Captain Bones

I think this is pretty different from most of my stories. It started off in my mind as the same concept in another setting – an insane asylum. In the end, though, I decided this setting was much better. Why? Because pirates, that’s why. Pirates and curses and diamonds, and if you don’t like that then you’re an oddball.

– B.P.

 

Captain Bones

 

By Ben Pienaar

 

Zack pack pedalled and twisted around so that he could peer down into the wreckage of the seablade. Twenty or so feet away Karl motioned to him that he was going in, through a giant hole in the hull. Zack nodded absent mindedly and then drifted down towards the place he thought he’d seen the gleaming.

Judging from the lie of the ship, the ragged hole he approached would lead straight into the captain’s quarters. Even this far up, he could see the white of a man’s skull against the rotted wood of an upturned table. He descended further, trying to see more through the drifting coral pieces and seaweed.

He hesitated at the opening. Since the ship was on its side, all of the remaining furniture had come to rest on the opposite wall, and that was where the lonely skeleton lay, beside a brass handled pistol by its left hand. Zack noted, with rising excitement, that the right one was missing. Could it really be him? Then he remembered the flash of red in the corner of his eye and his heart skipped a beat. The Blood Diamond.

He looked around, suddenly afraid that someone else would be there, intruding on his discovery. He needn’t have feared: Karl was in the hull and Lana had already gone way ahead of both of them and was somewhere in the depths of the ship, raiding it.

He propelled himself off the barnacle covered wood and kicked until he was face to face with the cracked skull of the captain himself. His breathing sounded like Darth Vader on fast forward.

It was a tiny thing, and the idea that it had caught his eye from all the way back there seemed absurd, yet here it was. It lay at the base of the captain’s shattered skull, as bright as the day it was cut, and seeming to glow dark red, like a shard of crystallised blood.

Zack reached into the skull and plucked it out. He didn’t dare analyse the thing here and now – it was so small it felt like the slightest current would blow it out of his fingers. Instead he tucked it into a tight pouch in his suit and then turned and headed straight for the surface, but not before snatching up the pistol in the corner of the cabin.

His rational mind shouted at him to stay on the ship, to loot it with the others and take credit for what he could – the Seablade was a veritable treasure chest on its own, after all. But he had the most valuable thing on the whole vessel now, and everything around him took on ten times the potential danger. What if he snagged his suit on something sharp and the diamond fell out? What if a fish ate it? Bizarre as they were, he couldn’t shake these fears, so he kept his eye on the surface and kicked.

He pulled himself up on deck a few seconds later and Clive was there, helping him with his tank. ‘What happened? Did something go wrong?’

He tore off his mask and, before he could help himself, Zack erupted into side splitting laughter. Clive stood back with a half smile on his face, perplexed but relieved. ‘Gonna let me in on the joke?’ he said after a while.

Zack took a few deep breaths and recovered himself. He was shivering, but he wasn’t so sure it was from the cold. ‘No joke, Clive. No joke at all. Just the best damn thing that’s ever happened to me. To us, I mean.’

Actually he had meant me, but he was just then seized by an irresistible desire not to show the older man the diamond. Instead, he took out the pistol he’d snatched from the captain’s quarters and held it up. ‘And that’s just the beginning,’ he said.

Clive took it and held it up to the sun. He was looking for the engraving, Zack knew, and a second later he found it. ‘Incredible,’ he said.

‘That’s right. It’s him. The legend himself. He was even missing his right hand.’

Clive chuckled and handed it back to him. ‘I mean, I suppose we shouldn’t be so surprised. We know he lived. It will be fascinating to see just how much of the myth is real.’ That, Zack thought, was very true.

He headed inside for a minute, telling Clive he wanted to make sure he got credit for the gun by putting it in his cabin. He did, of course, but it was the diamond he really wanted to claim. He took it out and dropped it into his desk drawer, again fighting off the urge to stare at it. He’d already missed out precious minutes exploring, and now that it was safe he wouldn’t have to worry about it.

He went back down and joined the others in the search, and when they were done, their tanks were empty and so was the ship. Clive was trying to organize the loot on deck but there was enough to stock a museum. When they finally came up, the Caribbean sun was almost all the way set.

The dinner Clive set out for them that night was more like a feast, and every one of them knew they deserved it. They were laughing, and their eyes were bright with excitement, but also complete disbelief. Afterwards, they moved to the yachts cramped lounge room and began to celebrate in earnest.

‘Weren’t expecting to be opening that any time soon, were you?’ Karl said as Clive struggled to open a bottle of ancient rum that they had brought along for the occasion.

‘Can’t say that I did. Despite our vow, though, I did think we’d likely be opening it one way or the other. It’s just that I was certain it would be out of sorrow rather than triumph.’

‘And what a triumph,’ said Lana, turning her head in the direction of the foredeck, where they’d left the majority of the takings.

They all agreed on that, and when the rum was poured the mood grew solemn and Zack lifted his glass. ‘I propose a toast,’ he said. ‘To friends, to endless hope, and most of all to the spirit of adventure.’ They cheered and clinked their glasses and drank, but when that warm feeling spread through his stomach and heart, Zack knew that it was not from the rum. It was the thought of the blood diamond in his cabin, waiting for him.

‘You forgot to toast the captain,’ Lana said, nudging him.

‘I guess I did. But then again, what did he ever do besides kill a whole lot of people?’

Clive rolled his eyes, just as Zack knew he would, and said, ‘he did plenty more than that, as you well know.’

‘Here we go,’ Karl said, refilling his glass.

‘Don’t protest, young man. It still amazes me how little interest you of all people have shown in such a fascinating character.’

Karl ran a hand through greasy black hair and shook his head. ‘Sorry, Professor Clive. It’s just, see, he’s the same as all the others. Sailed the seven seas, lost a hand and an eye, fought ruthlessly, all that.’

‘What about the blood diamond?’ Zack said, leaning forward. ‘I mean, I’ve heard some of it, but you know the whole deal, don’t you Clive? The whole story.’

‘Ah, well, yes.’

‘Could you tell it?’

Karl snickered, but sat back in his chair and smiled at Clive all the same, because he wanted to hear it as much as the rest of them. Zack filled his and Lana’s glasses with wine and then leaned forward. Especially considering the setting, he couldn’t help but be reminded of Quin telling the story of the Indianapolis in the movie Jaws. He thought Clive even looked a bit like the old sailor, with his sun damaged skin and squinted eyes, and he was a born storyteller besides.

‘Captain Bones,’ he began, ‘was possibly the most bloodthirsty pirate before Edward Teach himself. Blackbeard, to you lot. He was, actually, more bloodthirsty then the former, when it came to sheer numbers of murders committed. The reason for this, I suspect, was because of his deceptively small stature. He wasn’t a large man, as Blackbeard was, and not so physically intimidating, but he compensated by being so completely violent that no one foolish enough to cross him survived. And of course, he was obscenely skilled with a sword and pistol.’

‘Which I wouldn’t mind seeing, by the way,’ Lana said.

‘Alright, but later. Where does the diamond come in?’ Zack asked.

‘Right, well. In addition to his natural talent for violence, Captain Bones was also quite intelligent, and he made something of a fortune despite becoming the most wanted pirate in the Caribbean at time when piracy was at its peak. And yes Karl, his name was given to him after he gained the habit of braiding the bones of his enemy into his hair and beard.’

‘Nice.’

‘Anyway, as I say he was smart, but he also happened to be an incredibly superstitious fellow. Not religious, but superstitious. He believed in magic, and also very much in the concept of a soul – which brings me to the other reason for his acquired name, actually: he thought that consuming the bones of the dead gave him superhuman strength.’

Thats nice,’ Lana said.

‘Interesting, I think. But he had a problem, our bloodthirsty Captain Bones. He knew he wasn’t going to live forever, but he was still horribly afraid of death. In battle it seemed he was fearless, but that was only because to show weakness was as certain a death as anything else. Most of all, he wanted to save his soul, and that is where the legend of the Blood Diamond lies.’

‘The legend,’ Karl muttered, clearly put off. He and Lana had searched the captain’s quarters at least ten times, and Zack knew exactly what they’d been looking for.

‘As you say, unfortunately it does remain merely a legend, since we could not find the diamond itself. As the tale goes, the captain took an ordinary diamond to a witch and had her put his own murderous soul into it. That way, not only would he be even more ruthless than before, his soul would be immortalized in the diamond and he would never truly die. He kept this little gem, it is said, behind the wadding in his left eye, which he lost in the same battle as his hand. And thus ends the story.’ He smiled and finished off his second glass.

They sipped in silence for a few minutes after that, and listened to the slop of waves against the side of the yacht.

‘It’s not really the end of the story,’ Lana said, smiling. ‘The end is here, now, with us. We found it all, and now we’ll bring it to the world. Diamond or no diamond.’ And that was something they could all drink to.

Zack excused himself as soon as he could without seeming odd. By now, the thought of the diamond was burning a hole in the back of his mind and he just had to see it. He needed to see that it was still there. That it was all his.

He locked his cabin door behind him and breathed a sigh of relief. He tried to steady his swimming vision and after a minute the cabin stopped turning in circles and stayed relatively still. He approached his desk, hesitated, and opened the top drawer. It was there.

For a while all he could do was stare. Much darker than a pink diamond, it really did look like a little drop of blood. Just looking at it, he could almost hear the clash of swords and gunfire, and the crash of waves on deck. Screaming sailors and snapping wood: this diamond had seen it all through the captain’s blind eye.

Zack picked it up and brought it close to his eye. What was that he’d seen in it a moment ago? A flicker of black within the red – a shadow in the diamond. He thought he was seeing things, but the closer he looked, the more he thought he did see something. And it was moving, too. It looked like a little black figure, moving to and fro inside. Pacing.

Zack closed one eye and looked even closer, so that the diamond filled the whole of his vision. Now he saw it clearly, and when the sight registered his heart stopped. It was Captain Bones. It was him, pacing behind the walls of his tiny prison, and though he could see little of the man’s face, Zack got the impression that he was mad. His features twisted in an obscene grimace.

The figure saw him.

The ship began to rock in a rather unruly fashion, though he couldn’t be sure it was that or the amount of rum he’d consumed that made him feel so off kilter. He was leaning forward over his desk now, constantly on the brink of falling headfirst onto his desk. The red diamond filled up everything he saw, and now so did the shadow inside. It – he – had stopped moving now and was standing in the middle of the diamond, staring back at him.

Before Zack knew what was happening, the captain pushed off the far wall and sprinted straight for his eyeball. There was some horrible impact, and Zack flew backwards, his eyes squeezed shut.

He lay on his back for some time, breathing hard and trying to make sense of what had happened. It’s just a fright, he told himself. Just too much rum and not enough sleep, that’s all. It was time to put the diamond back in the drawer, or better yet, throw it back where it belonged, and go to sleep.

He opened his eyes and found himself in a strange new room. It had only sharp angles and many corners, and the walls were bright red. It was about the size of his cabin. He shut his eyes again and then opened them. He was still there.

When he stood up, he had to stand crookedly because the floor was uneven and the ceiling was low on one side. He was overcome with a sense of vertigo and bent over, sure that he was going to throw up, but nothing came. There was nothing to come, he realised. He’d eaten more than he could handle at dinner; drunk more than he could drink afterwards – but now he felt empty.

He took a step and pressed his face up against one of the red walls and found that he could see out. That was when he realised what had happened.

The captain looked back at him from the other side.

Rather, he looked at himself, his own body, holding up the diamond in which he was now imprisoned. But it was the captain that stared at him from his own eyes. They had swapped places.

‘A fine body you have, son,’ the captain said in his voice. He grinned. ‘I think I’ll take it for a ride.’ He stretched and looked around the little cabin. ‘What kind of mad ship is this?’ he said, as if to himself.

‘Please!’ Zack found his voice at last. ‘Let me out! Don’t do this!’

‘What?’ The captain spun back to look at him, furious. ‘Help you? And how should I do that? Find another fellow to fill your place? Only then, you’d be free, wouldn’t you? And who’d you come after as soon as you were?’ He chuckled, a sound Zack was horrified to hear coming from his own mouth.

‘No, please. I won’t come after you, I promise. I’ll do anything, just let me out of here!’ He tried to catch the captain’s eye, but the man stared determinedly at the wall behind him.

‘Sorry, lad. I’ve a body, now, and you don’t. Besides, it’s a dangerous thing, this diamond. Doing swaps like that is too easy. We can’t have anyone else falling victim to it, can we now? It’s only fair to everyone else that you be the last. I’ll just get rid of you and no poor soul will have to suffer the same fate as the two of us.’

‘NO! WAIT!’

But the captain was not a patient man. He balled Zack up in his fist, and when he opened it again Zack and the diamond fell a short way. He slammed against the hard walls of the diamond, but somehow he felt no pain. When he stood up, he saw that the captain had put him in a small wooden box. Zack listened to a distant thumping, and felt the diamond moving around him. Then the lid of the box opened again and he saw that they were standing out on deck. Only then did his fate truly dawn on him.

‘No,’ he whispered. The captain did not hear him.

‘I can’t tell you how it was to be in there for so long. Sitting behind my eye patch, watching my soulless body wreak havoc on the world. Mildly entertaining sometimes, mostly I couldn’t see a thing, though, and that was miserable. Waiting all these years was worse, though. Much worse.’

‘Please.’

‘I’m sorry, son. It’s just, I’ve been waiting a bloody century to get out of that thing, and now here I am. And on a ship, too! Who’d have thought? Just imagine the things I can do in this brave new world, eh? With a sword and a pistol… Who knows? Bet you’ve got a woman around, too, don’t ya?’ He winked and Zack felt his stomach drop away. No, not Lana, he thought. Stay away from Lana, Jesus. If he could only catch the man’s eye…

Without so much as a glance down, the captain slammed shut the lid of the box and Zack was in darkness.

There was a feeling of complete suspension, and only then did he realise he’d been thrown from the ship, and a moment later there was a heavy jolt. He thought, for a moment, that he’d float, but then he felt the walls go cold around him and he knew the box was filling up with water. It would sink to the seafloor, and when it rotted away he’d be nothing more than a red speck buried in the sand. And there he would remain until someone found him. No, not until, he thought. IF. Only if someone finds me.

Zack sank to his knees inside the diamond and put his hands to his face. Five minutes later the box hit the seafloor.

Somewhere far above, a body inhabited with a rotten soul went in search of his cutlass, and the others slept peacefully in their beds.

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