The Siren Song
HELLO. I write to you from the dampest corner of Lafitte’s, 941 Rue Bourbon. I find myself in my ninety-ninth year, and feel as though it is time for me to pen my memoirs, as I am uncertain if I will be able to make it through another oppressive summer. First and foremost, I feel obliged to answer the question I have so often evaded since I washed upon these shorts as a lad – what brought me to this dark paradise? This answer involves a story too extraordinary to have shared in the past. I would have been dismissed as a madman. But I suppose such judgement can be passed on my lifeless being without much consequence.
Like with the best of tales, it began with a woman. Much of my crew enjoyed flames on every inch of every coast we would anchor to, as did I. But at twenty-three I was drawn to one that seemed to burn much brighter than the rest. After completing a shipment in Negril, my captain, Fitzroy, demanded that we layover in Port Antonio. It was a night of foolishness with the townswomen, who provided round after round of rum and coconut milk. As to be expected, I had too much, and dashed away from the party to the safety of the rocks that separate the sand from the sea. When I finished heaving, I lifted my head up, pushed back my nest of hair, and wiped the water from my eyes. That’s when I saw her.
I thought she was a mirage at first, like in the darkest days of the hardest voyage when I begin to mistake the endless horizon as an island ripe with mango trees. Her long, black ebony waves blew gently like the breeze through the palmetto leaves and every one of the million shades of green in her eyes dazzled in the distant lantern light. I was so hypnotized by the saunter in the movement in her hips that I overlooked the implications of her approaching until she was nearly right in front of me. When she spoke, it was as if the world turned in tune with each syllable being expelled from her lips. Equal to her beauty, was the size of her heart. She helped me back to the sand where she laid me carefully on my side. A brave woman, she even stroked my hair until I was able to drift off. When I woke a few hours later, my condition had greatly improved. I had fully expected to roll over to find that my mystery caretaker had fled. Instead, I found her asleep with one arm listlessly laying above her head and her hair dispersed like the tentacles of a jelly fish. I leaned in close to give her the slightest kiss on the cheek, and to my surprise, she stirred. Our eyes met and she pulled me in closely. Minutes, hours, years could have passed, and I would have been blissfully unaware.
Dawn broke, and we were due back to London. After a painful parting from my maiden, I found it impossible to forget the way her upturned lips radiated when she smiled or the feeling of the contours of her body. I promised her I would return before the year was out. In the moment, it felt like a promise that was bound in the interlocking of our souls, as the moon as our witness. As I ran quickly to rejoin my crew at the dock, my best mate, Tristan, was clearly intrigued. He demanded to know where I had wandered off to, and with whom. I loosely described her, not expecting to ring any bells, as it were. But I was mistaken. He informed me I had had Fitzroy’s daughter, which I would say is a fate worse than death, but it would be more accurate to classify them synonymously. Why do you think we stopped here? he asked, as if I were slow of mind. Fitzroy, a reformed buccaneer, had attracted Royal attention for his ability to navigate the Caribbean Sea like the lines in his palms. I was aware he had sons with women from Barbados to Belize, but a daughter, I never knew.
I was thrown into a panic. There is no such thing as secrets on ships. I held my breath, and stepped aboard. I tried my best to go about my work, but it seemed like the coastline was still in sight when I got half a dozen inquiries about my rendezvous. Apparently one of the deckhands had spotted us when he went off to relieve himself. I felt as though I was done for, but suddenly talk subsided. Or so I thought. We were only a few hundred leagues out from Key West, and I thought I was in the clear. Fitzroy called for a pause for a meeting on deck, and I reckoned it was to discuss return rations.
He started off on one of his speeches laden with cryptic metaphors. It was nothing too out of the ordinary, that was until he spoke of how in situations in which rats emerge, thy must be cut off at the head. I felt every side eye of all twenty-eight men on board, with the exception of Tristan. He stood next to me as stiff as plank, deliberately staring forward as if the Fitzroy was the only being left on earth on which to gaze. I am of the belief that his emotions ran through him with greater strength than my own. I was hollow, most likely out of my own personal self-defense. Then, like a bear snatching a fish, the good Captain grabbed me by the shirt and chucked me over the ledge. It was as if God himself had, for a brief time, provided me wings. But to the horror of my back, I was embraced not by the hands of the seas, but a raft, built shoddily of bound palm bark. I groaned in agony while my hands began to sting like a papercut for breaking my fall. What hit me the hardest, though, was the realization that I was being cast out.
Tristan was hollering at the top of lungs, threatening to report Fitzroy’s crimes to the Royal Nautical Arm the instant he stepped foot on dry land. I could spot through starry eyes Fitzroy pushing Tristan carelessly aside as he went on with severing the rope that held my raft with one quick flick of his machete. He yelled out to one of his brownnosers to lift the anchor, and the waves created by the momentum of the voyaging ship pushed me further out into the abyss. In that moment, my anger finally thought to kick in. I would have preferred that Fitzroy put his pistol against my skull, but sadly, a buccaneer’s sadism can never be permanently extinguished.
Day departed quickly into dimness. The thirst had already begun to set in. I had snuck a few ales on board to ease my nerves, but now my mouth was cursing my mind. If anything, I had hoped the dehydration would hurry itself, and ultimately, my fate in the fiery realm. What a cruel world the Creator sculpted…a world filled with water that only heightens thirst. I took to distraction by counting stars. That’s when I heard it. It sounded like a distant fog horn greeting me to port. I lifted my head, but saw no coastline. Rather, it was an approaching ship.
It had to be a mirage, it simply had to be. I blinked continually, but it was still approaching ever so gradually. My hopefulness attempted to rationalize away any doubt. Surely, the delirium of dehydration couldn’t have yet set in. I sprang to my feet, tossing off my prized boots like old handkerchiefs to prevent the raft from capsizing under their weight. I flailed my arms like a madman, desperate to catch the ship’s attention. Adding to my excitement, the ship’s markings did not indicate that it shared roots with Fitzroy. On the contrary; it flew proudly and vibrantly the flag of the Danish kingdom – the white cross greeting me into a heaven I never thought I would reach.
It was now so close that I could make out a single figure on the tip of the dock. My flailing dissipated as I sent him a more personal wave, and to my amazement, he waved back. AHOY, FRIEND, he shouted, the distinctly Scandinavian tones undertones ringing in his voice. Clearly, I was too lost in my own newfound commitment to survival to question how he knew to address me in English in a time when nearly one hundred languages could be heard be spoken across the seas. The waves of the impending hull knocked me backwards, but the man compensated by throwing me a rope that I somehow managed to retrieve it in one fateful leap. I blessed the countless days I spent loading the steerage for providing me with the strength to propel myself upwards, as well as the Creator for bestowing me the capability to scale a brick wall if such an occasion ever occurred. The man pulled me through the final measure until we both fell limply against the deck. While I could have laid there for eternity, my new savior immediately helped me to my feet and welcomed me to the S.S. Spøgelse.
The rest of the crew joined us as they came to investigate the clamor. They recoiled as I informed them of my nightmarish excursion. They explained to me how in their land, beautiful maidens are not to be protected, but rather, respected as they sit on their aura-built thrones, reveling in their pick of fantasies. It only I had been a Dane, born far outside the tyrannical reign of prudishness that holds the Royal Empire at its grips. In any event, the good men took me in as if I were one of their own. My rescuer, who later introduced himself as Captain Gud, insisted we retire to an ale-fueled celebration in my honor. I was truly humbled. But if I had learned any lesson in Port Antonio, perfection can quickly slip into a mere illusion.
No, these past hours were not a dream. I did not awake to find myself still on the raft, as one may have inferred from my enigmatic warning. The events that awaited me were much more…out of this world. Judging by the vibrancy of the moon, it had to have been approaching midnight. Merriment was flowing as fast as the libations. That is when the fog horn sound that had greeted me struck again, but this time, it was stronger. It stimulated the kinds of vibrations that shake the insides, like the shifting of fault lines. The rest of the party fell silent, as did I. The candlelight that illuminated the bottom deck extinguished in a cold wind. The men grew pale, but made no movement. I felt a pull from down below, as if I had downed the same amount of rum I had the night of my almost fatal mistake, but in a single instant. As quick as the ship came, it appeared to be leaving, not by the command of God as I had once thought during my rescue, but at the hands of infiltrating sea. Sometimes I wonder if nature’s intelligence has developed past the mind of its Creator, as it always overtakes, wielding its grips on the meager strength of man.
I began shouting, utterly panicked, but the men sat. Silent, motionless. I rushed myself to the head of the bench where Gud sat. I grabbed him by the his shirt in the same fashion that Fitzroy had inflicted upon my poor soul, desperately trying to stir in him the urgency one would expect out of a captain whose ship was sinking into a watery grave. Still, nothing. The water began to fill, and quickly. The salt burned the scabs of my still barren feet. The men remained lifeless as their mugs of ale slid across the able and hit the floor planks with a clang as the Spøgelse began to tilt leftwards. Despite indebting my life to these gentlemen, I was not ready for their lives to be indebted to me. I sprinted to the top deck and tried to navigate my way to the highest grounds through a thick, putrid green-gray fog that seemed to radiate from every inch of wood. I decided it would be wisest to attempt to climb up to the sails, but as I took a step onto the first ring, I was instantly crushed under the weight of the most unrelenting weight of the most unforgiving wave. I, again, accepted my fate as dead man. And again, under the most fantastical of circumstances, my fate shifted.
I felt as if I was suddenly gliding through the water at an exceptional rate of speed. Perhaps my years of tossing kiwis to the dolphins off the coast of Jacó had finally paid off. But I didn’t feel the smoothness of blubber. I felt long, black ebony waves that blew gently in the waves of the ocean like the breeze through the palmetto leaves. The sensation of drowning had been replaced by a euphoria guided by the colors of the coral reef. Before I knew it, my journey was complete, as indicated by the thick sediment in the grips of my toes and fingers. I climbed on all fours until the sand became dry and warm, and then glanced back to see hints of sparkling turquoise moving further and further into the horizon. And so, I found myself on North American shores. I narrowly escaped the death commanded by the siren song’s seduction, and remarkably, I was saved by the same hands. The power of the seas will never be undermined by that of the ghostly realm.