Monday, August 28, 2006

Finking It

His Assistant continues the story...

One of the peculiar features in the lush environs that we found ourselves in was the sizable breadfruit tree. Its canopy was not unlike a large elm in terms of breadth and height, but its leafiness bespoke of its polynesian requirements as if nature had mixed a tree with a head of lettuce.

Breadfruit was our staple as it was easy to harvest and could be prepared in a multitude of ways. Finknottle was quite adept with breadfruit. He served it fried, singed on skewers, baked in all manner of ways with the aid of a variety of tools made from clam and coconut shells. In one variant, my master would roast the breadfruit until it was real soft and let the rind slip off into a vessel of water where he would promptly stir it into a thick drink-like consistency. While he was particularly fond of this concoction and would often mix arva root in it and called it a 'Polynesionpolitan,' I preferred a more solid form of the breadfruit.

As I just alluded, Finknottle had discovered an arva grove inland during one of his a reconnaissance treks. After lamenting the lack of snuff, he returned chewing on an arva root, quite pleased that he found a suitable substitute. In addition to this medicinal substance, he experimented with making the various berries on the island into wines and he made extensive use of a sugarcane-like plant that grew wild among groves of coconut trees. Finknottle also knew about the different ages of the coconuts and which dishes could be prepared from each. The viands that my master offered developed into a pleasing cuisine certainly better than anything served up on the Sassy Wench, whether the captain's fowl or the ship's rats.

For the first few nights, the captain ate with us and slept under the thatched roof that Finknottle had made, but he resented it and you could tell so every time you glanced in his direction, because he would be in the shadows of the camp, some several meters away, staring menacingly at us, the campfire reflected sharply in his eyes and the glowed red off his pink white skin. Eventually, after he regained some of his strength, he withdrew from the camp entirely and slept in a cave on the beach. After that, he rarely came into eye contact with either of us at all. The master would leave food and water out at night and it would invariably be gone the next morning. Every now and then we would notice him at a distance, usually when he waded out into the water looking for fish or occasionally through the glen at a fair distance where he would have already noticed me. At some point, he stopped taking the food every night and would usually satisfy himself with the water and, if Finknottle chose, the berry wine. While rummaging for a leafy substance that Finknottle requested, I came across a clearing where the captain evidently ate his food, given all the fish bones scattered about, and beyond that, where he more or less shat like a wild creature. The horror and odor of that spot on the island sent me returning briskly to the camp.

"Sir," I said to my master later that night, "I do not trust that captain. He seems at times to be stalking me."

"You worry so, Scribble," Finknottle answered, while chewing on some arva root, "he needs us for sustenance, you are quite safe."

"Yes, but I saw where he has been living and he seems to be less human these days. I'm not sure if reason has been his companion of late."

"True, true. And who knows what he's capable of when he's hallucinating from the wine. I thought he might become a Caliban of sorts to do my bidding, but he truly has turned into a wild creature of sorts. I would not recommend that you startle him or interrupt his feeding, if you can help it. Nor approach him if he appears to be wounded. I'll consider reducing the amount of piquant stimulants available to him. And he must not discover the arva groves.

As it would later turn out, it was not the arva groves that warranted our attention.

Over the weeks and months we had established individual thatched dwellings across from each other and performed some basic landscape adjustments that made the camp quite comfortable. Finknottle had established and aqueduct to divert the medicinal waters from the arva spring down to his hut. In the evenings he would prepare increasingly elaborate meals and tell long stories about Persians and the Far East and almost every point beneath the stars.

"Sir," I finally asked my master, "how and when are we going to get off this island?"

Finknottle looked flummoxed.

"It is just now getting comfortable in this spot and now you want to leave?" he said.

"So that we may finish our quest," I explained, "as laid out in that letter."

"Quite right, Scribble, we are on a quest, but haste is not the order of the day. The treasure and glory we seek has been elusive to man for a thousand years, and will be elusive for a thousand more if we do not solve its mystery. It has remained elusive because man has pursued it hastily. We are on the quest now, already in the middle of it. Take what refuge the quest affords and do not be in such a rush like some foolhardy modern man."

"But sir, what if by not pushing on, as you would have it, we lose our opportunity and cannot finish the task at hand?"

"Tsk, tsk, Scribble! You make it sound as though the completion of our quest is the most important thing in the world. I have been on this earth for generations upon generations and in that time I haven't completed a single thing yet!" Finknottle stood up and unfurled his chest, with his shoulders cocked straight back, "Now look, do I appear the worse for it?"

"But surely the aim of our quest means something, sir, since we took such great pains to leave quickly and find cheap entry into the Sassy Wench? And what of your Readers? Was this trip not so important that you left that which you hold most dear?"

Finknottle was quick and resolute with his reply: "This island allows me peaceful and quiet time which can be devoted to answering my Readers' mail without the interference of my small minded Editor."

"But sir," I asked, "how do you intend to receive and respond to the mailbag when it is oceans away?"

"Young assistant," master replied, shaking his head, "I have prepared for that contingency and, as we speak, an armada of reader mail is drifting towards us in a thousand empty whiskey bottles of as many brands and blends. Bye and bye the mail bag will find us. The mystery of our quest can wait, but the journey cannot."

So Finknottle left the pacing of our journey up to Providence. And Providence answered by speeding us on our way through an unforeseen catalyst.

One night I awoke to the sound of the coconut bowls being knocked off the food table. By the time I reached the doorway to my hut, I saw the reptilian silhouette that was now the captain slinking away into the foliage.

I shouted for Finknottle and found him slumped over by the fire pit, having an arva hangover.

"Sir, sir!" I said, shaking him to a conscious state, "I think the captain is up to something bad."

"Is he now?"

"I'm not sure what it is, but he was quick to leave when he noticed that I was awake."

"Probably stealing some of our fowl or fish. We'll assess the damage in the morning."

That morning we found that our store of fish and fowl was untouched, but Finknottle soon discovered that the captain had stolen his mysterious letter.

"We need to go after him," I panted.

"Easy, Scribble. He is still confined to the island, same as us. We shall track him, but first we must prepare for the trek. If he tries to transverse the island, we will need our nourishment."

By midday, he had packed a satchel of dried fish, a cakey breadfruit substance and an assortment of fruits and vegetables and made provisions for water and wildberry wine in a variety of turtle-skinned bladders that could be worn over the shoulder.

"We are off, Assistant."

And with that, we made are way to the interior of the island, picking up the captain's trail a ways beyond the arva groves. The desperate animal appeared to go straight up the incline that formed the mountainous barrier between the coast and the interior. What lay beyond was anyone's guess.

It took nearly half a day to reach the peak of the incline. We stopped periodically and ate from his satchel of provisions. By the time we reached the top, we could get a good view of what lay in store: an endless procession of ridges, each as seemingly daunting as the next.

"Sir, we may have to rethink this."

"Nonsense," Finknottle said, "the time for thinking has passed." He continued down the ravine. The trees were so thick and the steepness of the terrain was such that each step was an unnatural contortion and it was a challenge just to get a solid footfall. It was impossible to see a few feet in either direction for the amount of vegetation that had engulfed us. Yet, Finknottle pressed on until we got to the stream at the bottom of the ravine.

I tasted the water and quickly spit it out. Such brackishness I had thought could not exist. Meanwhile, Finknottle, as tireless as a goat, continued up the next incline while I trailed behind him. This continued for several ravines until night had overtaken us. We found a slight clearing at the top of one of the peaks.

"We shall camp here," Finknottle said, surveying our progress and the passage ahead.

"Do you think we are still on the captain's trail?" I asked.

"I'm certain of it, Scribble. Just two ravines ago I found some fish spines that the animal captain had left behind. Soon, though, he will run out of raw fish and it will be harder to track him."

"Why do you suppose he took the mysterious letter? Surely he cannot understand it's contents."
"That's just it, Scribble, the captain has no use for the letter, itself. Yet, it is clear he has been consumed by something, I know not what and he evidently has noticed that I have taken a great interest in the letter and that I had been guarding it closely. I suspect the animal captain desires to seek some harm towards me for a sense of revenge for causing him to lose the Sassy Wench. Doubtless, he had enjoyed the control he once had over her."

"If that was the case, would he not simply destroy the letter?"

"Perhaps," Finknottle said thoughtfully, "unless he stole it for a deeper purpose. If he destroys the letter, then no doubt he realizes I would then be happy to pine away here on the island. But if he steals it and runs away, then perhaps it is to induce me to continue the journey, through which, he might make it back to civilization. After all, his complete lack of ingenuity has shown that he is incapable of surviving by his own device with any amount of dignity on this island, let alone escaping it. He needs both of us Scribble."

"That seems like an elaborate and iffy plan to come from a fellow that has taken on such an animal state."

"Well, that leaves another scenario: that he has gone completely mad. After all, he has not seen a stitch of clothing or cooked food in months. Those types of things can test one's sanity."

Whatever the reasons for the captain's actions, they would remain a mystery undecipherable to us that night beneath the Pacific stars.

The next morning, after an exhausted and fitful sleep on jagged rocks, Finknottle was up and ready to continue the trek, having nourished him self on what he called 'amar,' a cakey tart mixture that he made from the breadfruit.

"I reckon, Assistant," Finknottle said while I was not yet up, "that we should reach the other side of the island in a fortnight, provided we increase our pace."

He gave me some of the amar and I washed it down with some water from my turtle-skinned bladder.

Inspecting the amount of liquids I had left, I asked the master, "Sir, what will we do about water?"

"That will not be a problem, as I suspect we might see some torrential downpours before long."

"How can you be so certain?"

"Because I observe things, Scribble. Perhaps you should, too. Now where did you put my plugs of arva?"

I handed him a chain of strung arva roots made into chewing plugs, the totality of which looked like a sort of bandoleer. He tore from a segment and put the chaw in his mouth.

"I suggest we sally forth."

And for the next several days we pressed, tirelessly on, ravine after ravine after ravine. And, as if there was a doubt, Finknottle was right about the rain. It fell upon us mercilessly in big heavy sheets. When we depleted the food stocks, we had no choice but to press on in hopes that the other side was not far off.

Eventually, the terrain began to shift in our favor when we found a heavy stream that led us toward an alluvial plain, a valley, really, that spread out ever wider towards the shore. And looking upon that expanse of the manicured valley, we could see a village of huts and human activity.

"Good heavens, sir, this appears to be a long lost tribe!"

"Not lost," Finknottle said, "merely oblivious to civilization. I would imagine they know exactly where they are."

"Should we approach them?" I asked.

"What other choice have we?" he answered, "besides, we must assume that the captain made it this far. Pray that he hasn't effectively turned them against us."

But as it turned out, it wasn't the captain's influence that we had to fear. The tribe looked us over with intense interest and rifled through Finknottle's belongings, leaving the medicine kit untouched but helping themselves to his bandoleer and his turtle-skinned bladders of wine. And then they whisked us away to a hog pen where the captain already lay, sleeping in a bed of dried grasses. He appeared too weak to notice us.

"What lies in store, master?" I asked, the tone of my voice begging for a glimmer of hope.

"A drifter I once met in the Sandwich Islands way back - a fellow that worked in a bowling alley at the time - accounted for a tribe similar to this, though the details have escaped me. I do remember one detail."

"Oh yea, and what was that?"

"That the savages were cannibals. As such, it would appear that these present savages are intent on cooking us into a feast. The captain is no longer his significant self and would hardly be substantial enough to feed a handful, let alone the entire community. Small wonder they were happy to see us."

"Are we doomed, master?"

"Of course not, Scribble. I will soon command this scene..."

-His Assistant

Monday, August 21, 2006

The ingenuity of Finknottle

A continuation of his travels ~

Dear Reader: you know that high-pitched sound used in the movies to suggest how hot the sun is baking the desert air? Well, that was the sound I was hearing after spending several days on the lifeboat – drifting aimlessly. We had stripped the captain completely bare and used his clothes as a makeshift sail, leaving him with a small pile of fish netting to shield himself from the intense ultraviolet rays. Alas, there was no wind. For days we were unable to determine if we were moving. Exhaustion overcame all of us.

“Wake the captain, Scribble,” Finknottle mumbled, sliding down his seat, “it is his turn to watch the sun...I fear the monkey is a spy...working for my contemptuous sow of an”

Finknottle fell over, his tin cup spilling as it dropped from his grasp. His blistering skin continued to absorb the relentless heat rays.

“I see that screwball has been drinking salt water again, the stupid bastard,” the captain snarled.

“You hush, foul mouthed badger!” I said.

As we began restricting the captain’s opium intake, he started to return to his nasty self. When we stripped him bare, his tongue lashed more violently than I thought humanly possible, yet the insults the captain hurled at my master did not affect him in the least. I hated to hear them, though. It reminded me of the vile abuse Finknottle endured from our cruel editor back at the Liverputty offices – though Jeffrey’s style of abuse was prudish and comically square. Quite often I would sit in the Liverputty break room with Steve, after one of Jeffrey’s tirades, and we would secretly poke fun at the self-important fool. Steve’s retaliation for Jeffrey’s abuse was to halt production altogether on his Liverputty contributions. Due to the strict labor laws, Jeffrey could not do a thing about it.

Ah, the Liverputty offices. Woulds’t that I was there now, enjoying the scraps my master would leave me from his lunch. I’ve always felt that a bread’s crust was the best part of the loaf, whereas Finknottle does not. What’s more, my master is not fond of his hardboiled eggshells, and I enjoy the fiber they provide. Finknottle is generous enough to give me these leftovers for a very small reduction in my stipend - as such, the dietary relationship we share is symbiotic.

But back to the boat: at one point the captain tried to assume command and we were forced to tether him to the rail. I wanted to put a gag him, but Finknottle resisted that urge and let the man spew his verbal venom at will.

“Until we manage to reach someone on the radio, Assistant, the captain would at least provide us with noise for our listening pleasure.”

Days later as the rations shrank and the heat increased, the captain was forced to pick and choose his hateful remarks just to conserve his energy. For the most part, he remained almost entirely silent and still as a potato, which his bodily shape resembled, watching our every move.

His presence would not have been so disturbing had Finknottle remained conscious and alert. But the combination of seawater, which I had warned him about time and again, and his penchant for opiate chewables kept my master in a dazed, if not comatose, state.

So, there was my master, curled up in a fetal position on the bottom of the boat and the captain’s scheming eyes watching the both of us. Since there was no trace of wind I took down some of the captain’s clothes from the boat’s mast and placed them over my suffering master. Then I gave him my ration of fresh water.

The captain could not stand this and rebuked me for my actions. How could I cover the master with his clothes while he relied on a small pile of fish netting to shield him from the sun?

“He is my master,” I explained. “I owe him a life-debt.”

“You are too kind,” I heard Finknottle mutter meekly. “Were I not so weak, I would offer some assistance to you in return.”

“Pray, master,” I said, “think of a way out of this torment. There has not been a breeze in days and this ocean has grown too still.”

Though his face was turned downward and away from me, I could still hear him say: “Do not worry, Assistant.”

That night, after checking the captain’s restraints, I fell asleep to the sounds of waves hitting the side of the boat – a welcome sign that the sea was stirring.

I awoke just before dawn to the sensation of a swift breeze. I noticed that Finknottle was already awake and full of vigor. Having raised the makeshift sail, he was busy steering the ship.

“Avast! young assistant, our prayers have been an answered. Here come the gales!” He threw some lug nuts at the sleeping captain. “Stir, old salt! Look alive! The gales cometh!”

The captain, still tightly bound, wanted none of it and remained grouchily asleep.

Soon, a wall of dark clouds approached ever closer as the wind picked up and the waves swelled to frightening sizes. While I tended to cower close to the boat, bailing water, and the captain had completely withdrawn into himself, my master braved the storm and kept as much control of the small boat as was humanly possible. His Greek proportions defined when each lightening crack lit the sky.

“Fasten that sail, matey!

“Throw your weight starboard!

“Fetch me an opium tablet, ye lubber!”

Though the boat would seemingly tilt vertically with each massive wave and at each crest the drop off was scary as hell, Finknottle showed absolutely no signs of fear – as though his sea legs from serving under Captain Nelson had never left. Between my master’s barks and the thunder claps, I could not tell which I feared most, Finknottle or the storm. I bailed water at a tremendous rate until exhaustion overtook me and I fainted.

Upon waking, I found myself on a beach, beyond my feet the waves crashed on jaggy rocks. The captain was still unconscious a few yards away. The fishing net that had served as his only clothing was gone. His pink blubbery form glistened beneath the clear sky.

Where was Finknottle?

I could see some debris from the boat near shore, but there wasn’t much. The ribbon of beach was not wider than thirty feet. Beyond that was an intimidating thick lush wall of foliage, Polynesian in nature. It was impossible to view three feet into that jungle and I did not happen to have a machete to carve my way. I walked along the sandy perimeter, looking for an opening or clearing until I came to a small cove. I nearly bumped into some sort of contraption made of banana leaf containers of water held aloft by an assortment of sticks with a leafy dripping mechanism. I caught a whiff of smoke, which I soon noticed rising above the tree line. I approached the source and found a camp fire with several spits holding various fish over the flames. Beyond that fire was a thatched covered dwelling area. To the right I found Finknottle, lounging in a hammock made from the fishing nets – answering his mail.

“Master!” I said. “Where on Earth are we?”

“On and island, acolyte. In an ocean. Far from any shipping lanes or continents.”

“Did you do all this yourself?” I asked, marveling at the extent of his productivity.

“Do you see any badgers about?”

“No sir. This is quite something. And I noticed your water distillation device."

“Quite right, Assistant! I developed a real distaste for seawater during this journey. It was simply too salty for my pallet. Some may like it, but it is not my preference, so I decided to remove the salt from the liquid. It tastes much better now.”

“And safe, too, right?”

“Safer? Where do you get such ideas? I fear your brain may be too soft.”

“And how did you catch these fish?” I asked.

“With the hammock, dear boy. What else?”

“And the hut?”

“Good grief, Scribble, one would think that you’ve never been deserted on an island before. Honestly, where you picked up your ignorance is beyond me.”

He flopped over in his hammock – indicating to me that he wanted to discuss no more.

“Sir, shouldn't we bring the captain up here and put him beneath the hut away from the sun?” I asked.

“That thought had crossed my mind," Finknottle answered, "but he looked so peaceful and comfortable lying there on the beach. Besides, his countenance has been sour of late, and I feel that his presence might disrupt the otherwise soothing atmosphere we have discovered here.”

No sooner had he said this than the stumbling blubbery pink form of the captain approached from the beach. His contorted face made it apparent that he wanted to curse us in the worst way, but his voice was gone and all he could do was fall prostrate, his face in the dirt.

"I say, Scribble, that's the most agreeable thing the captain has done since we've met," Finknottle said, getting up from the hammock. "Now, how about some delicious spotfin croaker?"

Such were the events that led us to the island and to my first meal in several days. When I am able to post again, I will tell you, Dear Reader, of our time on the island and the emergence of the captain's curious behavior as well as the disappearance of the mysterious letter that began our quest.

-His Assistant

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Words From a Life-Rafte

Well, my Gentle Readers and lovers of Reason, I have taken pen in hand today to eke out a response or two to the inter-continental flow of reqwests for aide and consolation. My Assistant and I are on a journey of either plunder or mercy, (depending on how conditions meete us at our destination), but the freqwent lulls of inactivity should allow us time to corespond. The transo-fax/ship-to-shore link has been established, and if the portable word-juicer I have fashion'd from the lifeboat's filteration system works, we will be back in business.

My long-suffering Editore no doubte rekons us in dereliction of duty, but as readers of my autobiography well know, he is "Sharp as a marble", (pp.101-156), and "Worthy of only the rudest effigy, not of paper or straw but lumpen ash or tallow." (pp.238-338).

My Assistant has been reluctant to expound upon my Employere's lack of surplus neurons, inpart because he is drawing a small stipend from him as per the terms of his indentured servitude. I aim to correct this conflicte-of-interest in a future episode by declaring Scribble Derelict Property and assuming charge of his case under the Orphans and Domestic Cats Act of 1744. This will be a surprise for him upon his 16th year, once I have determined what calendar date to set for his birthday.

Now, for the qwestions:

Dear Finkfugger, I am incarcerated in the Tower of London for a crime I didn't commit without a really good reason. I need assistance to get my GED and become a dental technician, which has been my dream since I started this sentence. What tv-advertised courses can you recommend?

I fancy I've seen the late-night adverts you are referring to. By chance have you seen the one for the Sleep Number Mattress System? You can adjust the pressure in the hidden air bladders independently, to accomodate your and your sleepmate's needs.

Next Qwestion:

Darling Son, this is your Mother. Pick up! Are you there? Pick up! Well, I guess you aren't in. Where have you been? All your parole hearing notices are piling up in the hallway. I have sent back the orphans you saw fit to leave with us, we are elderly people, Son, and can't take care of your hobbies for you when you're away. I have talked to Dr. Hippodrome and he insists he'll see you again even disregarding what happened last time.

Dear Mother, I told you never to call me here. I appologize for this laspe in decorum, listeners. Please don't adjust your browser. Read on:

Dear Spinkbottle,
I want to find my birth parents who abandoned me here on Earth 17 years ago. What should I do, contact some kind of Galactic Agency or hire a Tracker to find them?

-sincerely, Stranded in the Solar System

Dear Stranded, I have made an extensive search in the local star-cluster for your parents. I also enlisted an expert, Dr. Alfred Albrecht at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is charge of the SETI project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). He made the following observation:

"None of my students want to see me after class! Why don't they seek me out for the wisdom I can offer? I even made an office interview a required part of the class, and 93% chose to take a reduced grade instead."

As we can see from this expert testimony, the chances of finding your parentage and alas even your birth-world are slim and none. But Fear Not! Finknottle is here to help. As we speak my lawyers are bribing the appropriate authorities to make way for my Orphanarium. Soon I'll be able to benefit from the relaxed labore standards and also give the galactic homeless a place to receive their welfare checks, which I have generously decided to cash for you. This project is not, as my critics charge, merely a tax dodge, it is also a scheme to produce the finest sweat-shop jute in the tri-country area.

I wish you all good luck, and until next time,
-Finknottle, Esq.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Nuts in the Ocean

Finknottle continues the story ~

Well, Dear Figgyies, I am not at the Word juicer to-day, but that will not stay my hand from seeing to your rekwests for inspir'd counsel. My Assistant has filled you in with the detailia of our travelouge, and nicely brought us up-to-date. His narrative had placed us exactly where we need to be, vis., on route to an important errand in the Southern Hemisphere.

We now open the scene with Self collapsed against a large wooden crate, sucking on an opium tab, wet hand-kerchiefe on my face. Also arrayed in formation are My Assistant, to his left the former Captain of the Sassy Wench, and below him, a lifeboat. Below that is the Indian Ocean, a most un-aptly named body of water. I, that is to say, Self, am rummaging in the crate mentioned afore. The Captain was not saying much, having burned his lips on a cigar in an accident unrelated to the Mutiny. And now for the dialoge.

Assitant: "Sir, I don't know how you can be so complacent." he said.

I (Self): "Whatever do you mean, young Scribble?" I replied.

[Notice how the deft hand of the experienced writer has efficiently arranged the scene for readibility and eschewed the vernacular.]

My assistant continued his theme, "We are adrift, the Sassy Wench is no longer even within flare distance, and all you are doing is sitting there abusing the opium!"

I fished a lugnut out of the crate, and tossed it overboard behind me. "I am also throwing lugnuts overboard," I mentioned helpfully.

He failed to see the note of cooperation I had struck. "How will we get to Lima or even survive the night without rations?" he begged.

I threw another rusty lugnut into the Atlantic, checking my watch, and smiled. "I have not the foggiest idea how we'll survive."

Assistant looked petulant and whined," I hate being stranded in the South Pacific with you."

"Then stop doing it," I replied. The water splash'd with the impact of another metal lugnut. The Captain looked up from a water-logged copy of Archie Comics and snorted at Self.

"I don't see why you couldn't use your spacious brain and think up a way to get us along to Lima, Sir" my Assistant said, using his most obsequious pandering tone.

"I am currently using my brain to answer my readers' letters, if you must know. It is my solemn duty, after all." I stared at my watch for a good half-minute and hucked another lugnut to the fish.

My Assistant eyed me warily. "Why are you doing that?" he asked cautiously.

I indicated the side of the crate. "What do you see stencilled just there?" I asked.

"Alamagordo, New Mexico, New America." Scribble replied. "What do they produce in Alamagordo?"

"Lugnuts," I replied.

"I can see that," he retorted haughtily, "but what importance can they possibly have?"

I was aghast. "Without lugnuts, dear boy, the wheels of the car you are motoring around in will displace and leave you high and dry."

Scribble was not in thinking-cap mode, and persisted in being obtuse. "What has that to do with anything?" he yelled.

I grabbed the side of the crate and shook it, the lugnuts jingled inside. "There are a lot of Chevys in Alamagordo that aren't going anywhere..." I trailed off.

"Because they're missing their lugnuts!" Scribble suggested.

"No," I said, "because they've blown up."

"Ahh," said Scribble. "So the opium is past it's expiration date like I told you, and you're babbling again. That's lovely."

The Captain surreptitiously palmed an opium tablet from the open tin nearby and gamely looked it over, presumably looking for it's expiration date.

I launched another lugnut over the bow and narrowly missed a seagull. "Do you know what they make in Alamagordo, Scribble, my very young Assistant?"

He shrugged. "Chevys?" he offered.

"Atomic weapons." I said. He looked nonplussed. "They have to test them of course, to see if they're as frightfully awful as they claim in their brochures. They test them on fake houses, rows of them, fake lampposts and fake mailboxes. And...." I paused, "real cars."

"So the cars are.." Scribble struggled for the next word.

"1957 Chevys." I said.

"And these antique machines are blown up?" he said as if in a dream.

"Smashed to bits." I confirmed.

"And the lugnuts..." he said, beginning to follow along.

"The lugnuts are all that's left," I said. I picked one up and hurled it at the horizon.

"They must be radio-activated!" Scribble said, alarmed.

I picked another one up and licked it thoughtfully. "Yes, I would expect they are." I said. I looked at my watch and, after a tick, nonchalantly let the lugnut fall out of my hand into the deep.

Scribble thought for a bit, then sat down and put his head in his hands. "All is clear to me now. You're placing your hope for rescue in a trail of breadcrums. Genius that you are, you've only missed one detail." He paused, "Metal sinks!" he fumed.

The Captain had finished the Archie Comic by my count at least three times, and was now reading it backwards, in an attempt, I presume, to get Jughead unstuck from the mud his jalopy was in. He'd been unhappy with the plight Jughead ended up in every time he re-read the funnybook, and was now taking matters into his own hands. I was beginning to form a profile of the Captain, vis-a-vis his mental clockwork. By my count he was missing several teeth on the main drive gear, and his flywheel was caught on his winding stem, if you catch my drift. I turned my attention back to my long-suffering Assistant.

"Do know where my Editore is right now?" I asked mildly.

"No." my Assistant sobbed.

"Well at this very moment he is using my blue prybar to loosen the floorboards under my word-juicer." I said, without venom. "I anticipated that his greed would get the better of him, so I bolted the machine to the floor, but that won't stop him, just delay the inevitable."

Scribble said nothing, so I continued. "Do you know what he'll do when he's finished winching my word-juicer into his office?"

"No," said Scrib.

"He'll check his email."

"Aha," said Scribble, "is that a fact."

"Yes it is dear boy." I said. "Poor man is addicted to email. Shame, really. Then he'll while away the hours on the Internets, surfing here and there. He'll make a loop of all the usual places, but he always surfs himself to sleep in the same place, at Google Earth. He scans the globe, zooming in on his enemies houses and so forth, until sleep finally overtakes him. That's when he'll see us."

I finally had Scribble's attention. He began slowly, "So he'll look at the globe, scan the oceans, and see our trail of radio-activated lugnuts that can be seen from space!"

"Indeed, dear boy." I said, pleased.

The Captain was eyeing me carefully.

"And you've spaced out the lugnuts to spell a message in Morse code!" He almost jumped for joy.

"Yes, yes." I said. "Not a hard code to learn, even a simpleton like him will be able to read it, I imagine."

"What does the message say, Sir Finknottle?" asked Scribble.

"Keep your hands off my word-juicer." I said.

The Captain snorted happily at this.

"Oh," said Scribble. "I thought perhaps this was how you'd been submitting our columns. Or sending a s.o.s. to get us some help?" He looked at me hopefully.

"No point in that," I said and he frowned. "That's what the ship-to-shore radio is for." I said, showing him the device.

He looked incredulous. "The crew of the Sassy Wench let you have that?" he asked.

"Of course," I smiled, "They're not cannibals."


Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Reason for Finknottle's Absence, Pt. 2

a continuation of the explanation as put for by Finknottle's Assistant

The Sassy Wench creaked and moaned grouchily with each swelling crest and dipping trough of the waves, such was her age that you would have thought she was in constant discomfort. Her engines left a trail of gaseous odor that must have remained far behind her sizable wake. The odor was so strong that the captain had warned Finknottle not to toss his cigar over the Wench’s stern as she tended to leak liquids quite uncontrollably.

For the first few hours after Finknottle had bested the captain in the wager, it appeared that the morose fellow might own up to the stakes. But soon after, Finknottle suspected that the he was plotting our demise. As we stood along by the bow of the ship, Finknottle glanced at the stars and estimated our course to run directly to the Orient.

“But we won the bet, Sir?” I said.

“Remember, Assistant, that this same man who made that pathetic attempt to make one juvenile mus appear as though it were two. It is not beyond reason to conclude that he may be crooked.”

“What can we do?” I asked, “he commands the whole crew. They could do whatever they wish with us. We are powerless, are we not?”

Finknottle abruptly bid me adieu and sped away with no further explanation. A few hours later I saw him again, emerging from the galley.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t appear that we will be eating from the captain’s menu,” Finknottle told me. “There’s barely enough fowl readied to cook to feed the captain, let alone us. But there is more than enough gruel to go around.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Not to worry, Assistant. Tonight it is best that we don’t eat anything.”

He said no more while I mused over that curious statement.

Within the hour, the captain sent some men to apprehend and confine us in the tiny forecastle cabin. He dropped any pretense of politeness and made clear that the wager was no more. When two sailors appeared and gave us some gruel, Finknottle accepted the bowl and the cup of water. I, too, accepted the bowl. While Finknottle drank freely from his water, he set aside his gruel without a word or a taste. I studied his face to get his meaning, but his coutenance was of stone. As I started to take a spoonful of the gray tasteless matter, he shot me a glance. I spit the mouthful out and set my bowl aside.

The next morning we learned that the entire crew had become extremely incontinent and miserably nauseated. Even the captain was in bad shape. Finknottle was quick to notice our guard’s illness and demanded to see the captain.

At first, the guard bawked, but when Finknottle explained to the green toned sailor that he would be able to cure his ailment, he relented and sent for the captain.

“My crew is almost entirely bedridden and I am busier than a filipino whore! What do you want, Fronkmitzer?”

“I seek to cure your crew, with your permission.”

“Are you a doctor?” the captain asked.

“I saw the discoloration in the guards eyes and have some idea of the bug that must no doubt have overcome the ship.”

“And why aren’t you or your Assistant sick?” the captain suspiciously asked.

“Have you ever been to Tanzania?” Finknottle shot back.

“What does that have anything to do with it?”

“Have you?”


“My Assistant and I made a trip to Tanzania some time back and, accordingly, received a vaccination for E. Congian Nuero dysentery, a rare and potentially deadly virus. The very bug that your crew has acquired. Fortunately, it is treatable if detected early enough. I can help your crew, captain.”

“Then do it!” the captain shouted between gagging heaves.

“But first, I must implore that you guarantee that from here on you treat my Assistant and me in ways that are befitting a gentleman.”

“Guaranteed!,” the captain agreed.

“Meaning that we can roam freely about the ship and eat from your pantry.”

“Okay!” the captain snapped.

As the guard unlocked our cabin, Finknottle turned to me.

“Assistant, grab my medication kit.”

Even though I barely made contact with the gruel, I too felt a pretty severe bout of the runs. When I related this to my master, he turned to me and suggested that I should have comprehended the meaning behind his facial expressions.

“But sir, you had no expression,” I explained.

“You have so very much to learn, Assistant, so very much to learn,” he said.

And with that, he proceeded to treat the crew with an assortment of herbal ingredients brewed into some type of mysterious tea. I requested that I should receive the same antidote, but he quietly suggested to me that I needn’t bother. Within hours the crew began to show signs of improvement, as did I. However, Finknottle had diagnosed the captain’s illness as more advanced than that of the rest of the crew:

“I’m afraid the folic acids inherent in most fowl tend to accelerate the effects of the virus, captain. As luck would have it, the gruel was not salted to taste, so the rest of your crew was spared,” he explained. “That is one benefit for treating your men so poorly.”

Finknottle placed the captain on a steady dosage of opiates and ipecac so that he was either in the process of kecking or in a state of agreeable euphoria.

For the next several days the crew held Finknottle in the highest esteem, since he had delivered them from certain death. Even the captain seemed to be completely under the influence to each of Finknottle’s suggestions. I would often notice Finknottle whispering in his ear. As a result, we ate like kings and enjoyed the comforts of the captain’s quarters. The shipment of snuff was opened up for the master’s use. In short, Finknottle effectively assumed proxy control of the Sassy Wench. Only one problem remained: how to correct the ship’s course to take us to Lima.

Finknottle feared that under the current environment, changing the Wench’s course might still arouse the suspicions of the crew. Instead, he placed a careful array of magnets around the navigational equipment so that the navigator would believe, so far as the compass told him, that the Sassy Wench was traveling west when she would actually be heading back toward to Lima instead. This plot took some time for Finknottle to properly calculate and was done in complete secrecy. Even after the first two days, despite the sun not setting properly in the sky, in part due to the overcast weather, the crew suspected nothing. During that period, Finknottle diverted the crews’ attention with an assortment of wild stories and addictive betting games. Through the latter he managed to acquire most of the crews’ possessions.

This turned out to be a poor move on the master’s part because after the crew was penniless their devotion to the miraculous stowaway began to shift towards resentment. Still, we may have avoided catastrophe had Lima been approaching on the horizon. However, despite his careful calculations, there was one misplaced magnet. Instead of nearing our destination, the ship had careened off course and we were hopelessly lost. This fact soon dawned on the crew as the Sassy Wench found itself far from any known shipping lanes. The oceans currents and waves eventually ceased altogether and the surface of the water appeared as one smooth endless mirror. The only ripples in the ocean were cause by the Sassy Wench’s fat rusty hull.

It was not long before the blame of our predicament was placed directly on Finknottle. A mutiny was afoot.

“The man is a Jonah!” one of the crew members shouted.

“Let’s cast the Jonah and his mate overboard!” another man yelled.

Noticing that the captain had been entirely complacent and accepting of Finknottle’s counsel, the crew concluded that he, too, was part of the problem and should be jettisoned as well.

While the crew agreed upon the three culprits of their dire circumstance, a split occurred regarding how to handle us. Some of the men simply wanted us to walk the plank, while the humanitarians among them preferred to drop a lifeboat and send us on our way with a scant supply of water and gruel.

They chose the latter and we were sent afloat as the gassy toxic Sassy Wench gimpily chugged away.

“How are we going to get out of this?” I implored.

“Indeed, this requires some thought,” my master responded. “Scribble, fetch me an opium tablet from my kit.”

Alas, dear reader, I have again run out of time. I, or my master, hope to be back next week with more of our story.

Until then, take care and leave the lamp on for us.

-His Assistant