Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Short Story: Tour of Booty

Here's a short story set on an old-fashioned wooden sailing ship:

Emma Nyborg was locked in a bathroom.

At first, of course, she’d thought it was just a sticky door. She was on a ship, after all, and it was summertime, and it was a wooden door. She figured it had swelled in the humid weather, so she got a good grip on the handle, planted her feet and pulled hard. But a sticky door should have had a little give to it, even if she wasn’t strong enough to unstick it, and this door didn’t give at all. It rattled. When she’d tried every way out she could think of, she’d started banging on the walls with her fists, and even with the wooden handle of the toilet plunger. She’d tried shouting and even shrieking like she had the time she’d auditioned for a part in that Salem witch trials play, and eventually it had paid off: she’d heard footsteps.

“Help,” she’d called, a little hoarsely. “I’m stuck in here. Can you help me get the door open?”

The footsteps had come closer and stopped, and a male voice, just outside the door, had said. “Quiet down before you hurt yourself.”

Emma had laughed at that. “Okay,” she’d agreed.

But then the footsteps had walked away again, and she’d been just stuck in here for over an hour now.

It had been her friend Jenna who’d wanted to come here. “The tall ships are in the harbor,” she’d said. “They let you go onboard and walk around in them. You guys have got to see them.”

“What’s a tall ship?” the guys had asked, and “Let’s wait and see the short ships,” and “Do you think they have tall ship scholarships?” (And they wondered why Emma and Jenna didn’t want to date them.)

It had been a fun tour and a fascinating ship. Emma and the guys had been amazed that wooden sailing ships even existed, never mind that they actually still sailed the oceans. This ship, their guide had explained, was only about ten years old. And it looked new, but it also looked like it should have been built centuries ago, and stepping onto it from the gangplank felt like walking through some sort of magic portal into history.

But that hadn’t been enough for Emma. No, Emma had needed to take things a step further and learn about the plumbing. She hadn’t really had to go; she’d just wanted to see the bathrooms, to see if they were as old-fashioned as the rigging.

They weren’t. Or at least this one wasn’t. This one was just a small public restroom like a hundred others she’d used, with a cheap toilet and a small sink, a soap dispenser and a light and a fan and no paper towels and no window, a little bit smelly and a little bit dingy. She wondered how long she was going to have to spend here, and how long she could hold out before she’d have to give up and sit on that germy floor.

Up on the deck during the tour, Emma had lagged behind and snagged a passing sailor and asked him if there was a bathroom she could use.

And he’d answered immediately, “Yes, ma’am, I’d be happy to show you, if you’ll come with me.” And now she was stuck here.

But now there were footsteps again, and they were coming toward her.

“Hello?” she called.

“Hello,” a male voice replied. It wasn’t the same one as last time. “Bear with me, I’m letting you out,” he said. “As soon as I get the padlock off, you’ll be able to open the door.”

So she put her ear to the door and waited. She heard the cylinder turn and the lock spring open. She heard him twist the lock and pull it off and swing the hasp out from in front of the door. And then she flung the door open and lunged for his throat. Maybe he’d been expecting her to do that, because she found herself landing softly, almost in slow motion, on the floor. Or were you supposed to say ‘deck’, on a ship? They were in a cramped corridor, and it didn’t look very ship-like.

“You okay?” he asked.

She just glared at him and got up and ran for the stairway, dashed up the steps to the wooden deck, raced past the capstan that she had found so charming less than two hours ago, and headed straight for the gangplank.

Except the gangplank wasn’t there. Even the harbor wasn’t there. All there was, was ocean, with the city, far away, twinkling on its shore. A breeze blew softly, water lapped at the side of the ship and the rigging creaked slightly. A couple of men were talking somewhere, and otherwise everything was quiet.

“We’ve put out to sea,” he said.

She turned around and saw him standing there, short and broad and tan, in the half-open loose white shirt, wide belt and short pants that all the sailors wore to entertain the tourists. At least he didn’t have a sword, even if the outfit did look a little incomplete without it. She went for his throat again.

Again, he deflected her easily, but this time she didn’t stop so soon. Again and again, she lunged at him; again and again he pushed her off. She punched. She kicked. She got nowhere. He didn’t hit back, but sometimes he pinned her down for several seconds, then let her go, like it was a game. Eventually, she had to stop, worn out and panting.

He got up and just stood there and watched her, gave her a minute to catch her breath. She knelt on the deck-boards, on her knees and elbows, and stared back at him, at the straight black hair falling to his square chin, at the broad tanned forehead, the green eyes.

He just stood there watching her until she’d caught her breath and stood up. Then he stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Trevor.”

She didn’t shake. “Emma,” she said. “I demand to see the Captain.”

He laughed sardonically. “I’m sure that can be arranged,” He had dimples. “It’s getting late, though. I should help you find Shannon.”

“Is Shannon the Captain?” she asked, sticking to her point.

He shook his head, and his eyes took on a muddy color. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll get your audience with the Captain soon. Right now, it’ll be dark soon. We need to find Shannon. Come on.”

Emma shrugged and followed Trevor past the capstan again, wondering if this was going to be a male or a female Shannon. She could just imagine what a woman on this ship would wear: probably a brocade number with drooping sleeves and lots of petticoats. But not a hoop, she decided, because a hoop would never even fit through the hatches, never mind the narrow metal hallways below-decks.

She was disappointed. Shannon was female alright - a twenty-something female with curly black hair and a rugged physique - but she wasn’t wearing a brocade gown. Her white blouse had buttons and she wore it over a sports bra, but otherwise she was dressed just like all the other sailors.

“We’re going to be roommates,” Shannon explained. “I’ll show you where our cabin is, and where to shower and all that. If you have any questions, or you get lost, just ask. But you might as well know right off, I’m not going to go to the ladies’ room with you, or stay up all night talking about makeup and periods. It’s just not my thing.”

“Quite alright by me,” Emma replied.

It was a long night. Emma showered, got back into her jeans and shirt, and climbed into the berth above Shannon’s in a tiny cabin in the stern. She tried to pretend she was sleeping, or at least stay quiet so Shannon could sleep. It wasn’t that she felt any obligation to be nice to her, but she figured good manners wouldn’t hurt and might come in handy sooner or later.

She spent the night, of course, trying to come up with an escape plan. And she got, of course, absolutely nowhere. By morning, she’d come to only one conclusion, and it was exactly the same conclusion she’d had all along: that she needed to keep a lookout for a radio or a satellite phone or any other communication device, and then create an opportunity to use it - assuming she couldn’t get anywhere with the Captain.

She was sitting at a table in the very crowded and clattery ship’s mess, having waffles and sausage with Shannon and Trevor, when she saw a familiar face. It was a hard face, set on a thick neck atop a body that looked like a truck. It was the sailor Emma had stopped the night before and asked about the bathroom, back when this whole nightmare had started. She watched him saunter in from the galley, his brown hair plastered to his face with sweat, and make his way to their table. He nodded politely to her and Trevor and leaned down and spoke in Shannon’s ear.

“Right,” said Shannon.

“I’m off then,” said the truck, and turned and walked away, not quite swaggering and not quite waddling among the closely-spaced tables.

“I saw that guy last night,” Emma observed when he’d left.

“Oh, that’s Val,” Trevor informed her darkly, like he hated him.

“Finish up,” said Shannon to Emma. “Captain wants to see you.”

The little room Shannon took her to was practically wallpapered with maps. Paper maps, parchment maps, and even a leather map lined the walls. Some were modern, some were out-of-date, and a few were labeled in Latin, with incomplete continents and the requisite warnings about sea monsters.

“Emma Nyborg, sir,” Shannon announced in the doorway, sounding like a butler from one of those old English mysteries.

The Captain looked up from staring at something on his desk. “Good,” he replied. “Leave her here and shut the door.” He was smaller than Shannon, not much bigger than Emma herself.

Immediately, Emma felt Shannon’s hand shoving her in the back, and the next moment she was stumbling forward into the cramped office.

The Captain smiled sweetly and swiveled in his chair. “I’ve been working on your ransom note,” he said playfully, “but I seem to be having trouble getting the wording right. I want it to have a certain…panache. Care to give it a try?”

At that moment, Emma wanted to commit murder. It took all her self-control to keep herself from flying at the smug little man behind the desk. She had enough rage, she maybe could have taken him. But she’d noticed as soon as she’d arrived, there was a pistol tucked in his wide fabric sash.

“You will abide by certain rules while you are on this ship,” he said haughtily. “Number one, you are not to become involved sexually with any member of the crew. Is that understood?”

“Yeah,” said Emma, “no problem!”

The Captain raised his eyebrows. “Number two,” he continued, “you will acknowledge your orders with respect. I expect to hear ‘Aye, sir,’ ‘Aye, Captain,’ ‘Yes, sir,’ or something similar.”

“Listen,” said Emma, “I didn’t ask - “

“You will excuse the interruption,” he said calmly. “You may choose to disobey, but I guarantee you will find the punishment is not worth it.”

Emma stared at him for half a beat and realized he wasn’t bluffing. “Aye, sir,” she conceded.

The Captain rewarded her with a gloating smile. “Number three,” he went on, “you will show respect to all crew members and you will not interfere with their work.”

“Aye, sir. Do I have to call them sir?”

“Only when they give you orders - which, of course, you will obey immediately.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Number four: you will stay out of the equipment room, and you will enter this room only on my direct orders.”

“Aye, sir.” So there was an equipment room. Maybe this visit to the Captain was proving useful after all.

“Do you understand your orders?” he demanded.

“Yes,” she answered, then added, “sir.”

“Then you’re dismissed. Leave the door open.”

She went immediately to the nearest gunwale and leaned on it, staring out at the hazy horizon. She wasn’t seasick; she was just sick: sick of smug Captains who demanded too much respect because they deserved none at all.

After a few minutes she realized she’d feel a lot better if she at least had something to do. She saw Val not far away, working the capstan. She walked up to him and watched him silently, until he had finished turning it and secured the rope on a windlass.

“Your name is Val, right?” she asked him.

“Yuh,” he grunted, “and you’re Emma.”

“I was just wondering,” she asked, “is there any kind of work I can do? It’s bad enough I’m stuck on this ship, but I’m going to go crazy with nothing to do. There must be something that needs to be done that doesn’t involve anything sensitive, and someone could check my work afterward if you don’t trust me, and I - “

“Okay,” Val interrupted, holding both his hands up, palms toward her, “don’t give yourself a heart attack. How would you like to learn how to mend sails?”

Emma smiled in spite of herself. “That sounds fine,” she said.

So she spent the rest of the day mending sails. Val turned out to be a patient teacher and pleasant company, with a wry sense of humor she couldn’t resist.

The next day after breakfast she was taken to see the Captain again, this time by a kid who looked like a fourteen-year-old Viking.

“Emma!” the Captain greeted her with exaggerated solicitude as soon as she was alone with him. “How are you settling in?”

“I’m learning how to mend sails,” she answered.

“I’m learning how to mend sails, sir,” he corrected.

“I’m learning how to mend sails, sir,” she recited, ready to murder him again. The pistol was still there.

He rolled his chair back on their casters, taking his legs out from under the desk. “Come here,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” Emma mumbled, taking a step toward him.

“Here,” he specified, pointing to the floor just beside his chair.

Emma took two long strides and stood, like a game-show contestant taking her place on a masking-tape X.

He looked up at her. “Relax, Emma, don’t be so stiff. We’re going to have some time to enjoy each other: I’ve set your ransom high enough, it will take a little time for them to get that much together. You’re very pretty, you know. Do you work out?”

“Karate, sir!” she retorted, but couldn’t help staring at the pistol.

The Captain laughed. “Then your sensei needs to turn in his pajamas. From what I’ve heard, you’re no threat, even to Trevor.” He laughed again, as though enjoying an inside joke.

“In any case, I’m not stupid, Captain,” Emma said, hoping to ease the tension. “I understand what’s going on now, and I didn’t when I tried to wrestle with Trevor. It won’t happen again.”

That seemed to strike the Captain as funnier than ever, and he guffawed so loudly that Emma almost felt embarrassed for him. But then he said, “I don’t care if you wrestle with Trevor, or any of the rest of them.” He patted his lap. “But why don’t you sit down, Emma, and enjoy yourself?”

She glared at his leg, where he’d patted it. At first she didn’t speak: she was too overcome with nausea. She swallowed hard, took a deep breath and finally said, “No, thank you, sir.”

“Suit yourself,” he shrugged. “I’m not going to rape you: that would be going over the line, even for me. But why pass up a good thing when you have it? There’s nothing wrong with having some fun, you know.”

“I thought you told me yesterday,” she began, her voice and eyes full of challenge. Then she caught herself and said, “Sorry, sir. I forgot: respect.”

“I did tell you yesterday,” he agreed. “You are not to become involved sexually with any member of the crew. I’m not a member of the crew; I’m the Captain.”

“Well, Captain,” she said emphatically, “I am not interested.”

“Okay,” he said, shrugging again. “But it can get pretty lonely out here, and I could withdraw the offer at any time.”

Emma swallowed back the nausea again, and when she could manage it, she asked, “May I go now, sir?”

He chuckled. “Go ahead. Maybe you can get Trevor to teach you a few tricks. But if you really want to learn something, ask Shannon.”

She took a minute at the gunwale again, letting her stomach settle, then went to find Val. That wasn’t hard: he was already ambling toward her with that swaggering waddle of his.

“We’re going to make landfall in about an hour,” he told her. “Come over to starboard, and you can see it from the gunwale.”

Emma smiled - her first real, joyful smile since her ordeal began. “Landfall! That’s great!” Now she wouldn’t need to find a way into the equipment room: she could probably slip away while the crew was too busy to watch her closely, or ask a tourist to call 911. She stood beside the big man and stared at the misty city across the water. She didn’t know which city it was, and she didn’t care: it was land. It was freedom.

“Okay,” said Val soberly, “time to go now.”

“Oh,” said Emma, “lots of work to get ready for landing, of course.”

“No,” he replied. “I have to put you in the hold. Let’s go.” He touched her back, and his message was clear: walk or be forced.

She walked. He took her down a hatchway and used a key to unlock a door. He opened it, and, not wanting a replay of the time Shannon shoved her in to see the Captain, she walked through it on her own.

She’d expected the room to be empty, but it wasn’t. Tied to a post with rope, his hands secured behind his back, staring at her silently with brooding brown eyes, was Trevor.

“Feel free to untie him,” Val said lightly as he swung the door shut. “I just didn’t want him trying to run out while I was putting you in.”

Note: I answered a call from to write just the first chapters for several novels, and Tour of Booty is one of them. If you'd like to contribute a chapter to Tour of Booty, or check out the other novels-in-progress at Chainbooks, click here.


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