Shipping Out
by Braxton S. Cook

Dense fog rolled in, depositing a slick sheen of moisture on the rocks lining the bay. A tall man stood at the top of the rocks watching quietly as the fog drifted silently over the lapping water. In the distance, a horn sounded deeply and he briefly looked away into the night. Behind him, two men shifted nervously.

"Having second thoughts, Evan?"

Evan glanced at him then shook his head no. To emphasize the point, he lifted a small suitcase and placed it closer to the edge of the rock wall.

"I told you last week that there's nothing holding me here, Mr. C. I want to go," Evan said. He glanced around nervously then stared down at his suitcase. 'Can I really be doing this?' he thought.

Mr. C. was seven feet one inch tall. With steel-blue eyes and long, perfectly straight blond hair, he was an imposing figure. His hands and face were unwrinkled and unblemished, but his eyes spoke of many years of watching oceans lap at the shore. He wore a dark green coat that extended below the tops of his brown leather boots.

Evan was thirty-six years old, with graying brown hair and hazel eyes. He was muscular from years spent in a gym, but age was beginning to add to his stomach. He had deep scowl lines along his forehead and wide crow's feet at the edges of his eyes from years of unhappy living.

"How about you, Steve? It's not too late." Mr. C. glanced away from the water to look quietly at the man standing next to Evan.

"Nah," Steve answered. "I'm just like Evan. Ain't nothing holding me here."

Steve looked down at the rags he wore then over at Evan's suitcase. He kicked the wrinkled cardboard box holding one dirty shirt and a pair of pants. It slid a few inches closer to the bay making a rasping sound as it moved on the concrete.

Steve was fifty-three, with black-peppered white hair and deep blue eyes. He was very thin, almost emaciated. Like Mr. C, his face did not bear marks of age, though long years of suffering were plain in the way he stood looking down at his box of cloths. Steve rarely made eye contact with anyone.

"When is that boat of yours getting here?" Evan asked. "We've been standing here for ho..."

He stopped talking as a dark shape slipped silently out of the fog. Shaped like a large swan, the boat slid silently over the water. As it drew nearer, the two rowers lifted their oars high out of the water. At the last possible second, a third person in the boat shoved the tiller to one side and the boat halted just inches from, and parallel to, the jetty of rocks that extended into the bay. 

The swan boat was unlike anything Evan had ever seen. It almost seemed alive and for a second he pictured the slender prow swiveling around to greet him. Where it met the water impressed him the most, however. Most boats had a clearly defined water line, but not this one. Carved like long feathers, the planks of the boat melted softly into the water. No water line was visible. The boat and water looked to be all of one piece.

"Do you pick up a lot of people here? Your boys seem to know this spot quite well."

"We have not been here before," Mr. C. answered. "My men are very experienced seamen, however." As he spoke, he swept his right arm out toward the boat, indicating that the two men should climb aboard.

Evan glanced around at Steve, then shrugged and lifted his suitcase. He then picked his way clumsily down the slippery rocks and stumbled into the boat. It rocked gently as he stepped over the gunwale. The two rowers helped him stow his suitcase and then sat him on a bench near the steersman.

Steve and Mr. C. quickly followed and soon the boat was sliding into the fog. Steve never looked back, but Evan watched the rocks, lit by a solitary gold lamp, as they receded and disappeared into the nighttime fog. 'Well, too late to turn back now,' he thought.

The rowers dipped their oars quietly into the dark waters of the bay. Like Mr. C., they were tall, with blond hair and deep blue eyes. Each wore dark clothes including a dark-green cloak.

The steersman was dressed the same as the rowers, but there the similarity ended. Where the others were tall, this fellow was barely over four feet. His hair curled around mischievous brown eyes outlined with tiny crow's feet. Where Evan's obviously came from scowl lines, this fellow's undoubtedly came from laughing. Even as they pulled out into the dark mystery of the fog-shrouded bay, this tiny fellow had a broad grin spread across his face. He wore no shoes and curly hair covered the tops of his broad feet.

"Interesting crew, Mr. C. Did you pick them up in some nighttime bay as well?" Evan shifted on the hard bench as he spoke.

"Errm and Andromar," he inclined his head toward the tall rowers, "have been with me since the beginning. Filo there has been with me for about ten years. He found me, actually." He smiled at Filo and the two exchanged meaningful glances. 

That is when Evan realized he could still see. He was in the midst of a deep bank of fog on a moonless night and he could still see. He could not see the water sliding by when he looked over the side, but Mr. C. was clearly visible sitting almost fifteen feet away.

"How..." he started to ask, but stopped as the boat passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and slid into the open waters of the Pacific. Even through the fog that outline was unmistakable.

"Won't do no good to ask that," Filo chimed in before Evan could continue. "His Lordship never talks about how things is done." Evan had to concentrate hard to understand him through his deep Irish brogue.

"It is doubtful you would believe it even if I told you," Mr. C. said before looking across the boat at Steve. "No words of parting, Steve? You have hardly spoken since we arrived at the jetty."

"What's to say? The choice you gave us was clear. 'Come for a boat ride or die,' seems to stop any need for conversation."

Mr. C. laughed heartily, as did the two rowers and Filo. "Those were not my exact words, but I suppose they crystallize what I did say. Ah, here we are."

As if on cue, a great white ship slid out of the fog. It too was shaped like a swan, but this swan could hold fifty men comfortably. The shifting waves splashed one against the other creating the unmistakable surcease of the ocean, but against the sides of this ship, the ocean did not beat. Like the smaller boat, the carved feathers of the greater ship merged seamlessly with the water.

Evan whistled appreciatively as the two boats slipped to within an inch of one another. A ladder snaked down the side and soon all of them were standing on the softly rocking deck of the Swan Ship as tall, blond crewmen hoisted the boat and stowed it against the railing.

"Show them to their quarters, Filo," Mr. C. said after a brief, whispered conversation with two of his crew. "We have one more stop to make before setting out."

"You promised to tell us where we're going once we got to the ship," Evan protested. "I'm not moving until I know where you're taking us." He planted his feet as if daring anyone to move him.

Several of the crew had been talking as they tied down the boat. They stopped both activities. Others in the crew also stopped what they had been doing. A sudden stillness fell on the ship and Evan shifted nervously.

"Mr. Abner," Mr. C. said, addressing Evan, "this is my ship and I set the schedule aboard her. I decide her destination and when you will be told that destination. Is that clear?" Evan looked around nervously, blushed, then nodded quickly. "Then kindly follow Filo. I have things to tend to before we get under way."

Filo stepped to an open door leading below decks and waited for Evan to follow. Steve had already lifted his box and was standing next to Filo watching the bewildering array of activities underway on the ship. Evan looked as though he might challenge Mr C., but then he thought better of it, shrugged, and walked toward Filo leaving his bag sitting next to the railing.

"Have someone bring my bag to my cabin along with a bottle of wine," he said to Filo before starting down the stairs.

Filo looked shocked for a second, then turned to get the bag. Mr C. stopped him with the gesture, however. 

"Evan," he called causing him to pause in his descent. "Aboard this ship, you will pull your own weight. My men are not my slaves, nor are they yours. If you want this bag in your quarters, then come and take it there."

Evan hesitated, then climbed back up on deck. He took two steps, then turned and knocked Steve's box out of his hands. "No," he said. 

"Since yesterday you've been telling us we have to listen to you. That we have to come with you or we'll die. Now, I don't know about Steve here, but I don't feel much like dying at the moment. Heck, I don't even have a cold." He paused thinking, then continued. "Actually, I can't remember ever getting a cold, but that's not important. 

"I didn't come here to be one of your deck hands. I came here because I didn't have anything back there since I lost my job. Now, do Steve and I get our things taken to our cabins or do we get on that little boat of yours and go back home?"

Four of the deck hands took a step toward Evan but stopped when Mr. C. held up his hand. He stepped forward, lifted Evan's bag from the deck, and carried it toward him. To Evan's credit, he did not back away as the imposing ship's captain drew close to him.

"I told you this was my ship, Mr. Abner, and I give the orders aboard her, not you. You may return to San Francisco, but at this point you will have to swim. I don't have the time, nor the inclination to ferry you back. If you choose, you may leave the ship at our next destination. As to your bag, either you take this and get off my deck or I will toss it overboard and have you forcibly removed to your cabin." He then held out the bag and waited.

Evan's face had drained of color as Mr. C. talked. He stood clenching and unclenching his fists until Mr. C. finished. Then he grabbed the bag and stormed toward the stairs. "This isn't finished," he mumbled as he marched away to follow Filo and Steve below decks. For a long moment, Mr. C. stood staring after the man. Then he turned and began bellowing orders to his men.

To be continued...

2002 Braxton S. Cook
All Rights Reserved

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Updated October 25, 2003