152. The Mutiny

Part 2 of the series, 'The Island'. (Starts here.)

THE FOLLOWING MORNING, BEFORE they are flogged, the three seamen beg the suspension of the punishment, for they have an amazing tale to tell. The captain is hardly in a clement frame of mind, but the seamen are so insistent that their tale ought be heard that he signals to the bosun to lower his arm and procure a holy bible. The seamen are put under oath and proceed to tell the tale of the previous night. They claim that they were imprisoned by a group of lustful islanders and compelled to fulfill the wanton desires of the native fornicators. The captain reminds the men menacingly of their oath, at which point they surrender the kernel of their tale: while in the throes of their lust, they felt themselves entering the bodies of the islanders, man and woman, old and young, until they lost count of the number of bodies they had entered and exited. Upon further interrogation, they reveal that these transfigurations had occurred without their consent or volition, but that as a result their lustful pleasures were multiplied a hundredfold. These tidings put the crew in a state of some agitation, which is only heightened when the captain, who appears to be the only member of the crew troubled by the testimony of the seamen, speculates that there is a dark force at play on the island, and that the crew will double their efforts to repair the ship and that they will leave this island at the earliest possible opportunity, avoiding all further communion with the islanders on pain of death. Throughout the day, as the crew goes about its labours, the captain's watchful eye gives them no respite. Despite the surveillance, murmurs of mutiny begin to surface, and a primitive plan hatches and spreads quickly. The bosun notices there is something afoot and mentions it to the captain, whose determination is only strengthened by the disquiet. The repairs to the ship are completed by nightfall. That evening, a legation of islanders, bearing ripe fruit as gifts, approaches the encampment. The captain orders a trio of seamen to shoulder arms, to fire warning shots at the islanders and to communicate to them that they are not to approach the crew. Wound them if you must, he adds. The three seamen raise their rifles and the first mate yells to the islanders that they are not to approach any further. Still the islanders approach, bearing their gifts. The first mate repeats his threats, to no avail. Still the islanders approach smilingly. Finally the captain orders the seamen to fire at the islanders, at which point the three seamen look at each other, nod, pivot and point their weapons at the captain, the first mate and the bosun, announcing a mutiny. The captain, first mate and bosun are chained and imprisoned in the decks below while the rest of the crew join the islanders for another night of festivities, returning only the following morning, whereupon an agreement is struck between all parties. The captain's life will be spared: he will be freed and will remain on the island. The first mate will be made captain and the ship's logs will be altered to make it appear the captain died of scurvy. There will be no retribution for the mutiny. And so events transpire. The ship once again sets sail on its voyage of discovery, leaving the island and its natives behind, along with the former captain, who is stricken with grief. The narrator of the story is now the ship's captain. The trade wind is blowing and the crew is competent, content and compliant. All seems to be as it should, although the new captain is haunted by the intuition that, although it appears to be the same in body, his crew is, at least in soul, not the same crew as that which was wrecked on the shore of the island of the commerce of souls.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a reconstruction or re-imagining of a story related to me, second-hand and in the briefest possible terms, by my writing teacher, the poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, almost 20 years ago. He has since indicated to me he has no recollection of the story or its origin. I will happily attribute the origin of the story if and when the relevant details are available.