Monday, January 9, 2017

The Kraken by T.R.Hart (part 1 of the John Osborne adventure series)

The Kraken
by T.R.Hart

   My name is John Osborne. In my youth everyone called me " Jacky", and I do believe that I am still known by that name by the  few members of my close relatives who still survive. As my days on this Earth are numbered, I feel compelled to share the accounts of my adventurous life as I remember them. They occurred between the World Wars when I was at  the peak of my manhood. Since then I had settled down to a more conventional existence providing for my wife and family.

   I had the good fortune to be born (as it was drummed into me from my earliest memory) as member of the Philadelphia "aristocracy".  Association with others not of my rank in society was frowned upon. I  attended the finest private schools,  travelled abroad with my family and peers, and would even possess  as my birthright, membership to the exclusive Philadelphia Club located on Walnut Street, a mere stone's throw from the Philadelphia Stock Exchange,  in the heart of the city. It was assumed that I would take up the mantle of my family's business of investing and making money. My brothers Neil and Freddie were graduates of the famous Wharton School and like my brothers I graduated, with honors, from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance, ...but, unlike them, I was indifferent to the world of business.

   Perhaps it was my love of literature which stoked the fire in my brain to rebel against the provincial wishes of my Mother to find employment within her circle of influential friends. She considered me to be either a dreamer or a slacker. I can still remember her saying to me: " I fear that you have that Yankee blood of your father's ancestors bidding you to a life of destitution and a dissolute lifestyle!"  It is true that my Father was not the beneficiary of his own family's wealth, but of my Mother's.

   My Father was an ambitious man. He came from humble means, but recognized the importance of self-education, diligence in work, and calculating the conveyance to each promotion within the firm to which he was employed. He was a handsome man who had caught  my mother's eye despite the numerous  admirers  attracted by her beauty, and of course, my grandfather's wealth.

   My Grandfather was as shrewd as well as being tightfisted, but he was impressed by  my Father's frugality as well as his ability to invest in lucrative speculations. His son-in-law could "rub elbows" just as easily with the rich as  with the working man. My  father, it was said, had the "people's touch". He was often seen in his suit, complete with his bowler hat trading jests  with the dockworkers. As a younger man he had developed his fine physique laboring in New England's marinas to pay for his schooling. I had developed his love for the sea at an early age and was my father's steadfast companion whenever he would be called away to do business up and down the East Coast during summer vacation.
   My paternal lineage had been traced to the earliest settlers of the colony of Massachusetts colony. As he was unwilling to believe that an Osborne had actually signed the Mayflower Compact, my Father investigated the family claim. I remember the day that he approached his father with the irrefutable proof. My grandfather who been making quite merry that morning at the local "watering hole. Upon receiving this unwelcome news, my grandfather bent over and squeezed my cheek while offering me a toffee with his other hand. "Our ancestor may not have signed the Compact," he roared with laughter, "but he got them there on his ship!" 

I had fond memories of the Osborne clan, but I lost all contact with them when my Father passed away unexpectedly from a stroke at the age of forty-five.  It had affected me deeply, but I was expected to mourn his death publically with the quiet demeanor of a man of my position.

I Plot My Escape

   As I had previously mentioned, I had graduated with honors from the prestigious Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. My Mother had already been casting her net for well-connected, well-bred, suitable ladies of marrying age despite my protestations. Neil and Freddie were married into prominent families whose mansions lined the wealthier streets in suburb of Merion, Pa. Every day,  meticulously dressed young husbands made their way to the Merion Station for their daily commute to the Reading Terminal. It was a few blocks from Philadelphia's business district where they would do battle in the perilous world of commerce. I was resolute to my plan and escape from this inevitable life of drudgery. Like Melville's  Ishmael I would seek my freedom on the seven seas.

   I was well known around the docks in Philadelphia. My Father was well-remembered by the men who worked there long after he had been forgotten by those whom he had helped to become and remain wealthy.  Much to my Mother's consternation I had began to frequent with "Papists" and Jews who offended her delicate Quaker sensibilities. She repeatedly warned me about associating with the thieving Italians and the back-stabbing Jews, but none of them could arouse the abject fear she held for the Irish. In her mind they were the worst of the lot. My propensity for alcoholism from my Father's family, according to my Mother, could only be encouraged by individuals born from this race of drunkards.

   I had been in contact with a Mr. Charles Murphy who would help me to find employment as an able seaman aboard a tramp steamer that had ferried Welsh Coal up and down the eastern coast of England and Scotland.  Upon my arrival in Liverpool I would then seek a Captain O. Van Kortlandt, skipper of the 'Kentbrook'. Mr. Murphy made him aware of my thoroughbred lineage, but explained that I was a hard-working, and an affable young man intent on learning maritime commerce from the ground up. The  Captain had assured Mr. Murphy that he would welcome an educated man amongst his crew having found the void of intelligent companionship during his voyages at sea lonely and sometimes maddening. The machinations of my plan had been set in motion.

    My Mother was informed of my decision to travel to England. I had invented the ruse that I would be seeking employment in the maritime trade in order to establish connections between American businessmen and the Welsh coal industry in the event that a coal strike would be fomented by the unscrupulous communist element within the coal miner's union. Although she was not initially convinced that my plan was entirely sound, she capitulated when I reminded her of the devastation to the stock market that sporadic coal strikes from 1919 to 1922 had caused. So, with my Mother's blessing, and some guilt, I boarded an ocean liner of the Inman Line en route to Liverpool.

I Begin My Life At Sea

   I arrived at Liverpool in just under two weeks. The voyage was uneventful and I enjoyed the company of the ship's Captain who had been acquainted with Captain Kortlandt for several years as he supplied coal to his company. His reputation was excellent, but his company had little demand for coal as the new efficient diesel powered ships had replaced the coal-powered liners of the past.  Luckily a ready market for coal still existed for heating homes and firing the factory furnaces throughout Great Britain.

   The 'Kentbrook' was typical of the three-island tramp steamers that plied their trade delivering coal and finished products throughout the ports that lined the North Sea.  We were known as the vagrants or "tramps" of the shipping trade as we did not follow a schedule or itinerary of ports-of-call. We, the trampers,  were also called the "workhorses" of the world transporting goods to all parts of the globe. I felt a freedom on the sea that I had never experienced before. I must confess that I had not anticipated the extent of the labor demanded by the work, but the strong physique and newly acquired darkened complexion resulting from my exposure to the elements would make any landlubber envious. I laughed  as I was confronted by the pirate's countenance staring back at me in the mirror when I washed my face. That man with jet black hair and full grown beard would have caused the young ladies of my society to faint! I loved my life at sea and dreaded the possibility of returning to my former life.

   Captain Kortlandt was the kind of man that I had hoped to become. He had a quiet demeanor, could converse on just about any subject, and was judicious in his management of his ship and crew. Safety was his main consideration while engaging in the business of transporting and delivering cargo. Drunkenness was not tolerated by the Captain. He chose his crewman wisely. Desperate men were easy to find on any wharf, but they tended to travel on merchant ships designated for the warmer climates of the Pacific Islands. These men had hopes of finding a life of leisure after disembarking from the ships. The crewman of the North Sea tended to be family men looking for better pay than working the docks, or building ships for the "His Royal Majesty".  They were accustomed to the solitude of the sea and enjoyed the camaraderie of their shipmates. The Sea could be a dangerous place to work, but the men who plied their trade in a sober manner minimized the risks.

   I had been invited to the bridge on several occasions by Captain Kortlandt. We had become fast friends in a short time. He began to instruct me in navigation and before long I was manning the helm. I relinquished control to an experienced pilot when navigating the ship close to port or through icy waters.  

   One day while I was on watch, scanning the horizon on a summer afternoon, I suddenly spotted an object bobbing in the water. It was a small white boat approximately 300 yards ahead to the starboard side. The Captain was keeping company with me on the bridge then and adjusted his spyglass to get a better view. "It's a man!" he shouted. "Cut engine and prepare to rescue!" 

The Demise Of The "Glenda"

   A boat was launched from our ship and within minutes the man was pulled to safety. Jonesy, the second in command and a poet at heart, would recount the story of the heroic rescue to anyone that would listen. The tale would always begin with "More dead than alive was he, when we found him adrift in the Northern Sea…"

   We were headed to port at Folkestone and hoped to arrive in two days. The rescued man was murmuring quietly in his sleep. He had been twisting and turning in bed before he was able to drink some water plied with brandy. This seemed to calm him and he slept soundly until morning.

   I was curious and was relieved from my watch after requesting to care for the man. I carefully spoon-fed some broth which revitalized  him. He was an old man with such a strong cockney accent that required some translation from my shipmates. I will not attempt to imitate his manner of speech as it would confuse the reader, but from what I had gathered, he was a ship's cook aboard a merchant ship called the "Glenda Marie, or Glenda Melissa or Glenda Melanie". As I am not certain of  which it was, I will suffice in calling it  the "Glenda", which means pure, clean, or good as it common among the Welsh for naming their ships.

   I did not recall the man's Christian name but as all cooks aboard ship are known as "Cookie", I will refer to him by that title. The "Glenda" was smaller and older than the "Kentwood" but she was seaworthy and like ourselves followed the same sea routes. Cookie was one of a crew of 18 men aboard ship and appeared to be the sole survivor. Captain Kortlandt could not verify the ship's loss because tramp steamers  did not follow a regular schedule like the ferries or ships of the passenger lines.

   Cookie took some bites of rye bread and a hardboiled egg. We plied him with some strong coffee and he seemed to rally. Each sip from his cup was followed by a phlegmy  cough and a violent shaking of his body as he sat on the edge of the extra bed left vacant by one of the sailors  who decided to stay on in Grimsby to rekindle a romance with a local girl that he had  met while at port. Our cargo was lighter on the return trip, so it was not uncommon to lose crewmembers on the return trip.

   Cookie took a pipe offered by Jonesy. We all were curious about the ship's fate and quietly asked him if they had met with an accident as no foul weather had been reported that month. His reply was met with gasps of horror from those present: "Nay, it weren't no accident…It was the Kraken!"

   The Kraken was purported to be a mythological beast of gigantic proportions chronicled in the Norse legends. The word "Kraken" is derived from the Norwegian or Swedish word "Krake" which signifies something twisted or evil. In fact, the word crook is also a derivation of Kraken.

   This animal had been described as being so large as to resemble a small island surrounded by sea birds. Fishermen avoided proximity to these sea monsters claiming that there would be no fish (or fishermen) to be found as everything in its path would be devoured to satiate the hunger of this 'Devilfish".

   Several accounts of ships being attacked by this creature go back to the 13th century, but scholars believed that earlier sightings by men who sailed the northern seas described the same animal or animals. They were considered incapable of reproduction and very old as they only inhabited the greatest depths of the ocean within the same location.

   Most of the claims of these giant octopuses attacking ships had been discounted. The most infamous was made by the French malacologist (one who studies mollusks which includes the octopus and squid) Pierre Dénys de Montfort. In 1802 he described ships being sunk by giant octopuses by Norwegian Sailors,  American Whalers and as even as  far back as the Roman Historian  Pliny the Elder. His proposal that a French ship of the line and 10 British Warships must have been attacked and sunk by a colossal Octopus in 1782 off the coast of Newfoundland led to his humiliation. A survivor of The Ville de Pairs verified the cause of the maritime disaster to be …a hurricane.

   An educated man would have been deemed foolish to believe such a  statement, but within this circle of believers only a foolish man would invite a sound beating by expressing his incredulity. Cookie turned his head slowly in both directions and began to recount his story in a loud whisper. 

   He had been cleaning the pantry after having cooked dinner for the crew. He was listening to the men's footsteps on the decks above him.  As there was no work to be done at the present, Cookie lit his pipe and joined the men who were enjoying the warmer summer weather. He determined that the breezes were still cool enough to require a thick sweater. As he was returning to his quarters to retrieve the sweater he felt a bump and a grinding noise that reverberated throughout the corridor.

    His first reaction was that the ship may have hit a whale, but before he could catch his balance he was thrown off his feet and thrust into a wall. Crawling on all fours he made his way to the mess hall and realized that he was climbing through the pantry door. The whole ship began to rock back and forth. 'This is no whale.' he thought. 'Something much larger and stronger has the ship in its grasp!' To his horror he witnessed a massive tentacled arm pulling on the ship's radio antenna through a porthole. 'My God!" he thought. "We are lost!" 

  Objects were being ripped from the superstructure of the ship while men shouted and ran for their lives like mice escaping a cat. He heard the dreadful snapping of a cargo winch and the ripping of a mast from the deck. Cookie peered out through the porthole again and saw the Bosun signaling for the deckhands to lower the lifeboats from their davits. One boat was being lowered against the side when the ship suddenly lurched backward scattering the men into its wake. Men screamed just as the boat was smashed beneath Glenda's hull. Smashing glass and the Captain's scream were heard as the bridge, located directly above the dining hall, was being twisted and pulled from the deck. In an instant Cookie looked up to where the ceiling had been. He stood in shock as he witnessed a large tentacle tossing the bridge into the water blackened with coal dust spilled from the guts of the ship's hold.

  The old man was finding new life in limbs that had atrophied with age or so he had believed.  He scurried about the deck strewn with the horrible spectacle of mangled bodies and twisted metal. He had been at the Battle of Jutland in the Great War but it had never been so close to the carnage that he was seeing. The most horrifying sight of all was that of one of a boilerman being fed into the beaked cavernous mouth of the Kraken. He felt himself screaming but heard nothing when one of the tentacles came groping close to his feet. He ran to the port side of the ship and looked over the side where he beheld an eye  so large that its diameter was wider than the tallest of the men. The eye was dull and lifeless. He paused for a moment. Was it shock or instinct that suspended his movement? He felt another jolt and in an instant he was thrown into the water.  He swam as far as he could from the sinking ship. The last moments of his beloved ship and crew were recorded into his memory as he watched the Glenda slip beneath the blackness to its watery grave.

   It was a miracle that he had survived. He didn't remember how he climbed aboard the remaining lifeboat. Had he been pulled to safety? He could not recollect any other survivors sharing the boat with him. Still he could not shake the fear that the monster who claimed the crew would seek him out to clam its final victim.

   Cookie started to behave strangely that night. He refused to eat the dinner that the cook prepared for him and shouted that it would be the "Dead Man's final meal". He begged Captain Kortlandt to set him adrift again in order to lure the Devil away from the 'Kentbrook'. The Kraken, he warned us, was seeking him out. Our crew was in peril as long as he remained aboard. Of course the Captain refused his demands and ordered the ship's Doctor (actuality a sailor with some medical training) to administer a sedative. Cookie twisted and turned and fought while the Captain, Doctor, and I struggled to hold him down. He must have been a pugilist in his younger days because he delivered a blow to the Doctor that sent him to the floor when he tried to stick the needle into his arm. Cookie coiled into himself and made a dash for the door. Realizing that he might throw himself overboard, I quickly blocked the door and received a devastating blow to my abdomen. The old man attempted a leap over my prone body, but I grabbed hold of his ankle and he fell into the hallway.

   Cookie was lying on his belly  and stretched out as if he were pulling away from an imaginary horror. He screamed out as if in a delirium, 'Ye'll never get me devil!' We heard him whimpering like a small child and then he became still. The Doctor ran over and checked his pulse. There was none. 'He's dead!'

    The disappearance of the "Glenda" is still a mystery. Had she met with a natural phenomenon such as a rogue wave, waterspout, or  perhaps a maelstrom? Was Cookie driven mad by during his ordeal on the lifeboat or was he indeed, the last victim of this Kraken? Could there really be such a creature? Perhaps someday we will know the answer.

   The Captain notified the owners of the ship who informed us that Cookie had no living relatives. On the following morning we paid tribute to him before committing his body to the sea.

The End

1 comment:

  1. I am very sorry about the loss of type. I have reported the problem after numerous attempts to correct it. Please highlight the selections which are not visible in order to read the story. Again, I apologize for the problem. T.R.