The St. Elise sailed recklessly against the wind and rain, the ship’s direction characteristic of its eccentric, vicious pilot. Captain Josiah Morris spun the helm in what appeared to be random patterns, howling vulgarities and challenges to God defiantly into the blackened heavens. Lightning struck in the distance, and Morris’ roar matched its thunder.
Of the twenty-seven men who had begun what many called a fool’s journey, only one remained.
England, nearly one year prior to the storm. A decidedly more stable Captain Morris approached the docks where his pristine ship had made berth. A gaggle of would-be sailors surrounded a soap box stage, eager for work on the newly commissioned English vessel. Adjusting his hat, Morris stepped onto the box and motioned for silence. Despite being an experienced sea captain, Morris was far from the briny, grizzled bear of a man one might first imagine. Instead, he held all the esteem of a nobleman – his clothes were pressed and clean, his face shaved and handsome.
When the crowd had reached a reasonable level of silence, Morris spoke forth in a charming baritone. “I seek the finest, the bravest, the strongest of men to accompany me on a journey unparalleled by any that have come before, or will come after. I seek wealth – not in gold or jewels, neither in land nor political dominion. I seek… immortality.” Most men chuckled at this. A few shook their heads and walked away. Morris paid no mind.
“This journey will be dangerous… very dangerous. You will have to invest your very life into it, and should you survive, it will be returned to you ten-thousand fold!”
More laughter. More men turned away.
“Of course, for your services, you will be paid a sum of five hundred pounds sterling… in addition to your eternal life.”
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Make it seven! Eight, even! No, nine! Nine hundred!”
This silenced most, but left a few in hysterics. “Nine hundred, he says! Oi, if I come with you on your little trip, will you crown me next king?” A younger man, rather lanky, called out to Morris in between hiccups of laughter.
“My boy, kings will fall at your feet when you return.”
“Now he’s tryin’ to make us commit treason, see? Go hang yourself, you daft-”
Before he could finish, Captain Morris pulled out a small pouch. He poured its golden contents, no less than one hundred pounds sterling, onto the ground before the now awestruck crowd. “This, my good fellows,” he grinned now as the last coin fell from the pouch, “is a wage that would insult a pauper, should he sail aboard my ship. Be assured I am in a position to make good on your full payments, if only you join me. There is space aboard the St. Elise for a crew of twenty-six men to live and work comfortably. Come quickly now, or you will regret it, I promise you that.”
Whispers of “he’s bloody daft, but rich”, “he’s serious ain’t he”, “never seen so much in my life” permeated the crowd, their once-cackling mouths now agape. Captain Morris’ grin grew into a full smile as the crowd’s excitement spread.
The lanky man from before stepped forward. “Seems I had you figured wrong, mate. Name’s Webb, and I’ll go on whatever loony adventure you can dream up for that kind of pay.”
Webb had cracked open the floodgates. Now a few more stepped forward, looking nervous, as if the offer was too good to be true, and if they approached him too quickly he might vanish. Soon every man within earshot of Morris’ speech was clamoring to get their names on the crew list. During the chaos, someone grabbed the gold coins Morris had dropped, but he didn’t care at all. What was such a meager sum to him when eternal life was within his grasp?
The day had come to set sail. The sun was still barely hidden behind the horizon, its glow already providing a beautiful orange contrast to the ever-blue sea. A few long, flat clouds hung motionless in the sky.
The St. Elise looked as beautiful as a ship could. This would be its sophomore voyage. Along with the English flag flying proudly on the main mast, beneath it was a strange flag with a figure-eight shape on it. A closer glance revealed it to be two serpents eating each other, their black forms formidably sized and easily noticeable against the bright white background. If one were to look inside the ship, he would notice the doors to the brig had been removed. The brig itself was filled to capacity with boxes and bags. Clearly, the St. Elise was not intended to take prisoners of any sort. A large supply of salted meats, cheese, whiskey, and drinking water would support the crew for six months, and the emergency rations would last them an extra two months should they encounter trouble.
The first to report for duty was a stocky fellow with a shaved head, who called himself Hughes. The next identified himself as Adams, an athletic and handsome man who seemed to be about Morris’ age. One by one they appeared, saluting their new captain and helping to load the ship with supplies. Sometimes an unlisted man would appear and try to board the ship, but no sooner would he be turned away then another would arrive and attempt the same thing. Some even tried to say they were someone who had already checked in. Morris had no way of knowing who was telling the truth, nor did he particularly care, so he allowed whoever first claimed to be a listed name to be admitted on board.
Once every man and supply was accounted for, Captain Morris declared the ship ready to embark and sent the crew to their positions. An older but able gentlemen called Jackson assisted Webb in opening the sails, and they set off into the horizon. The tearful goodbyes of the crew’s friends and family were marred by the jealous sneers of those who failed to make the list, or at least deceive the Captain.
The St. Elise had begun its last journey.
To say the first month of sailing was uneventful would be an understatement. Clear skies and a slow, steady wind guided the St. Elise due south. “To the shores of Africa”, they were told. The ship remained close to the coast of France during this part of the trip, and already the men began to grow bored of their condition.
To stave off boredom, the sailors pestered the younger and smaller members of the crew, forcing them to do the more difficult and dirty jobs. A young fellow named Cook fell into both these categories, and became the favorite target and scapegoat of his crew mates. Fortunately, Cook was a resilient lad and hardley ever complained, even when made to scrub the whole of the deck all by himself.
One night, a few weeks into the journey, the men even held him over the edge of the ship and acted as if they were going to throw him overboard. Of course they wouldn’t actually do such a thing, but it left Cook shaken nonetheless. This was too much for the young man to handle. He paid them back the next night by pouring copious amounts of salt into their whiskey. They picked on him less frequently after that.
The Captain either didn’t know or didn’t care about any of this. In fact, the only time he even communicated with his crew at all was in the morning, when he assigned duties and gave updates on what course the ship was to follow. He had appointed Hughes as the main helmsman, with a fellow named Marshall to take over when Hughes slept.
Morris never allowed anyone entry to his quarters for any reason, and expressly forbade anyone from disturbing him unless the ship or crew was in imminent danger. Therefore, the crew never saw the walls of his quarters, every inch covered with maps, pins, notes and amateur photographs. They all related to the ‘fountain of youth’ in some way, either through direct mention or implication. The Captain’s desk was no different; a collection of compasses and maps littered the desktop. Some of the compasses were covered with strange markings and pointed somewhere other than North. A few maps, scribbled upon in hasty, small lettering, seemed to depict places that either didn’t exist or were known by entirely different names everywhere else in the world. A ragged bible rested on the nightstand next to his bed, though it was pinned open, with references to men living several hundred years underlined urgently.
The Captain himself never really left his room, only to grab a few days worth of food before retreating back inside. The men tried to question him about it, but he always ignored them, so they eventually gave up and began to act as if there was no Captain. They drank and brawled and raised Hell, acting as if they had already attained their treasure, but so long as they didn’t bother Morris, he never scolded them. Such was the state of things for nearly two months.
Trouble came on the fifty-first day of the journey. The ship had been remarkably lucky to avoid inclement weather up until now, but the St. Elise‘s first challenge had arrived.
The storm came from the South-East, in direct opposition to the trade winds. They had just been nearing the Westernmost point of Africa when it seemed to materialize in front of them. Though the rain itself was rather light, the wind seemed almost angry with the ship as it tossed the hapless vessel between the violent waves. Two men, Fisher and Holmes, were all but catapulted from the ship as they attempted to close the sails; the storm had come on so fast, they had no time to prepare.
A short memorial service was performed the following morning. The Captain did not appear.
As the ship followed the African continent’s curve, the short and furious storms grew more frequent. Five more men were lost across four such storms, reducing the crew’s number to nineteen. Whispers of curses and African jinxes spread like poison through the heart of the ship. Even non-religious men started to bless themselves in the Catholic fashion, and their prayers were whispered in earnest to the dark sky.
All the storms had thrown the ship off course many times. The Captain didn’t share any of his compasses, but thankfully Hughes had brought his own.
After another set of short, violent storms, the crew numbered just twelve. When not on duty, the men no longer laughed and joked. Maybe it was because the biggest bullies, Webb and Johnson, were now lost at sea, or maybe it was because their prey, Cook, was tossed from the crow’s nest during one of the more severe storms. Whatever the reason, the only sounds that came from the St. Elise now were the waves of the fickle ocean crashing against the ship, and its somewhat alarming creaks in response.
One day, Morris flung open his door and walked slowly into the hot sun. His eyes were wide with either terror or excitement, or perhaps both. The men quickly gathered around him, their hearts filled with confusion and anger, yet their faces showed relief. He spoke.
“Gentlemen, for months I have kept myself in solitude. I have pondered and inquired, researched and planned.” His voice had a weathered rasp to it, owing probably to lack of use in combination with the salty air. “I am tired for little sleep, so I will be brief. I have found the elixir of life – the fountain of youth – at long last.”
“Hang your fountain, you bloody scoundrel! Count your men!”
“We ain’t number but twelve after storms threw us about like…”
“Like we was nothin’!”
Shouts of agreement from all sides. To everyone’s surprise, Morris began to laugh. “You fools, don’t you understand what I’ve just told you? Or is there seaweed in your bloody ears?! I have found it! We are days away from wielding the power of God himself!”
At this sentiment, a few flashed with rage.
“I didn’t come on this damned boat to be killed by some voodoo hex!” shouted Hughes.
“I don’t want none of your fountain nonsense, just pay us so we can get off this cursed pile of lumber!” cried Jackson.
“Pay us! Let us leave!” They began shouting at him.
The Captain snarled at them. “No one is going anywhere save by my hand or God’s. You will be paid in full when my destination is reached. Until then, nothing!”
Jackson drew his saber and charged the Captain. There was a flash and a loud snap, and Jackson laid dead on the deck. The men were all suddenly silent, save for Jackson. The fatal wound on his left eye gushed blood onto the high-grade lumber deck with a sickening drip. Morris frowned at the man he had just murdered, and sheathed his pistol. With all the selfish tone of a child, he proclaimed “No one will stop me from getting what I want!” He turned and strode stiffly back into his quarters. “Mutiny has but one result on my ship.” He added flatly before slamming the door behind him.
Jackson bled out in utter silence, the men staring at him with gazes as lifeless as his own. Even the waves seemed to pause in respect for the dead man. In the nearing distance, an enormous thunderstorm punctuated the silence with an ominous rumble.
“He’s the devil, he is.”
“We ought to strangle him in his sleep.”
“But you seen that pistol he has! Shot Jackson, rest his soul, faster than I could blink!”
“And he don’t sleep, that’s for sure. You all seen his eyes, all dark and baggy.”
“The Captain’s possessed. Must be.”
“Or he’s just completely daft. He ain’t right in the head, see.”
“Well what do you aim to do about it, mate? We ain’t got pistols.”
“But we got numbers. Twelve… no, eleven of us against one o’ him. ‘n we got our sabers.”
“Completely gone mad, he has.”
“I’m tellin’ you he’s possessed by a demon, or the devil himself!”
“Ol’ Morris is the Antichrist walkin’, I says.”
“Maybe he’s possessed and daft, it don’t matter the reason.”
“Right. We just gotta find out how to turn this ship around. I don’t even care about the money no more, I just want to get home to me daughter.”
“Amen to that, mate. What we been on here for, five months?”
“Shot him dead, right on the spot…”
“Five months eleven days.”
“Why ain’t we there yet? When I used to work on the Virgin Mary III, passage to the New World only took about three months! Africa just took between one and two!”
“The ship is cursed, that’s what it is. We ain’t never gonna arrive.”
“Arrive where, mate? We ain’t headed nowhere but the end of the world.”
“I don’t wanna hear none of that curse stuff no more.”
“But we can’t see the coast.”
“Hughes got his compass, and for that we’ll be fine.”
“We’ll be fine, he says. With a lost ship and a mad captain, we’re all gonna come sailin’ home in two weeks, immortal and wearing expensive robes that put the Pope’s to shame.”
“Yeah, and you’ll have gold pourin’ out your arse.”
“I ain’t seen a shilling on this boat, asides from the coins he dropped when he convinced us to come on this bloody ship.”
“Oi, how’s he plan to pay us then?”
“He’s the God-damned Antichrist, he ain’t payin’ us nothin’.”
“I checked the cargo in the hold. Nothin’ there.”
“I’ll bet he keeps it all in his room, and that’s why we ain’t allowed in there.”
“Probably uses it to summon devils and these bloody storms.”
“Enough of that, lads. We got more to worry about than shillings and all that rot. Now what are we going to do to get out of this mess?”
“Here’s how I call it. We die by the storms, we die by the Captain, we die by crazed Negroes on Africa or we live long enough to starve to death on this Godforsaken ship.”
“Or we take control of this damned thing and head back to England.”
“And then the Captain gets what’s comin’ to him – an extra long neck!”
“Why let them have all the fun? Let’s go get him ourselves. Give that bastard the eternal life he’s searchin’ so hard for – in Hell!”
The ship came to a hard, sudden stop. The mens’ whiskey spilled all over them as they tumbled onto each other, hitting their heads, and cursing whatever made it happen. Quickly fear overwhelmed them as the realized that the ship had collided with something.
“All hands on deck! All hands!”
The crew scrambled up the stairs to the main deck. Instead of a sky above them, they saw nothing but rock. It seems Hughes had directed them into a small cove. But no, it couldn’t have been Hughes. His lifeless body was sprawled across the stairs leading up to the helm, where none other than Captain Josiah Morris stood triumphantly. The ship had crashed into a rock wall, where the beautiful and intricate figurehead at its front had been smashed to splinters by the impact. Their faces taut with blinding rage, they shouted at the Captain and drew their sabers, ready to bring him down and ready to go down with him.
But halfway up the stairs, they stopped. The Captain was laughing with tears of joy in his eyes – not at them, but at a small pool in the rock off starboard. He seemed oblivious to the angry men behind him as he walked carefully toward the edge of the ship, reminiscent of how some of his men naively approached him nearly half a year ago on a sunny English morning. Upon reaching the edge, he began to rappel down the anchor line, having dropped it upon the ship’s arrival. He cackled giddily as he descended. The men, swords in hand, gathered at the edge to watch him and see what happened.
Despite their sorrow and fury, they were stunned at what was transpiring and held their breaths as Morris approached what appeared to be the fabled fountain of youth. The water in the pool had a subtle glow to it, and was almost moving and flowing despite lacking an obvious source. On either side of it was a crude, mossy stone carving of a figure-eight. Morris’ eyes glowed with recognition at the symbol. As he reached the edge of the pool, by now a shivering mess of nerves and anxious laughter, the men regained their senses and began to move down the anchor line in pursuit.
They didn’t reach him in time. Morris filled his flask with almost unnaturally sparkling water from the pool and gulped it down as if he had never tasted water in his life. A sailor named Mason was the first to run up the incline. As soon as he could he thrust his saber into Morris to the hilt, the blade piercing his heart. All was silent for a moment, but then came the most terrible sound any of them could have imagined.
It was a laugh. The laugh belonged to Morris, but it was unlike any he had uttered before. This laugh was cold… inhuman. Mason released his hand from the handle of the blade and stumbled backward. The other men braced themselves, unable to hide the fear in their eyes.
“It… worked. It WORKED!” Morris’ voice boomed and echoed unpleasantly through the cavern. “I am invincible… imm… immortal…!” He turned to acknowledge his crew for the first time. “I AM GOD!”
With a desperate shout, wanting nothing more in the world than to prove him wrong, the ten men standing ran up at Morris and stabbed their blades into him. There was no blood. Morris grimaced for a moment and shouted out in pain, but then simply chuckled at them. He shook his head, gave a triumphant “Ha!” and began to pull the sabers from his body, each one clean and bloodless. When all the blades had been removed from his body, he tore off his shirt to reveal a torso completely absent of wounds. Morris laughed again upon seeing that all his old scars had vanished. The men did not know how to cope with this, and some fell down on their knees and stared up at the Captain. Some prayed to be saved, others for a swift and painless death, still others said nothing at all. Two men made a break for the ship, but were caught swiftly in the back by Morris’ pistol. Adams’ head cracked on a boulder with a sickening crunch. The survivors’ prayers grew more fervent as Morris brandished two of the sabers that should have killed him and sauntered slowly toward them, grinning madly. Even their loudest pleas for divine deliverance could not drown out his terrible voice, vindictive and trembling with excitement.
“Fools. Have you forgotten what I told you about mutiny?”
The wind tore at his long hair, and the flashes of lightning lent his smiling face a sinister tone. He spat hair from his mouth and screamed obscenities into the night sky, blaspheming God and man alike. Captain Josiah Morris over and over again denounced England, the Earth, the human race, and all inhabitants of Heaven and Hell. He never stopped laughing his unsettling laugh. He had been immortal for six months, though time was irrelevant to him now.
When he finally made it back home, not even the most vast armies would be able to stop him. He was absolutely indestructible. First he would overthrow the crown and establish a new government, with himself as the Philosopher King. No, the Pharaoh! Perhaps something even grander. And all who ridiculed him, all who told him he was wrong, or even mad… he would personally send them to the deepest levels of Hell for high treason and blasphemy against their Holy Emperor. Yes, that was a good title. Then, leading his pathetic mortal followers into battle, he would slay any who did not recognize him as their Holy Emperor. His reign would be eternal and absolute.
These are the thoughts that raced through his mind as he headed toward what he figured was North. His compasses never led him astray, and they wouldn’t now. Even if they did, he was in no hurry. Why, he’d simply sail around the entire world and claim it for himself! He literally had all the time in the world.
The sky was a spider’s web of lightning, and every thunderclap growled threats against the St. Elise. Morris spun the helm to the left as far as it would go, then turned it back all the way to the right. All the wind and rain in the world couldn’t stop him now, and he wanted to make that point clear.
Suddenly, the whole world exploded. Lightning had struck the main mast and the helm at the same time. The helm turned immediately to splinters, the charge exiting through Morris’ body and flinging him backward off the ship. The surge that struck the mast exited the ship through the anchor, blowing a hole in the side of the vessel. As he fell, the Captain saw the whole of his ship glow like the sun. When he hit the icy water, he felt no pain. His nerves were destroyed, it seemed. For what felt like forever at the time, he floated face up in the sea, stunned as his ship burned all around him and began to sink. He began to laugh as he realized once again that he had nothing to fear.
A large splinter of burning wood fell from somewhere high above him and pierced all the way through his left shoulder. He was wrong about his nerves being destroyed. He screamed in agony, though it was drowned out by a particularly loud thunderclap. Morris felt something grab his right leg and begin to drag him down beneath the surface. With just a split second to react, he took a deep breath before going under. He could feel the pressure rising on his body as he sank. His ears were ringing so loudly he thought he might go deaf, though if it was from the electrocution or the water pressure, he couldn’t tell. Before the light of the inferno above him faded completely in the ashen water, he saw the anchor’s rope seemingly noosed around his leg. Within a minute or two of sinking and trying feverishly to free himself, the pressure became too much for his lungs. He weakly expelled the last breath he would ever take.
Morris began to suffocate immediately. He continued trying desperately to unwrap the anchor rope from his leg, but as he sank he grew weaker, and his surroundings grew darker. He inhaled sharply- a panicked reflex – pouring saltwater into his lungs, and he began to thrash wildly, a feral beast caught in a trap. In his hysteria, he felt his heart trying to break out of his chest.. It began beating irregularly, his body starving for oxygen. Why was this happening to him? He was supposed to be invincible…? Perhaps the water had simply given him an adrenaline boost all those months ago, and all this time he had been mortal? It didn’t add up, but there was no denying any longer – he was dying. It was all too much, and Captain Josiah Morris started to lose consciousness, thinking himself finished. He tried to make his peace with God, for all his earlier bravado had been chipped away to nothing by pain and fear. There was no light anywhere now, but he felt his eyes close, and he succumbed at last to the darkness.
But it was not to be. He awoke, now stationary at the bottom of the ocean, in intense, unfathomable pain. It was so, so cold. As the immense pressure crushed his body, it rebuilt itself over and over, only to be crushed again. The rope tied to his leg was now impressed permanently in his skin, and the painful section of wood in his shoulder was now being melded to his bone by his regeneration. He struggled for breath every second, unable to take in even water due to the pressure on his lungs. Always dying, never dead. The thin veil of hope and sanity that had remained in his mind was stolen away into the dark abyss in which he would now remain. Immortality was his at last. He cried out in silence.
Miles above him, amidst the sinking, burning wreckage of the St. Elise, floated a tattered and charred white flag with a figure-eight pattern.