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The Last Voyage of the Overett

Part two

We returned to camp after washing in seawater to hide the blood of the catch. An accident happened while we were gone. A sailor had climbed to the top of a branchless tree. He sought to get some of its tiny greyish fruits. Instead he fell down and broke his leg. The wound was deep and bone was sticking out from beneath his torn flesh. Men surrounded him and stood dazed. O’Furi stepped forward and got some of them to drag the hurt sailor under shade. I went further away. The rat has caused my starving body a great ordeal, I had to lay down to sleep. I awoke to the sound of fire roaring. Men were sitting around a pyre. O’Furi stood tall, his chest was out naked and his feet were bare. His deep voice tore a hole in the calm night air:
  – Those who lay down and die do not serve the lord. Those who choose to wither away and do nothing are pawns of Lucifer. God made our arms and hands to do, to make, to wrestle the reins of life. There is no sin in tasks that are done to remain alive. I bless this meat. I ordain it the flesh of Christ and the blood inside it the wine we drink to commune. God will not look down on us, for we shall only eat his own creation and thus enact holy self preservation!

A tall, muscular sailor pulled on a giant leaf that was edged over some rocks leaning into the fire. He pulled out a naked body. Smell of burning flesh reached my nose. The dead man must have been the sailor who fell from the tree. His leg was pinkish and smoking, the bone still protruded from the wound. O’Furi knelt down and with a knife cut a sliver of meat from the man’s arm. He chewed it and swallowed, swept the men huddled nearby with his glowing eyes and proclaimed:
  – Behold, the flesh of Christ the saviour. Sustenance for our lives!

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The sailors became bolder and edged closer. They tore at the body with their fingers and nails, one of them biting directly into the roasted corpse’s ankle. I ran, and Rufus came after me. I ran to the far side of the island, but I couldn’t get away. What I have seen came with me, crawled into my ears and whispered horrors of cannibalism. I rocked back and forth, crying in a nook between two stones while Rufus hugged me with his furry body.

I did not return to camp. The next morning we went on another hunting trip with Rufus. We found the source of the rats. The crafty vermin were hiding out in the wrecked bottom of the Overett. In the morning the rats swam across the low tide, spent hours foraging for food on the island, then swam back to their nest when the high waters again receded. I was amazed at their deviousness. Rufus caught two of the invading rats. It was harder this time to eat my share, since I was not starving so much any more. The little scaly legs tickled my tongue and caused me to gag. I cut the small beast in quarters and suckled most of the meaty parts out of its body. Rufus was happy as ever, eating and playing joyfully with his reward.

We went to the caves to drink. It was dusk already and that is where the men ambushed us. There were four of them including O’Furi. He stood with great hubris, the contempt in his mind I could taste from meters away. He spoke at me:

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– A man who resents his flock, who refuses a meal sent from god himself, such faithlessness you present Cornelius. I knew from the moment I saw you that you were a nobody. A worm much more than a man. A soulless snail, devoid of devotion. You could have eaten with us, you could have shared holy communion, but you choose to roam this sandy prison with your mutt instead. We have made a vote in your absence Cornelius. We voted that you’d be the next meal.

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He waved his hands and the three men came at us. Rufus barked and paced in circles. He sensed their intent. As one got closer the dog lashed out and bit him in the leg. The sailor hit Rufus on the head with a driftwood plank and the dog whimpered. I took a sharp rock that I kept in my trousers as a makeshift knife and flailed wildly at the attackers. They hit me back and I fell. One of them grabbed my arm then released immediately with a cry of agony. Rufus bit deep into his calf. I got up and managed to run away, only stopping when I ran out of breath and collapsed from exhaustion. Rufus did not follow. I wanted to scream for him, I wished to call out his name.

The island winds brought sounds all around and I heard the most terrible one of them all. A faint yet harrowing cry of a dog, and then silence. I knew my friend was dead. He was an innocent being. A creature filled only with instinct yet capable of unquestioning love. He had unfaltering loyalty, even after his crippled master died at sea he still served and enjoyed my company. He was a treasure that I lost forever. Distraught and raving mad I stumbled trough the shoreline. I was searching for something, weapons perhaps to kill O’Furi. Instead I found again the wreck of the Overett, home of rats and darkness. The tide was high and winds were soft. Sound of paws hitting sand came from behind me. I turned around in utter surprise. It was Rufus, but it wasn’t. Rather than a flesh and bone dog, a dark shadow sat in front of me. It’s mouth opened and words spilled out:
   – You must cross the water Cornelius. You must reach the wreck. They are looking for you, and if they find you, you shall be eaten. You must do all this for survival.

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As the words of my dead companion rang in my ears I descended into the waters. The rats were small and numerous, but I was a lone object splashing in the waves. I feared a shark would tear me open. I reached the wreck in darkness and crawled into it’s belly. Three decks were over the water, and inside I heard every creak of wood and every squeak of rat. A hundred tiny shapes scattered around me, their eyes glowing in the dark like stars upon the night sky. Rufus’ spirit appeared next to me and I felt a shivering cold breeze:

  – You shouldn’t be afraid Cornelius. The rats are hungry and many, but you are a predator. You are the hunter here. Reach out to the darkness and pluck them like plump fruits. You have nails and teeth and eyes and ears, use them!

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I laid stunned despite his words. A day had passed and the sun came and went, I became hungry again. Sounds of skittering feet filled my ears while my stomach grumbled. They were circling around me, testing me, gauging if I am prey or hunter. I remembered Rufus, how he hunted, how he died. A second day had past. A few rats came close, one even tried to bite my finger. I shooed it away. On the third day I slithered out from the topmost deck. I was the night, I was shadow, I was hunger. Slamming down on a group of rats my body squished one.

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I ate it up like it was a delicious apple pie, like the one Maude, my parent’s servant used to make. It was raw, warm, and still squirming. Better than any real pie, it was life itself.

It rained heavy and I drank fresh water that leaked into buckets and trunks on the wreck. During the day I hid in the shadows of the top deck, and at night I hunted. Ravenous was my hunger and my decrepit body filled with lustful strength on the feast of rats. Only the stars reminded me of time passing. The rats became more careful, yet I still caught them. I knew their holes and abodes. The wreck was small and at night they always swam back from the island. I was content there, happy even. My own small slice of heaven. But perhaps that was just insanity rising above my civilised self. A week passed, time was hard to track but that is my estimation. Paws scratched the planks and something large breathed mutely in the ships halls. It was Rufus, the shadow:
   – You must go now Cornelius. This creaking craft cannot be your coffin. You are ready to hunt something larger. You are ready to avenge me.

His body was larger than ever in life, as if he had swollen with viciousness. He spoke in my head and I felt compelled to heed his command. I swam ashore with the rats. It was a misty morning when I crept upon the camp. I found a stone that fit well in my hand to use as a weapon. Surprisingly I found no one there. No living man at least. In a hastily dug out hole there was a large pile of bones, most were whitened by the sun and had teeth marks on them. There were tables and half standing huts made from the Overett’s driftwood. I also found a heap of dirty clothes, no preacher’s gown among them. A rusted knife was slammed point first in one of the tables, next to it the wood was black with stains. Seemed like someone used it as a cutting board.

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I found a large trail of footprints in the sand leading me towards a farther shoreline. As I walked I found a dead man laying at the base of some trees. He had the looks of a sailor. Two curiously constructed spears were stuck in his side. He bled out, perhaps when fighting natives. I rushed to the end of the trail. The large island afar beckoned me. Smoke flew high from Mundroga, for now I was sure that the other isle must be the home of the pearl trading tribe. I sat down with my feet in the water. Rufus appeared next to me:
  – Only four sailors remained, and O’Furi of course, the rest were eaten. They devised a system of straws, the one who pulled the shortest lost, but they didn’t ration well. The priest said the meat would spoil. They ate it all up fresh, sometimes even uncooked. He grew fat Cornelius, I saw his belly rise. He ate it like it was indeed the body of your Christ. Then some people came yesterday. Dark skinned men with spears. I think they sailed here. They killed the sailors and took O’Furi, took some of the bodies as well.

10/14

I sat there dazed and asked to myself, how could the ghost of a dog know all this? He gave me the answer:
  – I saw it all. Come, I show you how.

The shadow of Rufus took me back to camp, and showed me a smaller pile of of bones tossed over some rocks. A canine skull with large teeth laid there, pointed directly at the camp. He truly saw it with his own eyes. Or what remained from them. Rufus’s shadow looked at me with sadness and my heart sank. He would help me so even after death. Shivering words again echoed in my head:
  – You must go after them. You must swim to the great island. What was done here should not be forgiven or forgot. What they did to me, to you, to themselves. You must punish him Cornelius. You must kill O’Furi.

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I did not argue, I couldn’t. I knew that the natives might just slaughter me outright. I also knew that I probably wouldn’t even reach the other island, the sea would swallow me whole.

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I still took the skull of Rufus and with a strip of cloth fastened it to my hip. I took a knife I found at the camp into my mouth and breached the waves. I was a decent swimmer, but I knew this was not a fight to win. I only struggled to keep afloat, and hoped to god that the currents and waves would lead me straight. With small adjustments and a great deal of salt water in my face I reached halfway. The sun was high and as I gave myself to a large wave I saw a shadow swim under me, a grey shade of a shark. I didn’t stay still, nor did I splash about. I dived under.

The beast turned upwards and to the side. It was curious perhaps. My vision was blurred, but I saw his black eyes look at me. A voice growled in the back of my mind:
  – Bite before you get bitten!

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Opening my mouth I let the knife float forward and I grabbed it. The shark swam away to circle back and I lunged. I stuck the knife into his skin, grabbing the handle to fasten myself. A great bit of thrashing ensued. I was tucked and pulled under the waves but didn’t let go. I was lucky perhaps, maybe it was a juvenile shark, still I managed to hold on. My lungs emptied but I held my arm around his tail. After I jabbed the knife into his side again he thrashed upwards. A wave threw us up and I almost forgot to breathe as we breached the surface. We strangled and fought and I stabbed. Clear blue water washed away blood quickly. I won. Holding the body of the dead shark in my grip I paddled upwards. Sharks don’t float, but I couldn’t let go. He was my token, my prize, proof of my victory over the sea. My knife was also stuck in his side.

As the voice of Rufus barked away in my head I paddled on. I had to switch to swimming on my back, holding the shark’s body close like a lover. His skin was tough and coarse. The hills of Mundroga entered my field of vision. My nose and mouth filled with seawater, but I just swam and held my prize. I swam so long that the sun began to duck down. At some point my legs gave up and I swam no more. The shark’s dead eyes stared at me with furious anger, I struggled to keep up for air. I almost let him go. I almost gave him back to the sea, but then my dangling feet hit something soft. It was tall seaweed, the shore was near. Being so exhausted my neck refused turn, I couldn’t see. Great waves lifted me up and I crashed into hard water tumbling and turning, wet sand stopped my fall. With my last ounce of strength I threw the shark off, then fell into warm nothingness on the shore.

I dreamt that a great fire was burning. In the fire a man was roasted, and then he was laid on a neatly dressed table. It was O’Furi, in his gown, grasping his Bible still. Rufus sat at the table in gentleman’s attire, which looked quite inappropriate on a dog. He ate with great glee, taking large bites from the dead priest’s flesh. When I woke I saw him still, the preacher. Cold wind blew my face, my legs hurt, my body ached and my arms were numb. I knew I was awake, yet O’Furi was still there. Laid out on a table dead as a tombstone, just not roasted. His Bible was not in his hands.

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A cough caught my attention. I snapped out of my stunned stupor. I was in a village, on a square cornered by huts. Tribal men and women stood all around me with small children holding their parent’s legs below. I sat in an ornate wooden chair. In front of me – next to the table where O’Furi was held on display – sat a fat man. He appeared to be important. He sported facial tattoos but no hair or beard. His eyes sized me up while in his hands he held an ivory teacup. He was blowing the steaming hot liquid inside of it before he spoke:

  – Welcome visitor. Pleased to have thee. Always pleasure to entertain guests in Mundroga.
He gestured broadly at the dead priest:
  – He your friend, friend?

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I looked at the wax like skin of the preacher. His eyes were closed but his mouth was agape. A devourer of men he was, and now dead as the ones he ate. I answered to my host:

– No. I only have one friend.

I put my aching hand on the skull of Rufus, which miraculously survived my oceanic ordeal, and was still strapped to my side. The tribal leader looked at me and then sat his teacup down next to the bare feet of O’Furi.

12/14

His English was surprisingly eloquent:
  – But you know him. I know you do. I see it in eyes of yours. I saw hate and fear, no friend of you for sure.
The fat man released a sigh, crossed his wide arms on his stomach and began a tirade to me and the assembled people:
  – We saw the fires on old Tachanaga island. My son sail over. My son sees nothing good, he brings me this man who smells of ash and blood. This man tells me he is man of god, he looks up at sky and he prays, speaks to clouds and sun, asks his god to smite us. I do not know what is “smite” but I know I don’t like it. I only need to see eyes to know men. Eyes have water – water like the ocean – that is where god is. Not in the sky, not in clouds, not in the sun. I tested him too see if he was really man of god. Pushed him into the sea but he did not swim, only float. He did not dive, he just died. He was no man of god.

I laughed. My shoulders hunched and I cried. He was dead then, truly I was not dreaming. The chief sat forward in his chair and appeared to survey me closely. I asked him how is it that he knew English. I didn’t hear that the Valiant’s crew spent a great deal of time educating the natives with our language. The fat man laughed and he slapped his bare thighs with joy:
  – White men always surprised. They come in large boats and they always think they here first. Always think no one else can sail and only they know the secret. We don’t tell them they are not first. They always want same. The stones of ocean, gifts from god. We have many, our god loves us, our god gives freely. So we trade the stones with you white men, and you give everything you have for it.

He was right. I saw more furniture – exquisite and shoddy both – scattered about the village. There was a mahogany table, a few expensive looking rugs, a dresser, a set of maritime travel trunks. There were silver pitchers, brass cutlery, porcelain plates, and one small girl wore a pretty pink dress. Even tough the cloth was soiled and dirty I could still tell it was from Europe. The chief saw that I was looking around, he spoke more:
  – Many of you came. Portugese, Nederlander, from island of Brits, from company East India. They gave books, and some stayed for long. We learned. Learned your language, got the thoughts from your head into ours. And our god in the ocean spoke: “Give my stones away, trade them for knowing.” We know now, know for long time. But you still come and think we are secret. Only you can make a great trade you think! Well, Mister shark killer, you came from the island where man ate man. We learned of word for that, from your heads: Barbaric, I think it is. I wonder if you ate man as well. If you were barbaric? I want to throw you into the sea like the other so god decide. But I don’t need to. He already decide. My daughters saw you. Wave put you on shore and you hold dead shark like brother, knife in his belly. God has already judged you if you live. This drowned man on table was not a man of god, but you may be. What is your name?

I answered:
  – My name is Cornelius Faust.
My host smiled. He showed rows of pristine pearly white teeth:
  – I am Chief of Mundroga, father of tribe. Did you come here to make deal Mister Faust?

I thought about that. It was my goal at one time for sure. But I felt I had no goals any more, no ship, no a crew. All I said was:
  – I’d rather have something to eat, Mister Chief. I’m dying of hunger.


Behind my chair a shadow of a dog growled in agreement.

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FIN

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© 2018 Gábor Eichammer