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In The Dark And The Deep - Steve Vernon's Sea Tales Book #1

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IN

THE

DARK,

IN THE DEEP

By

Steve Vernon

Steve Vernon Sea Tales Book #1

STARK RAVEN PRESS

In The Dark, In The Deep

Steve Vernon Sea Tales Book #1

Author: Steve Vernon

Cover Art: Humble Nations

ISBN-13: 978-1-927765-08-1

First Shakespir Printing – August 20, 2013

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and above publisher of this book.

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To the sea that swims

in

all of us…

Introduction

I am a storyteller, first and foremost.

My natural habitat is close to the campfire and I breathe words the way that some men smoke.

I have lived by the ocean for nearly four decades. I have listened to the waves talking to the shoreline. I have heard the old ghost stories told around a thousand campfires. I have listened to the sea gulls complaining about the fishing.

This is the first of what will be a series of stories based around the sea.

You don’t have to read every one, any more than you have to count every wave that rolls up to slap itself upon the beach.

Come here and give a listen.

I’ve got a tale for the telling.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

In The Dark and the Deep

It happened that fast.

A torpedo track, furrowing the water, passed straight abaft of our corvette, the Thistle. There was a muffled crump of impact. A mere seventy-five yards away from us, the tanker Cassandra settled and tilted, taking on water fast.

“Man the depth charges,” our captain sang out.

The order was instinctive and unnecessary. Men already stood by, ready to roll the fat deadly barrels from the stern rail. The crews of the port and starboard throwers launched another pair of depth charges into their high carved arcs. We spread the charges out as widely as possible, knowing that the U-boat would already be on the move, trying to evade our certain retaliation.

The depth charges were a blind luck measure. They sank slowly, giving the U-boat a lot of time to escape. It was almost impossible to aim them, and the hulls of the U-boats were so solid that only a near-direct hit would have any effect, but they panicked the U-boat crew, and more importantly, they gave our crew the much-needed feeling of accomplishment.

The asdic crew hunkered beneath their headsets, knowing full well that the rough water and the impact from the depth charges’ undersea explosions rendered their listening gear nearly useless.

We were aiming blind, as usual.

Fumes of petrol coiled up from the tanker like slow blue snakes curling hypnotically through the air. I saw the captain frozen at the helm for less than half of a second, his mind warring between trying to save the crew of the Cassandra or else hunting the U-boat.

A fragment of a second.

That’s how long a war can last, sometimes.

The Cassandra went up in a ball of fire. Men screamed in the flames, their lungs filling with oil, flame and sea water. The tanker – gutted and twisted into a dozen strange angles, slowly slid a little farther beneath the calm gulp of the cold gray Atlantic water.

Silhouetted by the lantern of the rising flames of the sinking tanker we saw the the U-boat, its deck crew frantically training their gun towards us.

He might have surfaced to finish the tanker off, or perhaps our depth charges had driven him up to the surface. We didn’t know, and it didn’t really matter. We hit them with everything we had. We pounded them with our 4-inch cannon, the steady 2-pounder pom-pom, the 40mm Oerlikons, and the big .50 caliber machine guns. Those who had pistols and rifles stood at the deck railing firing away like we had come to a pigeon shoot.

The gods of war smiled on the U-boat gun crew. They got off a single lucky round that neatly snapped our radio mast. That was their last good shot. We closed in on them, raking their deck mercilessly. A point-blank blast of our 4-inch cannon demolished the U-boat’s conning tower.

The U-boat was helpless. We could have ordered their surrender, but we weren’t in the mood for any kind of mercy.

War will do that to you.

At this point of the game it was nothing but simple retaliation. They had hurt us and now it was our turn to hurt them.

We moved in closer and began banging away in earnest.

And then the flames reached the Cassandra’s secondary tanks and the resulting explosion blasted the U-boat to the lowest region of hell. The blast rocked the Thistle, charring the port side of our vessel and damned near sinking us.

We cheered like a boatload of blood-crazed barbarians. Hurrah, blood had been spilt.

Hurrah, victory was ours.

It was our third day at sea, and we had suffered our first casualties.

Our luck was beginning to turn.

***

I volunteered for duty during the first year of the war.

I had originally wanted to fly for the RCAF, but my reflexes refused to test quite fast enough.

“Well,” I said, “if I am not good enough for the Air Force, then the Navy can have me.”

As far as I was concerned, it was the RCAF’s loss and the RCN’s gain.

I served my first day at sea on the twentieth anniversary of my birth. There were younger men on board than I. In fact, most of our crew was youngsters. The oldest sailor on the deck crew was barely thirty years of age, and we called him Pappy.

We had shipped out of Halifax, escorting an HX class convoy, bound from Halifax and headed towards Britain. It looked easy on the map, just a happy two-week jaunt from here to there.

Or rather a two-week jaunt through U-boat-infested waters. And as we got closer to the English Channel, we’d have the Luftwaffe Condors and the dive-bombing Stukas and patrols of German E-boats to watch out for.

It was as easy as falling overboard, and a little more dangerous.

Still, we made out fine.

We had a good crew.

Our captain was in his late forties, I would guess. We called him the old man when he wasn’t listening. He had the lean weathered look of a man who had spent most of his life upon the open sea and the rest of it impatiently waiting for his next mission.

Just as soon as I laid eyes on him, I decided that he was a man that I could trust with my life, yet there was one other whom I would come to rely upon in a far deeper fashion than mere trust.

***

I met Big Jimmy Noonan the first day I boarded, bumping into him as I stepped off of the gangplank. It was a little like banging face first into a solid brick wall, only not half as gentle.

“Well, I take it that ‘Grace’ is not your middle name,” he rumbled.

I stepped back. Big Jimmy Noonan was one of the biggest men I’d ever seen, his shoulders bowed like bow staves, his arms the thickness of hawser cable, with fists that could easily serve double duty as caulking mallets.

He fixed me with a once-over sweep of a stare, like a captain might eye an uncharted shoal that he was trying hard to fathom. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked to see a rank, but the fold of his sleeve seemed to obscure any sign of insignia or station. I didn’t know it yet, but that air of mystery was a style that Big Jimmy Noonan wore as easily as some men wear a hat.

“Don’t ‘sir’ me, boy. I work for a living, and you would do well to remember that. What’s your name?”

“William, sir. I mean—just William. William McTavish.”

“McTavish, is it?” he asked. “Well, you’re ‘Taffy’ from here on out, d’ya understand?”

I nodded.

“Keep a weather eye forward and the bean farts abaft of you, and you’ll make out just fine.”

He grinned and slapped me on the shoulder. I felt as if I had been issued a temporary stay of execution.

***

Two days had passed since the sinking of the Cassandra.

The sky was clear and the sea was calm and you scarcely would have known that there was a war going on.

“Look at that sun up there, shining away as blissful and blithe as care-you-not<” Big Jimmy Noonan said. “What d’ya think of that, Taffy my boy?”

I looked up and shrugged.

I guess that I didn’t get what he was going on about, but I reckoned that he would tell me soon enough.

Big Jimmy Noonan was a man built for illumination.

“It’s a sun, Jimmy,” I said. “Nothing more than a light in the sky. Means the weather’s good, I guess.”

“Not in the sky, young Taffy me lad. That there’s a light in heaven. God peeking down, having himself a squint. And d’ya think he sees us down there?”

I thought about that.

“God sees everything, I expect.”

“Wrong. That there God sees nothing. The old gaffer is as blind as Saul and twice as ill-tempered. Especially out here, in the dark of the deep water.” Jimmy went on. “Yes sir, the ocean is a kind of blind spot to the man. There are things out here that have been wandering lost and forgotten for a very long time.”

He scratched his head.

“And as for good weather, enjoy it while it lasts.”

“do you think it’s going to turn?” I asked.

Big Jimmy Noonan looked out to the sea, his eyes lonely thoughtful bullet holes, his cheeks puckering in and out like soft billowing sails. He nodded slowly, thinking things through.

“Rooster one day, feather duster the next,” Noonan said. “Take a look at that sky. See them clouds, piled and rolling like the waves? That there’s called a mackerel sky. It means that the weather is turning. Fronts are moving in. Take a long look at that sun, Taffy me lad. You won’t be seeing much of it any longer. A mackerel sky runs to rain and then maybe fog, out in these here parts.”

Big Jimmy Noonan shook his head softly, chewing on his thoughts and savoring them.

He was a big man, all angles and joints, like he had been cobbled together out of cold steel and rivets. He had a quiet way of looming, like he was waiting for something. There was a thickness about his neck and shoulders that spoke of a lifetime of toil. His head was haloed with an unruly shag of soft gray hair, tousled like the wind-tossed waves.

I watched a black backed gull wheeling and shouting high overhead.

“Now there’s a pretty sight,” Big Jimmy Noonan said, eyeing the capering gull. “We calls them coffin birds or preacher wings, on account of the black backed soot they wears on their wingtips. Flew too close to the sun, he did.”

Noonan was right. What a wondrous thing the gull was to watch. Soaring and sailing effortlessly through the heavens.

Big Jimmy Noonan smiled the kind of smile that the Creator might have worn on the morning after he’d finally finished his creating.

“No ship could sail as smooth or sweet as that bird eagling through that forever blue ocean of a sky.”

All at once, the bird exploded in a burst of feathers and meat. I looked and saw the cause of it. A sailor, bored with the calmness of the day, stood beside the 4-inch gun, a smoking rifle in his hand.

Big Jimmy Noonan did not waste a heartbeat. He loped across the deck, reached up and grabbed the top rail of the gun mount and pole-vaulted himself up and over the railing just as quick as the world’s largest flea. Then, before the target-shooter could utter so much as a word of protest, Big Jimmy Noonan snatched the rifle clear away and handed the sailor a clout that laid him out colder than a frozen mackerel.

Then Noonan whirled about, facing down the rest of the crew and the captain as well with a hard winter of a glare.

“Any man-jack that thinks it good sport to pop away at seagulls is flirting with their tombstone on this sailor’s ship!”

No one said a thing. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched what was left of the gull plummet from the sky to hit the waves with fat wet splash. Something in the water grabbed it, and it was gone. Our luck went bad from then on out.

***

Our job as convoy escorts wasn’t particularly glamorous. We were nothing more than glorified lorry men, seeing that the wood and the steel and the gasoline were delivered on time.

Quite simply, we were the lifeline.

Our own convoy consisted of twenty-one merchant ships lined and rowed up seven ships wide and three ships deep. Our escort consisted of one old lend-lease destroyer and three flower class corvettes, the Thistle being one of three.

The flower class corvette Thistle was a sturdy little tub of a vessel, scruffed together from the basic blueprints of a small whaler. Broad in beam with a blunt rounded stern, she certainly wasn’t fit for ocean travel, but the Navy needed us out there, so that’s where we went.

“She’s a wet ship, indeed,” Jimmy Noonan said. “Her arse end will tip up like a mud-sucking duck. She’ll roll on wet grass and turn you biscuits over gravy as quick as you can say puke.”

Then he fixed me with a stare as merciless as a gun sight.

“But count on her, Taffy me lad,” he went on. “She’s hell for stout when it comes to blow. Yes sir, when the water is high and the wind blows hard, you can count on the lady Thistle until the very end.”

***

It had been six days since we’d left Halifax.

Six days out to sea, and the sky started to rain.

Actually, “rain” was an understatement. It pelted, it drenched and it pissed straight down. What my old dad would have called “horizontal weather”—nothing but wet as far as the eye could see.

In weather like that, a man did well to stay indoors. Those who couldn’t clung grimly to the lifelines, to the railings, and to anything else God would give their hands strength enough to latch onto.

I was crouched in the doorway, officially on duty, but taking shelter along with Big Jimmy Noonan, who was holding forth as usual.

“Now there’s a rare blast, Taffy my lad. God’s great garden hose turned on full bore. That’s what rain is for, y’know. The washing away of old memories and long-forgotten sins. Cleans all, forgives all. No sir, I don’t believe in the confessional or the passing of verdicts. If you want to be truly shriven, just stand yourself out in the heart of a driving Nor’easter.”

At that, he stepped out into the downpour, feet planted and head turned upwards into the raging deluge.

I think that’s a picture I’ll always remember. The image of that great old ship hand, standing and grinning like a small boy in the hardest rain that fell since Noah donned gum rubbers.

“Oh, sweet swimming Christ,” Big Jimmy Noonan swore.

I looked past him, just in time to see a figure caught in the wash of a high stepping wave, sliding towards the railing.

Big Jimmy Noonan ran across the deck, taking his own life in his hands as he tried to save another. I saw the figure slipping over and through the lower railing, catching hold of the pipe rail and hanging on for dear life.

Big Jimmy Noonan acted without hesitation, throwing himself belly-down and sliding like a baseball player headed hell-for-leather for a hard third base. He could have just as easily slid off the deck himself, but he reached his big hand out forward and snagged the fallen man.

“Come on, Taffy!”

I couldn’t move. I was frozen to the doorway, held by fear and the unscrupulous instinctive sense of self-preservation.

“Taffy!”

He was calling for me. There was no one else in sight, and his big voice was drowned out by the wind and the rain and the roar of the ocean.

I stepped out towards him.

The ship reeled, and I fell to the deck.

And then I rallied.

“I’m coming, Jimmy!”

I might as well have been sending a telegram to hell. My voice was carried away with the wind.

I inched forward, trying to dig my fingernails through my sea mittens, hanging on to the salt encrusted deck, keeping my gaze squarely focused on Big Jimmy Noonan.

The Lord is my shepherd, I prayed to myself.

Inching closer. I could see them now, in the wild ocean torrent.

Big Jimmy Noonan lay spread-eagled on the deck, his big clamp of a hand wrapped around the smaller hand of the fallen man.

I turtle-crawled a little closer.

I could reach out now, and I did so. Twice, I nearly lost my grip. Any minute and another topside wave might wash all three of us to the merciless depths.

Reaching, reaching, I touched Big Jimmy Noonan’s oil skinned back.

And then we were alone.

Just the two of us.

The fallen man had slipped away.

We’d lost him.

“Come on, Jimmy,” I called. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Big Jimmy Noonan didn’t budge. He just knelt there in the driving rain, staring at his empty hand like it had a hole in it. Then he looked at me, his face all drawn and gray, streaked with tears, rain and brine.

Have you ever stared at a rain cloud sailing towards you on a cold clear Atlantic morning?

Big Jimmy Noonan whispered something that I could not hear.

I leaned closer. “What, Jimmy?”

He whispered it again.

“Me for him, Taffy,” he said. “Me for him.”

Then he forcibly gashed his wrist against the head of an exposed rivet, squeezing the meat of his arm with his free hand, letting the blood drip freely to the sea below.

I saw him mouth the words again, like a prayer or a spell.

Me for him.

It took six men to drag Big Jimmy Noonan down from off of that rain-soaked deck.

I walked off under my own steam, thinking thoughts too deep to measure.

Me for him.

***

When the weather cleared, we tallied our count until we figured out just who had fallen.

It was the sailor that Big Jimmy Noonan had slugged for shooting the seagull.

No one said a word.

Finally, the captain spoke.

“I’ll talk to him,” the Captain said, meaning Jimmy. “I’ll straighten him out. He’s taking it way too hard.”

I could hear the crisp military logic in the old man’s voice. This was a problem, and he would attack in as straightforward a manner as possible. As if Big Jimmy Noonan were a particularly convoluted knot that needed to be untangled.

Or cut.

“Let me try,” I said. “I know the man.”

The captain swiveled his gaze towards me.

“And do you think that man is a stranger to me?” he asked me, coldly.

I stared at him, letting the silence do its work, but he was too savvy a tactician to allow my attempt at manipulation.

“Speak up, man,” he ordered.

I straightened myself upright and composed my words just as carefully as I could manage.

“Well, sir, it’s like this. I was out there with him. He recognizes me as a part of his guilt. His shame, as it were. “

I looked down at my boots.

I looked back up at the captain.

“You know, he might listen to me,” I went on. “You’re his captain, after all. It seems to me that he would only see you as a figure of authority.”

The captain listened.

And then he nodded slowly.

“Very well,” he said. “Perhaps it would be simpler this way.”

He hadn’t really wanted the duty.

Who could blame him?

“He’s in the galley,” the captain told me.

So I went to talk to Big Jimmy Noonan.

***

Big Jimmy Noonan sat there on the bench, hunched over the table, spinning an unpeeled kitchen potato round and round.

“Are you fixing to cook some stew?” I asked, trying for a laugh. “Should I have brought my spoon?”

Jimmy didn’t say a thing.

He just kept spinning that damned potato.

“There’s easier ways of peeling that thing,” I pointed out.

Spinning and spinning.

“Have you lost your tongue, then?” I asked.

“Look at this damned root,” Big Jimmy Noonan finally said. “All eyes, and it can’t see a blasted thing.”

I sat and listened as Big Jimmy Noonan peeled bare his soul.

“This is us, Taffy me lad. Just a bunch of potatoes. Have you ever watched a potato boil? There’s not much for excitement. It just sits there in the water, dumb and unafraid, until the bubbles scud and muster about the bottom and then all at once she roars to a boil, and the potato is done.”

I shrugged.

“It takes a little more time than that,” I allowed.

“Time? What is time, then, Taffy me lad? Time is an ocean without no chart or fathom knot. It’s all a big stew pot, all boiled together. What unravels a week following Thursday might wind itself up the day before yesterday. Who’s to say that this bit of sweat on my brow might not have been pissed out by an Etruscan farmer a twice-handful of centuries ago?”

I laughed ruefully at that.

“You’re a deep one, Mr. Noonan.”

He smiled at my words.

“Deep, am I? Not as deep as those waters out there, Taffy me lad. Not as deep by half.”

I could feel him coming around, swimming out of those deep cold waters that he had been drowning in.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “You know that, don’t you?”

He smiled sadly and shook his head.

“Him for me, Taffy lad, him for me.”

He crushed the potato in his hand, making a soft mealy mess of the thing.

“I have lost at cards; I have lost at love, I have lost hope and I have lost my wits, but in all of God’s great creation—heaven, earth and sea—there is nothing so hard as losing a life.”

He dusted off his hands, letting the pieces of potato fall to the deck.

“I’ve struck a deal, them and I,” Big Jimmy said. “I have struck a deal in blood and salt.”

He smiled then, but the smile struck me as hollow and false.

“They will come in the fog, Taffy me lad,” Jimmy went on sadly. “The deal has already been struck.”

And that seemed to be the end of his funk, until two days later when the fog rolled in.

***

We had three days of it straight.

Three days with the sea a witch’s cauldron a-churn with mist.

It was a thick and a dense and a dank kind of fog – way past pea soup and deep into chowder.

On the fourth day, we tried shelling the fog.

“Old-time sailors believed that a blast of cannon fire could clear a cloudy sky or raise a fog,” Big Jimmy Noonan explained.

“Does it work, then?” I asked.

Big Jimmy Noonan shrugged.

“It makes as much sense as anything else in this bloody war.”

We were taking our leisure, a bit of down time, the two of us leaning on the railing and looking out to sea.

“There are strange things hiding in these waters, Taffy me lad. Strange and dark and terrible things,” Jimmy told me. “Did I ever tell you how I knew an old lighthouse keeper who swore that a sea serpent would hearken nightly to the sounding of his fog horn?”

He chuckled ruefully.

“How’s that for a tale, eh?”

It wasn’t that hard for me to believe, staring into the fog like I was. I could see shapes moving out there, dark things that might have crawled out of the bilge of a nightmare trawler.

“Who knows what lies out there in the darkness?” Big Jimmy asked. “Who knows what spirit the whisper of a single determined man might conjure up?”

He opened his mouth wide and let out a long soulful call that sounded more than a little like the crossing of sea beast and lighthouse blower.

“A-hooooowwwwggga! A-hooowwwgggggaaa.”

It was funny, you understand, but I just couldn’t bring myself to laugh. In fact, I could barely restrain myself from clamping a hand over Big Jimmy Noonan’s mouth.

He grinned, like he could figure my thoughts.

“You ever wonder what’s out there, Taffy me lad? Out there in the dark and the deep?”

He waved his hands out towards the waves, an old magician getting set to cast one final spell.

“These seas used to be alive with pirates and buccaneers. On the ledges, the banks and the high water, they sailed where they willed it, and no man could tell them any different.”

He smiled then, a kind of wistful haunting smile.

“Those were the good days.”

He spoke as if he had personally experienced those days.

I tried for a laugh, hoping to lighten his spirits.

“You’re awfully spry for a man of your years,” I said.

He did not take his gaze off the sea.

“I have sailed these seas before, Taffy me lad. I have waited short sword in hand on the decks of an Athenian bireme, listening to the grunting rhythm of the oarsmen as we rowed full-ram into the guts of a Persian galley. I have stood on the deck of a Norse dragon boat, with the north wind singing in my nostrils and the gray hag of the Northern Atlantic beating her sodden gray tresses against the clinker built hull as we scudded towards the shoreline of an unwary monastery.”

There was something heavy and deep in his voice that terrified me, as if he were dreaming out loud in nightmare tones, talking to God and whoever else might happen to be listening.

“I have stood at Nelson’s side in Trafalgar, I have went down in defeat with Mark Antony at Actium, huddled behind an ironclad’s ringing armor dreaming about Atlanta and smelling the stink of the muddy river bottom calling me home. I have slugged it out with Jellicoe and the boys, battle cruiser to battle cruiser in Jutland’s misty waters.”

He was talking lunacy, but there was something in his tone that smacked of God’s gospel truth.

“Oh, I’ve been around a good long time, Taffy me lad.” Big Jimmy grinned ruefully. “Steering my where-we-at by star and sextant, long before men learned to look through the lightning and talk through the air.”

He shook his head wryly.

“Of course, a sextant weren’t much use when the fog rolled in like this.”

“So, what did you do then?” I asked.

He laughed.

“Do? We did nothing. If you were a sailor, you did nothing but pray that the captain had the good sense to gauge the speed and smell the direction of the wind. We’d listen for the pounding of the waves over rocks, for the call of the seabirds close to the shore. We’d peer into the fog and we would pray for some streak of luck.”

He slapped his hands together softly, like a sexton dusting grave dirt from his hands.

“Dead reckoning. That’s what we called it.” he spat over the railing. “Funny the words that hide inside words, like sandbars hiding beneath the churning surf. Yes sir, Taffy me lad, things are not always as they seem.

“Dead reckoning. Dead and wreck, all hid behind that fine sounding phrase. Just as useless as faithless prayer, out here on the sea when the fog shrouds in.”

He leaned over and slapped his hand against the hull. It made a hollow sound, like a medicine drum being beaten by a distant unseen campfire.

“This ship is a ghost,” Bill Noonan said in a voice as cold as icebergs. “And all that’s left is memory. All the loneliness, all the tears, all the blood spilled into this here sea, and she takes it in. She takes and she takes, and there’s always some kind of cost.”

He beat time on the hull, his hand pale white against the fire-blackened steel.

“Can’t you hear the galley drum, Taffy me lad? Can’t you hear the heart thunder of all those men who drowned away at sea?”

The sound of his beating hand grew louder, as if it were not one man beating against a hull but a thousand.

“The sea out here is chowder thick with ghosts. Some goes and some stays, and some will strike a bargain.”

And at that, he leaned his head back and gave out two more long mournful howls.

“A-hooooowwwwggga! A-hooowwwgggggaaa.”

For a long time, there was nothing but fog seething over the water, the distant blinkered lights of the convoy and silence. He kept his time, staccato, stentorian, not a thousand, but a thousand thousand hands drumming hard.

And then, from out of the fog and distant darkness, there floated a vessel.

“Look,” I said. “One of the convoy’s lagging off course. “

Big Jimmy Noonan smiled and shook his head.

“That isn’t any convoy vessel.”

He was speaking the truth.

What was drifting out of the fog wasn’t any tanker or merchant hulk. It was a tall ship, high and mighty, like something out of an old Errol Flynn movie.

It drew a little closer.

It was a ship of bones and mist. The sails were composed of something that looked like dead men’s skin, tanned and tattering in the midnight breeze. The hull was crafted of meat and ribs and screams, open mouths stretched from bone to bone, sealed with the fine thin skin that covers drowning men’s eyes. The running lines were twisted and braided strands of visceral gut, the cannons mounted on the gaping jaws of huge inhuman skulls.

“I called them, Taffy me lad,” Big Jimmy said. “I called them up with blood and spirit and song.”

The phantom crew scampered like rats amidst the twisting configuration of bone, meat and guttle. I could see German and Canadian uniforms alike. Brits and Italians and a lot older still. A Norseman stood at the bow of the beast-ship, brandishing a fearful blade. Greeks and Romans beat their short swords against their long shields in a terrible tattoo.

And Big Jimmy Noonan was smiling.

He turned to me and spoke. “No man knows his captain, Taffy me lad. No man knows what he might call up from the depths of his heart.

He turned back towards the ghostly vessel. Gathering up all of the wind in his lungs, he shouted out a challenge.

“Me for him! D’ya hear me? Me for him!”

Then, without saying another word, he stepped up onto the railing and dove straight into the ocean, just as clean as a knife. I watched him swimming out towards that phantom ship, just a tiny shape in the waters, fighting against the waves and the endless currents.

After a time, the phantom ship vanished. I couldn’t tell if he’d reached it or not.

There was something in the water, drifting towards us.

The captain moved our vessel closer until we could see what it was.

A lifeboat, floating along like it had been there the whole time.

“Take her ahead,” the captain ordered.

We closed the distance. There was a man in the vessel.

It was our missing rifleman.

The man who had shot the gull.

The man who had slipped from Big Jimmy Noonan’s grasp to slip away into an Atlantic cold enough to freeze the very blood in your veins.

We pulled him clear out of his boat. His face was as white as powder, his eyes all glazed and incomprehensive.

“Are you all right, man?” the captain shouted. “Can you speak?”

He opened his mouth, but nothing issued forth but the sound of a deep and dark and dreamless sea.

I looked out over the water.

“Me for him,” I whispered. “Me for him.”

For a long time, no one said a word, and all that we could hear was the lap and slap of the cold uncaring waves upon the hull of our vessel.

The End

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Vernon is a storyteller. The man was born with a campfire burning at his feet. The word “boring” does not exist in this man’s vocabulary – unless he’s maybe talking about termites or ice augers.

That’s all that Steve Vernon will say about himself – on account of Steve Vernon abso-freaking HATES talking about himself in the third person.

But I’ll tell you what.

If you LIKED the book that you just read drop me a Tweet on Twitter – @StephenVernon - and yes, old farts like me ACTUALLY do know how to twitter – and let me know how you liked the book – and I’d be truly grateful.

If you feel strongly enough to write a review, that’s fine too. Reviews are ALWAYS appreciated – but I know that not all of you folks are into writing big long funky old reviews – so just shout the book out just any way that you can – because I can use ALL the help I can get.


In The Dark And The Deep - Steve Vernon's Sea Tales Book #1

It was Billy McTavish's first sea voyage. He had signed on to the serve as convoy escort on the THISTLE a Royal Canadian Navy corvette. Through U-Boat attack and Luftwaffe bombing runs, Billy had thought he had seen all of the horror that the Atlantic could offer a young Canadian sailor. But Big Jimmy Noonan had other ideas... ]*** WHAT FOLKS ARE SAYING ABOUT STEVE VERNON'S WRITING! "If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon." – Bookgasm "Steve Vernon is something of an anomaly in the world of horror literature. He's one of the freshest new voices in the genre although his career has spanned twenty years. Writing with a rare swagger and confidence, Steve Vernon can lead his readers through an entire gamut of emotions from outright fear and repulsion to pity and laughter." - Cemetery Dance "Armed with a bizarre sense of humor, a huge amount of originality, a flair for taking risks and a strong grasp of characterization - Steve's got the chops for sure." - Dark Discoveries “Steve Vernon is a hard writer to pin down. And that’s a good thing.” – Dark Scribe Magazine "This genre needs new blood and Steve Vernon is quite a transfusion." –Edward Lee, author of FLESH GOTHIC and CITY INFERNAL “Steve Vernon is one of the finest new talents of horror and dark fiction" - Owl Goingback, author of CROTA "Steve Vernon was born to write. He's the real deal and we're lucky to have him." - Richard Chizmar

  • Author: Steve Vernon
  • Published: 2016-09-12 13:20:10
  • Words: 5756
In The Dark And The Deep - Steve Vernon's Sea Tales Book #1 In The Dark And The Deep - Steve Vernon's Sea Tales Book #1