If any had survived, they would have recounted — with wide-eyed horror — how the Capten was singing when it happened. Not just singing but bellowing at the top of his lungs; so loud they wondered how his voice did not crack with the strain.
He couldn’t have known that it would kill him and, as a consequence, it would kill all the others as well. That was how it worked. That was the point. If one could detect the insidious nature of the thing, could spot the evil as it twisted its vines around the fragile human brain, poisoning, corrupting… well, then you might be able to stop it. Might be able to rip the weeds out before they strangled the entire garden. Then you might stand a chance.
The evil knew this, and so it was meticulous in its spreading. It was a game, really. The greatest game of all.
And the stakes were oh so high.
It grinned in the darkness as it reached out and touched his mind. Ah, so weak! Yes, so easy to commandeer! So delicious, so sumptuous, so sweet were those memories, those thoughts, those emotions! It rifled through the recollections as one flicks through a scrapbook, looking, looking, looking, searching for something, anything… There! Oh, yes. Perfect! It crowed to itself, the somehow rusty laugh the sound of pure and utter madness.
Softly at first, so as not to frighten him — in a way not dissimilar to the manner in which a hunter approaches an easily-spooked deer — it began to sing to him, following the familiar lilting melody almost exactly, filling the Capten’s inner eye with visions of his father’s fingers dancing across the hand-carved instrument, flooding his senses with warm childhood nostalgia. A puerile grin spread across the man’s face, as his ears were tricked with a cheap facsimile of his old Da’s flute.
And then, once it was satisfied that the man was sufficiently pacified, it ripped his brain in two as easily as one would tear a loaf of bread. The man winced in pain and almost cried out — but by then it had reached inside his halved mind and silenced the action, numbed the pain, flooded his gullible, believing nervous system with an onslaught of positive neurotransmitters.
And then the man was silent once more, eyes glassy, mouth slightly agape in a simpering smile, a small glob of drool trickling down his chin.
After a while, he began to hum. A few of the boys grinned and hummed with him. Soon after, the hum became a song. More of the men still smiled at the melody, for it was one they all knew. A few even joined in, singing along softly when they could remember the old words.
The Capten cycled through the song once, twice, thrice, volume ever increasing. “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,” he sang.
One by one, the accompanying voices fell away, and brows were soon furrowed with frowns. Several exchanged a concerned glance, unspoken questions written upon their countenances. “Capten?” someone asked, but the word drifted past him, like a cloud in the sky. Observed, to some extent, but mostly ignored.
“Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.”
“Capten, is ev’rythin’ all righ’?”
But the Capten kept singing, and his hands remained glued to the helm with a white-knuckle grip. They would try to pry him away, eventually — try and fail.
The barrelman was the first to see what was to come and shouted down his warning from the crow’s nest.
Some of the men tried to reason with the man at the helm of the ship, but they found it was akin to speaking with a corpse. “Capten, please!” they begged, as the barrelman continued to scream and swear from above.
One man even attempted to pry the wheel out of his hands. The Capten didn’t look away from the oncoming isle of Boddi Craig and removed only one hand from the wheel when he delivered a deft blow to the usurper’s Adam’s apple, crushing his windpipe with brutal precision. The poor fellow collapsed onto the deck, hands scrambling at his own neck as others ran about him like panicked ants, trying and failing to save him.
“Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,” continued the Capten, either blissfully unaware of wholly ignoring them.
A few more tried to move the man but he was stout, immovable like a statue. Even the biggest of them could barely budge the entranced Capten, and several were soon acquainted with the deck for their endeavours. The rest looked on with dawning horror, all-too-aware of what was looming, not wanting to risk the wrath of the man their Capten had become to stop it.
And then, impossibly so, his voice grew louder as if with drunken cheer. The Capten’s men knew that he was no friend of the bottle, however.
“Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad!
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau!
O bydded i’r heniaith barhau!”
Only the first mate — a decent fellow by the name of Elis — was wise enough to understand what needed to be done, and braver still to attempt to do it. “I’m sorry, Capten,” he whispered as he approached from behind with a knife that glinted in the starlight. “Duw forgive me.”
He might have succeeded, were it not for the freak wave that rolled the ship.
Had at least one of those poor souls survived the night, they’d have said that such a wave was impossible, especially under the weather conditions. “Out o’ nowhere it lurched, like a behemoth, up from th’ depths,” they might have said, had their lungs not been full of seawater. “It came without a warnin’.”
The first mate was thrown from the ship and into the icy blackness, knife tumbling from his open hand into the waters alongside him, his face a potent mixture of surprise, fear, and knowing dread. His head bobbed to the surface once, and only once. Whether it was the water that killed him or whether it was a stealthy ocean beast that took him, his fate remains knowledge privy to only the Great God Above and poor Elis himself.
As for the Capten, his hands remained locked to the helm, sturdy sea legs riding the wave as if it were no more than a ripple. And his song never faltered.
He was smiling as he crashed the ship into the rocks.
Smiling and singing.
19th May 2020
Written for the May 2020 #BlogBattle