AT THE END OF MY ROPE

Reads: 91  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic


AT THE END OF MY ROPE

 

Piracy was my crime, and I would swing for it; a fitting end for an extraordinarily lucrative and violent career; straightforward and simple. How I got into this business was a bit more tangled; full of intrigue, world-hopping, and time travel. Though my punishment would be appropriate, I was a man out of his time, on a world beyond all time’s reckoning.

The year I existed presently was 4529. Condemned to die, I was on the planet Aegina, in the Kepler solar system, to be hung by the neck by the Ministry of Justice of the Universal Democratic Monarchy. Yes, the universe has a king, and he doesn’t like pirates. We were in Aegina’s capital city of Casai Shima, but the word city is a bit of a misnomer. Aegina is comprised of 99.6 % water. The .4 % of land consists of small volcanic archipelagos and coral atolls. Casai Shima was where the Monarchy’s forces finally caught up with me. So here is where I will hang.

The funny thing about that, in a society that has perfected infinite ways to kill its sentient beings in an instant of unspeakable horror, it still chose to kill its pirates in the gruesome, old-fashioned way, just as it did on Earth since the first millennium. So I would stretch at the end of a rope.

All things considered, this wasn’t the worst place to die. The gallows were situated on a bluff above Aegina’s fine blue-sand beaches, overlooking the majestic Ochian Sea, where sea mammals swam and languidly played. The large blood-orange Kepler sun was warm on my face, the hot rays cooled by soft sea breezes. The two-headed gulls’ melodious calls as they flew about the coast were like lullabies, accompanied by the waves gently cascading against the shore. My reverie was broken by the tread of the executioner climbing the stairs, the footfalls softer and lighter than I would have imagined. The hangman came from behind unseen, the sweet smell of cinnamon and currants wafting forward and washing over me.

***

I was just fourteen when the beguiling Desdemona Kelly convinced me to flee with her from my beloved home of Dunfanaghy, on the west coast of Donegal. She was only sixteen herself and already bored with the life of a girl in an Irish fishing village. Being the year of our Lord 1649, she had little means to escape. But my Desi was a clever girl, bordering on diabolical. Of course, she found a way.

Desdemona was an enchantress. Her long thick red hair bounced and flowed behind her in cadence with her graceful movements, catching the sun and demanding I be enthralled. I was, from the first day I saw her. She smelled sweetly of cinnamon and currants, like warm soda bread fresh from the kiln—intoxicating. She was tall, lithe yet curvaceous, with emerald eyes that snatched the soul right out of me. I would do her bidding until the ending of my days, which upon this scaffold, today seemed to be.  

Following her like a devoted puppy, we stowed away on a ketch bound for Liverpool, making our way by foot and the occasional stolen horse to London. There we signed on to a crew of a galiot bound for Nassau in the Caribbean. The captain, a disgraced Royal Naval officer, had difficulty attracting a reputable crew, so he more than welcomed us.

Captain Percy Trevor was a privateer. He had been taking French and Spanish prizes on behalf of the Royal Navy, with a handsome cut for himself and his crew. But then, King Charles was assassinated, touching off the English Civil War. All pretense of a government cover was lost to us privateers and with it any reservation or compunction. The Golden Age of piracy began in that vacuum of order, and Captain Trevor was the most voracious pirate of the age.

Desi and I learned our trade at the knee of the master. No longer consigning ourselves to taking prizes from enemies of the Crown—what with no one wearing it at the moment—we raided everything that floated in those warm tropical waters. Trevor thought us naturals at mayhem. In truth, Desi was the natural. I was only skilled at complying with whatever she suggested, no matter how outrageous. While this resulted in my hands being saturated with blood, the lust for it was hers. In such a way, all of that slaughter felt more like a gift to my beloved than murder. We were so delightfully rapacious at piracy, in short order, Trevor designated the two of us as his trusted first mates.

This exhilarating and thriving existence might have continued, but for Captain Trevor’s affinity for the harlots. Coupled with copious amounts of rum while ashore, all he did was drink and rut. It wasn’t long before the syph took its toll, robbing him of all of his wits and much of his vigor.

“Percy has gone mad from his whore-mongering,” Desi said.

“In this chaotic life, laid and crazy might not be a bad way to be,” I observed.

“True enough,” she said. “But the captain’s poor judgment will no doubt take us down as well.”

“What to do then, my love?”

“I think it’s nigh-all time for a mutiny.”

That is how Desdemona and I became co-captains of the pirate ship Horrendous. Out of love for Desi and fear for myself, the crew fell in line behind us. With her tutelage and inspiration, I had become the most dreaded pirate on the seas, such a swath of murder and pillage had I cut. So, when I broached the subject of mutiny with the crew, I was met with nothing but fearful nods.

“The crew doesn’t much speak to me,” I said later to Desi.

“That’s because they’re scared to death of you, Malachy,” she laughed.

“Why would they be afraid of me?”

“You’ve killed more people than the bubonic plague.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But that was work. Ordinarily, I’m a nice, easy-going fella.”

“The crew doesn’t think so. Did you know they called you Black Malachy?”

“They’d better call me Captain Black Malachy if they know what’s good for ’em,” I snarled.

We captained that ship for a few happy years, our lives enriched by bountiful helpings of rum, sodomy, and the lash. With no one to stop us, we were perfect dreaded scourges. Merchant sailors and men-o-war alike saw the Jolly Roger flying from the mast of the pirate ship Horrendous in their nightmares—until 1658. With the Crown restored and a new governor of Nassau appointed, the new regime focused the full power of the Royal Navy squarely on our heads. When not raiding ships at sea, we spent the majority of our time running for our lives.

Panic is the bedfellow of risk, and we took too many. We sought shelter in the waters north of Puerto Rico, in the section of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Bermuda Triangle. We thought the fear and superstition surrounding these waters would keep our pursuers at bay. We also didn’t believe His Majesty’s sailors wanted anything to do with the raging storm into which we sailed. We were correct on both counts, but events soon justified the superstition. There was more going on in those waters than rough swirling currents and bad weather. With our sails struck and hatches battened down, we sought to ride out the storm below decks.

“Do you think the ship will hold?” Desi asked.

“Oh sure,” I said, confident the Horrendous could survive anything this world had to offer.

Unfortunately, beneath the waves was something not of this world at all. The Horrendous seemed to be snatched from the sea as if swallowed whole by a whale. We careened backward until the ship and all of us within it were suspended in thin air. We later learned that this was just an effect of the enormous anti-gravity chamber within which we were trapped. The chamber was just one of many peculiar features of the colossal intergalactic pirate ship that snatched us up and abruptly flew into space. Our new reality was explained by Captain Farbutch Mengnafique, commander of the pirate spaceship Groaza.

“Welcome aboard,” the captain said. “Your ship, its contents, and your crew are our prize.”

“Where are you taking us?” Desi demanded.

“Where isn’t really the correct question,” he chuckled. “When is a better one.”

Seeing the confusion on our faces, he explained.

“This ship is equipped not only to travel between galaxies but to do so in an instant.”

“Galaxies, you mean like other planets?” I asked.

“Not just other planets,” he explained patiently. “But all of the planets throughout the universe.”

The Captain paused to let that sink in.

“What did you mean by when?” Desi asked.

“In order to go so far, so quickly, we need to traverse time.  We are moving right now at one thousand times the speed of light to the planet Carmora in the year 3415.”

“What?” Desi and I said at the same time—our minds thoroughly blown.

Captain Mengnafique waved off our bewilderment.

“I don’t have the time to waste trying to explain concepts your primitive understanding has no chance of grasping,” he said. “Right now, you have a decision to make. Do you surrender and agree to join our merry crew?”

“What if we don’t?” Desi asked.

“Then you will be food for the crew,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“You eat other people?” I asked, aghast.

“Technically speaking, the concept of people is an Earth term. Very few of my crew and I are from there. As such, we’re actually of entirely different species—largely the same but incrementally different. So, it’s not strictly cannibalism.”

“It’s still gross,” Desi observed.

“I assure you,” the captain laughed. “There are few things in the universe as delectable as a human crown roast. We’ll discuss that later—maybe. For right now, are you joining us for dinner, or will you be dinner?”

In as much as we were in a futuristic spaceship, hurtling through time and the universe, we figured what the hell. Captain Mengnafique turned out to be a very gracious host. He recognized our leadership qualities and welcomed us into his officer class. Our crew was made comfortable and assimilated into the yeoman existence of the other space pirates.

The captain saw to our education as well, assigning the science officer to explain all of the technical marvels of the ship and the mechanical nuances of space-time navigation. In addition, the history officer taught us how to access the entire history of the universe throughout the whole of existence. Of course, no one could retain so much information, but we were trusted with access to the ship’s vast computer system, so it was all at our fingertips. We now had the knowledge to travel anywhere in the universe, during any time—in the past, present, or future.

As I said, the captain was a gracious host but naïve and a poor judge of character. He failed to account for Desi’s ruthless ambition and my penchant for bedlam. After two years honing our craft as intergalactic pirates, Desi and I staged our second mutiny.

After taking command of the Groaza, one of the adjustments we needed to make was in the manner of punishment. On a vessel like this one, it was only a matter of time before some of the crew misbehaved. They were, after all, pirates—by definition outlaws. Captain Trevor had taught us back on the Horrendous, the first rule for maintaining obedience on a pirate ship was to make it clear to the crew that the beatings would continue until morale improved. The second rule was that malefactors had to be severely dealt with. In the list of punishments in the pirate handbook, there was only one penalty for every offense—death. We were left to our imaginations as to how to affect that. As sea pirates, having someone walk the plank was a straightforward thing. You just marched them at sword point off the edge of the ship and into the ocean. In space at hyper-speed, that was a difficult proposition. As ever, Desi found an alternative.

“We’ll just stuff him into the garbage chute and shoot him into space with the rest of the trash,” she suggested.

“Brilliant!” I agreed.

That was the last the ship ever saw of former Captain Farbutch Mengnafique.

As we spent the next four hundred years in real-time shuttling about the universe throughout the totality of existence, we discovered a few things. Some were beneficial, like time travel halting the aging process. Desi and I were still in our mid-twenties four centuries later.

“Do you think we’re immortal, Desdemona?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Captain Mengnafique surely died at our hands, and we lose a few of the crew almost every raid. So, I think we can be killed. We just don’t get older.”

“Best we don’t get careless then,” I said.

Another happy discovery was that not only could we travel anywhere in the universe at any time, but we could return as many times as we saw fit. This was a good thing for the purse. The richest pirate prize ever taken in the whole breadth and history of the universe was the Urca de Lima, a Spanish galleon treasure ship taken and sunk off the coast of Florida in 1715. The gold lifted from that ship was worth more than two hundred million British Pounds in its contemporary time. The value in the present and future is priceless. Desi and I have taken it over one hundred times.

As time went on—ad infinitim—occasionally, we received the anticipated challenges from disillusioned crew members who thought they were better suited to lead than Desi and meself. We thwarted every challenge, but the problem of the punishment serving as a deterrent for future attempted coups was a thorny one. In the old days on Earth, a simple keelhauling would suffice to dissuade further misguided ambitions. Witnessing the gory, painful, and slow death of a traitor from being dragged across the barnacles attached to the ship’s keel, tearing them to shreds while they simultaneously drowned would squelch even the most ambitious future treason. Keelhauling someone under a spaceship was at best an impractical matter, if not an impossibility. Desi, ever the creative mind, came up with a solution.

“We’ll find a planet with a craggy mountain range,” she said. “Then we hover over the mountains and slowly drag the wretch until there’s nothing left of him but his foot in the tractor beam.”

“That would work,” I nodded.

“Or,” she said excitedly, “we’ll find a planet with oceans that have sharks and sea monsters. We dangle the villain until just his head is above the water and wait for the sea beasties to have at him.”

“That’ll be enough, Desi,” I said, wincing. “Jaysus, woman, but you scare me sometimes.”

Thanks to Desdemona’s diabolic planning and my swift and brutal execution of it, together, we became the most feared pirates in history. In point of fact, only I did. Desi killed as many as I, but I got all the credit. Because she was a woman—and a beautiful one at that—no one believed she was capable of the chaos she caused. So, Captain Black Malachy O’Callaghan became the most wanted pirate in the universe. The fair Desdemona Kelly was believed to be my prisoner. If I weren’t already the most sought-after fugitive in the universe, imagine the innumerable conscripts attracted to the cause of a helpless damsel needing rescue from a cutthroat scoundrel like myself. It seems sexism isn’t just timeless; it’s eternal. What bollocks!

Our attempts to evade capture by the Crown Forces are what brought us to Casai Shima. Hoping to enjoy our spoils in a brief respite from raiding, Desi and I were holed up in a seaside bungalow. Lost in the throes of our unquenchable desire, the King’s men came bursting through the door. They snatched me up in my altogether and thrashed me properly. Strangely, they set not a finger on Desi.

“Is this the dreaded pirate, Malachy O’Callaghan?” the Crown’s captain asked her.

She merely nodded, pulling the bedclothes tighter around her.

“You’re a prisoner no more,” he announced gallantly. “You are safe now, Madam.”

“Thank you,” Desi said, weeping. “You can’t imagine the hell of it all.”

I couldn’t believe she had betrayed me. She had picked this destination. Did she do so, knowing the Crown’s forces would be lying in wait for me? Had she arranged for them to be there? As bitter as the idea was, I bought into it entirely. Upon interrogation, I lied and said she had always been my prisoner. I copped to every one of our shared crimes, exonerating her for all of them. There was no saving myself, but I couldn’t bear the thought of her swinging from the gallows beside me. So, I would hang for us both.

***

As the hangman approached me from the rear, the familiar scent of warm soda bread filled my nostrils. I felt gentle hands place the rough hemp rope over my head. I thought it peculiar there was no black hood. I wondered why, as it was customary to hood the condemned. Nothing seemed to be making sense at the moment. The noose was tightened above my Adam’s Apple, not below it, as it should have been. The knot was placed directly behind my head instead of behind the right ear. This was all wrong. The rope is set too high on my throat. With the knot where it is, The fall won’t snap my neck. I’ll dangle here for hours, slowly strangling. Am I so detestable as to deserve this fate? I thought to myself, until I heard the sweet voice of my beloved Desdemona whisper in my ear.

“When that rope gives way where I cut it, my love, run straight over the bluffs in front of us,” she said, secretly undoing the bonds on my wrists. “At this point, it’s only twelve feet down to the beach. Head for the shore. There is a zodiac with an outboard motor waiting for us there. The crew has the Groaza four hundred yards offshore, just under the surface, awaiting our arrival.”

“Where shall we go?” I asked.

“The universe and all of time is your oyster,” she said.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to decide, my love. I’m a bit preoccupied at the moment.”

“There is a Spanish galleon full of gold off the coast of Florida on planet Earth in the year 1715,” she said, giggling. “I think we should take it again.”

I was grinning broadly at the captain of the Crown’s Forces when I heard the lever pulled and the floor disappear beneath my feet. As I dropped through the aperture of the gallows, I heard the sweet and satisfying sound of a rope snapping in two.

 

 


Submitted: March 25, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Michael O'Keefe. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

Boosted Content from Other Authors

Short Story / Action and Adventure

Book / Action and Adventure

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Non-Fiction

Other Content by Michael O'Keefe

Short Story / Thrillers

Short Story / Literary Fiction