Davy had been aboard the Ulysses a month — more than long enough to know the crow’s nest lookout duty was by far his least favorite job. The wind whipped hard and hunger gnawed at his belly. Davy was used to going without meals, but he was not used to high places, and the crow’s nest was extremely high. The Third Mate had taken one look at his scrawny body that first day on the ship and sent him up the mast, telling him to sound a warning if he saw anything that didn’t belong. Now, deep out to sea it was hard to imagine how they could run into anything. Slate blue ocean stretched before him to the horizon. Only seagulls interrupted the monotony. Then one by one, even this distraction went away, and he became sleepy.
Davy started awake. Something had jarred the ship violently. He didn’t remember falling asleep but must have been out a long time because an entire island now appeared right in front of him. How could the captain have failed to see it? The ship had run aground into a rocky ledge and was jammed in by surrounding outcrops. Davy looked over the side of his perch, but saw no one, not even at the helm.
The Third Mate came hurtling out the hatch. “What in blazes?” He stared at the rocky shore in astonishment. Davy watched the man search the deck, stop and crane his neck to see him. Davy climbed down, anxiously wary, but taking his time.
“Where is everyone?” The Third Mate shouted at him.
“I don’t know sir.”
What happened to the Captain?”
Before he could reply, the ship lurched. They both stumbled, then ran to the side. Davy threw the rope ladder over so they could escape onto the ledge below. They went down it one at a time, arriving at the bottom to see that the ship had a giant hole in the bow where it had run into the island. The water came to their knees. The ship was unstable, but not likely to sink, as the deeper water was farther aft.
“Where did everyone go?” the Third Mate said breathing heavily.
“I don’t know sir.” came Davy’s shaky voice.
“What do you mean you don’t know? How the hell did we run into an island? Why didn’t you sight it?”
“I don’t know sir,” Davy said, choking on the tears in his throat. The Third Mate let out his frustration and fear with a great clout on Davy’s ear, knocking him into the cold salt water..
“Stop repeating yourself you lubberwort!”
Davy slogged away from him as fast as he could, while the man chased him out of the water to the rocky shore. Davy dodged into the forest to escape the infuriated sailor. He followed a rough path, branches snapping into his face and neck, and didn’t stop until he could no longer hear the pounding footsteps behind him. It was very quiet in this forest. He sat down on a large rock in a patch of sunlight, and noticed with pleasure a blackberry bush growing around it. He tasted one and felt instantly better, stronger than he’d been in days. He ate another one, and sensed his vitality surge through his veins. He stood, feeling restless. A tree branch shook and he looked up to see what animal was in the tree, playing. But there was no animal. The branch was shaking itself in his face. A ripe mango dangled from the end, and Davy plucked it. He took out his pen knife and peeled the skin off of half of it and bit into it hungrily. Again, the sustenance gave him a rich sense of well being and energy. He decided to turn back the way he had come, as being alone began to frighten him more than the sailor. On the path, he had to step over a skeleton. It had been there a very long time. The bones were stripped clean, save the remnants of wool cap that resembled the one the Third Mate liked to wear. No wonder he’s given up so fast, Davy thought, tickled by the idea something could have spooked the fierce sailor. He went back to where the ship had been, but must have got turned around because instead of the rocky ledge and pool he expected, the path let out far above a beautiful white sand beach. Davy picked his way down the steep incline to the water’s edge. Perhaps he could lay a fire here tonight. Then he noticed an old ship hanging near the top where the path let out. It hung suspended, impossibly wedged between the cliff and an outcropping of rock. Its mast and sails were rotted as if it had been there for centuries.
Davy looked closer. The name of the ship was still legible, if faint. Ulysses, he read.
He looked down. An enormous white beard was flowing from his face. His arms were withered. The strength he’d felt after eating the fruit drained out of him. He dropped to the ground, felt his flesh relax and drain away. By the time he lost consciousness, nothing remained of him but bone.