August 25, 1842
Everyone knows the sea is fraught with danger. We all know how she has claimed the lives of countless sailors young and old. I cannot recall how many poems and stories I have read in my life that have described this great blue expanse as a “cruel mistress” or “wild and untameable.” On the contrary, I have always held a different understanding: the waves may be treacherous, but beneath them you will find that the sea is, at its core, a realm of life and beauty.
That is not to say that there are no dangers.The Atlan family is no stranger to the risks presented by the sea; my mother, grandfather, and great-uncle all met their demise upon the waves. Likewise,I have experienced more than my fair share of storms above the waterline and terrible beasts below. I have always managed to weather the storms, though, and rarely are the beasts as terrible as they first seem. I can safely say, throughout all my travels,I have never truly feared for my life. That is, until last night.
I will preface this account by acknowledging how far-fetched it may seem. I swear to you, on my honor as a naturalist and a gentleman, that I have neither imagined nor exaggerated any of what you are about to read.
As readers of my publication will know, my crew and I have spent the past three months off the coast of Australia. Using a deep-water dredge of my own design, we fished up a great number of hitherto-unknown specimens, including thirteen new species of fish, seventeen new species of crustacean, and forty-six new species of various other invertebrates (including mollusks, echinoderms, and sponges) that I have counted thus far. The expedition was a resounding success, and I eagerly anticipate returning to my home in the country to properly study the specimens I have preserved.
We set sail for Bristol after briefly making port in Cape Town to replenish our supplies. I planned to use the dredge once or twice more off the coast of Africa, but beyond that I did not expect for the return voyage to be at all noteworthy. The excitement was behind us, after all; even the sea was peaceful. I spent much of my time in my cabin, recording notes on the creatures I had discovered as well as my thoughts on the expedition. My first mate, Dr. Marianna Verne, was more than capable of commanding the Voyager in my stead.
On the third night at sea, I was sitting at my desk in much the same way as I am now, drafting the introduction for my newest paper. It must have been eleven or twelve o’clock if my memory serves me correctly. Most of the crew was asleep, and I could hear the night watch singing on the quarter deck above my head.
Just after finishing the first paragraph, I heard a low rumble from outside. At first I thought little of it and continued my writing, but then there was another, this one louder and longer. A storm must be brewing on the horizon, or so I figured.The sailors above me stopped singing and I heard their hurried footsteps towards the starboard rail.Curious, I grabbed my coat and stepped onto the deck.
The first thing I noticed was a ship looming over us. She was an East India man, her sails ragged and riddled with holes. A Dutch ensign flew from her main mast, equally as tattered. The second thing I noticed were heavy clouds drifting over the moon.
As the strange ship drew closer, I saw not a single man aboard her, save for one seaman at the helm—the captain,I assumed—and I called “Ahoy!”He introduced himself with a hoarse shout as Captain Van der Decken, and told us half in English, half in Dutch that he had letter she wished for us to take ashore.
It was a strange offer. After thinking it over for a few moments, I put my suspicions to rest. There could be no harm in accepting, right? The captain thanked us and turned the ship away. There was a splash, and I saw a barrel floating in the ship’s wake. While the deckhands beside me worked on fishing it out, I kept my eyes trained on the ship.
A flash of lightning lit up the sky, and for the briefest second I could make out words on the ship’s stern: De Vliegende Hollander.At that moment, I realized I had doomed us all. For those who, like myself, are not fluent in Dutch, you may not understand the dread that welled up in my stomach until I give you the translation: The Flying Dutchman. “Avast!”I cried, but it was too late. Before the word left my mouth, the deckhands hoisted the barrel aboard.
I charged into the forecastle, yelling“All hands! To your stations, instanter!” While the sleeping crew began to wake, I ran back to the main deck. In the distance, the Hollander had come about and was heading towards us. Rain began to pelt the deck, starting with a drizzle but becoming a torrent in a matter of seconds.
Sailors started running from the forecastle, many rubbing sleep out of their eyes. I ordered them to bring the Voyager around and beat to windward. They got to work immediately. The conditions made it difficult, especially for those climbing the masts, and more than once I saw a crewman slip trying to run across the deck. This was not the first storm they had been through, though, and before long the Voyager staggered to port side.
Satisfied with their work, I ran to the quarter deck and took the wheel from the helms woman. She may be both skilled and experienced, but at the moment there was no one in the world I trusted more to steer my ship than myself.
As I stood there, soaked to the bone and shivering both from the cold and my own nerves,Marianna approached me. She told me she had good news and bad news. We did not need to beat, as the wind was on our side; unfortunately, the Hollander was riding the same wind. I bellowed to belay orders and keep the ship straight. I cared not for giving complex orders as my only goal was to reach land, even if that meant running aground.
All around us, the storm raged. Bolts of lightning stabbed at the waves, accompanied by the constant growl of thunder; the waves themselves towered tall as houses, at least, and the Voyager shook with each one that crashed against our hull. One particularly enormous wave loomed ahead. I called for all hands to hold on as the ship rose with it. They scrambled to grab onto ropes, cables, or anything that was nailed down. Just as we reached the wave’s crest, I spotted theAfrican coast on the horizon. I would not have time to react to my sighting, as but a moment later our bow pitched downward and we plummeted to the trough. A plume of spray erupted all around us and I was thrown against the wheel, barely managing to keep my grip. I still thank God that no one was thrown into the sea.
A shout of“Land ho!” from the foremast told me I was not the only one to have spotted our salvation. At the same time, Marianna yelled from the aft railing that our pursuer was gaining ground. I chanced a glance over my shoulder, and sure enough, there was the Hollander, riding the waves as though they were at her beck and call.
Our situation had become a race against time. If we could make it to the shore, we would be safe ;if not, I suspected none of us would live to see another sunrise.We had to pick up speed, and with our sails already full, I had only one option. I ordered for all non-essential cargo to be jettisoned. The crew got to work quickly, tossing overboard whatever they could find. Nothing was safe; foodstuffs, scientific equipment—even one of our cannons was cast into the maelstrom.
My heart ached seeing my supplies thrown aside like garbage, but my plan was working.With every crate or barrel thrown into the sea, I felt the Voyager pick up speed.
The land grew closer with each passing second. Even through the downpour, I could make out trees, houses, and docks. Boats bobbed gently where they were moored, blissfully unaware of the approaching gale.Providence was smiling upon us after all. “Full sail into the harbour!” I called.
I gave the wheel back to the helms woman and joined Marianna at the railing. The
Hollander was right off our stern. We heard a dreadful cackling sound from the ship’s deck, though try as I might, I still couldn’t spot anyone on board with the exception of one silhouette at the helm.
Despite all of my crew’s efforts, the Hollander was still gaining on us. I could almost reach out and grab her bowsprit. At first, I expected she would attempt to get board-and-board with us to exchange cannon fire. As she drew closer, though, I realized I was entirely wrong. I scrambled back to the wheel and shouted, “She’s going to ram us! Hard to starboard!”
The Voyager veered to starboard just intime. The Hollander’s bow scraped by our stern and sent shudders through the ship, but she didn’t break the hull.I would have breathed a sigh of relief, but already the Hollander was swinging around for another strike. A crack rang through the air, followed by the sound of splintering boards. Van der Decken cried out in a terrible wail that still sends shivers up my spine. “Niemand ontsnapt aan de duivel!”
I bellowed as loud as I could to brace for impact and ran down to the main deck to help.
Surely this was the end, and if it was, I would meet my creator knowing I had spent my last moments nobly. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried; the Voyager charged into the harbour just before the Hollander collided with her. The ghost ship heaved away ,a cacophony of enraged shrieks erupting from her deck. My crew let out cheers, but I was silent. My eyes met with Van der Decken’s, and though we were distant, I could feel the stark fury radiating from his person.
Almost the instant we crossed into the harbour, the waves receded, the rain petered out, and the gusts died down. The crew dropped anchor and let tacks and sheets fly while I slumped against the aft castle. My legs were shaking and my head ached. By the time I caught my breath, all evidence of the bitter storm we had fought through was gone.
Once the sails were reefed, Marianna approached me. She said the crew were curious about what was in the barrel they had fished out. Truth be told, that had completely slipped my mind. Now I was curious as well, and so we cracked it open. I can still remember the repugnant stench that wafted out.
The barrel was packed full of damp, moldy parchment, maybe a hundred pages in total.
Those letters on top were the least rotten, and I suspect they would have been legible had I spoken Dutch, Arabic, French, or Portuguese. I could only find two letters written in English, both only partially intact. From what I gleaned in the dim moonlight, they were written by sailors and addressed to wives, children, or friends. I was about to place the lid back onto the barrel when one particular letter caught my eye. Specifically, its signature. I fished it out and read it. It was in English, but tears and spots of mold obscured most of the writing. At the bottom, though, clear as day, was the name “Alexander Atlan II.”
I do not write often of my family, so the name may not be familiar to you. Alexander II was my great-uncle. I had only met him once when I was very young, for he perished in a shipwreck off the Skeleton Coast in 1801. I suspect now there may be more to his demise than I previously thought, and I will have to look into his death when I return toEngland.
I kept the letters that were most pristine for further study and ordered the barrel to be tossed overboard. I knew not if keeping it would place a target on our ship, and I did not care to find out. Once it was floating off with the current, I retired to my quarters for some much-needed rest. Imagine my surprise when I opened the cabin doors to find a hole in the wall, splinters scattered across the floor, and a rusted cannonball lying atop my crushed bed…
Ryan Hueber is a 19 year old from Manchester, New Hampshire. His passions include writing, filmmaking, and anything to do with the ocean. He attends school at Keene State College, where he studies film production and creative writing. Outside of school, he enjoys cycling and playing video games like Hollow Knight. Ryan prefers to write short stories, but one day he would like to write a novel about the character featured in this story, Lord Thomas Atlan.
"Rembrant Storm On The Sea Of Galilee" by FotoGuy 49057 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.