KAUHUHU by Alexandra Peel
They should have listened to Iokua.
That was the considered, though unspoken opinion, of William Brand, carpenter, as he wrestled with raw, wet rope alongside another, whose features he could not discern through the vicious and all smothering sea that covered it. He knew he must look the same, though Brand’s carrot coloured whiskers would be an indicator. He growled as the rope slid through his bare and bloody hands. The man beside him yelped—Tharsys, new boy. Thin as a reed, brown as a walnut, Brand didn’t hold out much hope for him. They had taken on six or seven new crew this time. Captain had selected from the stranded hodgepodge of human rejects that had washed up on Caicos’ shores.
The Corsair’s Revenge had left the Caicos Islands harbour less than four days ago. The Dutchman had the new crew working like the dogs he believed they were. Only Tharsys had sailed any great distance before, originating in Greece, he had worked his passage before fleeing the Navy by jumping ship in Barbados. The Dutchman kept his cold, grey eyes on him, and the others, including Iokua and Nanue. These two, Hawaiians, dark of gaze and skin had almost instantly fostered a feeling of suspicion from the long standing crew. Nanue seemed to speak for them both, whether they were brothers was not known, but there seemed some sort of silent, discomforting connection between the pair. And when they removed their shirts to work, as invariably most onboard did, it could be seen that Nanue and Iokua had matching tattoos. On each upper left arm was a grimacing face surrounded by intricate designs, though Iokua’s design crawled across his shoulder and up his neck, the ink woven into spirals and geometric decorations.
When asked, Nanue answered, ‘Kauhuhu’ as if the questioner should know. No one knew who or what Kauhuhu was. But it was a common occurrence for crew to move away from a disrobed Hawaiian, after some minute’s working side by side. Brand, when he looked, had found himself drawn into the swirls as a moth to a flame, he knew he was not alone in this. At night, in the dark, sweating depths of the hull, the superstitious whispered of spirits and bad omens.
Callaghan, the bosun, was the first to spot the East India trader. Travelling at ten knots, they could stalk the prey for the next few days.
“Steady on course, mister,” Captain Jakes commanded in his habitual cool tones.
“Put your backs into it, bilge rats!” The Dutchman yelled. “Those coffers won’t empty themselves!” And everyone had laughed grimly.
“There is a storm coming.” The first words spoken by Iokua.
The crew had laughed. The sky was as clear as a maiden’s honour. But Iokua had pointed silently up at the lone petrel. Its black cap and white belly speeding low to the west. And Iokua’s eyes had turned white. The eyeballs rolling back in his head as if he were about to faint. The crew had variously crossed themselves, sneered, watched with fearful curiosity or got on with their duties. Nanue, as his brother’s interpreter, had said it was a warning, they must change course.
Nanue had tugged at the sleeve of Brand as he turned his back. “Please, you must prepare the ship.” Brand had shrugged him off with a snarl. Only Tharsys had stayed behind, fascinated. He hunkered down in front of the man with the white eyes.
“What do you see friend?” he asked.
“He cannot hear you while he is riding the bird,” Nanue responded.
“Riding the bird?” Tharsys had queried.
“Yes. He is with the bird.” Nanue indicated the now distant petrel. “He will return very soon.” He stopped short as Iokua’s head drooped a little and his eyes cleared. Nanue crouched. “How long?” Iokua raised a single, unusually long finger, then turned it in a circle upon the palm of the opposite hand. “One hour,” translated Nanue. “We have one hour to prepare. I must speak to the captain.” And he left Tharsys staring after Iokua, who quietly unfolded himself from his cross legged position and walked away.
And now the storm was upon them. The captain had dismissed Iokua’s claims of a coming storm. It had, like a hidden hunter, pounced upon them in a most spectacularly, unexpected manner. Shouted commands were sucked up and drowned in the typhoon’s roar. A scream rose, then receded. Brand knew someone had fallen overboard. He felt his arm grabbed and Captain Jakes was shouting into his ear. He felt the man’s lips on his skin, but the sound barely penetrated. “Help…. Cascabel… abaft…” Brand patted Tharsys on the arm, pointed through the onslaught and staggered, slipping and sliding across the deck. He found Cascabel, rope tied about his waist, as he slid left and right at the stern. He had his hands cupped either side of his mouth, but Brand could not hear what he was shouting. Brand skidded into Cascabel, caught hold of the rope and the taffrail of the sloop of war, and peered over into the swirling tumult. He could just make out the figure below, tossed like a doll in the jaws of dogs. The man kept disappearing beneath the foam, not able to see, let alone grasp the lifeline that Cascabel had thrown. The ship convulsed. Brand and Cascabel fell heavily to the deck and slid in a soaked heap to the starboard rail. Cascabel rolled over Brand, the swell easing his passage, and over the side. Brand made a grab at the man’s clothing and the fast disappearing length of rope. It jerked hard, so that Brand had to brace himself with his feet against the rail. As the ship yawed, he was looking at a wall of grey green. And was suddenly was flung back as the vessel pitched, Brand’s hands burned as the rope dragged along the rail, back and forth in time with the ship’s violent motion. He accepted that the original crew who had fallen overboard was lost, and heaved at the rope tethering Cascabel. The man’s head and upper torso appeared, the sloop righted itself, Cascabel screamed. And Brand thought he saw a sea monster, rising white and large, sweating seawater. It tore away the lower sections of Cascabel’s body. A deck hand assisted Brand in hoisting aboard the remains of Cascabel. And now, as the swell was settling, they stood around the violated corpse of their shipmate. A spume of pale pink innards slopped about the deck.
“A monster,” Brand kept muttering as the storm passed. The ship rocked gently, sloshing debris and salt water about the decks.
Captain Jakes ordered a rollcall. The Dutchman chivvied and roared. His voice cutting through the clogged ears of the desperately weary men. As well as Cascabel, they had lost three others, the new crew from Caicos. Jakes put a spyglass to his eye, passed it to The Dutchman, who grunted an acknowledgement. It seemed to Brand, from the captains and The Dutchman’s talk, that the trader had not fared so well.
“Mister Brand! Order of repairs. Get The Parson onto the staysail. Quick as you like!”
Brand hurried below decks to find the old timer they called The Parson.
“It was a monster,” he told The Parson. The old man turned his wet eye to Brand.
“‘And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea’,” was the reply.
“Shark,” snarled a voice behind Brand. He turned to see Congee, ship’s cook, with a grim expression, wiping a blade across his sleeve. “Make good soup. You catch it. I cook it.” He spat, turned, and disappeared behind a bulkhead.
Brand didn’t believe it was a shark, and if it was, it was the biggest beast he had seen in his life. He shook himself, grabbed a passing mate. “With me, lad.” He began to undertake an account of the damages to the ship’s structure. Brand concluded that they had been lucky, extremely lucky. More than the trader that they were now heading towards. Its mast and topsails listed at a precarious angle. He watched their approach whilst carving repair struts for the Corsair’s damaged belaying pins. A yell from behind caused Brand, and many besides, to turn. Nanue and Iokua were standing over a youngster, muscles flexed above the lad as he scrabbled backwards. In his hand, he held a small bow, to one side lay a distorted heap of dark feathers with an arrow penetrating the bird. Where it had hit the deck, a smear of red. Nanue was shouting in his own tongue, Iokua glared, his lips moving soundlessly.
The Dutchman broke it up, shoving and kicking the two parties separate. Iokua said darkly,
“It is bad luck to kill the Alala crow.” The second sentence Iokua had spoken.
The Dutchman reminded him, curtly, he was on board ship now, not on his home turf. He grabbed the pathetic black bundle and flung it over the side. The Hawaiians stared sullenly, Brand thought for a moment they were going to attack The Dutchman, but he stood his ground, he was a head taller, limbs in tune with the motion of the vessel and, Brand saw, toyed with the cat at his waist with a too eager gleam in his eyes. The brothers left to attend to their duties. The crew visibly relaxed.
It took them the best part of a day to catch up with the storm stricken East Indian trader. It listed to starboard to such a degree, it was beginning to take on water through its gun ports. Its crew could be discerned scrabbling for hand and footholds, slithering across the deck like landed eels, many more sloshed about where they had been flung or fallen hours earlier. Pleas for aid and mercy drifted across the waves.
“Swedish,” clarified The Dutchman.
“Aid them that’ll join, mister,” the captain said. Cool under the pressure of the storm, he was his usual impassive self again. He caught the eye of the Hawaiian, Iokua. There were already murmur’s that the man be got rid of. Jakes kept a real firm hand on his rag tag crew, but he was fair, and he didn’t give in to superstitious talk. He did not like the Hawaiian, but he had no real excuse to throw him overboard. Iokua glanced over the bulwark.
The captain ordered “Prepare for close quarters, De Groot. Alongside.” It seemed unnecessary, but The Dutchman ensured the guns were ready for firing, directing hands in piling shot and cartridges next to each cannon. The crew of the Corsair’s Revenge boarded the distressed trader. Grappling irons, on the ends of rope and chain, like large claws, bit into the structure of the Swedish trader, wound taught as a raw nerve in a young seadog’s gums.
Nanue, Iokua, Brand and The Parson, were amongst the few who remained on board, assisting with rescuing those men from the trader that complied. Onboard the Corsair’s Revenge, they were bound and questioned, before being tipped into the hold. They also countered any attacks from the opposition. Resistance was met with brutality. The Dutchman, once onboard the trader, cleaved his way through men like one possessed. He grabbed a handful of hair. “The safe?” No reply. He slit the throat and moved on. Tharsys and another two were sent below deck to collect goods. Jakes, having fought and slaughtered the captain, headed for the dead man’s quarters, passing Congee on the way, who was dealing with a Swede as though he were a tuna fish, slit from vent to head, slippery as an eel on the slanted, red deck.
Booty plundered, it had to now be transferred from the Swedish vessel. The sea was awash with flotsam and bodies, one or two men who could swim reached for lifelines flung from the Corsair’s Revenge. The trader tipped precariously, exposing its keel and it was upon this that Jakes stood, perfectly poised, watching as his men did their jobs. Looking towards his own ship, he saw Brand gesticulating to the now motionless Iokua.
“Move, ye bastard!” Brand yelled.
“He cannot hear you,” said Nanue.
Iokua’s eyes had turned white. He stood stock still. All about, the activity of hauling men, belaying lines and plunder. Brand, exasperated and more than a little fearful, moved away from the white eyed man. He gave him the creeps.
“The king shark is coming.” The third sentence spoken by Iokua.
Nanue shouted across to the Captain that they needed to get back on board. Someone threw something at him and shouted to be quiet. And Iokua could feel the approaching predator god. A sudden scream drew all eyes to the gently slopping water. A thin, greyness slid alongside the capsized ship. A spurt of red foam as a man was dragged below. Jakes turned his cold stare on Iokua. The Hawaiian still stood, unseeing, unmoving. Jakes raised his pistol, took aim, and fired. A dark, red hole appeared in Iokua’s head. He didn’t even have time to come out of his reverie. His body tipped sideways and plummeted into the sea. Nanue grabbed at empty air. Jakes’ crew began to work double speed. They could now see sharks all around, seemingly hundreds of them. Everything went quiet and then somebody screamed. Grey white death came surging from the waves, launching themselves partway across the bowsprit and sea dragged sails. The creatures could be observed working as a team, herding the sea stranded and circling both vessels in figure of eight formations.
Jakes grabbed at one of his crew as the lad slid before him, gashing his legs on barnacles, the boy slid over the belly of the trader and into the water. Jakes watched as a shark reared up out of the water behind the lad. It grabbed him from behind, and while shaking him violently, pulled him under the water. The shark then resurfaced and released him, swimming straight at another nearby. The mighty fish tore the sailor in half in its first strike. All that remained was a headless torso floating in the water. Within moments, another shark had devoured it.
Brand and his companions were feverishly attempting to haul their fellows as well as the booty across from the trader now. The ropes tensing and sagging with the extra weight of fear filled men, who scrambled too many at a time on the rescue lines, unwilling to be the last. One fell as he crawled hand over hand. Brand threw him a block of wood attached to a rope, which he managed to catch, but, when he was no more than half a musket range away, there appeared from beneath the surface a great monster, Brand was sure it was the one he had seen in the storm, it rushed at the man and cut him to pieces, shredding him into pink fronds that drifted between the ships, the fallen and the other devouring creatures. Jakes was firing upon the sharks, a pistol in either hand. On the bow of the trader, The Dutchman was doing the same. The air was rank with black powder, salted blood and screams.
Tharsys was still on the Swedish ship. He had completed his duty of sending off the loot he had found and was now attempting to assist his new comrades. He tied a safety line around a crewman’s waist, to aid the man in his leap to the Corsair. Brand hauled at his end of the line to speed the man’s progress. Tharsys waved with delight when the man boarded safely. He staggered along the perilous planking of the trader, swinging a grapple, which he then flung into the nose of a shark as it dove towards Congee. Congee hacked at the creature with two blades, causing several deep wounds in its head. Tharsys came to stand beside Congee. They shook hands. Congee froze. A pale grey shark leapt, grabbed Tharsys around the middle and dragged him through the water upside down. Congee threw one of his knives at the retreating beast.
Congee, the Captain and Brand watched, horrified, as Tharsys gouged at its eyes. The predator released him, but soon returned and attacked again. Tharsys jammed his arm down the beast’s throat, ripping the flesh from his arm. Again, it released him and then returned a third time, dragging Tharsys down to the Ocean floor.
Iokua fell softly, softly down through the sun speckled surface, into blue endlessness. His white eyes staring at nothing. Darker and darker. Quiet now. The sharks circling as he sank. And here came Kauhuhu, the great shark god. White blue against sun dappled blue. The blood from Iokua’s wound signalling the demise of a devotee. His white eyeballs inking over. And Iokua thought to himself, I am with my brethren now. He broke the pink surface like a razor toothed projectile. His black eye saw his target.
Captain Jakes had ensured all his crew, those that were still alive, had been conveyed by whatever means, back to the Revenge. Brand had flung a final line to his captain, who had rammed the iron claw into the opening of the nearest gunport of the Swedish trader. Tied another rope about his waist and attached this to the ship to ship line. And now, Jakes hung against the Corsair’s hull, over the pink blue foam where two crews mingled, brothers in death. Something huge broke the surface. Jakes was too alarmed to even yell. A natural horror of all things alien froze his vocal cords. Teeth whiter than bone, sharper than blades closed upon the block of wood he straddled. The air from its gaping maw hit his face, cool and almost odourless. Jakes fumbled with his pistol. Above him, he could hear The Parson shouting for someone to bring a musket. Where was The Dutchman? Jakes could not remember if The Dutchman was even still alive. A searing and sudden pain caused Jakes to drop one of his weapons and grab onto the ropes he was suspended by. The great white dropped back into the sea, the captains boot and half his foot with it. Jakes screamed in agony. A shot was fired over the bow. Jakes began to rise, in an awkward stop start motion that jarred his foot. He summoned his anger and roared up.
“If you landlubbers don’t get me up there now I’ll see you dance with Jack Ketch before sundown! Pull you, bastards!”
The sloop boomed and rocked. All onboard felt the deep water vibration and froze. Jakes dangled silently, waiting, watching. Another boom, as something struck the hull of the Corsair’s Revenge. An eerie stillness settled over the water as the crew peered over the bulwark. Then, an immensity of shimmering white propelled itself skywards. The captain and crew followed its trajectory and saw its hideous, terrifying enormity in full. A head too large, fins too limb like. Muscled, powerful and wreaking vengeance. Brand began pulling on the rope, trying to avert his eyes from the monster. He watched awestruck as the king shark slammed itself down onto the listing trader. The captain’s tether snapped amidst splinters and spray, he saw the full immensity of the creature as it rose, dripping and gleaming. He knew sharks, he knew what size they should be.
“‘Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? Or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put a hook into his nose? Or bore his jaw through with a thorn? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee? ... Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stirs him up: who then can stand before me? ...’” The Parson was reciting.
“Shut the fuck up!” screamed Brand.
“Kauhuhu!” called Nanue.
Where’s The Dutchman? thought Captain Jakes, slamming against the hull of the Revenge, I’m going to die. He finally gathered his wits and fired his gun. At the same time, his elevation took on a new intensity. He was heaved, spinning and banging to the side rail. Hands reaching out to pull him on board. Brand and The Parson caught him by the arms.
“Welcome back, Cap.”
Jakes’ eyes stretched to near exploding. A sheen of white behind, lips seemingly pulled back, revealing red pink gums and vicious teeth, before it dropped away again. Brand was sure it looked at him. Looked at him. Circles of polished onyx projecting a preternatural intelligence. Frantically, hysterically, he pulled the legless captain onto the deck. The bloody stump of a man quivered like a piglet. Someone vomited nearby.
“Cap’n!” cried Brand. He gripped his captain’s hand in his. Squeezing tight, as if that would give the man something to hang on to.
“Not like this, Brand,” Jakes managed. “Make it oak.”
Brand pulled a pistol from the nearest waistband. Placed the muzzle against his captain’s heart, and shot him dead. He ordered the body to be wrapped and stored in the bilge, where it was coolest. Later he would make the oak coffin his captain had desired. He tossed the ragged remains of the rope and chair over the side. Where he saw, beneath the surface, the ghostly shape of the massive monster, swimming up and down the length of the ship. As if waiting for something. Brand called for The Dutchman, but no one had seen him since the initial shark attack around the trading ship. The crew stood and sat around the deck, exhausted, bloodied and without a commander. One or two of the young ones wept.
There had to be a vote, and quickly. Brand knew the hierarchy of a naval ship was structured, but here, pirates would fight or vote. And in his experience, fighting would break out as soon as their energies had returned. He called for a pot, Congee was gone, so an aft crew man went to fetch one. Brand drew up lots. Each man made a mark for his vote and placed the scrap of parchment in the pot. The Parson drew them and placed them in piles. Nanue was shaken from his torpor to call out the names of the chosen few. Someone had either forgotten, or not realised that Tharsys was dead, his name was read out before Nanue could stop himself. Heads drooped in respect or sadness.
Eventually, Brand’s name came to be top of the small list. He didn’t want it, and resolved to hand over at the nearest opportunity. He did not want captaincy of a ship that had such a violent recent history. He would leave at the next port of call. The remains of the crew set to making the ship ready. Brand called for a mate to be his second, to replace The Dutchman. Bartley could not compare to his predecessor, but he did his best. He would learn thought Brand. He was young still. As the Corsair’s Revenge headed on towards Freeport, Brand’s gaze was continuously drawn towards the now dreaded blue green. Foam flecked in the late afternoon sun, gentle waves lapped the bow as if to say, it was all a dream, William.
About to turn his back on the deceiver, to join The Parson in a pipe of baccy as he sewed his sailcloth, Brand caught the motion beneath the calm. At first, he thought it was the light from the low sun making shadows and flights of fancy in his mind. But he kept his experienced eyes trained. Yes! There! He almost called out and pointed. Bartley, standing a few feet away, looked over at Brand’s sudden movement.
“Are you alright, sir?” Bartley asked. He joined Brand at the bulwark, placed his chapped hands on the sides and stared out, following Brand’s eye line.
“It’s still there, Bartley.”
Bartley looked. He squinted beneath a hand to reduce the glare. His lack of response told Brand he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary and he didn’t want to tell Brand so. Bartley kept his mouth shut.
“Get me some grog.” Brand turned his head without moving his eyes. “And a shanty!” he shouted to no one in particular.
As the crew dispersed, to rest, to smoke, to find any distraction a ship alone might offer, Brand slowly turned his gaze to the prow, where the remaining dark eyed Hawaiian stood, had stood for two days now, looking out across the waves. As though waiting, Brand thought. Waiting, waiting, waiting.