I am hiding in a small crate in one of the lower cabins. My thoughts are muddled. Pirates led by the notorious Captain Briggs, boarded the vessel earlier today. We were somewhere over the Indian Ocean. The Captain is a cruel man and has killed everyone aboard. This is HMS Vanguard, transporting goods from the East Indies to Britain. The ship has been ransacked. I'm hiding, but it is only a matter of time before Briggs and his men find me.
My name is Joseph Solemn, and I was the Second Mate aboard the Vanguard. I am twenty-eight years old and a veteran of the Royal Navy.
Two years ago, I was fighting in a battle with the Dutch off the coast of Africa. I was on the flagship, HMS Defiance, under the command of Admiral Edward Holmes. We had fought for days, sailing up and down the coast, trading cannon fire with the Dutch. When I returned home, a man told me that The Royal Maritime Company was hiring able-bodied men to join a new ship being built at the Bucklands & Symonds shipyard near London. I applied and was assigned second mate. This was only our sixth voyage.
I will be found and executed by Briggs soon. I don't know how long I have been hiding in this crate. I have a knife, and I fully intend to use it against anyone who comes near me. The Captain is dead. The crew is dead. I am the only one left.
If you find this letter, I hope you will see to it that it is delivered to my wife, Mary Anne Solemn, in St. Ives, Cornwall. She has no idea where I am, and I fear she will be worried sick about my whereabouts. I pray that she is safe and will receive this letter. I know she will mourn me, but she should remarry and find happiness with someone else.
I do not have many regrets. But it pains me that I won't have a Christian burial. I am afraid that I will be buried at sea, and I would never reunite with my mother in heaven. Please, I beg of you, if you find this letter, have a Christian burial for me. I will die with the name of Jesus on my lips.
I do not have much time. I can hear the pirates outside.
May God forgive me for all my sins.
Joseph Henry Solemn
July 21st, 1642
I've had the most fortunate break. In the middle of the night, one of Briggs' brutes came into the cabin. I reckon he was either too tired or too drunk but he was soon snoring like a pig. I pried the crate open and crept out. I trembled in fear, imagining he would open his eyes at any moment and witness me. I jammed the knife in his neck. He bled out in seconds.
He was wearing a sort of jacket which I was able to wrap myself in to keep warm. It reeks of alcohol and ick. I found pickled fish in the pockets. They taste like leather but should sustain me for a while. I snuck out and threw the body overboard off an empty gunport. I heard the others singing and having a gay time on the upper deck. I remain unseen.
I have devised a plan. I will observe the pirates for a few days, learn their habits and routines. Then, one day, I will join them as if I was always a part of their crew. I can not fight them all at once. But, if I play the fool, I might be able to turn them against one another. It's my only hope.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The things I have seen are too horrible. The sight of my butchered brothers is enough to make me never want to open my eyes again. Briggs' men are monsters, far worse than any tale I ever heard. I have seen the faces of these creatures, the blood of their victims still on their skin, and I can't get the images out of my mind. My hands shake. My stomach aches. My heart pounds and I fear I might die of fear. I wish I was dead. I wish I had died with the rest of the crew. I don't want to see this evil world anymore.
Or perhaps it's hunger. I haven't had a proper meal in days. I feel my strength draining. I feel like a small bird surrounded by predators. No one has come looking for the man I killed. Nonetheless, I took the blood-stained sheet off the bed and hid it inside the crate. I am afraid of being discovered. But I can not lie inside this crate forever. My spine is numb. I can't feel my arms or legs.
If I sleep properly I might be able to get my strength back. Hunger might go away. If I sleep I might wake up and find that it was all just a bad dream.
Tonight, I will sleep on the upper bunk. If someone comes staggering in the middle of the night they might not notice me. Or they might.
If they find me they will kill me.
I am dead either way.
I will lie down on the bunk. If I don't move, if I don't make a sound, I might not be discovered.
I might live a little longer.
It's early morning. I am still alive.
I had vivid dreams last night. I saw my mother. She made tea for me. She was unfazed by the screams. And the sabres slicing human flesh. Sweet English tea. I saw Mary Ann. I saw little Henry. Then I saw myself beheaded.
The bed feels soft. But I can't sleep. I am becoming paranoid. The sea was calm. I heard my beating heart. I heard my pocketwatch ticking. I heard the ticking get louder and louder. I imagined its deafening sound infuriating the pirates. I imagined them running around in anger, trying to find the origin of this clamour.
I got up and gently opened the door. I smelled the fresh ocean breeze. With all my might, I tried to throw the watch out an open porthole some fifteen feet away. But I am weak and powerless. It hit a mast and fell on the deck. It shattered into a million pieces. I looked around. Nobody saw it. But I can't be sure.
I heard someone snickering at my blunder. It might have been me.
I evacuated my bowels in the crate. I can not go back in there.
I feel as if I've been here for years.
I want to be with Mary Ann. I want to be with little Henry.
I want to go home.