Short Story | ‘The Captain’ by Martin Hooijmans, Illustration by Lars de Ruyter
Wave after wave pounded against the ship’s hull. The Captain lay sprawled in a sea of cages, desperately trying to regain his footing. He knew he was the only one left. Everyone else had either been swept into the ocean or made it into the life boat. The Captain would go down with his ship.
Down below he heard the constant scurrying of the crabs, the only passengers that would make it out alive, and laughed at the irony. After so many years of putting the critters on other people’s plates, the Captain would end up on theirs. It was only justice.
A massive wave slammed the Captain against the railing, forcing him to abandon all breath he had left. Icy water washed down his throat, leaving him to cough madly. He would drown on deck, was sure of it, when his throat gave and all water, mixed in with chunks of dinner, flooded out.
During his sharp, painful intake of breath he spotted the presence that confirmed his fate. Long and thin, clothed in black, a skull-like face, Death stared down at the Captain.
“So it’s time,” the Captain growled.
Death shook his head, then pointed out to the ocean. The Captain watched just in time to see the life boat disappear beneath a wave. He turned back with a startled look on his face. “Them?”
Death smiled. “Or you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Death said, “that I am offering you a choice. Choose life, and your men will perish. Choose me, and I will take only you.”
The Captain looked over to the ocean, where his men desperately clung on to the overturned boat. Wave after wave threatened to swallow them, but strangely subsided each time. “Why do you do this?” he asked. He felt the fear deep in his gut. Not the fear of the cloaked man in front of him, but fear of himself. Fear of what he would choose.
“I measured the scales,” Death said. “I sensed that your soul is worth as much to me as all those of your men combined. Yours is quite…interesting, as your decision will prove.”
“I choose my men,” the Captain shouted on impulse. “You will take me.”
Death appeared in front of him, a mocking smile on his bony face. “Is that truly what you decide?”
He knew. The Captain felt Death’s eyes pierce deep into his true nature, his true self, his soul that pleaded life. He fought against it, not willing to accept, not willing to accept the darkness of his being. “It is,” he whispered.
“It is,” the Captain said, louder this time. He faced Death directly, defiantly.
“I see.” Death took a step back, his expression changed, disappointed. “I was mistaken.”
“Mistaken?” the Captain urged, but the dark figure had already disappeared. The screams of his men reached his ears, and he looked over to see a giant wave come down, dragging their souls into the depths of the ocean. “No!” he yelled. “Take me, I said, take me!” But it was too late. The water calmed. The storm subsided. It was over.
The Captain dropped onto the deck, and burst into tears. There had been no choice. There had never been one. He had chosen, and had lost his men. He couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had sacrificed them. Would Death have taken his treacherous soul?
It would have been for the better, he thought as the tears streamed down his cheeks. He didn’t deserve to live, for they weren’t tears of grief.
They were tears of relief. Tears of joy.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter