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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Short Story Inspired by Song Picked by Facebookers

Out of desperation, and in need of motivation, I asked some of my The Facebook friends to post a song that they like and I would write a short story based on it. So here it goes. I will admit I'd managed to avoid this first song until now. Giving a shout out to my aunt, here is my story based on Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair." Though be warned. It will be bloody. And horror-filled.

Hair of the Cat O' Nine

Lieutenant Farrow stood on the pitching deck of the frigate H.M.S Relentless, knowing that they needed to treble-reef the mains'l for the coming storm. But Captain Kinsey prowled about the poop deck, his ragged face stony, sharp eyes flickering about the milling hands. One look at the clouds, and his captain growled, "Mr Farrow, my compliments to Mr Beck. Change course for sou'souwest. Then bring up Dr West and Mr Jackson."

"Aye, aye, sir," was the only thing Farrow could say. Cold rushed into his chest at the orders, and he felt sick on the high seas for the first time in his life.

Raising his voice over the winds, Farrow scrambled with his sea-legs over to the first lieutenant and passed along the order. The first lieutenant was a ragged man of little means, but he was a Navy man through and through. Beck's voice rose in a deep basso bellow, "Reef the mains'l! Helm sou'sou west!"

Dark eyes rested on Farrow, who couldn't help but fidget. Beck said as quietly as one could on a ship, "That's is quiet enough, Mr Farrow. See to the rest of your duties."

The rest of his duties. Like hauling a condemned man up on deck, with the good doctor in tow. For the third time in these past four months. Morale on the ship had plunged, and more than once Farrow had caught the midshipmen boys whispering in low tones. That was enough to have them all caned, but Farrow himself didn't have the stomach.

Farrow went below, ducking expertly past the bulkhead above and made his way to the doctor's cabin. Low groans of pain came from within, with a hiss of agony. Steadying himself, Farrow knocked on the door. A high thin voice came clearly, "Enter."

 The doctor was a thin wisp of a man with overly large brown eyes, and an overall weak pallor, which did not improve as Farrow said, "Compliments of the captain, but he would like to see you and Mr Jackson on deck."

The doctor placed his hand to his mouth. "Dear God in heaven. Not again, certainly?"

Jackson let out a low moan again from the cot. His waist was bare, and the whip lashes stood out on his back, as if some ragged-edged clawed beast had raked its vicious talons through his flesh. Shuddering, Farrow recalled the meaty thud of the cat o' nine's tails against skin. The ropes pulled away blood and flesh, and once the knotted ropes were blooded, it became heavier, more vicious. Farrow had almost vomited then, that his second lieutenant had been so abused.

Farrow looked down. Even so, the once handsome frame of Jackson shuddered. "I will need help to my feet."

Farrow nodded to his once superior, that easy going jocular fellow born from the rough docksides who liked to belt out a cheerful "Spanish Ladies" whenever the lieutenants took their ration of grog. Farrow placed his arm beneath bare flesh that was too warm with fever, and carefully helped Jackson into his shirt and lieutenant's coat. Dr West shook his head fretting, as they came up on deck, but was intelligent enough not to speak.

The captain's eyes narrowed, the great massive beast of a man in lawful charge of hundreds of men. Already Beck had gathered the men in a line, and head were bowed as the captain spoke, "This man is a mutineer. And while the Articles of War state that we can and will hang him from the yardarm, it is my God given judgment how to punish him in the meantime. While he still lives in rightful agony—"

"Captain," Dr West interrupted.

Farrow cringed, as he held Jackson upright.

Captain Kinsey frowned. "You protest to my judgment, doctor? Has his mutinous words found their way to your ear, sir?"

The doctor blanched and sputtered back into silence.

The captain spat upon his own deck. "If you do not see fit to help me with my punishment, Dr West, then it is apparent I should have you run the gauntlet as well. Do you think the Lords of the Admiralty will object?"

A captain was the God Almighty of any ship. He was emperor and king. His word was law, and any man who dared disobey would die. And the Navy would not usurp him.

"Good," the captain continued. "Doctor, as we grow tired of flogging the cretin Jackson about the deck, you will install the cat's tails upon the flesh of his head. As a surgeon, I trust you can do this."

Bile rose into Farrow's throat as he felt Jackson shudder.  

"Begin now, doctor."


Jackson stumbled on deck as one already dead. His flesh was pale as death, his eyes sunken into hollow sockets, bruised and blood encrusted. Where once a thick mane of amber hair had sat beneath a stately fore-and-aft hat, his shaved pate showed where the cat o' nine's ropes had been sewn into the flesh of his scalp. The ropes trailed from him like long, knotted strands of hair, almost down to his back. Gangrenous pus leaked from the seams, and a trail of blackened, necrotic flesh surrounded each sewn hole where the ropes protruded.

Farrow was his keeper now, but he could do nothing other than to make sure the man did not jump into the churning seas to end his torment.

At every third bell, Farrow was required to nudge the tormented soul. Weary himself, Farrow stumbled from his lack of sleep and placed his hand on the bare shoulder. Those feverish eyes glazed over as Jackson looked at him, pleading once again, "I was not whispering mutiny, Farrow. Please, for the love of God, let me jump. I never spoke a word against Captain Kinsey. Not once."

Farrow believed him. But if he dared to go against orders… "Just sing, Jackson. Please."

Jackson nodded, and he glanced aft. The captain stood watching them. With a half-sob, the doomed lieutenant threw his head violently back, and the ropes embedded in his scalp whipped around to hit his ragged back. His voice cracked as he crowed out, "Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies! Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain! For we've received orders to sail for old England, and may we never see you fair ladies again!"

He whipped his neck back and forth and the whistle of the cat's ropes sang through the salty air. Blood welled around the new ragged gouges in his back. Farrow had been so sick upon the deck the first time that his body trembled with the weakness of not eating.

Farrow sang along side the doomed man until they reached the very end of the song, voices harsh with, "We'll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy, and here's to the health of each true-hearted soul!"


Farrow had not slept for thirty-six hours, and the sobs and cries of his fellow man rent his soul in twain. The moon shone watery above them, and finally Jackson's cries of "drown melancholy" made something within the younger lieutenant snap.

Jackson could no longer stand, but Farrow helped the dying man to his feet. The heat of the man's skin blazed iron-hot, as if it were cannon shot heated in a furnace. With a weak smile, Jackson began to croak out a prayer-filled thanks.

It would mean his death, Farrow knew. Or worse. The mad captain would inflict countless tortures on him. Moving with his comrade in arms, Farrow nodded to the second lieutenant as they approached the gunwale.

They both stared into the dark ocean.

With an almost gentle shove, Farrow pushed the dying man into the sea.


Farrow now chanted the words to "Spanish Ladies" feeling the lightening-hot whip crack of the cat's rope buried beneath his scalp. But there would be no farewell and adieu. Not for him.

No one would dare push him into the bosom of the sea. Not with the words "mutiny" on the captain's lips.

Farrow leaned back his head and sputtered, "And may we never see you fair ladies again..." 



At February 14, 2013 at 5:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freakin' leave it to you to take a little girl's innocent song and turn it into a torture-filled and agonizing punishment for some poor soul. You're twisted, but that's why I love you.

At February 14, 2013 at 6:35 PM , Blogger B.C. Matthews said...

Thanks, Carmen.

I also received some feedback about this story. Said person wanted to know why Jackson was accused of mutiny, and I had a reason, but in my effort to keep this a deviously horrific short-short I cut it out.

Originally I had Jackson caught whistling, which if I recall my Naval histories correctly was forbidden on Royal Navy ships because:

a) its bad luck on a ship to whistle as you might stir up evil winds

b) it would interfere with bosun's pipe orders, and

c) it was once used as a mutinous communication device.


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