This story is for Booksie's Got Talent! My "topic" was to base my story off a picture I chose, and I got what looked like holiday lights... so be wary, the theme does come in, but not till later in the story. Enjoy! (Also, if you can think of a better title, I really don't like this one much at all.)

Lonely are the Stars


 “Carlson, fling me th’ gaff! Now, boy, now!”
 The captain was on his knees, wavering in his strength and grip, his teeth bared, and the bulky mass of tuna at the gunwale was raging and wrestling, half his body suspended overboard: the captain had him by his serrated, gaping gills. Carlson was in a daze at the bow, his eyes wrapped in the sky, and as he removed his gaze from the heavenly sea, the man who was at the wheel—the first mate—Kirsch, wrenched the gaff from the young man’s hands effortlessly and struck the tuna with great strength. The blue and silver body quaked, its scythe of a tail jerking on the rail like a death rattle; its colour faded to grey as it thusly faded of life. Stillness echoed with the undying movement of the sea, and the breeze was whistling, as spray would sprinkle to and fro on the sides of the boat. Standing on the Equinox, a tuna boat set out from Cardiff, were three men who had been out to sea only five days, and September was drawing to a close as the boat rolled two hundred miles southeast of the Irish coast. 
 With the aid of Kirsch, the captain panted and pulled the tuna onto the deck, and as soon he did so he lifted his gashed hands from the fish’s gills. He cringed at them for a moment and then stood up: the boy Carlson had been watching him with wide eyes all this time; and the boy’s mouth opened and a burdened breath poured out. The captain advanced with merciless, engaging eyes; Kirsch stood stalwart holding the gaff, watching the captain and Carlson calmly, his eyes like still mud puddles, aged and worn in their years, never having been drained. Taking Carlson by the arm, the captain shook him, a raised voice cursing: “Bloody ‘ell, boy, what in God’s name were you doing! Eh?” He tightened his grip.
 Carlson looked traumatised, but could not say much—his eyes seemed just as afraid as his tongue. The captain shoved his body against the rail now, and, though unseen, the first mate Kirsch made a few steps forward, invisibly concerned.
 “Boy, you could’ve lost us that fish, and more! You could’ve ‘ad me kilt there! You done let my ‘ands get all ‘acked up, and you didn’t move an inch or ‘ear a bloody word I said! Like you’ve been doing nothing but hallucinating! Boy, what’ve you got to say for yourself?” jeered the captain, his eyes narrowed, bloodshot, thin as needles, and as sharp as his words.
 Carlson’s eyes, though, were frantic and he failed to answer in any way. His gaze reached to the sky again, but the captain shook his attention back to him.
 “Boy did you ‘ear a word I said!” his lips curled. He took a deep breath, looking down now. His hand loosened, and, of a sudden, struck the young man across the face. Kirsch, dropping the gaff in a clang, lunged to grasp the captain’s hand before he struck his defenseless crewman again.
“Captain,” said Kirsch.
And the wind- and rain-beaten older man, the tempered seaman and fisherman, quick to his aging anger, dropped his hands breathlessly. The boy handled his attacked cheek, watching the old sailor trudge off with the first mate at his side to the door leading to the bridge and cockpit. They paused there, and the captain spoke first infuriated,
“Th’ last three days ‘e’s done nothin’ but stare out at the sea like a dog sticks ‘is ‘ead out th’ window!”
“I do think he’s been enjoying his time here, though, cap,” said Kirsch in a simple manner.
“Well, ‘e needs to start enjoyin’ a ‘ard day’s work, that’s what ‘e needs, by jove,” the captain sneered with disdain. “And boy, will ‘e enjoy it,” he added, sardonically.
“You just need to give him some time, captain, not pushing him so hard.”
“But that’s what ‘e needs! He needs someone to show ‘im ‘how restless and relentless th’ world is, outside of ‘is ol’ puppy dog lifestyle, ‘aving it so easy at ‘ome back in Liverpool! His mum let me take ‘im because I don’t see ‘im none and she insisted, insisted! Well, I never ‘ave or ‘ad a life beyond these railings! He needs to know ‘ow to work, even if it wastes the rest of ‘is life away!” the captain burst out, in whispered exasperation. The captain caught the young man at the bow looking at his indignation, and the boy turned away. Kirsch was silently hesitant. Then he said,
 “Captain, what do you want me to do?”
Without much thought, the captain said immediately, “I want ‘im to go down in th’ galley—and ‘e can eat down there too. Have Shaw work ‘im good and plenty. And get Shaw to help you get that fish down in the hold.”
“No, captain, I mean,” he glanced behind him in the boy’s direction and, to the captain, “I mean what do you want me to do for him?”
The captain thought a moment and said, “I don’t care none what you say to ‘im, as long as you make somethin’ of a man out of ‘im.” And with that the captain went into the cockpit, relieving the ship’s cook, Shaw, of the wheel.
Kirsch watched the captain with a slight of a smile as he exited. Kirsch turned on the white deck and sought for the rolling sea as it sent spray singing at the sides of the boat when it hit a breaker. At the portside gunwale amidships the young man Carlson stood, longing for something in the cerulean poetic of the sea that rose and sank endlessly in all directions. He looked no more than sixteen years of age, and his eyes were wide open for Knowledge, Wisdom—but not Power. Although he seemed to have such a thirst for the world—or at least the beauties beyond labour—it was almost as if he knew power was the most reckless and elusive tact to have at sea; for the Sea is all the power a man cannot have aside from his own two hands working. But the Sea does not tire; daresay will it be trustworthy; daresay can a man love the Sea as he loves his brother, for the Sea is not the advocate, not the courier for such trust. And with eyes cast over the gleaming waters like fishing line is thrown, the boy Carlson looked as patient as a man could be miles and miles from land, shameless of his surroundings, humble in the sight of the Sea.
Quietly stepping into view, Kirsch caught Carlson’s pondering eye; he held up a hand and laid his forearms to rest on the rail as Carlson had. Kirsch spoke first, assuredly, “Don’t worry, Teddy, I’m not going to bite you,” he smiled.
“Thank you, Mr. Kirsch—” and suddenly new words came to the boy; “Mr. Kirsch? Why doesn’t my uncle call me by my first name? He doesn’t call you saying, ‘Blimey! Kirsch, get to bloody work, you scoundrel!” As they laugh, almost unexpectedly and instantly, a certain friendship is forged between the two.
“Well, I’m the only one he’s trusted all these years, and with an always changing crew, he doesn’t have the time to get acquainted with everyone,” said Kirsch, then adding, “but also, I think last names are simply much more unique and easily remembered for him to start screaming.”
“Has the crew always been so small?” said the boy named Teddy.
“We take who we can get,” Kirsch said in a sigh.
There was a pause and Teddy said, looking to sea,
“I adore the sea so, Mr. Kirsch.”
“I know, Teddy.” And they both looked at each other. Teddy seemed to be nervous about it as Kirsch said this. But Kirsch pursued. “Teddy, what precisely are you looking for when you’re—well, daydreaming?”
Teddy laughed, “Well, it’s funny, Mr. Kirsch, sir—you see, I don’t exactly know myself. There are things out here about the weather they don’t teach us about in school. They don’t teach us how to feel.”
“Oh, like what?” Kirsch said curiously, fatherly.
Teddy thought about it as the sea lulled beneath them. Then he said, “Why can’t we see the stars during the day, Mr. Kirsch?”
Breathing deeply, as a father would, he said, “I’d ‘spose the sky would be too bright, with the sun and all. The stars come out at night for ships to find their way; like—celestial lighthouses!” Kirsch’s tone and gestures became theatrical, his eyes bright, and they both laughed. “Celestial lighthouses! For the sailors to remember their own homes! The stars probably know that the little lights of our ships in this dark sea are just as much lonely stars as they are swimming about up there.” Kirsch’s countenance appeared, for only these precious moments, rife with the wisdom of a homely man, an educated man, with fatherly exuberance and humility that his years of sailing on the high seas have tried to indulge upon him. There was a pause of smiling.
“Mr. Kirsch,” Teddy then said, “how many years have you been working with Uncle Garrett?”
The seaman had to think, and looked up while doing so. “Well, seeing as two years ago counted somewhere round my forty-third birthday, I’d say I’m nearing twenty-five years with the old coot.”
Teddy was astonished. “And you’ve done nothing else!”
“Nothing else. I’ve never been too much beyond this deck myself since. And I was nigh a bit or two older than you when I first stepped forward and shook the captain’s hand. I’ve never been too much beyond this deck myself since. Aye, you begin to lose track of the years but the sea is as indifferent as all those forgotten years. She’s a beauty, but she’s remorseless, reliable, and I don’t know what I’d have done all these years without her,” Kirsch said, reminiscing.
Teddy was watching Kirsch intently as he spoke, peering deep into the eyes that have seen more years, more travesty and triumph than this young boy could ever imagine. Kirsch caught himself as he finished, and said, rather sympathetically,
“Oh devil, I was ‘sposed to tell you that your uncle—the captain—wants you working down in the galley tonight with Mr. Shaw, mentioned he wanted you working your tail off.”
“Oh, all right, then.”  He tried to smile haphazardly.
“Don’t you worry about your uncle, he does care about you somewhere: you’re his only nephew anyhow,” Kirsch said, putting his hand on Teddy’s shoulder.
“Chin up, now,” Kirsch smiled fatherly and walked to the bridge. Teddy stayed a bit longer before he went aft and down to the galley.

Inside at the bridge, as Kirsch started down the stairs to his cabin, the captain stopped him.
“Edwin, there’s a ‘eavy south-eastern wind up out there—I’m sure ‘opin’ that it’s just deceivin’ us and we aren’t in for any gales tonight.”
“Have you gotten any reports from the Cardiff station?” said Kirsch.
“Static’s been rummagin’ it up.”
“Bloody hell,” Edwin said, disconcerted. “Should I tell the boys to stay tight in tonight?”
“I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be done out there before anything comes our way, even if there is something brewin’,” the captain said.
“Aye, captain.” Edwin started down the stairs again.
“Edwin, wait.” He came back to the top step.
“What did you say to ‘im?” the captain asked in a low voice, not turning from the wheel now.
Edwin’s eyes were still but sure. “I did nothing to demean him, sir.” The captain kept his eyes forward, his head sidelong to his shoulder; he still wouldn’t look Edwin in the eyes.
“I didn’t mean to ‘it th’ boy so ‘ard, and I’se sorry for takin’ it ‘pon myself.”
“Don’t apologise to me, cap,” said Edwin, looking out the window, to the boy who just went around the bridge and below deck. 
“Well, I’m damn sorry all right!” the captain raised his voice. He picked his caution and leadership up though, clearing his throat, saying, “Let’s try’n ‘ook another after we eat, say?”
“Yes sir.”
And Edwin’s steps down the white stairs reminded one of the clatter of tap-dancing shoes on a stage, or a father wanting to say good night to his child before bedtime. He slept a wink before eating and returning above deck.

The clouds in the southeast were reaching out like dismal, begging claws as the evening drew ever closer. The azure lips of the sky were receding; given a good-by or not, a distasteful stillness was brooding beneath the waves of clouds, and a similar sombre effect quieted the sea as well: and this was all happening quite rapidly and unnoticed. Grey as cement were the waters, and a mysterious breeze—one that deviously tickled its passerby—blew at the lone tuna boat Equinox like a trickling gesture, and the boat’s motors muttered in the quivering wind. It had been an hour since any man had checked the barometer on board.
Shaw, the ship’s cook, held a gaff under his arm, and he was not very excitable, not very thrilled. Edwin Kirsch, the first mate, was behind the harnessed fishing seat, simple and unworried. Next to him was Captain Garrett Breckenridge, with a large net in his hands: he, too, was restless. Tight and secure in the fishing seat was Teddy Carlson, the captain’s nephew, holding a deep-sea fishing rod, and was rather jaded and uncertain if he should have been in the position he was currently in. For nearly three-quarters of an hour there had hardly been any signs of interaction of anything possibly on the line. Subsequently, patience slackened and was losing its potency and presence. Edwin was the only man unlike this, and talked to Teddy over his shoulder to inform him of what to do, and to keep him encouraged. The captain disliked this, but Edwin consoled him, persuasively saying,
“He needs to learn how to work it, doesn’t he, cap?” and gave him a suggestive look and grimace. The captain morosely allowed it thereafter. “Chin up, now, cap,” was all Edwin said, as the captain seemed to mutter things to himself under his breath.
The sea appeared as much like the cold skin of a corpse as one could ever imagine, and the wind was sharpening an edge, like a butcher whets a blade. Teddy had his line cast out for nearing an hour when a grinding chatter escaped on the reel. He set the drag as quickly as he could, and Edwin jumped into the bridge, propped open the door and the portside window: “Cap, where’s he turning?”
“Goin’ under th’ boat!”
The captain bent down to Teddy and held his shoulders. “Reel ‘im in slowly now, let ‘im know ‘e ain’t fleeing right after ‘e’s done chewin’,” said the captain, softly, amiably even.
And when the tuna really began its flight, Teddy pulled and hung on till his shoulders strained. “He’s a heavy one!” Teddy winced.
“Let ‘im ‘ave some slack, but if ‘e gets too gritty, let go th’ drag an’ attack,” the captain said. Then, to Edwin, “He’s turnin’ east!”
“Aye, cap’n!” said Edwin.
No one saw precisely, but beyond the whistling spray that followed the line and the growing white caps wallowing against the ship, was the brewing southeastern atmosphere, cold, infused with the sky and sea, dark and cunning.
“You’re liftin’ ‘im now, look ‘how ‘e comes!” said the captain, possibly, for the first time, very excited for his nephew.
“I see him! I see him!” said Teddy, almost crying at the glittering stripe just beneath the bristling waves.
“Don’t stop now, let ‘im in, we’ll ‘ave ‘im at the side an’ then you’re done.”
The battle lasted another twenty minutes until Teddy brought the great fish to the portside of the boat. By now, the sea was lifting like a curtain in the breeze, flowing as a dress in a gale. Before they knew it, the rain cascaded, and it was almost deafening, melting on the skin.
“We’ll get ‘im out of th’ rain, soon as we get ‘im on over,” said the captain. Teddy’s limbs ached, and they felt like putty to him. And just as Shaw swung the gaff and a spliced sound came to Teddy’s ears, the captain began pulling it in with the net; but a silver light flourished around like a sword—or a scythe—and struck the captain with a flash. In a rage, both the fish and the captain writhed and wriggled, but one sank to the bottom of the sea, the other collapsed upon the fluid deck, shuddering with incessant rain.
Edwin and Shaw sprang to the captain’s aid, but immobile and fatigued in the harnessed fishing chair, still, was Teddy Carlson, struggling to free himself. Teddy could hear Edwin pleading, yelling in a distressed panic into the radio: “This is the tuna boat Equinox; Cardiff station, do you report!” He repeated as many times as he could before he returned to the captain. Teddy could hear their rushing footsteps on the deck, and Shaw had brought the medical kit. His shoulder and waist straps were still taut as Teddy began bawling uncontrollably, tears mixing with rain; he worried for his dear uncle, his only uncle, who he could not turn around and see, whose name he would cry out but not hear an answer from, for he himself could not see let alone free himself from the wretched harness. He couldn’t see his uncle bleeding with the sea he had so loved.
As Teddy deprived himself of one shoulder strap, ere he could relieve himself of another, a light, unbelievably bright, scalding to the eyes, and explosive to the ears, tore the Equinox asunder, the fishing chair snapped at the nails. It flew with it captive in tow, overboard into the smoke-coloured sea, burning, boiling, and seething. A roaring lion seemed to charge and bellow overhead as the boy sank, struggling, twisting, and time seemed to take a breath for him as he tried to see better and focus his eyes on what may or may or may not have been the surface. And he wished, wished to see simple lights again; he dreamt of the hope Christmas lights would bring to him when the holidays came at home in Liverpool. Eerily, as he widened his eyes, a shaft of a figure was in view, like an arrow floating, and in this same moment the straps slid free from his grasp and Teddy Carlson climbed the sea with escaping breath.
Upon breaking the surface, the loosened waves rampaged, fought against each other, and Teddy was pinned against the portside of the Equinox, gasping for breath, and his head struck the boat’s underside. His mind went blank thereafter, under a sky sparse of light, but only dark hands of clouds, almost within an arm’s reach, attempting their claws at the helpless boy.

It must have been hours later that the boy woke from unconsciousness, but he did not know his whereabouts, nor did he know where the Equinox was. But he knew—he dreaded and disassembled the mere thought of it; the visions kept rejoining themselves in sequence, and he knew the boat was lost, burst into pieces never to be fixed. He hoped just as much that Edwin, Shaw, and his uncle would be floating aimlessly for unknown safety as he had been.
The sky was as monotonous as the sea, as if it had its fill and left urgently to another matter. Dark draperies were the clouds, hung high now, purple in some spots; it seemed as if nothing had happened to the world at all. Save himself, the sea was empty all around as far as his eyes could see: no debris, no signs of other fishing boat lights, no shore to lay his weary body upon.
Teddy knew not in which way to swim, but he floated effortlessly on his back, on what was a cushion to the fishing seat that he held onto. He did not know where land was, did not know where Cardiff or Liverpool or England or Ireland was. He thought of the empty room his mother and father would be left with: for he did not know if home would ever appear on the horizon. Illuminating the corner of his eye, in a break in the clouds, was revealed a cluster, a family of stars, bonded in their glorious light, and Teddy cried, for he knew not what to do; and these tears reflected droplets of the hope he had left. That he would cling to the hope of those stars as he would putting up Christmas lights at his own home, this was his sole reminder: the shimmering lights consoling him to swim upward to meet them with his heart, as he had climbed through the sea amongst the lightning flashes upon the worsening waves only hours ago. His eyes met the teardrop lights and he knew he was not alone, knew his family and home was beyond the worldly spectres on the horizon.

***

 


Submitted: July 04, 2014

© Copyright 2023 Liam Strong. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Emmett Cohl

This was beautiful. I have no other words,Liam. I am utterly astounded by your ability to manipulate words into a seemingly effort craft. This should be published. No lie. And i like the title. But if you don't, then read through and pick a line which you feel is memorable or meaningful and make it into a new title. Im bad at titling works. You have this competition in the bag. Good luck! ~Emily

Sat, July 5th, 2014 12:26am

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Ah! Such compliments from my fabled poet companion! It is indeed sad that I couldn't compete against you, since you would've made this an even more vivid competition! And a thousand thank yous your way, as always! I'll look through again for a better title :P

Fri, July 4th, 2014 8:20pm

Ally Shark

Your vocabulary never ceases to amaze me. I didn't even make it past the first sentence without the help of Google! (I had no clue what a gaff was.) ???? But I think all the high vocabulary makes this story even more amazing. :) I'm with Emily. This is a truly beautiful piece. All the comparisons and descriptions and the really interesting plot make this piece brilliant. I like the title, but if you wanted to change it, another phrase that really stood out to me was "Equinox asunder." (Y'know, once I googled the meaning of "asunder.") I think that would make a cool title. :) Lol, I don't stand a chance in this competition. ???? Great work Liam!

Wed, July 9th, 2014 3:09pm

Author
Reply

You know, it's funny, sometimes, I don't think I make my vocabulary difficult ENOUGH; but for this piece I rather enjoyed it's fluidity (no pun intended), and it went incredible with how I envisioned it. I'm thrilled you liked it so much! And no way Jose, you are one of my greatest opponents in this competition, you have just as much a chance of winning as I do! :) Oh by the way, I did read your entry too (sorry I haven't actually commented on it yet!), and I loved what you did with it! And your ending was phenomenal and yet harrowing at the same time; that's a wonderful quality for a writer to begat. I commend you greatly for it! Anyway, thanks a thousand, Ally! -Liam ^_^

Wed, July 9th, 2014 8:14pm

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