An ancient mystery. A clandestine voyage. A fantastical secret
The sultry wind scowled across the deck of the Kuda Melayari carrying with it the sting of salty mist as the ship's hull swelled upward and heaved back down, slapping the waves and nearly dislodging Hiao Lu'ong from his mount at the helm. The pirate captain of the vessel (loosely translated Drifting Steed) and its motley crew held fast a wooden railing with one hand and didn't bother to wipe away the sea foam from his brow with the other. Instead, he peeled a stained scimitar from a sweaty leather scabbard hung about his waist on a sash and thrust it forward toward the cargo vessel some three hundred yards off the Kuda's bow.
“pergi. Lebih CAPAT!"
Lu'ong ripped his blade through the air in an X pattern as he bellowed at the rap scallions that sprinted to and fro across his deck to man rigging, guns, and other posts. He hadn't spent a dry summer underway alongside the likes of these scoundrels to have not so much to show for it as an Indian lamp shade. It would be inexcusable to let a loaded freighter escape his grasp with nary a gun-port nor naval ship in sight. The crew had consumed the last of the sea turtle eggs and had given themselves to eating hard tack, a tasteless tough bread, in the dark so as not to see the weevils infesting it (Out of sight out of mind, they'd say). If they didn't loot something soon, he would be forcibly relieved of duty by one of the many cutthroats in his employ. But that was the least of his concern. Soon Yei, the privateer lord of the Indonesian fleet of miscreant ships to which the Kuda belonged, had already sent word that Lu'ong would return to a welcoming party of hungry tigers at the bottom of a jungle pit if he didn't prove much more profitable this time than he had on the last two sorties.
The Mary Celeste was laden heavy and the Kuda, a sloop, a faster ship all around. Lu'ong would have closed in on her much sooner had it not been for the fight of choppy waters he had endured to stay aft of her. Lacking the Celeste's burden of cargo, Lu'ong's much smaller, more agile sloop designed for overtaking couldn't break through the surf with the same ease. But no matter. They had closed to two hundred yards and it was only a matter of minutes now.
A dampened Capuchin monkey shrieked and clamored from the railing up the captains arm to a perch on his shoulder but found no refuge from the racking of the ship and was thrown back down by the next jar. Who ever manned the helm of the cargo ship was evidently versed in the maritime art of out-maneuvering pirates. As soon as Hiao Lu'ong had drawn a course for the first sails they had seen breaking the horizon in more than a month, the Mary Celeste had straightway chosen to turn into the boisterous swells knowing the heavier freighter would have the advantage. This was wise. Attempting to stay the course and outrun Lu'ong's sloop in a straight sprint would have resulted in a much hastier demise. But it was only delaying the inevitable. He had seen the attempt of many a ship to out cat-and-mouse him in a desperate effort to save their monies, cargo, or lives and had a knife scar across his chin and a musket ball in his shoulder as evidence they hadn't succeeded.
He shouted the command to ready the fore gun and bring it to bare on the stern of the Mary Celeste and watched as two brown portly men donning nothing but Loin clothes and ponytails packed the gun with powder and a ten inch ball and then hefted the thick ropes that pulley-ed the large main cannon forward into a slot on the nose of the ship. The surging of the bow up and down would make it nigh unto impossible to draw a clear bead on the ship for a direct hit at all but the closest of quarters but Lu'ong had no plans to sink the ship. At least not before he had plundered it. To the contrary, he would have to be the more careful to avoid hitting it. He would merely send a few rounds into their vicinity signaling the Kuda's intent as well as the inevitability of capture. If they were smart, which was not often the case, they would heed, drop sail and be victor-ed peacefully while their goods and women were pillaged. And if they were not, Lu'ong would pull along their port side and his band of murderous marauders would board and take them by force. Either way, unless there were an especially attractive wench on bored, no one would be alive come morning.
Lu'ong watched the Mary Celeste bob into and out of view as the bow of the Kuda and the main gun swayed up and down. A hundred yards and closing. One of the two men manning the gun stood, arm cocked, with the pull cord of the cannons' firing pen in hand awaiting the captain's nod. Lu'ong held his breath as the gun rocked closer and closer to its trajectory, anticipating the shot. If his timing was off marginally, the cargo ship would sink. If the crewman lost his balance, if the canon delayed, all their women and loot would sink with it.
"MENEMBAK," he yelled, drawing the sword through the air over his head. The Kuda seemed to rock backward as the massive gun woofed out the heavy slow moving projectile into a high arc. The whole of the crew stood motionless as they watched the streak of black rise and then fall toward its target. An explosion of water erupted off the starboard side of the Mary Celeste with enough concussion to cause the ship to totter ever so slightly. Lu'ong's' more than two decades at the helm (a record breaking stretch for any pirate) and more times than he could count overtaking sea vessels had paid off and landed the ball less than fifteen feet from the target ship despite strong winds and rough waters. Cheers poured out from the wearied seamen as hopes of long awaited spoils grew. But the determined freighter held her course and speed. No white flags, no dropped sails. Lu'ong nodded and the men spared no time in hoisting back the gun and readying it for another round.
"MENEMBAK!" Another blast. This time passing directly over the deck of the Celeste, grazing her main sails and biting some splinters from the masts as it passed before splashing down directly in front of her. Slowing the ship down without doing any structural damage, given the circumstances, was as direct of a hit as you could have. The corner of Lu'ong's mouth turned up into a sneer of self satisfaction and the men roared the more vehemently. But in the face of definite death and destruction, the other ship still showed no signs of stopping.
Lu'ong would fire once more. If that did not gain their compliance, he would do things the hard way. Bumping along side of them, his men would clear the deck with thrown weapons and blunderbusses spewing broken nails and shards of glass then swing across on ropes tied to the masts and throw grappling hooks to tether the two ships together. One way or another, death and hell would pour over the rails and onto their deck. At the most they would take some small arms fire, to which he had lost his fare share of shipmates over the years, but it would always be futile. Outnumbered, outgunned, and scared, civilian ships were easy prey. And in the event of casualties, He would be more than happy to replace any hands lost with stock from their own ranks, as was the custom. Many able bodied seamen of the day found themselves in the employ of privateers at gunpoint. As a matter of fact, several of the men currently at his command had, at one point or another, been on the other side of a galley fight from him.
Growing more confident in his aim by the moment, Lu'ong watched the ball blast towards the ship even more true than the last. At a distance of only fifty yards now, this shot was set to surely rip off the sails and break over the mast. That would be the perfect end to this endeavor and to any lingering whispers of mutiny.
But something changed.
First Lu'ong squinted and then his eyes grew wide as he witnessed the sight. He must have been seeing things. That was it- His age had caught him. Maybe indeed it was time for a younger captain, time for him to walk the fabled plank of retirement. He could swear he was seeing the ball curve away from the Mary Celeste mid-flight to her port side at a sharp angle. What was more, it appeared to be speeding away as it went, faster and faster as it careened down and to the left toward the blue ocean water.
Impossible. Even if there had been a typhoon class wind it couldn’t have altered the path of the heavy mass of iron that much. The ball burst the surface of the water some hundred and fifty yards to the port side of its target. To dispel any notions that he was imagining the sight, all of his men were gazing in the same direction as Lu'ong, mesmerized by the phenomenon, bewilderment across their faces. No one spoke or moved, including Lu'ong, as their minds tried to reconcile logic to what their eyes had just beheld.
Drawing his attention away from the demon cannon ball, the hint of a rumble far beneath the waters surface moved up the ships timbers and to Lu'ong's feet- The feel of a slow swaying and the groan of shifting mass. But the bellow passed as quickly as it had come. Now thoroughly bewitched, the gazes of the crewmen darted from one to the other and back to the captain searching for any sign of recognition amongst them. But their was none. No more than a few moments passed and the deep rumbling returned but this time more visceral, a vibration pulling the ship in all directions.
Lu'ong had never experienced or even heard tell of anything of the like. He could feel beneath his feet an energy so powerful, so grotesque he thought it would most assuredly rip the old ship into driftwood. With each passing moment the pulsing of the water beneath grew stronger and stronger and the groaning, the groaning was so loud- the deep howling bellow so loud his ears wanted to burst. He dropped the scimitar clanging to the wooden deck and grabbed the railing with both hands for dear life as many of his compatriots did the same. The blue diamond waters he had traveled so many times normally bright and lively, began to gray, growing rapidly darker. A wave of fish and dolphins raced nervously past.
Amid the confusion, Lu'ong caught motion out of the corner of his eye. The Mary Celeste that had so adamantly held her coarse was slowly starting to turn to port. It was a very gentle turn at first, almost unnoticeable actually, but then increasingly harder and sharper until she was turning in a fashion no ship was able and accelerating in a similarly impossible manner, being steered and pushed by an invisible force. Whatever he was seeing defied all natural laws. This must be the end of the world his parents had always spoken of.
With all the tremors and noise, Lu'ong, eyes fixed on the Celeste, hadn't noticed his own ship likewise turning about until it became apparent the two ships were on a collision course, his own ship slowly starting to move across the path of the freighter. Only they weren’t being pushed as he had supposed. He could feel it now. They were being pulled, drawn in, powerfully.
The paths of both ships settled into straight lines headed toward one common point. Their paths were intersecting at the exact spot that the errant cannon ball had hit the water. It was there that Lu'ong saw something he did recognize. Bubbles.
From the deep, which was nearly blackened now, bubbles were rupturing the surface. Large bursting pockets of air. A few at first, but in fractions of a second the ocean began boiling and turning and spitting like a giant teakettle. It was at this moment, just when the captain and crew of the Kuda Melayari believed that their senses, their minds, couldn't possibly endure anymore, that the surface was broken by what had caused this calamity. Hiao Lu'ong could now go to his grave knowing that he had seen everything this old world had to offer. A mountain top was was rising from the ocean in front of them. Growing wide as it rapidly rose from the murky sea. As they all gazed on in disbelief, weary of life, a giant mass of land the size of a small continent exploded up from the depths like a barrel full of air released from the ocean floor. It heaved skyward, nearly clearing the water before slamming back down to half its depth in the sea, sending a flurry of tidal waves out from it's shore in every direction as remnants of the ocean rolled off its hills and mountains and landscape back into the sea. .
"Isla Diablo," Lu'ong whispered entranced in fear and disbelief. He had spent his entire career believing it was just a legend of the Spaniards. What a fool. He should have been more superstitious like his parents. The piece of land that Lu'ong's craft was now steadily being drawn toward was only just the tip of the island. The rest of it stretched out as far as he could see in both directions. The overwhelming noise and motion of the entire episode had given way to a dense peace and quiet but the swells racing toward the Kuda from the displaced water of the deep rising were greater in size and speed than any squall he had ever weathered and were less than two hundred yards now. While logic dictated that there was no means of diverting the ship, Lu'ong's instincts to escape the massive wall of water closing on him prevailed and he bolted to the wheel. Turning it with all his might and shouting to his mates did little to change the course of the ship or slow it down as it careened toward the shoreline and ultimately the watery death before them.
Some of the scoundrels received their lots in life bravely standing their posts while others abandoned ship to take their chances in the approaching tide. As the wave reached critical mass and bared down on Lu'ong, he cast one last glance at the Mary Celeste and wondered what booty lining her belly had brought them to this end. He would have surely preferred the tigers. The old beams and timbers didn't resist the weight of the massive wave, not even for one breath, and the Drifting Steed disappeared beneath the dark abyss in a burst of splinters and gunpowder.