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Forbidden Cargo Part 2 - Island of Terror

Max_Writer

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* * *

 

On Friday, April 22, 1667, close to noon, “Land ho!†came the call from the masthead.

 

They were in waters where no land appeared on the maps whatsoever. The man pointed off to the northeast. Captain Whitewall climbed to the masthead and looked through the spyglass. There was an island several miles away. It looked lush and green. It looked like there were hills or mountains beyond the coast. It looked good-sized and it surprised him it was not on any of the charts. Perhaps they were off course.

 

He consulted with Mr. Glasgow, who thought he knew where they were via dead-reckoning, but their course had been an erratic one and though Mr. Glasgow thought they were northeast of the Bahamas in empty seas, he could not be completely certain. He was also concerned there was nothing on the charts.

 

“Whitewall Island,†the captain mused.

 

“Oh! I like the sound of that!†Mr. Glasgow said with a grin.

 

When they were some three miles from the island, another cry went up from the masthead.

 

“Ship ho!†he called.

 

“What?†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“Sail!†the masthead called. “Coming from the island!â€

 

Captain Whitewall had his spyglass out again and soon spotted the sails of a large ship putting out from the island, perhaps from a hidden cove or bay. She was heading straight for them. It appeared to be an East Indiaman. If that were the case, they were outgunned by two to one. Then he saw a flag raised on the other ship. Through the spyglass, they could see it was a strange skull with tentacles or worms coming from the lower portion of the face, with two crossed bones behind it like an “x.â€

 

“Oh no,†Captain Whitewall said. “No no no.â€

 

He guessed it was the Stars Are Right.

 

“Cromwell!†Mr. Burrows growled.

 

“He better not have named this island!†Captain Whitewall said. “Ready cannons!â€

 

The crew leapt to their stations, running out the guns and preparing pistols and muskets. The Stars Are Right made a course directly towards them. The wind blew primarily from the southwest, directly behind the Sweet Vengeance. The Stars Are Right tacked against it.

 

“Raise the colors!†Captain Whitewall called.

 

Their own Jolly Roger was flown to the topmast.

 

Their own frigate was smaller and armed with nine-pound guns. However, she was very fast. The East Indiaman was larger, with probably over 50 larger 12-pound guns, but would be slower and less maneuverable. If they could stay away from the bigger ship’s guns and not let them get a decent broadside, they might survive the coming battle.

 

The crew seemed nervous about the prospect of a toe-to-toe battle against a ship that outgunned them by a considerable margin. The Sweet Vengeance had not fought another vessel since the mutiny that left the pirates in charge. They had always chosen smaller targets that surrendered immediately. Now they were outgunned and outmanned.

 

As they approached, both Captain Whitewall and Mr. Burrows noticed, when looking through the spyglass, there were only a few men on board the Stars Are Right. They spotted a few men on deck, but not nearly enough to man even a small part of the guns. Mr. Burrows realized unless the rest of the men were lurking below decks for some reason, the ship was dangerously under-crewed. None of the gun ports below decks were even open. He shared that information with Captain Whitewall. If they used grapeshot, they might be able to kill enough of the crew to render the ship harmless.

 

Captain Whitewall ordered the cannons to be loaded with grapeshot on the port side. The crew got to work and had the port cannons quickly loaded with shot instead of balls. As they closed, Captain Whitewall called for the bow chasers to open fire. A plume of water splashed well short on the port side. On the starboard side, the plum of water spewed only yards from the Stars Are Right. Water splashed right onto the deck of the ship.

 

The two ships passed less than 100 yards from each other, firing almost simultaneously. The Stars Are Right only fired eight of her 26 guns on her port side. Only two of the cannonballs struck the Sweet Vengeance, sending splinters and debris flying. Men screamed and yelled amidships but the Sweet Vengeance returned fire with grapeshot. The blasts devastated the crewmen on the Stars Are Right forward and killed or injured many men amidships.

 

Then the ships passed each other and made their long turns to get another shot. It took several minutes for the Sweet Vengeance to turn to the northwest and then back south even as the slower Stars Are Right turned to the southwest and headed towards the west to position herself for another round of fire. Captain Whitewall ordered more grapeshot reloaded on the port cannons. It was over half-hour of maneuvering before the ships got into position again, both of them trying to position themselves for the best first shot. Unfortunately for the Sweet Vengeance, the Stars Are Right was first.

 

With 500 yards between them, Captain Whitewall turned the Sweet Vengeance hard towards the Stars Are Right, but the enemy was able to fire. Even the small broadside of only seven guns was devastating, with three of the cannonballs striking the ship solidly, holing the hull and leaving the ship nearly dead in the water. However, Sweet Vengeance responded in kind her broadside of grapeshot killing all the crew on deck and even bringing down several men from the rigging to their deaths when the masts heaved with the blasts. Sweet Vengeance was dead in the water, too filled with holes to continue maneuvering. The crew let out a cheer and Captain Whitewall called for them to reload.

 

Surprisingly, the Stars Are Right struck her colors.

 

Captain Whitewall ordered the crew to fling grappling hooks even as the Stars Are Right reefed sails. Man ran up from below decks crying the ship was taking on water at a great rate but the crew managed to grapple with the Stars Are Right. As the ships were pulled together, the Sweet Vengeance continuing to sink lower in the water, a man in black strode across the deck of the Stars Are Right. Above him, his crew climbed down from the rigging, the pirates on the Sweet Vengeance keeping their guns trained upon them.

 

The man was very handsome and had swarthy skin, long brown hair, and a pencil-thin mustache. He wore a smallsword at his side and a pistol in his belt.

 

“A-greetings, my friends-a,†he said.

 

His accent was Italian.

 

“I am-a Carlu Stasi, quartermaster of the Stars Are Right,†he cried out. “We surrender-a our ship to you. I would love to speak to your captain or commander in-a private. Your ship-a seems to be sinking. Perhaps-a you should join this ship … or come on board … or … don’t take us all down.â€

 

Captain Whitewall ordered them to lash the ships together even as fifty men swarmed aboard the Stars Are Right to take the other pirates, a scurvy lot of men who looked quite mad, prisoner. With an hour’s work and a lot of luck, Mr. Cleese was able to get the ships lashed together well enough to keep the Sweet Vengeance from sinking, at least long enough for them to hopefully get to shore on the Stars Are Right.

 

Carlu Stasi had told his remaining 26 men to stand down but they seemed to be chomping at the bit to attack the crew of the Sweet Vengeance. They held their place, however. The rest of his skeleton crew were either dead or terribly injured. At one point, he grabbed Captain Whitewall by the arm. His touch felt clammy.

 

“Do not trust this crew,†he muttered, looking at the crew of the Stars Are Right. “It would be best if you would just-a kill them right now. That’s-a my advice to you. I will tell you why later.â€

 

Then he wandered back to his crewmen to encourage them to stay put as they would kill the other men later. The men themselves looked insane. One man’s arm had been blasted off by grapeshot but he kept telling the others they could keep fighting. The others seemed just as vicious.

 

Captain Whitewall ordered his men to tie up the crew of the Stars Are Right, with orders to shoot them if they even flinched. It turned into a free-for-all and melee that broke out. The crew of the Sweet Vengeance used their pistols and cutlasses while the crew of the Stars Are Right fought with took and nail. In the end, 20 men from the Sweet Vengeance were injured or killed in the melee that left the rest of the remaining crew of the Stars Are Right dead.

 

Carlu Stasi had moved away from the melee as soon as it occurred. He went over to talk to Captain Whitewall.

 

“That-a was good work with those crazy men,†he said. “I’m-a so glad that you did that to them. I suppose-a you want this?â€

 

He drew his smallsword and handed it to the other captain, pommel first.

 

“I would-a like it back,†he said. “Possibly. If we could work out an arrangement. You know. Between us.â€

 

“All right, where are the captain’s quarters,†Captain Whitewall asked.

 

“This way,†Carlu Stasi said.

 

He led them aft.

 

“Where is the captain?†Mr. Burrows asked.

 

Carlu Stasi laughed strangely.

 

“If you’re the quartermaster, where’s the captain?†Mr. Burrows asked.

 

“Captain-a Cromwell has gone ashore,†Carlu Stasi replied. “To do terrible things I will tell you about, that I don’t want to be involved in. They scare me.â€

 

He turned and led them aft, moving to the mast and then quickly towards a pile of debris before turning again and moving to a place where there was a fallen sail. He seemed rather strange.

 

I’m not giving him his sword back, Captain Whitewall thought, tucking the smallsword into his belt.

 

The captain’s cabin was in the quarterdeck and they found charts and maps as well as a few items of interest. A crudely drawn map lay on top of the captain’s table. It showed a landmass unlike any either Captain Whitewall or Mr. Burrows had ever seen before. However, the landmasses and markings around it were familiar. They recognized Cuba and Hispaniola. Africa and Europe were marked, though there were also notations of a Lake Sahara, and a massive landmass dominating the Atlantic Ocean. In large words along the landmass was the word Atlantis. Several large islands dominated the west end of the continent, one of them marked with a large “X.â€

 

Carlu Stasi sat comfortably in one of the chairs, pulling the cork out of a bottle and taking a swig. He offered it to Captain Whitewood who found it was a fine Spanish wine.

 

“Captain-a Cromwell has always been …evil and insane,†he said. “I met the man almost-a 10 years ago in Jamaica. He’s mad, but he is also very-a clever and very good at fighting the right people and making gold. I, myself, am Corsican so, of course, I like-a the gold.

 

“He also worships some God he discovered in a book about five-a years ago. A book I found for him. It’s called Cthulhu and it demands terrible sacrifice. But it promises-a great rewards. In his pursuit of the esoteric, Captain Cromwell learned certain-a stories from the natives of the Bahamas of a cursed island, forbidden to their people for hundreds of years. Two years ago, we found the place, this place. It was only a few months before he discovered a temple in the mountains at the core of the island.

 

“There was this-a tiny native village here as well. The people spoke-a no English but between Cromwell, Rasheba, that’s his witch-woman, voodoo woman, and a few of the crew who spoke some Arawak, we were able to communicate.

 

“These people were worshippers of Cthulhu as well and told stories of their bargains with creatures of the deep and their agreements and pairings with-a things from the sea. They-a worshipped at the temple though said their ancestors had once been able to actually summon Great Kutulu, as they call it, but that power was gone … gone with the great golden-a statue of the God that was stolen so long ago they could not even put the length of time into words. They said when the stars were right, their gods would-a plunge from world to world through the sky - but when the stars were-a wrong, they could not live.

 

“Now, I could-a tell you more about Captain Cromwell, but I would like something from you first.â€

 

The two looked at him without speaking.

 

“I-a merely want a boat,†he went on. “A small boat. Maybe a cutter. Maybe a longboat. And a sail and a mast and some food and water. I want out of here. This craziness - it’s gone a little too crazy for me. That’s all. That’s all I want. Maybe a compass so I know which way to go. But that’s okay if-a I don’t get it.â€

 

“What was wrong with your men?†Captain Whitewall asked.

 

“As I-a said, they’re crazy. They’re all crazy. They’re madmen. Captain Cromwell, he’s-a crazy too, but not as crazy as them. Now me, I’m-a not so crazy. So, though I-a work for Captain Cromwell, I don’t want to be going crazy. So, if you give me a boat, just a little one, I don’t want something like your ship, and you just let me go, I’ll just make my way to the Bahamas or maybe Jamaica or maybe Hispaniola. I don’t know. Maybe I should retire. It’s been a long time.â€

 

“Can you draw me a map of this island?â€

 

“Uh … yes! Yes, I can! I can draw you a map of the island and I can tell you more what he wants to do. So, we are in agreement and accord?â€

 

“Yeah.â€

 

Carlu Stasi shook Captain Whitewall’s hand. The man found the Corsican’s hand to be cold and clammy. It was very unpleasant to touch.

 

“That’s-a great!†Carlu Stasi said.

 

He turned over one of the charts and, taking a pencil, drew a map of the island as he spoke.

 

“These degenerates on this island, they were hideous. I’ll show you where their village is. Captain Cromwell fancied them and even spent many a night in their village, enjoying their-a debaucheries. The crew often joined him. I found it all quite-a repellent, but the money was good with Captain Cromwell. He says he’s related to the-a king killer - Oliver.

 

“Cromwell continued to search for this-a great statue. Solid gold. Huge. It’s nine feet tall.â€

 

“I thought it already had it,†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“He does,†Carlu Stasi said. “He hadn’t had it yet.â€

 

“Oh.â€

 

“I’m-a not finished with my story.

 

“He was certain if it was stolen, we could find it. But we had no luck until about a month ago, when-a Rasheba said her spells had shown her the great-a statue and the ship that it was travelling on. She used her magic to find the Spanish ship, no mean feat considering it was lost at sea. We attacked and took it and the dreams of Captain Cromwell were at last realized. We returned here with Spanish slaves and the slathering crew, ready to call-a down-a their god.

 

“So, I do not share their fascination for calling down anything and was glad to stay behind to prepare the cannon we’d captured, though I instructed the crew, which you’ll see if you go into the bay, to point them back up the trail, towards the temple … just in case they were needed.

 

“Cromwell intends to use the Spanish slaves and many of the crew in this ritual to summon this god. I’ve seen-a some terrible things since joining this crew, things that would-a turn your hair white and freeze your blood in your veins, but this is too much. I advised you to kill all the men but you already did that so that turned out fine. You should-a just shot ‘em all though, instead of worrying about trying to tie them up. That could’ve gone better.â€

 

The man finished his rough map of the island. It showed a bay on the southern side, cliffs to the west, and a mark for a stockade on the bay. It also marked a trail that led to hills or mountains in the island’s interior with an “x†where the temple lay. The map showed a cove on the east side of the island where the native village was also marked. He told them Captain Cromwell had gone to the temple in the mountains.

 

“And he’s going to sacrifice these Spaniards?†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“That’s-a what he said,†Carlu Stasi said. “All these Spaniards are gone-a die. And more if he needs them. The stockade is-a empty right now. I have all the men.â€

 

“Where’s the goods.â€

 

Carlu Stasi pointed down.

 

“The captain, he took the gold,†he said. “He took the statue. Like I said, solid gold, eight foot tall, probably weighs a thousand pounds.â€

 

“How much gold besides the statue?†Captain Whitewall asked.

 

“He took all-a the gold. He left jewels and all of the silver.â€

 

“How much gold?â€

 

“Oh! How much was it? I’m-a sorry. Uh … I don’t know. Maybe 100,000 pieces of eight? It was a big bunch of gold.â€

 

“Do you know where he has it?â€

 

“He took it to the temple. He said that perhaps gold would help the sacrifice and ‘if it doesn’t want the gold, I’ll keep it.’ That’s what he said. We still have silver. There’s-a still all the spices down below and other exotic things. There are some gemstones here.â€

 

He pointed to a coffer in the room.

 

“He has people on the beach?†Captain Whitewall asked.

 

“No,†Carlu Stasi replied. “We had people on the beach. I called them all in when I saw your ship, to fight you. Everyone has gone from the beach and the stockade. The captain took the rest of the crew. Most of the crew, actually. Along to the temple.â€

 

“How many?â€

 

“Two hundred. We have-a three hundred men. He took 200 with him. He intends to sacrifice them if the spell doesn’t work with the Spaniards.â€

 

He looked at them.

 

“He’s crazy!†he said. “You think I’m-a strange? He’s-a crazy!â€

 

They learned Stasi was not a carpenter and not very good with ship repair so they gave him one of the longboats from the Stars Are Right, a short mast and sail, and enough food and water for a week.

 

“Good luck,†he told them as he rowed away. “I would-a advise you to leave this island. Cut your losses. But, you know-a, I’m just a Corsican.â€

 

He soon raised his sail and was away.

 

It took the Stars Are Right several hours to limp into the bay with the Sweet Vengeance attached. They waited until high tide and then moved the Sweet Vengeance as close to the beach as possible, using ropes tied to numerous trees to pull it up onto the shore and careen it where the worse of the damage was more readily visible. The ship was in terrible shape. The cannonballs from the Stars Are Right had torn great holes in the side of the vessel. Mr. Cleese said it would be a month’s work to get her seaworthy again. He asked if it was worth it to repair the Sweet Vengeance and suggested transferring everything to the Stars Are Right and naming her Sweet Vengeance II.

 

The nearby small wooden stockade stood on the edge of the bay, protected by a dozen 12-pound cannons pointed mostly out into the water. The surrounding wall was made of logs and there were six small thatched-roof buildings within. Nothing of interest was in the place though one of the buildings served as a powder magazine with plenty of powder and shot.

 

The Spanish cannons had been dug in on the other side of the bay, pointing up the wide, newly trampled trail that led into the jungle. There were 16 18-pound cannons and 12 10-pounders there. Shot and powder was stored nearby. The trail appeared to have been widened recently with the passage of many men. Captain Whitewall ordered the cannons loaded with grapeshot.

 

They moved the 26 wounded men into the stockade. Half of them were so badly hurt they were probably going to die.

 

Captain Whitewall met with all the officers except for Mr. Glasgow. Mr. Cleese planned to wait until morning to begin the lengthy repairs of the Sweet Vengeance. Captain Whitewall wanted to transfer everything from the ship to the Stars Are Right immediately. He didn’t think it would hurt to go look for the gold statue and the 100,000 pieces of eight. After some discussion, they decided to take 100 men with them, the next day, and not worry about starting work on the Sweet Vengeance.

 

They spent the rest of the night unloading the Sweet Vengeance, taking everything on board to the Stars Are Right. They even stripped ropes and sail from the former ship, hoping to return someday and repair her but wanting a relatively quick escape should things go horribly wrong. They were still outnumbered by the crew of the Stars Are Right and, though they set a picket line with men on guard all night, a battle between them and Captain Cromwell’s crew might go poorly.

 

* * *

 

On Saturday, April 23, they made preparations for the day. Thirty-five men were left on the Stars Are Right. Another 27 men manned the guns pointing up the trail. The other hundred were armed with sword, pistol, and musket and accompanied all of the officers except for Mr. Glasgow, who was left in command of the Stars Are Right, heading into the jungle following the wide trail.

 

Though the central trial was well-worn, the wide trail around it was recently trampled by numerous feet. After travelling a couple of miles, they saw several bodies hanging from the trees ahead. Mr. Burrows took some men to examine them and found they were Spanish sailors, all dead, their faces distorted and blackened and their swollen tongues hanging out of their mouths. It was quite disturbing but they continued on through the jungle.

 

A mile or so beyond that, they saw a man sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree in the path ahead. Mr. Burrows sent two men to investigate. They went to the sitting man and then waved the others forward. The reclining man proved to be another Spanish sailor, a bullet in his chest.

 

A little further on was a palm tree on the side of the trail with a scratch upon it that seemed to have a golden sheen. The tree was dead.

 

A mile beyond that, they found the remains of a statue, mostly covered in overgrowth, not far from the trail near as they approached the hills in the center of the island. The statue was obviously terribly old and made of basalt, a black, fine-grained rock. It stood roughly 10 feet tall and depicted the crouched form of some kind of man with the head of a squid and malformed and shrunken wings on its back. If the thing were not sitting it would probably be more than 15 feet tall. It was very disturbing and the crewmen, especially, did not like it.

 

Soon they were in the tall, dark hills that loomed over the trail. As the it moved through the hills, there were suggestions it was more than a trail. Cracked and broken flagstones were often on the ground, most of them worn smooth by the millennia. Steps were sometimes cut out of the rock, smoothed by the long passage of time. Unadorned road markers dotted the road at uneven intervals.

 

They saw a face in the jungle and a very ugly native woman stepped out. She had dark skin, wore only a loincloth, and had a wide eyes and a wide mouth. Her skin appeared to be scaly and dry. She breathed very heavily and stared at the pirates. The crewmen aimed rifles and pistols at her and she didn’t even flinch, but stared at them with unblinking eyes. Captain Whitewall suggested she probably didn’t speak English though Mr. Burrows suggested she might have learned it.

 

The woman moved towards Mr. Burrows in a hopping gait and took his arm. Her heavily breathing was unnerving. She pulled him lightly towards the jungle. Captain Whitewall drew his cutlass as the woman continued to try to pull Mr. Burrows gently into the jungle. He frowned. Then she rubbed his arm.

 

“Just punch her, man,†Captain Whitewall said. “Let’s go.â€

 

The native woman started to rub up against Mr. Burrows. He shook her off and walked away. She tried the same thing with some of the other crew but the men, unnerved by her ugliness, also shoved her off and they left the woman standing alone on the trail, breathing heavily.

 

At one point along the ancient road stood several statues of stylized heads and upper bodies which lacked shoulders. They were made of basalt that have survived the weather and depicted strong-faced men, usually with goatees but no mustache or beard, wearing elaborate headdresses. They realized the worn markers they’d been seeing before were probably once the same kind of statues, worn smooth by the ages.

 

Shortly after that, they heard two voices from the jungle nearby. They spoke in a very strange language unlike anything they’d ever heard before. They ignored it, continuing along the trail.

 

A mile or so beyond the last of the carved heads, the trail came to a rise. Beyond, though overgrown with jungle plants and trees, the top of the next hill, partially obscured by fog or clouds, was obviously covered in great buildings, the like of which they’d never seen. Huge, stone ruins, shrouded in vines and greenery, were obvious from the vantage point. Even a ruined gatehouse and wall were partially visible. Most prevalent, however, was what appeared to be a great stone temple with an impossibly high tower atop it.

 

It was an entire lost city.

 

The road led to the broken gates of the city but the fresh, wide trail cut through the trees and undergrowth led directly to the tall structure that appeared to actually have been built outside of the ruined city walls: the temple.

 

The ancient temple appeared to be about to fall down. Covered in vines and jungle creepers, the basalt structure had survived more or less intact. It was rectangular in shape with many windows set high in the unadorned walls. A wide entrance, bereft of doors, led into the place. It had a high tower, taller than the mast of a ship, with vines and creepers running up to the top.

 

Captain Whitewall told the men to keep quiet and they made their way to the temple along the right side of the trail, ready to duck into cover at the first sign of trouble. They stopped when they reached the dark entrance to the place. Mr. Burrows sent a half dozen men around the building to look for other entrances. They were gone for several minutes before returning to tell him there weren’t any.

 

“I thought I saw something flying in the mist,†one man said.

 

“You’re drunk, Rupert!†another pirate said.

 

“I’m only a little drunk!†Rupert said.

 

Though the temple exterior seemed to be as decrepit as the rest of the lost city, the interior had been cleaned and refurbished to a point. Though the crawling vines on the walls had not been touched, most likely for fear of brining the place down, the floor of the terrible temple, a vast area a hundred feet across, had been cleared and a broken mosaic etched in the solid stone showing an underwater motif that had an unnervingly realistic look. The center was carved like a tall tower, while around it, people and other things worshipped, many of them having the appearance of fish-like men. In the very center of the hall stood the solid gold statue stolen from the Spanish some days before.

 

The statue was quite hideous and of about the same size as the one alone the trail. It depicted a squatting figure with long claws on the feet and arms. Great tentacles sprouted from the thing’s face and its wings, unlike those on the road, were open above it, making it taller than the one the pirates saw before. It was entirely made of gold though the metal had a white sheen to it. The plinth the statue rested upon was roughly five feet across and the whole thing stood in the center of the room on a short dais little wider than the plinth, almost as if it was meant to be there.

 

“I have an idea,†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“Yes, Captain?†Mr. Burrows said.

 

“Well, we know Cromwell is going to come here to sacrifice these men and the gold. So, I say we ambush them as they come to the temple.â€

 

“Why aren’t they here already?†Thomas asked. “Where are they?â€

 

“Doesn’t all the witchy stuff happen after dark?†Mr. Burrows asked.

 

“Where are they?â€

 

“They’re probably at the village,†Captain Whitewall said. “Do you really want to go to the village with all those creepy people?â€

 

“No.â€

 

“Then we’re going to ambush them here!â€

 

“We don’t pay you to think, Tom!†Mr. Burrows said.

 

Thomas hung his head.

 

“I know,†he said.

 

All of the men moved into the temple proper. There was plenty of room for them. Mr. Burrows noticed the dais the statue stood on had a crack around the edge of it that went into the floor instead of going under the dais. It didn’t look like it was connected to the floor of the temple itself, which seemed strange. He told the captain and they examined it more closely. Captain Whitewall pushed down on the dais but nothing happened. Then they tried to rotate it and found that the statue and dais both spun relatively easily. They turned it clockwise and a noise came from the back of the room as a section of the floor lowered, forming a ramp. A 20-foot wide passage opened into stairs descending off to the right.

 

It was very dark below. They took a half hour to get materials to burn and made a few dozen torches. Mr. Burrows sent a few volunteers down into the passage. They disappeared into the darkness, returning after a quarter hour. They told the others they went down until they heard what sounded like people chanting somewhere ahead. Then they had returned.

 

“It sounded eerie,†one of the men said. “It sounded so eerie.â€

 

“Did they have the gold?†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“We stopped. We came back up. It sounded like there was a lot of ‘em.â€

 

“Like 200 of ‘em?â€

 

“Yeah!â€

 

“Two hundred and four!†Thomas said.

 

“Smart mouth,†Captain Whitewall said, slapping Thomas in the back of the head.

 

“I thought I was funny,†Thomas said.

 

“It was a little funny, Tom, but still,†Mr. Burrows said.

 

The scouts were worried about going further alone.

 

With a quarter of their men holding torches aloft, the entire group headed down into the darkness. The massive staircase curved to the right, the walls adorned with more carvings of fish people, Cthulhu, and other things both terrible and sublime. A great wheel was set into the wall around the first curve and they guessed it was used to open the door from below. The staircase was made of basalt and the steps were worn with the passage of countless feet. Dust hung heavily in the air and the dirt and dust on the ground had been recently tracked with hundreds of feet.

 

The horrible steps went down and down and soon they heard the sound of chanting coming from somewhere below. After carefully treading downward for another five minutes, the steps ended in a wide corridor that ran for perhaps 40 feet. Ahead, they could see it opened into a larger room and they crept carefully forward as quietly as possible.

 

The cavern was huge with a high, arched ceiling of stone, covered in stalactites. At least 200 feet across, they found themselves on a high outcropping of rock some hundred feet above the cavern floor. Wide steps carved into the walls on either side curved down to the floor of the cavern, which held a wide pool of water some hundred feet across that was as black as pitch.

 

On the cleared area at the foot of the steps was a wide area where a smaller cave receded from the main cavern. Upon this stood another statue of Cthulhu, identical to the one above save it was at least twice as big, standing some 20 feet tall and with a plinth some 10 feet across. It also appeared to be made of solid gold and was covered in gore. The place was lit by numerous torches, throwing terrifying and odd shadows across the room and the water.

 

Around the statue, piled like cordwood and bloody from a mass ritual sacrifice, were the bodies of over a hundred Spanish sailors taken prisoner by Cromwell and his men a few days earlier. The 200 pirate crewmen gathered around the statue, barely able to fit in the narrow area before and behind the horrible thing, chanting wildly, led by a man with long brown hair who seemed to egg them on. He had a mustache and a bit of beard under his mouth. Near the foot of the steps to the right was a negro woman who watched the ceremony nervously, along with two men who both appeared to be dead and stared blankly straight ahead.

 

Behind the statue on the left side, tucked out of the way were a half-dozen large chests that Captain Whitewall guessed held the stolen pieces of eight. The chanting became more frenzied.

 

Captain Whitewall and Mr. Burrows discussed tactics, thinking of sending the musket men, of which they had about 50, down the stairs to get a better bead on the men below. They realized someone below would noticed if that many men moved down the steps. Captain Whitewall thought the negress seemed the most dangerous. He ordered the men to focus any fire, if a fight broke out, on Cromwell, the negress, and the two men in loincloths. The man prepared themselves for action, getting their rifles and pistols cocked and ready as they crowded towards the edge.

 

The chanting reached a crescendo of fury and madness. Then, all of the men closest to the statue, half of the men in the ritual, took forth daggers and knives and gutted themselves or cut their own throats and flung themselves towards the statue, rubbing up against it in an orgy of insanity and fury. Though Captain Whitewall stared the horrifying sight, Mr. Burrows averted his eyes, unable to watch the terrible event.

 

The cavern went dead silent for a moment. Captain Cromwell looked towards the pool and frowned.

 

“All right, let’s try this one more time,†he said.

 

The waters bubbled and frothed and suddenly the great pool pushed upwards, overflowing the banks as darkness rose up in the water below.

 

Cromwell began laughing maniacally.

 

“It worked!†he shrieked. “It worked!

 

Mr. Burrows aimed his musket at the water and bid the other riflemen to do the same. About 10 of them were able to move to the edge and aim at the water as well.

 

“Is it a whale?†one of them said. “A porpoise?â€

 

Below, Captain Cromwell grinned maniacally as the large thing rose up out of the water with a splash. The terrible thing was of vaguely anthropomorphic outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious with claws on its hands and long narrow wings behind. It was of somewhat bloated corpulence and lumbered slobberingly out of the water. It must have stood at least 30 feet tall and stumbled out of the terrible pool.

 

Mr. Burrows, who had been looking directly at the terrible thing, began to shake, his face suddenly filled with uncontrollable tics and his body filled with tremors. His continence got even redder than normal and spasms filled his body as he almost dropped his musket.

 

“Get hold of yourself, Burrows,†Captain Whitewall hissed at him.

 

Of the ten other men with muskets looking over the edge, five - including Thomas - fled in terror while four leapt down at the horrible thing below. Only one man looked upon the terrible thing and kept his mind but he did not look as if he was complete control of facilities either. One of the officers fainted and another started laughing maniacally. The other officers looked towards Captain Whitewall and Mr. Burrows for direction.

 

The crewmen of the Stars Are Right below reacted in similar fashion. Some of them drew muskets, pistols, or swords, while others fainted dead away, fled from the terrible creature, or even killed themselves or their companions with blade or bullet. A few opened fire on the terrible thing in the pool, the cavern rocking with the amazingly loud sound of gunfire. Cromwell screamed at them to stop. The negress said something to the two walking dead men with her and then turned and fled up the steps. Those two men turned and followed her slowly.

 

As the horrible creature tore into the crewmen around the golden statue, Captain Cromwell also made for the stairway, stopping to yell back orders for his men to stop attacking the horrible thing and claiming they were there to worship it.

 

“Ain’t no gold worth this,†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“Stop her!†Mr. Burrows said, still shaking with spasms and tics.

 

He pointed at the negress. A few men had gotten out cutlasses or daggers to follow the orders. Big Rolf was ready to grab the woman. He liked to use his hands to crush things. She reached the landing and the pirate crew, seemingly very surprised there were men there.

 

“Run, you fools!†she cried. “Run!â€

 

She ran past them but Captain Whitewall tried to grab her. She was quick, however, and slipped by. Big Rolf was likewise unsuccessful and she kicked him in the side, as was the man who tried to strike her in the head with the butt of his musket. He merely clipped her on the shoulder.

 

“The captain has summoned something he cannot put down!†she screamed. “Run if you value your lives!â€

 

She tried to push by the men but several of them beat her with fists or musket butts and she went down the floor, bloody and badly hurt. She continued to try to crawl away.

 

“You fools!†she muttered. “You fools! Run, you fools!â€

 

“Do you know how to stop it!?!†Mr. Burrows cried, still twitching.

 

“He’s summoned it and can’t put it back!†she cried out. “Get out! Get me out!†She looked up at the man. “I can stop it! Take me to your ship! Take me to your ship and I can stop it!â€

 

“Does Cromwell know how to stop it?†Mr. Burrows said.

 

The black woman reached up and grabbed his shirt, pulling his face close to hers.

 

“If he knew how to control or stop it, he would have done so by now!†she whispered to him. “Take me out of here! Take me out of here! I can protect you!â€

 

“If you can protect us, why were you running?â€

 

“Take me out of here!â€

 

Gunfire and screams continued from below. Captain Cromwell ran far enough up the stairs to see the pirates.

 

“Cromwell!†Captain Whitewall yelled.

 

“Stop him!†Mr. Burrows said, shaking off Rasheba and standing.

 

Two men rushed Captain Cromwell to grab him but the man started chanting and pointed at one of them. The man suddenly stopped on the stairs and collapsed to the wall. He seemed to be choking and suddenly sea water spewed out of his mouth as he fell to the ground, clutching at his throat and chest.

 

“Who wants more?†Captain Cromwell said, holding out one finger menacingly. “Get out of my way!â€

 

The other crewman stopped in terror, watching the water pour from his companion’s mouth as if the sea itself were coming out of his lungs. It was horrifying.

 

“Fire!†Captain Whitewall said.

 

“Fire at him!†Mr. Burrows said.

 

At least a dozen men opened fire with musket and pistol. Captain Cromwell was riddled with bullets, flew backwards off his feet, and crashed down onto the stairs, his body rolling down to crash in a heap almost halfway down staircase. However, the horror from below heard the gunfire and looked up.

 

“Let’s get out of here!†Captain Whitewall called.

 

The crew and officers fled back up the corridor as the terrible screams of the crew of the Stars Are Right continued to reverberate through the place. As Captain Whitewall ran by Rasheba Monru, still trying to crawl out of the terrible place, he brought his cutlass down on the back of her neck, nearly cutting her head off. She collapsed to the ground, blood gushing from the terrible wound. He didn’t think anyone could survive the mercy killing he’d just given the woman as he fled.

 

The noise of the carnage continued behind them as they ran up the stairs into the temple. Mr. Burrows, still shaking, called out for the men to close the secret door. The crew was routing by then, however, and ignored him. Captain Whitewall screamed at the men to hold their ground and several stopped to follow his orders to turn the terrible statue and close the door once again. Mr. Burrows tried to help as best he could but his hands and body continued to be wracked with tremors. Then they fled the terrible city.

 

The rout continued through the jungle and back to the bay. Captain Whitewall actually led the retreat while Mr. Burrows fell behind, having trouble keeping his balance with the terrible spasms shaking his body. As soon as Captain Whitewall returned, he gave orders to get the Stars Are Right underway. As the rest of the crew returned, they took the longboats to the ship, getting everyone on board.

 

The Stars Are Right was making sail and heading out of the bay when they heard the sound of impossibly large footfalls coming from the jungle. Captain Whitewall screamed for general quarters and for the crew to man the guns. Trees in the distance fell and soon they saw the terrible creature coming out of the jungle, chanting horribly. It made its way towards the bay and the Stars Are Right.

 

The water on the starboard side of the Stars Are Right frothed and churned. Then, horribly man-shaped fish clambered out of the water, climbing up the sides of the ship. They were predominantly grayish-green in color, though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their neck were palpitating gills and their long paws were webbed. They cried out in croaking, baying voices.

 

Men screamed in terror and horror as they fired on the horrible fish-men crawling out of the churning sea. Gunfire erupted though some men drew swords or cutlasses to try to cut down the horrible creatures. The terrors grabbed men off the side of the ship and dragged them into the water with terrible cries. Others ripped men to pieces with their long claws or tore at them with terribly sharp teeth. Some crewmen went mad with the sight of the thing in the jungle and the horrible creatures coming out of the water. One man leapt into the sea. Another man, giggling maniacally, put his pistol to his head and blasted it off. Other men fainted or fled into the hold. Mr. Burrows was rooted to the spot in horror.

 

The thing in the jungle lumbered down the beach and into the water, pursuing the Stars Are Right, wading into the water towards the ship. As it became apparent that the horrible thing was going to pursue them and would probably catch them, Captain Whitewall cried out to turn to port and fire. Men scrambled to the loaded guns on deck. Though they didn’t have enough men to fire a broadside all at once, the men aimed and fired and then ran to unfired guns, giving the horrible thing coming at them two half-broadsides and riddling the terror with cannonballs though some actually bounced off it. One blast burst directly through the horrible creature.

 

It stumbled and let out a terrible cry. Then it fell into the bay, sinking beneath the waves. With that, that fish men wailed and fled, the surviving crew hacking at them as they went.

 

“We killed whatever it was!†Mr. Burrows cried out, still shaking his face filled with tics, unable to otherwise move.

 

Captain Whitewall ordered the ship about and they headed out of the bay, away from the terrible island, once again. They had not traveled much past the edge of the island when the water of the bay frothed and the terrible thing stood up once again. It intoned some kind of terrible, horrible words that seemed to hurt them even to hear. The land behind them trembled and rumbled before slowing sinking into the ocean. Within minutes, the Stars Are Right was at sea without sight of land. A violent swell nearly sent the ship over but she righted herself. Debris washed past - trees, leaves, and the remains of the stockade.

 

The island was completely gone. The thing had sunk with it.

 

* * *

 

They sailed the Stars Are Right back to Port Royal without any other incident. They found they had lost another 22 men in the battle with the terrible fish people in addition to the men who died as a result of the initial battle with the Stars Are Right. Mr. Burrows’ tics and shaking ceased by the time they returned to the port. They were laden with cargo that they sold for a pretty profit, though not the 100,000 pieces of eight in the terrible temple. Most of the crew took their shares and vowed never to sail again. Stories went around about what had happened with the Stars Are Right.

 

Captain Whitewall continued captaining the East Indiaman Stars Are Right, which he renamed the Star’s Vengeance. He recruited more crew and continued his pirating career. However, he stayed clear of the waters north of the Bahamas where the terrible island had lain.

 

Mr. Burrows also stayed with the Star’s Vengeance. Though the terrible tremors stopped, he still had a tic in his right eye that became pronounced when he was upset. He also took to drinking more heavily than he used to and sometimes had nightmares of the terrible incidents.

 

Manuel de Barcelona also survived the terrible ordeal. Having been locked in the hold, he was spared the terrors of the rest of the crew and, though unstable, recovered and stopped hearing the terrible voices at night. He stayed on with the Star’s Vengeance and was given simple duties by Captain Whitewall.


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