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The Kraken and Captain Cutch
written by: Bruce Rowe
Cradled in long rotting arms, the schooner violently rocked as saltwater washed over its sides. Other long arms with throbbing suckers crawled probing about the deck for unstable victims as milky eyes bobbing at the sea's surface rolled in their sockets. The few sailors that had roped themselves against the mainmast, foremast, and helm threw harpoons and swung cutlasses at the searching arms. A barrelman, secured in the crow’s nest, held a perfect view of the massive head that now surfaced the sea. As the Kraken tilted the ship, the sailor thrust his harpoon just past the head sinking it into the beasts’ mantle. Raising its head upward, the Kraken released a deafening roar as it pulled the moaning ship below the surface of the sea and the barrelman from the crow’s nest into its sharp beak then disappeared below the boiling foam.
Two of the shipmates desperately clinging to splintered boards, kicked frantically fearing the turbulent water of the sinking ship would pull them under. One looked back at the last moment to see the Jolly Rodger waving its last farewell.
“By the powers that were a good crew,” said Captain Cutch, “the best mates this side of hell.”
“Did ye see th' beast eyes, sir? It were bein' as if its soul had been ripped clean out,” said the first mate ˗ Roland by name.
“Aye, there were bein' no soul in it and th' most foul flesh I’ve e'er seen, as if rottin' and dead yet somehow still livin’.”
“O'er here, 'tis the Cap’n, and first mate,” a voice came from across the waters.
Turning they saw two men in a gig rowing towards them. “Blessed be th' Trident of Poseidon if it ain’t our Gunner and Barbeque,” said Roland.
The Captain smiled. “If Poseidon’s goin' t' save some souls he couldn’t have picked better.”
The two men pulled the Captain and Roland into the gig. “What’s our bearin’s, Cap’n?” Gunner asked looking around with a fearful look in his eyes.
“Yer right t’ be afraid, Gunner,” the Captain said squeezing seawater from his black and gray-strand beard.
“But I seen Cork with a handsome throw sink his harpoon into th’ beast,” said Barbeque.
Roland took off his wet shirt and laid it over the side of the boat to dry. “Cap’n says there’s somethin' evil in it, somethin' that keeps dead thing's livin'.”
“Th' best we can do fer now is t' row, mates, row until we find land, or Davy Jones reaches from th' deep and claims our souls,” said the Captain.
After three days of breathing salt air and nothing to eat or fresh water to drink, the men began to grow weak. The smothering heat from the sun bore down on them chapping their lips and parching their throats. On more than a couple of occasions, the Captain restrained Gunner from drinking the seawater. Gunner cared less if it made his body stiff and wrenching with pain leaving him parched but never satisfied.
On the morning of the fourth day, all the men slept legs over arms at the bottom of the boat drenched by the shallow water that rolled side to side.
“Ahoy, there!” came an unfamiliar voice. “I said ahoy there!” the voice came again but louder.
The Captain was the first to open his eyes. He put his hand to his brow in an effort to shade his eyes from the sun. Squinting, he made out the image of a large vessel floating toward the gig.
“Ahoy, good sir. Who be you may I kindly ask?” Cutch said with a brittle voice.
“Lieutenant Cooper of his Majesty’s Royal Navy of England,” said the officer.
“That don’t sound good,” said Barbeque pushing himself up on weak arms from the bottom of the gig.
“Prepare to come aboard,” the Lieutenant said as two men tossed a rope ladder over the edge of the ship.
With a torn sleeve, Edward wiped the sweat from his forehead as he stood on trembling legs. “Thunderation and spare the whip! I don’t be knowing what’s worse, facin’ the Kraken or the Kings navy. Think we’ll dance the hempen jig, Cap’n?”
“Belay that talk, Gunner!” Cutch said under his breath. “While I'm Cap'n and draw sea breath I'll be seeing that nobody swings.”
The rope ladder unfurled its last rung in front of Cutch. His arms ached as he grabbed the twisted fibers and pulled himself up. His men followed, Roland being the last pirate to drag himself over the ship's railing.
“Take these men below and see that they have food and water,” Lieutenant Cooper said to a petty officer standing to his right. “And make sure they’re bathed and given clean clothing. The Commodore will want to speak with them promptly after they’re settled in and rested.”
No longer able to stand Roland collapsed at the feet of the Lieutenant. “Help this man below,” said the Lieutenant. He looked over the other men, “Anyone else needs assistance?”
“I believe we have our sea legs about us, sir,” Cutch said nodding his head, “and thank ye kindly fer bein’ hospitable.”
After the pirates had eaten, they took turns bathing in a large half-cask of warm water. Cutch eyed it while pulling a clean shirt over his head, “I’m gonna have t’ get me of those fer my next ship.” Roland laughed in agreement while resting in a hammock. Several boots struck the steps leading down to the Hold. Cutch noticed by the uniform the first officer to enter was an Admiral, not a Commodore. Lieutenant Cooper followed with what appeared to be a Boatswain; both armed with swords.
The Admiral walked toward Cutch with a proffered hand. “By the heavens above and hell below if it isn’t Cutch Ashton.”
Cutch hesitantly accepted the hand. “You have me at a disadvantage, sir, should I be knowin' you?”
“You wouldn’t know me personally. My name is Admiral Edward Russell. I served with your father during the Battle of Solebay off the Suffolk coast, may God rest his soul.”
“Bless ‘em, sir.” Cutch quickly performed the sign of the cross over his chest to keep up appearances.
“He spoke often of you as a proper gentleman, but by the looks of it you’ve been led down an unfortunate path,” the Admiral said looking at Cutch’s men.
“Scupper that, Admiral, and I mean no disrespect, sir, but matey’s be th' best a Cap’n could ask t' man a ship and chart her straight,” answered Cutch.
“A Captain? Then where, Captain Cutch, is this ship now and the rest of your crew?” asked the Admiral sarcastically. Lieutenant Cooper and the Boatswain chuckled.
“Down t' Davey Jones by a beast from hell. A deadly Kraken swayed by th' devil himself. We’ve been after it fer several months now, right mates?”
“Truer words have ne'er been spoken, Cap’n,” said Barbeque, “and given th' chance I’d throw it in a boilin' pot fer dinner…with a bit of season’ of course.” The other pirates laughed and said “Aye” in agreement. Even the Admiral and his men could not help but smile at the jest.
“Seems providence has smiled on you and your men, Cutch,” said the Admiral. “This very beast has destroyed two of his Majesty’s warships, which is the very reason we have been patrolling these waters.”
“Then I swear an Affy Davey, Admiral, that if ye’ll not clap us in irons and throw us in th’ brig, we’ll help in destron’ th' beast. It took forty of me mates t’ th' bottom of the sea,” Cutch pleaded.
“Once it’s done, then what, you go back to pirating?” asked the Admiral.
“If ye don’t mind that we only attack Spanish merchant ships runn’ near Panama and th' coast of th' Americas?” answered Cutch with a smile.
“You promise to keep to those coasts and never be seen in British waters, I’ll provide you with a Letter of Marque myself. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to hunt you down and send you to the bottom of the sea where you belong,” the Admiral sternly warned.
“Sweeter words have ne'er been spoken,” Cutch said offering his hand in a word of honor.
After the handshake, the Admiral and Cutch retired to the Captain’s cabin to discuss the course the Kraken had traveled.
Walking into the Admiral's cabin, Cutch noticed its roominess; a Great Cabin the likes he had never seen. The bed stretched out on the right and looked to be a double size. An oak desk with nautical carvings of sirens laying on rocks adorning the top edges sat in the center of the cabin just in front of a large pane glass window. Charts, and what appeared to be a journal or captain's log, laid scattered about the top. To the left was a book shelf built into the side of the wall. Books and rolled documents - some sealed in red waxed some broken open – were shoved in the shelves. A brass spyglass stood on a tripod to the right of the window.
Walking around the desk, the Admiral bent over perusing the chart.
“What think ye, Admiral?” Cutch asked peering at the chart from the front of the desk.
“Looking at our location and where you say your ship was attacked, it appears as though the creature is traveling along the English trade route from England to the Bahamas’s.”
“A plenty o’ ships t’ chose from, aye Admiral?”
“Indeed, Cutch,” the Admiral answered sliding his right index finger along the route. “I believe I know exactly where to find the rascal!”
Cutch smiled with delight, “Indeed, sir, toward th’ Bahamas.”
“We’ll work Tatum on this, Cutch. Have the men start loading the cannons.”
“Tatum it is, sir. An’ a well made plan.” Cutch turned about and headed for the deck anxiously ready to kill the beast.
During their search, taking the better part of two weeks, late one night, Barbeque, who knew about the ship's involvement in the destruction of the Barbary Pirates, along with the aid of Roland and Gunner, secretly changed the name of the ship from the HMS Newcastle to The Devil’s Own. The naval officers were none the wiser during their entire mission.
On the thirteenth day, a large shadow appeared off the bow of the ship. A sailor lying on the bowsprit tending to the rigging was the first to notice and call out.
“Dark water straight ah…”
In a few moments, there came a hard jolt to the ship’s hull throwing some of the sailors off their feet.
“Steady, boys,” the Admiral called out.
Another jolt, then the large fifty-gun vessel began to creak loudly as it tilted to the right.
Swiftly, a large, rotting arm with suckers throbbing wrapped around the sailor snapping the bowsprit into and quickly pulled him under causing the ship to rock forward. Cutch stood in a crow’s nest at the mainmast peering down at the beast as the drums began beating the quarters.
“No time fer formalities,” Cutch yelled down to the Admiral who stood proudly next to the helmsman. “Be tellin’ those boys t’ throw down their drumsticks and pick up a musket!”
“I’ve trained these men for just an occasion, Cutch,” the Admiral yelled back up appearing unshaken.
“This be no normal occasion, ye bloody blaggard,” Cutch said mockingly under his breath.
Barbeque came up from the galley banging two large pots together, “Steer ‘em this way mates, I got th’ water boiln,” A sailor from the Royal Navy who had fired a shot at the Kraken's head that went wide missing his mark, looked over at him as though he was insane.
One of the large arms swept across the foredeck knocking eight sailors and the Commodore into the sea. With a rope tied around his waist, Roland swung down from the crow’s nest at the foremast, harpoon at the ready. Aiming for the head, he threw with all his might burying a foot of the metal shaft into its right orb; the beast roared in torment. Roland landed on the forecastle where Gunner handed him another. Taking the harpoon, Roland climbed the rope back to the crow’s nest as Gunner fired a musket shot at the Kraken's mantle. The ball bounced off and plopped into the sea. It rolled its creamy left eye toward Gunner and with one large raised arm swung down exploding the forecastle into splinters, and Gunner was gone.
The officers became frantic barking nonsensical orders as the sailors ran back and forth on the deck in disarray.
“Holy Mother of God, save us,” said the Admiral with trembling knees.
“Roland!” yelled Captain Cutch, “Swing over the bastard once more and sink that harpoon into its blubbery mantle.”
Roland looked over to Cutch and noticed he stood atop the mainmasts’ crow’s nest, long-coat flailing in the wind and lit grenades in each hand. “What are ye going t’ do, Cap’n?”
“Swing, boy, swing!” Cutch yelled eyeing the slowmatch fuses.
Roland leaped from the foremast flying between webs of flailing arms and threw a true shot, dead center of the mantle. Cork would have been proud. As before, the Kraken reared its head back with a mighty roar as Cutch dove from the nest with the grenades held out in front.
“It’s been an honor, boys,” yelled Captain Cutch.
“Sink ’em, Cap’n,” yelled Barbeque.
Standing on what was left of the forecastle, Roland’s eyes welled up as he watched his beloved Captain disappear into the Kraken's yawning beak. The Kraken with the Captain in its gullet sunk beneath the waves. All went silent.
The sailors and officers that survived the horrific ordeal ran to the edge of the ship only to see foam and bubbles popping at the surface.
“Well?” yell the Admiral to Lieutenant Cooper.
“I’m not sure, sir.”
Then a loud explosion broke the surface spraying sea and octopus into the air and onto the deck drenching the men. Barbeque skipped about catching as much octopus in his pans as he could.
With wounds tended and the deck cleared of the foul smell of rotting octopus, for his part in the demise of the Kraken, that evening the Admiral invited Roland to dine with him and what remained of the senior officers.
“A toast to Captain Cutch,” said the Admiral raising his wine glass.
“A toast,” they all said in unison.
Barbeque entered carrying a silver platter of sliced, pink octopus with green garnish decorating the edges and cherry tomatoes in the center. “Revenge is sweet. Eat up, matey’s!” He noticed the Admiral eyeing it closely. “No sir, that’s not really the beast. No amount of season’ can make th' undead lively again.”
Laughter came from the officer’s mess hall as The Devil’s Own sailed toward the British Isles for repairs.
He has short stories published at Spillwords, Dastaanworld and Cafelit. His story, ‘The Rider’, was nominated as Publication of the Month in October 2018 as well as ‘Grandfather’s Clock’ as a featured piece at Spillwords. ‘The Lonely Traveler’ received a special mention at Cafelit.
He presently resides in Southern California with his wife Donna.