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

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