Canto Fourteen – Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste
Valerie opened the book to the page Mary had indicated with the red paper book mark.
“That’s the spot where the story seems to begin,” said Mary. “The part before that ‘s all cargo manifests and navigational data.”
“Okay,” said Valerie, “Then here goes;” She began to read aloud.
We were sailing southwest from the Republic of Palau in Micronesia where we had taken on supplies at the big island of Koror. It was September of 1979. The seas were calm, although the first mate was tracking a big storm that could potentially turn in our way. We were supposed to deliver the refrigerated meat and vegetables in our hold to Pinoy Proud Food Markets of Manila by the beginning of October. There were supposed to be bananas too, but we had made the mistake of putting the bananas in the freezer and frozen bananas become just the right shade of poo-poo color to make them unmarketable. So the crew had been eating a lot of frozen banana pops. Doc Johnson, whom we call Doc because he knows a lot of useful stuff was worried that we might inadvertently cause hyperkalemic death among the crew, which worried me a bit, but since no one else seemed to know what the heck hyperkalemic meant, we were okay with eating that many frozen bananas, but I was later led to wonder if, in fact, the whole hyperkalemic death thing might be the source of hallucinations.
It was a valid worry as it turned out. Because that September, in the early morning on Monday, September 10th, Kooky Smith first saw the mermaid.
“Wow!” said Danny Murphy, “a real mermaid?”
“Well, that’s the debate, isn’t it?” said Mary. “The story starts to get stranger and stranger. And he even says it might be because they ate too many frozen bananas.”
“Does it say what the mermaid looked like?” asked Pidney.
Valerie looked carefully at the block of text ahead written in Captain Dettbarn’s goofy wrong-way-leaning handwritten letters.
“Um, yes, let me read that part.”
Chinooki was a naked woman from the waist upwards, with comely breasts and long pinkish-white hair. Her skin was a kind of fish-belly-looking silver and her dark red eyes looked brown most of the time, but glowed like fire at night.
“Gonga!” said Danny, a word he often used to express both surprise and admiration at the same moment.
Pidney, however, was blushing a cherry red that covered most of his crew-cut head and neck.
“Chinooki?” asked Mary, “What kind of name is that?”
“It sounds kinda fishy,” said Valerie. “Like Chinook salmon.”
“Or maybe Chinese,” suggested Danny.
They all turned and looked at Danny.
“What? They call Chinese people Chinks, right?”
“Polite people don’t,” suggested Mary.
“Read more about what happened,” Pidney asked Valerie.
Kooky said that he saw her the first time off the starboard rail, swimming with her head and shoulders raised out of the water. He thought she was some kind of shipwreck survivor, but when he hailed her to offer help, she waved at him and smiled, then dove and showed him her fish tail.
Of course, no one believed him. Sea stories like that get told all the time, and Kooky liked to drink… sometimes even on duty. We all knew he was quite capable of seeing things that weren’t real.
But the second time she was spotted, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones were also on deck, and when Kooky shouted they immediately came to the rail and saw her too. Now, Bob was like Kooky in a lot of ways, so we woulda thought he was making it up too, or just backing Kooky’s kooky story for yucks and kippers. But Chuck was well known for both sobriety and honesty. He was the man I trusted to keep the ship’s books because I knew he’d never cheat any of us out of a single penny we were due. And he’d sooner cut off his own hand than tell a lie.
“We have ta catch her and bring her aboard,” Kooky said.
“You gonna eat her?” Bob asked.
“Are you daft, man? I don’t want to hurt her,” Kooky said. “She’s beautiful. I want to catch her and keep her.”
“Be wary,” Chuck said. “If she’s not a natural creature, then she’s some kind of unnatural menace sort of thing. Bringing her on board this ship might be the last thing we ever do in this life.”
“Well, I for one, would very much like to see this real mermaid,” I said. I would later come to regret those words more than any I had ever said before in my whole life.
The four young Pirates all looked at each other, and all four of them shivered at once. Valerie could certainly read out loud in a way that would scare you out of your under pants.