Monthly Archives: August 2015

Shopping

Lizzie swept away straggling hairs on her forehead. Most fell back. The fluorescent bar above the handicap stall washed out her face, made dim semicircles under her eyes. She sniffed, examining her own eyes in the mirror. Kids didn’t trust adults who were too bright-eyed. She seemed okay.

Lizzie discreetly licked the remnants of powder from her knuckle, grabbed up her purse, and left the bathroom.

The mall was crowded with weekend shoppers. Lizzie walked by several stores, pretending to window-shop as she looked at the people around her. There were a lot of kids here today. There was a Mexican family with the children all holding hands in a kite-tail. Too hard. A young woman sat absorbed by her phone while a toddler splashed in the fountain. Lizzie looked up for a moment too long and caught the young woman’s eye. She tried to smile wanly, as if sharing an unspoken alliance. The toddler fell in, crowing. Lizzie walked away as the pair convened. No good.

There was a little girl in a full-skirted dress sitting on the bench outside a shoe boutique. She was smiling placidly and swinging her feet. Lizzie sized her up while pretending to examine the sunglasses kiosk.

No parent in sight, yet she was relaxed. That meant mom was probably in the shoe store. The kid was sitting neatly, probably like mom told her to, which meant obedience.

Lizzie took a breath and constructed her smile. She descended.

“Hi!” she said, crouching down before the girl. Greetings were always tricky, where you could make or break it.

The little girl smiled back, unafraid. She had one of the chunky plastic bracelets that were in every mall nowadays. Lizzie pointed to it.

“Omigosh, that’s so pretty,” she gushed, “are you a for-real-life princess?”

The girl giggled and shook her head. She didn’t seem too talky. Good.

Lizzie crouched lower, putting her face closer to the girl’s wrist. In her periphery, no one stopped to look at the woman and child. Good. That was why they paid her, she wasn’t noticeable.

“Those are neato,” Lizzie said, “I sure would like to get one for myself.” She perked up. “Can you show me where you got that?”

The little girl nodded, slipping off the bench and holding her hand out.

They walked hand-in-hand down the mall. Lizzie said “wow, an escalator! Have you ever ridden one?” and suddenly they were on the lower level, walking to the west end of the mall. Lizzie knew not to look around to see if anyone was watching them. It had been a clean swoop. Now she just had to get the kid to her car.

The realization that they were not going to the store that sold chunky plastic bracelets slowly dawned on the girl. Her face went from puzzlement, to fear, then finally to outright panic. She started breathing fast. Shit. They were barely halfway to the exit. Lizzie looked around for a store that opened to the outside. The mall was sort of out in the sticks, she could find a quiet parking lot or a field to finish the job.

The girl started bawling. Shit, shit, shit. Lizzie tried to walk on, assuming the harried look of a parent, rolling her eyes when she attracted the odd look. The girl started tugging on her arm. God. There was the door. She only had to—

There was a security officer following them. Shit fuck fuck. How long had he been there? Lizzie had been too busy playing the overworked parent to spot. She made a calculated risk and scooped the kid up.

“I am never taking you anywhere again,” she hissed audibly, “when your father hears about this—”

Someone touched her elbow. Lizzie tried not to start.

“Are you all right ma’am?” The security guard seemed pleasant enough. Maybe suspicious, maybe not.

Lizzie made an embarrassed face. “Gosh, I’m sorry. It’s okay, we’ll be right out of here. I know it’s disruptive.”

The girl, face knotted redly with grief, howled: “I want my mommy!”

Lizzie tried to keep the color from draining out of her face. “I know you do, sweetie,” she said loudly for the child’s benefit.

The security guard frowned slightly. “You’re her…”

“Aunt,” Lizzie said, in a low enough voice that the kid wouldn’t hear it. “My brother’s little girl. She hasn’t seen her mommy lately.” She mouthed divorce.

Guard smiled. “Well, I guess you better see your mommy then, honey.”

Lizzie grinned as she tried to hang onto the squirming little bundle. She had a hand out and goodbye was in her throat when the officer said, “how would you like to use the office phone to call her?”

Lizzie’s smile was taxedermied into place. She musn’t show panic. She musn’t show panic. How could she refuse? Formulate a doctor’s appointment, or a pet that had to be taken care of—

The girl gave a full-body heave like a porpoise breaching and bellowed “mommy!”

The guard patted her on the back with one hand and slid the other around Lizzie’s, guiding her.

“You will, honey, you will.” He shot Lizzie a conspiratorial wink. She grinned weakly in return.

Protest would only build suspicion at this point. She saw the other shoppers looking curiously at them and tried to look embarrassed. She shushed the girl and regretted not getting her name before taking off. Shit. That mistake would probably cost her a lot.

The office was basically a desk next to the lost and found box. It had the same fluorescents as the bathroom, lighting they could never get away with in the stores because it washed the color out of everything. The little girl’s skirt went from cheerful peach to a sallow flesh tone.

The guard guided them down to a padded bench.

“Now, I’ll just get her some water,” he said, “and then we’ll call her mommy. What’s her name?”

Lizzie, thinking fast, stammered, “Suzy.”

The child had slipped into a sobbing fugue, she neither heard nor spoke from behind her misery.

The guard nodded. “Little Suzy. Just you calm down.”

The guard went out of sight. Lizzie let the girl slither out of her arms and onto the bench, where she kicked and flung her arms. Shit. She should probably cut her losses and run, but the guy had seen her face clearly. What if he caught up with her before the door? She probably couldn’t safely extract the girl at this point, but she’d settle for not getting arrested.

The door creaked open and the guard said, “just in here sir.”

Lizzie’s heart fell when a middle-aged man wearing half-frame glasses and a neat button-up shirt followed the guard in.

“Hi there,” he said in the soothing tones of a children’s author, “I’m Glen. I’m the manager. What’s all the fuss, little lady?”

Little lady? Shit, this was out in the sticks. Lizzie forced a laugh.

“Sorry, it’s just her daily meltdown, she always gets cranky around n-a-p time.”

The manager nodded, kneeling down in front of the bench. Great, he was one of those fatherly types. Probably didn’t even have kids.

“Now, Suzy,” Glen said in his tonic voice, “you gotta tell me what’s wrong. Take a deep breath.”

The girl took a deep breath and resumed screaming for her mommy. He was trying to say something else, half-words that weren’t quite getting through. Lizzie felt little fingers of cold in her arms and back. Shit. If the kid started talking while she was here, that would be it.

Glen faced the guard. “You get her the water, Mac?”

“I was on my way. Be right back.”

The guard left again and the manager looked to Lizzie and smiled, holding up one finger as he laboriously rose from his knees. Lizzie watched as he went to the desk and started rummaging in the drawers. Probably looking for crayons or some shit like that. And pretty soon he would hand her the phone. And pretty soon he would wonder why Lizzie didn’t know her own sister-in-law’s number. And pretty soon the guard would be back with that water, and the kid would talk and it would all go to hell.

Lizzie rummaged through her purse to give herself time to think. She had no cellphone, but maybe she could fake it…

No. Then they’d still probably escort her to the entrance. How long had it been? If the mom was any kind of mom, she was probably aware her kid was gone by now. If they moved too slow, the other woman would catch up to them.

Lizzie fingered a baggy of powder and had a sudden flash of inspiration. She slowly let the panic show on her face as her movements became more rapid and erratic. She mouthed no as her eyes widened. She could see the manager take notice in her peripheral vision.

“Oh god,” she whispered, barely loud enough to be heard over the kid. That was the trick. The manager dropped whatever was in the drawer and came over.

“Something wrong, ma’am?”

Lizzie looked up, eyes wide. “Her insulin.” She used her very real panic in her delivery, finally letting her heart race and her hands tremble. “I-I must have left it in the car.”

The manager looked from her to the girl. Anyone could tell she wasn’t in a diabetic coma. Lizzie put her hands over her mouth to draw the manager’s attention back to her.

“I swear, I thought I grabbed everything,” she babbled, letting the words run together so he had less chance of picking them apart and analyzing them. “I must have left it on the back seat and it’s going to be three o’clock soon, oh god, I am the worst aunt ever and I am never going to babysit again—”

The guard pushed the door open, red solo cup in one hand. Lizzie bolted up.

“Please,” she said, letting her voice crack, “please, you have to let me go get it. I swear, I’ll just be one second.”

“Now hold on, missy.” The guard held a hand out. Had he seen the woman looking for her child?

“Please,” she said again, “it’s faster if I just go, I’ll be there and back in no time at all—oh Suzy, don’t cry, it’s going to be all right,” she addressed the girl, who showed no signs of changing the subject of her misery.

The guard was looking between them, calculating. The manager stepped forward.

“Good god, Mac, stand aside and let her go get her medicine.” He turned to Lizzie. “We’ll take good care of her, ma’am.”

Lizzie gave little theater sobs. “Oh thank you,” she said, rushing out of the office, “thank you—”

It was easy to run like a desperate woman, blunder into things, bump into people while hurling apologies. She made for the central entrance, because it was closer. She noticed a woman in a similar state not too far off, pantomiming frantically to a gathering crowd of onlookers. Her dress was identical to the little girl’s. Ugh.

Lizzie breached the double glass doors and took a deep breath of freedom. She jogged down the line of cars. The Saturn they gave her was down by the west entrance, but she hadn’t reached her quota today. She’d never missed a day, and she didn’t want to find out what happened when she did.

There was a jeep idling in the shade of one of the lot trees. Lizzie shaded her eyes and squinted. A four-year-old was playing with a touch-screen device. A baby slumbered in the seat beside it. The AC was running and the window was cracked.

Lizzie stood on the sidewalk waiting, waiting.

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Caving

You sit in the far corner of your bed with a blanket over your head, trying not to think about Timothy Jones. This is not easy.

You have moved little since waking up. You have drawn all the blinds and retired to your room indefinitely. The girl who lives down the street from you would call this a “cave day.” She is up at dawn, every day, compulsively exercising her body. You can see from your bedroom window as she puts her body through tortuous calisthenics. She does not know what real torture is like. She does not know what a real cave is like.

A real cave starts with you and your friends. You liked to explore places, preferably while comfortably ensconced in your trustafarian equipment. You have sledged rapids. You have rappelled canyon walls. You have caved—if one can call it that—in Fiddler’s Green, 6 miles from the town center. You stayed overnight, playing your flashlights on the stalagmites and telling campfire tales. Children’s tales. You thought this made you an expert. You all thought you knew what you were agreeing to when you decided to try Hodag Caverns.

Gulp. Breathe.

You swelter. You turned off the air conditioning long ago, because its operation reminded you of the wind gnawing through the cave, and you cannot have that. You cannot take off the blanket, you need something soft touching you at all times to remind yourself where you are. Home. Home.

You left this shelter with Jan and Bill and (Timothy) Emily and Ted and all the others, not two brain cells to rub together between the lot of you. You were all young and amiable and thought that this would render you invincible.

Hodag Caverns had three and a half picks in the cave guide. Not outwardly hostile to the human body, like the sulfur caves to the south, but not for beginners. You thought yourselves not beginners because you dipped your toes in caving. You made base camp(yes that is what you called it) in the visitor’s cavern, discovered by a traveling merchant ad his mule in about 1865. There are still soot-marks on the ceiling.

The cave held a joy for you then, one you can no longer fathom as you sweat in your blanket fort. What possessed you to wedge your body down narrow hallways of limestone and basalt, giggling at every near miss? The caves here were not so much caves but cracks, into which you flung yourselves like flatworms exposed suddenly to light. You found nothing more interesting than clipped chins and grazed scalps, but you were enthusiastic nonetheless. You took a break for dinner at sundown: a pot of macaroni and cheese with a little booze someone snuck into a cantine.

Breathe. Breathe.

Nobody knows when Timothy slipped away. You’re almost certain that he wasn’t there at the start of dinner, but there had been so much darting in and out of cracks that when he finally called your names, one by one, your thoughts scattered like panicked crows.

There is a channel that is just beyond base camp, a corridor barely two feet across that branches out onto many small passageways. At the end of the hall is a horizontal crack in the ground that is ten inches tall at the opening, and in that crack was Timothy.

He did not sound panicked. Shine a flashlight, and all you could see are his feet and the white of his legs. What possessed him to crawl into it? A momentary caprice? Excitement? Perhaps his gaze fell on the crack and he realized it was one place none of you had yet explored? He scrambled forward and, as the ceiling closed in, inched forward. You would have stopped the second the ceiling grazed your head, you’re sure of it. Sixteen feet in, Timothy found the crack too narrow to proceed. Then he found he could not turn around.

Breathe.

You can’t take baths anymore. It is not the wetness, it’s the waiting. Just laying there, waiting for anything to happen. You have to move, you have to take control over your own space in order to feel alive. You were the one who inched in after Timothy to assess the damage.

He sounded sheepish, not really concerned over the fact that he was effectively stuck under tons of rock. This far into the tunnel and you could make out his red band shirt, the back of his head. You were sure, if he were able to turn his head, that Timothy would be smiling to ease your fears.

You all had to reconnoiter. You were no longer fearless explorers, you were a gaggle of frightened kids out way too long after curfew. The decision not to contact anyone was never verbalized, but immediately adhered to. You tied climbing ropes to Timothy’s ankles and pulled. The knot slipped. You re-tied it, better this time, and tried again. The cavern was not deep enough to get good traction. You thought of greasing him so he popped out, but nobody brought butter or oil or anything useful. You had no tools. You couldn’t chisel or lever or pry him out. You made a human chain, Bill grabbing Tim’s ankles, but your hands are not made for gripping hard enough and it disintegrated at the links.

You passed a wary night in the cave. You were all afraid to talk, that your cheer would be broken by Timothy’s sudden scream and the shifting of rock. Morning broke uneasy. You realized how you had come to rely on daylight to tell you when to do things.

Timothy was at a 45 degree angle in the earth. Even with your limited knowledge of physiology, you knew it couldn’t be good for him. Timothy was still cheerful, but you strained to hear the the tremor in his voice.

You kept trying. You made useless rope cradles and human chains and passed water down to him. Bill went to pee outside and ran into a park ranger, who asked him if he had a camping permit.

Breathe, one-two. Repeat. Slowly.

He broke. You can’t blame him. You all broke, sobbing your story out in a tangle of words. The ranger got down on hands and knees and shined a light down the crack and said son, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of anyone wedging themselves in that rock.

The parents came. They were all sanctimonious in their concern, all but Timothy’s father. He judged you with his eyes. As if you were responsible for his son’s imprisonment, not Timothy himself. You heard everything, every word he shouted down to his son. He loved him. He wasn’t mad. Timothy would get out. Each word is like a bolt, riveting your feet to the rock.

Timothy was disconcertingly cheerful. Maybe the blood was pooling in his brain. He said he wasn’t panicking, everyone should take care of themselves.

The rangers rigged a rope cradle. A local spelunking champion was called up, he wriggled into the crack after Timothy. Oil brought in by the gallon. All to no end.

Timothy’s father elected you to bring food and water down to him. His eyes brooked no argument.

Timothy was stranded with his arms stretched out in front of him. He could not grasp the trail mix and water you brought. You poured water past his mouth, encouraging him to lick it from the rock. There was nothing to be done about the food. You could see his face, but if he could turn it, you would be sure he was smiling.

You can never eat macaroni and cheese again. Nor anything dry, for that matter. Eating this food takes you back to the cave, to long nights stretched out uncomfortably on the stone floor. Timothy’s father won’t let you leave. He holds you in place with his frown, you must all wait vigil until his son is rescued. You need a shower. You need to eat food that hasn’t been dehydrated. Bill, in his infinite wisdom, packed bags and bags of jerky. You will die happy if you never have to chew on a lump of dried beef again. You crawl in the hole. You crawl out again. Timothy can’t eat. Timothy will not stop being cheerful.

The rangers spoke at the far end of the cave. You could hear every word because the walls bounce it back at you, the cave betrays their words. It was impossible, impossible, for him to be stuck where he was. Dehydration should have slimmed him down a little. Was he holding on with his hands? It’s not unheard of, delirium from lack of sustenance…

You stared accusingly at the back of Timothy’s head at the next snack run. You wanted him to turn around. You wanted to see that he was lying. He asked you to tell Emily that he loves her. He didn’t sound any different. This gnawed at you.

In your dreams, Timothy inches forward. He is going deeper and deeper into the earth to spite you. In your dreams, the others vanish, you must wedge yourself into the crack to scrape futily at the soles of his doc martens. You wake with the taste of stale water in your mouth.

The cave let the wind in. The cave betrays you. It won’t let you escape. Timothy’s father won’t let you leave. Six days. You could have been home by now. Jan’s mother collected her, swiftly and without argument. Bill’s boss called him in. Emily refused to go, but she fainted and had to be carried away. Ted just slipped away in the night.

It’s you. It’s only you in the cave. You and Timothy.

breathe

you can’t—

you can’t—

He refuses to stop talking. The rangers prod him to keep talking, so they know he’s still alive. Timothy’s father reads to him from the bible, verses and scriptures bouncing off the cathedral of the ceiling. There is nowhere to escape from the noise.

Something inside you stops working. You forget what life outside the cave has been like. You forget that there was anything other than crawling around closed spaces. One night, when everyone is asleep, you crawl down to Timothy’s body with a piton. You just want to hurt him, just a little, to show that he is still human. You hit the back of his calf, not hard, but enough to draw blood. Timothy doesn’t say anything. You are hyperventilaing. Timothy is sucking up all the air. Timothy wedged himself down here. Timothy won’t let you leave. You are no longer sure if he turned his head that it would be Timothy’s face. You hit his leg again. And again.

Timothy laughs. He asks what you’re doing back here.

It’s his tone. His completely calm, slightly jovial tone of voice that throws you into a frenzy. The piton rings off the rock wall as you swing it again and again. The wind over the rock is screaming and you’re being dragged back over the rock and suddenly you’re out in the open air and your face is cut and bruised from the rock and you realize that the screaming is coming from you.

You leave your home to tackle the jogging girl as she runs by. Back and forth, back and forth, you scream as your blanketed body bears her to the ground. What would she know about a real cave anyway.

They bear you away from the cave in blankets. Stress, they say, lack of nutrition. It’s not your fault. Nothing is ever anyone’s fault. You get the news that Timothy is still down there. He will never get out. The cave is off-limits now, to everyone. The cave betrays everyone.

The girl squalls on the street, flailing her limbs, owning the space around her. You do not belong here. Run. Run back to your room, back to the soft cave. Close the door. Block the lights. Turn your face from the door. That way, when they come to get you, they won’t know who it is.

There was never any sun. There was never anything but the enclosed spaces, of crawling in and out. The mattress is the rock floor beneath you, the air conditioning sobs and sighs like the wind gnawing through rock.

And Timothy has pinned you down here with him.

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Bluebeard Takes a Wife

He returned from his contrived hunting engagement—

to find his betrothed sitting in the drawing room, quite unafraid, piecing together a puzzle. She produced her key without hesitation and when he saw its surface bore no bloodstain, he knew he had found a wife.

He had not expected such a turn of events, not at all. This left him slightly off-balance. She took it for bashfulness and eagerly accepted his proposal.

Of course, he watched with a hunter’s eye for any sign of suspicion. She sent for her trousseau and rearranged the house to her liking. She talked at length of domestic matters, of sending for more servants, furniture, and possibly expanding the stable, but the closest she came to suspicion was when she suggested they expand the upper floors(“we can even enlarge your private room, my darling!”)

After a week of this he realized that his new bride had not passed his test through heavenly virtue, but by an inhuman lack of curiosity. Lord knows that women had no talent for deception. He had only to look at his previous prospective bride’s faces to see immediately their guilt.

He could not overcome a sudden bilious surge whenever he rounded a corner and found his living bride. It puzzled him: had she not fulfilled his qualifications to the letter? Had he been guilty of pricing his life too low?

No, he concluded. What he had truly fallen in love with was the chase. The stream of ever-young, ever-demure young women flowing through his life, his tests of mettle, the final judgment. He had come to depend on disappointment so that he did not know what to do now that the divine creature before him wanted every ounce of his attention.

Bless her obsequious little heart, she even spoke to the servants, though he had removed their tongues long ago as measure against betrayal. They were, thankfully, as illiterate as any of the peasant classes as well, so he held no worry that they would burst her sphere of blissful ignorance.

She changed the drapery to something gossamer. The furniture was, of course, too masculine, she would have to send for more. Their dinners were no longer rich local fare but such nonsense that had been popular in the capital, presumably where all were tasteless as she.

He could not be cross with her. He could never be cross with her, for the second clouds threatened to dim the sunlight pouring into her empty head, she would burst into tears. Then he would spend the day consoling her, assuring her that his love would never wane as he grimaced up at the walls.

He began fantasizing about luring her into the private room on some pretense, merely to do away with her. When presented again with the key, she merely laughed and asked for more fitting jewelry. He fumed to himself as she held fabric swatches against the settee. Truly, she was too ignorant to be tricked. His intellect, in comparison, was that of a wolf ploughing into the unmoving backside of an elephant.

He imagined being married to this, introducing her to other aristocrats and hearing her glassine titter as she trampled over good manners. His reputation distilling down to this.

A gloom haunted his steps until he hit upon his ultimate piece of brilliance.

He suggested that, as newlyweds, they take holiday on the continent. Of course the blithe creature was ecstatic, but nowhere in comparison to he. For he had decided that he would dispose of her in some convenient early stop, and then continue the tour in recently-widowed grief. Not only would he rid himself of a problem, he would find new hunting grounds as well.

What little tack he needed was packed in one bag. He would eat the cost of her extensive attempts at redecoration, as well as the wardrobe she rushed to cram into one set of luggage. The carriage was summoned and the servants dismissed.

And, as he watched them lope away from the grounds, he had another bolt of inspiration.

She was wittering over a collection of lightweight silk dresses, unable or unwilling to part with even a few. He called her to come. She came readily, as obedient as a wife should.

He had something to show her.

Oh, but the carriage was due, would they not miss their boat? She tread reluctant on the stairs, looking behind them.

He had not been a good husband, for were they not expected to share everything? He would be remiss if he did not show her one last thing before they began their lives together.

Oh yes, whatever he wanted, if course. Her attention was over her shoulder, no doubt at those silly dresses.

He guided them to the secret room. Did she remember when he forbid her from entering? It had merely been a test of character, and now that he had proof of her love, all rooms in the house were open to her.

He fiddled with the lock, waiting until the last possible moment to open the door, unless the wafting stench would give it away.

He began, “I would have you be completely sure of my character before our marriage—”

A short, sharp shove in the small of his back, and he fell forward into the darkness. The door closed behind him.

“That I am, sweetheart,” she called through the keyhole, “through and through.”

A click as she turned her immaculate key in its lock.

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All That the Sea Left

Aye, the living ship, y’r honor. Yes I were bo’sun of the Mary Ellen for threescore years, knew Nimrod Smiley well as you please. This tale—he tell it to me, and I’ll set it out for you exactly as it was.

This was when you had all manner of clippers coming in and out of the bay, so a boat drifting into dock were no big news. At the time, old Pete Locke was the day-guard, mostly good for holding down a stool and not much else. When he first talked about the ship, nobody took it serious. He was fond of his own bits of nautical romance; ships that sailed about the ocean’s surface—from the other side. Had a whole logic behind it; what they were made of, how they had reverse-ballasts that kept them from breaching. A pretty piece of reasoning if you forgot he was madder than a barking bull. So when he told of the ship with no hand aboard, they took it as they did the rest of his tales. But Wrigley, the tax-man, went off with him and came back starch stiff.

Nimrod and the other boys came running. You take your fun where you can. They were there when the second mate of the Dooley took a pry-bar to her starboard hull and it chipped. No splinter. It chipped like bone.

A few of the boys decided to board her, but there was no plank nor place to put one. The ship had nosed right up to the dockside, snug as you please, but no mooring tie nor anchor was in sight. No one could see what kept it in place. Finally they lowered a board and string across, one at a time.

I haven’t described her proper yet, have I? The hull was bleached white, and seemed to come all in one piece. The deck were no different, nor the mast, which had the odd appearance of veins along its length. What they took for canvas was really some kind of leather, which you could see through if you stretched it tight enough.

Smiley went aboard, but he wasn’t one of the foolhardy souls that went inside, so this he told me secondhand:

Five men formed a dispatch and decided to brave her lower decks. The doorway was almost too small to admit them, a taller sailor had to squeeze in on hands and knees. Inside was black as pitch. There were no windows on her outside, so it came to no shock. They walked through the ship and never once met anyone except—

well, not really.

They said the tack, the bunks, every bit of gear in the place grew from the walls or the floor. The bunks had no sheets but some kind of velvet that was warm and tacky to the touch. There were no supplies, no food, no papers, not even barrels. And the place smelled like a tannery. They moved through a barracks and an empty brig, they said, and went further down.

I suppose they were expecting a galley. Instead they told of an enormous bellows, ran nearly her whole length. This was well before steamers, so lord only knows what they were doing there. Price–he was the long chap who had trouble getting through–took a knife to the bellows, just to test them. They say the skin retracted and a groan like an iceberg calving ran through the ship. Well, that was enough, even for these men of courage.

Now remember, Smiley was up on deck. He watched the sailors squeeze out fast as anyone could through that little door, one, two, three, four,—then came Price. He got his head out and then screamed that something had hold of his leg. Dooley’s mate said it was only his breeches caught up on a nail and ordered six stout men to take up his arms and pull. It weren’t long before Price screamed at them to stop, the hall was squeezing down on his ribs with an infernal pressure. The men thought it just a bit of ship-terrors, then Price’s grip slackened and blood come leaking from his mouth. They all watched as his face went taut from agony and then slowly slackened. The six dropped his arms. The ship moved, Smiley said he could feel it beneath his feet, and Price slowly slid down, back into the tunnel.

Well, they were off that ship faster than a heartbeat. Smiley said none of them rightly knew what to do, so they decided to leave the ship for the night and sleep on it. Price had no family, so there were no amends to be made, but a few of the boys had a drink in his memory. They were none too pleased when Locke roused them a few hours later, saying the boat wasn’t at the dock. When they went out there, they saw the ship halfway across the bay and sitting low in the water. That tore it.

Someone fetched some longboats and they scuttled the thing right then and there. Took forever to sink out of sight, and when it did, it must have gone right to pieces. Damndest thing, Smiley said, but chunks of it would wash ashore. They took the prow to the Holy Rolley tavern where you could sit on it and have a pint—or were, that is, if it hadn’t been stolen twenty year ago. All the flotsam washed out to sea, now the only thing left of it is this tale.

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