Article: 288542 of talk.bizarre
From: "Nikolai Kingsley" <>
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: O, My Captain..
Date: Sun, 1 Dec 1996 00:56:10 +1100
Organization: anarchartists
Lines: 121
Message-ID: <01bbdec6.3e061ee0$>

He stood at the front of the ship, hands clasping the thick rails, peering
out into the distance. The day was cold; grey skies overhead threatening
to rain. Instead of full-bore showers, tentative drizzle combined with the
freezing wind to steal his warmth and bite at his exposed extremities.

>From belowdecks came the voices of the crew, raised in song:

"Did a large procession wave their
Torches as my head fell in the basket
And was everybody dancing on the casket?
Now it's over I'm dead and I haven't
Done anything that I want
Or, I'm still alive
And there's nothing I want to do."

Lusty, blustering voices singing their familiar, traditional sea-shanties.
Songs handed down from the more experienced hands; wind-hardened men who
said, "Arr!" and meant it; men who were beyond making jokes about whose
turn it was in the barrel; men who knew the sea and the ships that sailed
it. Men unlike him.

He stood there, hat perched perilously on his head. The hat was the wrong
size. Maybe it had shrunk since the owner of the company had given it to
him; it no longer sat atop his head but tended to fall to one side or the
other unless he made a conscious effort to keep underneath it. This
manoeuvre had almost caused him to walk over the rails three times today.
Perhaps he'd forego the hat.

He heard the sound of footsteps behind him; almost without thinking, he
whipped the brass optical thingy (kaleidoscope?) up to his eyes and peered
through it at the horizon.


The tentative voice of the Mate. The Captain tried to detect the first
signs of impatience, of the Mate's coming to the conclusion (as he would,
inevitably – as they all would) that their Captain wasn't all he was
cracked up to be. Once more the Captain restrained the impulse to turn and
throw himself on the mercies of the crew; he continued to peer through the
brass thingy (endoscope? Some kind of damned scope) and said in a stern
tone (which he didn't feel),

"Good God, man, can't you see I'm taking a sighting?" His tone drove the
man back; the Captain could imagine the Mate doffing his cap and clutching
it respectfully before him.

"Sorry, sir… I'll come back…" The Mate's words trailed off as if asking
the Captain to complete the sentence.

"You do that, Mister. Later." The sound of the Mate's feet as he returned
below. Despite his other failings, the Captain felt a degree of pride in
the way he had weaseled a few more hours of deception out of them. Calling
him "Mister" had really done it. All those years of watching his father
bully small children in the mills had paid off.

The temperature dropped another two degrees and his stomach rumbled.
Regretfully, he felt with a numbed hand in his coat pocket for his
hip-flask, thumbed the top off and swigged the last few gritty mouths-ful
of rum as, once more, the voices below rose above the howling of the

"I got an orgone accumulator
And it makes me feel greater
I'll see you sometime later
When I'm through with my accumulator…"

Why hadn't he ever been taught songs like that? The closest his father had
ever come to giving him a pearl of pithy wisdom was the time he'd read to
him from an old leather-bound book in his study:

"In sorting Kelp / Be quick to Help",

whatever the hell that meant.

His crotch itched abominably, but he didn't dare scratch in case one of
the crew were watching through a knot-hole in the deck, so he simply
relaxed his clench on his bladder. The warmth evaporated quickly, leaving
him colder than before.

The laudanum in the rum helped stave off the hunger pangs, and he didn't
feel the knotted muscles in his legs any more. This was mid-morning of the
third day; he'd been without food or sleep since they'd left from dock. He
had spent all of his time at the front of the ship, clasping the rail;
whenever anyone approached him, he waved them away and claimed to be
"taking a sighting". He knew that if they ever found out, they'd be so
disheartened that they'd want to turn back immediately; he wasn't much of
a Captain but he knew that he had to be an inspiration to his crew, which,
as far as he was concerned, meant not giving away that he didn't know the
first damned thing about sailing. So there he stood, brass kaleidoscope
(that was its name, he was sure) clutched in one hand, slowly freezing and
starving to death. Somehow, it wasn't enough. He thought he might have a
few minutes' respite after the Mate's visit, so he surreptitiously took a
peek at his pocket diary. It was completely empty except for his name and
address in the front, his birthday somewhere in the middle, and the few
nautical terms he'd managed to discover by overhearing the crew as they
went about their work, scrawled on the last few pages:

Port:		a hole, like the one we left from
Star'b'd		anagram of `bastard'? are they trying to tell me something?
Yardarm:		the distance from the end of a sailor's nose to his mug of rum
when his arm is fully
Bosun:		some kind of subatomic particle
Amidships:	halfway between a big boat and a little boat
Arr:		??? Code, for `18'?
Belay:		go to sleep, lying down

He stared long and hard at the last entry. Sleep was all he needed right
now; he had to jab a sharp part of the thingyscope into his ribs to keep
himself from drifting off and falling overboard. He seriously considered
lashing himself to the rails and letting the wind and sleet freeze him in
position, one hand holding the thingyscope to his eyes, the other probably
holding his hat on, but he'd heard dark rumours of what sailors did with
each other involving ropes, and he didn't want any part of it.

There had to be a way out of this, some course he could follow that would
allow him to escape with his dignity, but he was blowed if he could think
of it at the moment.