The Captain’s got his boots on,
he’s heading out the door
Leaving his lady alone,
thinking, “He don’t love me no more”
He’s tired of all this bullshit
He’s going back to war
If heaven is as heaven does
then this is hell for sure
-from “The Captain and the Hourglass”, by Laura Marling
He was an imposing man, standing at the mouth of an imposing hallway. It was a great, cavernous hallway, lined with small, sorrowful cells. He was a great, bearded, dark faced man, lined with wrinkles and scars. The hallway was haunted by the whispers of the ill and the ghosts of the past, and so was the man.
The man waited, motionless, until an attendant arrived. The attendant, wrapped in a peach colored garment, carried a leather rod and a ring of iron keys. “I apologize for keeping you waiting, Captain. There was…an incident in the east wing.” he said.
“No bother, Tarl. I am pleased to see you still in command of things here. How has she been?” the Captain replied.
“The same, I suppose.” the attendee said.
A tiny, grim smile rode at the corner of The Captain’s mouth. “Of course.” he said.
Tarl set off down the great and cavernous hallway, which was lit only by sparse oil lamps set into the walls here and there between the cell doors. The Captain followed.
As the two men passed one particular cell door, a thin, reedy voice called out them. “Have you seen? What word? What word? Have you seen?” Neither of the men answered the strange voice. They continued to walk. Another voice muttered from within a cell, “Just one, just one, just one, just one, just one…” The entire hallway was populated by whispers, sliding out from underneath cell doors and echoing into the shadows of the hallway. It was said that in the lowest levels of the asylum where the most disturbing and deranged of individuals were kept, the attendees plugged their ears with dried figs to shut out the screaming and gibbering of the mad.
At the very end of the great hallway, the two men stopped in front of a door. This door was made of some pale, fragrant, holy wood, and the Holy Pentacle was inlaid on it in silver. The door stood alone. The cell did not share walls with any others, as it was carved directly out of the solid rock of the earth at the end of the hallway.
The floor at the base of the door was a curious affair, to be certain. Three, concentric half circles enclosed the door. The first half circle was a three inch wide groove, cut into the stone floor, and a small stream of water flowed through this groove. The ends of the half circle groove terminated at the stone wall on either side of the door, and the water flowed in a clockwise manner, out from and back into the stone wall, from some unknown source. Just beyond the tiny stream were the other two half circles, one made of course salt and the other a fine sand.
The Captain dug out a small candle from his pocket, and lit it from the nearest oil lamp.
Tarl unlocked the door, and the Captain stepped inside, then Tarl shut the door behind the Captain.
The Captain stood in the small dark room, pulling his coat tighter around him against the chill. An icy breeze came off of her at all times, and The Captain had to shield the candle to keep it from being blown out. She crouched in the corner, naked, dirty, and curled up into an unnatural position. She did not acknowledge The Captain’s presence.
“Laura.” The Captain said.
The woman in the corner uncurled herself like a waking snake, and sat upright. Her shining eyes fixed on The Captain in the gloom. Her mouth and face were stained brown. She leveled an icy stare at The Captain, and slowly swayed from left to right.
“Laura.” he said again.
The woman in the corner spat violently, and coughed out a laugh. “This one says: Hile.” she said, and rapped on her own bony chest. The voice was not Laura’s. Or was it? Could he truly remember what she had sounded like before? It had been so long…
The Captain stepped closer. The woman did not move.
“Still, she has not aged…” The Captain thought.
She was dirty, and thinner, but no older. Some thirty years in the cell now, and still she had not aged.
“This one asks: Have you brought my Nora, my Frederik? Have you brought my man back from the seas?” the woman said. Her icy voice made The Captain’s throat tighten.
The Captain chewed his mustache. “No, my love. Not yet. I have declared war on the gods and all of creation, and the spoils of my war will be their returning. I swear this to you.” he said. Would he ever bring them back? Would she ever know him again? Would she ever have anything again other than this moment, this damnable, black, hungry moment?
The Captain gritted his teeth. He hoped that the peach wrapped attendees were prepared.
The woman in the corner sighed, and rapped on her chest with sharp, dirty knuckles. “This one says: That is well and fine. I will wait here then, until my Nora and my Frederik and my man come home. It will not be long now. What is one day? One day is naught to fret about. No, naught to fret.” she said, calm, somewhat despondent.
While the woman in the corner talked, the words started pushing their way into The Captain. He shook violently, dropping the candle. The room was swallowed by blackness, and The Captain fell to the floor. He kicked and lashed out at empty air, trying to fight the words as they pushed their way into him, through every hole in his body. He gave up thrashing, and desperately tried to guard against the invading words with his hands, grasping at his mouth and rear. The words pushed his hands away, and as he opened his mouth to scream at the pain in his rectum, the words rushed into his open mouth, choking him with coldness. The words were squirming into every opening now, like an icy syrup that filled his ears and mouth and nose and lungs and belly and ass and was even creeping up the length of his manhood…he could not breathe…
Elsewhere in the asylum, a young man in a cell began to bleed from every orifice. He started screaming, “My Nora! My Frederik! My man!” The young man continued screaming while he beat on the door to his cell…
The Captain could see it now. Sunlight streamed into the room, and the smells of summer blew in through the open window. Laura was hanging rosemary to dry in the larder, and The Captain was putting a final scrawl on a ship’s manifest. The little ones were out to play. Marten Rivergreen came calling, and the look on his face was terrible. The Captain knew immediately that something had happened to the little ones. He knocked Marten into the street with one punch, and Marten just stayed there and sobbed. The Captain fell down in a heap in the doorway and began to sob himself. Laura never cried. No. She had just sat down on the kitchen floor and declared that she would wait for them to come home. The light had gone out in her eyes. The Captain tried to tell her that they would not be coming home, not in the strictest sense, and Laura looked at him and asked him who he was. She then asked him if he had brought her Nora, her Frederik, or her man back to her. She was waiting for them, she said. They would be along, today, mayhap tomorrow…
The Captain could see it now. That day, their house, it was right here, right now. There was no cell, how could he ever have thought there was? There was only that day, their home. They would be coming back, mayhap today, or mayhap tomorrow, but what is another day? The Captain is patient! One more day is nothing, nothing at all, and then they would be back together, all of them! The icy syrup was thinning now, warming and becoming part of him, something that he could breathe and swallow and be filled with, something sweet. He could see Laura, sitting on the kitchen floor, waiting for him. A patch of sunlight was reaching in through the window and warming the spot next to Laura, his spot. He smiled, and stepped forward to join her…
The cell door flew open, and Tarl and another attendee reached in and hauled The Captain out of the dark cell. Two more attendees tossed a bloody young man into the dark cell and slammed the door shut behind him.
The Captain choked and coughed as he heaved air into his lungs. There was a small crowd of the peach wrapped attendees around him. Tarl and another were kneeling over him, and a few others were frantically reshaping the broken half circles of salt and sand in front of the cell door. The bloody young man began to scream from inside the cell. The sound of his screaming was horrendous, but mercifully short lived. The screams soon became choked gurgles, then low, wet moans, then silence.
Tarl helped The Captain to his feet. “I beg you forgive my impertinence, Captain, but why do you return? It is the same every time, is it not? She is the same?” he asked.
The Captain chewed his mustache. “It is the same, yes. She is the same. But sameness is something I am accustomed to. I am a man of the sea. The rhythm and repetition among the seeming tides of chaos are my life, my home. The sea rages, but I am the calm; content while I am tossed on the torrent. I am implacable. I am the shore upon which break the waves of the gods.” The Captain said.
“Shorelines are rarely left unchanged, Captain Marsh. Surely you know that.” Tarl said.
“Indeed I do.” The Captain replied.
Outside the sprawling asylum, The Captain’s men unloaded two chests full of silver from a covered wagon while The Captain and Tarl looked on. The sun was setting, turning the late autumn sky into bands of scarlet and violet. Down in the valley, Lover’s Hill was puffing smoke from its chimneys, and the lamplighters were going about their dusky business. The river was shining crimson and wet, like a titanic, bloody snake wrapped around the Hill, the ends of the giant beast stretching out of sight and into infinity.
A few of the peach wrapped attendees lifted the chests of silver and carried them into the asylum. The Captain shook Tarl’s hand before climbing into the covered wagon behind his men.
“You will be back, then?” Tarl asked.
“Yes.” The Captain replied. “Mayhap next spring.”