We Can't Do When

We Can't Do When

A Story by R J Fuller

What mystifies one sector of the world's population can in turn be a reward for another.

They were in total darkness. The air was stifling, but now the predicament had them tossed to and fro in the dark, and with the manacles about their feet, they were slammed against the floor or wall and each other. They cried out in misery, in absolute agony. There were calls for help, but no assistance appeared. The roars beyond their captivity likewise provided anxiety. What had brought them to this place, this moment? 

Water managed to seep in and when it did, those who blindly obtained upon their person sought desperately to lap it up, they were so parched from being denied liquid. Plus water getting into their confinement could spell their doom with no way of undoing their bonds. 

Another massive crash, followed by yet another jarring roar, then they heard frightful wails and muffled screams go up in the distance. The cries persisted, but in their confinement, there was nothing they could do, but listen to women cry out in terror. 

Yet another massive hurl, swung across the prison once more, striking each other, hitting, hurting, unable to see to try to dodge or move out of the way. One of the largest of the captives had managed to grasp a rail of sorts and hold himself secure. That prevented him from being projected, but not others around him. He was close enough to the door, when he suddenly heard a pounding and call for help. He looked toward the sound of the cries, straining to hear against the men who were bruised and weary from this nightmare. There was no way to silence them in this black tomb. 

He cried to the voice, saying his name was Olu. It was so difficult to yell, over all the ruckus and commotion. Another toss actually lifted Olu into the air, then brought him down again on the surface. 

The voice beyond the door insisted she wanted to help, but how could she do this? She couldn't see anything. She told Olu the large sail on the ship had fallen and broke into the women's containment. She was able to crawl out and try to find her way about on the ship, once she determined there were no white men on board. 

Olu felt they were given a truly fortuitous moment. He called out to the female to try to find the metal ring with the devices for locking the door on it. He watched the white men pick it up from hanging on the wall. 

She cried she couldn't see. He yelled back she must try, for all their sakes. He heard another female voice cry out the name, "Amahle!" Another female must have made her way across the rain and wind-swept deck. 

Olu heard the strange noise of the metal and a very excited reply. She found the keys in the darkness. He instructed her to try to stick one of the items called keys into a small opening to unlock the door. 

Another torrential slam. The woman screamed on the other side of the door. Water was still managing to seep in. The other voice cried out to Amahle again. They were afraid. 

Olu could only listen to the fumbling, shaking, scrambling to try to figure out how to unlock this door. That was all she had to do, then once he got the keys, he knew how to undo the fetters. He had watched his captors. 

Another toss. The two women beyond the door cried fitfully. They wept as they tried so anxiously to get the door open, but sensed the futility of it all. 

The door popped open. She finally managed to do it. The men cried out when the most absolutely faintest hint of light came through the door. 

Olu quickly called out to her to give him the keys. Remove the keys from the lock and give it to him. 

Once again, Amahle struggled, but the women now comprehended if the key could be turned one way to open the door, it could be turned again to be removed from the door. She pulled the key lose and had also removed the padlock. She handed both of them to Olu. 

Olu flung the padlock away and reached for the chains around his feet. He sought to undo the lock, but it didn't work. He then realized there was a second key. He'd have to try it, too, until one managed to open the restraint. 

Success would not be denied. Olu removed the chains from about his feet, allowing each and every man on down the line to do likewise. They stumbled like children trying to learn to walk again. Olu's ankles were so sore, he could barely stand. The deafening tirade of wind and wave outside the ship didn't make it any easier. Gradually other men sought to be upright as well.  

Amahle came to Olu's aid. He handed the key back to her, instructing her to put it where she found it, if she could in the dark. Best way to find it was to return it, in case they needed it again. Now they must determine if there were any white men left on the ship. Olu made his way to the prison door. 

All went quiet. The men continued to free themselves, but they too noticed once they stopped talking, everything beyond the darkness was silent, and still. They were no longer propelled through the air and the monstrous growls of thunder had likewise ceased to be. 

Olu told them to continue freeing themselves, but follow him. They had to determine what became of the white men. Olu slowly made his way up the stairs from below deck. He pushed the door open onto the upper deck and leaned back inside. Amahle and the others shielded their eyes as well. It was a bright glow. Blinding bright glow. So radiant. What was it from? Olu slowly opened the door, allowing eyes that had been locked in darkness to adjust to the fire. Their vessel must be burning. But there were no flames. 
They slowly stepped out onto the deck, still drenched from rain, but now twinkling in bright sunlight above in a clear blue sky. Gradually they looked about with caution, but no white man was to be seen. Olu called for the entire ship to be searched to make sure the white men were gone. Several of the freed men moved about to explore the vessel. He looked out on the glistening sea. What had become of the waves and wind, lightning and thunder? 

The mast still sat broken into the women's prison. Amahle and the other girl ran to the opening and began trying to pull the twisted sail from the opening, to show the women it was okay to emerge. Slowly they made their way on deck too, along with the men. The vessel just slowly swayed in the still air. Soft waves washed against the ship. 

Olu deduced the white men had abandoned the ship in the storm, fearing for their lives, leaving their captives to fend for themselves. Suddenly a cry came out that a white man had been found. One lone fellow. Two men dragged him out onto the deck and tossed him before Olu. Slowly the man stirred and moved about. Olu watched him, trying to place how he had seen him when their treacherous journey began. 

The elderly man crawled about and spoke words Olu and the others could not comprehend. One of the other men kicked at the old man, to wake him up. Olu instructed him not to do that. They needed to know where they were and what had happened. The old man turned over and looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. Once he managed to position himself so he could see a bit more clearly, he grasped he was surrounded by massive, young black men who were not pleased to see him. He garbled a few incoherent words in a language the natives could not speak. He seemed to be pleading with them, groveling before them, totally afraid of them. 

He urinated on himself in absolute terror at his predicament. Several of the natives observed as the crotch of his pants became saturated with moisture. 

Olu said for some men to help the white man to his feet. Olu tried asking what had happened to the crew, the other white men, pointing at the fellow and waving his hand to signify the others like him. The elderly fellow pointed at ropes, trying to indicate the others had escaped the ship in lifeboats. The old man walked to the edge of the railing and looked out. He asked something, but none of the natives knew what he was saying. 

Olu was about to order the white man be taken to the prison and chained up as they had been, while they tried to figure out what to do with him and make certain there were no other white men still on board, when he cast his eyes in the distance to see a peculiar shape on the horizon. Could it be the white men returning? He instructed the old white fellow to be held, but no harm to come to him. The object came closer. Perhaps it was a sail as this vessel had carried. The shape appeared to be of a similar making. Bright in color. 

Amahle stood next to Olu, watching the form grow closer. The strange monolith was actually coming toward them, as they were not moving, unless they were being drawn to it. It was as big as a mountain, but hardly earthen in color. Now even the white man had stepped forward and watched in amazement at what was about to befall all of them. Some of the women turned away, fearing what they might see. Uncertain about what was to be delivered unto them. And ever so slowly, ever so quietly, the object came closer. It was all but gliding across the water. 

Then a massive sound filled the air, causing many of those aboard the small ship to jump and scramble to hide. It was the roar of a beast now making its way to them. Some deep sea creature that has come to the surface. Olu watched as the menacing noise ceased, then started again, sending vibes shooting all throughout his body. Even the white man had fallen to the deck, his hands over his ears. Amahle still stood next to Olu, but she likewise was covering her ears and wailing to drown out the dreadful noise. 

The roar stopped, then started again, as the object came even closer with Olu standing perfectly still and watching. The event just seemed to be a clear image of the sky coming toward them, but the closer it came, the shade changed, seemed to become darker. Many of those who had cried and even fled below deck out of fear of the noise returned to stand behind Olu. The white man even stood back up and cringed behind two massive male forms. Then the mighty spectacle stopped moving toward them. They saw smoke, like cooking coming from the structure. And finally a voice called out to them from the sky above, but in a dialect none of them, not even the white man, could speak. It was then they spied figures, much like themselves moving about on the top of form. Men were also visible elsewhere, but most of them seemed to be on the upper surface. 

The voice called out again, but still no response. Time passed slowly. Olu never took his eyes off of this monstrous object, that is, as far as he could behold it. Amahle cried out and pointed, but Olu had already seen it; a smaller craft of sorts with men aboard emerged from the gargantuan and now they were approaching the ship on which Olu stood, but with a rather astonishing speed. Some of the men seemed ready to fight off these persons as if they were a threat, but Olu motioned for them to stop. 

The first man to appear was garbed in peculiar attire. He was followed by several others, some of Olu's hue, others like the white man with them. Olu looked to the old white man and he too was puzzled by what he was seeing. He tried speaking to one of them. Once again, they didn't seem to understand his language, until finally a breakthrough. One of the new arrivals responded to the old man's words. The old man leapt with astonishment and moved toward the fellow. 

"Whitney," the first man called to the one who communicated. 


"Are you able to speak to this man?"

"Yes, Officer Moore," Whitney answered. "He's ah, Dutch, sir, and speaking in a very ancient tongue." 

"Well, what does he say? Who are they? Why are they here?"

Whitney spoke to the old man a bit more. Olu watched as the old white man conferred with this new arrival. He stealthfully looked at the other strangers who now stood with them. Several of the young men seemed to be eyeing the females who still stood unclothed, tho a few had managed to find garments for dressing to conceal themselves. 

"He says his name is Timmerman, sir. He was a cook on the ship Zeemeermin. They were carrying newly acquired . . . . slaves to . . . . to America. Their ship ran into a storm." 

"Are you messing with me, Whitney?"

"No sir, that's what he said. They abandoned him, as best as I can make it, because he was too drunk when they were evacuating. Next thing he knew, he was brought to by several of these fellows here."

Olu continued to watch the strangers. Several of them had ventured forth to explore the ship. Olu looked up at the other vessel. How huge it was. How foreboding. 

"Are you telling me these people were captured to be slaves?"  

"Yes, sir, that's what Timmerman says, sir." 

Some of the other figures came forth after examining the ship to report what they found. 

"Officer Moore, this, . . . the entire ship, sir. It's like something out of a movie, sir. Everything we could find seemed to be designed from several hundred years ago, but it all appears to be new, or just a few years old."

Moore contacted the ship with his communicator. 

"Find out if there is anyone on board who might speak a form of African dialect. Whitney, where does he say he got these people?" 

"West Africa, sir." 

Moore continued. "Anyone who can speak the language from West African countries." 

The request was affirmed and the officer would be joining them on the ship. One of the crewmen on the deck whispered to another fellow. 

"What's that, sailor?"

"I said, it's going to be Mitchell, sir. Being able to speak the language. I think Mitchell has studied several of them fluently from the region."

"Well, then, let's hope Mitchell gets here as soon as possible." Moore looked about, then calmly stated, "see if we can find some attire for these people." 

By the time the second craft appeared with Mitchell, many of the natives had been coerced into covering themselves. Mitchell appeared from over the side of the ship and approached Moore. 


"Officer Moore." 

"The men who confirmed it would be you failed to emphasize you would be a woman, so more power to you and to them. Mitchell, we need you to see if you can speak to these people and try to find out what brought them to be here on this ship. This big fellow appears to be the leader of sorts."

Mitchell looked at the assembly and then to Olu. She examined his face and began speaking in a language. Olu looked at the beautiful woman, startled and surprised. He spoke to her and she listened, then determined another verse was more accurate. She spoke to Olu in that language and a murmur went out over the natives. Olu spoke clearly to her, told her of their plight and what they had endured. She listened, then turned back to Moore. 

"As I suspected from looking at them, sir," Mitchell began, "they are from Ghana, but he speaks a rather archaic form of their language. His name is Olu, and he has appointed himself to be in charge of these people, since he says their chief was murdered."


"Yes, sir. By those who captured them."

Moore and several others looked to Timmerman who was talking to Whitney. Whitney had to quiet Timmerman down to make him cease talking. 

"Sir," Whitney managed, "sir, I've asked Timmerman about this ship and he's told me the President of the United States was . . . . Jackson. Andrew Jackson." 

Moore looked at Timmerman rather confusedly, then turned to Mitchell. 

"President Jackson? But he was President almost two hundred years ago." 

Moore looked about over the ship, then began giving orders. 

"Right. Whitney, you accompany that man Timmerman back onboard the Karen Ann. Have him checked out, but stay with him. Anything he says, I want to know about it." 

"Aye, sir," Whitney replied and began explaining to Timmerman he would be joining him on their ship. Timmerman cast a nervous look back, mainly to Olu and the other intended slaves, as they seemed to be the only people as confused as he was about what was all going on.

"Now, Mitchell," Moore started again. "We have to transfer these people to the Karan Ann to have them checked out and find out what exactly we are dealing with here."

"One moment, sir," Mitchell said as she now explained everything to Olu and anyone else listening. "I was telling him what our intentions are, that we want to check them out to make sure they are okay. Do you think it is wise, sir, for us to walk among them and run the risk of exposing them to any of our germs?"

"They would have already encountered those germs when the crew of the Zeemeermin abducted them, but we'll check into that. Let's get this ship secured alongside the Karen Ann as well. We don't want to lose it!" 

Moore remained on the ship to examine it some more and to supervise the removal of all the former prisoners. They assembled in small groups and journeyed one after the other where a makeshift medical facility had been set up on a lower deck on the Karen Ann. Many of the figures were placid at their new surroundings, mainly from exhaustion. 

"Who on Earth would be gathering slaves in this day and age?" Moore said to Mitchell. 

"The sex slave trade is thriving, sir, unfortunately," Mitchell replied. 

"But that reference to Andrew Jackson," Moore pondered. "Are we in a scifi setting here?"

"Sir," Mitchell stated, "this is about the last of the Ghanans to be going."

"Zeemeermin secured?"

"Yes, sir." 

"Well, I guess we'll join these last few and journey back on board." 

None of the natives became upset or disruptive. Another soldier also spoke some of the language they seemed to recognize and he was able to communicate with them until they were joined by Mitchell. 

Moore looked over all of them, and then to Whitney with Timmerman, the sad, little abandoned cook. As many of the natives came to the completion of their basic examination, they would stretch out on a blanket provided to slumber after their ordeal. 

"Are we to continue on to the U.S., sir?" a young soldier inquired. 

Moore stood quietly for a moment, then answered with, "no." 


"Get on the radio and see who all is nearby. If you find a Dutch ship or an African ship, tell them we have survivors and we'll tell them all we know."

Mitchell looked at Moore. "We're not taking them to America, sir?" 

"Why would we do that? They've never been there. They don't even know what it is, except Timmerman and whatever America he experienced is long gone, if these people are somehow truly from two hundred years ago. They would just be sensationalized by a relentless publicity machine that would show no mercy."  

"Bermuda Triangle, sir," a sailor quipped as he approached. 

Moore looked at him. "Come again?"

"We're near the Bermuda Triangle. Either they came through it, or we went through it and found them. Since we're contacting other ships, I guess we can only deduce we are in our present and they came through it. My guess would be when they said the weather suddenly changed was when they crossed."

"Thank you, sailor." 

"Sir," the sailor continued, "we've contacted a West African freighter and told them what we have, best as we could, approximately two-hundred West Africans . . . . needing to go home. They let us know how long it would take to reach us." 

"Thank you again, sailor." 

Mitchell looked at many of the natives and seemed rather forlorn. 

"You were wanting to take them to America?" 

"I guess so, sir," she sighed, "but maybe it is better to send them at least back to where they came from, since we can't do when, and even if we could send them back, . . . "

"They'd be slaves," Moore concluded. "We can't rely on the supernatural, so we will do what we can with what we have. Timmerman will likewise be returned to his homeland." 

It took a moment to contact a vessel of Timmerman's make, but finally one was notified around the same moment the West African ship approached the Karen Ann. Mitchell explained to Olu and the others that they would be going back to their native land, but things will have changed. 

Olu asked if the change would be what they were seeing now on the Karen Ann, and she basically confirmed for him that would be the case. Once again, a small boat approached the Karen Ann and men disembarked, this time looking remarkably similar to Olu and his tribesmen, as well as they managed the language. Olu could not help but think they were truly going home, one way or another. Already several figures who came from the West African vessel had spoken to Olu as his fellow survivors were assembled and taken away. 
A smaller craft from the Netherlands appeared to take Timmerman home as well. Many of the last natives had boarded their equally mystifying ship from their home country as they departed the Karen Ann, until finally only Olu and Amahle, with a few others were left. They would make the last journey to the distant ship of their native tongue.

A couple of fellows from the crew of the small Dutch vessel also came aboard and spoke to Timmerman, quite astonished at what they were hearing. 

"You know as much as we do," Moore told members of both crews, and pointed at the Zeemeermin as to where they originated. Any time travel that might be involved would have to be for them to determine with Olu, Timmerman and all the others in their respective charge. 

Olu was about to leave the Karen Ann when he detected a hesitation. He looked about to see Timmerman, ready to join his countrymen as well. They were all heading into a truly great mystery, the likes of which they couldn't imagine, but Olu had nearly 200 people to be with him. Timmerman had no one. Olu stared at Timmerman, the lowly crewman, then turned away from him and proceeded to disembark the Karen Ann. Timmerman then did the same to return to a land two hundred years in the future. 

The three vessels parted. Moore, Mitchell and Whitney stood on the deck and thought about what all had happened. 

"Was any of it real?" Whitney asked. 

"Well," Moore stated, "the Netherlands will be getting a single man from two centuries ago, Africa will have two hundred new residents, and I guess we'll take the ship back to the states, even tho it is a Dutch ship."

With that, Moore turned to see where the Zeemeermin was secured alongside the Karen Ann, only to find no wooden slave ship whatsoever where it should have been. Only flailing loose ropes were to be seen. 

The Zeemeermin had vanished.

"Do you suppose Timmerman and the others vanished as well?" Whitney asked. Moore simply stared at the horizon and said nothing.  

© 2021 R J Fuller

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Added on March 22, 2021
Last Updated on March 22, 2021
Tags: time travel, slavery, American history, escape