pocket, begged for milk and drank it deep when it came. The medicine seemed to take effect, but the captain’s skin became a frightening shade of green before returning to normal.
The fool was grabbed by the other crew while the captain tried to stand tall. The fool pleaded innocence, but the proof was damning. Even the deckhand was in shock, realising he must have made a big mistake. The fool tried to explain, pointing at the deckhand who joined him the night before.
Yet, the deckhand explained it must have been fear that made him see those things, fear that clouded his mind. He explained how he had nothing to do with the apple, the other deckhands vouching for him, saying he was on the upper deck the whole day. With those statements, the fool’s safety line was withdrawn and he was at the mercy of the captain and his furious crew.
The fool stared up at the captain, trying to explain how he didn’t poison the apple, but the words fell on deaf ears. The captain drew his sword, shifting the coat he wore for only a moment. The coat shifted enough for the fool and deckhand to see a round amulet, made from bone and black feathers. For the briefest moments, they could see a smile twitch on the captain’s face, his eyes flashing white, as he stepped forward.
The captain’s sword drove through the fools heart, blood spilling on deck until his body was thrown overboard. The crew felt a lot better having been free of the fool’s superstition, but were worried about their captain. The captain told everyone he would be fine.
The captain walked towards his quarter’s, stopping in front of the door and turning back to his crew. He bid the deckhand join him, with a sinister smile misconstrued by the rest of the crew as a forgiving one. Without the pressure of everyone around him, the deckhand walked into the captain’s quarters, swallowed by the darkness as the captain shut the door behind them.
The crew forgot the deckhand and the fool, unintentionally damning themselves to become a dead-man’s crew. All the while, their minds thought they served under a simple captain, not the Ferryman of the Sea, the Dread of the Damned, the Davy Jones reborn!