To Test Sea Lore/Ding-Dong

And now, a randomly generated scene…

… using words collected from fellow choristers…

… inspired by Mäntyjärvi’s setting of Full Fathom Five from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Nouns: Notre-Dame, funnel-web spider, congee, rust, jacaranda, charter boat, fatigue

Adjectives: shiny, backward, phenomenal, stupendous, evil

Verbs: decompress, inflate, grind

Adverb: atmospherically

Pearl

Ropes tossed and tied and anchor dropped, a party of tourists strolled from the charter boat onto the dock. The clouds above were evil and the sea more so; judging by the chatter, what was left of their day trip had been cancelled due to an approaching squall. Though some weren’t quiet in their discontent, most seemed perfectly cheerful, keen to join the labourers and sailors buying bowlfuls of congee for their supper from vendors scattered about the harbour.

Intent on escaping the dire weather as tiny raindrops began to speckle their coats and then plummet more steadily, and far too occupied by their own selves and stories, no one noticed the pair that walked in the opposite direction, onto the pier rather than safely off.

The two walked hurriedly, huddled together, the larger with an arm around the smaller. The larger—a man—seemed to have loaned his great overcoat to the other; barely any of their figure could be seen beneath its folds.

They walked past the stupendous charter boat—they weren’t forgetful tourists come to reclaim some lost camera or treasure, a shell or jacaranda blossom claimed from island shores. Instead, they stopped beyond it where there looked to be nothing to attract anyone, local or sightseer. On more careful examination, a tin dinghy, so alike to the waves in colour so as to vanish against them, floated there. A ladder descended from the pier alongside.

The man’s companion seemed reluctant to approach the ladder: they dug their feet into the pier’s wooden planks and refused to climb down. A sudden movement beneath the overcoat caused them to cry out, and they stumbled forward with the man’s push, just managing to catch themselves on a rung. Trembling, the man’s companion awkwardly descended.

A savage gust caught the coat’s folds as they did, so strong it lifted the heavy garment and it flapped, bat-like, in the dim.

That’s when we saw the zip ties locking their wrists together under the coat and the dark spot of blood staining the white of their shirt just below the ribcage.

No, his ribcage. He was a man, too, darked haired and young.

The man’s companion clung to the ladder, desperate not to fall, as he tried to board the dinghy in one piece. Above, the man inflated a life jacket—only one—and slipped it over his shoulders, fastening it at the waist. Then, with a light, but urgent step, he hopped down the ladder, joining his plainly frightened captive.

We saw the flash of a knife as the man slipped the blade beneath the overcoat, pressing it to the other’s side with warning words:  keep silent and still.

Once he’d flicked a funnel-web spider to damp doom—ferried far from its preferred habit, it had been spinning there, making itself a nice new home with sea views—the man tugged the motor’s cord and cursed as it pathetically spluttered. He ground his teeth in frustration. When the little motor at last puttered into life, he directed it into the storm, leaving the pier behind, his reluctant passenger huddled in the bow.

Lightning crackled as silver fireworks overhead, illuminating the scene while thunder rumbled atmospherically seconds behind; we’ll admit this storm impressed even us. It was a wonder the little boat wasn’t tossed about more than it was, pushed backward and tipped up almost to capsizing point. Battered and rust-flecked as the tiny boat was, the man knew how to steer. He had more the look of a businessman, though, than a sailor; his suit was pristine, shoes shiny and black. Perhaps he had the sea in his blood from his father or father’s father.

On they went, further from the pier, on and on until it was merely a blip in the distance.

He let the engine die.

Surrounded by roiling grey on grey, cloud, sea and sky, the younger man gave a small whimper.

Far from the eyes of any who might prevent it, the man took his captive by the lapel of his overcoat and hurled him overboard.

‘A drowned man,’ he muttered, fingers entwined in the other’s dark locks as he pushed his head underwater and held it there.

There was fatigue in his voice, no pleasure drawn from this act of violence. Only desperation.

‘Bells,’ he uttered next, and sat very still, elbow rigid, sleeve soaking through as his captive thrashed.

He spoke again, growing even more tense.

‘Bells!’

We held ours still in our hands, feeling no little regret. We would chime for this poor victim. But not for this. Instead, we swam closer.

‘Come on!’ the man shouted, growing angry as the struggles of the drowning man stilled. We felt life leave him through the water. ‘I’ll be no better than him if you don’t! Do us a favour!’

A few of us angled our wrists, prepared to ring.

Wait, we whispered, our voice one with sea and storm.

In the boat, the man had begun to pat frantically at his suit pockets. Curious, we watched his antics. He pulled free a slim, rectangular device and began to press upon it with his fingertips. He must have given it some command, for instantly great bells tolled, as mighty as Notre-Dame. The sound was phenomenal. Even the wind seemed to die with their power as sound erupted, lone and stark, from the small device.

Without our blessing, against our will, even as we swam, hidden beneath the boat, and took the drowned man’s hands, his body collapsed into golden sand. Bone transfigured into blossoming white coral and hair fell into thick cords of knotted black pearls.

Aboard the dinghy, the mood immediately decompressed, relief swamping the man as saltwater had swamped his victim’s lungs moments before.

‘Yes…’ he hissed with the reprieve, sea treasures drifting at the ocean surface on a bed of once-skin seaweed, ready to please any lover, pay any debt… whatever trouble had been worth the other’s life.

Hand now tangled with many strings of precious stones, the man dragged them from the water in elated handfuls, piling them into the dinghy. Then, taking a small sieve—he had come prepared with more than backup imitation bells—he scooped up as much gold dust as he could.

But two treasures beyond value, shining as moon-white orbs, had begun to sink—pearls were far weightier than any eye of flesh and blood.

Keen not to lose them to the deep, the man plunged both hands into the water, each reaching for a twin pearl. Fingertips just brushing the smooth sheen of their surface, he stretched even further, shoulders straining, knuckles popping with effort.

Rain pelted bullet-like upon his shoulders, driving him further forward, nose to the swollen ocean, its roar almighty.

The boat tipped.

We didn’t seize and draw him under; such savage elements don’t appreciate offerings, though we weren’t averse to seeing his knife find his life jacket once he tumbled.

Were he truly of the sea, this man would know more than merfolk lore.

The ocean, the wind and rain: they take what they please.

And as we carried the treasures that remained to rest quietly on the ocean floor, we held our bells ready.

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