The rain falls in thick sheets, pounding down upon the algae slicking the deck of the Flying Dutchman. The wind, devilish, plays with us, forcing our sails to snap out to the point of nearly snapping the mast, then turning into a wet blanket falling soggy and useless. I look up quickly at the skies, raging almost as much as the seas, and flash silently back to a storm I endured with Jack Sparrow at the helm of the Pearl.
As quickly as the flashback begins, I end it. There is no point to remembering Jack now; he is cursed, and will be dead soon. I hated being the one to be sent to tell him that his time was up. I hated even worse his reaction to it – his classic dismissal of any trouble plaguing him. Even my attempt at scaring him into realization had barely worked – I had seen the fear flicker in his eyes only once before they went blank as he began to work on a way to get around the debt owed. Jack has been my friend for years, and I know if he can find a way around what is coming for him, he will.
I, on the other hand, cannot. My soul belongs to Jones, given to him freely. I have no regrets about what I have done. Anything was better than the crushing of the water on my bones, my eyes, my organs. Anything was better than being unable to move and unable to die, trapped on the bottom of the ocean.
So now I run from the railing to where a group of my fellow sailors are hauling the mast tackle, a rope connected to the mast to help pull large, heavy things out of the way. Our task is a dangerous one – we are balancing the Dutchman's weight in the bucking ocean, and that requires moving some of her cannons from one side of the ship to the other. The task seems easy until you realize that the cannons have to be lifted from one place to the other – they cannot be rolled; there is not enough room.
"Heave!" I join in the cry. "Heave!"
The rope in my barnacled hands is wet, coarsely hairy, and the stink of the rotting sea creatures around me, (of which I am a part of), rises into my nose. The rain continues to pour on me, and my hair falls in my eyes. I shake it out of the way and clench the rope tighter; the Dutchman has made my muscles hard and my skin tough and I don't mind the rope tugging at me.
I hear Maccus give a scream, trying to urge us to pull a little faster, and then suddenly the voice of the Bo'sun rings out over all. "Secure the mast tackle, Mr. Turner!"
Mr. Turner. Bootstrap Bill no longer, he died on the bottom of the ocean a long time ago. I whip around and shoot a glance up. My eyes widen in surprise – the cannon we are moving is swinging freely in the wind, and the mast tackle – the rope holding it – is actually coming loose! I don't waste a second but leap into action, letting go the rope I'm holding and bolting across the slimy deck to the mast holding the tackle up. My hands, deft, begin untwisting the rope – and then to my surprise I hear a voice: "Step aside!" and a pair of hands come into and around my own, blocking freedom of movement.
"Hey! Mind yourself!" I shoot back, trying to push his hands out of the way with one of my own, the other clenching the tackle, now free of the mast. He's adamant, however, just as much as me, and I become extremely annoyed. Did he not hear the name Mr. Turner? That name is mine and no one else's!
I lift my head, yanking the rope hard with both hands now. "Let go, boy!"
Lighting flashes, illuminating the face of the person I am struggling with, and I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach. At the same time, I realize – no, I remember – that my earlier thought was wrong. I was the only Bootstrap Bill. I am not, however, the only Mr. Turner.
"No," I choke as the implications of why – and how – he came on this ship strike me. Something slips through my fingers, and the face before me is suddenly jerked away. Letting out a shout I reach blindly for the tackle, now fully loose and flying, pulling my son away from me, across the deck, to crash into the railing. Below us, the cannon falls like a stone, crashing into five crewmen and crushing them to the deck. Only the curse that we all suffer from kept them from dying on impact. Yelling and groaning, they begin to get to their feet.
I cannot move. My eyes are locked on the slowly moving form of my son, unable to believe what I am seeing. Dimly, from far away, I hear the bo'sun shout: "Pull that weevil to his feet!"
My crew members surround me, encircling William, and then before I can blink, they have lifted him and dragged him to the posts. The bo'sun draws the cat from his side, and I feel a kick in my mind. Realizing what is about to take place, I leap for the bo'sun.
"Five lashes'll remind you to stay ou –"
I hit him, struggling to wrench the cat from his fingers. It's all a misunderstanding! Stop him!
"No!" I shout as I lose the battle, as he draws away from me.
"Impeding me in my duty?" the bo'sun sounds surprised – indeed he likely is. I haven't proven myself to be a physical fighter aboard this ship. "You'll share the punishment."
"I'll take it all," I respond, feeling panic lace through me in anticipation of the pain I know I have just signed up for. Jack would laugh at me. You do the stupidest things sometimes, William. But that is my son there before me, my son. I cannot see him whipped for something as petty, as stupid as a mistaken call. I cannot see him whipped at all – I have not seen him in thirteen years, what luck do I have that the first time I do see him he is here on this accursed ship with me?
"Will you, now?"
The voice chills me to my very bones, and my heart sinks. I don't want to reveal to Davy Jones what I have just discovered. But I will have to, as he continues, walking forward towards me, the rain all around him. "And what would prompt such an act of charity?"
I swallow and look at him, silently praying for this not to get any worse. "My son." The words are new, they scrape past my lips and over my mind. They hurt, and they hurt badly. I turn away from Jones to look at William again. "That's my son."
He jerks in the arms of the sailors holding him, twisting to look me in the eye. A lifetime of emotions is in his eyes, as I'm sure a lifetime is in mine. I can see disbelief, fear, anger, shock…and I can see his hair is long, like mine. I can see he has the same straight brows and shape of mouth as I do. His face is strong. His eyes are Eleanor's, no question, and I feel a warming inside of me that has nothing to do with pleasure of memory, but pain of realization.
For Davy Jones has started to laugh. "Ha ha. Ha-ha. A-ha-ha! What fortuitous circumstance be this? Five lashes be owed, I believe it is." And before anyone can move, he has accepted the cat from the bo'sun, turned, and offered it to me.
Once again I'm rooted to the spot by sheer shock. Can this truly be happening? Davy Jones would not sink to this level – would he?
Of course he would, Bill. Has he given you any indication – any – that he wouldn't?
"No! No, I won't!" I deny the whip from Jones's hand – it is the first time I have ever rejected anything from him, but there are some lines a man won't cross, and whipping my own son is one line. Even if the punishment is keelhauling, I won't lay a hand on that whip to hurt my son. I look at Jones, desperate for him to understand what happened.
"The cat's out of the bag, Mr. Turner!" Jones laughed. "Your issue will feel its sting be it by the bo'sun's hand – or yer own."
I look back at William, whose eyes have gone wide with amazement and fright as he comprehends the situation. Eleanor's eyes, terrified.
"No!" I deny again. I can't do it.
Jones's face wrinkles, and I know he hasn't read the pleading in my eyes. "Bo'sun!" he explodes.
"No!" I reach forward and wrench the whip from his hand. He looks at me, almost curiously, before stepping back, and I look at the whip in my hand, realizing what I've just condemned myself to.
William will be flogged. There is no stopping that. And he will be flogged by my own hand. But even as that comes home to me, I feel a strange sensation of relief. I have control over the cat. I can snap it as lightly as I wish. No matter how carefully I try to control it, it will still hurt. It will split the skin being revealed to me open, and red blood will mix with the algae and the rainwater on the deck of the Flying Dutchman.
But I will not rip William's skin from his bones, as I know the bo'sun will do. True, even if William is cursed – what else would he be, aboard this damned ship – the wounds will hurt but not kill him. But I can't bear the thought of watching him stagger around after the flogging, his back in pieces.
So I cock the whip, staring at him.
I'm so sorry, William.
He jerks as his skin splits as I predicted it would, and blood does not run but spurts from the wounds. His head snaps up, and I wait to hear the terrible scream that always accompanies a flogging.
It doesn't come. And I realize what kind of son I have. Despite the fact that I wasn't there for most of his life, he grew up strong. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally.
Tears finally come from that warmth inside of me, tears hauled up from the unfairness of what is happening, from the agony of the feel of the whip in my hand and the resistance it meets as it touches his skin – my skin. Both my skin and the skin that should have been mine, receiving this punishment.
I barely give him any time to react, get it over with faster. I scream inside my own mind, scream the screams he can't, he won't.
Oh, God, William! Scream! Tell me I'm not killing you!