The sea churned and boiled as the Galleon lurched forward and back, seafoam being cast to the winds as the storm carried on, seemingly endless. Bodies were tossed about the deck; sailors on a final journey; not toward peaceful shores, but the solemn, sandy graveyard depths below the thrashing waves. The man at the helm gripped the wheel tight, a lone soul on the bridge of a ship, being carried through a storm in unknown waters. As the mast came tumbling down, tattered black and green banners whipped about the deck, illuminated with each bolt of lightning. As if guided by the steady hand of fate, or the careless hand of fortune, the sound of wood splintering against rock signalled to the crew the hopelessness of their situation.
Flooding immediately took hold of the bow of the vessel, the murky liquid filling the cabins, and bringing immediate darkness to the unfortunate souls trapped below. It wasn’t long before the bubbling ocean clawed its way towards the stairs leading to the deck, swallowing lives indifferently, and rushing to meet the base of the bridge.
Cries of loss, and anguish were drowned out by the howling wind; the sound of agony and despair giving way to each gust as if the sea’s pain was unmatched by the plight of man. Pulling the brim of his cavalier’s hat down, the captain leaned hard to his left, bringing the wheel spinning with considerable force. As it resisted, so did he, dragging each of handles harder than the last down to the port side. It was the only side left to rely on. Pools shifted directions, and poured off the bridge, into the ocean. This was it. No turning back now.
“Abandon ship!” declared the captain, thrusting his finger outwards at the remaining lifeboats, now being tossed about the deck. “Save yourselves, you silly bastards! FLEE!” The remaining pirates aboard looked to each other, a look of grim understanding on their rain-battered faces. Another swipe of his hand through the air as the captain attempted to reiterate his point, all the while clutching the wheel in its resting position. “There’s no saving her! Don’t you understand that?! You all don’t have to be here! I can finish this! None of you have to be here! Leave with your lives! Does that mean NOTHING?!”
The ship rocked, and they all erupted into laughter, shaking their heads furiously at the bridge. There was still a job to be done, and the hounds of death had not yet come calling. The captain’s brow softened, and in that moment, he grasped perfectly what was not just poetic, but necessary. Cupping his hand to his mouth, he called out to the sailors, “OKAY LADS, WE CAN MAKE ENEMIES WITH DEATH, ONE LAST TIME! ON MY MARK!” The men watched eagerly, awaiting the signal. As the captain’s hand fell sharply, they all rushed to the port side railing. The galleon, suddenly forced onto its left side despite taking on water, spat a series of cannons and supplies out its port bays.
Instantly, the ship lifted up by several meters, gaining speed and flushing seawater as if in revolt. The captain grinned, releasing the wheel long enough to gain stability. As the crew returned to the deck, they hoisted two long oars off each railing. Upon each was a long, wrapped emergency sail, fastened by a series of hooks. The crew held fast to the oars; there would be only one chance at survival, and it was growing slimmer by the minute. As they stared with morbid fascination at the bridge, the crack of thunder shook the wood violently, causing them to shiver in place. With every flash in the night, the silhouette of their man at the helm appeared again, hardly discernible behind a curtain of darkness and water. The captain’s hand swept upwards, and the winds blew forth his long coat as though the elements had heard his pleas. With the faith and hopes of the crew on his shoulders, he loosed his grip on the wheel. Spreading his arms far, he prepared to grab the furthest two handles, positioning himself for quick turns.
Calling out to the closest man on his right, he ordered them to the bow, as vision was key now. As the officer reached the bowsprit, they saluted the captain, knowing this was a mission they couldn’t return from. The man reached to the deck, pulling a rope about his waist, then winding it up and around his shoulders. He then brought the end of the rope to his eyes, tying a knot that wouldn’t budge. Securing it to the bowsprit, he gripped the front railing tight; it was his job to be the eyes of the ship, and he would not fail. With bolts of lightning serving as his temporary lantern, the sailor made a map in his mind, plotting a course through the field of rocks ahead. Arms shifting rigidly like the hands of a clock, the ship swayed to his will.
Hands raw and blistered, the captain pulled desperately at each wooden handle, sending the heavy ship lurching to one side. With each close encounter, the hearts of the crew rose and fell together, treating each fleeting glimpse of death as a blessing. Another show of hands catches the captain’s gaze, and he swings his arms across the wheel. It’s too late. With a grinding screech against the starboard hull, the spotter up front is thrown from his harness, the railing cracking under the immense pressure. Cries of terror fill the air, and the handful of remaining crew members rush from the deck to the bridge, knowing that he won’t be able to steer by himself for much longer.
As they rush the helm, a flurry of hands reach out, pulling the captain up from his knees, and onto the closest two pairs of shoulders. From his elevated position, he could see the enemy. In waves, large rocks came flying past the borders of the ship, coming closer with each pass. The captain arched downwards, relaying directional advice with each looming threat.
Leaning back up, his eyes caught sight of their next opponent. Preparing to warn his men on the wheel, he pulled his head down towards the ears below. With a halting gasp, he met with a shocking revelation. The rock ahead was not a rock, but the shadowy, protruding form of a reef. With grim urgency, the captain shoves off from his seat, immediately clawing at the wheel.
“REEF, RIGHT AHEAD!” he exclaims, throwing the handles to the port side. The men, knowing the gravity of the situation, force the wheel as hard as they can to the left, and then commence throwing themselves at the railing, hoping to gain a turn so sharp they miss their date with destiny. It’s not enough. The end near, the captain calls out to his men: “It has been an honor gentlemen. Brace for impact. I’ll see you on the other side.”
As per tradition, he threw his arms around the wheel, embracing death. With a deafening burst of chaos and splinters, the ship exploded against the coral reef in a triumphant show of nature over man.
Bodies soared over the opposite railing, thrown by the impact. As the shower of wood and dust came raining down on him, the captain climbed slowly to his feet. Hearing the rushing sound of the sea climbing the stairs to greet him, he removed his hat, a gesture of respect to the crew he had lost.
Looking down at the puddle growing around his feet, he stepped onto the railing of the bridge, turning backwards to face the storm, and the horizon. As he did, the bow of the ship began to sink into the depths, bringing the stern of the ship up to greet him. Resigning himself to the sea, he stared downwards at the black, swirling pool coming up to claim him. As his eyes closed, and his grip grew slack, he was tossed from his seat, face first into icy water.
He rose to his knees, wiping soaked eyes with his sleeve, swinging his head around wildly. Puzzled, he crawled to the starboard railing of the bridge. A small pocket of moonlight reflected off the sand bar on the other side of a thin reef, littered with the fragments of his ship and the unconscious bodies of his crew.
Filled with boundless joy, he wailed into the night, flinging his hat from the railing like a disc. Howling in a fit of ecstasy, he reached down, plucking a large, loose rung from the railing. He sprang to the outside wall of the bridge, reaching down over the rails to grab their crew’s banner, bathed in the green and black colors they embodied.
As it unfurled, a slot on the inside opened up, revealing a reversible white flag within. After all, there would be no use getting rescued if your ship of saviors knows you’re a band of pirates, is there?
Dedicated to The Sic gaming community. Thanks for not leaving me there.