Fiction

Death by Fire or Ice

By: Lyndsay Stanley

All of her benefactors were dead.  Even Robert.  Her Robert.  She could close her eyes and still feel his gentle touches and the warmth of his tender lips lovingly hovering over her own. 

He was the reason she was on this accursed ship.  And those dirty, grimy flea-infested, pirates had killed him.  They were going to kill her too. She couldn’t hide from them forever.

All she wanted was to start a new life. It seemed the old saying was true.  The past never really does go away. Deliah cuddled into the large dirt-brown English wool blanket that she had brought with her. The ocean air on the highest deck was fresh but piercing. She had taken a chance to step outside of her cabin, but she longed for the cool salty sea air.  She stood at the bow of the ship on the highest deck, where the pirates did not dare venture.  Her bloody boots gave witness to the many murders that had terrorized the original passengers and which now seemed to give her refuge.  Pirates are a superstitious bunch.

Bang! Bang! Bang! 

Three billows of smoke rose from the main deck.  She turned around, her wild brown hair propelled forward with the wind.  From where she stood, she could see three men on the main deck arguing over something, with one of the last original passengers stood tied up against the mast. 

Oh no. they’ve found her.

Heart racing and breath escaping her, she hurried towards the safety of her small closet of a room.  She locked herself inside and hid.  She couldn’t think about that poor young girl strapped to the mast. Now, she was just another ill-fated soul, fated to be lost just like the others.

A sound as loud as a cannon came from the main deck of the ship.

Boom!

 She could hear muffled male voices and hurried footsteps. They’re coming

“Deliah!  Open the door you whore!”

“Yeah, we’re paying customers!”

Deliah couldn’t help but cry as she crawled under her bed and prayed that no one would find her.  Just days before she did not have to rely on her prayers to save her.  She had Robert.  Her tears streamed down her face silently, as she remembered the face of her beloved as they tied his hands behind his back…

She knew that the door latch stood no chance against the desperate efforts of those burly hungry men.  The men started to slam their weight against the door.  Slam after slam loosened the hinges further. They were almost through. 

“We’re not gonna hurt ya, we just want some fun!” One of the men said in a snarling voice.

“Yeah, we won’t hurt ya!” An evil sniveling giggle resounded against the iron walls of the ship’s corridor.

The iron door swung open and the men entered. 

“Where are you?”

Blankets and pillows were strewn all over the room in their effort to find her.

It was a good thing those men had the intelligence of a flamingo because well poor old Deliah was hiding in about the only place she could have in that small closet. 

“All hands on deck!”  Yelled the pirate captain from the main deck.

Uh! Come on!” Shouted one of her intruders expressing his disappointment. 

“Ah, well, we’ll be havin’ our fun later!”

“Yeah! Hear that whore?  We’ll be back!”

Deliah watched them leave from under her blanket.

“Robert!” She whispered into the warmth of her wool blanket, “how could you leave me?”  Her shaking hands slipped into the pockets of her dress and pulled out a small locket that held a brown-tinged photograph of a woman dressed in white, on the arm of a tall handsome man in full tails and wearing a top hat.  “Robert!”  She closed the locket and collapsed into a deep sleep.

She couldn’t get used to the swaying motion of the ship as it combated the cold dark waves of the North Atlantic. St. Anne was due to arrive in New York’s harbor in one week. She wasn’t sure she would live that long.   She stayed in her hiding place, under her bed, thinking about how she was going to get off of this floating hell.  Most of her plans ended with her own demise, which at times didn’t even bother her.  After gaining nothing but a thrashing headache, she had concluded that there was only one way off of this ship. Slowly and quietly, she emerged from her hiding place to rummage through her stash of rations that she had valiantly stolen from the kitchen the week before.  There was a half loaf of stale bread, two apples, a pint of ale, and some corned beef in a tin.  She fought the urge to eat every last morsel of it. She was constantly starving! Instead, she ate a mouthful of bread and a gulp of ale; slipped on a cleaner dress, and left her fortress.

After being a target of large, violent men for weeks, Deliah was a seasoned and efficient spy.  So with her newfound skillset, she traveled throughout the ship, setting her plan in motion.

The captain’s quarters were located on the other side of the ship on the highest deck level. It featured a large viewing area for navigating the sea and supervising the crew.  Such a spectacular vantage point posed a particular difficulty to get to alive.  Deliah made her way down a long dark corridor, having memorized all possible hiding places along her route. Tiptoeing along and dodging all sailors she encountered, she made her way to her usual spying position-below one of the staircases that led to the ship’s storage.   From there she could see that the main deck had been cleared.  Yesterday the main deck had been covered with kegs of supplies, piles of rope, and crates of weapons.  She could see nothing now.

What are they up to?

She could hear footsteps above her, so she crouched down again.

“And what do we do with the last one? The girl?” One pirate asked the other.

“You mean the whore?  What do men do with whores, huh?”

“Uh, sir, I believe that she is now an English Lady and of considerable worth to…”

“An English Lady, huh?”

“Well, she married Sir…”

“I don’t give a damn! He’s dead and soon she will be too.  When you find her, she’s mine!”

“Yes, Captain sir.”

The two pirates walked across the main deck and then went down a hatch into the lower deck of the ship.  She quickly shot a look up above the staircase to see if there would be any further traffic.  There appeared to be no one, so she briskly crossed the deck, entered the captain’s quarters, and closed the door behind her.  A rotten fish smell assaulted her nose as she entered. 

There’s someone else in here!

“Oh, well hello missy!”

There behind the door stood the pirate captain’s second.

She let him advance.

“Came to get some did you?”  The dirty pirate said with a devilish smirk on his face.

“Well, no I’ve actually got something for you!” She said, trying to muster up a face full of desire.  “Come!”  She motioned for him to advance further.

The moron gave her a nasty grin of satisfaction.  He walked slowly towards her as if expecting some action to come of his ‘play’.  He was to be sadly disappointed.

Thud!

The ugly pirate was unconscious and hit the floor hard, making a terrible thud noise.  Deliah froze for a few moments to gauge whether anyone below them had heard the noise.  Silence! 

“Thank you, Robert!” She whispered as she walked up to the captain’s desk and started to look through his papers.  She needed to know if they had had any correspondence with neighboring vessels and if coordinates had been shared.  She could see that a telegram had been sent from the St. Anne to a vessel that had left New York’s harbor five days prior.  The St. Anne had requested a meet up to exchange goods.  Likely illegal goods, if the St. Anne did not want to exchange those goods in the New York harbour itself.  But, that was of no consequence to Deliah. She just wanted to escape. The vessel in question was appropriately named, The Saviour.

“Ok, four days until the exchange.  I can…”

“You can what?”  A scruffy male voice probed.

Terror gripped every inch of her body as her eyes moved towards the sound of the voice in front of her. Standing there was Captain Heath Throatcutter, the most notoriously feared pirate ever to plague any ocean.

“I see you’ve taken up an interest in navigation! The list of your accomplishments is impressive.  Whore…Sea Navigator, Telegraph operator! “

“I am no whore!”

“But you are!” Captain Throatcutter said as he began to advance towards her, with a terrifying glint in his eyes.  “Your friend, what was his name again? Robert?”

“My husband!” She yelled, frustrated that she must constantly defend her own honor.

 “He told us all about you before we…”

“You are all animals!”

“We are thieves and extortionists, yes.  But not animals!”

“What do you want?” She immediately regretted asking this question.

“You will keep my bed warm in the nights while we remain on this ship.”

“I will not!”

“You will if you want to live.”

“I couldn’t care less about living.”

“Your interest in that telegram would suggest otherwise. You will keep my bed warm or you will go over into the crushingly cold waters of the North Atlantic.”

“I would rather die….”

“Well let’s give the first option a try, shall we? I’m a lonely man.” As if it had all been orchestrated, two men yanked open the door and walked past the captain on towards Deliah.  They roughly grabbed her by the arms and dragged her out the door.

The smell of salty sweat and gunpowder was all around her as she lifted her head from a small cot that she had been sleeping on for hours.  Her stomach was growling from missing her secret stash of rations, and her mouth stung of dryness.  She needed water. 

I must be in the captain’s personal chambers. 

The room was larger than any other room that she had acquired throughout this trip, with a large wooden chest for the captain’s clothes, a rinsing pail, with a bar of tan-colored soap, a chamber pot and even a mirror with a shaving knife neatly placed on a hook.  She got up and grabbed the shaving knife.

 I might need this…

Someone was coming!  She gathered some blankets around her and stood up ready to engage the intruder.  She was not going to be anyone’s whore tonight or any other night.  That part of her life was long gone!  The doorknob squeaked as it turned. The latch retreated and the door opened slowly.  The captain quietly came into his room, looking unsteady on his legs. 

Good, he’s been drinking. This will make my plan a lot easier.

“Oh my dear, I think I need a massage tonight.  My body is getting too old for this pirate business.”  The revolting stench of his breath alone was reason enough to attack this man, let alone weeks of torment.

She seethed with anger and hostility as she held out the shaving knife as her only defense.

“I am leaving! Get out of the way!”

The captain furrowed his brows as if shocked that Deliah would defend herself from his attentions.

“My dear…”

“Now!  Move!”

He clumsily shuffled himself to the right of the door and in the process collided with his dressing chest and fell hard with his head hitting the ground.  Deliah did not check to see if he was alive, she just ran.  She knew that there was no way that she would survive another four days. She would either lower herself to being his plaything or be thrown over by the pirates.  Either way, a part of her would die on this ship. 

The ship was quiet and dark. Deliah judged that if the captain had been drinking it is very likely that the rest of the crew had been as well.  But she had to know for sure, so she quietly glided through the dark corridors of the ship and peered into the mess hall.  There she saw tables lined with large, sweaty, men smelling of rum lying unconscious with their heads on the tables.  A periodic Ahhh could be heard in response to what would eventually amount to a pounding headache.

She turned the corner and entered the ration supply closet. She knew that if she wanted to survive she had to have food and warmth on that lifeboat.  Throwing a leather bag full of rations over her shoulder, she retreated towards the main deck.  Her plan was to get into a lifeboat and cut it down with her newly acquired shaving knife.  Then she would row or die.  She was prepared to do either.

She ran towards the lifeboat and jumped into it.  She immediately began to cut the ropes that held it to the boat. She was ready to be launched roughly into the Atlantic.  She would take any risk at this point.  The ropes did not cut easily.  She used the blade to saw at them, moving her entire body back and forth to gather the strength required for this task.  The rope was starting to crack and snap.

Yes!

She focused harder on her task, sawing and sawing the rope.  Another SNAP and the ripped rope released the lifeboat. The thirty-foot drop caused water to splash into the boat and reminded Deliah how cold the north Atlantic could get.  She immediately took up the oars and rowed like her life depended on it, because it did.  She looked up at the ship, hoping that none of the drunken halfwits had noticed her departure.  She rowed and rowed for what seemed like hours but was only minutes. 

Death by brutal-hot blooded men or by icy waters.  She looked down into the dark deep of the ocean thinking about all of those lost souls that had gone under before her.  Robert, I’m coming.

Categories: Fiction

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