Middle Grade Novel (click here)
Excerpt: “Beyond Danger and Adventure”
(The Adventures of a Boy and his Creature)
“Sir! Looks like we’re in for a heavy blow out of the northeast.”
One hundred and fifty feet above the Pacific Ocean, twelve-year-old Nicholas Horatio Goodlad stood on the crow’s nest of the HMS Flying Fish, a Royal Navy exploration ship. The boy clutched his hat while holding tight to the hip-high wood railing. From his vantage point, a sailor could see farther over the horizon than the officers far below. He’d never been comfortable with heights, and bracing himself, he stared through a spyglass. Across the glittering blue sea, a threatening mass of clouds spread across the distant sky. The previous night, he had witnessed an eerie white ring circling the moon; an ominous warning indicating bad weather approaching.
The captain scanned the horizon and did not respond to the boy’s words. A distant growl of booming thunder confirmed the brewing storm.
Minutes later, with the storm creeping closer, Nicholas hailed the captain again. “Sir, those clouds are darkening! This isn’t an easy squall! It’s making a beeline for the ship!”
Captain Blackwell, unable to see the extent of the storm, hollered, back “Watch the skies, boy! I’ll decide if this is a difficult storm.”
Within the half hour, jagged lightning streaked through the distant sky. Silver flashes silhouetted fierce red and purple clouds. Nicholas steadied himself, while the mainmast moved in a jerky and nauseating elliptical orbit. Riding this wild beast reminded him of ice skating behind a line of kids while playing crack-the-whip. A downdraft of cold air rocked his body and plucked the wool cap from his blonde curls. While grabbing for the cap, he lost his balance and plunged over the railing of the crow’s nest. A thick tar-coated rope loomed in front of him, and he gripped it with both hands. It jolted him to a stop. Dangling a hundred feet above the main deck, the worst thing that could happen, happened; his grip slipped. Plunging toward almost certain death, he collided with a baggy wrinkle - a fluffy rope used to prevent the rigging lines from chafing the sails. The soft thick rope flipped his body upside-down and he fell another twenty feet. A dangling loop of rope snagged his leg around his ankle. The momentum propelled him over the side of the ship. Reaching the top of the arc, he stopped . . . then swung back. Grabbing a loose rope to slow the speed did nothing more than strip the skin from his palms. His body slammed into the main mast. Hanging upside down ruby-red drops from his bleeding nose and split lip were raining down onto the deck. Gazing down through a confused mass of spars, sails and rigging lines, he spotted Pugwash, the master crewman staring into the sky. The stout man had a waist as wide as a walrus.
He shook his fist, “Ahoy up there, you yellow bellied coward! Quit playing monkey boy up there, and get down, now! There’s a storm rising, and we’ve got to furl the sails and batten down the hatches.”
Feeling queasy, Nicholas closed his eyes to block out the sight of the rolling deck. A quick spasm of nausea hit him and a stomach full of an undigested greasy breakfast erupted. The regurgitated mess missed Pugwash by several cat’s whiskers.
‘What should I do?’ He thought. ‘If I move too much the loop will slip off my foot.’
The boss man barked, “Boy! Don’t make me come up there, or your behind will be sorry.”
Nicholas didn’t twitch a muscle as he peeked down at the rotund man ascending the wavering ratlines. The ship rolled, and the worst thing happened again. The noose holding his foot let go. Falling another twenty feet, he grabbed a ratline, jerking to a stop.
Cutting short his burdensome climb, Pugwash hollered, “Last chance boy, or I’m taking a switch to you!”
The boy, clutching the quivering ratlines, descended while acres of overfilled billowing sails, banged against the rigging lines. Jumping onto the deck, Nicholas grabbed a foul weather hat, threw on a rain jacket, and ran off towards his duty station. He’d suffered a bloody nose, split lip, bruised ribs, and blistered hands, but worst of all was the shameful blow to his ego.
The captain, a better navigator than storm watcher, hollered to the first mate. “All hands on deck, there’s a storm heading our way! Furl the sails, and be quick about it.”
Blowing a shrill whistle, a boson’s mate relayed the captain’s message to the sailors below deck. Fifty men to scrambled from the hatches, and sprinted to their work stations.
The sailors called topmen, kicked off their shoes, and swarmed up the ratlines to the topsails.
Pugwash hollered, "Get up there you sluggards! We ain’t got time to dawdle.”
The seventy-knot whirlwinds flattened the topmen against the swaying masts. Holding fast to the rigging lines, they sidestepped along the foot-ropes that hung from the crossbeams. The men grabbed fistfuls of sailcloth, bunched it together, and repeated the operation until they could no longer lift the waterlogged canvas.
Rain streamed down the captain’s gray beard as he screamed, “Helmsman! Turn the bow into the waves, now!”
Four husky men struggled as they threw their full weight into the wheel that controlled the rudder. Trying to keep control of the ship they battled the forty-foot waves. Nicholas tugged the tar-coated hat over his bulging ears as sheets of rain traversed the deck. Along with a dozen deck hands, he began coiling the thousands of feet of rigging rope. There’d be no sleep for anyone tonight, and he’d miss the boson mate’s usual wake-up call; “Rouse up, rouse up . . . open your eyes . . . you mighty sailors of the deep.”
The boy shuddered as the biting wind clawed at him, seeking entry into every gap in his wool coat. A wave of nausea, and anxiety enveloped him. He wanted to go below deck, shed his wet clothes, crawl into his bunk, and pull the thick blankets over his head. Yet one thing stopped him: only yellow-bellied sailors hid below deck during a storm. Watching the captain lashing himself to the wheelhouse, Nicholas ran a rope through his thick belt and tied it to a ringbolt on a thick plank.
He thought back ten months to September 1st, 1802, when he had first boarded the newly christened, HMS Flying Fish, an exploration ship. He had helped with the loading of food and supplies in preparation for a year long voyage of discovery to the far side of the world. At the time, he’d never traveled more than twenty five miles from his home in Newtonia. Now, here he was, more than twelve thousand miles from home, in a life or death struggle against the sea. He recalled his school days, when the older kids bullied him. They had taunted him by flicking his protruding ears and calling him monkey ears.At this moment, the teasing was now a trivial matter. Basic survival trumped everything, including jokes about his moose-like ears. His dream of adventure was now becoming a nightmare. Feeling sorry for himself, he thought, ‘Why should I have to face death at twelve-years-old, half a world away from my family?’
The ship rolled, and a mass of seawater surged over the main deck, tumbling him into the railing. He felt a sharp pain from several bruised ribs. A dozen deck hands, engulfed in churning water up to their waists, threaded their arms through the rigging lines and hung tightly as the deluge washed wood buckets, rigging, and loose objects into the scupper drains and overboard.
Nicholas remembered one of his father’s saying: a storm at sea can be as sneaky as a pickpocket, and true to his father’s words, the storm had sneaked up on their ship, stolen their steady tail wind, and replaced it with a raging wind beast, wrapped in a blanket of water, also known as a typhoon.
Contact me at: Donnelson1@mac.com if you would like to read the entire manuscript.
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