Tag Archives: flying Dutchman

The Ghost Ship

Drury, the skeletal dog, had been spreading happiness and mayhem in equal measure upon the island of Hopeless, Maine for far longer than any living soul could remember. Many generations had passed since anyone had deemed themselves to be his master; Drury was a law unto himself, a force of nature, a free spirit. In truth, he was the very essence of dogginess epitomised, notwithstanding the fact that he had died years ago. However Drury, being Drury did not allow this slight inconvenience to get in his way for one minute.

If any two humans could be said to elicit the osseous hound’s affection above all others, they would be Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man and the palely beautiful Philomena Bucket, who worked in “The Squid and Teapot”.

While Philomena frequently enjoyed the dog’s company by day, when Rhys did his nocturnal rounds, it was often with Drury at his heels. He was under no illusion, however, that the dog was attracted purely by his bountiful nature and irresistible charisma. There was little doubt that a Night Soil Man’s messy and malodorous calling had no little part to play in persuading Drury that here was as good a companion as one could wish for.

There were no stars visible on the night of our tale. Only the baleful eye of the full moon was able to penetrate the mist that blanketed the skies over Hopeless. Rhys looked up and could not suppress a slight shudder.

“Nothing remotely good happens on Hopeless under a full moon,” he thought to himself, then almost laughed out loud at his musings. Nothing remotely good happens on Hopeless at the best of times, why should tonight be any different? Dismissing such thoughts from his mind, he hitched his tightly lidded bucket up on to his shoulders. Just two more stops and then he’d sit down for a bite of supper, grateful that Philomena had left a cold starry-grabby pie and a flask of ‘Old Colonel’ on his doorstep earlier in the day. Lovely Philomena! Salty tears, borne of an impossible and unrequited love, threatened to cloud his eyes, until Drury gave a sharp bark, instantly dragging Rhys away from his reverie.

A few hundred yards from the shore, sitting in the pathway cast by the moon, was anchored an old-fashioned galleon. Rhys looked on in horror, for he knew at once that this was no ordinary craft. Even with its sails furled he could see that they, like the rest of the galleon, were rotting and ragged and shimmered with an eerie, lurid iridescence. He had heard of such a vessel before but always dismissed the tales of a phantom ship, damned to roam the seas for eternity, as an island myth. He had laughed at the legend that spoke of the ship that, once every hundred years, would anchor off Hopeless in order to send a press-gang of wraiths ashore to replenish its crew. He wasn’t laughing now.

“Thank goodness they’re still a fair distance away,” said Rhys to Drury. “Time to pack in for the night and get home and lock the door, I think.”
But Drury wasn’t listening. Unseen by Rhys, a small tender, known as a jolly boat, had drawn up on the beach, a short distance away. It glowed with the same ghastly light as the galleon. Half a dozen cadaverous shapes had clambered over its rotting sides and  were even now lurching up the sand towards the terror-stricken Night Soil Man.

The six crewmen were dreadful to behold. In their tattered, tar-stained apparel of a time long past, these hollow-eyed wraiths were barely recognisable as creatures who had once been living, breathing men. Their shrivelled flesh and hollow eyes chilled the blood of all who beheld them. Even wraiths can be taken aback, however. When they were within no more than a few feet away from Rhys, Drury sprang fearlessly into action, a calcified ball of canine fury.
As I have stated on many an occasion, Drury is, to those of us who know him, a bony but loveable bundle of chaotic mischief. In view of this, it is easy to forget that he also has access to those hazy, liminal regions that bridge the realms of the living and the dead. So, while the slightly overweight representative of the species Canis lupus familiaris, snoring contentedly on your sofa, can certainly see ghosts, not even the meanest, fiercest fighting dog in the world could wrap its jaws around a phantom leg. Drury can.    

“It’s that bloody dog again,” screamed one of the wraiths as a very real set of teeth attacked whatever bits of him Drury could get hold of.  
“He was here causing trouble the last time we came.”

Rhys had no idea what to do. He knew he would be no match for just one of the wraiths, much less six and although Drury was fighting valiantly, he wouldn’t be able to hold them all off for very long.

Sure enough, no sooner had the thought entered his head than an ice-cold hand had grabbed Rhys by the neck and started to drag him towards the jolly boat. The Night Soil Man could see a furious and struggling Drury being restrained by the remaining five ghostly sailors, who, quite frankly, was having their work cut out.
“Get a move on, Charlie,” shouted one of them. “We can’t hang on to this little bleeder for much longer.”

Suddenly and from nowhere the air was filled with a thunder of hooves, excited yapping, some nasal brays and the distinct effluvium of flatulent mules as the maiden ladies of The Mild Hunt swept down from the sky, their spaniels yelping madly and nipping at the heels of the surprised sailors. Suddenly dropped, with an ungainly clatter Drury fell to the ground and, with some relish, immediately joined in the fray, any previous dispute with the spaniels put to one side, at least for the time being.
Opportune as this intervention was, it had not prevented Charlie from escorting Rhys down to the jolly boat. He was just about to push the Night Soil Man headlong into its bilge when a sharp rat-a-tat-tat cut through the night like a blade. All who heard it stopped, frozen in their tracks. The mist on the beach swirled and gathered. Rhys turned his head to see shapes forming within its murky depths until, to the accompaniment of a stirring drumbeat, yet another phantom host appeared. These were the drowned sailors that the Little Drummer Boy had led ashore to safe haven many years before. Like the Mild Hunt, they regarded this island as their home. No upstart band of ragged-trousered wraiths was going to suddenly come in and scare the living daylights out of its inhabitants. That was their job! Besides, all of the ghosts on Hopeless (with the possible exception of Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock) had something of a soft spot for the generations of Night Soil Men whom they had seen come and go. They had watched them perform their thankless work night after dreary night with little chance of respite; this was a fate, they perceived, not unlike their own.

“At ‘em lads”, shouted one of the shipwrecked ghosts.
Spectral cudgels and belaying pins swung through the air, raining mercilessly on  phantom flesh until, before long, the press-gang was sent scuttling back to the jolly boat.
Rhys, who, in the confusion, had escaped Charlie’s clutches, felt himself being gently led to safety by the ghostly (and curiously wandering) hands of the maiden ladies of The Mild Hunt, who giggled girlishly to themselves as they flew once more up into the night, followed closely by their unruly spaniels.

The Little Drummer Boy and the drowned sailors lingered on the beach until the galleon could be seen to weigh anchor, set its decrepit sails and disappear from sight around the headland. Rhys, lying on the dark shingle, watched, still shaken, as one by one, the sailors dissolved into the mist.
“Thank you,” he cried, as the Drummer Boy, the last to leave, began to fade from sight.
Rhys could swear that he waved back to him, but it may have been his eyes playing tricks.
Drury nuzzled the Night Soil Man’s neck with a bony nose.

“And thank you too, old friend,“ said Rhys, getting up and retrieving his bucket. “Hopefully they won’t be coming back for another hundred years. Now let’s go home. I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”


Author’s note: Although that most famous of ghost ships, The Flying Dutchman, is generally associated with the  waters of the Southern Hemisphere, there have been reports of other crafts seen in the North Atlantic, as evinced in the following poem by Irish poet and lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

Written On Passing Deadman’s Island, In The Gulf Of St. Lawrence, Late In The Evening, September, 1804.

    See you, beneath yon cloud so dark,
    Fast gliding along a gloomy bark?
    Her sails are full,–though the wind is still,
    And there blows not a breath her sails to fill!

    Say, what doth that vessel of darkness bear?
    The silent calm of the grave is there,
    Save now and again a death-knell rung,
    And the flap of the sails with night-fog hung.

    There lieth a wreck on the dismal shore
    Of cold and pitiless Labrador;
    Where, under the moon, upon mounts of frost,
    Full many a mariner’s bones are tost.

    Yon shadowy bark hath been to that wreck,
    And the dim blue fire, that lights her deck,
    Doth play on as pale and livid a crew,
    As ever yet drank the churchyard dew.

    To Deadman’s Isle, in the eye of the blast,
    To Deadman’s Isle, she speeds her fast;
    By skeleton shapes her sails are furled,
    And the hand that steers is not of this world!

    Oh! hurry thee on-oh! hurry thee on,
    Thou terrible bark, ere the night be gone,
    Nor let morning look on so foul a sight
    As would blanch for ever her rosy light!