A Sleepier Hollow – Part one

October 1st, 2010

2:00 A.M.

 

The clouds gathered into shelves of grey marshmallows that looked as sickly and bloated as the headless corpse that was propped up in the alley behind the local sports bar in Bethlehem, Ohio. The bar was located on a short landing strip of street in the center of town surrounded by residential buildings that resembled crooked teeth jetting out of a diseased set of gums and was aptly named ‘Brutus’ after both its owner and the college mascot who was a dancing nut. The owner of Brutus’ never danced a day in his life nor was he all that nuts about dancing. Not that it mattered now. He had bigger things to worry about. The shadowy figure of a man knelt down in front of the headless corpse, his vinyl poncho sounding like crunching potato chips as he did so. From under the bloody blue poncho, he pulled out a chess piece and gently placed it on the gaping wound that once had a head attached to it. As he began to rise, he noticed a name tag still pinned to the headless corpse’s shirt. BRUTUS it read. The rain began to pat the man’s head with a patronizing rhythm then progressed to an antagonistic tap as the sky’s floodgates burst forth a torrential downpour and diluted the arterial spatters of blood on the man’s poncho into long purple streaks. He plucked off the name tag, sticking it in his pocket as he picked up a canvas bag Rorschach blotted with the corpse’s blood. The bag contained Brutus’ head and the man carrying the bag never knew that Brutus never danced a day in his life nor was all that nuts about dancing. A flash of lightning popped off and before the thunder rolled, the man had disappeared with Brutus’ head.

.

October 1st, 2010

4:00 A.M

 

The LED light on Detective Cillian Smoke’s cell phone flashed, momentarily followed by the electronic wail of the ringer. The phone flashed again, followed by another wail. Cillian Smoke, or Smoke as most people liked to call him even though he preferred Cillian, snatched the phone from his bedside table with the speed and precision of a striking snake. He had not been asleep though his mind and body craved it. He was finishing up a report for a previous case when the call came in. Without looking at the phone, Smoke flipped it open.

“Detective Smoke,” Smoke said in his deep, lulling voice.

“You always answer your phone like that?” A raspy voice on the other end asked.

“Not always. But who else would call at four in the morning besides work?”

“I guess that’s why you’re a detective.”

The voice on the other end was Captain Bill Hitchcock of the Bethlehem City Police Department. Bethlehem, in all technicalities, was not a city. Based on its population and zoned areas, legally, it was considered a township, however the town folk (or city folk if you lived in the town) took to calling Bethlehem a city due to its religious connotation. No one has ever corrected this oversight for fear of stirring up a holy wrath. Or so the local folklore goes. Travelers from other cities have a phrase they use for places like Bethlehem: ‘Blink-of-an-eye town.’ The theory was that if the traveler blinked while driving through, they would miss the town completely. A lot of things seemed to blink and miss Bethlehem including reliable internet services, cell phone towers, and almost anything developed in the past 20 years. For that reason,  the BCPD was often times referred to as the ‘Before Christ Police Department’ because of the ancient equipment they still had in use; even though the equipment was, functionality wise, more useful than the ever popular iPhone when within the city limits. Or town limits depending on the person’s outlook on population and zoning versus unholy wraths.

“We’ve got a problem,” Captain Hitchcock said with the static hiss of bad reception. “Need you down at Brutus’ bar…..fucking….a turtle with no head….with a chess piece….”

“Captain, you’re breaking up,” Smoke interjected. “Bad reception. All I caught is you’re fucking a turtle with no head with a chess piece at Brutus’ bar.”

“…that’s right…hello? Hello? Damn…”

A polite notifying beep indicated that Smoke’s received call had been lost. He always joked that if there was a virtual lost and found box for lost calls, it would be filled with calls made from cell phones in Bethlehem, Ohio.

Smoke’s phone rang again after he was already outside of his apartment and walking toward his unmarked Ford Crown Victoria cruiser.

“I’m on my way,” Smoke said as he answered the call while climbing into the car.

“Oh, you got all that?” Captain Hitchcock’s ruffled feathered voice asked. “Damn cell phones, I hate these things. When are they going to make this technology more reliable?”

“If you were in a city, you wouldn’t have reception problems.”

“What are you scratchin’ at Smoke? We are in a city.”

Captain Bill Hitchcock earned the title of ‘local bad boy’ at age five for being the youngest boy in Bethlehem to spend a night in the slammer after assaulting a clerk at the local grocer with multiple cans of creamed corn. The clerk had asked little Bill what his favorite game was to which little Bill delightfully responded, “WAR!” and without warning lobbed several unopened creamed corn grenades from a fortified position behind a stack of paper towels. The clerk ended up with a minor concussion and a couple of bruises. The police were called on account of little Bill’s father being the sheriff at the time. As a punishment and a lesson, he was made to stay in a jail cell overnight so he would be painfully aware of what happens to bad boys that play war with cans of creamed corn. The news of his incarceration was made public and an article ran in the Bethlehem Globe with the headline: WILD BILL HITCHCOCK RIDES AGAIN!

After a night in jail, little Bill Hitchcock was done having war as his favorite game and upgraded to cops and robbers which, to this day, he has not stopped playing. When Captain Hitchcock first told that story to Smoke three years ago, Smoke was confused as to why it was so funny. “Aw, come on, you know, Wild Bill Hitchcock? The outlaw from the Wild West?” he said expectantly.

“I’ve heard of Wild Bill Hickok but he was a lawman and a gambler,” Smoke responded then realized the humorous part was not in the story itself but the fact that for nearly 60 years Captain Bill Hitchcock of the Bethlehem City Police Department has been misinformed.

Smoke lived on the outskirts of Bethlehem which was less than five minutes away from his intended destination. Next month, it would be four years since he moved to the small city town and left the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was recruited into the F.B.I. straight out of college and was a lucrative field agent by the time he was 22. At 28, the agency considered his investigative intuitions to be an invaluable service to both his country and fellow man…at least, that’s what his honorary plaque said. On his 30th birthday, May 26th, 2006 to be precise, Cillian Smoke decided he was done with the bureau. Smoke was six foot and some change with orange hair, algae green eyes, and as slender as a pod of beans. With his hair and his build, he was a walking sore thumb that was forever made to stick out in a crowd which is why he never did any undercover work for the bureau. Not that he wanted to. Smoke was perfectly content analyzing the aftermath of a situation, piecing together possible scenarios, and finding the bad guy(s). What he was not content with was the partner his superiors assigned to him six months before he decided to quit and who, as it happened, was part of the reason Smoke decided to do so.

Smoke pulled up in front of Brutus’ bar and shut off the Crown Vic’s engine. A stream of yellow and black police ticker tape lightly fluttered from somewhere out of the darkness of the alley situated on the right side of Brutus’. As he got out and walked over to the mouth of the darkened alley, Smoke noticed several more pieces of yellow and black police tape littering the cracked cobblestone alleyway. “Follow the yellow and black brick road,” he mumbled to himself and did just that as he waved at the officer stationed at the front of the alley.  Beyond the ticker tape was a swarm of frantic flashlights buzzing around what Smoke already knew was a dead body. It was in the timid way the BCPD forensics team was moving around the crime scene that suggested something horrible had happened and the pungent aroma of evacuated bowels drove the nail home, so to speak. The BCPD was used to handling corpses; drug overdoses, gun shots, hit and runs, old age, but something was different about this one. The officers looked equally confused and frightened which was a perfect mixture to breed panic. Smoke spotted Captain Hitchcock among the buzzing swarm of flashlights right as one of the forensics technicians switched on two halogen floodlights, bathing the scene in a marigold color comparable only to the sun and vitamin enriched urine. Smoke stopped short of Captain Hitchcock and stared at the unorthodox victim in wonderment.

“He aint gonna be whistling Dixie,” Captain Hitchcock said as he noticed Smoke standing there. “That’s for damn sure.”

“Mm,” Smoke grunted as he moved closer to the body and knelt down in front of it. The chess piece sat there, amidst a host of coagulated blood, skin, and bone fragments, watching Smoke with a stone gaze as the piece itself was roughly hand-carved from a virgin white stone. The base of the piece was stained with blood; Small veins of red seeped and crawled upward into the virgin white territory of the piece, making it look even more menacing. He took a pair of gloves and an evidence baggie from a nearby kit then scratched a small indent into the side of the piece as he bagged it. “Alabaster,” he said as he handed the baggie up to Captain Hitchcock.

“Hot damn,” Captain Hitchcock said then chuckled and nudged Smoke while jiggling the evidence baggie, “brings a whole new meaning to giving/getting head. What do you think? Calling card? This is the knight, right? So, what, this guy thinks he’s some sort of vigilante knight or something?”

“Maybe,” Smoke said as he thought briefly, “but I would say, if that were the case, he would have chosen the black knight from the chessboard instead of the white.”

“Why’s that?”

“A dark knight signifies vigilantism, the ability and willingness to do something for the supposed ‘greater good’ no matter what the cost. Didn’t you ever watch Batman?” Smoke replied.

“Well, hell yes, I watched Batman,” Captain Hitchcock said with a wild look in his eye. “But I don’t remember him cutting off people’s heads.”

Smoke was pushing and prodding around the neck wound while listening to Captain Hitchcock ramble and responded with a series of “Uh-huh’s and Mm-Hm’s”

“This has the signs of being more personal,” he began. “Aside from the obvious condition of the victim’s body, he also has several fingernails that have been pulled out,” Smoke pointed to the corpse’s left hand which had mutilated fingertips where there used to be fingernails. “Have we identified him yet?”

“Still waiting on a positive ID,” Captain Hitchcock said. “The killer saw fit to take all forms of identification out of the victim’s wallet but left the money. At least we can rule out robbery.”

“Not necessarily,” Smoke said. “There is always identity theft. Has anyone found the head?”

“Not yet. Still looking.”

“This is not a one hit wonder, so to speak, you know that right?” Smoke gravely told Captain Hitchcock.

“I was afraid you’d say that. If that’s the case I’m going to have no choice but to get your old friends involved.”

“I was afraid you’d say THAT,” Smoke said as he shook his head. “Unless you need me for something else, I’m going to head over to the station and draw up some preliminary paperwork. If the bureau gets involved, it’s best to have a long paper trail in case they try to lose something.”

“Fair enough,” Captain Hitchcock replied as he watched Smoke turn to leave. “Oh, what about this?” he said as he waved the evidence baggie with the chess piece in Smoke’s direction.

“It looks like it could have been carved by the killer and I don’t think the calling card is meant to be read as ‘the white knight.’” Smoke said over his shoulder.

“What then?”

“’And behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him.’ Revelation 6:8” Smoke replied with a funny little grin then followed the yellow and black ticker tape brick road back out of the darkened alley and into an even darker world.

II

            Smoke spent the next few hours in his office typing up notes on his preliminary observations of the crime scene; Brain storming as people liked to call it. He had to wonder, only briefly, if his brain storming had caused the storm outside to reappear. It was early morning by now and the rest of the station began to slowly filter and eventually pour in like someone had pressed the brew button on a cosmic coffee pot with humans as the coffee grounds. Smoke never acquired a taste for coffee. He preferred Coke; the cola, not the drug. His office had a recycling bin that was full of coke cans, six of which were pitched in within the past two hours.

It had been 43 hours since Smoke had closed his eyes longer than the time it took to rub them in order to keep himself awake. As he rubbed his eyes vigorously, for the 156th time by his count, a violent knock rattled the plate glass in his office door and caused him to poke his left eye a little too hard with his thumb and bring unwarranted tears.

“Come in,” he said weakly.

Captain Hitchcock’s bald head poked through the door, looking like it had been freshly polished given its sheen and reflective prowess. Captain Hitchcock did not like people to know that he polished his head which is why everyone knew. No one ever said anything about it out of respect for the man’s privacy and fear for their jobs but they all chuckled about it around the donut table. Captain Hitchcock, for being 65 years old, was by no means an ugly man but he was not exactly material for a geriatric model either. ‘Handsome’ was the word that most people used to describe him. It was probably the grey, well-groomed mustache that earned him that title. He had a nose straight from Rome and a chin that could win a duel with Jay Leno’s chin if the prospect ever arose. His eyes were paper bag brown and his eyelids drooped so heavily that half the time it looked like he was asleep on his feet.

“We need to talk,” he said to Smoke as he sat in the rolling computer chair beside Smoke’s desk. “Are you crying? What happened? Did someone die? That was a little joke for you, to cheer you up. Seriously though, why are you crying?”

“I poked my eye,” Smoke replied as he wiped away the last of his tears. “Probably because you banged on my door like you were the police.”

“Funny.”

“I thought so too,” Smoke said with a quick smile. “What do we need to talk about?”

“We got an ID on that body,” Captain Hitchcock said as he opened Smoke’s small refrigerator and grabbed a coke. “You mind?”

“Help yourself.”

“You’re going to turn yourself into a diabetic, you keep drinking these the way you do,” Captain Hitchcock pulled the tab on the top of the can, releasing the carbonation with a quick ‘fsssed’ sound then pulled the tab completely off and threw it in the trash. “So I know which one is mine,” he said pointing to the top of his can. “Anyway, the victim’s name was Brutus.”

“The dancing nut?” Smoke asked playfully.

“Ha! I wish. I hate that damn nut. No, this was a one, Brutus Ackerman.” Captain Hitchcock said as he slapped a manila folder down on Smoke’s desk. “He owned Brutus’ bar, conveniently enough, and was no stranger to the inside of our lovely prison’s walls. Four counts of assault, three domestic disputes, firearm possession, drug trafficking, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“In other words he probably has a few enemies,”

“More than likely. I’ve met the guy a couple of times before. Can’t say I knew him but didn’t much care for him either. Nonetheless, I don’t think he deserved decapitation. But hey, at least he died doing what he loved, right?”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Smoke said as he flipped through the folder. “He could have hated his job.”

Letter #4 – Panamanian Pandemonium

December 10th, 1851

Dearest Tiberius,

Fortune has smiled upon this voyage over the past few months. My last correspondence (an embarrassing three months ere) was riddled with ill-tidings and misfortunes so, in the spirit of the upcoming Christmas holiday, this letter will be of Yule-tidings and good fortunes. Bully! As it stands, the Salty Beggar made it through Cape Horn and Drake’s Passage with little complications save for a generous sized rip in the foretop sail. It took a matter of days to patch her up and has lasted through until we made it to port in Panama no more than three days ago. There is a lot of hustle and bustle in Panama. It would seem, according to the locals and newspapers, that a group of financiers from New York came a few years ago and started what they are calling the Panama Railroad Company. The plan is to connect east to west via a railway line. They say that the railway is being built to expedite the travel of country, company, and common man alike. Sounds like just another step in eliminating the usage of ships to me. The newspapers are also scattershot with stories of the El Dorado amounts of gold that is being found in California…It sounds like, if I may be so bold as to voice my opinion, that the railway and its constituents have the same intentions as a toll on a taxed roadway. The building of the railroad after the discovery of what is said to be endless amounts of gold seems to be more than just a coincidental conjunction of events. I very well could be wrong though. I would be more than pleased to be in err about the intentions of this railway and would admit it openly if that were the case. However, such predictions as mine are founded in the bosom of experience which, in mine and the opinion of greater men than me such as Leonardo DaVinci, Ferdinand Magellan, and Nicholas Copernicus (to name a brief few), far outweighs the learning of secondhand book knowledge. Experience rarely steers a man wrong. Please do not take my opinion on book learning to be contemptuous towards graduates such as you for, they are not. Such learning has vast advantages when paired with experience. Yet, it gives me great pity and grievance when students can become masters by book learning alone and without the proper and due experience. I know that you are of the former and not the latter in that you have combined experience with book knowledge which is why my statements could not possibly be in regards to you. You may see my words as drowning in negative thought but, oh dear brother, nothing could be further from the truth. It is not with a negative heart and thoughts that I pen these words of wild wisdom, but instead with an astonished heart and concerned thoughts. What will the future hold if the world contains nothing but inexperienced, self-proclaimed, book learned masters? Pandemonium is the answer to that question, Tiberius. Again, my mind drifts…but what do you expect, I’m on the sea! Bully again I say!

While a few of the crewman have taken their week’s leave to nurse their more unsuitable habits (whoring, excessive drinking, gambling, and the like), many have remained aboard to prepare for the next leg of the journey, including myself and Mr. Bradley Newton. The good Doctor West has joined the band of few and is potentially sulking over his wrongful diagnosis of the sled dogs through the bottom of a bottle or between the legs of some hammertoe hussy (he was very adamant before he left that he would either be doing one, the other, or both). Most of the time, I feel no compassion toward the doctor’s overall attitude, but when he left the ship he looked as though the wind had been let out of his sails, in a manner of speaking. It was a new look for the doctor and not a suiting one at that so, I empathized with the man even if in silence and at a distance. I suppose I am the reason for taking the wind out of his sails so I should have offered to buy the poor man a drink at the very least. I would spare my money on buying him a whore as that is more foolish than a drink and twice as dangerous. Not that I would know personally as I lack experience with whores, but I’ve known plenty of men that tell of stories best kept between their mouths and God’s ears. Back on topic, the doctor was more than assured that the dead sled dogs I spoke of in my last letter had died of the unnatural sun poisoning he says happens near equatorial areas. Where he attains this knowledge, he still has not revealed. However, my theory was more grounded in the idea that there was foul play about. In the end, with the help of Mr. Bradley Newton, my theory won out. What the doctor fails to understand is that as his Captain, I could easily sentence him to months in the brig for his outbursts of insubordination. I do not do this for the simple facts that it would only worsen relations between me and the doctor and that the doctor’s assistant is nowhere near as skilled as the doctor himself. For all the naysaying I may do about the doctor, his skill in his profession is unrivaled so far as I’ve seen. Even compared to you, dear brother, he could still cast a shadow over your skill. Do not take that as negative criticism toward you, as you are a greater doctor than most, but you must realize there will always be someone better. I only wish that you were here so that you might learn from the man as your attitude is far superior to his. In any case, two men came forward and admitted to slaying the sled dogs and making it resemble the uncanny deaths of three crewmen in order to cover it up. The names of the slayers were John Steeple Tonmil and Thomas Treehorn. It was through a brilliant strategy of Mr. Bradley Newton that we were able to coax the culprits into confessing their crimes. He spread a rumor that anyone who had come into contact with the dead sled dogs was potentially poisoned by some fictional blood disease the dogs carried. Had the men realized the folly in their coming forward, I do not suspect that they would have ever been found out. In the end, their fear of disease overcame them and they admitted to killing the dogs. Though, their story as to why they killed the dogs was compelling to say the least. To avoid any collaboration of stories, Mr. Newton and I took the two men and questioned them separately. During my sessions with the men, I invited Doctor West to join me and listen to the testimonies. He was hesitant at first, but eventually came and listened. These two men, caretakers for the dogs no less, claimed that the dogs had gone mad over some trinket that a fellow crewman had shown them. In frankness, they said that the entire team of dogs went raving mad at the sight of this supposed trinket, but it was only the two that managed to escape and chase after them. At that point, they say it was kill or be killed and thus slayed the two dogs. There were so many questions left unanswered which put reasonable doubts in the story. For instance, where is this trinket, nay, where is the crewman that owns the trinket that drove the dogs mad? To this, Mr. Tonmil and Mr. Treehorn could not answer. If the dogs had broken out of the cages, why were the cages still intact? Again, they could not answer. Why was it that neither one of them (or all three of them was the case in their story) were injured by the pursuing dogs? Two large men (or three) running down the narrow corridors of the ship being chased by two smaller animals that have more room to move seems ill matched. Someone would have gotten bitten, mauled, or at the very least scratched. If the dogs were mad with rage as the men claimed they were. Yet, after an examination by the doctor, there was not a hair out of place on either Mr. Tonmil or Mr. Treehorn. For this, neither of them could account. Regardless, they spent a meager 35 days in the brig and have found their permanent port of harbor in Panama. I do not wish to have those sorts of men aboard my ship. Although they did admit to killing the dogs, they would not, even under threat of spending more time in a jail in Panama, admit that their story was fabricated. Makes a man wonder sometimes what drives a man to believe his own lies even when he has nothing left to lose. Needless to say, the testimony of the men is the cause for the doctor’s melancholia.

Against my better judgment, I have taken on a passenger that is traveling to the Sandwich Islands. His name is Mister Vermillion H—. A travelling snake oil salesman, if you ask me, he claims to have “secret remedies and knowledge of things unknown.” His words. Not mine. He has added a formidable amount of food provisions and medical supplies as payment for his passage of which I cannot complain about. He also tried to pay me a fair amount of gold although I had to refuse his offer due to his other contributions. Beware the Greeks bearing gifts is all I can think. It is in my nature to be wary especially around these parts. Mr. H— is a Panamanian and though his English is not spot on, his style of suit is. I am sure he is often times mistaken for a powerful businessman as opposed to a travelling healer. I have not had much time to talk to the man but the weeks ahead will provide more than enough time to better get acquainted with my guest. It was a strange way that he found my ship to begin with. As we docked, he seemed to be waiting there as though he knew the Salty Beggar would be his transport. I cannot quite explain this properly. All I can say is that Mr. H— is a strange man indeed. I hope that this letter reaches you well and that your holiday is one of joy and prosperity. Give my love to your wife and child.

Sincerely,

Capt. Edgar P. Wright

Letter #3 – Around The Cape

September 13th, 1851

Tiberius,

These past few months have slipped away from me like plankton through the belly of a whale. It seems every time I sit down to write you, another issue arises on the ship that I must tend to. I am sure you will forgive my hiatus between letters. We are days away from Cape Horn and as we draw nearer, the wind develops a chill that no fur or heavy coat seems to shake. A dead of winter day in your mountain home of Arkham cannot begin to compare to the cold my crew and I are experiencing. It is not just the temperature I speak of either. There is an unspoken fear of what lies in wait for us around the cape that has put man, beast (in my own negligence I have failed to previously mention the 12 sled dogs we have aboard), and, now, me on edge. To compound matters further, we have had two more uncanny deaths on the Salty Beggar. It was not crewman this time, but two of the sled dogs. Doctor West has determined the dogs were ailed by the same form of sun poisoning that the three crewmen we lost over the past two years were taken by. Indeed, you could see the same queer green color of skin where patches of fur had fallen out, but for the good doctor to assess the cause of death was the same as the crewmen, puts a reasonable doubt in my mind. There was something more malicious about the death of the dogs…Their intestines had been ripped from their stomachs and their teeth looked as though they had been smashed with some form of bludgeoning force. The doctor and I have been in a steady state of disagreement regarding the cause of death of the sled dogs. I suspect foul play , though, on a ship with 137 crewman, narrowing down the list of possible suspects is a task to say the least. Doctor West defends his position that it was sun poisoning with an almost uncalled for vigor. He feels that I have undermined his training as a medical professional by suggesting foul play as an option! And what’s more, he accuses me of knowing nothing of the medical field! He is, of course, unaware that father was head of the medical board at the Edinburgh branch of Miskatonic University and that you and I were privy to endless vistas of medical knowledge. I know that father wished for us both to be medical professionals, but you were always more like him than I. I am grateful that he got half of his wish before he passed. Nostalgia aside, only Mr. Bradley Newton (my first mate in case you don’t recall) knows of my upbringing around the medical field and I prefer to keep it that way. Too many people knowing too much about their captain gives way to too much vulnerability that could be used against him. I know I have rambled about the ship’s crew being as family and to that I hold fast, but every family has secrets. Even ours. To think otherwise would be foolish and naïve. I have tried to keep the sled dog incident under wraps for the time being, but trickling whispers of rumors echo through the ship as quick as a venom through the veins and I am fairly sure almost every man aboard is aware of the incident only three days after it happened. I plan on investigating further into my theory of foul play without Doctor West’s knowledge and with the aid of Mr. Bradley Newton. As I said, every family has secrets. What matters most is the purpose of the secrecy, I surmise. I do what seems underhanded to the doctor in order to keep the peace. I do not think any man can judge me and say that peace among a family is not worth a few secrets unless those secrets are in some way harmful to another’s wellbeing. All that could be harmed, in this case, is Doctor West’s ego. At this pivotal point in the journey, a ship-wide panic is a folly that we can all do without and I will stop at nothing to avoid said folly. I apologize, dear brother, for my agitated and restless words. Understand that, outside of you, Mr. Bradley Newton, and the skies above, I have no one to talk to about matters such as these. Another incident on board has spooked the more superstitious crew members (as though two dead sled dogs were not enough already). One of my officers, John Murphy Doyle, mistakenly shot an albatross (claiming he thought it was a goose) which, by some phantom wind blown by the devil himself, landed on the ship’s wheel. I do not give credence to the supernatural tales that have spawned from Coleridge’s poem; however most of the crewmen do, in part due to the fact that most of them were raised in sea-faring families. I must apologize for the brevity of this letter as I am meticulously preparing for the next few days. Once around the Cape, I will update you further on other matters I have failed to mention here.

Your brother,

Capt. Edgar P. Wright

*Gustave Dorè’s Ancient Mariner illustration

Letter #2 – The Journey South

June 20th, 1851

Dearest Tiberius,

It has been two weeks since we left port from Bermuda. Our course sets us due south, following the coast of South America and to eventually pass between Cape Horn and Drake’s Passage on the southernmost tip of this vast continent. From there, we change course and travel north, up the western coast of South America until we make port in Panama. I cannot say I much like the idea of harboring in Panama. Plenty of unsavory folk about those parts. You hear tales from time to time of pirates and the pearl islands. How much truth is in the tales, is any man’s guess. But, when you hear the tale enough times, your mind starts to wonder if there is not some truth in the fiction of a liar’s tongue. Once we reach Panama and refit the Salty Beggar with food, medical, and any other type of provision that may be needed, then we strike out for the Sandwich Islands. As we draw closer to Cape Horn, the weather becomes nearly unbearable. The doctor has mistakenly informed the crew of the potential for that hideous form of sun poisoning as we draw nearer to the equator. The problem is, the ship’s doctor (whose name I just realized I’ve forgotten to mention), Herman West, has no clue what the early onset signs of this sun poisoning may be. So now any ache, pain, strange tingle, or fanciful tickle is being reported to the good doctor as a potential sign of this uncanny ailment. A bunch of crewman trying to get free of their duties if you ask me. I can look at them and tell they are fit as any man ever could be, but the doctor feels that it is better to look into these complaints than to ignore them. I digress and say that I do see his point although, I am still unsatisfied by the two day work restraint that he feels he must put them on while they are under his care. It’s not such a large number of crewmen that have made complaints to the doctor though. 26 in all with one of them being an officer. I imagine any job has a band of misfits comprised of any number of peoples. It looks to be that I have 26 of them in my band. The Salty Beggar is still afloat and that is all that matters in the grand scheme of things. I have included a trinket from the Caribbean for you and your family to enjoy. It is called a conch shell. The natives hollow them out and turn them into horns. The local legend goes, if you hold them to your ear, you can hear the ocean. Seeing as how I am always near the ocean, my ears are somewhat biased to this particular legend so I cannot properly verify this tale. Be sure to let me know if you can indeed hear the sea. Although, the last time you were near a sea was when you were eight years old so I doubt you could properly remember the sound. Well, at any rate, it makes a nice trinket, to be sure, and (by blowing in the small hole on the end) you can use it as a horn if the occasion ever called for it.

I would be a fool if I did not say I was a bit uneasy about our trek between Cape Horn and Drake’s Passage. Many ships have been lost to the sea out there. God willing, the weather will be favourable and the Albatross’ will keep to themselves. Thankfully, it will be at least another three months before we are at the mercy of those strong westerly winds of the roaring forties. Pray for my safe passage, Tiberius. Nay, pray for mine and my crew’s safe passage, for they are as close as family. Oh, how I wish you were here to share a sip of spirits. I would give you the grand tour of my quarters, if only you were here. Ah well, I will sip one with you in my heart and describe them as best as I can. After all, I am no writer. Just an unimaginative ship’s captain. Had I a storyteller on board, I would have him write this part of the letter though I fear you would know it was not penned by my hand. Alas, though, there is not a storyteller among us. My quarters are simple yet, elegantly refined. My desk and book shelves are carved of the finest grain koa wood from the Sandwich Islands. A rare commodity indeed, but only to the right people. I have a cot that  I sleep on, same as every man in my crew. I could have spent a dowry on a nice feather bed, but I opted to, instead, give my crew the finest threads and provisions. I do this for a very simple reason. You see, most captains I have had the liberty of meeting live with comforts that their crew only dreams about. The lot of these captains have also been lost to either mutiny or their own uncontrollable urges of greed. This is something I hope to avoid at all costs which is why I do not overindulge in the finer things. I do keep little spoils for myself on occasion though, locked away safe. Barrel-aged whiskey to be more specific. My first mate, Bradley Newton, and myself oft times sit down for a snuff of this unlabeled spirit and discuss matters regarding family, ship, and crew though, as I have said, they are all one in the same at this point. If ever there was a man I trusted more than you, my own brother, it would be Mr. Bradley Newton. A fine fellow indeed and a soon to be father. He is the eyes in the back of my head and the ears in the walls on the Salty Beggar. Though, I do not suspect I am in need of such things, it is better to be prepared than not. I hope all is well with you and yours and will write as duty permits it.

Your Brother,

Capt. Edgar P. Wright

Letter #1 – A Ship’s Captain

May 29th, 1851

Dear Tiberius,

A home should bring about feelings of security, warmth, and protection. To most people (especially where you are in that desolate mountain town you call home) when you say “home,” they immediately think of a house. A house equals safety in the common man’s eyes to put it in more rudimentary terms. So then, I ask you, my dear Tiberius, if a house is safety to the common man, then what is the sea? I will tell you. The sea is danger, the unknown, uncertainty, and fear to the common man. But then, do you not consider me a common man? Yes. I know you do. Yet, I find more comfort on the sea than I ever have in a house. So, for all intents and purposes, let us say that a home, to me, is the gentle sway of a ship at sea. That is what gives me the greatest sense of security, warmth, and protection. It is the houses high up on their hills in mountain towns such as yours that give me the overwhelming feeling of fear, danger, uncertainty, and the unknown. Hard to believe I’ve been at sea now for over two years and it has been twice as long since I’ve visited the cottage in which you and I were born and raised.  Though we are brothers, do you not find it strange that we should be so different? But that is the way of the world, I imagine. In my two years at sea, I have beheld wonders only whispered about by the imaginative tongues of the travelling storytellers. I’ve also witnessed a few indecent tragedies. Just last week, we found another crewman with strange lesions on his eyes and unnatural color of skin. I tell you Tiberius, though you will think me mad, the dead crewman’s skin was as green as blade of grass in the early summer. That makes three strange deaths in these two years, all of them in similar fashion. Ackerman Stultz was the first, then Warsaw Hunnigton, and now Chase McGannon. All of them outstanding crewman, God rest their souls. The ship’s doctor reports it was a form of sun poisoning conducive to regions of the tropics and around the equator. Lord knows we have seen our fair share of both. How strange it is that the same luminary body which is responsible for giving life can also destroy it in such vicious and queer ways. You must understand, Tiberius, these men’s faces were not ones of a serene passing. On the contrary. The three crewman who died all died with faces of frozen fear and horrific surprise. Their mouths were twisted in such a way as though they were in mid-scream as their last breath stole out of them. Except Warsaw Hunnigton. The whole bottom half of his jaw was torn off and lost to the sea. It was no surprise seeing as how long the body had been left to rot before we found it. Nearly two weeks, according to the doctor. The poor fool must have gone delirious once the sun poisoning set in and crawled into the bow of the ship through a passage I thought only wide enough for a rat to fit through. I’ve been rambling on about these grotesque tragedies for far too long. You must understand though, such tragedies weigh heavy on a man’s mind. Especially when that man is the captain of his first ship such as myself. Oh how my mind can drift from time to time. But what do you expect? I’m on the sea! Bully! There’s a bit of sea-faring humor for you. I’ve nearly forgotten to mention the name of my ship. She is called the Salty Beggar. I know, she does not sound as grandiose and the HMS Beagle, carrying about loon scientist such as the Darwin fellow. What, with a name like Salty Beggar, you probably think her to be more suited for the scrap yard or perhaps, worse still, a ship in league with persons of piracy! I assure you, dear brother, she is a simple merchant ship and simple merchandise is what we ship. The vessel itself is called a Bergantina. She is medium sized, equipped with 25 guns (God forbid we ever have to use them), five officers, a doctor, a chaplain, and 137 crewman minus the three that have lost their lives over the past two years. We are currently in port off the coast of the Bermuda Islands and will be shipping out again in one week for the Orient. I promise I will write more so do not be alarmed if you receive a bundle of correspondence in the post from time to time. I can only mail letters when in a port of harbor you see. Give my love to your wife and newborn son. I hope this letter finds you in good health and the graces of God.

Sincerely,

Edgar P. Wright

Captain of the Salty Beggar

The Beginning

January 25th, 1882

Dear Mr. Hildebrant,

Per your correspondance, I have enclosed the requested letters from my uncle’s estate; although, if I may be so bold in saying so, I cannot quite grasp your fascination with such discombobulated rants of lunacy such as is contained in these letters. In point of fact, sir, I cannot for the life of me recall my uncle ever mentioning you as either a business acquaintance or friend though; it is not my place to ask questions. The letters are yours according to my uncle’s last will and testament and I have kept them safe these15 years while awaiting your correspondence to acquire this bestowment. You must understand, Mr. Hildebrant, 15 years is a long time to keep something without wondering its contents and how was I to know you actually existed? As I stated previously, I had no recollection of your name. When I opened the box, almost 12 years after my uncle’s death, I was captivated to see the letters penned in my uncle’s hand. So, you must forgive my prying eyes, for I have read a majority of these letters. Please, heed these words of warning: If you have any respect for the memory of the man you thought you knew, do not read these letters. I can say that, after having read through most of these letters with bewildered astonishment coursing through my veins, being his flesh and blood was not enough to keep my opinion of him untarnished. The quiet, strategic thinking, sane man we apparently both knew as Edgar Pickman Wright, is not the man that you would, in your wildest dreams, believe could have written the accounts of such hideous and unbelievable rubbish contained herein.

I urge you sir to, again, take heed to my warning.

God Speed,

J.J. Wright