Woke up this morning with a jolt: went flying off my bunk as the ship lurched sharply to starboard. It takes a lot to pitch an old sea dog like me out on his ear, so I went topside to take a decko.
Found Walker dead at the helm, lying across the wheel, his body forcing the wheel hard starboard into the wind. Two jagged incisor marks on the left side of his neck explained how he’d died.
Thought at first I’d have to amputate his right arm to free the wheel, since I could never lift Walker’s one-thirty kilo bulk. But, reluctant to desecrate his poor body any further, I tried to heft him, and found the corpse only weighed eighty kilos or so, which I managed to lift with some difficulty.
Looks like I’m the captain now, so I’ve taken it upon myself to keep this log. I notice Walker, Matthews, Anderson, and the rest in their turn haven’t put anything down about the Other. All they’ve done is report the murders in the log as “Smith and Donaldson died last night. Will be buried at sea today”, or “Peterson dead now, so I’ve taken over the captaincy and controlof this log.” No one has wanted to hint at the real terror that has stalked this ship, for fear of being thought mad, in the unlikely event of ever reaching port alive.
Well, I’m captain now, so it’s up to me to put into writing what has really happened aboard the U.S.S. Macabann. Now Walker’s dead, I’m the last living man aboard this ship, and I know I won’t get back to port alive. So I intend to faithfully report what has happened aboard this vessel over the last seven weeks or so, and you can think me mad or nor for all I care.
* * *
I’m no helmsman, so I can’t say what our exact longitude and latitude were at the time, but we were a day or so out of Vanuatu, heading south for New Zealand, when there came a cry of, “Man overboard!”
I was in my cabin at the time, catching forty winks, so I hurried up onto the main deck to see if I could help out.
There was a small raft, barely more than four or five sticks of wood loosely bound together, floating off the leeward bow. Walker and Andrews had gaffs on the raft and were holding it firm off the hull, careful not to step aboard the raft for fear of capsizing it.
“Need a hand?” I called down to Mackey.
“Nah, the bastard’s light as a feather,” Mackey called back up to me. He easily carried the castaway under one arm, while scaling the roping.
“How do you reckon he got out there?” asked Peterson.
“Don’t ask me,” said Walker. Then to Mackey, “Is he dead?”
“No, but I don’t reckon he’ll last much longer.”
“Let’s get him to an empty cabin,” I said. “And easy with the water.” Which Peterson was trying to spoon between the castaway’s parched lips. “His stomach won’t be able to handle anything much for a while yet.”
“I’d better make my report to the captain,” said Peterson after we’d changed the castaway out of his rags into some of Winters’ spare gear, and had him settled into a bunk in an unused cabin.
While the others filed out of the cabin, with Walker muttering, “He won’t last the week out, most likely,” I took a long look at the castaway. I wondered how long he’d been adrift at sea, and what his chances really were. He was so thin that his bones showed clearly through his flesh, like the Human Skeleton at an old-fashioned freak show; pale as chalk and dry as parchment. Once he had been very handsome, with pale blond hair and eyes so light blue they almost seemed white. As it was, when he had been brought aboard, I’d seen one or two of the crew eyeing his body with interest.
As I came up onto the main deck, I overheard Walker and Janssen arguing:
“Ease up, cookie,” said Walker, “we had no choice but to bring him aboard.”
“But supplies are precious; now we have another mouth to feed.”
“How low can they be, two days out of port?” asked Walker, and I had to agree.
“He’ll die in a few days at most, anyway,” insisted Janssen. “There’s nothing we can do for him!”
“Then we’ll throw him back after he’s dead,” I said, coming up behind Janssen. I knew that as cook it was Janssen’s job to worry about provisions, but how much food could the castaway go through in his present state? If he survived and his appetite picked up, we’d be within sight of the North Island of New Zealand by then and would be able to pick up more provisions.
“I still say this is not good,” insisted Janssen heading off toward the galley.
“How’s the passenger?” asked Captain Douglas as he descended the nine steps from the helm to the main deck.
“In a bad way, Captain,” I replied. I led the way to the cabin the castaway occupied.
If there was ever a sea captain who gave the impression he was doing an impersonation of Gregory Peck, giving his impersonation of Captain Ahab, it was Captain Douglas. Not quite as old as myself, but still as crusty an old sea dog as any I’ve ever set eyes upon.
“I’ll send Doc Celco along to have a decko at him,” said the captain. “You can work out some sort of roster to keep watches on him, but try not to let it interfere with your duties. Don’t forget we still have a ship to run.”
* * *
For a night and two days the castaway lay on his bunk, sleeping fitfully. He was unable to keep down any food and only a very little water in that time. But Doc Celco gave him a number of vitamin shots which seemed to be doing the trick.
It was just after midnight, on the second night, when he regained consciousness.
“You’re awake at last,” I said by way of greeting, crossing through the portal to the middle deck and into his cabin, having heard the castaway talking to himself.
“Yes, I...How did I get here?” he asked, struggling feebly to raise himself to a sitting position in his bunk.
“We found you at sea,” I replied, helping him to sit up, “adrift on a raft.”
“The raft...Yes,” he said. Then he spotted the full moon through an uncovered porthole. The orange globe held his gaze for a few moments, then slowly his pale blue eyes roamed the room, taking in the gunmetal wardrobe, three-legged stool and small cane table, that along with the bed were the cabin’s only furnishings. At last he looked back toward me and said, “It took me two months to build the raft.”
“Then you were shipwrecked?” I asked, stating the obvious, since few fools set out to sea aboard a rickety float of logs bound together with mud and twine otherwise.
“No. He...marooned me there,” he said.
“You were stranded deliberately?” I asked, horrified by the suggestion.
“Yes.” The word was barely audible, yet the impact was explosive.
The castaway was too weak to talk any longer, so I left him to rest, with the offer of food and water, but he shook his head.
“But you’ve got to eat,” I protested.
“I don’t need the kind of food you can offer me,” he said.
“You’ll die if you don’t eat,” I advised him.
He laughed strangely, then said, “Death can’t harm me now.”
* * *
“What did he mean, he was marooned?” asked Walker back in the captain’s cabin, where I’d gone to report the conversation.
“He might have been waylaid by pirates,” suggested Davies, the First Mate.
“Pirates? In the late 1990s?” asked Walker, incredulous.
“Sure,” insisted Davies. “Pirates have roamed the seas around Singapore and Papua New Guinea since before the Second World War. Preying on boat-people mainly. They must have waylaid hundreds of vessels over the last sixty years or so. Of course it’s unusual for them to stray this far south, but with the state he was in when we picked him up, he might well have drifted all the way here from New Guinea.
“From New Guinea, to near Vanuatu? Use your head man!” said Captain Douglas.
* * *
Borg, as the castaway called himself -- “Just Borg!” -- slept all through the next day, and was still refusing all food and drink when I came onto watch the following night.
I found him sitting up in bed, poring through an assortment of old newspapers and magazines.
“You really orta eat something, you know,” I said, pointing toward the tray of food that remained untouched on the cane table beside his bed.
“That’s not what I need,” he said.
Lifting the three-legged stool over to his beside, I sat watching him for a few seconds, amazed at how much he seemed to have recuperated in the last twenty-four hours. He was poring through the death notices, as though determined to catch up on the news of any bereavements during the time he’d been stranded.
“You said you were deliberately marooned,” I said.
Borg looked up at me with his white-blue eyes, clearly startled, uncomprehending, so I explained, “When we talked last night.”
“Did I say that?” he asked, obviously regretting having spoken of it.
“Yes, you did,” I said firmly.
“I...I must have been delirious,” insisted Borg, returning to his magazine.
I saw that he had marked various items of interest with a felt-tip pen. The first few were simple obituaries, but two of them were reports of a series of brutal murders that had plagued Vanuatu for months. I remembered the murders well; there had been nine of them. In each case the victim had been a teenage girl who had her throat slashed and her blood drained off. Though the killer had never been caught, the murders had stopped suddenly a few weeks before our ship berthed at the island. The entire population of Vanuatu had been on edge throughout our brief stay, obviously still very wary of strangers and we had all been glad to leave.
We spoke for a few minutes more, but Borg was obviously more interested in his clippings than in talking, so I bid him goodbye and returned to the upper deck.
“How’s the patient?” asked Walker as I came up on deck.
“He seems preoccupied with death,” I said and told Walker what I had observed.
* * *
The murders began the next night. Thomas was the first victim. Steviers found his body the next morning, in the cabin they shared.
“I don’t understand it,” wailed Steviers, “murdered right under my nose, while I slept. Normally I’m a light sleeper, but last night I slept like a log. Almost as though I’d been drugged or something.”
As soon as I heard the description of the corpse (throat cut, every drop of blood drained from the body), I regretted talking to Walker about what I’d seen in Borg’s cabin. I suppose it was only natural that the crew would suspect Borg, an outsider, rather than admit that one of their own could be the killer. Although it was clearly ridiculous to think he was capable of killing anyone in his present state.
“Who else could it be?” demanded Walker, as a dozen of us sat or stood around in the captain’s cabin discussing the murder.
“There are more than a hundred men aboard this ship,” pointed out Captain Douglas.
“Most of whom have sailed together for years,” said Mackey. “There’s no way any of us could be the killer, without anyone else at least suspecting something.”
“And what do we really know about this man Borg?” asked Walker. Then answered his own question, “Nothing! We don’t know a damn thing about him!”
“Borg isn’t the only newcomer aboard this ship,” I pointed out. “We picked up Maxwell just before leaving Portland, Taki in Yokohama, and Janssen less than a week ago in Port of Darwin. What do we really know about any of them for that matter?”
“What gives you the right to single us out as suspects?” demanded Maxwell angrily, standing up from his chair.
“Calm down!” warned the captain, placing a restraining hand on Maxwell’s left shoulder. “No one is going to single out any suspects just yet. What I propose, is that we form a delegation to confront this man Borg. A small delegation, of half a dozen or so!”
As it was there were eight of us in the delegation: Captain Douglas, First Mate Davies, Second Mate Peterson, Dr. Celco, Walker, Mackey, Steviers and myself.
“The first thing we want you to understand,” said Captain Douglas, as we all crowded into Borg’s small cabins “is that no one is accusing you of anything.”
“Yes we bloody well are!” contradicted Walker. “I say he’s the murderer, and we orta slap him into irons immediately!”
“Or better yet, string him up!” suggested Steviers.
“Neither of you two is the captain of this ship!” reminded Captain Douglas pointedly. “And until you are, keep your suggestions to yourself!”
“I...I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Borg, obviously very frightened of Walker and Steviers.
“Don’t play dumb with us!” said Walker. “There’s been a brutal murder aboard ship. As if you didn’t know that already.”
“But why should you suspect me?” asked Borg.
“Because you’re the one with the death fixation,” replied Steviers, “and you’re the only one on board we can’t vouch for.”
“Surely the doctor can vouch for me,” he said. Turning to face Doc Celco, “Is there anyway that I could have left this bed to commit the murder?”
“No, of course not!” responded Celco rounding on Walker and Steviers. “This man is still too weak to even walk, let alone butcher a big man like Bertrand Thomas!”
However, they refused to be placated, so we continued to stand round the bed of poor Borg. Finally, realising we had no intention of leaving yet, Borg asked, “How...how did your crewman die?”
We told him and Borg said, “So it was the Other. He’s here; my senses were right all along!”
“The Other?” asked the captain. Then, when Borg seemed reluctant to say anything more, “If there’s anything at all you can say that would draw suspicion away from yourself, I’d earnestly advise you to tell us immediately.”
He looked toward me and I nodded my agreement, so, after a moment’s hesitation, Borg said, “The Other is my creator....”
“Your creator.” asked Walker. “What the hell are you, some kind of robot?”
“No,” said Borg very quietly, “I am a vampire.”
“A vampire?” said Steviers. Then to the captain, “He’s either mad, or else he wants us all to think he is.”
“No, no,” said Walker, “that would explain how he’s managed to survive for so long, even grow stronger, without eating or drinking anything.”
“And it would also explain the condition of Thomas’ corpse,” added Mackey. “Since vampires live off human blood!”
“No, no,” protested Borg, “I didn’t kill your crewman. I admit that I have gained strength by drawing energy from members of your crew. But only ever a small amount from any individual. Never enough to harm anyone.” He paused to scan the semicircle of faces around his bunk, then said, “I could never survive that way, by drinking human blood...Not anymore.”
“But you have in the past?” asked Doc Celco.
“Yes, but only reluctantly. I never asked to be given the so-called gift of eternal life. It was thrust upon me,” said Borg. He paused to scan the mainly hostile faces again, then continued, “It was nearly five years ago that we first heard that nearly two hundred men had died in a mining disaster in Orebro.
“It was six months later that the rumours first reached Stockholm....”
“The rumours?” asked Cpt. Douglas.
“That the dead miners had returned from the grave as nosferatu: vampires. Of course, no one took the rumours seriously, at first. We naturally assumed that they were the result of the mass grief, understandably caused by the sudden deaths of so many men at the same time.
“It was about ten weeks after the Orebro mining disaster when I learnt the horrible truth behind the rumours. I was on my way home from the theatre late one night, when from out of the shadows a pair of deathly pale hands reached out to grab me and draw me in. The man was about forty, my own height, and very muscular. At first I thought that he was a mugger. Then, as he held my body hard up against his own in the shadows, and began to move his face toward mine, I mistook him for a homosexual rapist and struggled even harder to escape his grasp. However, as I felt the first prick of his teeth against my neck, at last I knew the truth.
“In my last moments of human existence, I hoped and prayed that the Other would drain my last drop of blood, leaving me a hollow, lifeless husk. However, the vampire was too careful for that: he left just enough blood in my veins to ensure that I would return from the dead as a vampire. For the next three days he nursed me through the throes of human death and vampire rebirth. At first I fought my new existence, tried to starve myself back to death, by refusing to consume any blood. However, the pain of a vampire’s starvation is many times greater, many times more agonising than that a human being faces. So, reluctantly I took lives, always keeping to the very old, terminally ill, or criminals. Never young, healthy people who would lose too much through death. Then after awhile I found that I could survive by drinking the blood of animals, or even by drawing energy away from people, little enough from each of them so that no one was ever killed....”
Again Borg paused to gauge our reaction to his tale, then after a moment he continued, “I couldn’t understand at first how the Other could bring himself to make me a vampire. When a vampire takes a life, it can kill its victim outright, or else make him undead. With the misery of my own plight, whenever I had killed for blood, in the beginning, I had always been careful to drain off every last drop of my victims’ blood, to spare them the misery of returning from the dead. Yet my creator had willingly inflicted his own plight upon me. Then as I roamed the streets of Stockholm, Uppsala, Vasteräs, and Orebro night after night with him, the answer slowly dawned upon me: whatever else the Other’s death had done to him (however it had managed to turn him into a vampire), it had certainly damaged his brain. In death he had become insane. Not merely content to survive off human blood, he intended to inflict as much misery as possible upon the human race, to create a race of killer vampires, which would eventually annihilate the human race!”
“But where the hell would that get him?” demanded Walker. “How could he survive after he had made the human race extinct?”
“Yes,” agreed Steviers, “doesn’t he need us for his food?”
“Not necessarily, he could survive off the blood of animals for hundreds of years before running out of food,” explained Borg.
“But sooner or later he’d be eating the hand that feeds him!”, insisted Walker.
“Yes,” agreed Borg, “but by that time even he would be ready for death. Eternal life is a human dream: even mad vampires don’t crave an eternity of misery, of damnation. By the time his death occurred, he would be eager for it. And by that time he would have made the Earth barren of life.” He sighed deeply, then continued, “I confronted the Other with my fears, expecting at least a half-hearted denial. But he was only too willing to admit it. I can still recall the insane sound of his voice as he said, “Come on friend Borg, we owe nothing to humanity. We are outriders, the next generation, ready to move in to replace the old. Like Cro-Magnon Man obliterating the older, inferior Neanderthal Man.” For weeks I argued with him, trying to force him to see reason. But he was insane and irreversibly bent on his course. So I knew what I had to do: I had to killthe Other, to save the human race.”
“Why would you put yourself out for us?” demanded Mackey.
“Because I was once like you, and still have affection for my old kind. Also, I knew that the Other was only fantasising. The Wampyre, as he called them, could never replace humanity as the dominant species on the planet, because we are too dependent upon you for our own survival,” explained Borg. “So I was determined to kill my creator. However, he shoved all the cunning of the human insane, by knowing as soon as he could no longer trust me. One night we were together in Västervik, the next night I heard that he was in Kronoberg. When I reached Kronoberg, he had crossed the Sound from Sweden to Denmark.. By the time I reached Denmark, he was in Hamburg. I chased him down across Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, then across to Singapore. All the while I was getting closer, all the while I was closing in on him. But I was the hunted, not the hunter, and after luring me halfway across the globe, he sprang his trap and stranded me on a deserted island midway between New Guinea and Vanuatu....”
“But there are no islands midway between New Guinea and Vanuatu!” protested Walker, articulating the thoughts of everybody in the cabin.
“There shouldn’t be,” agreed Borg, “however, the Other has the power to control the elements....”
“And he conjured up an island in the middle of the ocean?” asked Walker.
“I know how hard it must be for you to believe,” said Borg, “but that is exactly what he must have done, because somehow he managed to strand me upon an island where no island should exist. It took me two months to build a raft, and I floated at sea for six days and nights before you picked me up.”
“Only six days?” asked Doc Celco. “By the state of you when we picked you up, I would have imagined closer to sixteen?”
“Six days of relentless sun can do dreadful things to a man,” explained Borg, “but infinitely more dreadful things to a vampire. We don’t dissolve in the sun’s first rays a la the old horror films, but we lose all of our supernatural powers, and dehydrate infinitely faster than humans do.”
“But what makes you think you could still find your creator after all this time?” I asked. “If it’s been more than nine weeks since he stranded you, he could be almost anywhere on Earth by now.”
“But he isn’t,” said Borg, piercing me with his pale blue-white eyes. “He’s aboard this vessel.”
There was a stunned silence for a moment, before all hell broke loose as the delegation broke down into a screaming mob. It took the captain the better part of two minutes to restore order, but eventually he was able to ask Borg, “How do you know that?”
“Because I have sensed his presence ever since being brought aboard. Vampires have a kind of inbuilt radar, a sixth sense, which enables us to track each other. Which is how I had chased the Other across Europe and Asia, and how I knew he was aboard this ship. Even before I regained consciousness.”
We considered Borg’s words for a few moments, then Peterson said, “He’s just trying to scare us all, to buy time for himself!”
“Yes, I say we kill him...it, right now,” insisted Walker. “How can we take his word for anything? There’s only one vampire aboard this ship, and none of us are safe till we destroy him!”
Doc Celco, Cpt. Douglas and myself tried to stop them, as they moved toward Borg.
But three of them overpowered us and held us at bay while Peterson and Walker advanced on Borg. Peterson held him down on the bunk while Walker smashed the three-legged stool on the deck, sharpened one of the stool’s legs into a stake with a pocket knife, then used the base of the stool as a mallet to hammer the stake through Borg’s heart.
Someone once said, “This is how the world will end: not with a bang, but a whimper.’’ That’s how Borg died: there was no ear shattering vampire’s death roar as in the movies, only a gasping sigh, almost a hiccup of death.
“Well that’s the end of our troubles,” said Walker confidently, throwing down the base of the stool in nervous excitement.
I hadn’t thought that it could be possible to be a paler shade of white than Borg had been. Yet his final death seemed to bleach him to a near-translucent white.
Before our eyes the vampire’s corpse began to flake apart. A strange wind blew in through a porthole, which I could have sworn had been closed when we entered the cabin, and out through the porthole fluttered the crumbling flakes, taking with them all trace (bar one) of what had gone before.
Up on the main deck Peterson and Walker were heartily patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on a job well done, knowing that they couldn’t be punished for their actions which had been vindicated by the strange way that Borg’s corpse had disintegrated and flown out through the porthole.
* * *
After Borg’s death, Peterson was the first to die. We found him next morning in the same state that Thomas’ corpse had been in. After Peterson, Steviers, Andrews and Alexander all died within the space of two nights.
Desperately we made for WhangareiHarbour on the NorthIsland of New Zealand. But inexplicably a violent storm blew up from nowhere: high seas, followed by pounding rain, sleet and a strange, dense, London-style pea soup fog. It was almost as though someone, or something was controlling the elements, using them against us.
The day after Steviers was murdered, our radar and satellite-guidance systems were all sabotaged. So, blinded at sea, we sailed around for more than six weeks while the crew were murdered one or two at a time.
The dead were buried at sea. At first as the traditional sailors’ burial, then later, when the dead outnumbered the living, as a precaution against the dead returning to “life” as vampires.
At the end of six ’weeks there was only Walker, Janssen and myself left. I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of Walker being left till nearly last, almost as though the Other were rewarding him for the service of murdering poor Borg.
Now even Walker is dead and there are only two of us left.
When the killing continued after Borg’s murder, we had made a hull-to-hull search of the ship, in the hope of finding a stowaway to accuse. But we found no one, so the vampire must be Janssen!
No wonder the cook had been so set against rescuing Borg. But in the end we had been stupid enough to let Janssen off the hook by murdering Borg, the only one who might have been able to stop him.
Well I guess my time is just about up now. The sea is calm at last, as the storm that has plagued us for six weeks has mysteriously cleared. The fog is lifting and I can hear footsteps advancing slowly toward the helm.
Janssen is outside hammering on the door now, so it will only be a matter of moments before I’m dead too. But at least I can hope that with the death of me, the last sailor aboard ship, Janssen, a cook, will be unable to pilot the ship back to land and will die here, safely out at sea. But wait! What is this? It can’t be! Out through the helm I can see something that terrifies me even more than the monster that has stalked the Macabann for so long: WhangareiHarbour!
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.