And the Seas Shall Claim Them...
as told by Hugh Fitzcairn to Duncan MacLeod
All Hallows Eve, and the veil between realities thins. Even in the world and life experience of immortals, ghosts may exist. Having been raised in a superstitious day and age, Duncan MacLeod has never doubted this. Yet listening to Hugh Fitzcairn wax poetic on his own experiences with the supernatural, the Highlander finally feels the need to push his friend to tell a story, really tell a story.
"If you have so much experience with ghosts... tell me then... a story that will make the hackles on my neck stand up."
"I'm wounded MacLeod... all my stories are real. You shouldn't doubt them."
"Fitzcairn!" Duncan's voice rises in a mock threat.
Fitzcairn sips scotch and puffs on his Meershaum. "A real story MacLeod. Are you so certain you really want to hear one?" When MacLeod glares at him threateningly, Fitz nods. He is silent for some time... and then begins to speak.
The storm had blown the ship, Endeavor, off course. Although at that time latitude could be figured... longitude could not. This was 1486... before Columbus... before the discovery of the New World... before a time when ships routinely sailed out of sight of land.
And the Endeavor, as result of the great storm... was far from the sight of land... and lost in a churning ocean.
I was a passenger on the ship... not a seaman... and as such was not privy to the initial concern of the crew about the loss of the sight of land. I was far more interested in a certain young woman I was accompanying from England to Portugal.
At the time... I had not yet learned to read and had been hired mainly to accompany the young woman and her maiden aunt to the home of her future intended...
At any rate... the ship made its way east for some time... attempting to re-find land. We had no way of knowing how far off course we'd drifted. Clouds covered the sky... so there were no stars and no moon by which a man might see his hand before his face. By morning... we were becalmed in a thick white fog.
For three days we sat. The sails hung like limp wet bed-sheets without a breeze to fill them. The fog was so thick by this time... that we could see neither the top of the mast... nor the waters of the ocean below us. We could hear it... yes... slapping like wet fingers against the hull. Slap... slap... slap.
As time passed... everyone became quieter and quieter... as though words themselves could not be spoken without falling limp and wet to the deck.
It was then that we saw her... a ghost ship... sailing along in the fog... without benefit of wind or sail. As she came close to us... we could see her sails were tattered and her decks were bare of life.
Our captain had ordered the cry to be raised... but none answered. That ship passed ever so close to us... one could almost reach out and touch it. It had a foul odor... like something dead had crawled up inside it... something dead and rotten.
The captain, at first, had thought to explore the ship when it first appeared... but the crew refused. Besides... that ship moved without benefit of wind... and did not stop as we were stopped. Many of the crew crossed themselves and prayed. Others fingered charms that hearkened to the old gods... all were frightened.
My young lady and her aunt were suitably terrified. They remained below in their cabin and prayed for salvation.
After making certain they were safe... I wandered the decks of our ship... listening to the crew and peering out into that damned fog. Another two days passed. Food and fresh water were growing in short supply and still there was no wind to fill the sails... or sign that the fog would lift. If anything... it seemed thicker than before.
It was then that the ghost ship returned. We could hear it... long before it arrived. There was a weeping sound from the rigging that was like the keen of a banshee. Closer and closer it came... as empty as before... still smelling rotten... still moving before a wind that did not exist.
This time the captain insisted we cast ropes onto the ghost ship... if it was moving... then perhaps we would as well. And any direction was better than no direction at all.
Accordingly the gaffs were deployed and we slowly begin to move with the other ship. After two more days... our rations were so slim that even the crew agreed we should attempt to board the ghost ship to try to find water or victuals.
I volunteered to go in the party. As an immortal... I knew nothing could kill me... I would be fine. Besides... I appeared heroic to my young lady. She held onto me and wept bitter tears as if my leaving would endanger us all. I pushed her away... into the arms of her maiden aunt and bravely joined the crew in boarding the ghost ship.
How do I begin to tell what we found there? First of all... there were no bodies anywhere. It was as if the crew had abandoned the ship. They had left evidence of their swift departure. Bread lay stale and moldy on a table. Water in casks was rank and bitter. Fruit in the holds was rotten. In short... there was nothing there for us. Whatever food had been on that vessel had long ago succumbed to the ravages of time.
All the long boats were still there. If the crew had left by means of a boat, there was no evidence of it. A look at the captain's log told me nothing... but we gathered it up to take to our captain... hoping that he could read what was written there.
The great keening of the ship's rigging was growing on all our nerves. Its cry was high-pitched and grated on our ears like a file on metal. In desperation after we had returned to our own ship... we cut the ghost ship loose and slowly returned to our becalmed state.
When we took the log to the captain, his face paled as he read the words. He shook so badly that he called for spirits and drank down a full day's supply before he would speak of what he'd read.
We had brought him the log of our own ship... the Endeavor. It spoke of our last days and a final desperate gamble to save our lives... but it gave no specifics. We were left to wonder what it was we had done... and how it was that we had been granted this glimpse of our future unless we managed to find a way off the ship and save our lives.
In discussions... it was decided finally that the open long boats were our only hope. We divided into groups and loaded onto the boats... and, getting our bearings from a compass... headed east. We rowed for an entire day. As darkness fell... we came upon a becalmed ship. It was the Endeavor. We had not rowed in circles... we had rowed straight east... but we had exhausted ourselves and found only our way back from whence we had come.
We boarded the Endeavor once more and fell into our beds in an uneasy sleep.
I awoke to the same pale white light filtering through thick fog. But now there was no sound of captain or crew or passenger. I wandered through an empty ship. They had all vanished. The sea had claimed them all. Their beds were empty. The food on the table suggested some had sat to eat and then left. The long boats were all there.
I was alone on a ghost ship doomed to circle for all time in a white fog.
Duncan smirked, "So how did you get off?" He took a swig of his scotch.
"What do you mean?" Fitz's expression was bland.
"You're here, obviously, so how did you get off the ship?"
"Oh... that," Fitz puffed thoughtfully on his pipe. "I jumped off. I couldn't swim, of course, not at that time, so I drowned and my body washed up on the shores of France a few weeks later. TheEndeavor is likely still circling in that bloody fog."
"Fitzcairn, you sotted English, that's the story of theMarie Celeste and it happened early in the twentieth century!"
Fitz harumphed. "Well... just because it happened to theMarie Celeste in this century does not negate its happening to the Endeavor in the fifteenth century! Besides... you wanted a ghost story... and it's the best one I know."