Saturday, July 25, 2015
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œThe Last Voyage of the Ivory Prideâ€ on Skype Wednesday, July 22, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Timothy Smith (Virii), Jeff LaForest, D.J. Stevenson, and Lily Williams.)
Jimmy Walker was a young white kid from Buffalo, N.Y. He was young-looking with an open face and a beard only on the end of his chin. Walker was a con man and master of disguise. He had fled the United States after one of his cons had gone terribly wrong and found himself in Cape Town in the Union of South Africa some months later. He had been forced, due to lack of money, to work his way up the coast on the steamer Ivory Pride.
On Tuesday, March 10, 1925, in Port Caraou on the Ivory Coast, he had met a pygmy who had been most anxious to sell him several clay fertility figurines for a rock bottom price. He figured if he could get them to England, he could sell them for considerably more. He got permission from the captain to stow them in the hold.
Several passengers boarded in Port Caraou as well.
Rayford Coyt was a radio announcer from New York City. He was actually following Anton Bogdan, a wealthy mortician who was traveling to Africa for adventure. Coyt was planning on telling people in New York about the sights in Africa on his radio show. He had a face for radio and was not terribly attractive with brown hair. He was only 20 years old but already popular. He had a very large, suitcase-sized recording device that used steel tape.
Anton Bogdan was a wealthy undertaker from Boston. He owned J.D. Funeral Services which had been established in 1880. He had come to Africa with his friend Elliot Strong, who had been talking up Africa and himself as a wonderful guide. Strong had asked him to go along and he agreed to front the trip if Strong gave him a great adventure. Bogdan was tall but average-looking. A few family heirlooms had accidently gotten packed with his luggage: a pendent and a necklace, as well as a cameo and such.
Elliot Strong was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, but had traveled the world in order to expand his big game hunting experiences. He was always armed, usually with at least a revolver and a knife. He preferred bigger guns, however, especially the elephant rifle. He was dirty blonde and good-looking with a big, waxed mustache. He also had a small crate that was listed as fragile, which was filled with dynamite.
In addition to these three was a sturdily-built woman of about 40 with two negro servants. She dressed in a severe style and her expression was serious. She brought aboard a dozen big bales which were stowed in the upper forward hold, along with the other passengerâ€™s extra gear. Only Walker and Coyt noticed her come aboard. Bogdan and Strong were busying in their cabins. She seemed to be watching the loading process carefully and didnâ€™t seem happy. However, her eyes showed some of the strain she felt. When Walker helped get the bales aboard he noted the bill of lading read Mildred Foster. The bales were bound for London and from there to Portland, Oregon, in the United States. They rattled like crockery.
The passengers were lodged on the bridge deck.
The Ivory Pride was an aging steamer owned by Leeds & Holbrooke Shipping, a British company with a fleet of older craft acquired and maintained as cheaply as possible. She was roughly 150 yards long and had a crew of 10 plus the captain and Walker. Her holds carried a load of grain plus a collection of goods and luggage brought on by various passengers. The ship was captained by Joseph Mneke, a well-spoken negro originally from Guinea. From what Walker understood, he had worked his way up from deckhand to the very captain of the ship. He maintained an iron discipline among his crew of louts and ruffians. His first mate was Samuel Patanga, a diminutive, ugly negro who clearly intimidated many of the crewmen. The rest of the crew were also negroes, except for Walker.
The ship pulled out of the small harbor that afternoon. The weather was fair and the sun shined down with searing intensity. The sea was marked by a gentle, regular swell. They were scheduled to arrive in Morocco in five or six days.
That evening at dinner, Coyt made conversation with the woman who had come onboard with the two negroes. She introduced herself as Professor Mildred Foster of Reed College Department of Anthropology. When Bogdan heard she that, he struck up a conversation with her about anthropology. She seemed glad to talk to both men and surprised to find someone educated.
She told them she had been sent by Reed College to Africa to observe ceremonies part of the worship of the Singing Man. She studied the habits and customs of pygmy tribes, particularly in southern Africa, especially the obscure Akando tribe. Sheâ€™d been hoping to observe some ceremonies worshiping the Singing Man, their god. She also hoped thereâ€™d be similarities between the Singing Man and ancient Aztec or Egyptian deities. Although she managed to make contact with the tribe and had brought back a sizeable quantity of artifacts, she considered the journey to be a failure as sheâ€™d learned nothing about the Singing Man.
She seemed friendly but was very disappointed she was not able to learn more about the Akando. She was planning on writing a paper but felt something was missing. She was quite talkative and seemed rather pleasant.
One of her man servants was with her at dinner, though he stayed away from the white folks. There was no sign of the other one. Walker, serving dinner that night, realized he had not seen the second negro since they had boarded.
When Walker talked to the first servant later, he learned his name was Eleban, who was tall and very silent. Walker learned he was not native to that region of Africa, coming from the north. When Walker asked him what was in the bales, the man told him they were full of junk: pottery, cups, plates, and other artifacts. Walker chatted the man up and befriended him.
Strong, meanwhile, was drinking heavily as he did not care for waterborne travel.
There was a full moon that night.
* * *
On Tuesday, March 11, 1925, the weather continued fine.
Walker asked Eleban about Professor Fosterâ€™s other servant and learned the manâ€™s name was Dawan. Eleban told him the man had sequestered himself in his room since the voyage began. He guessed he was seasick though he wasnâ€™t sure.
That evening, the weather changed abruptly. Very suddenly, the sea went dead calm. The sun, which had been setting, suddenly became faint and distant-looking. A thick fog rolled in obscuring everything more than about 20 yards away. Walker, Coyt, Bogdan, and Strong were all on deck with it happened. Walker was taking food up to the bridge crew. The others were taking a constitutional after dinner. Walker and Strong heard a faint sound that could have been the rushing of waves upon rocks, but could also have been some kind of singing.
Walker entered the bridge where Captain Mneke was on duty. The captain did not seem disturbed or frightened by the change in the weather. The crewman at the helm looked nervous. Captain Mneke ordered the shipâ€™s speed slowed to half and told his helmsman to keep a sharp lookout. Walker mentioned the rocks he thought he heard waves splashing against before.
â€œWhat? What are you saying?â€ Captain Mneke said. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€
â€œDo you hear the rocks?â€ Walker said. â€œThe water?â€
â€œNo,â€ Captain Mneke said. â€œThereâ€™s no rocks out here.â€
â€œOn my way up to bring you food, I could have sworn I saw something shimmering on the water,â€ Walker said. â€œIt could have been rocks.â€
â€œWe are in deep waters,â€ Captain Mneke said. â€œThere are no rocks out here.â€
He showed Walker the maps he had on the bridge. Their present position was marked, some miles off the African coast. There was no sign of any islands or dangers.
Walker left the bridge, and looked over the rail into the fog surrounding the Ivory Pride. He didnâ€™t see anything usual about the water and could see nothing in sight. The water was dead calm like glass aside from the ripples the ship was making. He noticed a couple of crewman looked nervous. When he talked to them, they told him the weather was strange and it was scaring them. He wandered to the bow but saw nothing unusual.
Strong walked around the ship as well, trying to figure out where the singing or the noise of waves was coming from. He saw nothing on the port side of the ship aside from Bogdan and Coyt who were standing by the railing, sipping port and talking. He also saw the only white crewman, Walker, flashing his flashlight out into the fog.
â€œOdd fog,â€ Coyt said. â€œHopefully everythingâ€™s okay. Nothingâ€™s hit the boat â€¦ that Iâ€™ve felt.â€
He had also noticed Walker.
â€œShould we check to see if the boat is okay?â€ he asked Bogdan. â€œIf he needs help? I donâ€™t want to sink out here in the ocean.â€
Bogdan pooh-poohed him.
â€œPeople moving about makes me nervous,â€ Coyt said.
â€œLetâ€™s walk to the other side so we donâ€™t tip the ship,â€ Bogdan said.
They wandered to the starboard side. Bogdan noticed the ship was moving very cleanly through the water. The swells it had been moving through before were gone. The sea was completely becalmed.
Walker headed to the bow and took a penny out of his pocket. He threw it and it disappeared into the water. Strong had had the same idea and did so from the port side of the ship. Both of them could still just make out the singing. Strong walked around the ship, trying to locate where it was coming from but he was unable.
Around 8 p.m., Captain Mneke took a roll call of the crew and one of the sailors could not be found. He ordered the rest to search the ship. Patanga suggested they stop the engines in case he fell overboard. Captain Mneke ordered for the engines to be stopped for an hour or so.
â€œWhat do we tell the passengers?â€ Walker asked.
â€œWe tell them that a man might have fallen overboard,â€ Captain Mneke said. â€œAnd we must stop to make sure it hasnâ€™t happened.â€
Though it was evening, the sun had still not set.
Walker informed the passengers what was going on. When Coyt learned a crewman was missing, he went out looking for the man. Bogdan was standing on deck, smoking a Cuban cigar and, when Walker told him of the missing crewman, he offered to help look. Walker was unsure but said Bogdan could look in the areas where the passengers were allowed. Walker found Strong in his cabin doing his after-dinner ritual cleaning of his knife and pistol. Strong got a description of the missing crewman who was young and African but with a scar on his face Strong would recognize. Strong sheathed his knife and buckled on his sidearm.
* * *
Bogdan and Strong met after a short while on the boat deck above the bridge deck. Both of them heard a noise like a shushing that seemed both out of place and disturbing. It was coming from around the corner and off to their left. Strong looked at Bogdan, drew his knife, raised a finger to his lips, and pointed towards where the sound seemed to be coming from. He advanced towards it with Bogdan behind.
Around the corner on the starboard side of the ship, they spotted the door to one of the crewâ€™s cabins slightly ajar. A bit of greenish slime was on the doorjamb. Strong frowned and moved forward. He sniffed at the stuff and it smelled both rotten and antiseptic at the same time. Bogdan moved forward to smell it as well but didnâ€™t recognize it.
â€œSomething stinks but I canâ€™t say if it stinks stinks,â€ Bogdan whispered. â€œPush the door open.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to,â€ Strong replied.
He gingerly opened the door into the dark cabin. He saw more of the slime on the floor. He reached to his right and found the light switch, turning it on.
The body of a crewman lay sprawled along the wall. Half of the body had been eaten away, leaving only polished bones. From the waist down, there was no sign of flesh or flood. The bones lay as if the bones of the legs and hip were still connected. The look on the dead crewmanâ€™s face was one of unmitigated horror.
â€œWell then â€¦â€ Strong muttered. â€œCorpses are your specialty. Would you like to examine the body while I find a crewmember?â€
â€œYeah â€¦ actually â€¦â€ Bogdan said, swallowing his gorge. â€œYeah.â€
Strong left Bogdan alone with the body.
* * *
Walker continued to help search the ship and eventually found himself in the forward tween deck hold. It was dark as some of the lights had burned out. He spotted the dozen bails of Professor Foster but was more alarmed to see the crate heâ€™d brought on board had been broken open, apparently from the inside. He noticed that one of Professor Fosterâ€™s bails had been meddled with.
Then he heard a rustling, shushing noise somewhere in the darkness.
He backed towards the door, nervously switching his flashlight to his off hand and pulling out his trusty Swiss Army knife.
â€œI think I found something!â€ he called.
There was no reply.
He shined the flashlight around the hold quickly, hoping to see whatever was moving around in there. Then, the light landed upon some kind of thick, almost limbless fleshy mass that writhed and flowed with horrific sinuousness. Its skin was slick and leather-like, unbroken by features save for its terrible mouth, which was round but mutable, surrounded by rings of powerful muscle. Within was a nest of writhing, hoary tentacles.
Walker screamed at the top of his lungs, dropped the flashlight, and ran for the door heâ€™d come in through. He slammed the hatch closed behind him and dogged it, screaming the whole time. He heard something scratching at the other side. He backed away from the hatch, his knife in hand, and continued yelling.
* * *
Strong was just returning to the cabin with a crewman when both he and Bogdan heard the screaming from below decks. Bogdan stepped outside the cabin and closed the door behind him.
â€œElliot!â€ Bogdan called when he saw the other man. â€œWhatâ€™s going on, Elliot?â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m about to go investigate the screaming,â€ Strong said. â€œBut I wanted to make sure you were okay first.â€
He pointed to the crewman and ordered him not to leave Bogdan. He looked confused.
â€œI thought you said there was a body,â€ he said.
â€œThere is a body â€¦ behind that door,â€ Strong said.
The crewman opened the door and peeked into the cabin.
â€œI gotta go get the captain!â€ he cried out.
He ran away, leaving the door open. Bogdan closed the door again as Strong ran in the direction of the screaming. Bogdan followed quickly after.
* * *
Two crewmen had found Walker and were trying to calm him down when Strong arrived below decks. Walker clung to the door, trying to hold it closed.
â€œWhat did you see?â€ one of the crewmen asked him.
â€œWhat do you think you saw?â€ the other said.
â€œTentacles â€¦â€ Walker muttered. â€œTentacles â€¦ slime â€¦â€
He backed away from the door, watching it carefully.
â€œI think itâ€™s a thief,â€ he said.
â€œA thief,â€ Strong said.
â€œWith a big mouth and tentacles!â€ Walker said. â€œIt has my flashlight.â€
The crewmen looked confused. Strong learned one of the crewmen had a flashlight and asked to borrow it. The man handed it off to him and he started to open the door.
â€œAre you nuts!?!â€ Walker cried.
â€œYou said thereâ€™s a thief?â€ Strong said. â€œWe should apprehend the suspect.â€
â€œIt was full of teeth!â€ Walker said. â€œAnd it was an animal or a â€¦ squid?â€
â€œIf itâ€™s a squid, itâ€™s out of the water and out of its element,â€ Strong calmly said. â€œIf itâ€™s a thief, a human, humans are easy to deal with.â€
He opened all the latches and pushed the hatch open, one hand on his holstered revolver, the other with the flashlight. He could see some lights still burning in the hold. A flashlight lay on the floor, still lit. He stepped into the room, looking for tracks or signs something had been in there. He spotted some kind of slime on the floor on the far side of the hold.
They all felt like they were being watched.
Bogdan finally arrived at the door and followed them into the room. The two crewmen looked around nervously.
â€œWeâ€™re going to need more lights in here if you could fetch some more flashlights and hands,â€ Strong said to a crewman.
The man nodded and quickly left the hold. Strong took the other man towards the slime on the floor even as Walker picked up his flashlight again.
Strong, Walker, and Bogdan all saw a tiny negro man, maybe four feet tall, hiding in the shadows by the bales. He had what appeared to be a staff, which he put to his mouth and then appeared to blow on it. Walker screamed as the dart struck the crewman with them and the man fell to the ground with a cry, wide-eyed. Strong, Walker, and Bogdan all realized the pygmy seemed to be singing something. Both Strong and Walker recognized it as the same music theyâ€™d heard before. The pygmy pulled out a small knife and rushed at Strong, trying to stab him. The man managed to dodge out of the way.
Walker stepped forward and kicked at the pygmy but didnâ€™t even distract the little man. Strong drew his revolver, aimed at the pygmy, and fired. The blast echoed through the hold and the pygmy was flung violently backwards as the bullet struck him in the chest. The knife flew out of one hand, the blowgun flew out of the other, and he ended up flat on his back.
Bogdan rushed forward and found the wound was very bad. He doubted the little man would last much more than a few seconds, though he tried to save his life. Walker leapt back in shock as Strong holstered the gun and walked over where Bogdan struggled to save the little manâ€™s life. He bound the wound but then heard the death rattle in the negroâ€™s throat as he died. The bullet had been close to the heart.
â€œYou attack like an animal, I shoot you down like an animal,â€ Strong said.
* * *
Still searching the deck, Coyt heard a gunshot from below deck somewhere. He headed down in the direction he thought the noise had come from. Several other crewmen also headed that direction, most of them with improvised clubs or actual knives in their hands. He arrived before them and found the others examining a dead body in the forward hold. A crewman lay nearby, a dart in his upper shoulder.
Bogdan went to the crewman but found him paralyzed. He was breathing but obviously couldnâ€™t move at all.
Strong found more darts and a small clay pot with a dark, sticky substance on the pygmy. He touched it with his pinky tip and felt the finger go numb. He wiped off his pinky and tucked the pot away.
Walker examined Professor Fosterâ€™s bales. They appeared to have been meddled with but he was unsure what might be missing. He was able to see one of the open ones had pottery, native African art, and other items, none of which looked valuable.
â€œGood Lord, man!â€ Coyt said. â€œWhat has happened!?! Did they attack each other?â€
â€œThe little man laid in disarray with a giant hole in his sternum,â€ Bogdan said.
â€œShould we get this paralyzed man to a bed?â€ Coyt said.
â€œIâ€™m â€¦ Iâ€™m currently working with him on that,â€ Bogdan said. â€œIâ€™m trying to make him comfortable right now, assessing his condition.â€
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t move him from this hall!â€
â€œWell, not yet.â€
â€œOkay. What can I do? I have no skills in the first aids. What? Should I back off? Give him space? All right then!â€
Walker shined his light in the darkened corners of the room.
â€œI need a couple of people to stay here with me,â€ Bogdan said. â€œBut there is another crewman who is dead. Up on the boat deck, and he appears to be missing half of his body.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Coyt said. â€œGood Lord!â€
That disturbed the crewmen quite a bit. Coyt ran out of the room to look for the other body. He felt the need to know what was happening.
â€œDo not go alone!â€ Bogdan shouted after him.
Strong moved over to the green goo near where Walker stood. Walker looked into his crate. He noticed three of the fertility statuettes had swollen up to extreme proportions and then shattered. The crate they were packed in was broken open and they had fallen out. The fourth, which had been damaged when he bought them, lay broken open a few feet away amid a pool of foul-smelling green ichor. Another of the terrible things he had seen before lay amid the mess of the broken statuette.
Walker gasped. As Strong looked at the slime on the floor, Walker tapped him on the arm. He pointed at the thing on the ground and Strong was somewhat disturbed by what he saw. He picked up a broken piece of debris a couple feet long and poked the dead thing. It gave way and shivered, having a gooey, gelatinous feel, but didnâ€™t move. It smelled like the slime they had found in the dead manâ€™s cabin. He walked over to it and poked it in several places with the stick. It appeared to be dead.
* * *
Coyt found Captain Mneke and a crewman in the cabin with the dead man. Coyt was disturbed by what he saw of the body. Captain Mneke seemed perplexed at the whole situation. Coyt took out a little journal and sketched the corpse. There was much less blood than he expected. He was in the process of drawing when he heard what sounded like singing coming from somewhere outside. It was an odd, tuneless melody. He assumed it was someone mourning.
* * *
Patanga, the first mate, arrived in the forward hold. He looked at the pygmy.
â€œHuh,â€ he said. â€œStowaway!â€
He kicked the dead body with his foot.
â€œYeah,â€ he said. â€œLooks like heâ€™s dead. You two, take him. Throw him over the side.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t we investigate the body first, sir?â€ Strong said. â€œHe might be small but there had be some way he got into the ship under your careful eyes.â€
â€œHe mustâ€™ve come on board â€¦ snuck on, swam on board the other night maybe,â€ Patanga said. â€œWhile we were in port. Maybe longer than that. Maybe he was in these crates.â€
â€œAnd that?â€ Walker said, pointing at the terrible creature lying dead on the ground.
Patanga rolled his eyes but then walked over to look at the terrible, dead thing on the ground. He seemed very disturbed by what it, shaking his head and saying something quietly in Swahili.
â€œUh â€¦ what?â€ he finally said. â€œWhat is that? What is that thing?â€
â€œAppears to be a rare and unknown creature that we would like to have the opportunity to study, sir,â€ Strong said.
â€œCaptain will have to say,â€ Patanga said. â€œCaptain have to say. I think we should throw it over, though. We should throw it over. Throw it out in the water.â€
â€œAnd miss this opportunity to studyâˆ’â€ Strong said.
â€œItâ€™s evil!â€ Patanga said.
He grunted something unintelligible.
â€œCaptain will decide!â€ he said as he walked away.
He ordered the other crewmen to take both the dead body and the paralyzed crewman out of the hold. They were followed by Bogdan.
â€œMr. Strong,â€ Walker said. â€œYouâ€™re a hunter, right?â€
â€œBy trade,â€ Strong said.
â€œAnd you hunt creatures?â€ Walker said.
â€œYes sir, whatâ€™s your point?â€ Strong said.
â€œWhat if those were eggs?â€
â€œAh, you put that together, huh?â€
â€œThree discarded shells. One half broken.â€
â€œThat would mean thereâ€™s three more on the boat.â€
â€œYes sir, good job.â€
â€œLetâ€™s get off the boat!â€
â€œAnd youâ€™ve seen one down in the hold. This oneâ€™s dead. And we have a body upstairs.â€
â€œThis is the hold.â€
â€œThis is the hold.â€
â€œThere was one in here!â€
â€œYes, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m saying; we have one that was alive, one thatâ€™s dead â€¦â€
â€œMr. Strong! Where is the one that was in here!?!â€
Just then they heard a rustling or shushing noise. Strong drew his pistol. Walker grabbed one of the broken boards from his crate as he shined the light around. Strong whistled the tune he thought the pygmy had been singing.
Walkerâ€™s light fell upon the creature as it moved towards them. Strong fired at the creature, the bullet tearing through it. The thing continued to rush at them and then opened up and folded Strong into its own flesh and tentacles. The horrible jaw moved towards him. Walker rushed to the manâ€™s side and struck the creature a glancing blow with the board he held. The whistling seemed to make the creature attack Strong more ferociously and so he stopped.
Coyt fled the hold.
Strong attempted to break free of the horrible creature without luck. He aimed his pistol again and blasted away. The terrible creature shuddered and then loosened its hold on the man and the massive jaw stopped moving. He threw himself off from the horrible thing and emptied the remaining three bullets in the revolver into it.
He reloaded his pistol and holstered it. Walker poked the horrible thing with a stick again. It quivered oddly and disturbingly.
â€œThereâ€™s two more, by math,â€ he muttered. â€œWhere could they have gone?â€
Strong was angry and went to the crate where the things had apparently come from. He found a label upon it, noting that it was the property of James Walker.
* * *
When the gunfire started, the crewman carrying the paralyzed man and the dead pygmy picked up the pace. Bogdan followed quickly behind. They passed the captain and Bogdan stopped the man, telling him that they were going to settle the paralyzed crewman in and then they would be right back to the hold. Captain Mneke nodded and continued downward.
* * *
Captain Mneke arrived at the hold with a crewman and demanded to know what was going on.
â€œWell sir, we were attacked by these gelatinous tentacle monsters and I would like to know who this James Walker is,â€ Strong said.
Captain Mneke pointed at Walker.
â€œThereâ€™s Jimmy Walker, there,â€ he said.
â€œWell now,â€ Strong said. â€œYou want to tell me what these things are, as they were in your crate?â€
â€œLook, they were just supposed to be statues,â€ Walker said. â€œI was supposed to get a clean sale on them. The guy just said they were fertility statues.â€
â€œWell, it certainly gave birth to something!â€ Strong said.
â€œI got them really cheap,â€ Walker said. â€œIt was a bargain. I donâ€™t know what the hell.â€
â€œWell, it certainly gave birth to something,â€ Strong said again. â€œYouâ€™re responsible for the goods you transport.â€
Captain Mneke was a little nervous but noted the hold was not the place to have such a discussion. He wanted out of there. He told Walker to bring Professor Foster down to the hold and find out what was taken from her bales. He noted he understood there were stowaways on board and Strong handed him the pouch with the darts and the poison. He thought it a good idea to arm the crew. Strong requested his rifle and the man was glad to oblige.
Strong recovered his elephant gun and about eight extra shells for the massive weapon from the hold. He went over to carve a souvenir off the creature heâ€™d killed but it seemed to be melting away.
They all left the hold and returned to the upper decks. There were a half dozen .30 bolt-action carbines and plenty of ammunition in the armory and he armed the crew. He also armed himself and Patanga with large revolvers. He ordered four armed crewmen into the hold with Professor Foster to determine what was missing.
* * *
Coyt returned to his cabin, hoping to get a drink to calm his nerves. However, as he opened the door, he spotted a pygmy down the corridor. The horrible little man shot him with a blow dart but he was able to stumble into his cabin, secure the door, and even push his enormous voice recorder in front of it before he succumbed to the poison.
He passed out.
* * *
Bogdan helped get the paralyzed crewman settled in his bunk. Soon, he saw many of the crew were armed. Captain Mneke talked to him, Strong, and Walker, asking if they thought there were any more stowaways on board.
â€œIâ€™m a cracker on this boat!â€ Walker said. â€œSomethingâ€™s going to happen!â€
â€œI would plan on their being more stowaways,â€ Bogdan said. â€œHuman or otherwise.â€
Captain Mneke decided to continue to have his men search the ship.
â€œWe know of at least two of the tentacle monsters, referring to the contents of Mr. James Walkerâ€™s crate, and if we know what crate the pygmies were hiding in, we could calculate how many pygmies might have been hiding there,â€ Strong said.
Walker was disappointed he was not allowed one of the six carbines, but cornered a crewman and noted to the man he was a better shot and had fought the horrible creatures on board before. The crewman grudgingly handed over the carbine and a second magazine.
Just then, Strong and Walker realized the singing was louder now than it was before. It seemed to be coming from the stern. Strong immediately left the others and headed aft. Walker followed the man very closely. They could both make out a shape in the fog behind the Ivory Pride. Luckily, Strong had grabbed his binoculars when he had left his cabin. He put down his elephant gun and looked through them.
The shape in the water was a hugely, grossly fat man. Only the top half of the thing was visible above the water. Rolls and mounds of flesh flowed and rolled down towards the sea. Obscenely liquid eyes peered from between the bloated folds of his body. The thing floated about 100 yards from the ship.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s something you donâ€™t see every day,â€ he muttered.
â€œSo, what you looking at?â€ Walker said.
Strong handed him the binoculars and he looked through them, recoiling in fear when he saw the horrible thing.
* * *
When Bogdan returned to the hold, he found Professor Foster there with four armed crewman, all of whom were on edge. Professor Foster looked through the bales, comparing the contents to a piece of paper on a clipboard. After several minutes, she noted nothing was missing except for a wooden ceremonial mask.
There was no sign of either of the dead creatures.
* * *
Walker handed the binoculars back to Strong and then put the carbine to his shoulder and fired at the creature. He was unsure if he hit the terrible thing in the water. Strong grabbed the carbine out of his hands and glared at him. A few moments later, Bogdan came from below decks. He glanced out the direction they were looking.
â€œWhoâ€™s out there?â€ he asked.
Walker grabbed the binoculars from Strong and held them out to the man. Bogdan looked through them at the terrible thing in the water. He could also hear singing that might have been coming from it.
A crewman nearby was looking in the vents to see if anyone was hiding in them.
â€œYou there!â€ Strong said. â€œQuit your search, weâ€™ve got bigger problems. I need you to find all available crewmen with guns and let the first mate know that we have a â€¦ unidentified creature in the water.â€
â€œWhat?â€ the frightened crewman said. â€œWhat?â€
He ran away.
â€œYouâ€™re calling it a creature?â€ Walker said.
â€œIt looks like one, doesnâ€™t it?â€ Strong said. â€œItâ€™s got eyes. It appears to be singing.â€
â€œDoes it talk?â€ Bogdan said.
â€œItâ€™s singing!â€ Walker said. â€œCanâ€™t you hear it!?!â€
He could hear the singing but it was in a language he couldnâ€™t understand. It was a strange, disjointed tune that didnâ€™t make any sense to him whatsoever.
â€œCan I have my gun back?â€ Walker asked quietly.
â€œNo!â€ Strong said. â€œNot until you learn to shoot.â€
â€œHey!â€ Bogdan yelled at the thing behind the ship. â€œYo!â€
â€œWhat are you doing!?!â€ Walker said.
The thing didnâ€™t seem to pay him any mind. It was staring at the ship but it was hard to tell at that distance. Bogdan guessed it was bigger than a man.
â€œCan I have my gun back?â€ Walker asked quietly again. â€œPlease?â€
â€œNo!â€ Strong said again. â€œNot until you learn to shoot!â€
Several crewmen arrived and Strong tried to convince them to shoot at the terrible thing. However, when they saw it, they fled. When Patanga arrived to see what the trouble was, they handed him the binoculars. He looked at the terrible thing and then calmly handed the binoculars back to Strong before attacking the man, punching him in the face. Strong fought back, first punching and then grappling with Patanga, choking him until he passed out. During the scuffle, Walker managed to get Patangaâ€™s gun away and fired it into the air.
More crewmen ran over to investigate the gunshot.
â€œTake this man to first aid!â€ Strong said. â€œYour first mate is no longer able to serve his duty. Iâ€™m going to need the captain as soon as possible.â€
â€œThe captain is on the bridge,â€ one of the crewmen said before they carried Patanga away.
â€œYou going to beat up the captain too?â€ Bogdan said. â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œWe got an unidentified man in the water,â€ Strong said. â€œWhoâ€™s actingâˆ’?â€
â€œWhy are we not shooting at that thing!?!â€ Walker cried out.
â€œBecause we need allâˆ’â€ Strong started to say.
â€œEvery time we show it to somebody, they go crazy!â€ Walker said.
â€œWell fine, then!â€ Strong said. â€œHereâ€™s your darn gun!â€
He handed the carbine to Walker.
â€œA hundred yards away?â€ Bogdan said. â€œA moving target?â€
â€œDonâ€™t you have that big gun?â€ Walker said to Strong.
â€œI donâ€™t have any gun on my back!â€ Bogdan said.
Walker handed the carbine to Bogdan.
â€œWell, Anton, can you shoot?â€ Strong said.
â€œCan I shoot?â€ Bogdan said with a smirk. â€œYeah.â€
â€œSee!â€ Walker said.
â€œTell the captain to start moving the ship in about 15 minutes,â€ Strong said to Walker.
â€œYou just told the captain to come here,â€ Walker said.
â€œOh, well then never mind,â€ Strong said. â€œHeâ€™ll come here.â€
He picked up the elephant rifle and balanced it on the railing, aiming at the terrible creature in the water.
â€œDid we find the missing crewman?â€ Bogdan said. â€œThatâ€™s the reason we stopped to begin with.â€
â€œI would like to point out thatâ€™s there people-eating things made of goop and green tentacles and a fat thing out there and weâ€™re still looking for a missing guy!â€ Walker said.
â€œWe gotta take things one thing at a time, Mr. Walker,â€ Strong said, still sighting the figure in the water.
â€œYes, Mr. Walker, we have four and a half to five days of travel aboard this ship,â€ Bogdan said. â€œWhether we travel, hunting for it here or now, or on the way. Take your pick! I say we round up our crew, whoever we can find right now, and we need to get a head count.â€
â€œDid you see what happened to the last crew that looked at it?â€ Walker said.
â€œWell then weâ€™ll take it to the front of the ship,â€ Strong said.
â€œTake what to the front of the boat?â€ Walker asked.
â€œThe crew!â€ Strong said. â€œDo a headcount at the front. Iâ€™m going to shoot this blasted thing.â€
â€œDonâ€™t give anybody binoculars!â€ Bogdan shouted, shaking the binoculars he still held in his hand.
Strong sighted down the elephant gun as Walker headed off towards the bridge. Bogdan aimed at the terrible thing in the water with the carbine. Strong started advising him on how to aim to fire.
â€œFire in the hole!â€ Strong said.
Bogdan put the binoculars to his eyes and Strong fired at the terrible thing with the elephant gun, the blast rending the air and nearly knocking him back. However, though the blast seemed to hit the thing - Bogdan saw the impact - it didnâ€™t react and didnâ€™t seem to be bleeding.
â€œLooks like you hit it dead on but you didnâ€™t do much of anything,â€ he said. â€œNot even made it mad.â€
â€œI donâ€™t like it,â€ Strong muttered.
He aimed again.
â€œAim for the head!â€ Bogdan yelled, still watching.
He watched and saw another impact but saw no reaction from the terrible thing nor any blood.
â€œNothing,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ you hit it.â€
â€œWe need to talk to the captain to see if we have any firearms with more kick,â€ Strong said, standing. â€œThis is my strongest rifle and itâ€™s not doing anything.â€
â€œThere might be a harpoon on the back of the ship,â€ Bogdan quipped.
They headed forward.
* * *
Walker found Captain Mneke trying to get a count of the crew. One crewman was dead, they all knew that. The first crewman was still missing. One crewman had been confined to his bed. The first mate, Patanga, had also been confined to his quarters. When Strong stormed in, demanding a larger weapon, he learned the largest weapons on the ship were the carbines and pistols. He knew neither would pack as much punch as his elephant gun.
â€œConsidering our current ammunition, I would highly recommend that we begin to make tracks,â€ Strong said.
Captain Mneke agreed and sent four armed men down to the engine room to stoke the boilers and get the ship underway again. He told the passengers it should not take long. He also noted he had told Professor Foster to lock herself in her cabin with her servant and her second servant was still locked away in his own cabin.
Some 15 minutes later, the ship rumbled and the Ivory Pride got underway again. He set the telegraph for Â¾ speed and a confirmation came back from the engine room.
Strong and Bogdan headed aft to see what was happening with the figure in the water. Walker followed them. En route, Bogdan noticed the door to the crewmanâ€™s cabin that had been paralyzed was ajar. Strong noticed the door but kept walking aft, heading for the stairs down. Walker followed Bogdan, who went to the door and lifted the carbine he was carrying. He pushed the door with the barrel of the gun.
The crewman still lay in his bunk. A little negro about four feet tall was standing next to the bunk. He had a knife in his hand hovering over the unconscious crewmanâ€™s chest. He brought the knife down as Bogdan put the carbine to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked but the action had not been worked since Walker had fired a bullet some time before. The chamber had only an empty shell within.
The knife came down on the crewmanâ€™s chest and there was a spurt of blood from the poor man.
â€œNot another one!â€ Walker screamed.
He aimed and fired the Patangaâ€™s pistol but missed, blasting the pillow in the bunk above, which exploded in a burst of feathers. The pygmy was singing something but then said something in a language they didnâ€™t understand. Walker fired at the horrible little man again but a vase with a flower in it on the table by the bed exploded. The pygmy stabbed the crewman a second time.
Strong arrived at the scene having heard the gunfire. Bogdan was working the action on the carbine but when Strong shoved the elephant gun directly between the two man, and yelled â€œFire in the hole,â€ he dropped the carbine and ducked to the left, away from the gun, covering both of his ears with his hands. Walker ducked to the right, covering his left hear with his hand as well.
The blast of the gun was deafening. The pygmyâ€™s head burst like a watermelon, splattering the entire cabin with blood and brains. The body fell to the deck without a sound.
When Bogdan removed his hands from his ears, he realized the sound of the singing was a bit louder. He ran into the cabin and tried to administer first aid to the crewman, using gauze to patch up his wounds. The man was very badly injured, however, and he was not a doctor. He continued working on the man to try to stabilize him. He didnâ€™t know if the man would live or die.
* * *
Coyt awoke to the sound of incredibly loud gunfire nearby. He was not sure how long heâ€™d been out but it felt like the ship was now underway. He moved aside the tape recorder and headed out into the passage, going forward and heading up to the boat deck. He could smell gunpowder and found Strong and Walker outside a cabin.
â€œWhat â€¦ what â€¦ I saw the other dead guy without the legs â€¦ is the numb guy okay â€¦?â€ he said.
â€œI think heâ€™s dying,â€ Bogdan called from within the cabin. â€œIâ€™m just not sure.â€
â€œI got paralyzed â€¦â€ Coyt said. â€œAm I gonna die? Iâ€™m dying â€¦ folks â€¦ everybody â€¦ listening â€¦ Iâ€™m going - no, I donâ€™t have a radio.â€
â€œYouâ€™re numb,â€ Bogdan said. â€œThereâ€™s a big difference.â€
â€œAm I going to die?â€ Coyt said. â€œDid it have poison in there?â€
â€œJust donâ€™t look off the back of the boat,â€ Walker said.
â€œDonâ€™t look off the back of the boat?â€ Coyt said, looking aft.
One of the life boats actually blocked his view.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing there,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s nothing there.â€
He peeked into the room and saw an amazing amount of blood on the walls and the bunk. There was more blood and fresh bandages on the crewman who had been paralyzed. On the floor was a dead pygmyâ€™s headless body.
Walker searched the pygmy and found his blowgun, curved knife, and pouch with darts and poison. Strong took the knife for his collection. Walker kept the rest.
â€œMore for you to shoot,â€ Bogdan said.
â€œMaybe it will work on the green things!â€ Walker said a little hysterically. â€œOr the big fat thing! I donâ€™t know!â€
â€œWhat green things?â€ Coyt asked. â€œWhere?â€
â€œThe green gelatinous tentacled monsters that are on the boat,â€ Walker said.
â€œWait!â€ Strong said, pointing at Walker. â€œYouâ€™re back luck. Youâ€™re with me.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Walker said.
â€œYouâ€™re bad luck,â€ Strong repeated. â€œYouâ€™re with me. You seem to gravitate all the pygmies and monsters. Itâ€™s much easier to have you with me than divert my path to come to you. Youâ€™re with me.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Walker said.
Strong grabbed him by the arm and headed aft again. Walker stopped him long enough to pick up the carbine and hand off the revolver to Bogdan. He worked the action of the carbine.
â€œWhere the hell are those two going?â€ Coyt asked.
â€œAsk â€˜em,â€ Bogdan said.
â€œI should â€¦ they already left!â€ Coyt said.
â€œTheyâ€™re walking away right now,â€ Bogdan said.
â€œWhere are you two going?â€ Coyt called down the steps.
â€œAft!â€ Strong called back. â€œIâ€™ve got to keep an eye on that monster!â€
â€œMonster?â€ Coyt called.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it,â€ Strong called back.
â€œAm I the only one that got stunned?â€ Coyt asked Bogdan. â€œDid they get stunned too? Are they seeing things?â€
â€œIâ€™m glad you didnâ€™t see what it was,â€ Bogdan said.
â€œWhat was it?â€ Coyt asked.
Walker ran back and pointed at Coyt.
â€œMister â€¦?â€ he said.
â€œJust call me Ray,â€ Coyt said.
â€œRay, you could help us out,â€ Walker said. â€œCould you go check on the professor?â€
â€œProfessor?â€ Coyt said. â€œYes!â€
â€œOne of her man servants was sick, and I donâ€™t know if he caught something maybe?â€ Walker said.
â€œWell, I will go inform her of all the happenings, but has she not been awake?â€ Coyt said.
â€œNo, she knows,â€ Walker said. â€œBut they donâ€™t know the status of the other guy. Maybe you and Anton check them out.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Coyt said. â€œThe name of the man servant that is ill is â€¦?â€
Walker didnâ€™t remember.
â€œJust one of them, alright,â€ Coyt said. â€œIf she knows the happenings. I will gladly do so.â€
He and Bogdan headed down the steps to the bridge deck and Professor Fosterâ€™s cabin.
* * *
Strong and Walker went to the stern. They could see the Ivory Pride it was now underway at a fair clip. They could also see, very clearly, the horrible creature, the thing in the water, was actually closer now. The figure kept exactly the same pace as the ship but was now 80 or 90 yards away.