When Merrigan Caught a Gnome: chapter 4

Posted: July 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

At three in the afternoon there was a scream from the Captain’s quarters. Two members of the crew made it there before James, but he displaced them both upon arrival. Crick and Porter swung to their positions as nurses as James became the doctor. Crick was raised by a makeshift shaman in some island town, and handled most medical concerns, and even though people didn’t know Porter’s origin, he was too good with a razor not to know how bodies work. He was a scrawny and mean spirited man they pulled out of the water years ago. The Savage found him adrift, bobbing on some war debris after a battle they weren’t part of. He was as starved, angry and indestructible as a river rat, and that would have made a great nickname, if Porter didn’t hate it. He took three fingers off of a man who called him that too often, and made them into a fine necklace. The crew agreed that Porter is a good name for a pirate.

Porter started crying when James lanced open the Captain.

The Captain was screaming and howling the sick whistling shriek that came when he was changing. James had seen the Captain change hundreds of times, and probably knew the process better than the Werewolf himself; this was something different. His body pulsed and writhed. The movements were violent and spastic. Words slurred into Merrigan’s incoherent howls that hinted at delirium. He screamed of fishes and the origin of man. There was a thick pulsing goiter at his throat that James cut open, blood and what looked like the inside of fruit gushed and splattered against the wall. “Take him out onto the deck! And boil water!” James yelled. Crick and Porter latched onto the writhing man/wolf, they wrangled the monster’s upper half to the door as James lugged his feet. Men lined their walk and stared with concern. “It’s that Goddamned Fucking Gnome!” Screamed James nodding to the desk and the cage, which wasn’t there. It was spilled over and jimmied open on the floor. Wires were bent and it was empty. James barked at the idle men to find it, kill it, and burn it. It was only one order. Merrigan shook and convulsed, his eyes and teeth aching against his skull; seething and seeping different humors. Merrigan’s shifting was always hard to watch, and knowing the rifts and disjointed snaps ripping his friend apart only made it worse. James put his hands on his friend’s chest, pressing on the pulsating heart. It was bad to change when you were poisoned. Merrigan told stories about shifting when he was drunk, and shitting his pants or breaking fingers. This must be ten thousand times worse. The poison was not leaving. His body was happily killing itself.

The men scoured the ship with nets and hammers. Furrowed brows and clenched jaws searched every corner. They overturned barrels and shined torches down cannon but the gnome was nowhere to be found. The gnome had vanished. Had he been there, had he stayed in the cage and lived a long happy life as Merrigan’s parrot, he still never would have told Merrigan of his purpose, or the places he’d seen. He’d never explain life in the tree or his connection to the dirt. He’d never talk about vines or gnomeberries or making armor from spiderwebs. He’d never have explained the statue that was now missing from the Captain’s room, or why he took it. Gnomes are familiar enough with men not to trust them, and are generally disinterested in their affairs. They might admire man’s ingenuity, but resent their greed and wrath. Mostly gnomes look at men as boring, and lazy. The fact that Merrigan was neither of those probably saved his life.

Another pulsing cyst rose in his armpit, James slit it open with a razor, the wolf thrashed as different pirates took turns holding down his arms and being thrown across the deck. James hacked away at blisters and set bones against his friend’s gruesome twists. The crew killed the sails, and let the boat drift in the green sea. They circled around their Captain and prayed. Some prayed for his safety, some for an easy death, many prayed for whatever waited for them should their Captain die. They’d killed soldiers from every empire, and every animal kind. They had ravaged other pirates with impunity. Without a wolf on their bow, dogs would run over their ship and tear them limb from limb; wolf, bear, lion, lynx, badger, rat, panther, human and a dozen different kinds of dogs. They could only hope to be run down at sea, not in a port, where dogs show off their brutality.

The sun fell down like a fighter. It wobbled and struggled at the horizon before collapsing. The moon stood in the young night’s sky, a sliver of a champion. It’s calm light cooled that seas that no one noticed had been boiling. The Captain coughed and hacked up black blood and chunks of flesh. His frame thickened like it was filled with water. The wolf’s jaw cracked and slackened, his eye’s twitched and focused razor sharp. The Captain stretched and ached, the crew stood up in expectation. Folds and wraps of skin and hair hung about the monster like ill fitting scarves. He struggled and staggered like a drunk, he grinned like one too. He let out a soft whimper, and turned around twice. He sat on the deck with his back against the edge. The ocean smelled alive and vicious. The rock of the waves matched his heart. His eyes got wide, and he pulled himself to his feet, he jumped to the mast and and called to his men.

“You’re the strongest fleet on these god damned seas!” It was unsolicited, unwarranted, and tacitly untrue. They were crisp and well spoken and loud like cannon. The men rattled their sabers. He made threats against enemies real and imagined, and promised wealth beyond reason. He barely mentioned the gnome.

He fell from the mast and landed deftly on his feet and marched to the bow with conviction. He put a foot on the bow and peered at the ocean, the moon lit the world like a lantern. He growled, calmly, like a hum from a baker or whittler; his eyes on a string to the port they would land in. His men were already rowing with purpose. James approached empty handed. The captain pawed at a wound on his jaw. He dug under the bone and felt the squishy mess. It was pus and rot and a red hot stone in his jawline, a stinger wrapped in ache. He fished a broken blade, a cracked fingernail out of the part of his body near his teeth. It looked living and sharp like a seed or a tooth. Neither man talked as Merrigan dug at his face. “It’s a gnome knife,” he said, resting it in his palm. He tossed it up for affect, to show it was weightless. “It’s not the one your fella had,” added James. Merrigan looked at him quizzically. “That one’s in my pocket, I grabbed it that first night.”

There were gnomes on the ship, or there had been, or maybe the gnome had more knives. Merrigan wasn’t certain. He rubbed his jaw and looked at the water. There would be one hole on his face in the morning, a rough little scar. He thought about the corpses he’d seen and the drawings of gnome bites. Two wounds would have killed. He was sure of that. “Did the gnome steal the statue?” Merrigan asked.

“He did,” said the First Mate.

“Good.” said the Captain.

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