The seas glistened golden in the glow of the rising sun. A trail of amber shot through the darkness of the deep. Peaceful red clouds drifted cross the skies. The ship bobbed lazily on the ocean as we sailed northward.
I was on a journey with my father, the captain of a huge cargo ship. His vessel transported goods from all around the world, but on this trip we had been to South America. Beans, rice, herbs, coffee. These were all part of the store. This was my first voyage with my father, I was twelve, and it was late October. We made stops all along the west coast of South America. In Peru we picked up a cache of raw gold. In Ecuador we received palettes of green bananas. In Colombia, they loaded huge cartons of fragrant coffee on board. We traveled through the Panama Canal and came out into the Caribbean. We only had one more stop before going home to Nantucket. We headed toward Jamaica where we would pick up bauxite ore, used to make aluminum cans.
My father tells tales of pirates who sailed these seas ages ago. They were cut-throats and thieves, all hoping to catch a Spanish galleon. Between sea battles, and hurricanes hundreds of ships must lie on the floors of the ocean below. I leaned as far over the railing as I could, I looped my feet around the balusters, and looked overboard. I wanted desperately to see one of the ships. I felt a pair of strong hands grasp me, and I felt myself pulled roughly off the railing. I looked up to see the ships first mate looking down on me. “What do ya think ye’re doing up there, trying to fall overboard? We’ll not hear ya if ye fall over. The engines are too loud.” I didn’t know what to say. His voice softened, “Did ye’r pa tell ye the story of the crew o’ the Volar Holandés? No! I’m surprised at that. They was the greediest lot o’ pirates ye’ve heard of. Fernan Cortes-Famosa was the captain, and a blacker sea dog there never was. He robbed merchant ships, and passenger ships alike.It was after a partic’larly brutal raid on a merchant sailing ship that his luck ran low. Hurricane Fortuna rose up an’ swallowed the ’em whole, the ship and crew together. I don’t put stock in ghost stories, but I’ve heard tail from more than one seasoned sailor what tells of a strange vessel o’ the same name spotted through the scope on stormy night. Watch yerself careful wee one, there’s a red storm on the horizon.” My father placed his hand on my shoulder, I hadn’t noticed him approach and I jumped. “Don’t believe old Jones, he’s got more stories than I can count.” I was a little comforted, “Dad, he said there would be a storm. Is he right?” My father looked out over the seas into the red glow on our right. He hesitated, gave me a little nod and rubbed my hair. “Just stay close to me.” A little breeze brushed my cheek.
Nine hours later we were in the middle of a massive gale. Night was approaching, and the skies were black as slate. Water lashed at the ship and threw it side to side. We climbed the crest of one gigantic wave only to fall what seemed like miles into another. I heard the voices of sailors past floating on the waves. I ran to my father who was standing at the helm, he looked like a tree, planted to the spot. He didn’t look scared in the least. I wanted courage like that. I rushed to him. Just as I reached his side the boat hit another crest, and was also rocked by a huge wave from the leeward. I fell and slid on the wet deck into him. He came down next to me, and we both slid towards the rail. At that moment we hit a crest in the wave, and bounced into the air and over the railings altogether. There was a moment that felt like years that we were free-falling. When we hit the water it was freezing cold, and hard as rock. I was glad mother had made me take those masters swimming classes now. I looked around for father, and couldn’t see him in the mist and darkness. I looked for my ship, and could see it looming above me. I shouted for help but it was useless. Unless someone had seen us go overboard, our situation was hopeless.
I had a hard time staying afloat. I was drifting farther from the ship, but there was little I could do about it. Every few seconds the sky would brighten dazzlingly, and then go tar black. The shock of the inconsistency left me dazed, with spots wading through my vision. I swam for hours, and hours. I became weak, my limbs numb. All of a sudden, felt myself hoisted from the water by a set of burly arms, and raised to deck of a strange ship. I saw wood planking that told me this was not my fathers cargo ship. In the dark I could just make out the ship’s crew, they might have come straight out of a pirate movie for how they dressed. They wore well weathered clothing, breeches to the knees, and loose shirts, woolen caps upon their heads. If that wasn’t alarming enough the captain certainly was. He wore a wide-brimmed tri-corner hat, a heavy doublet of green, embellished with gold trim and buttons, and a dazzling rapier gleamed at his side. Armed to the teeth with cutlasses, daggers and pistols, the crew stood over me menacingly. I felt like jumping back to the storm rather than face this rabble. The captain spoke no word, but motioned toward the first mate; a tall, gaunt fellow with hollow eyes, and a marked limp. The first mate grabbed my arm and dragged me to the captains quarters, shutting the door behind him. A cold, cheerless place, it was dark, but well-appointed. There were extravagant furnishings everywhere, an empty fireplace, and a table loaded with a huge feast. I was so hungry, I reached out for an apple in a golden bowl, It was fuzzy. I threw it back. There was what looked like it had been a ham, it was buzzing and crawling. I lost my appetite very quickly.
The storm seemed to have calmed, and the light of the moon came in through the windows. A cluttered credenza sat in the light. On it were many interesting things an ancient looking map, a spotting scope, a compass, and several other navigational instruments. There was a bottle with several quills lying next to it. The most interesting item however was a jewel encrusted box. It gleamed silver in the moonlight, I reached for it. THWACK! I felt my arm slammed to the desk, and I found myself gazing into the hollow eyes of the first mate again. I could see his face better now and noticed that he was more than gaunt he was skeletal. His cheekbones were concave, the outline of his teeth and chin shone crisply through his translucent skin. He grabbed my arm and dragged me back to the captain. He seemed to know what I had done without words, he glared at me. I noticed that he too seemed more grim than I had originally thought. I looked around the crew circled about me. I felt like I was on a ship with clones for all faces bore the same cadaverous features. The captain stepped closer to me. Terrified, I could do nothing. Again, he again stepped closer. I hid my head in my hands, whatever was going to happen I didn’t want to see it.
I sat that way for a long time. I heard a seagull over head, and looked up to see the sky turning grey with the first promises of sunrise. I felt myself bobbing, and looked about. I was in a rowboat, there was no irate captain, or dingy pirates. I was alone bobbing toward the shore of a beach. A tiny figure came running toward the seas. It was my father. In my hand I clasped a long jeweled box. I opened it, inside lay a long spyglass. I looked to the East and saw the seas glisten golden in the glow of the rising sun. A trail of gold shot through the darkness of the deep. A ship glowed red in the sunrise. I took out my spyglass and saw the words Volar Holandés inscribed on the side.