Octopus Pirate is live on Amazon – e version
Paperback and hardback here http://www.lulu.com/shop/jane-yates/octopus-pirate/paperback/product-22537082.html
Radio star and actress Rebel Meddler will be recording it into a audio book.
Catherine gasped, she was feeling uncomfortably hot. She took out a clean white handkerchief and wiped the sweat beads from her forehead. Being on board a cruise ship had been the last thing she had wanted. Horace, her husband, had been newly appointed as captain. It was a big deal and he had expected her to accompany him and be a dutiful Victorian wife.
All around her jubilant people, dressed in their finest clothes, were gaily promenading around the deck of the ship. A string quartet played, Catherine recognised the song; it was Beethoven. The sweet notes, jollity lifting the air, would have made her smile normally, but not today as, although this was a large ship, in Catherine’s heavily pregnant state the movements of the waves, however small, were violent enough to make her feel sick. She looked around at the faces of the passengers; she knew no one, nor did she want to. Their laughter sounded false and forced to her. She watched them, revolted, as they greedily drank the free champagne.
She looked down at her large belly, feeling overwhelmingly sad. She had not liked the thought of giving birth at sea, even although there was a good doctor and mini hospital on board. She hadn’t imagined motherhood to be like this.
She thought of her home, a lovely red brick house, the open fireplaces and the beautifully decorated nursery ready for this much-anticipated first child. She had lovingly selected each new toy, the clockwork duck mobile, the musical tin top that had been handed down and cleaned up. She had scoured marketplaces and picked out teddy bears with red glass eyes and the softest velvet pink noses. She had sanded down and re-varnished an old bleached pine chest of drawers that now stood in the corner of the nursery, full of hand knitted jumpers from local old ladies, in lemon yellow wool with small wooden buttons.
Catherine let out a sigh. All right, she had known what being married to a sailor would be like, sailors were in her blood; they ran dark and red through her family history. Horace had also come from a long line of sailors. However, his ancestors had not set sail on such a fancy ship as this, as far back there was a rumour that they were pirates.
‘The Empress,’ was an impressive steamship. Catherine leant back on the top deck wall and admired the small gay bunting that fluttered in the wind. The smell from the buffet was rich and sweet and she felt salty bile build in her mouth. She turned and walked away from everybody; she did not feel like being sociable, she did not want to be there and the smell of the sticky food was making her feel more unwell.
Catherine walked past a glass viewing window showing the engine room and marvelled at the large steam pistons that pounded up and down, driving the large ship forward. The intricate clockwork dials spin at incredible speeds before her eyes. She peered down through the panel to the belly of the engine room where she could see men shovelling loads of coal into a large furnace. A copper boiler full of water hissed and bubbled above it, making the steam. From her vantage point, she was able to eye the cylinder and piston, which resembled a large bicycle pump piping the steam into the cylinder, causing the piston to move back and forth. The shine from the gleaming brass pistons was strangely hypnotic; the machine moved in a perfect sequence. The heat and the smell of the coal burning were overwhelming so Catherine walked on.
She reached the bow of the ship and was pleased to find she was alone. She walked to the railings and gulped deep breaths of the fresh cold salt air. Suddenly she began to feel a little faint, she swung around to call out for help, but lost her balance and plummeted deep into the icy waves.
The fear hit her at once; she would drown; she felt as if she was being pulled down deeper and deeper. The noise of the propellers was deafening.
Catherine looked up to the now far away surface; she could see the waves break above her. Her clothes were heavy; she did her best to climb out of them and desperately fought to get back up.
As she hit the surface, gasping for air, she saw the ship was now a good way in front, the waves from its large engines producing a surge in current that rocked Catherine.
Desperately treading water, she cried ‘help!’ But it was useless.
A sudden realisation reached her; no one knew she had fallen off the ship. No one was missing her. She had done her best not to socialise with the others; she had been aloof and not interested, almost sulking, as she was unhappy that she was expected to be there.
She paddled harder and harder in the water, waving her arms desperately. She had heard that there were sharks in this area, blood thirsty sharks; she knew that thrashing around like this was not a good idea, she would attract them.
She thought again about her house, the nursery, the new cot with yellow sheets and happy wallpaper, she thought briefly of her husband and longed for the safety of her mother’s arms.
She watched the ship steam away. She knew it was hopeless; the sea was huge, vast, if they turned and came back to look for her, it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. She was not sure how long it would be before she was missed. Her husband, as captain, was busy, there was to be a grand dinner that evening. Being a perfectionist, he had taken it upon himself to arrange and oversee every small detail from the flowers to food to the music; he would be rushed off his feet.
An unkind glimmer of hope struck her; at the meal, she would be missed. She wistfully imagined the large dining hall with thousands of candles, the fine white porcelain plates, the delicate exotic food and the fragrant wine.
Catherine’s heart sank; her legs and arms were getting tired. She tried to think what the time was. ‘It must be around three in the afternoon and dinner was seven sharp.’ Quickly she did the sum in her head. ‘Four hours.’ She was sure that she would be unable to paddle for four hours, even if she was not in her heavily pregnant condition.
Suddenly she felt sad for her unborn child; it overwhelmed her and she began to cry. ‘The baby, the poor baby.’ It had been so longed for and planned for. She felt a sudden pain; this was her first time as a mother, but she knew intuitively that was a contraction and knew that the baby was going to be born. Trying to calm herself, trying to dull the pain, she desperately looked out across the horizon. Nothing, the steamship was long gone; it had faded into the distance like a dream. Then a sudden calmness hit her, like an acceptance of her death, she stopped paddling and began to sink deeper and deeper, water starting to fill her lungs.
Then she felt the pain again from her womb, the baby was coming and it wanted to live.
Again she fought to the surface, using all her strength. She told herself that there must be something, some hope; she did not want to die like this. Again pictures flooded her mind, the ship, the happy party, the many strange laughing faces and she felt sickened by it. She hesitated as she saw them in her mind as if they turned and faced her, laughing at her in high pitched shrill bursts, their smooth faces smothered in heavy makeup. Their breath was stinking with alcohol, she could even smell it; it hung like a vomit perfume around her.
She cried out, almost screaming, ‘help me! Please!’ She started to pray, although she did not believe in God. She briefly thought about her childhood and how she had been made to attend church. Begrudgingly, she had attended; she had not wanted to give up her Sundays when she longed to be out in the wild countryside, climbing trees and playing with the leaves, running free like an eager deer, not dressed up in stiff clothes listening to lectures on the morality of life.
A thought struck her, a whisper, alone in the deep ocean; maybe this was a punishment from God, a punishment for not believing, for not listening, for pretending.
At that point, Catherine wanted to believe there was a God and that he would save her and if not her, at least, her unborn child. She paddled faster, hoping that this was true.
She chastised herself, why had she not made friends with the people on the ship, oh, why had she been so stubborn? Horace had wanted her to socialise; he had even implied that it was her duty to support him and to be a good wife.
A pang flared inside her again; the contractions were getting closer together, the pain almost unbearable. She lurched on her side in the water, the agony apparent only to herself. Catherine started to worry that any blood from the birth would attract sharks. She hurriedly scanned the water, staring around her, but there was nothing, not even the deafening sound of seagulls that she had become accustomed to hearing. Nothing, just the now peaceful waves lapping upon each other and the hovering of the larger waves in the distance. Then ahead she saw a large clump of seaweed. Desperately, she made her way over to it with a struggle, then hung on to its side limply to catch her breath. Slowly and with much effort, she pulled herself onto it and began forcing herself as near to the centre as she could.
The weed mat was a condensed mass of seaweed, an uneven natural life raft. After she had climbed onto it, she found herself to be still submerged two inches in the sea water as her weight took the seaweed mass below the surface; however, she was grateful she was able to rest at last. The pains were getting closer and closer together. Catherine tried to distract herself by staring at the teeming life that appeared to live around the natural floating island. There were also sorts of brightly coloured small fish that darted around her and larger comical looking crustaceans.
Just as she was starting to relax, the baby pushed again. Catherine shouted, ‘Help me!’ more in frustration than in pain.
She began to question herself, why was she here? Why oh why did she go off on her own and stand so close to the rail? Was it her way of tempting fate? She had no one to blame but herself, but in spite of this and to help to keep hold of her sanity, Catherine started to blame her husband. Why, she thought, why could she have not stayed at home? Why was he so selfish as to make her come on this trip?
Once more, she thought of her own room, her comfy bed, her flowery wallpaper and the blue chintz curtains.
A sharp pain again formed in her belly. Gasping for air, she became drained of energy. That was the largest contraction so far. She screamed with agony, knowing that she had to push. This baby was going to be born whether or not she wanted it to be so; it made no difference.
Her thoughts turned towards the hope of rescue, could there be a chance they would be found alive? She had to hope so, she wanted to believe that ship would turn back to find her, but, in reality, she was not sure how far she had drifted already. Her mouth was dry, she longed for a drink and, as if the gods had taken mercy on her, the clouds suddenly burst, sending warm rain down onto her fragile body. She scooped this gratefully into her hands and drank. The water made her feel calmer and, with one last push, the baby was born.
She had nothing to cut the cord with, and nothing to wrap the now screaming child in. She pushed the baby to her breast and watched motionlessly as it took its first sustenance from her.
On board the ship, Horace checked his pocket watch. It was seven o’clock. He was dressed in his full uniform. He had been busy all day so had not missed Catherine, but now he glanced over at the seat next to himself; his wife’s empty chair.
A silent, angry thought hit him, why is she late? She knows this is important to me. Horace screwed up his eyes and scowled at the door, expecting her hurried entrance, her flustered face and the late apology. He turned his attention to a glass of red wine in front of him, lifting it up; first admiring the redness of the colour, then brought it forward to his nose and breathed in its delicate, full bouquet before tempting himself with a sip. He raised his glass to a wealthy couple sat across from him. The overdressed pair, two plump ladies who were snugged tightly into their whalebone corsets, giggled as they raised their half empty glasses back.
Horace, impatient, signalled to one of the waiters. ‘Go and find my wife and bring her to me.’
The waiter left the room and walked along the windswept deck towards the Captain’s quarters. Not finding her there, he gathered some crew members to help search the ship.
Ten minutes later, when no one had arrived, the captain threw down his serviette in temper and walked out of the dining hall to get her himself.
He was met by whispering in the hallways.
‘Where is my wife?’ Horace demanded when he saw the waiter.
The waiter went white. ‘We’ve looked everywhere,’ he said nervously.
‘Everywhere!’ the captain shouted. ‘She must be on board, I know this is a large ship, but Catherine must be somewhere.’
He paced across the deck before issuing his next order. ‘Everyone, stop what you are doing and make it your priority to find Catherine! She must be found. She is heavily pregnant and could go into labour at any moment.’ An urgent tone was reflected in his voice. Horace tried to think the last time he had seen Catherine and believed it to have been the first thing that morning when they had breakfasted together.
He was angry with himself; he had been too busy with the preparations for the party. This was his first time on board the ship as captain and he had felt duty-bound to oversee every detail; it had been of paramount importance to him.
Of course, he had noticed that his wife had not been around that day, but had put that down to her being pregnant. She needed rest and quiet; he knew that.
Everybody searched the ship but found nothing. The captain, visibly shocked, knew that could only mean one thing. She had fallen overboard. It was getting dark; the lights were on already switched on throughout ‘The Empress.’ The small strings of red, green and yellow lights swayed in the sea breeze which played around the decking.
‘We must stop the ship and turn back!’ Horace ordered. The cry went out the engine halted, the course re-plotted.
‘You and you,’ the captain said, pointing to two of his crew. ‘Get spot lamps on the bow of the ship. All spare hands, look out!’
Meanwhile, in the dining room, the grand party went on, not knowing of the mayhem unravelling around them.
The captain rushed up to the helm and ordered a signal to be sent out to all ships in the area on the route they had travelled.
He was going to turn the ship back. In his heart, he knew it was futile, but he had to try.
He waited impatiently as the Morse-code signal was tapped out, desperate for any news to come back. But nothing came, just endless silence.
After two hours he returned to the deck and watched as the spotlights bounced hopelessly over the water’s surface, only flashing back and illuminating black patches of the cold sea.
It was midnight, the noise from the party in the dining room had hit fever pitch. Everyone was drunk and laughing loudly; all were unaware of the tragedy playing out or even the change in the ship’s course.
The captain was weary, he had had a long day arranging frivolity, he was very angry with himself now for putting such importance on such trivial things. The tiredness shaved his eyes which burned with fatigue, but he could not bring himself to pull them away from the beams of light that skipped off the water in front of him.
He thought about his wife with tenderness. He had fallen in love with her in one moment, the very first time he had seen her. Her father was also a seaman and Horace had called around to deliver a message from the shipping company. Catherine was in the house and had brought tea things into the room. Her strong, wiry black hair shone against her soft pale skin. She had deep brown large eyes that he had inextricably fallen into.
She poured the tea and Horace could not stop looking at her. He was captivated. Catharine handed him a cup, her soft perfume warming him and filling his heart. Their hands briefly touched and he felt an electric tingle shoot up his arm and bring a red flush his face. He was in love, smitten, from then on.
Catherine, in her early twenties, was a striking natural beauty. From a small child, she had known that she wanted to be an artist and illustrate books. She had her whole life planned out; she had already attained her qualifications and was arranging to finish her art studies in Paris. This chance meeting over a cup of tea with Horace had pushed her life into another direction completely.
Horace made his intentions plain there and then; he was not a man to beat around the bush. He was sure that his proposal would be accepted; he was proud and determined. He always knew what he wanted the second he saw it and made an immediate effort to get whatever it was. Luckily for Horace, Catherine’s father admired him and thought him to be more than a suitable match for his daughter. Within a few weeks, they were married and settled into their new home, Cherry Tree Cottage, as picturesque as it sounded.
Now contently married and a homemaker, Catherine plunged with earnest into the small house’s decoration, painting murals on the walls, creating magical planting arrangements in the wind blown garden. She enjoyed the simple pleasures that homemaking brought, such as arranging posies of fresh flowers each day in the living room and hallway to welcome any callers. She also had kindled a new love of baking and enjoyed making fresh bread and jams and inventing her own cake recipes.
As Horace thought about their home at that point, it seemed so very far away and he could not imagine living there without Catherine. She loved Cherry Tree Cottage and he had worked alongside her to get the nursery ready for their child. An icy wind blew up from the sea and Horace’s heart was struck dead. He braced himself as the hero he was, feeling punch-drunk as a tear sniffed its way down his cheek and the realisation that the love of his life would never see home again.
He was lost in his own morbid thoughts. The next time he looked at his watch, it was six in the morning, the sun had tripped its way up over the horizon as the port they had set sail from only yesterday came back into view. He could see the sun rising, colouring the small houses dotted along the cliff a dusky pink. Everything looked so beautiful that, for a fleeting moment, his heart skipped a beat. The seagulls coasted above the ship, screeching an ear-splitting cry which welcomed and signalled their early return.
Horace let out a deep sigh. Catherine was lost at sea. His child would never breathe life and he would never get to hold either of them. A grey shadow drifted across his face and remained with him.
And so it was in this story so far. Horace, although trying all search means at his disposal, came to give up within just one week.
But this is what happened. Days later, out at sea, in amongst the floating bed of weeds, Catherine had given up her struggle to live. The baby lay on her chest, crying with hunger. It was then, from the depth of the sea, an octopus arose. Its arms tenderly explored the baby lying upon the weeds, sensing the small life and the baby’s plight. Without wasting further time, it sent the body of its dead mother to find her rest in a watery grave below. Then, wrapping an arm around the baby and gripping the weed mat in its beak, the octopus sucked the water into its body and propelled itself backwards at great speed to drag the seaweed mat toward hope. Which was found in an unexpected place
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