Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 4 - The Legacy

Jim and I were standing the last watch before dawn. I had no trouble staying awake after the story the housekeeper had told. I could scarcely credit her tale but I had no other explanation for what I had seen with my own eyes. With the first false dawn Margarate approached me. Her tone was less imperious and more friendly than it had been earlier. She offered up some small talk which I found tedious at this time of day, and at last I asked her plainly what was on her mind.  She bridled, but adopted a more business-like tone. She described how her husband had kept a fortune in silver coins in a small chest in his study. When the situation began to deteriorate, he secretly hid the chest in the warehouse by the dock. She hinted that her father would not be pleased if we left the island without recovering the chest. I explained to her that our departure was likely to be a desperate business and it wasn’t likely we would have an opportunity to search for the chest. At that moment a picture of that horrid pagan altar we had seen in the warehouse when we landed was in my mind. Margarate started to argue the matter, but at that moment the maid, Martha interrupted. With tears in her eyes she said she had gone to check Seth’s wound and had found him dead. Doctor Menting and Hector soon joined us. The doctor expressed his surprise at the death, as the wound had not been a mortal one. While Menting went to examine Seth the housekeeper entered the room and told us the slaves were gathering about 100 yards from the front of the house. She showed no surprise at the news of our man’s death, but said he must not fall into the witch doctor’s hands or he would become like those things outside.
                                          ....the slaves were gathering...


All of us were now together. The light was increasing and there were a dozen or a few more of the slaves forming a ragged line across our route to the dock. A few others could be seen in the distance moving slowly in our direction. We had to decide quickly what we would do. We couldn’t bring Seth’s body with us and we couldn’t leave him behind. At this juncture, Hector spoke up. He asked the housekeeper what might be done to prevent Seth’s transformation. She responded that the body must be burnt or the head removed. Without hesitation Hector directed Menting to remove the head and rejoin the group ready to move out.  He spoke to us in an even tone but he wore the habit of command plainly and I think our spirits were lifted by his steadiness. We were going to stay in a tight group with the four men in front and the three women close behind. The line of slaves blocking our path was broken up by scattered patches of dense undergrowth. We would exit the house and move quickly toward a gap in the undergrowth to our right front. Three slaves stood in that gap. About halfway to that gap Hector would give the command Halt! Fire! We would drop those three slaves and bolt through the gap. As we had observed the previous day, the slaves were slow and clumsy. Our speed would be our salvation. Hector warned us that no one must stop to reload, and any man that fell behind must be left to his fate, Speed was everything.

                                              I was being left behind!

We broke from the front door, formed quickly as instructed, and began to jog toward the gap. The slaves were in motion toward us all along the line. About halfway Hector gave the command to halt and fire. Our four muskets banged out a ragged volley. We were blinded for the moment by the smoke but Hector shouted “Move!” and we began jogging forward again. I was relieved to see all three of the slaves on the ground, but two others were now near enough to dispute our passage. My crewman Joe moved the women through the gap and to the right, away from the closest slaves while Menting and Hector struck the two slaves with their musket butts. I moved to follow Joe and the women when I felt a pair of claw-like hands clutching my leg. One of the slaves I thought we had dispatched was dragging at me and snarling like an animal. I think I am as steady a hand as most men, but at that moment terror overtook me. I saw Menting and Hector running to catch Joe and the women. I was being left behind! Several slaves were approaching me, attracted by the sound of my struggle with the thing clawing at my leg. I felt despair and surrender rising in me, the horror of becoming one of them, and then I found a last reserve of strength. I struck savagely with my musket butt on the head of my assailant and twisted out of his grip. I slipped on the blood and went down on one knee. As the monsters closed on me, I sprang to my feet and ran. I felt fingers clutching at my coat but I focused all on just running as fast as I could. My musket fell from my hand and was left behind. The path the others had taken was now blocked, so I swerved farther to my right and found another path.

                                              I sprang to my feet and ran

 I had left my pursuers behind but I didn’t slacken my pace until I reached the shore. I saw the others gathered at the dock, but instead of boarding the sloop there was some sort of argument underway. Doctor Menting had Margarate by the arm, Hector was loading his musket and looking back at the slowly advancing slaves. Joe was helping the men left behind to prepare to cast off. I ran down the beach to the group just as Margarate broke away from Menting.  She ran to the warehouse intending,  I suppose, to search for her husband’s chest of silver. Just as Menting caught up with her, she pulled the door open and recoiled in horror. There in the shed, seated above that awful pagan shrine was a slave with elaborate symbols painted on his body and her husband and the overseer! I reached the dock and could see the slave stand up, laughing maniacally. The two white men were dead, but awake like the other slaves. The painted man must have been the witch doctor. I ran down the dock and boarded the Hermione. Hector stood at the end of the dock, eyes fixed on the advancing slaves and called out “To me, Doctor!”.  Menting slapped the struggling Margarate hard and half dragged, half carried her to the ship.  We were able to push away from the dock just as the slave things emerged from the path onto the beach.  


As the island faded in the distance we fugitives were still sitting on the deck, in silence. Hector was in conversation with the mate, who was steering a course for Saint Martins. I feared that if I stood and walked over to join them my legs might fail me. Hector walked over, sat next to me and offered me his flask. He smiled (for the first time since we met) and said “You did well, Captain”. That, and the strong drink in the flask steadied me and I was soon able to assume command of my Hermione. The voyage back to Saint Martins was uneventful. The man Hector took his leave a few days after we landed as, he said he had business in Havana. Doctor Menting spent a good deal of time in the company of the widow Margarate. They were married a few months later. I wish him joy of it but I think a good man like him could have done better. Still, her father was a very wealthy man. For my part, I got to know her maid, Martha on the voyage home. She was a sweet girl who I thought had conducted herself with credit on the island. We talked for hours when I took my turn at the helm, and by the time we reached Saint Martins, she had agreed to be my wife. Over the years of our long and happy marriage we had rarely spoken of Turtle Island, until the night of the Governor’s reception, and if God grants it we will think of it no more.  


Note: This was originally a game that I played with Mike (who styles himself King of St Maurice) using The Dead Walk zombie rules with some basic card draw stuff to generate zombies and random events. After the game Mike began riffing on all that we might do with the card deck to flesh out the characters and generate actions they might take consistent with their personalities. I’m retired now, so I did a solo rerun of the original later in the week using the additional ‘chrome’. The story above is that game. Mike and I will continue to refine the thing for use in other heroic adventure type games set in various periods.        

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