tagLoving WivesWhat Rough Beast

What Rough Beast


Yikes!! Randi wants Gothic and I'm most assuredly NOT Mary Shelley. Still, I've got Rick at rkv330. I took his usual clever idea, sprinkled on a few Goths, and this is the result. Naturally, none of this would happen without Randi's inspiration - so thanks as ever old friend -- please enjoy... DT


First there was blackness and peace. Then, there was dazzle and sound. I was born into an alien world.

There were loud voices all around me. The smell was horrible, a concoction of body odor, mold and rust. I was paralyzed by fear.

I gradually opened my eyes. A hovering shadow snorted, " He's awake mates!" There were shouts of laughter.

He had the ugliest face; walleyed, broken nose, face pitted and scarred. His unshaven jaw had a malicious grin.

I said weakly, "Where am I?" then surprised, "WHO am I?" My mind was blank. I had no idea where I was - WHO I was. I was newborn. I was terrified.

There were four of them. They laughed again. The biggest and nastiest said, "That doesn't matter mate. You're OURS now."

My faculties were coming back. I was inside a confined space, surrounded by loud vibrations. I said confused, "How did I get here?"

That prompted more raucous laughter. The guy with the walleye said, "We found you after we cast-off. We didn't have time to take you back to your mommy."

I said panicked, "Where am I?"

A skinny guy, shaven head, red beard down to his chest and a badly done tattoo-sleeve snorted and pointed to his left. He said, "That's Yarmouth over there. You can go home if you swim sixty miles."

I gestured, 'Where's THIS?"

The tattooed guy said, sounding a little less amused, "You're on a tramp."

I sat up. But I was in a bunk. I cracked my head on the frame and flopped back to more guffaws.

I was still groggy. However, I was becoming more alert. I rolled out of the bunk and put my feet on the metal floor. I said cautiously, "What's a tramp?" The room spun. I felt sick to my stomach.

That brought on more hilarity. Apparently, I was a very funny guy.

The bearded dude said, "Tramp freighter, outbound from London with 20,000 tons of miscellaneous cargo. The first port is Reykjavik." He added, like he was talking to a child, "We're a tramp because we carry anything we can scare up."

My entertainment value ceased the minute the crew informed me that I'd been shanghaied. So, everybody wandered off except the bearded guy. He was staring at me with blatant contempt.

I sat gazing into space. My brain was starting to reboot. I knew stuff. But I couldn't remember who I was, or where I lived. It was like my entire life had been wiped. It was a strange empty feeling, frightening as hell.

The bearded guy cut my reverie short, "Captain told me to bring you to him when you sobered up."

He headed toward the hatch. I sat frozen, heart hammering, gripping the thin mattress of the bunk, afraid to move. The guy stopped and gave me an angry glance. I took a deep breath and said, "Coming!"

I stood. The room spun. I grabbed the top bunk and steadied myself, taking deep breaths. My guide grunted impatiently; walked back, turned me and shoved me. I stumbled forward and caught myself on the hatch coaming. I got the message.

We emerged into an overcast and blustery world. I was at the bow of a ship and there was a structure that was clearly the place where I was headed almost half-a-football-field away.

It was summer but the fierce wind off the bow made it bone chilling and hard to stand. The gusts reminded me that I was wearing a thoroughly trashed tuxedo, with vomit stains on the pants. I pulled up my collar to ward off the cold.

The guy accompanying me laughed maliciously. He was in a t-shirt and filthy jeans. He said with disdain, "You won't last -- faggot."

Shock helps people cope. You disappear into your subconsciousness. I couldn't remember my name, or the name of any of my loved ones. I didn't know where I lived, or anything about my life. I was confused and frightened. Still, whoever I was, was slowly returning.

Our footsteps rang on the tween-decks ladder. Not a word was said. We emerged into a compartment that had an unrestricted view. It was light and warm and not as noisy. The space was filled with unfathomable machinery and electronic gear. I was filled with apprehension.

There were a couple of older men with a younger guy. They appeared to be steering the ship. They turned to look at me.

There was another man standing behind the group. That fellow beckoned. I got the impression he was appraising me as we approached.

He was tall, with a seafarer's gaze. He looked kind. I instinctively liked him. He turned to the deckhand and said in an accent that sounded faintly Norwegian, "That will be all Nobby. Now get back to work."

The deckhand started to walk away. The fellow, who was obviously the Captain, made an angry noise. Nobby waved a salute and said, "Aye Cap'n. Then he slouched off obviously pissed.

The Captain watched the retreating deckhand, with distaste. He said, "Nobby's a stupid animal, just like the rest of them. But he's the best we can get."

Then he said, all-business, "Let's go into the Mess and we can talk." There was a passageway behind the Bridge. It led to a larger room. This was clearly where the people who ran the ship ate.

The Captain said, "We didn't discover you until we were underway and there's no turning around in the shipping business. Who are you and why did you stow-away?"

I said, trying to convey the bewilderment that overwhelmed me, "I was hoping you'd tell me. I have no idea who I am, or why I'm here, or anything about my former life."

The Captain looked incredulous. He said, "Come on now? do you think I'm an idiot??! Who are you? What are you running from?"

I said imploringly, "I know it sounds crazy. But I really don't remember anything about myself. I can recall a lot of things. But I can't tell you my own name. I'm hoping that I can get the authorities to help me when we get to our destination."

The Captain stroked his goatee, lost in thought. Finally, he said, "Well, you can't ride for free, that's for sure. But I suppose I can put you to work. What can you do to help-out?"

I thought for a minute. I said, "I knew a lot about computers."

The Captain said, "We only have one computer and it keeps all of our records. I wouldn't let you touch that. What else do you do?"

I drew a blank. The talents I could recall wouldn't help. Abilities like how to fly an airplane, or play an elegant game of snooker, or select the right suit for a business meeting, were clearly out of the question. I finally shrugged and said, "I really don't have anything useful that I can do."

The Captain thought for a second. He was a decent guy. But he wasn't willing to transport me for free and it was obvious that he wasn't going to put a stowaway in any position of responsibility." He looked around the room deep in thought. Then he seemed to come to a head-smacking decision.

He said, "Of course!! I know how we can use you. We have passengers on this leg. You can work your trip as a steward."

That sounded a lot better than shoveling coal below decks; if shoveling coal was what sailors did these days. I said, "Well, I DO know how to serve people." Although my memory was of being served rather than doing the serving.

He said, "Good, you can bunk and mess here. That will keep you away from the deck hands." He added by way of explanation, "You wouldn't last long in the focsle. Let me introduce you to the cook."

That was a relief. The Captain believed me, as unlikely as my story sounded. He was a decent guy, smart and compassionate. He used his authority for the good of his ship. What happened later was a pity.


That was how I began my career as a waiter, busboy and general all-around manservant.

The cook was a character. I later found out that being two-bubbles-out-of-plumb was part of a shipboard cook's job description. He had been at sea since he was a kid. He was drunk most of the time and he wasn't cordon-bleu. I was surprised I knew what that term meant. But Cookie could feed a ship full of hungry sailors and any passengers who might be along for the ride.

Cookie was short and skinny, with a neck like a vulture. His head was completely bald, and he had a buzzard's beaky nose. His pipe-stem arms were covered in intricate tattoos. He even had a classic, "Arrr Matey," seafaring voice - I kid you not. I suppose it's what you get after a lifetime of drinking and beating the fuck out of yourself.

Cookie looked like he was in his early sixties. He had no-doubt been whip-slim and agile in his younger days. But that was 30, or 40 years ago. Now he was frail and broken by years of hard work. But then again, you couldn't tell it from his attitude, which was eternally grumpy.

The captain told him that I was working my passage as a cabin steward. The cook looked like he was hoping the captain would suffer instant buyer's remorse.

The captain said by way of orders to me, "We have guests on the leg to Reykjavik. I want you to make sure they are well cared for."

Having learned from what I'd seen earlier, I saluted smartly and said, "Aye Captain, they'll get the royal treatment."

The captain looked at my trashed tuxedo, disgust all over his face. He said to the cook, "We need to get him a proper steward's uniform. Take him to stowage and get him something to wear." Then he added like an afterthought, "He can sleep in stowage too."

It turns out that stowage had nothing to do with my "stowing away." It was a room attached to the galley. They stored things in it, like a big pantry. It was full of useful stuff, discarded clothes and all the paraphernalia for the mess. I could make a bed out of the linens.

The cook selected an all-white get-up, pants and tunic. I looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. But at least I didn't stink of vomit.

He left, and I looked at my reflection in a porthole. I saw a tall, lean guy, three-day stubble, on a long face, pale, almost translucent skin, high cheekbones with a thick shock of brown hair and deep grey eyes. The face looked more intellectual than ass-kicker. I wondered who I was.

I walked back to the galley. The cook glanced at me with scorn. That seemed to be every crew member's opinion of me.

I said mildly, "Look, I have no idea why I'm here and I'm scared to death. So, I just want to get off at the first stop. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you would help me. I don't have a clue as to what I'm supposed to do."

The cook eyed me icily and said, "You work hard, do what I tell you and don't question me. We won't have a problem if you follow them rules."

So, we had come to an understanding. It was a small start and my anxiety level dropped from just-about-to-stroke-out, to merely hypertensive.


That evening, I was wearing my all-white steward's uniform and looking very subservient. I was fretfully waiting to serve dinner. The nerves were understandable. I'd lost every aspect of my identity.

I was wracking my brain as I laid out the dining service. But I couldn't remember anything about myself. The weird part was that I knew a lot. I just didn't KNOW that I knew it. That is, until I had to remember something.

For instance, I knew the utensil placement for a formal table setting and I knew why it was important. I also knew that my knowledge was something that I'd acquired during my upbringing. But I couldn't envisage parents, or family.

I didn't know whether I was married or even how old I was. I looked like I was in my thirties but the life experiences that would tell me my actual age were as alien as the Bermuda Triangle.

Snippets of songs popped in my head like earworms, and I had occasional flashes of movie scenes and the faces of TV stars. But I didn't know names, only faces.

I was told to be unobtrusive. So, I was standing like a potted plant against the cabin wall when the eight passengers arrived. This wasn't a fancy cruise ship. Everybody ate together.

There were a couple of batty old English duffers. They appeared to be a "couple" if you catch my drift. There was a family, composed of a husband and wife and two well-behaved kids. I assumed they were Icelandic although they spoke excellent English. Then there was the priest and his daughter.

I knew he was clergy by the collar. I assumed he was an Anglican rather than Catholic. Otherwise he was in big trouble with the Pope.

The daughter was a classic English rose. She was short, perhaps five-one and busty with a sheaf of long, thick shining blond hair and that perfect clear British complexion. Her lovely, round, innocent face featured the most amazing pair of expressive, cornflower-blue eyes. She glanced shyly at me. I tried to put on my best impassive servant's demeanor.

I hustled back and forth between the galley and the mess with plates of the food. There was no ordering. This was a tramp freighter. I also refilled the drinks. I knew that the wine I was serving was cheap and I knew how to pour it with the proper little swirl. But I didn't know how I had gotten that knowledge.

The mess wasn't spacious, and I was a new feature. So, the passengers were mildly curious. I gave them deferential answers, just like the butlers I'd seen in the movies. Except I had no idea where, or when I'd seen those films.

The passengers treated me politely, like you would a good servant. I found to my surprise that I was motivated to be the best waiter I could be. The need to excel, even if it was in the servant role, seemed to be a basic part of my programming. I filed that tidbit to think about later.

By the third day at sea, I had the routine down-pat. I rose at three AM to have coffee and breakfast ready for the middle watch. Then Cookie and I got regular breakfast for the passengers and the guys going on the morning watch. Once we had cleaned up, we did lunch for the forenoon watch and anybody else who wanted it. We did dinner at the end of the first dog watch and I was tucked into my cozy closet by the start of the first watch.


It was the middle of the night and we were passing south of the Fair Isle light. I could see it in the distance. I was leaning on the ship's rail watching the water rush past. I couldn't sleep.

I was bundled in a watch-coat and cap from the ships stores. I had scrounged-up a pair of old jeans from the discarded clothes bin and serviceable boots that didn't quite fit. I had a thick fisherman's knit sweater, that the captain had leant me. Still, the cold was threatening to seep into my bones.

For the first couple of days I'd lived from minute-to-minute. My only goal was survival. All thought and emotion went into adjusting to my status as a stranger-in-a-strange-land. Now, the routine was part of my new normal and it pushed me into a state of deep depression.

I knew that I was going to be in my present circumstance for three more days. Then we would arrive in Reykjavik and I would have to leave my familiar surroundings to forge a life for myself; all without memory or prospects. I think anybody facing those odds would step over the side and get it over with.

I was considering doing just that when a sweet English voice said, "It's eerily beautiful isn't it?" I almost fell overboard; notwithstanding my original musings. I turned and a huge pair of innocent blue eyes were gazing hopefully at me.

The four passenger cabins were clustered along the bridge deck right behind me. She must have glanced out the porthole, seen me standing there and come out to be sociable. The only thing I'd felt since waking up in the focsle was fear. Now, my little friend added another emotion, interest.

I tried to sound friendly as I said, "Night at sea is like nothing else. Look at those stars." The crystal-clear blackness of the sub-arctic sky was covered in cosmic diamonds.

She said shyly, "You get a sense of how insignificant you are when you're on the ocean. It's really kind of intimidating. There's civilization around you when you're in London. Here, the forces of nature can swallow you in an instant."

That was profound. I took a better look at her. She was an odd contrast of innocence and sexuality. Her face was gorgeous in a classic English way, huge blue eyes, snub nose and full succulent lips over a cute little pointed chin. The long, thick shining blond hair only added to the impression of Alice in Wonderland.

Her body seemed slightly chubby, curvy and round with oversized tits and sturdy hips. The thought crossed my mind, "We used to call those birthing hips." Where did I get THAT from?

I chuckled companionably and said, "When you're on the open ocean, you understand why seafaring people believe in mystical powers." She looked at me like I'd surprised her. No shit! I'd surprised myself.

She said, "I'm Danae. People call me Dani."

I knew about the original Danae. She was the human woman Zeus impregnated with a golden shower. I didn't want to even THINK about what that symbolized.

Danae's father set her adrift in a box after she'd birthed Perseus. It turned out alright in the end. But it was touch and go for a while. Yes! I know... The part of my upbringing that allowed me to dredge up that story was a mystery.

I blurted out, "Like in the myth, Perseus's mother."

She looked at me speculatively and said who ARE you? You certainly don't look, or act like a ship's steward?"

Seriously??!! Now there was a question for the ages. How was I going to tell her that I didn't know who I was?

I said, "I'm Nemo." I knew it was Latin for "nobody." But she was so young she probably thought I was referring to a little lost clownfish.

I added sincerely, "I've been a ships steward my whole life," which was exactly four days at that point.

She looked skeptical and said, "As in Captain Nemo?" Well she knew her Jules Verne, and again I had no idea why I recognized that. I laughed and said, "Nope, just plain Nemo."

She looked at me flirtatiously and said, "Well pleased to meet you Nemo and I hope we see each other a lot on this voyage."

I tried to maintain my impassive servant's face as I said, "At your service madam."


The next night, I was awakened by a pounding on my stowage door. We were in the neighborhood of the Faeroes.

My visitor was the First Mate, Mr. Francis. I never knew whether that was his first name, or his last. He had rushed back from the bridge to order me to round up the passengers and get them into the lifeboat.

SOLAS regulations require one designated crew member for every lifeboat. That dates back to the Titanic -- for good reason. Since our ship was extremely short staffed, they chose me. Nobody ever needs lifeboats in this wired age, and I couldn't do anything else except baby-sit the passengers.

Francis yelled, "Ships on fire!! Take the passengers to the port aft lifeboat station and get them boarded."

That particular lifeboat was special. It was something that they called "free-fall." Meaning it was launched using a slide, rather than winched down. That way you could get by in a pinch with only one crew member. They had given me a half-hour crash course on how to operate it. I discovered to my delight that I was a quick study.

It was 2:19 AM. I was still wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. That wasn't because the crew was honest. They'd gotten everything else of value. But the catch had unclipped, and the watch was jammed so far up my arm that nobody noticed it.

I went from cabin to cabin knocking on doors. I was trying to project calm. The last thing I needed was panic among the passengers. When each of them answered, I told them to dress warmly and meet me between the cabins and the aft railing of the bridge deck. I could smell the fire burning forward.

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