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Flash Reprint: Paul Weidknecht’s “Apart”

Apart

by Paul Wei­d­knecht

 

He had con­sid­ered them his lads, but now that their brig­an­tine was a blot against the sun­set, he sat alone on the sand bar wish­ing them due course into some dis­tant hur­ri­cane or navy frigate. He imag­ined him­self one day stand­ing hid­den among the Port Royal cit­i­zenry, watch­ing them drop at Gal­lows Point, each corpse later tarred for the gib­bet and gulls. The thought sat­is­fied him, and though he knew the reverie was hope­lessly con­jured, he closed his eyes and grinned into the sun’s wan­ing warmth.

 

A skin of water hung from a lan­yard over his shoul­der and the pis­tol lay in the sand near a pouch of gun­pow­der. He opened his hand and looked down, the lead ball like a tiny egg in the nest of his palm.

 

He’d received no bot­tle. Dur­ing sen­tenc­ing, some­one pro­posed that because he had stolen rum he should be denied that very com­fort. The assem­bly agreed, so it was. Had the theft come against a crew mem­ber he might’ve had his nos­trils slit or an ear cut off and nailed to the mainmast–every ship afloat sailed in the hands of scarred men–but this rum had been part of a prize taken under fire. His offense was against the ship.

 

Hours pre­vi­ous, two had been assigned to row the ship’s launch to the bar as a third held the mus­ket on him. Before they could order him out, he stepped from the bow into the shal­lows and walked up the gen­tle slope of crushed white coral. Tree­less and flat, the land hadn’t the size to accom­mo­date a large barn. He let the sack of pow­der fall and turned back. As the oars­men righted the boat and began to pull, the guard reached below the gun­wales and retrieved the pis­tol. He flung it high onto the beach, before quickly bring­ing up the mus­ket once again.

 

When the ship weighed anchor he expected mock salutes and bows from the crew, con­grat­u­la­tions on being made gov­er­nor of the island. But he heard noth­ing more than the rou­tine shouts of the ves­sel under­way, the creak­ing of its masts, the tick­ing of its taut ropes.
The island would be under­wa­ter soon–any sea­man could divine that much. High tide would bring the water to his waist, per­haps chest. The sky would go pur­ple, then black, then some­thing beyond black. From the dark­ness, a tail would rake the sur­face with a mus­cu­lar thrash and cut away, to cir­cle back.

 

He glanced from the sun when the breeze brought in a scent, one stir­ring a mem­ory not recalled since its origin twenty years before. In it he saw that one spring after­noon, buffed boots and a barber’s shave, his lively step from his appren­tice­ship on the wharf. Their stroll up that grassy hill, reclin­ing under the shade tree with his hands clasped behind his head, look­ing over and smil­ing. And moments later, how her eyes frowned before answer­ing his ques­tion.

 

 

Note: This story orig­i­nally appeared in Frac­tured West.


 

Author’s Note

While con­duct­ing research for a screen­play I wrote about the first African-Amer­i­can war hero, I hap­pened upon Howard Pyle’s Marooned, a paint­ing show­ing a pirate sulk­ing alone in despair on a bar­ren stretch of beach. I thought there could be a story present by address­ing what a cast­away might think as he sat on that sand bar wait­ing for the sun to set and the tide to rise. The ending–unplanned and revealed only as I began writ­ing it–explores one pos­si­ble rea­son why a per­son might aban­don a tra­di­tional life for one of law­less­ness and destruc­tion. I learned a lot about pirates while work­ing on this piece; for exam­ple, that some had a writ­ten code of con­duct they were required to fol­low while aboard ship, and that despite their sav­agery and bold­ness, they would almost always avoid con­fronting orga­nized naval forces, the lat­ter being bet­ter armed and trained. For fel­low writ­ers: the story took 20 rejec­tions before being pub­lished.

 

Paul Weidknecht.JPGPaul Wei­d­knecht’s sto­ries can be found in Once Around the Sun: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Sea­sons, the newest anthol­ogy by the Beth­le­hem Writ­ers Group, LLC. Pub­li­ca­tions include work in Appalachia, Best New Writ­ing 2015, Clacka­mas Lit­er­ary Review, Gray’s Sport­ing Jour­nal, The Hip­pocrates Prize for Poetry and Med­i­cine anthol­ogy, The Los Ange­les Review, The MacGuffin, Potomac Review, Rose­bud, Shenan­doah, and Structo, among oth­ers. He lives in Phillips­burg, New Jer­sey where he has com­pleted a col­lec­tion of short fic­tion.


 

FF.Net Edi­tor Com­men­tary (Ran­dall Brown) 

In writ­ing flash fic­tion, I almost always make the “when” of a flash fic­tion piece dur­ing my own life­time. But what I love about this piece, among many things, is the “when” of it. It makes me want to expand the “when” of my flashes in both directions–to some dis­tant past & present.

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