From The Spider Lady and Other Short Stories and Poetry
by Mark Alberto Yoder Nuñez
There were omens, I suppose, that superstitious sailors should have been attentive to when preparing for a voyage. The feeling was so good at the time that all of us, ebullient at the prospect of the venture, just ignored the usual attention to superstition.
And so we set sail, fully confident that the captain and navigator knew their business. Instead of seagulls there were crows, cawing incessantly. A thought crossed my mind that I would see an albatross. I put the silly thought out of my mind.
We were confident and we had a great sailing ship. We set sail in northern waters but it was the beginning of summer. We were bound with manufactured goods to trade for exotic items in the Orient. The huge and awesome Ocean engulfed and surrounded us as usual. However the chill, ocean air soon let go after only a week at sea and it became warmer.
One night with the light of a full moon illuminating the deck I saw the albatross circling and even hovering in the sky. I knew I would keep this to myself but upon turning to my right I saw an aging sailor. As my eyes fell upon his grizzled face in the semi-darkness he said, “Aye! And it is an omen!”
Since we were out at sea there was nothing I could do. In fact as we got more into tropical waters the happiness of the crew grew by measures but there were no dolphins leaping from the water. I felt a sense of foreboding.
As one of the days at sea started to approach twilight after a fiery red sunset great, storm clouds grew in the sky. Their grey, blue colors and increasing darkness seemed unusually powerful. The sailors prepared for the storm. Soon the falling of the storm and onset of night completely surrounded us with darkness. The captain, first mate and second mate took turns at the helm. They turned the wheel of the vessel to keep the ship aimed directly into the huge, ocean waves so the ship would stay afloat. The huge, ocean swells crashed against the bow with white water spraying but the skill of keeping the vessel turned toward the oncoming swells kept the ship from being pushed over from the side and capsizing. The storm was more fierce than any veteran sailor among us could remember. And so we were to weather the darkest of nights. Yet there was confidence among this experienced crew.
As desperate as the night was the early grey of morning created hope. There was still a storm but it had eased and it was not nearly so violent. The officers of the ship and even a senior crew member manned the helm with confidence although their alertness could still not waiver. Our survival depended upon it. The crew members looked to the man at the wheel with trust.
In the late afternoon the darkness descended upon us again. The masts bare against the ominous sky with sails furled. The wind howled. The vessel with the tiny lives of men on it creaked, cracked and moaned. It was a voice that spoke to the innermost feelings of my heart. My conscious mind reeled. The night descended into a darkness as I had never known. It was the ultimate humility to fall to sleep in a state of exhaustion not knowing who would live or die or if any of us would survive at all.
I awoke knowing that the water was still rough but the worst danger was over, at least if we were not hit with another such atrocious storm. My logical mind thought that the time of year was wrong for such incredible storms and we had set sail at the correct time of year. The other side of my mind acknowledged that every sailor knows the unpredictability of the sea.
I instinctively went out on deck to see what the true story was. It was a miserable day of wet spray, rain, wind and grey clouds but the only danger was that a careless sailor might be washed overboard. There was none that was careless among us so this was not a concern. The night was similar with officers and sailors on alert.
Finally a dawn broke when it felt that the danger was over. The sea was more as what we had expected it to be and periodic rays of sunshine broke through. The next day pale blue sky was contrasted by shreds of dark clouds fleeing like phantoms in the speeding winds of the upper sky. The white caps abated but the rumor was that our tiny, fragile, ocean vessel had been pushed far off course by forces much greater than ourselves.
At last we were able to hoist a few main sails. In spite of the still lurking clouds, large swells and drizzles of rain it was time to get back on course. It would still be hard to find our position on the globe until we could see the stars at night. I went to sleep that night feeling confident that the navigator and captain would find our location and we would be able to be on course again. The ship made a loud, creaking sound. “Curious”, I thought. The wind seemed to let out a moan.
When I awoke I saw bright sunlight through the portholes. I went out on deck to see blue skies and feel warmth from the sun. I took a deep breath of fresh, sea air. I looked about. “Something is wrong”, I thought. I looked up at the helm. The captain and navigator were talking. Their faces were grim. “What could be the problem?”
I looked about. The ocean was as still as I had ever seen it in my entire life. I looked up at the sails. There was no wind. We were adrift.