Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the ACTION and/or ADVENTURE Genre (11/13/14)
TITLE: A Cabin Boy’s Prayer
By JK Stenger
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God help me.
Just hours ago, he had been on the Harlingen, on his way to the Far East, but the ship had been destroyed by the cannons of a Spanish war ship. 1
Two months ago, he had asked the captain of the Harlingen if he could join the crew.
The captain had laughed. "How old are you, boy? Where's your Mama?"
"I am fourteen. I donâ€™t have a mother anymore," Johan had said, fighting back tears. She had died a few months prior. What else was there to do but to become a sailor?
"I'll do anything, Captain. Sweep the deck, clean the latrines, anythingâ€¦"
"Life at sea is rough. We sail to the New World for spices. We'll be gone for a year, maybe twoâ€¦Only God knows. You believe in God, boy?"
"Yes, sir," Johan had answered.
"Good. Youâ€™ll need Him."
On the first of May,1634, the Harlingen, a barque in service of the Dutch merchant marine, the VOC 2, left the Amsterdam Harbor and set sail to the Far East.
That was two terrible lonely months ago. Especially the taunts of first mate Tomas had been hard to take.
â€śYou butterfingered nincompoop. Canâ€™t you do anything right?â€ť
Tomas seemed to have made it his mission to make Johanâ€™s life unbearable with crude remarks, unreasonable commands and physical abuse. Violent and unpredictable as a raging storm, he had been at sea for most of his life. When it was storming he would shout, "Wretched Johan, climb the mast." Whenever Johan was seasick he would yell, "Johan, you miserable shrimp, clean the tables."
At least he was delivered now from Tomas.
Johan recalled the fires, the screams, terrified faces, dead bodies, wreckage and fear. The Spaniards had shown no mercy and kept shooting their cannons at the helpless vessel. Johan had jumped overboard, together with some others and now he was alone, at the mercy of the elements and in the hands of God.
What was that?
Something was floating on the water. More wreckage?
Johan paddled towards the object.
It was Tomas!
His tormentor lay on a piece of driftwood, apparently unconscious.
Let him be. Weâ€™ll both die.
Johan stared at the bony, unshaven face with the closed eyes. Had he ever seen this man smile?
No, I must help himâ€¦
Help Tomas? No way. He deserves to die. Besides, what can I do? â€¦I'll leave him to the sharks.
Johan gazed at the endless sea and the dark and gloomy skies. Nobody alive, except he and his tormentor. Was this a cruel joke of the Creator?
Johan paddled up to the driftwood and called out Tomasâ€™ name.
He was bleeding badly. In minutes the sharks would pick up the scent. Johan gently touched his shoulder.
The older man opened his eyes.
â€śJohan. You wretched shrimp. You survived.â€ť
Johan grabbed Tomas' hand.
"It's just us now."
Tomas licked his parched lips. â€śWe are going to die, you miserable mouse.â€ť
â€śTomas, we need to pray. Only God can help us now.â€ť
â€śPray? What good has that ever done?â€ť Tomasâ€™ breathing was labored, his voice barely more than a whisper. â€śI prayed once. But God didnâ€™t care. Mother died that day. It was the day I stopped believing and became a cabin boy, like you.â€ť
"It's not too late, Tomas!"
"Too late for what?"
"Pray with me Tomas!â€ť
â€śLeave me, shrimp. Itâ€™s all over.â€ť
But Johan was determined and started to pray.
â€śDear God, we are so afraid. I believe in You. Give Tomas and me courage and help us.â€ť
Thomas snickered and closed his eyes again.
For some time they didnâ€™t speak and quavered on the sea, knowing death was imminent.
How long before the end will come?
â€śYoho! Anyone alive? Yoho!â€ť
A manâ€™s voice cut through the silence.
Johan looked up. A short distance away a sloop from the Harlingen was bobbing on the waves, with two survivors.
â€śHere! Over here!â€ť Johan shouted it out.
Minutes later they were in the sloop. Not out of danger, but things were looking up. Johan smiled and silently offered thanks to God. God would not abandon them. That much was sure.
Tomas eyed him suspiciously.
â€śAre you praying again, shrimp?â€ť
Keep on praying, lubber. Keep on praying. We never needed it more.â€ť
1. The Protestant Dutch were at war with the Catholic Spaniards from 1568 until 1648 and fought many fierce battles. Both countries were seafaring nations and together with the English and the Portuguese competed for dominance of the seas.
2. The VOC (United East Indian Company) was a Dutch trading company that had a monopoly in the trade with the East. At the time, it was the biggest trading company in the world.
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