(Le Belle Pirate)
Jack and Andrea have been reunited after being adrift for 15 years and they have a daughter Rebecca. They celebrate their reunion with a journey to the Pacific, spending time on the Micronesian atoll of Chuuk, before sailing out into the Pacific Ocean. Seemingly safe in their tiny yacht under clear skies until the weather turns foul their luck fails when they are attacked by Indonesian Pirates. Left to die on the burning deck of their stricken yacht Jack watches as Andrea and Rebecca are herded aboard the pirate’s ship and sailed off into the night.
Jack is seemingly doomed, but he finds that through the friendliness and warmth of an old enemy and the enduring mystery of Le Belle Pirate things don’t always seem to be what they are when you’re stuck in one of those moments that you can’t get out of.
The Unforgettable Fire
Dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, baggy shorts held up with braces and stodgy leather boots – a young boy aimed his slingshot and fired a Jaffa across the crowd… it missed its mark and rolled down the wooden aisle with a dozen others as the houselights dimmed on the smokey room. The flickering celluloid images of black and white brought a hush to the crowd as the images crackled to life and introduced the Fox Movietone News…
“Watch our boys as they drive the Japanese back across the Pacific. Island by island they reclaim the land lost to Tojo’s fearsome warriors. Wave after wave they strike deep into enemy territory with the power of right on their God-faring side…
“Here are some of our boys taking a well earned rest after another successful air attack… Give the folks at home a wave son! Don’t be shy and don’t save that smile for the locals, there are plenty of local girls here who would love to become more familiar with that grin… What do you think of that girls?”
Whistles… & cheers…
“Island by island our brave boys are winning the war, so “don’t forget those war bonds” says Second Lieutenant Zaiger, not that he needs any immediate help! There he is with his jubilant shipmates in February, having just overseen the initial destruction of enemy shipping and air bases on the island of Truk – the very place from where the Japanese launched their infamous attack on Pearl Harbour…”
“…They won’t be doing that again now that these boys have cleared the seas and skies surrounding that island! So stop dreaming of Mom’s home cooking and apple pies – give us another wave Second Lieutenant Zaiger …”
“That’s the way, Lieutenant – I bet you’re enjoying those clear skies now that you’ve cleaned up all those Zeros… I know the mere thought of that brings a smile to your face, just as it brings smiles to all our faces…”
“I only smile through gritted teeth these days, we all do… the thought of some of Mom’s apple pie won’t take away the sweat, the damn mosquitoes and the dysentery – I ain’t never seen a man shit through a straw before I came here! The thought of home drives us all, not that we’d ever say it – it drives us to end it and it drives some of the men mad... It drives the nightmares and the thought of never goin’ back! I keep that to myself, cooped up in a tin can and sailing onto the next rout. We all do that too! Betty Grable’s legs are a small compensation in the half-light below deck… I love the air the most – if Pa could see me now, but it frightens the hell outta me… must remember it’s just another tin can with a motor and it’s him or me when it comes down to it – just another rising sun finding an early sunset… a sunset that I’d dearly love to see from the porch back home…
“We all dream of the day when the skies are clear over the Pacific, but first comes the chase and then the strafe and then the plume. Clearer skies? I wish… I can still smell the ack ack in my nostrils from the last air attack. I can still smell the burning oil – and hear the scream of the engines diving in low over the thick and misty jungle peaks of the tiny atolls below, spitting back at us with fireflies of pain. Then the ships below us began to burn, mixing the already confused air with fireballs and plumes of oil-leadened smoke. That’s a mess those bastards earned; and just what they deserved for all the trouble they’ve caused us… and just what they deserved for all of our boys who won’t be comin’ back…”
I used to love those old newsreels and I can’t believe I was in one of them… I used to love a lot of things – ordinary things that didn’t haunt me so! I used to love the dawn – a fiery entrance to a new day, natures way of saying hello. But I found out a long time ago that we men have another way of firing up the dawn, swooping in low over the occupied islands infested with Japanese. Squadrons of F6F Hellcats leading the charge from the aircraft carriers far out to sea, not that we knew where we were! We had no recent maps back then, so we flew off blind into the dawn sky… We all hated that not knowing thing – it was better to know, but then sometimes it ain’t so… I can be thankful that most of us came back that time, but so many others were lost later…
I remember the volcanic peaks of Truk, how they stood out majestically above the ocean as they reached up towards the clear of the dawn, thinly veiled by the slightest of mists. The morning followed cool and crisp as life awoke from its slumber somewhere down below us on that atoll. We had a pretty good idea what was down under all that tropical vegetation! We knew it masked the true identity of the islands as they stood in February 1944 - Truk seemed a peaceful place – should have been a peaceful place and would one day return to that state, but we woke it uneasily that morning…
War had a habit of creating tensions that were difficult to predict and even more difficult to comprehend in its aftermath. The silence that was the soldier’s testimony was a stark parallel to the senseless violence they endured and the din of the battles that they remembered night after agonizing night… lest we forget their torture that our children might have to face the same nightmarish and hellish dreams…
I remember the low rumble, how it must have drifted in on the breeze, as far out to sea our squadrons of F6F Hellcats zeroed in on the atoll with the first rays of the morning light – both racing against time to capture the honour of waking the Japanese garrison and the Japanese ships stationed there. We Americans won; climbing all about the skies and attacking scrambling targets below while above us a meagre resistance of Zeros fought back in a vain effort to regain control of the skies.
They say we cleared the skies, but the initial attacks always filled them with smoke and debris. As clear as the early morning was, the late morning was as dark and deadly, filled with random shrapnel, pieces of falling plane wreckage and snaking plumes interspersed with trails of the bursts of machine guns as the combatants danced to the tapping of their fire. I still remember the engines throttling up then down as we fought to create our edge; the edge on life and survival in the air, the edge on our own reality and the edge in the fluctuating fortunes of the entire Pacific theatre of war.
I sat in an old restored Hellcat the other week at an air show. They were so cramped and packed with instruments – I couldn’t remember there being so many! I’m sure I used to know what they all did back then, but it all seems so damn crazy – there’s no glory in what I remember, but we did get the job done! Wave after wave of our Hellcats strafed their targets relentlessly and with each shot the war grew smaller and shorter, and the end drew nigh, but if the scrambling Japanese and the locals below thought that initial combination of noises deafening, then their eardrums were in for a few more surprises as the remaining ships from the departed Japanese fleet opened up on us with anti-aircraft fire while the Hellcats dove low over Truk’s dramatic peaks and amongst the remaining Zeros.
Our boys in the Hellcats were followed in from across the ocean by the first really heavy air strikes, Dauntless dive-bombers and Avenger torpedo bombers. These were the planes that were really prepared to raise the decibel level, laden with armour piercing bombs for the lagoons ships and incendiary and fragmentary clusters for the other ground targets below. By the time they arrived our Hellcats ruled the skies with few losses and their targets between bursts of anti-aircraft fire were relatively easy prey – running, scrambling and firing indiscriminately, retreating and bravely facing death and cowering and firing back uselessly against the onslaught; the lives below a count of the tonnage and machines lost – forever lost… some never to be remembered by more than a wreath, some never to be more than a crumbling section of reef… God help the poor bastards who were down in that mess!
We flew back again later for a second shot at them and I remember the view across the atoll… plumes of smoke had exploded hundreds of feet into the air as ammo and supply ships were ripped apart by the diving aircraft flying only a few thousand feet above them. Confident enough due to the previous success of our Hellcats, the men in the Dauntless and Avenger dive-bombers kept to their defensive V formations well into their dive attacks. Again and again their 1,000 lb and other incendiary bombs fell hellishly from the sky exploding into towering mushroom plumes complete with metal splinters that sprayed across the water’s bloodied and oil sickened surface. There were always brief images amongst the flames when we flew that low, images of the flaming bodies diving and dancing across the decks and into the lagoon. The heat was so intense, and missed targets shred the surface of the lagoon murdering and ripping apart fish stunned to the surface by the sheer explosiveness of the charges. Wave after wave we circled and strafed the lagoon in the days to come as resistance diminished to nothingness and the lush greenery, ripped to shreds by the torturously indiscriminate rounds, slowly composted below its own bared stalks. You wouldn’t think so now, you wouldn’t have thought that it ever happened, but I still see it…
I look at it now and I can imagine how the water beneath the lagoon gradually regained its peace as the war floated off towards Guam and Hiroshima. When we last left it, the surface of the Truk lagoon was smothered in the ruins of US and Japanese airplane wreckage, a variety of rotting corpses - both human and aquatic, and the floating flotilla of the remaining fleets remnants. The water ran red above, but the tides swept away the memory day after day after moon wave. Deep below the surface the skeletons of ships rested into the shallow ocean floor and slowly they crustated and formed reefs below the murky gloom, riddled with the descendants of marine creatures oblivious to the slaughter of those distant days! Those descendants now feed playfully on the failure of the sunken ghosts that lay beneath the surface. It’s beyond their memory, but not beyond mine! It’s also beyond the memories of those forgotten and beyond the memories of the resurrected trees, but never far beyond the forever haunting memories of the unforgettable fire…
Kimi ga tame Death had no terrors, Life no joys,
Oshikarazarishi Before I met with thee;
Inochi sae But now I fear, however long
Nagaku mogana to My life may chance to be,
Omoi keru kana. ’Twill be too short for me!
I find myself surrounded by the early falling of autumn leaves, yet my spirit leaps. The fresh pre-winter air envelops the mountains with lingering mists and the tree tops drip with its condensation, yet I am surrounded by a warm glow - the warmth of lasting friendships and a family I thought I’d never enjoy. Standing here below the overhanging tree ferns and the age-old eucalypts I find that the rain has cleared, the stream rushes by and time stands still below the Beauchamp Falls despite their gushing testament that time indeed flows.
She approaches through the rain forest and the image is complete as she steps sprightly along the meandering track to join me in my forest dream. Women are supposed to dream of these moments and plan their execution, but she’d left it to me to surprise her as I was her final dream and she’d given up on all her other dreams so long ago. She tossed her shortish black wavy hair as she bounced down the last few steps eagerly, her skin pale in the filtered light of the forest glade, her eyes dancing in the reflected sunlight unlike at any moment I’d remembered them before. She smiled and bit the bottom of her lip coyly, laughing her laugh nervously as she knew she was overwhelmed and had just betrayed herself joyously. She leaned in close to me and whispered her secret…
“It’s beautiful, Jack. I think you’ve succeeded, I think you’re going to make me cry.”
“Do you really like it, Andrea?”
“I love it – and now I understand, all of it… all of your words, through all the fleeting moments we’ve enjoyed together. All of the words that you’ve written down for me to read – and all of your joys, of which I’d love to be the joyous!”
“That you are my love…”
Again I was aware of the rushing stream beside us and the tumbling falls just beyond, but mostly I was aware only of her and beyond, in our image, the beautiful young Rebecca. The glade required only two others, an anonymous witness and the celebrant who had brought her. The celebrant began…
“Welcome friends to the union, in this beautiful and slightly unorthodox place, of Andrea and Jack. Jack has prepared an introduction for me that is just as unorthodox, but just as splendid – he asks me to say the following…
There’s a seemingly endless forest in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles and in that forest there’s a track surrounded on each side by wondrously tall trees, which form a canopy that disappears into the distance culminating in a single ray of light. I’ve always envisaged you draped in white running towards me from within that light; that’s but a dream, one of many that fill my head, but you are the only one that fills my heart. They say dreams are dreams and I need one I can touch and feel and love with a breath of the freshness of a new life… be not my dream, be my future - here and now, no longer my dream… be my one…
Do you Andrea, take Jack to be your dream into your reality, to be your one - as one?”
“With all my heart… with all my soul!”
“Do you Jack, take Andrea to be your dream into your reality, to be your one - as one?”
“With all my heart and all my soul!”
“As you exchange rings please take a moment to exchange verses with each other… again it’s somewhat unusual, but something of an Irish mystery I believe…”
When it’s one need
In the night
It’s one love
We get to share it
It leaves you baby
If you don’t care for it
Did I ask too much?
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got
But we’re not the same
We hurt each other
Then we do it again
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
“The rushing falls represent the overflow of love you have for each other. The rugged cliffs represent the hurdles you’ve had to overcome. The age-old trees that oversee your union represent the time it has taken to reach this joyous moment and the deep placid pool here at the base of the falls, with its gentle ripples, mirrors the depths of your souls entwined and their wrinkled variations… I now pronounce you one plus one…”
We leant in close to each other and Andrea kissed me lightly on the lips, before she rubbed her lipstick off with her thumb. Then she whispered these words gently to me before turning to the childus interruptus…
“There’s much more where that came from for you tonight in your cosy little cabin by the ocean road… and as for you Rebecca my love, come here so the three of us can embrace here in this beautiful place - on this beautiful day, where we have indeed all become one…
* * *
“I Love this time of the morning, just before and until just after the sun rises. I love that I can smell the ocean and breathe in a breeze that is warm and salty.”
“Is it because it’s a new day, Andrea? Is that the thing that gets to you at about this time every morning or is there something else that the sparkle in your eyes mask?”
“I’m not sure, but I do know that I like watching you sleep as the sun rises and lights up your face. It brings you to life for me every morning and I love that about the morning - your coming to life just for me, Jack!”
“Will you always be by a window as I awake Andrea, silhouetted by the morning light? Is that my destiny to always awake to your beauty?”
“The mornings may often be beautiful, but I wont always be Jack; I do appreciate the thought though. It’s just as sweet as you are – and just as sweet as the things you wrote for me in the Otways. You know, I’d never actually made love to a married man before this week!”
“That’s funny, neither had I!”
She looked at me like a picture, the sun rising behind her over a distant horizon draped with a thin layer of reluctant clouds. She hated my silly jokes, but I knew in an odd way that she also loved them. She said it reminded her of her father and that’s all she ever said about her family – they were as much a mystery as she had been. I think she knew the jokes were just my way to lighten the world in which I found myself - and everything that had happened to me in it! It seemed to lighten her as well…
“Well I’m glad, I wouldn’t have wanted to have married a two-timing bastard now, would I? You do persist in having the most interesting foreplay though, but at least you have it – most guys, well why should I care about them anymore!”
“Exactly… so did I choose OK with this place?”
“It’s wonderful… and you’re wonderful, much more than I think I deserve… and I’m gushing again – I’ve done a lot of that this week, Jack. I think you’ve awakened something in me that I’d lost or perhaps never really had… and I’m dying to try the SCUBA diving. It’s been so long since I tried it – Bec’s excited about it too! I bet she’s been lying awake all night just waiting for us to come and rouse her so she can slip on a wet suit and dive into the deep of the lagoon!”
That was how it was for the next few days – the theme of our honeymoon in the Pacific on the Micronesian atoll of Chuuk. Everyday we ate fresh seafood, mingled with the locals and twice each day we would don our wetsuits and SCUBA gear and learn to dive. Andrea was great; she picked it up easily having done it before some time ago. Rebecca was a fish, young and fearless and supple, but unfortunately I was a brick! I was not usually so, but the wet suit turned me into a dead weight and yet I couldn’t sink – and that was the whole point! I was an immovable object bobbing like a cork on the surface with no peripheral or downward movement – a virtual foam brick, great for indoor football, but totally useless here in the Tropics! The wet suit was just so damn restricting, I felt like I was drowning constantly without succeeding – and that was also sort of the point… to sink! I had the hand signals down, I knew how to replace and empty my mask underwater, but…
Some say that if we were meant to fly we’d have had wings; if we were meant to smoke we’d have a chimney on our heads; perhaps if we were meant to swim we’d have gills on our slender necks – or perhaps like a fish, not have the need of an extra skin… how did the Thorpedo do it day in and day out – and at world record speed? The moment had come, it was now or never, so I unzipped my wet suit and my lungs expanded gratefully – to dive or not to dive? The answer was a definite yes!
Rebecca smiled back at me through her mask and Andrea kissed her mask onto mine – I’d finally passed the final test and tomorrow afternoon we could head to the lagoon for the dive of a lifetime. I would have called it the adventure of a lifetime except that life had been quite an adventure already, but at least the danger here was relatively controllable!
* * *
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles… I feel like I’m in the middle of an Aero, but I can’t taste the chocolate! This is certainly no Schweppervescence though, as the bubbles are already dying away and the sun has now made its way towards me through the rippled surface. Faces appear around me with accompanying nervous thumbs up and I respond in time as we descend into a different time. A time before my father, a time of his father, a time so alien to me that it still amazes me that its shocking remnants lay at the bottom of the ocean just as they have for seventy-seven years! I’d have shed a tear for the lost, but each one would have accumulated to fill my mask and I wasn’t that confident with emptying it that far under water!
Out of the murky gloom a great shadow appeared swimming in fish of such colours and shapes I could have filled a book with their various descriptions and anomalies. I’m sure one of them asked if I’d seen his son – I suggested he’d gone to school! At least now I know why they make the mouthpieces so big – it’s so you can’t spit them out each time you are stunned or amazed at the things you see down here. Andrea was relishing taking me on a journey she’d seen something of before, even though it had been my idea! She waved her hand playfully for me to come further down, but I was quite mesmerized by all that swum before me, so she grabbed my hand and swum me towards the wreck where Rebecca and our guide were waiting.
The clarity of the wreck was extraordinary, I would have thought that after all these years it would have degenerated far more, but I found that I could make out the deck easily and also the bridge – and I was no expert when it came to boats… er, ships! The deck came complete with a tank, which I could have driven straight off if I’d had a key – at least that’s how it seemed! Below the decks there were pristine trucks, complete with tyres, and memories abounding of lives cut tragically short. Cups and bottles and lamps mingled with fish and the coral that held it all together and made it grow! Life is full of such ironies – that in death an entire ecosystem had been created where none existed, at least in this form, was quite incredible!
Such was the astounding vision that was relayed to our brains – colours that cameras failed to capture, beasts that by their very nature were curious about our astounding shapes and the lungs that we hung on our backs, yet beasts that in themselves were just as curious to us! These were images that were only a bubble in time, magnified and distorted by the very masks that we required to venture into this alien territory, a territory whose beauty we would forever admire yet constantly abuse even though our abuse had allowed it to flourish in such an unusual way here.
Our purpose on this planet was as distorted as the images we brought back with us from below – were we the planets guardians or did we delude ourselves with our supposed sovereignty? Was our time on this planet really but a fleeting moment as were our encounters with the creatures below and their homes? Time can be such an intangible thing sometimes and the time below the surface certainly flew swimmingly by. Soon our time too was up and our dive instructor was tapping his watch and signalling us to make our way back to the surface. It seemed to take so long to get there, yet it seemed to take no time at all to return. However, for all of the sadness attached, the experience was one we would all forever remember – however long forever was…
“That was so cool Dad, can we go again?”
“We’ll go again tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll get to see a different wreck this time, one with a different history and a different story! What do you say skipper, can you accommodate us on that type of experience?”
“I can take you to a more recent find – one that changed the entire face of the diving industry here and the way these sites are protected!”
“It’s a wreck that was only officially found in 2002. Most of the wrecks in the lagoon had been dived on and explored long before that, but not the Sapporo Maru. It wasn’t even involved in the more famous battles here, which is why it was deemed less important and almost forgotten. But after it was found – the very next day in fact, someone stole its bell…”
“Why would anyone steal the bell, surely there was gold or treasure or something down there? That’s what I would have gone looking for, not the bell!”
“Well young Rebecca, it was the only known wreck in the lagoon at that time that had its bell intact – that’s what made it so special. The bell is the signature item of a ship, and is marked with its name - so the loss of the bell was a great loss, and a huge embarrassment to the local authorities. Sometimes it takes something like that to change people’s attitudes! Anyway, I can even show you where the bell actually was if you like. It’s a mystery that’s never been solved, despite the involvement of the FBI and the local authorities immediately after the theft and despite all the rumours that followed. I suppose after all these years it’s a mystery that may never be solved! But it’s a great dive, romantic as a story and young Rebecca here should enjoy it as much as she did today; today with its remnants of the unforgettable fire!”
“The unforgettable fire?”
“Yes Andrea! It’s how I’ve heard the extremes of battle described by some of the old soldiers who have come here – especially as a ship goes up!”
“And then goes down!”
“Which reminds me of the type of unforgettable fire I enjoy with my one and only one… come Jack, there’s much more to Chuuk than water sports…”
Under A Blood Red Sky
Omoi-wabi How sad and gloomy is the world,
Satemo inochi wa This world of sin and woe!
Aru mono wo Ah! While I drift along Life’s stream,
Uki ni taenu wa Tossed helpless to and fro,
Namida nari keri. My tears will ever flow.
The light winds tugged at the sails of our yacht as we continued out under a blood red sky, somewhere towards Hong Kong. We had no time limit – and thus we felt no stress for the first time since we’d met. No stress to hinder the development of our relationship, no fear of being chased and no lurking hidden danger that we knew of but had no idea about! I’d never sailed before, but I always liked to try something different and the ocean vistas and the immediate company had easily compensated for the uneasiness in my stomach. Some people buy a holiday house and spend every holiday there for twenty or thirty years, and while I do enjoy revisiting the same places, as they do change and provide one with varying experiences on each subsequent visit, I do like less subtle variations. I like to choose a different destination for each holiday and that philosophy led me to England and Europe and Andrea and eventually to here, out on an endless ocean with her and with Rebecca.
Where was here you might ask, well I’m not really sure I could tell you. The captain of the vessel had shown me maps and laid out rulers and compasses explaining sextants versus the use of GPS, but for once in my life I couldn’t care less about the details. So we’re going roughly somewhere to the west of here – fine, let’s follow the setting sun and sail far from the dawn’s resurrected glowing… This philosophy led me each evening to man the helm and look towards the setting sun, this being the only time during the day that I knew which way I was headed under a blood red sky! The evening was also the time when we gathered on deck with our hosts for dinner under the stars and soon after I knew I would fall asleep to the gentle lapping of the waves against the hull; wrapped in the more than comforting arms of Andrea.
As relaxing and dreamy as all of this seems, there was work to be done at times, but I think we were all enjoying the challenge of the trip – as we were literally all crewmembers, learning how to hoist a sail and wind a winch. I’m not even sure that they are the correct terms, but as I’ve said already - I don’t really care. The tan is deepening, I’ve actually caught a few fish, swum in the middle of the ocean amongst creatures whose dangers I could care less about and steered the yacht. I only did this in the late afternoon when I had a sun to aim at and no land to dodge, but this seemed to enhance the freedom of the trip for me and although I had no immediate prospects, the future before me at these wonderfully serene and picturesque moments seemed just fine. Surrounded by those I’d finally found, I’d found a reason to care about others who were actually living, a reason not to dig into lives long gone and a legitimate reason to live myself – and with all these positives I found that life was enjoyable amongst others for the first time in a long time!
The seemingly blood drenched sky mirrored the blood that now pumped fervently through my veins, teased on by the slinky silhouette who stood at the bow of the yacht staring into the same sunset with the same sense of meandering life – happily free from dictation and direction! Finally, after years of tortured distance and endless wondering we seemed to have found a comfort in each other that wasn’t based on desperation. Finally, we were both comfortable with our demons and I think we could both feel the Gods smiling down on us with warmth and compassion for once.
Perhaps our labours and struggles had earned us some peace, but that didn’t excuse us from our duties on this boat! Those duties were varied, but tangible and they gave me a connection to actually being rather than the endless drifting I’d become accustomed to – and I was more than thankful for them! Beyond my duties at the helm I joined Andrea and Rebecca at the bow, as we had each night so far on our voyage. We sat on deck on this our fourth night out and watched the darkness as Rebecca crept over and nestled into my lap…
“What are you looking at Dad?”
“Yeah it’s really dark isn’t it…”
Distant satellites moved silently overhead like beads of sweat dripping slowly from the more distant stars and deep into the western horizon they slowly disappeared, engulfed by a hidden enemy. It was an enemy of sailors everywhere – an enemy of the new and the old regardless of historical context and regardless of their position at sea…
“Clouds are building Jack, it might get a bit rough tonight or perhaps tomorrow.”
“What ever happened to the red sky at night sailors delight, red sky in the morning sailors warning thing? You’re not going to tell me that’s just another old wives tale?”
“Yep, just like the one that says all sailors have a salty beard and a woman in every port!”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Well, maybe in the occasional port, but don’t let the first mate know or she might just slip some arsenic or maybe some engine oil in my breakfast rashers!”
“So, will it be a bad storm?”
“Well young Rebecca – let me see! Judging by the frequency of the lightning and the amount of horizon we’ve already lost to the burgeoning clouds and the speed at which that is happening… I’d say it will be reasonably severe, but nothing this old tub hasn’t seen or been through before!”
“That’s amazing, Captain. How did you work all that out from just looking at a few clouds that must be miles away from us – and how do you even learn all that stuff? I suppose it’s a combination of old age and years of experience?”
“Yes, but you must take into account the condition of the ocean and whether all the fish are stampeding your way! Of course a satellite guidance system – and a weather radar report attached to my PC below deck tend to assist with the accuracy of my forecasts…”
“Ah, a comedian as well as a captain! This trip was indeed worth the money, Jack! What do you do for your next trick Captain, read fortunes or just the stars? Look – is that Gemini up there or do you just have a reflected split personality?”
“You didn’t tell me that you married such a spirited woman, Jack. She reminds me of my adorable first mate over there – I do like that zealous streak in a woman. So as you can see, I can see the attraction – you’re a lucky man!”
Far out to sea the clouds were preparing a show of their own and the lightning out to sea became mesmerising after a while. It was distant enough to not seem threatening, yet it was spectacular enough to grab our attention and hold it. The thunder rumbled across the horizon and out across the ocean towards us as Kaminari3. and his friends wielded their forks into the sea, searching out invisible prey and no doubt lending the eels their electricity and the giant rays their sting.
Rebecca was equally mesmerized and as she sat back in my lap she neglected her usual days diary. She also disappeared into the distant clouds whose shapes were becoming more and more obvious as they were saturated with brilliant flashes within and without. Andrea joined us as usual by sitting in behind me and wrapping her legs and arms about me as she had done so often in recent weeks; in front of the fire in my cabin, by the cliffs overlooking the Twelve Apostles, on the beach at Chuuk and here on deck – and it seemed that our vows were eerily apt as we melted into one…
“The demons seem to have left me and found another home out there amongst the clouds. I’m glad for it too – I feel lighter than I think I ever have… more so than when I first fell for you Jack, my love. Do you think I’ll be a good housewife and mother?”
“You won’t be anything of the kind Andrea, not if I can help it! You’ll be off to work as soon as we get home. Let’s face it, one of us has to pay for Rebecca’s schooling and I’ve still got a gummy leg, so it’ll have to be you!”
“Yes, we’ll have to do something about that now that we’ve got the time, but I thought you were rich Jack! You certainly seem like it, the way you’ve been splashing out on scuba diving, island holidays and ocean voyages!”
“Wealthy enough to provide a lovely start to our life, but not wealthy enough to provide for dozens of idle years without ever actually working again. We’re literally spending and enjoying all of those years where I did nothing but work in one fowl swoop – well, not so much work as dig - dig!”
“Everyone has to lay back and enjoy the fruits of their labours at some stage or their labours amount to nothing… besides, I think you’ve earned it, Jack - you deserve a rest and you deserve some stress free relaxation!”
“And you deserve us Dad – every bit of us, lounging all over you and making ourselves absolutely comfortable regardless of your ageing and distorted body.”
I leant down and kissed her on the top of the head. I’d always imagined doing that to a sweet child of my own, but I’d never had the opportunity. She loved it because she’d always imagined a dad who might dote on her so without becoming too soppy. We were two who were very much the same, but that’s how Andrea liked it – she called us the two Jacks and we introduced each other as Jack and my brother Jack! Not that we looked particularly alike. Bec had my Grandpa’s eyes, but the long dark and slightly thicker and kinky hair of her mother. Andrea thought she had my smile – I wasn’t so sure, but I was sure she was developing her Mum’s shape. That slightly girlish thing with just a hint of woman – slinky! Good for her, I didn’t really want her to grow up too soon and this would help. I wanted to watch her grow slowly for a little while to make up for the fourteen years I’d missed out on and it seemed that she was intent on doing just that.
It seemed that the holiday was doing us all good and Rebecca did seem to be more girlish and relaxed in her present state. It had become a nightly thing that as we reclined like this in the evening Rebecca told me stories about her life and Andrea embellished them with the younger moments Rebecca couldn’t remember. The evenings usually ended with Rebecca asking me for a story and as she already knew my best by heart, I found that the family history had crept in along with ancient history and other odd tid bits I had buried deep within my cerebral walls.
This had been our general pattern for a few weeks now, but tonight we lounged silently and watched the Gods and their sea monsters inch towards us. The waves previously absent were beginning to chop against the hull and our Captain was busying himself around us with the first mate battening down the hatches. His prediction machine below had suggested to him that our friends out to sea were heading our way to dash their ire against our meagre yacht far quicker than initially expected, so after days of clear sailing we were soon to experience our first real ocean storm. The fear of it as it approached wrought a thrill that engaged my senses like no other I’d experienced, but the old caution meter still lingered within and I found after an hour or so of awe that I’d eventually had enough thrills for one evening.
This signalled a good time to retire and as I relinquished my watch for the night I was joined by Andrea and Rebecca and the three of us headed below deck leaving the Captain to see to the boat, as he was confident that we would only catch the edge of the storm and that he and the first mate were already quite prepared for it. I tucked Rebecca in without a story; she wasn’t in the mood for once. She was a little dreamy and moody, so I stroked my fingers through her hair and sang her a lullaby instead…
“You know I don’t really know any real lullabies and I never had anybody to practice on before, so if you’ll bear with me I’ll just adapt something that was written along time ago for a man who died along time before that…
Sleep, sleep tonight
And may your dreams, Be realized”
If the thunder cloud, Passes rain
So let it rain, Rain down on him
o let it be, So let it be
Sleep, Sleep tonight
And may your dreams, Be realized
If the thundercloud, Passes rain
So let it rain, Let it rain
Rain on him” 4.
Long after we had all bedded down for the night, me with Andrea’s arms loosely draped around, Rebecca in the next cabin and the Captain a-watch by his helm, we finally met up with the storm that we had watched so intently after dinner. It was only the weak edge of the storm as the Captain had predicted, and it did seem that its worst had been fought beyond us far across the ocean as we had watched from the safety of our deck with distance and embraces firmly between.
I’m sure I must have been going soft or perhaps it was that after fourteen years of uncertainty I had finally relaxed; I certainly wasn’t as alert as usual! I was in a comfort zone in the arms of my woman with our little girl slumbering just beyond the cabin wall. I’m sure that each form of responsibility has its own stresses, but I didn’t mind the onset of this kind – the stress of caring for ones family! It had delivered me an inner peace that I had never known and that I had become most appreciative of! This is how I was, comfortably drifting towards a deep sleep as the yacht shuddered violently in the night. The edge of the storm now raged about us and my dreams were becoming clouded with distant screams and fanciful images and flashing lights – it seemed that I hadn’t quite recovered from my passed nightmares after all and I rolled over restlessly as our yacht shuddered in the storm again. It was then that I heard another scream – a closer more familiar one - and this time it was definitely from Rebecca. It seemed that her dreams were also being tossed through the whirlpools and waves that were engulfing the yacht and I turned around to Andrea to tell her that I’d see to our girl, but as I turned I overbalanced and was wrenched out of the bed!
It seemed the storm was now a tempest, except that the lightning that flashed about me seemed to be inside the yacht and I found myself sliding down the middle of the cabin – but this was not the sodden upper deck and Andrea screamed at me! No – she was screaming at it, the thing that had dragged me out of the bed and along the cabin floor. The thing with two heads – no… the two things that were screaming back at Andrea and now at me as I fought to cling to whatever was tied down near me and the light flashed again in my eyes, but then it was smothered by a fearsome shadow that came down hard on my head…
* * *
“Wake up (in Indonesian)… wake up sleep boy…”
I was aware of the rain pelting down onto my face and that something – no, that someone was tugging at my hair and slapping me about the face to the nearby strains of laughter. My head swum and I could feel it stinging as I slowly regained my senses. I reached up to feel the spot, but my hands didn’t respond… they were tied behind me and I sat there in a watery daze as I realized that I was a prisoner of I knew not who. I also knew that I was bleeding from that spot on my head and as I reached out with my tongue I could taste it bleeding with the rain into the corner of my mouth and beyond.
Lying across my outstretched legs was the Captain, his face turned in a way that suggested his neck was broken. Beyond him I could see that the shudder I had felt earlier was from a boat – and the same shudder was repeated as it hit our yacht again propelled by the waves; the waves that in my dreams I imagined had caused the shudder in the first place! The boat was full of activity as at least half a dozen men were transporting goods and equipment to it from our yacht. The goods included many varied things, but the inclusion of my two most precious possessions, Andrea and Rebecca, distressed me the most. Bound and gagged I could see their struggle and I could see their eyes searching the dimly lit deck of the yacht for signs of life from me. As our eyes met, absolute terror melted into restrained relief before my vision was again impaired with the shadow of a man who seemed most pleased with himself and his ill-gotten cargo…
“I have your women, very good price for me. You become one with the ocean and I bring it to you with compriments – prease to enjoy its bottom!”
He again shook my head by the hair and laughed, then he threw a bundle into the nearest hatch and as he stepped back across the gangway to his own boat the hatch exploded. Through the flames that quickly engulfed the yacht I could make out the other boat disappearing into the storm, its mast occasionally lit up by the distant lightning showing that it was emblazoned by its own unique ensign that was complete with a small skull and crossed bones…