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Ships Biscuits

by BryanW 

Posted: 31 October 2015
Word Count: 999
Summary: For Rio's Halloween Challenge - 575

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Huge propellors still turning, turbines still humming, our ship raised her elegant stern until she stood at right angles to the calm surface of the sea. Then she began to slide - at first slowly, then a bit faster, and at the last with a rush, into the dark blue - as if at first playing a bit coy, but then keen to get to her assignation with Davy Jones.

It seemed, for a while, that the great hull, and above it the twin funnels and bristling gun barrels, remained, our brains unwilling to accept her leaving us.

Oh, I’m forgetting my manners. Sugar in your tea?

“No thanks. But a drop more milk if I may. Cool it a bit. I’ve got to slip off soon.”

And it took a while to realise that we were the only two survivors. Then, suddenly, there came this slurping, sploshing sound. 100 yards aft of our lifeboat a periscope emerged - all shiny and black and dripping - like a fearsome water snake from some old mariner’s tale. Its head began to turn. “Duck! Quick. For God’s sake, man. Don’t let them see us,” Big Bill shouted. We’d heard of survivors being used for target practice by these U-Boat sailors, no doubt desperate to release the nervous energy of the awfulness, the boredom, the tension, of weeks spent sardined in their underwater tin cans.

Big Bill (for that was the name of my lifeboat parter) and I remained still, faces pressed against our vessel’s rubbery bottom. Then - I don’t know who started it - we began to giggle - like two schoolboys hiding together from their mates in a game of hide-and-seek. War's sometimes like that. A kid’s game.

Slowly I lifted my head above the gunwale. Our sea serpent had gone. And we were alone again, adrift in the middle of the southern Atlantic.

“Wow. What an adventure! Thanks for the cup of tea, but I’d better be off. I told the missus I’d be back soon and she’s no idea where I am.”

We were adrift alright, and to make matters worse, His Majesty’s Royal Navy Supplies Department back in Portsmouth had provided only one box of ships biscuits and a two gallon can of purified water. Have you ever tasted ships biscuits, or hardtack, as we naval types call ‘em?

“Can’t say I have. But look at the time. I must get off. And, to be honest, I’m feeling a bit tired.”

Well, I wouldn’t recommend them. Specially not if you have dentures. But have another cuppa. That’ll wake you up.

“Oh alright. Thanks. Might freshen me up a bit. I’ll just drink it quickly, then I’ll push off.”

Well, we soon got into a routine, me and Big Bill. He was companionable enough but neither of us were great talkers. Drifted. We just drifted. Hoping for a passing vessel or to beach up on an island. Our only excitement came from counting the dorsal fins of sharks as they circled and investigated. Oh, and once a flying fish sprang over our port side and landed at our feet. “Here’s a nice bit of protein,” I told Bill - but the crazed fish threshed and thumped and flipped in its frenzy. Bill tried to get hold of it, even managed to get his knife out to top him, but the slippy thing spurted from his arms, flapped against the transom, and plopped back in the water. Bill became quite upset. Said that there would have been enough food for several days from that effing slimy bugger and that our bickies would soon run out. 

And they did - a couple of days later.

Oh. Are you following? I hope I’m not boring you.

“No. No. I’m interested, really I am. Just feel a bit drowsy, that’s all.”

Mmm, well, going without food is a funny thing. For a day or two you feel it. Then you’re sort of numb for a week or so. After that something else kicks in. Survival mode, I guess. Your body - no, not just your body - your mind - well your whole being - starts to cry out ‘I must survive!’. And you go into a strange kind of out-of-body state. Someone once explained it to me -  endorphins or adrenalin sort of thing. Oh. I don’t know. What I do know is that I was having a fitful sort of sleep when I was woken by a waft of body odour, followed by a gush of halitosis. And there was Bill. His face was above me, his eyes wide and wild, saliva dribbling from the sides of his mouth. Then I saw his knife, flashing in the moonlight. I held out my arm and caught hold of his wrist. He was groaning. “Sorry…sorry… I just have to… I’ve got to … live.” Well, I don’t know how, but I twisted his hand round just as he bore down on me - he was a big lad. There was a groan. I wondered for a few moments if the groan had come from me. But no. It wasn’t me. And there was Bill - his big dead corpse lying across me. 

Well, because of Big Bill, I lasted another six weeks out there. Picked up by an Argentinian fishing boat in the end. But as I said to Bill, well, actually to Bill’s well-gnawed thighbone - the very last piece of him - just as Ignacio the Argie fisherman came chugging towards me in his Brigham trawler, “Thanks, Bill, you were quite delicious, but that’s the first and last time I’m going to eat raw homo sapiens, honest.” 

Ah. I see you’re ready at long last. No pulse. The oven’ll have heated up nice by now. You see, I kept my promise to Big Bill never to eat a raw one again, but cooked, just like all the others I’ve had since, you’re going to be absolutely scrumptious.


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Comments by other Members

Bazz at 16:23 on 31 October 2015  Report this post
Hi Bryan, great to see another story from you. :)
Great setting here, feels fairly fresh for a horror story, and I love the layering of past and present, especially as you begin to pick up where it's going about half way, builds up really nicely. I like that the whole story is being told to the victim at the end, it gives it a natural, fluid, tone, keeps the narrative interesting.

BryanW at 16:39 on 31 October 2015  Report this post
Thanks for the comments, Bazz - I hope to be contributing a bit more over the coming months.

TassieDevil at 18:41 on 31 October 2015  Report this post
This put a smile on my face, Bryan, which is not very nice when I think about it. Good quality horror though offset by the politeness of the tea drinking. The title was misleading which was good too as no one likes to guess the ending. 

spent sardined in their underwater tin cans

especially like the turn of phrase here. Enjoyed every tasty little bit. 

RIO at 16:50 on 01 November 2015  Report this post
The plot of the story within just a conversation was a difficult thing to attempt but it works perfect in this story and helps to build the tension. I knew something awful was going to be revealed by the main character and it kept my interest.
Then another creepy theme developed involving the other character. 
This is what a horror piece should be about, the anticipation of  something nasty about to happen and the shock when it does.

bellsgall at 09:42 on 03 November 2015  Report this post
Am I wrong to say that left me smiling at the end?? An enjoyable read, and twisty and unexpected, kept you guessing to the end. 

BryanW at 13:33 on 03 November 2015  Report this post
Well, hopefully your smile wasn't through empathy with the narrator's culinary tastes! 
Thanks for the comment.

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