Flotsam

Flotsam

A Story by R J Fuller
"

How important is survival? At any cost? In any way? Or must a regimen be maintained?

"
Not a very big vessel; no, far from it, but built for its purpose of transportation across the vast ocean between distant shores. And here was this random ship on this day, moving with the waves on its journey to the far-off locale for those on board.
The burly crew of able-bodied seamen and miscreants tossed rope and turned sails to catch sufficient wind.
"Oy! If we could catch the wind what you've been making, matey, we could reach our destination in no time!" followed by gruff laughter.
Young Whit was new on this vessel, living the stuff of novels to be famouse some day, but he would be surprised to learn the likes of his present existence would one day be something numerous readers around the world would marvel over. The experience was exhausting and he had doubts if he would ever make such a voyage again after this. Little did he realize, he was correct.
Whit carried two buckets of water down into the hold for the ship's cargo. As he entered the dank stench of below deck, there were moans and groans greeting his arrival with water. He handed what he could to the extended hands seeking refreshment, then turned to get more, stating, "I have to get more water," though he knew they could not understand him.
As he started up the stairs, he hesitated and turned to see one dark figure in the sweltering black looking right at him with unflinching eyes. Whit stared back for a moment, then continued on to retrieve more water for those still seeking relief.
The ship proceeded on its path across the crashing waves, tossing the craft to and fro. Sustenance was not something to be pleased with. Whit was so disgusted with the offering during dinner, he stood to leave the company of his fellow sailors, taking the stomach-turning item with him, then ventured back among the cargo and all their cries of anguish.
Whit sat on the step and casually looked over once more to the figure who watched him earler, still sitting, still staring. Whit tossed to unsightly morsel to him, getting it close enough to him. The figure reached out and retrieved it, glad to have anything to eat than the usual offerings.
Whit was about to stand and leave when he saw the figure nod toward him, as if thanking Whit for the food. Whit pondered the situation a bit, then somewhat nodded back and made his way upstairs.
The waves grew rougher, the wind blew at the ship, sending it spiraling to and fro on the crashing watery torrents.
"Man overboard!" went the cry, but no one could do anything. The storm was getting worse. No one could hear the captain's orders, there was no assuming any positions. A door broke way, the wheel was swept into the sea.
Finally the only thing to do was give the order to abandon the vessel.
Whit heard no order, but simply saw sailors struggling to enter lifeboats and get them away from the ship, which truth be told, he questioned, but it seemed the obvious deduction was the ship wasn't going to make it.
A sailor looked at Whit and spouted something he couldn't hear, probably ordering him to get to the lifeboat, but Whit turned and staggered below deck, wading through water just above his ankles.
He reached his intention in the darkness, to the sounds of mass screams of hysteria. Whit had grabbed the key and made his way to the main lock and removed it from the chain, then pulled the chain from its binding around all the ankles of those detained. Some quickly hurried to the dim light of the door, others did not move. Once all the chains had been removed for the unfortunate figures, Whit turned to make his way out, only to be stopped by the glaring figure from before.
Whit feared he would harm him, so he hoped to get the fellow to understand, "the women! The women!"
Whit made his way along the rolling hallway to the next holding area and threw open the door, filling the air with shrill screams. He was pushed aside by scores of native women, seeking to escape this wretched tomb and make their way on deck, for all the good it would do them.
Whit didn't know where the one who watched him had gone to. Hopefully helping some of these ladies, Whit thought to himself. He was pushed against the wall in the dark and with the roll of the ship, he seemed to be on the floor. Then all went silent.
When Whit opened his eyes once more, the sun was shining bright and the sea was calm and still. He coughed a bit, blinded by the overhead day, then slowly sought to sit up. He reached out to grab an object to pull himself up and comprehended he was in a lifeboat. Once he was upright, he slowly looked about him, shaking his head to help his eyes adjust to the light and saw nearly a dozen dark faces staring back at him.
"I . . . . " Whit began, then stopped. None of them spoke English. He pulled himself against the side of the boat to look at everyone. In no time, he spied the only bit of familiarity he saw in the crowd, the staring one from below whom he had given his lunch. He sought to smile and give a nod, but the figure remained unmoving. Whit struggled up some more, then looked out over the water, reflecting sunlight like shining bright blades of flame.
Some of the natives spoke. Whit didn't know if it was about him, or something else. He tried to recall if everyone abducted had come from one or more tribes, but he couldn't remember. So they might be as strange to each other as he is to them. He looked to each individual face, as if to see some friendliness or explanation, and not surprisingly, each expression came back with hostile resentment. Well, he thought, he couldn't blame them.
Gradually, Whit began to realize the natives were not speaking to each other; they were speaking to him, or trying to. One young woman became rather exasperated in her speech, talking to him. Whit feared she might strike. A dark young man then also spoke and Whit realized they were not looking at him, they were looking out to sea.
Whit turned in their direction and saw a figure on obviously a piece of debris, waving weakly to the small vessel. Without hesitation, Whit reach out into the water and seized a long piece of driftwood from the wreck and began using it to paddle toward the figure, not knowing if it would be another native or not.
The craft drew closer and then the form began likewise swimming toward the survivors. Once the person reached the edge of their sanctuary, Whit noted all the occupants somewhat hanging back. Whit knew what this meant.
A hand reached up and grabbed the side of the boat, a white hand. Whit was the only one to help the figure into the safety. Everyone eyed the fellow suspiciously. Whit was somewhat nervous as well with the predicament.
He had just hauled his ship's captain on board.
"Now why did ya go and free this lot, Mr. Whit? Looks like we're stuck with them," the captain growled between gasps.
"They deserved a chance to survive as well, sir, for whatever good it may do any of us."
"They deserve nothing. Should have crew in this lifeboat, not these creatures."
"Captain, I came to in this lifeboat. One of them had to have saved me." If Whit believed it to be the tall fellow, he didn't give hint of this to the captain. The captain might decide Whit felt indebted to the native and opt to end such indeptedness by harming the fellow.
"Well," said the captain, "appears if nothing else, we have a suitable selection of females," giving a leer toward the women present.
"Captain, I don't think we are much in charge here."
"Nonsense, I'm the captain," he roared and stood to grab the nearest female by the arm. Two of the men stood and prevented him from doing so.
"You dare disobey the captain?"
Whit looked at the only other person who could speak English in total bemusement. "Sir, sir, please. Perhaps you had best sit over this way, in the bow."
"I am the captain!"
"Yes, sir, but you really need to rest, sir. Just try to rest a bit."
The captain gave a snort and moved himself toward the direction Whit suggested. The gruff seadog sat for a bit, looking somewhat angry, especially at the two guys who prevented him from seizing the woman, mumbled to himself "I'm the captain" and in the bright warm noon day sun, eventually nodded off to sleep.
Whit looked at the snoozing captain for a bit, then turned to the natives.
"What now?"
They glared back at him a bit, and even when they began talking, he wasn't able to determine if it was to him or about him or not. There was a bit of conversation going on amongst them after a while, so Whit decided to just lower his head and close his eyes as well and try to rest.
The banter of the natives was indistinguishable to him, so he simply let his mind wander with the sound of dialogue and the rustling waves.
Whit then became aware that one voice seemed to be talking more than the others. A female voice and it was speaking right into his ear. He opened his eyes to see a woman just mere inches from his face, seemingly talking to him. Once again he had to follow her eyes and turned to see what fascinated her.
There before them all was a vast shoreline of towering trees and hillsides. Several of the men paddled in various ways to reach the sandy shore.
Whit turned to the captain and called out, "Captain! Captain, we have found land!"
The old man stirred from his rest and looked about, frowning.
"Land? It is their land, no doubt. We hadn't gone very far before we hit that storm!"
"Yes, sir, I know."
"We have paid for these persons here, Mr. Whitney. We can't allow them to escape!"
"Captain, we need them to show us how to survive in their land."
"Nonsense! We won't be staying! Turn this vessel around and head toward the shipping lanes. We should reach it in three or four months, tops."
"Captain, . . . . "
"Five at the most."
"Captain, you have no way of giving orders."
"I am the captain!"
"Sir, you have no weapons. You have no crew!"
"Is this a mutiny, Mr. Whitney?"
All the while, the natives had steered the boat toward the shore, so now they could get out and push it inland. Whit hopped out and joined them.
"I want to be on dry land, sir. If a ship makes it this way, I'll join them. We can join them when we see one."
"Mutiny, Mr. Whitney! My duties are to get these natives to market in America. I'll see you hang for this treachery, Mr. Whitney!"
"Sir, we can stay here and if another ship turns up, we'll join them."
"I will not be living among the trees and animals like a savage, Mr. Whitney! I am a man of the sea, sworn to my duty!"
With that, the captain lashed out at the young native lad nearest the boat, striking him and sending him splashing to the water. One of the women helped him up and he reacted in a vengeful manner toward the captain. Another native likewise was moving toward the lifeboat, but Whit intervened, sensing the captain's folly. 
The captain had already picked up the piece of driftwood Whit used earlier as a paddle and held it up like a weapon, then began rowing back out to sea. 
"You'll hang, Mr. Whitney! Mark my words, oh, you'll hang!" shouted the captain as he ventured out further and further, tossing about on rolling water.
Whit watched him a while. He heard the female native speaking once more and turned to see she was addressing him. He looked once more to the captain, who now was too far out for his words to be intelligable. Whit just wanted to make sure he was good and gone, having rowed far enough away, he couldn't come back.
The natives spoke to one another, then began walking. Whit simply followed as he could do no more. They stopped, he stopped. He liked when they laughed. He realized it was usually the same one who made everyone laugh, but when Whit tried to smile at him, he would scowl and turn away. Even the young girl who spoke to him the most seemed to have moments of disdain toward him.
At night, Whit slept because he was too tired to grow suspicious. He was the oddity, and he was alone. He ate what they offered, and did not refuse it.
After about two or three days, the group had made their way back to a shoreline, for whatever reason, Whit couldn't imagine. Catch fish?
One of the lads approached Whit and held out an object to him. He immediately recognized it as the driftwood paddle the captain was using. Perhaps the captain had made his way back to shore, for whatever reason? Or perhaps he had capsized.
Whit couldn't believe the captain would return to the land. He looked at the driftwood, then at the young native and gave a nod of understanding and tossed it aside.         

© 2020 R J Fuller


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Added on June 27, 2020
Last Updated on October 16, 2020