The State of Nature
'Bartholomew's men!' It comes too late. The smashing, cracking, splintering of seasoned planks herald the battering bowsprit's entrance. The two ships become locked in mortal embrace as a blood moon finally clears the cloud, revealing the shining metal of the murderers' swords.
Laura springs from her bunk, her deck dress falling into place about her limbs as she steps on deck.
'Cap'n on deck!'
The throng of ratings pause their confusion momentarily, acknowledging the one they recognise as commander. She brings her left hand up to her ear, as if listening to the waves in a cowrie shell. This galleon has no petrified maiden on the prow, its figurehead stands firm on the fo'c’sle. The stays creak about her as the vessel leans with the attack. A change comes across her brow. The hand is lifted, five fingers splayed and the palm glowing in shadow. The invading men, perhaps fifty or so seasoned mariners, fall gasping where they are. Three who had crossed the guardrail already begin to singe, their flesh rucking as bacon-rind contorts in the coals.
'Come forth, Bartholomew!' She calls with clarion voice. The fingers crook slightly, lessening the power a fraction. From the deck of the brigantine piercing her ship a fantastic shape leaps the chasm to land before her. Captain August Bartholomew, eight feet tall and nose-less. The leathered hole where such appendage stands on non-sinners makes an audible rushing, like the tide in a secret culvert. 'Cap'n, you have no business here.' She brings her right hand round to mirror the left, wrist touching wrist. 'We settled our fight in Tripoli.'
'Aye, that as might be. But I am not here for your ship, Laura. I am here for something you have, something I wish to be mine.' His face splits in an evil smirk as his cutlass whistles the gap between them, heading for her hands...
Laura jerked awake, a sweaty tangle of Egyptian cotton and last night's mascara. The car door slamming in the driveway carried above the wind's fierce rush in the trees.
Key in the lock.
'Jeff! Yes, hello. Make us some coffee please, I'm just going in the bathroom.' She scuttled to the en suite before he could pop his head round the bedroom door, and sheltered for a while on the loo, going through what just happened and checking her wrists for any mark.
'Good morning, Jeffers!' She pecked him once, each cheek. 'Give us that mug and let me savour the sweet caffeine.' She inhaled the aroma, eyes closed for moment's pleasure. Jeff, sun-brown and skin taught as a drum, smiled his Hollywood best and placed his Raybans beside him on the banquette.
'So, Laura, have you had a chance to consider?' He gazed up at her from a defensive position, she supposed he thought it looked like a needy puppy. It did.
'Jeff... Jeff, well... yes, I've considered it... but I'm still not sure. I mean... of course it's very flattering to be considered for a lead role but... it's a little...'
'Well, of course it is, darling. But it's a solid script. The director's a hot tip coming-up in the world. And, of course, money's always nice,' this last said with a quick glance about the lower grade of Ikea that had been here since Laura moved-in three years before.
'I know, but if I do it - and Jeff, this is a big 'if' - what if I like it?' She smiled wickedly, her eyes shimmering.
Jeff giggled, 'Laura! That is not what I was expecting to hear you say. So, you think you might have a little penchant for the swords and sandals scene?'
'Potentially. Yes, Jeff, I think I might.'
The blade had glanced-off the charmed amulets that encircled both wrists, but still his blow had contained a force beyond Nature. She opens her eyes to find herself lashed to the crow’s nest, the last of her own ship’s main-mast disappearing below the flickering surface of the dawn ocean. Knowing time is not her companion, she makes a choice. Eyes closed against the rising sun, her mind enters the ship that has just sunk and finds its way to the Captain’s suite. There, amidst the flotsam, is a small cylinder on a leather thong. Several glyphs carved on its surface catch the sparse rays of sunlight that come through the shattered window, though that light will be gone in moments. Laura reads the magic words as they spin, causing a door to open in the floor of her erstwhile chamber. She forces her thoughts to enter down there, where she knows the treasure to lie. With her physical hands tied back on Bartholomew’s ship, denying her magic, all she can do is take one last leap into the unknown and drive her mind forth into the Leviathan’s egg. As her thoughts cross that final membrane from oceanic water to albumen, then across the vitelline membrane to yolk, her human body, many fathoms above, goes limp. With the depth of sinking comes pressure. Pressure enough to crack an egg.
Mid-June, Jeff sat across from Laura, speaking her cues with as little inflection as possible to drive her imagination further and further, her own impulses forming the character. To give him his due, though he had initially brought her this role out of economic concern, he had proven himself willing to ride the voyage with her and was now pushing Laura to achieve the best she could. Their old drama-school joy returned with a collaboration that went beyond manager and client.
Yesterday’s script alterations were making her a little uneasy however: her character was a ball-busting lady boss; a romance element was creeping-in between her and the freakish Pirate King in this hastily caret-ed scene that sat uneasily with how the franchise was pitched to her at that exciting first meeting, when she had impulsively leapt at the opportunity. If anything, Cap’n Laura would take some personal time on shore with a handsome un-named extra. Jeff, darling, was doing his best to read the captor-slash-love-interest lines. Something was missing though. Normally the clean-cut smoothie from Basingstoke, he had forgone his normal grooming routine this morning and a hint of rugged stubble showed on his jaw. His received pronunciation was slipping. No, that was not it, either… she spied it at last: His Ear!
‘Jeff, darling, what the fuck have you done to your ear?’ He was cut-off mid pirate-cry.
‘My ear? Oh no! What about it?’ His hand shot up to where she was pointing.
‘A gold hoop, Jeff!? I never would have…’ He put down his script, and began to stand.
But something else was happening here. As he rose, he lifted a sword from beneath the table. This was most unlike Jeff. The sword snickered up into what became a shoulder attack as Jeff leapt full-footed onto the solid pine kitchen table cackling with tormented glee.
Laura found herself tumbling backwards from her folding chair, falling ever further down, and down, the air thickening as she went, as if drowning in a vapour she could not see. She punched forwards with all her mustered strength in an attempt to right her trajectory.
The egg cracks, in its wooden hold a mile beneath the waves. A sharpened beak forces its way through in the darkness. A baby’s eye, older than humankind, blinks slowly as it seeks clarity in sepia depths. She grows rapidly, pulling nutrients from her yolk sac to expand beyond her confines. The ship, half-buried in the benthic sludge, cracks open like a headache, and from its ruined ribs a shape flows upwards to the surface.
‘Cap’n Bartholomew, sir?’
‘Yes, what is it Sanders?’ The Captain’s horn mug hovered halfway to his lips. The skin divers he sent down after the wreckage had been gone too long. Her ship had not meant to sink. Evidently it had been on its last voyage anyway, charmed to stay afloat by Laura’s weird skill.
‘Divers report the wreck’s gone too deep for them, sir. Reckon whatever was on board is irrecoverable now, barring that it floats.’
Bartholomew sipped his Canary rum, not willing to let his First Mate see his true thoughts. ‘Thank you, Sanders.’ The man retired and Captain Bartholomew rose upon an outbreath.
‘Bring her down!’
She is brought before him, a weak pulse the only sign of motion within her. ‘Take her to my room and see that she gets medical attention. I want her alive.’ But she is alive, she is very alive, and the seas boil.
‘LEVIATHAN!’ The call is repeated up and down the ship, on deck and below. The men with a religious upbringing fall to their knees and pray. Those without fall to their own knees and do their best to emulate them.
The monster rising from the waves seems to be no larger than a skiff. But that is just the first segment of an awful beast that takes on the size of a ketch, then a schooner, then beyond the size of any nautical comparison the pirates have ever known. It bears down on their wooden toothpick of a boat, pouring thousands of gallons of seawater teaming with fish and weed. The low sun sparkles in the mist like a milliard diamonds, sharp edged and forming a sabre-toothed rainbow that descends on the mariners, harbinger of the beast that is to follow close behind.
* * *
Within the captain’s quarters, Laura smiles in her dream. Bartholomew looks-on as the ship’s doctor feeds her open vein with belladonna to confuse her senses further. The creature must not be controlled this way! Laura’s eyes snap open to look into the pirate’s eyes:
‘Jeff?’ She says. And the creature above them, unloosed from her magical mindspell, falls from the hellmouth sky, black-shadowed crusher of dreams.
‘Jeff?’ Laura lay a-bed, the hum of Elmbridge traffic on the A244 coming through the open patio doors. The shadow of a large cloud cleared the sun and the white Egyptian sheets glowed in the enhanced light.
Jeff called through from the kitchen, ‘stay there, honey. I’m just coming.’ She closed her eyes and felt a strength within she had not known before.
‘Jeff, what happened?’
‘I’m not sure, darling.’ He handed her a strawberry julep, out on the patio where now they sat, absorbing the June warmth. ‘You went all strange about my earring – which I’ve had for fourteen years, sugar – then toppled off your perch. You’re exhausted darling, I’m going to suggest to Teddy that the producers give you a day off to regroup.’
‘Don’t you fucking dare, Jeff!’ He was taken aback by the force of her command. ‘I am Captain Laura and I am living my dream. I’ll be fine after taking it slow today. Besides,’ she turned her gaze on her personal manager, ‘the Leviathan’s ending is still to be delivered. I don’t want to be written out of the sequel. I need this, Jeff.’
A shrug of his shoulders showed his acceptance of her commitment to the project. Six weeks ago he had counselled her to try this script out of desperation at her career’s waning, now he couldn’t talk her out of it even if her health was suffering. She was like a woman renewed, captain of her own destiny once more.
As Jeff’s A6 purred down the driveway, Laura closed the door and retired once more to her bedroom. The ornate bangles about her wrists chimed together as she dragged the chest out from under the bed, flicking the latch to lift the iron-bound lid. The egg inside was roughly four times the size of that of an Ostrich, a jade marble with hints of gold. Cupping it in her arms, she lifted it into bed with her, holding it to her belly to keep it warm as she had done these past six weeks. Soon it would hatch and she would be as happy as she had ever been.