Fish Tales

Excerpt from Hell’s Dodo:

Somewhere off the coast of Brazil, a few of the men enjoyed an evening on deck playing dice and swapping lies. Among them, Jon-Jon and Lockland Stoud vied over which had seen and done more.

“Aye, I bedded that wild wench once,” Stoud said, after Jon-Jon recounted how Belladonna had left welts on some of the crew when they’d refused her advances.

“Bilge! I don’t believe it! Cap’n would’a killed ye for it, I’d wager,” Sniff piped up from his perch low in the rigging.

“He’s right, Stoud. The Cap’n doesn’t share,” Jon-Jon agreed. “Besides, why would she pick an old barnacle like you to play with?”

“Heh, a lot you know, Mr. Jon,” he cackled. “Doubt he’d gut me over something that happened when he was still a pup. Oh, I was a pretty thing in my youth. Belle saw me out fishin’ one day and took a fancy to me. We spent a glorious month or more on some uncharted island. Oh, I tell ye, mates, she is insatiable, that one! T’was lucky to get out wi’ me manhood intact, I was.”

Jon-Jon snorted. “You were lucky to get out alive, mate. Don’t you know she likes to play with her food?”

“Aye, I know; but y’see, I knew what she was from the moment I saw her. Knew she weren’t a mortal lass nor even a mermaid. I c’n read, and I’ve read the right books. No mate, I knew she was a siren and a man-eater right off. Made her vow not to harm or eat me afore I agreed t’go off with her.” He tapped his temple and winked. “I know a bit of magic meself and knew the right words to make her say to make it stick.”

“Still don’t believe it,” Sniff protested. “She wouldn’t have been more’n a child or babe when you were young.”

The siren in question walked by at that moment and overheard much of what was being said. “Hah!” she laughed. “I’m much, much older than I look, troll.”

Stoud leered and winked at her. “They don’t believe I’ve had you, Belle.”

She gave the sailors a wicked smile. “You were just too good to eat, Lockland. I still have fond memories of those three months.”

Jon-Jon pounced on the discrepancy. “Ha! I knew it was a lie! He said he bound you with magic from eating him and that it was only a month or more.”

“Mr. Jon, three months is a ‘month or more.’ My lovers tend to lose track of time,” she corrected. “He did make me promise not to eat him as long as the tides flowed in and out.” She paused and grinned wide with her true teeth showing needle sharp. “Of course, there is that brief moment between the tides, when they flow neither way.”

While the other men laughed nervously, Stoud smiled calmly and coolly replied, “Why do you think I made sure we were too busy for you to attack, luv?”

“Your stamina was quite impressive; almost as impressive as the Captain’s.” With that, she sauntered off about her business.

Every eye in the group followed her until she disappeared below deck.

“Saucy wench if ever there was one,” Stoud commented to no one in particular.

“I still think you’re a liar, Stoud; but damn, you’re good at it,” Jon-Jon said.

“No more a liar than you are, Mr. Jon,” he shot back, unruffled.

The second mate grinned and handed him his flask. “That proves it. Everyone from here to Boston knows I’m the biggest liar to sail the seas.”

“That’s only because Anvil is an honest man. He’s the only one bigger than you I’ve ever seen,” Stoud referred to the giant that served as the ship’s blacksmith.

He took a long pull on the flask and handed it back. Jon-Jon frowned and peered into it. He upended it over his extended tongue and only got three drops to come out.

“Dammit, I’m going to have to see if Mr. Grimm will front me some more gin. I already owe him for two barrels,” he grumbled then shrugged. “Oh well; so you already knew sirens were real before coming aboard. What about vampires?”

“You have me there. I’d heard stories, mind ye, but I’d never seen proof of ‘em until I met the Cap’n. There are other beasties I’ve seen in m’travels, though: mermaids, devil fish big enough to sink a sloop, snakes big enough to swallow a man whole, even dragons and a kraken.”

“You did not see a kraken… did you?” Sniff said.

“Aye.” Stoud nodded. “Bitch damn near sank us. I was aboard a trader about three days out of Nippon headed south to the Indies.”

“You mean you were smuggling,” Jon-Jon said. “Everyone knows they aren’t fond of white men.”

“Their emperor and his warlords might frown on trade with whites; but our captain had a woman in a fishing village that would procure cargoes. He wouldn’t let us go ashore except to load up. Warlord near her village got wind of it and tried to shut us down. She met us at the pick-up point and begged us to take her with us. Said she’d be killed for bringing dishonor on her family if she stayed.”

“Did ye take her?”

“Aye; Cap’n said it was bad luck to have a woman on board, but he didn’t think she deserved execution. There was some grumbling, but we went along with it; then the accidents started happening. Knots came undone for no reason, ropes broke on calm seas, and two experienced riggers fell. One broke both his legs when he hit the deck. The other fell into the sea and was lost. When the giant beast attacked the ship, we knew we’d been cursed.”

A touch of sadness shadowed his face briefly. “We lost six good men that day. The beast pulled two from the rigging and bit them in half with its terrible beak. Four more were crushed when it toppled the mainmast.”

“Me and some of the mates went to the captain and demanded he turn over the woman. He refused. Said it wouldn’t be Christian. Th’ first mate pointed out that she was a heathen, and the beastie was obviously sent by some heathen god to punish her. The captain was threatening to charge us with mutiny, when the wench came out of his cabin.”

“She placed a hand on his arm and shook her head. Her English weren’t so good, but we could understand her. She said the monster had come for her and would kill us all, if she didn’t give herself up. She walked over to the rail, shucked off her fancy robe, and dove over the side. The beast let go of the ship right away and disappeared back into the deep.”

There was silence from his crewmates for a few moments.

Finally, Jon-Jon broke it. “That made me thirsty. Think I’ll go find Mr. Grimm and see if I can wheedle some gin from him.”