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The Storyteller

“You see, it was down about Cape Horn that it ‘appened, back in ’49. We were takin’ a boatload of those consarned Yankee minin’ fellows to Californy in the early days of the rush. I was first mate of the brig Hampshire in those days, had Geoffrey Sikes as skipper on the voyage—you lads remember ‘im, don’t you?” A few nods around the room and the storyteller continued, sipping his pint contentedly. “Well, like I say, I was first mate at the time, working my way up to become a master’s mate. We was on our way round the Horn, running into some ‘eavy weather—those Yankees were leaning over the rail, puking their guts out all the way. Maybe that’s what aroused the blighter, I’ll never know. Anyway, we were there one moment, forging forward through the gale—we had reefed most of the sail so it wouldn’t get torn, ended up losing the top-gallant yards in the process—but we were still making progress. And, all of a sudden, this fellow rises up off our stern. Lord ‘elp me if he wasn’t higher than our mizzen.” The seaman paused and took another long sip, deliberately drawing his audience out. Finally one of them asked, “Really?” “Gospel truth, boy. Well, I thought it was a big wave at the first, then I saw his eyes. Just like flames of fire, piercing through the storm. Then his jaws opened and a roar like a thousand cannons hit our ship, nearly knocking us over on our beam-ends. Men were screaming like children. The shortest of his teeth were as long as my cane, and each of them razor-sharp. The skipper ordered me and the midshipman, Jim ‘Arkins, to train the carronade on the blighter, but before we could react, the monster took a bite out of the stern, oak planks snapping like matchsticks. The ship lurched and began to go down fast by the stern and I knew right then that we were doomed. I rushed to the stern to inspect the damage and it was bad. I looked up and saw the monster right on top of me, his jaws closing for a second time. I tried to move, but it was too late. There was nothin’ I could do.” Another long draught as the sailor slaked his thirst, replacing the empty pint on the top of the bar. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, seeming in no hurry to finish his story. “What happened?” Someone asked. A grin crossed his wizened, leathery face. “Well, then the monster ate me. . .”

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