At The End Of The World – Snippet 03
I looked at him, knowing I should say thanks, but all I could do was stare at him. I guess he saw gratitude in my eyes; he nodded and said, “Never on a boat before?”
Now, I pride myself on having reasonable skill with words. I like to think that on first meeting somebody, I’ll have a remark or a quip which leaves them with a positive impression of me. I certainly displayed that skill on this day. Still looking straight into his eyes, I responded, “Um, um, yes, I mean, no, sir. I mean, never on a boat. Until now. Except the one that brought us down. Sir.” If I could have looked and sounded more like a jackass, I don’t know how I would have done it.
Behind me, I heard Chloe crack up. I have to say, her laugh was the least pretty thing about her that day. She sounded like a cross between a hyena and a banshee.
The Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea just kept looking at me and his mouth moved. I think that was a smile. Whatever it was, he hooked a cadaverous finger in my direction and led me back into the ship’s bridge. Well, pilot house, on this ship. It’s fully enclosed and is kind of perched over the weather deck, putting it a bit high for most sailboats. But, given where we were sailing, I guess that made a lot of sense; the weather around Tierra del Fuego is said to be some of the worst.
Once the pilot house door was closed, he pointed to a table where old-fashioned paper maps were laid out. It’s not like he didn’t have electronic gadgets all over the place. From what I could tell, there were three different kinds of radar and two different kinds of positioning systems. But he just folded his arms, looked me up and down, and said, “You are Alvaro, right?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered. A simple sentence, but a distinct improvement over the last one. I was proud of myself.
He nodded. A very small motion. Almost as though he feared his neck vertebrae were so brittle that they’d crack. “So, you did pretty well in school, didn’t you?”
What, was this a test? An ID check? Making sure he was about to indulge his undead penchant for eating only high IQ schoolkids? But all I said was, “Yes, sir.”
“Good. I want to see what you can do with these maps, that calculator, and the charts.”
I was this dumb. I said, “Do what — er, Captain?”
He sighed. It was like the exhalation of a dying vole. “I want to see you chart the first leg of our course. Think you can get us to Valparaiso, on the Chilean coast?”
I looked at all the papers and devices which had not looked intimidating only five seconds before. “I’m not sure, Captain,” I said. “I might need a little help.”
He looked out the window (it’s not round so I guessed you couldn’t call it a porthole), and answered, “I expected as much. Let’s get to work.”
It’s a good thing I’m enjoying life on Voyager, because we don’t have a lot of interaction with the outside world. No wifi, no phone signal, not even much on the radio. And The Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea is pretty negative about us listening to the radio. As he puts it, we are on the sea to be with the sea. The chatter from the land prevents you from developing your sea legs because, according to him, it keeps your head from getting in tune with the swells.
I kinda wonder if he says that to all his passengers on what we now call the Misfit Cruise, or if this was just special for us. On a couple of occasions, when he’s turned off the radio really quickly, I’ve wondered if there might be something going down in the Big Wide World that he’s trying to keep from us. Particularly since, for all of his lectures about being in tune with the sea and staying away from the radio, he’s started huddling over that little glowing box a whole lot more during the last few evenings. Which we’re not supposed to know, I guess, but you know how it is: someone has to hit the head and sees the light shining down the aft companionway, creeps a little closer. But either we never got lucky or he has some freaky excellent hearing, because by the time anyone goes close enough to overhear, the radio is off.
Otherwise, our first two weeks on the Voyager have been pretty uneventful, unless you count the fight I almost got into. Which was unlike any other fight I have been in. Because it was with a girl. Specifically, with Chloe. The whole thing was really stupid. It was all because of knots. Except, not really.
Okay, I’d better explain. I had started to teach myself all the maritime knots I could find in the Voyager‘s seamanship books. Which I’d finished reading after ploughing through all the other books on the ship: about thirty. That took me about twelve days, so yeah, I am a fairly quick reader. Just lucky, I guess.
So, when the Great Ghoul discovered I was not only done with all the navigation guides and handbooks but had made pretty decent progress teaching myself a ton of the more common knots, he decided I was the guy to teach them to others. It didn’t bother me, because it gave me something new to do.
Anyway, Rodney and Giselle were my first two students. They are the brightest kids on the ship, but the sad fact of the matter was that they are as unfortunate in their knot tying as they were in the names that their parents hung on them.
Chloe had nicknamed Giselle “Gazelle” within the first seventy-two hours. Giselle has that body type that clearly craves carbohydrates but is unwilling to surrender them up as metabolic fuel. If you get my drift.
Rodney’s name was simply shortened to Rod, which didn’t seem too offensive on the face of it. He’s long and skinny as a pole, so it seemed to suit him. However, Chloe emphasized it in such a way that you could tell that, every time she said it, she was calling him a dickhead. And unfortunately, poor Rodney is about as socially adept and comfortable as a thirteen-year-old forced to go to a middle school dance with his older sister.
So today I was teaching them the intricacies of the sheet bend. Giselle was catching on pretty quickly, but Rod was having a difficult time, as he often did. Smart kid, but he suffers from a bad case of nerves which sometimes makes him slow to understand things that are really very simple. Halfway through the lesson, Chloe came along, trailed by her friend-without-benefits, Blake. Chloe saw that Rod was struggling, made a crack about him “having a hard time.” Rod got flustered, and they pretended to talk about him like he wasn’t there, about how he’d probably keep having a hard time as long as he wasn’t the one sharing Giselle’s bunk.
Rod blushed almost as red as a boiled lobster. It’s pretty much common knowledge that he developed a crush on Giselle within his first forty-eight hours on board. Just to be clear, it wasn’t that Giselle rejected Rod’s interest: she just didn’t know about it. What made it extra cringe-worthy was that the guy she did wind up shagging for a few days — Johnnie — is unquestionably Voyager‘s least intelligent inhabitant. That statement would be no less true even if we had a retarded chinchilla aboard.
So Giselle sees Rod dying of shame, drops her rope, and tells Chloe to butt out: that it’s none of her business and she’s just being mean. It wasn’t the most eloquent remonstration I’d ever heard, but it certainly got the point across.
And it certainly got Chloe angry. Her complexion darkened. She looked Giselle up and down and said, “So, little Gazelle, you trying to get torn apart by a lion?” The way she was leaning forward made it quite clear that Chloe was nominating herself as the king — well, I guess the queen — of the beasts on our ship.