When last we left our heroes, they escaped from the cyclops Gorgorymus by cleverly trapping him in an Abbott and Costello vaudeville routine. Now they run for the beach trying to find a way off the Isle of Hephestaeus before he figures it out!
“Clever escape, Marston,” Colonel Durant growled around his cigar stub as they ran towards the beach. “But there’s still one problem…”
Lord Marston wasn’t huffing as much as the old hunter, but neither was he trying to smoke while running for his life. “Yes?” he asked.
“No boat,” Durant said. “We’re still stuck on this island and I doubt your clever wordplay will fool the beast for long.”
Despite having exactly the same doubts, Lord Marston put on a confident face and simply said, “I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
“How little comfort that is,” Durant muttered in a cloud of smoke.
Just then, Sir Charles, who was barely ten paces ahead of them caught sight of something in the sand.
“My auto-navigator!” he cried like a child on Boxing Day morning, watching with excitement as a servant’s son opened a favorite old toy. He half-knelt, half-stumbled to pick it up as Marston and Durant ran past. Just as his chubby fingers closed around it, though, there was an insistently rude tug on his collar.
“What part of ‘run for your life’ was unclear, Sir Charles?” Mrs. Chatterton asked archly. Victor caught up to them and the two helped Sir Charles back to his feet.
“Damn it, man,” Colonel Durant continued to harangue Lord Marston. “You’ve got to think things through all the bloody way. I mean, it’s not like we’re just going to luck into finding a new…”
As the two men emerged from the treeline, a tall grim ship became visible anchored off the shore. It was The Cheated.
“…boat,” Colonel Durant trailed off. He coughed once, tossing the stub of his cigar into the sand and turned to Lord Marston. “Well done, old boy.”
“I am good, aren’t I?” Lord Marston smiled.
A grey figure with a red-faded-to-gloom cloth tied about his brow stood next to a rowboat on the shore. He wore a necklace of shark’s teeth and beads and his trousers had less of a hem than a segue around his weathered boots.
“Cap’n says to come with me,” he said in a voice reminiscent of empty crypts as Lord Marston and his fellows slowed their approach. “Not a lot o’ other boats comin’ by this island. Ought do as he says.”
Despite the figure, the boat and the ship all being signs of rescue that none of them had expected to see, there was a long silence from the five castaways. Finally, his cocky grin drawn to a tense minimum, Lord Marston forced out the words, “Well, I don’t think we can pass up that sort of hospitality, what say?”
Victor Terranove was well past his point of credulity and about to step over his point of tolerance. At Lord Marston’s glib “what say,” he what said.
“Oh yes! Let’s leave the giant island in favor of a ghost ship! Am I the only one who thinks that this is the most deuced awful idea since we decided to set out from London?”
The grey sailor shrugged. “I do. But Cap’n says.”
The wind fell out of Victor’s sails with a metaphoric whump. “Yes. Just the argument I was looking for.”
Mrs. Chatterton stepped up behind the magician and softly but clearly made her case.
“You’re welcome to stay and play word games with Gorgorymus if you wish,” she said. “I’m sure he’d be up for a rematch of wits, Mee.”
She stepped past him and lifting her skirt, stepped carefully into the rowboat. The others followed.
“No good is coming of this, I tell you,” Victor muttered as he finally followed his friends into the ancient boat.
The crewman said nothing as he rowed the five living beings to the ship, and each of the five of them thought at least once that the grey sailor might be their own personal Charon. It could have been the weather accommodating the mood or something in the nature of spectral galleons that darkened the skies overhead with clouds as they approached, but by the time the small dinghy pulled aside the larger ship, it was neither day nor night.
A rope ladder hung from the side, the braided hemp green with algae and worn with unnatural age. Nonetheless, it supported even Sir Charles’ weight and moments later the members of London’s Society for Cryptozoological Research stood upon a grey deck facing a grey man beneath a grey sky.
It was obvious that the man who stood in mute greeting before them was the ship’s captain. His manner of dress–a once-expensive doublet ornately decorated with long tarnished buttons and sea-faded braids, a leather tricorner stooped with inanimate despair, and boots with buckles as dull as they once must have shined with naval pride–certainly supported that hypothesis. Still, it was the deep lines in his gaunt face, creases of responsibilities failed, of a loyal crew let down, that removed any question.
“Welcome to The Cheated,” he said, and his voice was a thousand times deader than any they had ever heard.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.