In the heart of the storm and in the heart of the story! We’re right at the middle of my tale, where the protagonist is about to face his great trial. He must couple himself to the man he hates most, to resolve the unfinished business between them.
I don’t expect to change as much in this next section as the one prior, but I guess I’ll see as I go. Let’s get to it!
Oscar held firmly to the wheel, maintaining as straight of a line as possible to Harry. He tightened his grip, readying his nerves for the tumultuous waterscape ahead. They would need to maneuver with precision and speed, minimizing those treacherous moments when their boats would be in close proximity to one another, relying on the mercy of the unpredictable waves to not careen one of their boats into the other and leaving them both in mortal peril!
Oscar quickly glanced backwards to the beam at the center of his boat. He punched the release, dropping the net off of its line, then snapped his eyes back forward as he pulled a lever, letting the rope run out, unfurling on the deck behind him. He waited until there would be about fifty feet of line let loose, then locked the lever back into place.
“Alright now, Harry,” he called into the mic. “You ready?”
Harry didn’t respond, but when Oscar’s eyes slid over the other sailor’s ship he saw that the man was already out on his own deck, waving his arms.
“You’re still supposed to be keeping your boat straight!” Oscar said in anger, then turned the wheel to create an even wider berth between the two boats. Then he turned the throttle up, pushing to just a little ahead of Harry’s boat.
“Alright, alright,” Oscar told himself encouragingly, then cut the throttle and locked the wheel in place. As his boat slid backwards he ran back to the rope pooled out on the deck. With practiced skill he found its end and coiled it around his hand as he leapt to the port side. His boat came level with Oscar’s for just a moment and he gave a mighty fling, arcing the rope through the air and into Harry’s waiting arms. Harry pulled it to his chest for dear life, then sprinted towards the front of his trawler to ran it through his bow cleat. Meanwhile Oscar dashed back to his wheel and spun it rapidly to correct for drift. He wiped the back of his sleeve over his rain-soaked brow and tried to catch his breath.
This sequence plays out in much the same way as before, though I tidied and embellished it here and there. I specifically ramped up the sense of danger of two boats resting in close proximity during an unpredictable storm. I’ve also decided to play up the depiction of Harry as a more clueless seaman, which will of course come to play with his later revelation. I think it makes him a more distinctive character, but I’ll have to make sure I don’t overdo it. I don’t want him to be a caricature of buffoonery.
Now let’s move forward to the start of the sailors’ arduous journey to safety.
“Harry, are you ready yet?” Oscar spoke into the mic, but there was no response. He raised the throttle, moving ahead of Harry’s boat and giving a safer distance between them, but he was very careful to not pull the line out before Harry had it secured.
It was very difficult to try and hold steady in such rolling waves, but the true challenge would begin only after Harry had his end of the rope secured. Towing another boat was dangerous even in fair weather. One had to maintain constant tension or else something would break from the intermittent slacking and tightening of the line. One had to keep enough distance between the two boats so that Harry’s wouldn’t come careening into the back of Oscar’s. One had to account for the fact that Oscar’s boat would be riding up the crest of one wave while Harry’s was down in the valley of the previous and vice versa. One had to be careful to keep the line straight between them, not letting the wind blow one off to an angle from the other. If that happened one or both might be pulled sideways into the drink.
In short, there were many things that could go wrong, that probably would go wrong, and any of them could easily end in disaster. For any other fisherman in their small town Oscar would have faced those dangers gladly. But for Harry?… Well, evidently he would still face them, but there was nothing glad about it.
Oscar paused to ask himself why it had to be Harry? Of all the men that could have been caught out here, why did it have to be the one he could never forgive?
“Alright, I’m ready to go now,” Harry’s voice broke from the radio.
“I’ll pull forward until the line gets tight,” Oscar immediately returned to the matter at hand. “Then you throw your engine on and you give whatever you’ve got to keep us level. I’ll do the pulling and I’ll warn you for every turn, you just make sure you stay right behind me and maintain the tension.”
“Of course Oscar. And…thank you, I really didn’t think anyone was going to come for me.”
“Don’t mention it.” It wasn’t a polite deference, it was an order. Oscar pushed the throttle control forward and his engine hummed loudly, slowly edging the trawler forward.
I think this was one of my better-written sections already, and I changed very little of it this time around! We’ve got less than half of the story remaining, and I can’t to keep things churning along next week!
I have finished reviewing The Storm and have made note of the changes it requires. Now I will go through it piece-by-piece, correcting things as I go. I won’t take the time to detail every wayward comma and misspelling that I come across, but I will give a general description for the changes I am making.
To start off with, I had some problems right at the very beginning of the story. It contains a lot of details that are clunky and awkward, and I want to cut out a lot of these opening statements to focus instead on building atmosphere.
Oscar regarded the endless sea behind him. The muted gray of the water below was almost perfectly matched to that of the unbroken clouds overhead, and these were further blended by the distant wall of rain that bridged the gap between. It created the illusion that there were no separate bodies, but one massive ocean, and Oscar and his trawler were at this moment scurrying from that raised ocean’s advance, seeking to make land before the rain-wall did.
The storm had not been expected until later that evening, and Oscar had had to cut his excursion short without so much as a minnow to show for his effort. Fuel and time spent, but nothing gained. Oscar wasn’t surprised by that, though. Not anymore. Some days just turned out that way.
Most of the time the ocean would yield just enough for the sailors to pay their way, but from time-to-time it cut them short. “The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh,” one might say, but also “it taketh slightly more than it giveth,” so that a men grew a penny poorer each year for trying to live by it.
But also sometimes it was more than just a penny. Oscar knew better than most that in sudden, greedy moments the ocean took more than it ought. More than could ever be excused.
Oscar shook his head at the cold wall of gray and settled his focus back on the docks ahead. He was less than a quarter-mile out and he’d be moored and warming his boots in Lenny’s Tavern within the hour.
That is my new and improved opening. I’m not going to take up the space to copy-and-paste the original version here, but if you want to compare the two here is the link. You will notice that this new version in considerably shorter, 262 words compared to 390! Very little of substance was removed, though, I just tightened up the commentary about how the ocean exacted a slow toll out of the men.
And even with so much fewer words I was also able to add in some new content: that opening paragraph which paints the picture of the distant storm. In my original post the description was literally “the mounting storm” and nothing else!
I’m feeling quite pleased with this second draft. After I get through the whole thing I’ll read it all again and continue revising it, but for now I think I’m ready to move on. Next we have the conversation between Sam and Oscar, and the decision to go out and see what has happened to Harry.
That you, Oscar?
Oscar fumbled for the mouthpiece of his radio. “Yeah, Sam, it’s me.” Oscar looked to the edge of the pier where the red-and-white lighthouse cast its broad light into the gray. Sam was their lighthouse keeper, their watchful guardian who never lost tally of each man’s going and coming.
Sorry to hear that, Oscar.
“It’s just how it goes. Everyone else in already?”
All in but Harry.
Oscar’s radio crackled static, signifying that Sam had released the mic. Signifying that Sam would say nothing more until Oscar spoke first. Oscar sighed heavily, dropping his eyes from the lighthouse to the long pier where each of the local sailors had their permanent station. On the far left was his own berth, and as far away as possible on the right was Harry’s. Both empty. Oscar grabbed the mic.
“Do you know which way he went?”
Went for mackerel, around the cape, came the ready response. Probably why I haven’t been able to raise him.
“He woulda seen the storm coming even so.”
“He shoulda made it far by now that we’d see him.”
Crackling static again.
Sam wouldn’t say it. He wasn’t the sort to try and tell people what they ought to do. He was the sort to let them decide it do it themselves. And what if Oscar said no? What if he said Harry was a fool for having gone around the cape when there was any storm warning at all, and that if he was caught in a gale now that was his own affair? If Oscar said that Sam probably wouldn’t even hold it against him. Sam would know as well as anyone that Oscar had reason enough for it. But then Sam would go out himself. And he would be that much more delayed, that much more imperiled by the storm.
Oscar swiveled his head around the spot and surveyed the horizon. No ship in sight.
“I suppose I better go after him,” Oscar rasped into the mic.
If you think that’s best, Sam approved. I won’t blink an eye until the two of you get back.
“I know you won’t, Sam.”
I still like this exchange between Oscar and Sam a great deal and I changed very little about it. I tightened up the description of Sam and I inserted the bit about Oscar looking at the empty berths for him and Harry. It provided an awkward gap before he acknowledges the problem that Sam has brought up, and it also provides a symbolism of unfinished business remaining between the two men.
I also inserted the bit about how Sam would come out to find Harry if Oscar didn’t go. I felt it was awkward to switch from saying that Oscar had enough reasons to not check on Harry to suddenly him volunteering to do exactly that. Whatever happened to those reasons? I think this small addition provides a reason, though intentionally a weak one. It is enough to get Oscar out where I need him to be.
Come back next week as I’ll continue with the next section of the story, cleaning as I go.
“How could it be three days?” Captain Molley shook his head in disbelief. “I would have died.”
“I gave you water, I gave you what food I could…you couldn’t take much. You lived, though I thought for sure you wouldn’t. But…it has been three days.”
“Ohh,” Captain Molley’s head fell into his hands. “Three days without a proper heading…there’s no telling where we are now. Miles off course, no doubt, but no notion of which way, and how to correct it.”
“I’ve tried to keep us straight as I can.”
“But we were rowing at a slant. And neither you nor I can recall if it was at a slant to the east or a slant to the west.”
“Well, I haven’t been able to row very quickly on my own. Probably best to think of it as only a single day’s rowing.”
“But not a single day’s being pushed by the current. Three days of that alone is too much.”
Julian’s eyes narrowed. “Too much for what?”
“Julian…I barely trusted my own navigational skills to find this phantom cove, and I certainly don’t trust any other man’s navigation in the least.”
“But…what are you saying?”
“Forget about the cove. We’re never going to find it.”p
“But–but–it’s all that we have!”
“It was always a very slim chance. Our best chance, I suppose, but very slim even so. Now its just too narrow of a mark, too uncertain of a starting point, there’s just no way to see us from here to there anymore.”
“But there isn’t anything else for us.”
“We will turn east. What we still have is the ability to find is the trade route. We will recognize it by where the current runs against us the strongest. We will surrender ourselves to its mercy…and see if it sends us any vessel for our rescue.”
“Captain you know that there isn’t any other ship coming. You know it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Sometimes–well–don’t take offence, Captain, but sometimes while going up and down the rigging one hears the conversations going on below. I’ve never been one for eavesdropping, but sometimes it just happens and it can’t be helped, I’m sure you can understand that.”
Captain Molley waved his hand dismissively, showing he didn’t care. “And what was it you heard?”
“When those pirates first came bearing down on us you told First Mate Blythe ‘they’ve got the weather gage, the better guns, and there’s not any other ship due to pass this way for another two months!’ So there aren’t any other merchants vessels scheduled to come and you know it!”
Captain Molley sighed. “Nothing scheduled, that is correct. But there is the occasional unregistered vessel that passes through these waters. You know this.”
“What? More pirates?! Savages?! This is who you want to be rescued by?”
“I would take my chances with any vessel at this point.”
“Surrender ourselves to their mercy?”
“What would you have me do, Julian?” Captain Molley held out his palms in exasperation. “There are no good options remaining.”
“Keep things in our own control. Push on as best we can towards the pirate’s cove.”
“No. We’re not sure where exactly it is, we’re not sure where we ourselves are anymore. You can’t chart a course between two unknowns! But finding back the trade route, that much we can manage.”
“What if it wasn’t two unknowns? What if we still had a general idea of where we were now?”
“I don’t see what you mean.”
“You say three days of drifting is too long. Well what amount of drifting would you still be willing to navigate from? What if it had only been a single day?”
“But it was three days.”
“But if it had only been one?”
“What is the point of that question? Why does it matter how much I would have been willing to risk, I am not willing to risk things as they are right now.”
Julian gnawed the inside his cheek awkwardly. Captain did not read anything in it, but Bartholomew, who had been following the entire conversation from nearly-shut eyes did. He suppressed a smile and silently turned matters over in his mind.
“Listen Julian,” Captain Molley said in a calm, yet firm manner, “you are not convinced, so be it. But I am the only one in this boat that can navigate, and I’m telling you that I frankly refuse to take these odds. There’s no use in trying to persuade me. I won’t do it, and so there is nothing left but to return to the trade route.”
Bartholomew coughed on cue.
“What? He’s awake!” Julian cried.
“I–” Bartholomew’s voice was extremely strained and cracked. “I can–lead us…I can lead us in.”
Julian rushed the water flask to Bartholomew’s lips. The pirate seized on it with a strength that belied his weakened appearance. He gulped down four overflowing mouthfuls before Captain Molley wrenched it away.
“Easy there. We still have to ration what little we have!” He secured the stopper with a firm twist.
“What were you saying just now?” Julian pressed Bartholomew eagerly.
“I know a way to still get to the cove,” Bartholomew’s voice broke and he remained laying flat on his back, but he spoke on with persistence. “There are–signs in the water. Things to watch for when you know them. If we try our best, if we get within fifteen miles of it…I’ll see the signs and I’ll be able to lead us in. We don’t have to be too accurate…just within fifteen miles would be enough.”
“What signs?” Captain Molley demanded. “A color in the water? A scent in the air? A spawning ground of whales? How do you tell it?”
Bartholomew simply shook his head.
“You won’t tell us?”
“If I tell…you will kill me.”
“What? Don’t be daft, man.”
“He will kill me,” Bartholomew managed to lift a single finger towards Julian.
“No. He lashed out in a moment of passion, but he didn’t kill you when he could have, when you and I were both unconscious.”
Bartholomew just shook his head.
“Out with it man! None of us can survive if we don’t do this together.”
“We–can’t all survive. One of us has to die…and it isn’t going to be me.”
“He’s delirious,” Captain Molley shook his head. “Never made any mention of signs in the water before. Get some rest, man. Julian give us the bag of food, he and I need our strength.”
Julian picked up the bag, but only held it halfway to the Captain. “But…we still don’t know if Bartholomew will make it…in which case it would be a waste.”
Captain Molley lurched forward and seized the bag out of Julian’s hands. “Well of course he won’t make it if we starve him! We’re not counting any one of us out just yet.” He clucked his tongue and started to reach into the bag. “Now he and I will take an extra portion or two, to get back our energy after not eating these past three days.”
Julian gnawed the inside of his cheek again.
“Not for me,” Bartholomew sighed. “We can’t survive if we all eat. It’s too far to the cove.”
“What? You’re so concerned about us killing you, but willing to starve to death instead?” Captain Molley sneered. “Eat your food, our lot will be the same.”
“He has a point, Captain,” Julian piped up.
Captain Molley’s eyes narrowed. “So let him die to preserve food for the two of us? And he’s the one man who claims he can still bring you in to your precious cove? Surely even you can see that that doesn’t work.”
Julian opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it. An eternity seemed to pass between Captain and sailor, as both silently came to the same conclusions.
“Julian…what are you thinking?” Captain Molley asked very slowly.
Julian simply stared.
“So it’s like that, is it? I don’t suppose you’ve even considered that Bartholomew could be lying?”
“I can’t accept that.”
“So it has to be you or I then? And somehow I don’t believe you’re volunteering yourself as a sacrifice. No. You’re much more the sort to hide in the rigging and let other men do the dying for you, aren’t you?”
Julian scowled deeply.
The anger was riled in Captain now, and he abandoned any restraint. “You’re too much a coward to throw in your lot and let fate decide, aren’t you? You can’t just let things be, and that makes you such a nervous, shiftless weasel.”
“I’m not a coward!”
“No? And here about to murder a wounded man?” Captain Molley shook his head derisively. “But go on then, take me if you think you can manage it. I would remind you that I’m still armed!”
So saying, Captain Molley pushed back his coat and reached to his side. There he felt the sheath that was bound there…but nothing else.
Julian drew the knife out from the back of his trousers.
“So…” Captain Molley breathed.
The boat nearly overturned, nearly threw all three sailors into their watery grave right then and there. But somehow it stayed aright through the moment of violent struggle. The two men clawed each other’s life as best they could, tore each other like animals. And all the while Bartholomew lay in the bottom of the boat, eyes fixed on the sky above, a grim smile across his lips. A life-rending cry and the deed was done. Captain Molley’s limp corpse was tumbled over the edge and into the water.
Julian leaned panting against the side of the boat for support, the bloodied knife pierced into the wood at his side. He trembled in exhaustion and horror, his eyes blinked furiously, trying to shed tears but too dehydrated to actually form any.
And then two hands clamped around his neck from behind.
Bartholomew’s wiry fingers grasped with hidden strength, his arms crushed with feverish power. Julian thrashed about, but the pirate was very skilled in the art of killing another man. He managed to pin Julian down with one arm, then reached out with the other to take the knife.
Two moments later and Julian’s dead body tumbled out of the boat as well. The sailor rejoined his Captain in the sea. The ocean swallowed them both, and all their sins were forgotten.
Alone in the boat, Bartholomew ravaged the sack of food. He ate as much as he could, drank as much as he could. Then he grabbed two oars and started rowing away from that place. Rowing, rowing feverishly as the waves rolled on.
On Monday I spoke of stories where characters are at odds with themselves. Julian was my example in this story of a man who undoes himself. He accomplishes this in several ways. Initially he wanted to kill off Bartholomew to better survive, then later Captain Molley. Thus his ever-shifting nature deprived him of any ally. He was so desperate to keep himself alive, that he failed to account for the need of retaining any friends to save him.
But even more than this, he kept undermining his own hopes for rescue. Things were already very strained for reaching the pirate’s cove, but then he was the one that knocked out their guide. He was the one that aggravated Captain Molley into collapse. He was the one that stole food so that they didn’t have enough for them all. He was the one that covered his sins with lies, which lies broke Captain Molley’s hope in their plan. At the end he found himself fighting with Captain Molley and Bartholomew, but they were fights that he had only brought on himself.
Or had he? To an extent he made his own choices…but also he was deeply manipulated by Bartholomew along the way. The pirate sowed discord in the man at every point possible, taunting him into attacking himself, putting into his head the notion that one of their crew needed to die, and leaving poor Julian to carry out Bartholomew’s own dirty work for him. Julian may have been a sinner, but Bartholomew was the devil driving him.
Which ties into my earlier blog post about characters who are harboring secrets. It was stated a few times that Bartholomew was closely watching his companions, and it was implied that he had manipulative intent towards them. But what exactly he was trying to do and how he meant to do it remained a mystery up until the very end. Clearly he wasn’t so weak as he pretended, only acting so until one of the other two men had evened the odds for him.
But even after that much is cleared up, Bartholomew still retains many secrets, and he keeps them clear until the end. Just how much of what he did and said was true? How much of it was just a fabrication to build up tension? And the story’s biggest secret of them all: was the pirate’s cove he spoke of even real or not? Was that just a story to get the other men to see him as essential for their survival? At the very end, as he takes the oars and starts rowing, I came very close to saying whether he kept north towards the promised cove, or if he turned east towards the trade route. I repressed that urge, though., for this is a story about deceit, and so it was only right to end on a note of uncertainty.
Though…to be fair…if you understand the character and the themes, you should be able to tell which of those two endings would be the right one.
Even earlier I wrote a blog post about tension between allies, characters who are momentarily aligned in purpose, but not friendly to one another in the least. Clearly this story had that in spades. And specifically it had it in the flavor of natural enemies who we knew were going to come to blows sooner or later, and the only question was when that conflict would actually break out.
Choosing where to have that payoff was an interesting process. Really at just about any time I could have said “okay, that’s this person’s tipping point. Things fall out now.” In fact Captain Molley already came to that point when Julian had taken his feud with Bartholomew too far. And Julian came to that point previously when he hit Bartholomew in the head with the oar. But I intervened in both of those moments and delayed the ultimate fallout, because I wanted something more when that moment came.
I didn’t want the tension to break out because Julian had done something wrong. And I didn’t want it to break out because Captain Molley lost his temper. I didn’t even want it to break out because Bartholomew was pulling the other men’s strings. I wanted it to be because of all three of those conditions at the very same time. In earlier scenes there was one or two of these factors, but I was using those moments to foreshadow the end when all three would come to bear at once. In the end we reach the point that every man indulges in their worse nature at one and the same time, and then there aren’t any restraints left to save them. Only then, at that climax of tension, was the story finally ready for its end.
Last of all, I started this whole story with the idea of tales that begin with a key premise and end with a key culmination. In Boat of Three we began with this idea of a naval captain, a nervous sailor, and a scheming pirate caught together in a boat. It was a simple idea, one that can literally be summed up in a single sentence, but which already suggested all manner of drama.
The story ended with a single idea, too. Right from the get-go I had in mind this scene of Julian being cajoled into killing Captain Molley, leaving the door wide open for him to be murdered in turn. I had a clear image of a snake-in-the-grass mastermind that lay motionless and smiling in the bottom of the boat as lives were destroyed around him. And so the pivotal ending derives directly from the pivotal beginning.
And as I mentioned, each of these men’s personal contribution to the ending was rehearsed in individual scenes beforehand. I showed something about each of them, and then I showed it again later. This is a key pattern of storytelling: saying something and then restating it. On Monday I’d like to look more closely at this notion of reinforced messages, and then we’ll be off with a new tale on Thursday.
Julian shook his head firmly. “I don’t trust him, Captain. I don’t trust this man at all!”
“No, I don’t trust him, either,” Captain Molley sighed. “But frankly, that doesn’t have anything to do with it. Though I may not like it…he did surrender to us. Maritime law is very clear that he is now under our protection.”
“You can’t be serious!”
Captain ignored Julian, and spoke instead to the pirate. “Tell me, man, what is your name?”
“Bartholomew,” the pirate bowed his head. “Bartholomew Briggs. And…thank you Captain…for speaking up for me. I don’t know many that would.”
“Could you even speak up for yourself, Briggs?” Julian shot from behind. “What would you do if you were in our situation?”
“I am in your situation.”
“No. Me and Captain have been together for nearly a year now. We are two-of-a-kind. We’re crew! You’re something different.”
“I’m telling you, Julian,” Captain Molley strained, “Bartholomew is now a member of our crew as well.”
“Captain, no! There’s a difference in this boat, you must see that! What would you do, Briggs, if it was you and your captain in this boat, and you had come across one of us in the water?”
Bartholomew shrugged. “I’m a pirate…I suppose I would do what pirates do.”
“There, you see it, Captain?!” Julian exclaimed. “We can’t trust someone like this!”
“Like I said, trust has nothing to do with it.”
“Has nothing–?!” Julian’s words were lost in his incredulity.
Literally caught in the middle of the argument, Bartholomew suddenly gave out a wheezing laugh.
“What are you doing that for?” Julian snapped.
“Just the irony of it all.”
“Oh, you say there’s a difference in this boat. Say that I don’t belong. Now I told you truly, if it had been be and my captain who came across you in the water, we would have cut your throat and been on our way.”
“Where’s the irony in that?”
“Why it’s the very same thing you want to do with me now, isn’t it? Seems you and I have a lot in common, Julian, quite a lot, indeed. In fact there is a difference in this crew, you’re right about that. But it’s that your Captain here is the only one of us who has any honor.”
“I’m nothing like you,” Julian spat. He stared darkly into the water for a time, then looked up to Captain Molley with deep anger. “Captain…I’ll never be able to forgive you for this.”
Captain Molley’s eyes narrowed, trying to discern the full weight of what Julian meant by that. He held the gaze for a few moments, then turned back to Bartholomew.
“What you have told us–about the pirate’s cove–this is true? You swear it?”
“What good would it do me to lie? I might as well die now, than deceive you and die later.”
“Do you swear it?”
“Yes, alright then. I swear it.”
“Well then, what is our bearing?”
Bartholomew craned around in his seat, his hands moving in front of his face, tracing lines on an invisible map.
“Well–I didn’t keep the charts myself,” he said nervously. “But–we’re about…a hundred miles southwest of Isla Barro? Yes?”
Captain Molley lowered his forehead to his hands and sighed heavily. Julian was far less reserved.
“You don’t know?! You really don’t know?! You’re planning to lead us back in with your best guess?!”
“I’m a sailor, not a navigator!” Bartholomew shot back. “You could do better, Julian?”
“Have you even seen a map of it?” Captain Molley asked pointedly.
“I’ve seen maps, and I know where it would be on the map, but obviously we don’t inscribe the mark where just anyone can see! Imagine if that canvas fell into the wrong hands! No, we keep it in our heads.”
Captain Molley reached into his coat and pulled a damp piece of parchment from one of his pockets.
“Show me that you know where we are.”
“Without a pen?”
“I have no pen. But trace things out with your finger, and I’ll follow along. To answer your question, we are two hundred miles south-by-southwest of Isla Barro. So what would that look like?”
Bartholomew swallowed and hovered his finger over the paper for a long while.
“It’s–it’s like–so, Isla Barro would be here, of course, in this corner. And we would be here…he drew a line down and slightly to the left.”
“Well at least he knows how a compass works,” Julian remarked sarcastically.
“Now the surrounding area,” Captain Molley urged.
“And–so– Venezuela is down here…a way’s. And Tartina is a bit up here, between us and Isla Barro. And Isla Veo is here, a bit before that.”
He rattled off a few more ports, common ones, in sequence heading back from where they were now, moving north-by-northeast, until he got back to Isla Barrow.
“And what is down here?” Captain Molley asked, prodding the paper further south-by-southwest.
“That’s–um–that’s Mina Terna? Or else Port Stephens?”
Captain Molley was dejected. “Because those were the two next ports that you heard your captain discussing berthing in.”
Bartholomew frowned and blinked quickly, as if he didn’t understand the accusation.
“You don’t know where you are, and you don’t know where you were headed. You only know where you’ve been, the line of ports your crew stopped in from Isla Barro to here.” Captain Molley traced his finger over the few places that Bartholomew had made mention of. “You don’t know the broader waters at all!”
“Can you tell me one thing that isn’t on this main line here? Anything that isn’t just reciting the last three weeks of your course?”
Bartholomew paused for a long while again. “Venezuela is…down this way,” he offered sheepishly.
“No!” he cried. “Not useless. That cove I was telling you about, it’s back along the way we’ve come. We spied it on our way here, just a few days ago. I can get us back that far!”
“A needle in a haystack!” Julian spat.
“Well what would you prefer?” Bartholomew looked angrily back and forth at his companions. “I wish that I had a perfect tattoo of the map on my thigh, but I don’t! But what I do have is better than anything else either of you have to offer!”
Captain Molley and Julian quieted down at that. It was true. A needle in the haystack was still better chances than trying to move forward or back along their route, hoping for the odd merchant vessel to happen across their way.
Captain Molley sighed once more. “You just have to be honest with us, Bartholomew,” he said heavily. “We each have our part to play in this if we’re to survive, and we can’t afford to be holding secrets from each other. You have to be honest.”
Bartholomew nodded and tapped his finger back on the paper. “If we’re here, and Tartina was here, then the cove is…here.”
“Nearly straight north.”
“If your scale is right, seventy miles, against the current. How large is the island?”
“Maybe half-a-mile across? Small.”
“Alright. We move North, but in a narrow zigzag. Widen it out the further we go…cover a larger and larger area the closer we get.”
“But won’t that take quite a lot longer?” Julian asked with a tremor in his voice.
“Yes it will. You can be sure, we’re all going to get quite thinner over these next two weeks. But this is the best way forward.”
“Why better than moving for it in a straight line, then searching about if we happen to be a little off?” Bartholomew asked and Julian nodded.
“We will be off,” Captain Molley stressed. “Seventy miles? Without proper instruments? We’re blindfolded and throwing the dart backwards over our shoulder. I guarantee you we won’t hit a bulls-eye. And how would we know that we had now reached seventy miles and not sixty-five? Or eighty? And when we got there and saw no island, what direction then? Madly row due east, hoping it was there? And then when it wasn’t madly rowing back all the way back and continuing west? Spiraling in and out like dogs chasing their tails? No. We aren’t going to try and stick a perfect jab that’s sure to fail. We’re going to feel our way to it.”
Neither Julian nor Bartholomew appeared entirely convinced, but also neither of them could come up with as impressive of a speech as the Captain’s to counter his opinion. And so they lowered their eyes and made themselves ready for orders.
“Our heading…” Captain Molley pointed one arm towards the setting sun and moved the other in an arc from it until it was at a right angle, “is that direction. I’ll try to estimate our speed, and the amount of time we continue in this direction. When the stars get up we’ll correct course as needed, but for now we row straight.”
So saying, each man took hold of an oar and began their journey forward. As they did, the sun continued to sink in the sky, eventually extinguishing its flame in the eternal ocean, its last traces of light streaking out of the East, giving way to the encroaching night. Still the men rowed forward as dusk settled in, and stars began too peep out, and the onset of night fell on them. Still they worked. They worked, and they worked in total silence. Having no common ground for discussion, each was left to somberly reflect on how poor their chances were.
But though they did not vocally discuss how dire the situation was, each knew that that was where they other’s thoughts were. And every continuing moment of silence only reaffirmed to each man that the others were similarly being weighed by the poor chances of their situation. Indeed they communicated much of helplessness and resignation in their mutual silence.
What was there to be done, though? There might be a time for panic, a time for despair, a time for venting anger, but it was not now. Now was the time for waiting and watching.
It was Captain Molley who finally broke the tension. He pulled up his oar and set it across his lap. The other two men felt the greater burden of rowing the boat by themselves and looked back to him.
“We’ll need to conserve our strength,” he said to them. “We have to keep moving forward, but we have to have the energy to do that. We’re going to ration our food and sleep in shifts. One man rests while the other two continue rowing. Always two of us will be rowing. At the very least we have to prevent the current from undoing all our progress.”
The other two nodded.
“We’ll rest in two hour shifts. At the end of each cycle all three of us will row for six hours.”
Julian’s eyes narrowed. “Two hours of rest a day each?”
“Four. And twenty of rowing. Our bodies are going to break down over time. We will have to reassess that as we go along. But now, while we have our energy, we must do as much as we can. Make no mistake, this is no marathon. We must sprint if we are to survive.”
“A twenty hour sprint!”
“What would you have us do, Julian?”
Julian had no answer for that.
“We’ll let Bartholomew rest first–“
“Everyone will get the same rest, Julian. It doesn’t matter who goes first.”
“Let him go first,” Bartholomew gestured to Julian. “I don’t mind. I’ll go last. And I don’t need two full hours. Maybe one.”
“I’ll go last,” Captain Molley avowed.
“And when you do, Captain, might I suggest you move one seat further, to the very back of the boat. The better to feel if either of us was approaching.”
Julian and Captain Molley both narrowed their eyes and looked at Bartholomew suspiciously.
“And what exactly do you mean by that?” Captain Molley asked.
“What? You don’t think–? Well I’m sorry if I made you both uncomfortable, I’m just stating the facts here. Like I said before, Captain you are a man of integrity, one willing to endanger himself to save another. Julian–Mister Holstead, is it?–and I are made of blacker cloth. So when I’m sleeping and you’re awake Captain, I already know you won’t let any harm come to me. And when Julian sleeps he already knows you won’t let any harm come to him, either. But as there isn’t a man of honor to watch while you sleep, so best you should put yourself snug. Back where you could feel even the stealthiest of approaches. Is that–is that wrong?”
“Now you listen to me,” Julian breathed out darkly. “My wanting to rid the world of a murderer and a thief like you is one thing, but to suggest that I would ever do harm to a true shipmate?! There’s a world of difference in that! How dare you!”
But Captain Molley only looked down in contemplation. He did not share what it was he reflected on, but after a moment he quietly said. “No harm in taking all the possible precautions, though. I will sleep in the back.”
On Monday I discussed how many stories feature a sense of hostility between protagonists, where they must work together, but do not like each other. In many cases, they don’t even trust each other.
That is certainly the case with my current story, and nowhere is that more clear than in the last exchange of this section. Bartholomew wears his cynical views on his sleeve, Julian is very vocal of his distrust of Bartholomew and his disagreement with the Captain Molley’s every decision, and with companions like these, who can blame Captain Molley and his own statement of doubt in them at the end.
But of course, by affirming his distrust in the other men, Captain Molley weakens their ability to trust him as well. Now they know what he thinks: that they might kill him for their own gain. And knowing that he thinks that, it doesn’t take much to start wondering how his own sense of loyalty to them is being eroded. What if he were to decide the only to way to be safe from their betrayal was to betray them first?
There is a significant moment in this final exchange, the part where Captain Molley sits in silent contemplation before announcing that he will indeed sleep in the back of the boat. I actually knew full well what he was thinking about, that moment where Julian suggested he wouldn’t rescue a third sailor, even if it was a proper shipmate. I went back and forth about whether I should share that part of his thought-process with the reader or not. In the end I chose not to, and I would like to consider the power in leaving elements of your character shrouded. On Monday I would like to explore this concept more, and then we will continue our voyage of distrust with the third section of Boat of Three next Thursday.
Now and again a familiar echo will take you back there. Seeing a field of grain, or feeling the warm sunlight washing across your skin. Hearing the croak of a frog at night. You close your eyes and the skin pricks with the memories, a familiar trance stirs once more.
Now you can hear the subtle raise in pitch as the wind passes between your arms. You taste the salt in that air as it passes to your lungs. The granular texture of sand caught in your hair. The heat of the unshaded sun mixed with the coldness of the ocean breeze, it causes you to alternate between shivers and sweats. You are somewhere else.
Opening your eyes you see yourself transported to the familiar scrawl of that coastline, the lazy surf rocking against it and back again in tiny waves. Though you have not been here in years you remember the details perfectly.
Turning around you face east and see that you are standing only on a sandbar, the island proper now a hundred yards ahead. It is a hulking mass of green, mountain clothed in forest. The larger peak on the right side, the northern side, gives the landmass an overall lopsided appearance, as though it might unbalance and fall back into the sea at any moment. The mountainous green is skirted all about by outcroppings of gray cliffs against which the western tide crashes in frothing white foam.
Lowering your gaze to the island’s only sandy coast you spy the small shape of the Whit family’s vessel, a simple wooden boat tipped to one side with a stray furl of sail whipping in the breeze. Its owners are disembarking from it now, and though they are far off you know their silhouettes instantly: two men, a woman, and a small girl.
At the sight of them you feel a familiar ache in your core, a longing and regret. Why have you returned to this place? You have traced these paths many times already, and each time you have followed the same bootprints, bent the same leaves, broken the same bones. It never changes. Is peering into the sweetness of their faces worth the agony of their later corpses?
But you have arrived, and to begin a memory is to already slip to its conclusion. It must be seen through. And so, as if on cue, you feel yourself step forward into the water, splashing your way to the island and its explorers. The water is shallow, never rising more than halfway to your knees, sloshing pleasantly until you return to crunching sand.
The explorers are more familiar to you than family. Beings that live within. Nearest is the patriarch, John Whit. He is crouched beside the boat, packing away all of the charts and compasses of their completed sea voyage. Every instrument and paper has their proper storage place now that their use is complete, and the satchel into which he tucks them is just the right size to accommodate them all.
As he works he tucks his gray mane behind wide ears, exposing a long, bald forehead and leathery, copper skin. He is a proud man of a proud heritage, one that is noble in virtue, if not in blood. It is for his own late father’s great service that this very island was gifted to the Whit family.
John turns and faces the sea he led his family across. He charted their course well and saw them through with a careful hand. Indeed he hopes to chart them rightly still, for he sees in this land an opportunity to build on the foundation established by his ancestors. He wishes to take that which he was given and prove he was worthy of the gift by adding to it something more.
Beside him is his son, William Whit, packing seed and dirt samples into a large sack that he slings over his shoulder. He is the only child of John, and has lived life comfortably and well, so evidenced by the beginnings of a potbelly beneath his folded arms. His whole life he has wanted for nothing but an opportunity to make his own mark, to give expression to his great ambition. Perhaps his father has the careful hands to steer, but he will be the surging steed that carries the family forward.
For where John looks backwards to heritage, William looks forward to legacy. He stands erect and strokes his chin thoughtfully, ruffling the close beard as his deep set eyes peer out at their surroundings with a gaze that is both penetrating and discerning. Upon these untamed wilds William sees overlaid a future of bridges and statues, ports and shops, a center of trade and wonders of construction. Important diplomats and even royalty walk the streets about him, and deeper inland he can hear the hum of mills and factories. He sees the land rich and giving, and can hardly wait to plumb its secrets.
At William’s feet young Clara babbles to her doll. Her yellow curls stand in stark contrast to her father’s dark scruff. Ivory arms hold the toy aloft, and she speaks to it of the infiniteness of the ocean and how as they sailed across it she felt that they would remain motionless in its eternities forever.
From moment to moment her eyes stray from the doll to the hulking island mountain before her. There is a wariness of the unknown in her expression. All her short life “home” has meant one place and one place only, so that this new land might as well be an entirely alien world.
She mutters something to her doll about how these forests and mountains are more “real” than she had expected. Indeed to one that has only seen such sights in the sketches of storybooks, the living and breathing wild has so much more “realness” to it that it becomes as terrifying as it is exhilarating! She slowly crosses the sand to her mother’s skirts and buries her face in their familiar closeness.
Eleanor Whit strokes her daughter’s hair with a hand thin and veiny. Her slight frame is wiry and toned for labor. She was not raised in the comfort of her husband and learned while young how to do her share and still more. Her auburn hair is drawn back into a snug bun, the better to not get in the way of her work. The angular features of her face survey the rest of her family, even as the family surveys the land.
She sees the stoic resolve in John, the anxious excitement in William, the curious apprehension in Clara. Far more interesting to her than the island is the effect it will have on this family. Much like the water through which they have just passed, trials and opportunities serve to dichotomize individuals, buoying up those that are worthy and sinking those that are not. The isolated nature of this island is such that they, separated from the influences of the world and society, can grow intimately acquainted with who they are inside and become what they will ultimately be.
Eleanor does not regret the moment, she only gives it the solemn consideration that it is due. In the same breath she resolves to do her utmost to see them through to a happy end.
John gives their gear a final look-over and is at last satisfied that he has all they need to set up their first camp. He has distributed their equipment into three packs, one for each of the adults. The rest remains safely stowed in the bottom of the boat for them to return for later.
“How does it look, William?” he asks as he hands the first of the packs to him.
“Good, good,” William smiles. “Plenty of opportunity for manufacturing with all of the natural resources. Wood, rock… There’s also a couple bays over there that are large enough for a port, and with the distinct climate we could probably also grow some produce that’s hard to get on the mainland.”
“Sounds promising,” Eleanor beams cheerfully, stepping forward to take her pack from John. “So what comes next?”
“Well we need to find a camp first of all,” John asserts. “Somewhere further inland where we can keep dry.” He gestures to the rocky cliffs that mark the end of their beach. “That means finding our way on top of there somehow. We’ll need more rope.” So saying he turns back to the boat and extracts a few more lengths.
William turns and surveys the rock in question. “Yes, be good to get a better look at the rest of the island from up there, too. What about over there?” He points to the southern edge. “Can’t tell for sure what is round that bend but it looks like the rock slopes more gently there.”
As Eleanor follows William’s gaze she gives an involuntary shiver. It isn’t much, but her slight frame cannot hide it. John notices it and asks “Are you up for the climb, Eleanor?”
She is about to answer when Clara tugs at her sleeve. She, too, has followed the conversation and her eyes are wide with apprehension.
“I don’t want to, mother.”
Eleanor tuts at John. “Of course, I’ll be fine.” Then, turning to her daughter: “And there’s not a thing to worry about, Clara. You’ll be locked safe with me the whole way.”
John looks to William who just shrugs and nods.
“Well, what are we waiting for, then?” Eleanor asks. “Hadn’t we better get going?”
“The sooner the better” John concedes and they turn their backs to the waterline. Four abreast they walk down that long shore: John and William on the left, Clara clutching her mother’s hand and burying her face in it. Four embers reaching out for something to catch their spark and set the world alight.
And so they were.
This is meant to be the intro to the novel I’m currently working on. It is my first time doing anything past the planning and outlining stages, so I admit it was a bit daunting to actually give a voice to the story.
As I mentioned on Monday, though, I had as my guide the intention to establish the mood of the story and then begin on the first arc. Obviously there is a lot of mood here, in fact it might be too much, but at least it is pointing in the direction I want. Thoughtful, pondering, and reflective. I think that is captured even in the very first line “Now and again a familiar echo will take you back there.”
Also writing in the second person definitely stands out, and gives a distinctive tone. Again, I wonder if it isn’t coming across too strongly, but I do like how it naturally encourages introspection in the reader. I’ll probably be going back and forth on how deep I want this tone to be, and would love to get any feedback on it!
After establishing the story’s mood, though, my next object was to move directly into the first plot points and establishing the story’s main arc. And so I established that these are explorers trying to make something of themselves in their own virgin corner of the world. Amidst the hope and optimism I’ve sowed traces of underlying menace, and it is easy to predict that these themes will escalate throughout the tale.
By this method I’ve been able to establish expectations in the reader, which serves the double purpose of giving them a roadmap ahead, and also allowing me to subvert those expectations as desired.
Another interesting decision in establishing the mood was choosing where to begin the story geographically. I knew it took place on an island, but I could have opened in the forest, or on a cave, or any other number of places. I chose a coastline though because I felt it spoke to a subconscious association with things deep and timeless. That’s a notion I’d like to look at in greater detail next week, this idea of speaking in a universal and symbolic nature. I’ll see you Monday when we delve into it!