by Janice Vasko
In the heat of battle accidents happen. Decisions are made amongst chaos, never to be undone, and orders are hastily carried out by loyal sailors. Such is the fate of the unlucky.
The infant American colonies were fighting for their very existence. The war raged over land and on the seas, where Britain prowled and extended its empire’s mighty arm. This “war”—as it was now being called—wasn’t supposed to last this long. These rag-tag farmers were supposed to be quickly suppressed and dominated, and their rebellious “Sons of Liberty” ringleaders, their “Congress,” and their impudent leaders hanged for treason. How did it come to all this?
Many in England thought this war wasn’t worth it; “Let them go! We don’t want to support them, protect them, govern them,” people cried. “Let them handle their own problems and when they cry for our protection, let them beg to our deaf ears!” Some even sympathized with them or just whined about ruined trade, ruined businesses, and high taxes.
But many others, like this sailor, firmly believed in crushing this rebellion. How dare they revolt against Mother England. England has already bent over backwards appeasing these simplistic barbarians: recalling this act and that act, pruning down taxes after they rebel at the slightest duty imposed upon them for their own protection. Damn these bloody insolents! Let them rot in hell!
He served on the 14-gun sloop, HMS Kingfisher now. The Swan-class design accentuated her sleek hull lines while liberal decorations adorned her, making the Kingfisher a true beauty upon the waves. Like all of England and all that England stood for, she made him proud to be a part of her crew.
It was the afternoon of June 28, 1776, and Captain Alexander Graeme of the Kingfisher was on high patrol, keeping sharp lookouts for American ships trying to make it up the Delaware River with supplies for the always-struggling, ill-provisioned Continental army under General Washington. Suddenly, off the coast of Cape May, the lookout cried, “Sail, brigantine. Port bow.” Captain Graeme immediately shouted orders to “make chase!”
“There she is,” he thought. “Let’s track her down and take her.” Like the hounds after a panicked fox, the Kingfisher hunted down the little American privateer brigantine, Nancy, that was returning from the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix loaded with supplies for the war. Immediately the British ship was joined by her cohort, the 5th rate 32-gun frigate, HMS Orpheus. The Nancy, with her six little cannons, was no match for the two British ships bearing down on her. She was easy pickings. With the British blockade of Delaware Bay, it seemed that the Nancy was within the British ships’ grasp. The hounds soon smelled blood.
Near the mouth of Delaware Bay, Captain Montgomery of the Nancy desperately signaled her closest American ship, the Lexington, for quick assistance. Soon the Lexington was joined by the Continental ships the Wasp and the Reprisal. But the Nancy was still alone right now and the British ships were gaining.
As darkness fell over the sea, the American ships anchored near the coast of Cape May. The British ships stayed in deeper waters but the obscurity of the night was just a reprieve. At dawn on the 29th of June, the Kingfisher and the Orpheus resumed their chase. The Nancy had nowhere to go. But her pilots, local to the area and these waters, knew every inlet and every shoal. The Nancy piloted into Turtle Gut Inlet above Cape May under a shroud of thick fog in the early morning. Still, the Kingfisher and the Orpheus knew the Nancy was in there somewhere and while they couldn’t enter those unknown inlets and shallows, they had their quarry surrounded by deadly cannon and land. The barrage began.
“Beat to quarters!” barked Captain Graeme, as the gun crews hastily loaded and ran out their six-pounders. “FIRE!” ordered the captain of the Kingfisher.
Seven guns fired at once, shuddering the Kingfisher’s stout beams and trumpeting through each sailor’s being with earsplitting and heart-stopping ferocity.
Cheers and shouts went out amid the thunder of the guns and the body-crushing power of the cannons’ recoil. “Take that, you damn Rebels!” he shouted. “This is England speaking.”
The cannon fire from both ships was unrelenting, but the Nancy, with her little six-pounders, fired back, amazingly keeping the larger ships too busy to risk boarding the shrouded brig. Nevertheless, the Nancy, in her desperation to get away from the bombardment, ran aground far into Turtle Gut Inlet. The American ships however, had stuck with her and now lowered longboats to help the mortally wounded brigantine. In an amazing coordination of the crews and smart action by the Lexington’s Captain Barry, along with an eager throng of helpful townsfolk from shore, the Nancy’s precious cargo was almost two-thirds unloaded. But the brig was taking a beating. The crews from the Nancy and the Lexington had been both unloading the cargo and firing the six-pounders to hold the enemy off, but time was running out and they were now sitting ducks; the fog had long since dissipated. The fox was cornered and the hounds were digging closer.
The crews had to abandon the Nancy now. It was inevitable, the brigantine was lost. Captain Barry barked a final set of orders to the crews. Their last minutes aboard the Nancy would be well spent. The crews flurried around, instantly obeying their new orders and no longer unloading the rest of the cargo; these new orders were even more important. The mainsail was tightly wrapped and the ship was deliberately set ablaze.
As all hands abandoned the brig, one brave last sailor climbed the main mast to lower the Nancy’s flag, jumping overboard to join his American crewmates.
Cheers and “Huzzahs” rang out from the British ships; the Americans were surrendering! The flag was down. A small fire seemed to be breaking out on the Nancy—an attempt by the Americans to sacrifice the ship rather than let it become a prize of the Royal Navy.
“Man the boats,” ordered Captain Graeme. Longboats from the Kingfisher were very quickly lowered into the water to claim the Nancy as their own.
“Cowards!” he shouted. “Run you damn Rebels. Row ashore; we’ll bomb you there too. Run you insolent bastards. There is no escape. You answer to England now and forever.”
Without hesitation he sprang into one of the longboats, cutlass at the ready, and joined the other tars at the oars in a hard, fast pull into Turtle Gut Inlet to the now-flaming Nancy. He was impatient to board the brig and help claim the prize for England and finish off any of the Nancy’s crew that may have stayed, or been left, behind. The longboats pulled aside the brig and then he adeptly climbed up the side and onto her deck. He personally would give no quarter; he was on an adrenaline high and ready to kill.
The blast could be heard forty miles north of Philadelphia. Death was instant yet imperceptibly slow. The blast, worse than any cannon fire, tore through his body—literally. His chest burst apart from the inside out while wood splinters, metal, and his sea mates’ bones shattered through his exploding body. Pieces of limb, liver, brain, and bone simultaneously detonated into the air and splattered upon the waves off Cape May as body was severed from soul. The water turned red as bits of flesh and hunks of bloody gristle rained into the salty water.
There is no way they could have known. There is no way they would have suspected that the brig’s one mast had been set as a long fuse, coated in fifty pounds of gunpowder to detonate as the Nancy’s crew hastily rowed away. There is no way they could have known that the little American privateer brig, among the sugar and rum, had been carrying 386 barrels of gunpowder. With the Kingfisher and the Orpheus being so effective at their bombardment, only two-thirds of the gunpowder had been unloaded; over 100 kegs had still been aboard.
The Americans hadn’t surrendered, they had baited them.
As his earthly body disintegrated into a countless number of grisly pieces, his consciousness saw it all. His soul plunged into the greenish waves of the mid-Atlantic shore; there was no distinguishing his bodily shreds from the other five men whose lives were torn apart that day. The easy prey had outwitted the hounds and they had paid dearly for it. The British ships retreated into deeper water to lick their wounds.
“No! Don’t retreat!” his soul screamed. Chase the damn Rebels—somehow. Don’t let them get away.”
The anger in his soul was unfathomable. The hate he felt would never be satisfied. Somehow, someway, he would get his revenge. This battle will never be over.
His soul swirled among the shallows off Cape May as this war of revolution continued for years. The colonies had claimed themselves “Independent” shortly after his June 29th death—another insult—but time was distorted for this sailor. The past meshed with the present as the years and decades disintegrated into nothingness and festered his raw, uninhibited rage. It was still 1776 in his hate-ridden spirit. He was not at peace. Kill the rebels.
He witnessed the others going home, letting their souls drift back across the Atlantic to England, to be at peace, but he could not do that. His soul was charred with too much loathing and sought revenge for the trick this young nation had pulled—a cowardly ploy. His soul’s wrath settled in amongst the waves breaking upon the sandy coast of Cape May, but the daily ebb and flow of the tides were not always to be so passive. His macabre intentions turned into action. On even calm days he would trick them, take them to their salty, watery graves, like they had done to him. Hidden within the waves he formed what came to be known as rip currents, those powerful, channeled currents that quickly draw you away from shore.
Funny thing, his morbid soul chuckled, “No, I am not at peace, yet I create R.I.P currents! Ha! How’s that for a trick? Come into the cool waves along the shore on a hot summer’s day. Come in, just a little bit deeper now, it doesn’t have to be too far at all, and I’ll pull you out towards Mother England. You rebels won’t even know I’m “grabbing” you until you’re in my invisible grasp. Fight it more and exhaust yourselves. Try to swim back to shore—that’s it. Haha. You can’t out-swim it—but go ahead and try. Panic now! Gasp for air as your panic escalates into raw fear as you gulp in mouthfuls of the brine. Feel your lungs longing for air as water gushes into them. Feel your lungs wanting to explode—mine did, along with the rest of me. Join me here in our watery grave. “Welcome, Rebels.”
As centuries pass, his rip currents continue to claim his prey: children, elders, “tough” surfers, casual swimmers…anyone. He grabs them and pulls them out toward England but the lunar tides fight him and keep him along the shore of this rebel nation. This enrages him all the more, encouraging him to claim ever more victims with his unpredictable currents. It’s so easy, so many rebels to choose from; easy-pickings. He laughs as researchers study the currents, try to define them, chart them, and deploy research buoys to predict them. They try to outsmart him. It won’t happen, because try as they might, they will never uncover the true cause of a rip current.
Enjoy your summer.
As you swim in the ocean on a warm summer’s beach
Beware of the grasp of a forlorn sailor’s reach.
Swim as you might, against the tide’s strength resurgent
Beware of the powerful pull of the rip current.
A grip that will hold you and drag you beneath
Your soul to the sailor, you will bequeath.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing