Shadow of the Leviathan

Reads: 37  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Wildering Haven

As long as the sail holds, a well-modelled vessel will maintain her situation, and ride every sea, as if instinct with life and reason. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last.

Poseidon was a protector of seafarers, and of many Hellenic cities and colonies. Artifacts recovered from underwater sites need special care. Since Poseidon had multiple powers, the Ancient Greeks invented various epithets to describe his manifestations and pray to him. The blue hue of water is an intrinsic property and is caused by selective absorption and scattering of white light. Dissolved elements or suspended impurities may give water a different color. 

Who can tell it? Wherefore this difference? It was a hell pit of sea water gone mad. 

My dreams were of the most terrific description. Immense serpents held me in their embrace, and looked earnestly in my face with their fearfully shining eyes. It was no ocean any man had ever dreamed of, that hurricane center. It was confusion thrice confounded. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. This short period proved amply long enough to erase from my memory the shadows, and bring out in vivid light all the pleasurably exciting points of color, all the picturesqueness of the late perilous accident.

"Oh! Ahab," cried Starbuck, "not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"

If the violence of the wind, however, should tear the sail into pieces (a feat which it requires a perfect hurricane to accomplish under ordinary circumstances), there is then imminent danger. Where, when seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber.

How wonderful is it then--except after explanation--that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those arctic waters! Thus, while in life the great whale's body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world.

I could summon up no connected chain of reflection, and, sinking on the floor, gave way, unresistingly, to the most gloomy imaginings, in which the dreadful deaths of thirst, famine, suffocation, and premature interment, crowded upon me as the prominent disasters to be encountered.

But granting all this; yet, regarded discreetly and coolly, seems it not but a mad idea, this; that in the broad boundless ocean, one solitary whale, even if encountered, should be thought capable of individual recognition from his hunter, even as a white-bearded mufti in the thronged thoroughfares of Constantinople? The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! Who can tell it? It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow.

For the peculiar snow-white brow of Moby Dick, and his snow-white hump, could not but be unmistakable. And have I not tallied the whale, Ahab would mutter to himself, as after poring over his charts till long after midnight he would throw himself back in reveries--tallied him, and shall he escape? 

It was one of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me.

No wonder there had been some among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured by all this serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude but the vesture of tornadoes. Oh! Ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say--here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. But how can the mystic thing be caught?

It might be supposed that a catastrophe such as I have just related would have effectually cooled my incipient passion for the sea. On the contrary, I never experienced a more ardent longing for the wild adventures incident to the life of a navigator than within a week after our miraculous deliverance. I again looked at the speaker attentively. His lips were perfectly livid, and his knees shook so violently together that he seemed scarcely able to stand. He whistled for a few minutes, and then said crustily, "I am going to sea--you may go home if you think proper." Turning my eyes upon him, I perceived at once that, in spite of his assumed nonchalance, he was greatly agitated. 

A storm was evidently gathering behind us; we had neither compass nor provisions; and it was clear that, if we held our present course, we should be out of sight of land before daybreak. These thoughts, with a crowd of others equally fearful, flashed through my mind with a bewildering rapidity, and for some moments paralyzed me beyond the possibility of making any exertion. The boat was going through the water at a terrible rate--full before the wind--no reef in either jib or mainsail--running her bows completely under the foam. I will relate one of these adventures by way of introduction to a longer and more momentous narrative. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in.

The dancing white water made by the chase was now becoming more and more visible, owing to the increasing darkness of the dun cloud-shadows flung upon the sea. The jets of vapor no longer blended, but tilted everywhere to right and left; the whales seemed to be separating their wakes. But the last term of the definition is still more cogent, as coupled with the first. The wind, too, had suddenly increased, as we were fast getting out of the lee of the land--still I was ashamed to betray any trepidation, and for almost half an hour maintained a resolute silence.

So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the sperm whale his only food. For though other species of whales find their food above water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that food consists.

At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what are supposed to be the detached arms of the kraken; some of them thus exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty feet in length. They fancy that the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to the bed of the ocean; and that the sperm whale, unlike other species, is supplied with teeth in order to attack and tear it.

Wherefore this difference? A problem? Perhaps not. 

Floating on the waves we saw the abandoned boat, as for one instant it tossed and gaped beneath the ship's bows like a chip at the base of a cataract; and then the vast hull rolled over it, and it was seen no more till it came up weltering astern. Foretopsails are very often found to answer the purpose better than any other species of sail. 

And here, his mad mind would run on in a breathless race; till a weariness and faintness of pondering came over him! And in the open air of the deck he would seek to recover his strength. Who can tell it? Immensely tall trunks of trees, gray and leafless, rose up in endless succession as far as the eye could reach. Their roots were concealed in wide-spreading morasses, whose dreary water lay intensely black, still, and altogether terrible, beneath. 

The sun came out hotly in the afternoon, we occupied ourselves in drying our clothes. We found great relief from thirst, and much comfort otherwise, by bathing in the sea; in this, however, we were forced to use great caution, being afraid of sharks, several of which were seen swimming around the brig during the day.

As long as the sail holds, a well-modelled vessel will maintain her situation, and ride every sea, as if instinct with life and reason. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last.

Standing in iron hoops nailed to the mast, they swayed and swung over a fathomless sea; and though, when the ship slowly glided close under our stern, we six men in the air came so nigh to each other that we might almost have leaped from the mast-heads of one ship to those of the other; yet, those forlorn-looking fishermen, mildly eyeing us as they passed, said not one word to our own look-outs, while the quarter-deck hail was being heard from below. I pushed it strongly--it was nevertheless firm: with all my strength--it still did not give way: with rage, with fury, with despair--it set at defiance my utmost efforts; and it was evident, from the unyielding nature of the resistance, that the hole had either been discovered and effectually nailed up, or that some immense weight had been placed upon it, which it was useless to think of removing. But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim! 

"There she blows!" had the trumpet of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. Now to this hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering flight, and still at every billow that he broke, he spasmodically sank in the sea, or sideways rolled towards the sky, his one beating fin. So have I seen a bird with clipped wing, making affrighted broken circles in the air, vainly striving to escape the piratical hawks. It was anarchy. On each soft side--coincident with the parted swell, that but once leaving him then flowed so wide away--on each bright side, the whale shed off enticings. Still the wind was increasing fearfully; and whenever we rose from a plunge forward, the sea behind fell combing over our counter, and deluged us with water. They jostled one another; they collided. They rushed together and collapsed upon one another, or fell apart like a thousand waterfalls all at once. A wild sight it was to see her long-bearded look-outs at those three mast-heads. They seemed clad in the skins of beasts, so torn and bepatched the raiment that had survived nearly four years of cruising.

Who can tell it? I experienced a sudden rush of blood to my temples--a giddy and overpowering sense of deliverance and reanimation. My sensations were those of extreme horror and dismay. The boat was going through the water at a terrible rate--full before the wind--no reef in either jib or mainsail--running her bows completely under the foam. 

As I viewed myself in a fragment of looking-glass which hung up in the cabin, and by the dim light of a kind of battle-lantern, I was so impressed with a sense of vague awe at my appearance, and at the recollection of the terrific reality which I was thus representing, that I was seized with a violent tremor, and could scarcely summon resolution to go on with my part. It will be remembered that I had then been in the hold for three days; and, during this period, there was so constant a bustle on board, and so much running to and fro, especially in the cabin and staterooms, that he had had no chance of visiting me without the risk of having the secret of the trap discovered. When at length he did come, I had assured him that I was doing as well as possible; and, therefore, for the next two days he felt but little uneasiness on my account-- still, however, watching an opportunity of going down. It might be supposed that a catastrophe such as I have just related would have effectually cooled my incipient passion for the sea. Thus the gloom of my prison may be imagined, and the note of my friend, if indeed it were a note from him, seemed only likely to throw me into further trouble, by disquieting to no purpose my already enfeebled and agitated mind. 

But the bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was chained up and enchanted in him; he had no voice, save that choking respiration through his spiracle, and this made the sight of him unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his amazing bulk, portcullis jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to appal the stoutest man who so pitied.

Thou glidest on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many in that same way thou mayst have bejuggled and destroyed before. In another instant there burst from his red throat a roar like the thunder of the firmament, and I fell impetuously to the earth. 

"There she blows—she blows!—she blows!—right ahead!" was now the mast-head cry. Stifling in a paroxysm of terror, I at last found myself partially awake. Striking a light, I looked at the watch; but it was run down, and there were, consequently, no means of determining how long I had slept. Perhaps not. Wherefore this difference? Let a handful suffice. A problem?

I was so utterly benumbed, too, in every limb, as to be nearly unconscious of sensation. Had I succeeded in reaching it, it is certain that my strength would have proved utterly inadequate to the task of getting over, and it was better in every respect that I failed. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool.

Moving on, I at last came to a dim sort of light not far from the docks, and heard a forlorn creaking in the air; and looking up, saw a swinging sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly representing a tall straight jet of misty spray, and these words underneath--"The Spouter Inn:--Peter Coffin." 

The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?

Call me Ishmael.


Submitted: October 07, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Robin James. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

More Fantasy Short Stories

Other Content by Robin James

Short Story / Fantasy

Short Story / Fantasy

Short Story / Science Fiction