By: Molly Bentley
“Clyde, my dear, stay away from those animals, you’ll catch your death by cholera,” Clyde’s mother, Kinsley, shouted over her shoulder, competing with the sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the bow of the S.S. Something.
The young boy shoved the last handful of hay in a nearby horse’s mouth. Petting each animal as he walked by, Clyde squinted at the sun as he emerged on deck. “Mum, why is it that eyes dislike the sun?” The boy’s pale pink cheeks shone with saltwater.
With one hand balancing the ship’s wheel, Kinsley tapped her chin quizzically. “My boy, it is one of life’s greatest mysteries. As with why the sea leaps with joy, and how you managed to get blonde hair out of a brunette and a redhead.”
Clyde, a boy of small stature and spindly limbs, clambered precariously up to his mother on the quarterdeck, and wiped his wet palms on already dirty culottes. Gazing adoringly up at his mother, Clyde produced a retractable spyglass from his pocket. “Argh! I spy a storm!” The young boy shouted jumping up and down.
“Careful, Clyde, don’t slip,” Kinsley said warningly, though she too sensed the electricity in the air. Kinsley bit her lip and looked towards the blackening horizon, the cumulonimbus clouds gathering ominously to discuss the fate of the approaching vessel. Clyde gripped tightly to his mother’s loose, worn trousers. Kinsley advised Clyde to quickly secure the animals and cargo for the impending downpour.
The young boy of six agreed with a salute and hurriedly attached loads of tea, spices, and livestock to every available cross brace. This was not the first storm the final two surviving members of the Cox family had endured.
“Clyde, my dear, hold the wheel!” Kinsley shouted to the boy.
“Yes, ma’am!” He replied, running carefully across the slick deck. Kinsley released the wheel, sending it spinning just as the youth grabbed hold with a lurch. Clyde watched wide-eyed as his mother bustled around the ship, trapping sails and tying impossible knots. Clyde struggled to hold the enormous wheel, nearly twice the width of his arm span, as the wind picked up and began to jostle the ship.
The Woman of the Sea began tossing her watery mane, splashing salty waves onto Kinsley’s mass of frizzy ginger curls. Clyde wiped the stinging rain out of his eyes, as it pierced his thin clothes. The wind howled in anger, bullying and beating the side of the ship with massive fists.
Clyde cried out to his mother, eyes as wide as a harvest moon. He watched in anguish as the ship propelled into the deluge. The wheel wrenched out of the weak boy’s untrained arms and began spinning wildly out of control. He cried out to his mother once more, who was doggedly tying ropes as quickly as her nimble fingers could manage in the chilling sea air.
Kinsley’s eyes struggled to penetrate the darkness, faintly hearing her son’s whimpers over the whistling of the storm.
“Clyde! Clyde! Where are you, my boy?” Kinsley screamed in distress. The gusts carried her voice to her sons ears, who had failed to regain control of the rebellious wheel.
“Mother! The wheel, I cannot steer the ship!” Clyde yelled desperately, tears mingling with briney rainwater.
Kinsley cupped her two hands to her mouth in a frenzied attempt to call to Clyde once more, “Get to me, Son!”
The child fumbled to regain his balance on the ship, now careening precariously this way and that. He could no longer make out his mother’s words over the tumultuous onslaught of rain. Lightning streaked white across the contrastingly black sky. Clyde clapped his hands over his ear as thunder boomed.
In his terror, he fell to his knees as a towering wave slapped onto the deck of the small trade ship. Gulping for air, Clyde screamed for help. Saltwater and screams stung his throat. The wave flung the boy against the hull of the ship repeatedly, his body limp as a marionette puppet with cut strings.
Eyes burning, Clyde thrashed about, blindly trying to find a handhold. Thunder pealed, and another tidal wave picked up the puny boy to feed him to the voracious ocean.
Kinsley shrieked as she watched her son being tossed about. She desperately treaded water in vain to try and reach Clyde, who was now barely conscious. She muttered prayers to herself, pulling wet, orange tendrils from her face. The wind had bailed the remaining water off of the side of the pitching ship, though more waves were attempting to crawl on board. Kinsley saw this small window of opportunity to retrieve the boy.
Lying on his back, lips parted, Clyde choked on the thick sea air. Kinsley scrambled on hands and knees, inhaling heavily, and gathered Clyde in a soggy embrace. She knew she had little time for sentiments. The storm wasn’t over yet.
She scooped up the child, just as another large wave barreled into the pair. Clyde was thrashing and gasping in her arms, having ingested too much of the brine. Gales were teasing her mop of curls, the small doorway of the deck entrance seemed miles away through the slanted rain. Kinsley had been known by the Cox family for her fiery temper and persistence, and both would not fail her at this time.
Pushing through the bone-numbing sheets of rain, she raced to the below deck entrance. With Clyde nestled among the baying animals, Kinsley crouched and kissed his forehead. Clyde’s eyes were glassy, but breath was being forced in and out through open lips nonetheless.
Kinsley knew she must leave the boy to the safety of the traveling animals, to navigate through the rest of the whirlwind. She stood to leave.
“This is no storm, Mother,” Clyde whispered. “This is a monster.”
Kinsley bit her lip and nodded, “I’m now even more perplexed by your mystery. I find it strange that eyes dislike the sun, my boy…when the opposite is much more terrifying.”
Clyde nodded slightly as his head lolled to the side, resting on a bale of hay feed. Kinsley saluted to her son, her faithful first mate, and took her place at the wheel for the last time.
Lightning shattered the glass sea ahead of the ship, sending one final tidal wave unto the S.S. Something.