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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Captain Blackheart - Iceberg


Captains Log:

I’ve never felt this cold in all of my life. My toes are so numb; I am afraid to touch them for fear they’ll fall off. My fingers are stiff and holding this pen is a chore. How did the Treasure Hunter find herself in such a mess?  The last time I wrote was two years ago. I know a captain is supposed to write daily, but nothing much has happened since we left Skull Island, until a week ago. Just in case something happens, I will fill you in on the events that have taken place over the last few days.

The Treasure Hunter sailed the South Pacific. We were having a grand time, stopping at all the tiny islands, enjoying the company of the natives and eating until we were stuffed. The trade winds carried the scent of tropical flowers on it. What a joy those months were! One particular morning a strange wind blew our sails, taking us in a south-easterly direction.

“Cap’n, I don’t like this one bit. I’ve never heard of winds comin’ from the northwest before, not this far south. We may end up in South America, or worse, havin’ to go around the Cape of Good Hope!” Silverear stood at the railing, eyeglass in hand.

“Aye, Silverear. There is something rotten brewing. Look at that sky. I’ve never seen olive green clouds. Can’t you put Grub and Zeedal on the sails and turn us around, or at least easterly?” I pulled the spyglass from Silverear’s hands. “What’s all over this spyglass? You been at the papaya again? Learn to wipe your hands. This is disgusting.” I reluctantly wiped it off on my jacket. “I don’t like this. Do your best to turn this ship around.”

It was no use. The wind kept howling, carrying us further and further south. A thin layer of ice formed on the deck and just about everywhere else on the ship. I sent Dungheap and Ribeye to start chipping it off, but it was no use. Eventually the wind stopped blowing. We took down the sails and with no other choice, let the current carry us to our doom. Supplies began to spoil and we were forced to toss the rotten fruit over the side.

A knock came at my cabin door. Chappy stuck his head inside. “Beggin’ your pardon, Cap’n.” I looked up. “Cap’n Blackheart, there are icebergs floatin’ all ‘round the ship. Dungheap’s up there tellin’ the crew stories. He says that only a small part of the ice is above water. The rest is below the surface, waitin’ to crush the hulls of unsuspectin’ ships. The crew’s a bit worried, Cap’n.”

“I’ve heard stories too. Dungheap is telling the truth.” I rolled my eyes into the top of my head, stood and walked to the windows. “I think I’d better come on deck.” I was hit with a blast of biting wind, one gust that carried the scent of death with it. My fingers dug into the wooden railing. “We’re coming upon another!” I shouted and ran to the other side of the ship. The ship scraped the side of the iceberg as we inched past. No sooner had we passed that one when I spotted another coming up. “This is no use, men. We’ll be crushed into splinters. It’s no way for a pirate to die; not here in the bitter cold. Lower the anchor.”

“Cap’n? You sure of that?” Jigsaw scratched his stubby beard.

“I gave an order. Lower the anchor. Nims, help Jigsaw. Grub, you and Chappy make an inventory of our supplies. Zeedal, you and Silverear start making a map, a chart, marking all these blasted icebergs. Dungheap and Ribeye, come with me.” Nobody moved. “Did you not hear me? Get to work.” I shook my head back and forth in annoyance. “Come on.” Dungheap and Ribeye followed me to my cabin. “You’ve both sailed the seas, probably more than any of the rest of the crew. How are we going to get out of this mess?”

Ribeye shrugged his shoulders and collapsed on a chair in front of my desk. Dungheap pondered my question. “One thing I do know; we’d better get out of here before the sea freezes and we’re trapped in the ice until next spring. This will take some thought. I’ve never been in this sort of situation before, Captain Blackheart. In the meantime I suggest we lower the lifeboats and search for something to eat.”

“Somethin’ to eat? Out here in the middle of this blasted ice? Just what do you suggest we look for?” Ribeye sighed.

“Shut up, Ribeye. Give Dungheap some respect. He might be one of my crew, but he was once your Captain. What do you suggest, Dungheap?” I found myself thankful to be in the company of someone of equal intelligence.

“Penguins.”

“Penguins?”

“Yes, Captain. They live on these icebergs. One of my mates told me they’re mighty tasty; like chicken.” Dungheap licked his lips.

I snickered. “And just exactly how do we go about catching a penguin?”

“We’ve got nets. I suggest you call the crew together and send them on the life boats to the nearest iceberg. If there are no penguins, move on to the next one. If we eat we’ll at least have strength of body and mind. Perhaps we can figure a way out of this mess.” Dungheap turned and marched out the door.

Ribeye looked up at me. I snarled at him for effect. “Well? What are you waiting for? You heard the man.” Ribeye practically fell out of his chair and rushed to join Dungheap. I followed, thinking about roasted chicken.

I didn’t want to send all the crew, just in case something happened, so I sent Dungheap, Nims and Chappy. They climbed into the life boats and we lowered them into the sea. It’s a good thing it was calm. Dungheap, as I expected, made Nims and Chappy row. I stood at the railing watching. They only had to go several yards. Wouldn’t you know it, Nims crashed right into the ice. By the way Dungheap screamed at him, you’d have thought he’d committed high treason. For his idiocy, Dungheap made Nims be the first onto the ice. The boat rocked back and forth, nearly tipping over as Nims tried to get his balance. He leaped onto the iceberg and slid right back down, hitting the boat. If it hadn’t been for Chappy’s quick reaction, he and Dungheap would have ended up in the sea. What a sight it was; three pirates slipping and sliding their way up the iceberg. It didn’t help that the rest of the crew stood on deck guffawing. I doubted if they were too warm wearing nothing but their normal clothes. You see, pirates don’t usually venture to cold lands, so we have no appropriate clothing. “Start a fire!” I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted.

“A fire, Cap’n?” Zeedal’s eyes bulged like a choking parrot.

“I have to agree, Cap’n.” Silverear played with his earrings. “A fire on an iceberg? Doesn’t make much sense if you ask me.”

“It’s a good thing I didn’t ask you. If they don’t build a fire, they’ll freeze to death out there.”  I glanced at Dungheap. He’d heard me and looked around. When he shrugged his shoulders, I knew what his problem was. “Send Chappy back with the boat.” After Nims and Dungheap had pulled the fishing net out, Chappy rowed back to the ship.

“What is all this nonsense about a fire, Cap’n?”  Chappy scratched his stubbled chin.

When he tried to scale the ladder dangling over the side, I roared back. “Stay there. We’ll send a few things down so you can have your fire.” When I nodded to Ribeye, he grabbed Grub by the arm. The two of them lowered a few empty barrels down to Chappy. “Get the fire started. I’ll send Ribeye over with more.”

As the crew searched for more items to use for firewood, Dungheap and Nims helped Chappy unload the small boat. “A fire? Where do ye want to build it?” Chappy rubbed his hands together. “Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now.”

Dungheap picked a spot and soon the fire sparkled and popped. I watched them rubbing their hands together. Mine were like ice. “I think we should join them.” I had no arguments. We climbed into the other boat, barely squeezing together and rowed over. A plume of smoke danced against the blue sky. I sent Grub and Ribeye back for more wood. After ten trips we had enough to last through the night.

“About those penguins,” Chappy said.

“We need to explore this block of ice. Surely there must be a penguin or two around.” Dungheap shaded his eyes and searched. “I’ll take Ribeye and we’ll head that way.”

The others paired off, leaving me sitting by the fire. Aye, there are times when being Captain pays off. Something bit me. “What was that?” Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of annoying midges. “Midges? Out here on an iceberg?” I swatted at them and then noticed a flock of birds heading my way. “Gulls? We must not be that far from land.” They circled overhead, curious of the fire and the men wandering about on the ice. For some reason a few of them swooped down to the edge of the iceberg. Out of curiosity, I carefully slid down to the water, keeping my feet dug into the ice. “Seaweed? Since when do icebergs have seaweed? We must be very close to land, though all I see are chunks of ice. This piece must have broken off recently and brought this kelp stuff along with it. What is it that you are after, gulls?” Normally I’ve no time for scavenger birds, but being in such an odd situation, I kept my eye on them. “They’re taking something out of the kelp. Looks like some sort of shellfish.” I made my way back to the fire. Just about that time Dungheap and Ribeye showed up.

“Not one penguin over the hill there. Nothing but ice for as far as the eye can sea. We’re going to starve to death, aren’t we?” Dungheap shook his head.

“We can catch one of those there gulls,” Ribeye said, pointing to the sky.

‘Let’s wait and see what the others bring back.” I rubbed my hands together and scooted closer to the fire. “This is no life for a pirate.” Our hearts leapt with joy when Silverear showed up carrying a penguin in the net. Everyone roared with laughter, anxious to eat the black and white animal; everyone but Grub. Tears ran down his cheeks, freezing into little icicles that dangled from his chin.

“What’s wrong with you?” Zeedal moved closer to the fire.

“We can’t eat that penguin.” Grub sniffled.

“And why not?” Chappy looked down at the squirming bird.

“Look how cute it is.” Grub picked up the net and pulled the penguin out, holding it in his arms. “How could we eat such a beautiful creature?”

“Grub, put it down,” Jigsaw snarled, swatting midges from his face.

“No! I won’t. You’re not eating it. I won’t let you touch it.”

Ribeye glanced at the others. “There are eight of us and only one of you. What’s to stop us from takin’ it from you?”

Just then the flock of seagulls dropped a load. A white gooey mess splattered all over Ribeye’s face. Dungheap, Chappy and Silverear were next. The gulls bombarded them with poo. Zeedal, Nims, Jigsaw and myself covered our faces with our arms. Splat! Splat! “We’re under attack,” Chappy shouted.

Grub took this opportunity to free his penguin. He slid down to the water and gently tossed it in. “Swim away, little penguin. Swim away!”

The gulls continued dropping their waste on us for ten more minutes. Some landed in the fire, sizzling and causing the fire to grow. When it ended we all stood still, dripping and stinking to high heaven.

“This is a fine mess,” Dungheap said. Poo dripped from his hair to the edge of his nose. I couldn’t take it anymore. I burst out laughing, pointing at him. Soon the whole crew was laughing. After a few minutes we calmed down and cleaned ourselves off with ice we’d scraped and melted over the fire. “You look awfully clean.” Dungheap glanced at Grub. “Where’s the penguin?”

The whole crew stopped what they were doing and looked up. “I let it go. We’ll have to find something else to eat.”

I had to restrain Zeedal. He wanted to pulverize Grub. “What’s with these midges?” Zeedal took deep breaths and I let him free. “Stupid birds!” He ran at the flock of gulls, which only slightly disturbed them. They flew off and landed on another iceberg. “Go on then!”

“We could have caught a gull and ate it,” Jigsaw said. “Now they’re gone too. No penguin. No gull. I’m starvin’, Cap’n.” He rubbed his belly.

“Aye, we all are. Since you’re so hungry, it will be your job, and Grub’s, to go down to the kelp and find some of those shellfish. Gather enough to feed us all and don’t come back without them.” I sighed and sat on a piece of wood near the fire.

“They’re limpets, Cap’n,” Ribeye said. “How do you suppose we eat them?”

“I suppose you’ll go back to the ship and find some cooking utensils. Nims, go with him.” I was in no mood for argument and they knew it. By the time they returned with a pot or two, Jigsaw and Grub were back with a bucketful. “Ah, we shall eat well.”

That wasn’t to be. When the kelp gulls smelled the food cooking, they swarmed around us, pecking at our arms and pulling our hair. They had quite a fight on their hands, I’m happy to say. There’s nothing anyone or any creature, whether it be bird of animal, could do to take food from a starving pirate. We feasted on limpets. They were quite tasty, though a bit rubbery.

“Once we’re back in warmer climates, I’m going to make a limpet pie.” Dungheap swallowed a handful of the chewy shellfish.

“You know what would go with these, Cap’n? Eggs and some toast.” Zeedal laughed as he ate.

“I saw some bird’s nests,” Nims said. “They’re on the other side of the iceberg.”

“Eggs? I’d love an egg. They aren’t gull eggs, are they?” Zeedal’s eyes grew with fury. “I’d love to finish off those birds, but if I can’t, I can at least eat their eggs.

“Sorry to tell you this, but they’re skua nests. The eggs are lyin’ on shelves of ice. The skuas  put dried seaweed around them to keep em’ warm.” Nims glanced at the sky. “What is with these midges? I’ve about had it with these pests!”

“Just ignore them,” Jigsaw said. “Watch out, here come the gulls again. Duck!” Splat! Squawk! They picked up the empty shells and carried them off.

“Ha! They’re empty, you stupid gulls!” Zeedal took too much pleasure. I knew we couldn’t stay here much longer. He was going mad.

We kept the fire going strong. Nobody paid any attention to the melting ice and how the fire sank inch by inch into the blue ice. “Zeedal, why don’t you and Nims take the boat and see if you can gather some of those eggs. It’ll be dark soon.” I gazed at the setting sun. “Maybe it won’t get too dark, but we need to sleep. Get the eggs and find your way back here. The rest of us should try to get as comfortable as we can. Stay close to the fire.”

“Speaking of the fire, Cap’n, is it just me or is the fire sinkin’?” Silverear pulled at his ear. “I don’t like this at all, Cap’n. How thick is this ice anyway?”

“Don’t be a bletherin’ fool, Silverear. Only one ninth of the iceberg is above the water. This fire could burn for ten years and not reach water.” Ribeye lay on a plank. “Now shut up and go to sleep.” He closed his eyes and snores erupted from his open mouth.

The rest of us followed suit. As I lay there, I thought about Zeedal and Nims and wondered how they were coming along. I must have dozed off because I jumped and hollered when a wave of icy water swept over me and the others.

“What was that? Are we sinkin’?” Chappy’s clothes were saturated.

We huddled together near the fire, our backs inward; our gazes looking out to sea. “There’s nothin’ there. Zeedal? Nims? Are you playin’ tricks on us?” Jigsaw snapped. “They threw buckets of sea water on us. Come out, you fools.”

Just then six huge mounds of black and white flew out of the water; their rounded humps and fins showing before they fell back into the water. A ship high wave of water flew through the air towards us, drenching us to the skin. The fire went out and we stood shivering on the ice.

“Orca whales.” Dungheap’s teeth chattered. “I’ve had enough of this iceberg. I’m going back to the ship. At least I can change clothes and get under a blanket.

The whales surfaced again, blowing spouts of water. They headed to the edge of the iceberg, curious about the tall strangers that didn’t belong. “Look at their teeth. They could rip us to shreds.” Grub backed up into the center of the ice.

“I’ve heard stories about these things. They attack other whales and penguins and seals and toss them about like they were rag dolls.” Dungheap shook his head. “Killer whales, they are.”

“Can they walk?” Chappy gulped.

“Walk? Don’t be stupid. They’re whales, not dragons. Of course they can’t walk, but they can slide up on the ice to eat us.” Ribeye pushed Chappy and he slid towards the whales gaping mouths.

“Help me! They’ll tear me to bits. Help!”  Chappy’s screams were more like a woman’s than a pirates, but I couldn’t blame him.

Dungheap and I slid down and grabbed Chappy’s arms. We pulled him up, sliding all over the ice. “Settle down, Chappy,” Dunghead said. “They’re here for the krill, not us.”

“Krill? What’s krill?” Chappy squeezed water from his pants.

“Krill are small and look like shrimp. Whales love to eat krill. They also love to eat penguins and seals too.”

“What about people?”

“If they’re hungry enough. Ribeye, don’t do that again or I’ll feed you to the sharks myself.” It was miserable enough in the twilight and bitter cold without having one of my crew eaten by an orca.  After a few chattering noises the whales disappeared below the water and that was the last of them. “All right men. We’ve no fire, we’re drenched and I don’t think we’re going to get any more sleep. Let’s do as Dungheap suggests and get back to the ship. We’ve only one boat, unless Zeedal and Nims come back. Silverear, you, Grub, Jigsaw and Ribeye go first. Come back and get the rest of us.”

Chappy, Dungheap and I watched the others row away. I felt my pants freezing, turning solid ice and knew if we didn’t get warm soon we’d all be dead in minutes. Silverear rowed back and we rowed to the ship. We tossed our wet clothes on deck and ran to our cabins. I lit my lantern to let Zeedal and Nims know we were back on ship and then within minutes we were under blankets in dry clothes and shoes. I woke up and it was still that twilight time of night. The ship rocked back and forth. I stood and glanced out the window. “We’re in for a rough time. Zeedal, I hope you and Nims seek safety.” With nothing else to do I climbed back into my bed. Between the waves battering against the hull and the barking seals on a nearby iceberg, none of us slept well. My only prayer was that the anchor held and we didn’t drift away.

I couldn’t believe it when I woke up. The air smelled fresh and clean and a ray of sunlight shone through my cabin window. That sounds awful female, but the moment caught me by surprise. The storm had passed. My first thoughts were of Zeedal and Nims. They’d spent the night out in that gale. I pulled my coat on and went on deck. The others were already up, much to my surprise.

“Good mornin’, Cap’n. It’s good to see you this fine morning.” Silverear took in a deep breath. “I’ve a feelin’ we’re in for a grand day.”

Chappy came running towards us. “Cap’n! Cap’n. The ship’s turned around. We’re facin’ north. Look!” To be honest I couldn’t tell which direction we were facing. Everything looked the same, sea and ice. “Cap’n, the iceberg, the one we were at, it’s on our right side now instead of our left.” Silverear pointed to the right.

“Yes, Silverear, I’m aware of that.” I wasn’t going to give my stupidity away. “Any sign of Zeedal and Nims, Chappy?”

Grub answered. “There they are! They’re rowin’ toward us now.”

The crew looked over the side of the ship. They were alive. Somehow they’d survived and were a welcome sight to all of us. We helped them climb up the ladder and took the bucket of eggs from them. “Eggs? Very well done, Zeedal and Nims. You’ve earned a long rest. Go and change your wet clothes, have a cup of hot rum and join us when you’re ready. We’re anxious to hear how you survived the night.” Both nodded and disappeared below.

An hour later, warm by perhaps too much rum, Zeedal and Nims came and sat by us on the steps. “Zeedal and me, well, we were rowin’ around the iceberg, big thing it is, and gathered the eggs. Those skuas are nasty birds. One attacked us and took a bite right out of me arm.” Nims pulled up his sleeve and we all had a look.

“Get on with it, Nims. You’re takin’ forever to tell the story.” Zeedal grew impatient.

“All right. Don’t get your drawers pinchin’! The water started gettin’ rough. Zeedal here noticed the sky first and showed me. We found the first place we could land and went to the center of the iceberg. The waves nearly washed us off, they were that huge. It was a frightenin’ night for us.”

“And a bloody cold one too,” Zeedal added.

“We haven’t slept not one wink, Cap’n. Ye’ve got your eggs. Can we get some shut-eye?” Nims yawned.

I dismissed them and handed the eggs to Chappy. “Your turn to cook. We’re all hungry. Save some for Zeedal and Nims. They’ll be famished when they wake up.” Chappy grumbled and headed for the galley.

“Cap’n, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so, it looks like there’s some of that there seaweed all around our ship.” Jigsaw had moved to the railing. He and Grub were pulling up the small boats and tying them down.

“What next?” I sighed and joined the men at the rail. We all leaned over, walking around the entire ship. “You’re right. First thing we need to do is send someone down with a bucket to pick up those limpets before the gulls discover our predicament. Do I have a volunteer?”

Dungheap raised his hand. “I’ll do it. Limpets and eggs sound good. If I wasn’t so hungry I’d have not volunteered, believe me. I do not want to get my feet wet. My other shoes haven’t dried out yet.”

“Thank you, Dungheap. While he’s doing that, Jigsaw and Ribeye will go to the other side of the ship and try to free us from that kelp. I’d like to be under way before noon, if possible. I shall be in my cabin with Silverear, going over the charts.” I left my crew to do their assigned tasks and spent the next few hours mapping out our path. Silverear and I were both yawning when the door opened. It was Zeedal. “You’re awake. I hope you slept well.”

“Uh, Cap’n, there’s a bit of a problem out here. It seems Jigsaw and Ribeye are on some sort of seaweed raft. It has floated behind the ship. Jigsaw’s holdin’ on to a rope, otherwise they’d have floated away into who knows where.” Zeedal ran back up the steps.

I glanced at Silverear. “Does it ever end? Will we ever be on our way?” He didn’t answer.

Sure enough, Ribeye and Jigsaw were afloat on a kelp raft. They’d done a good job removing all the kelp from around the ship. It must have formed into one huge pile and made some sort of raft. How the two of them ended up on top of it I’ll never know. While we were pondering how to rescue them, a wind picked up. It blew from the south. It was now or never. Silverear ran to the stern and called over to Jigsaw to tie the rope to the raft, if that’s what you want to call it, and get comfortable. I won’t repeat what they shouted back.

I instructed Zeedal and Nims, who had both just finished eating, to ready the sails. Dungheap had eaten and volunteered to help. Chappy stuck his head out and told the rest of us if we wanted food it was now or never. We followed him to the galley and stuffed ourselves with skua eggs and limpets. “Another fine meal, Chappy.” Without saying another word I went back on deck. The others soon followed. The sails billowed. “Raise the anchor!” Chappy and Dungheap took care of that. I felt the ship move. The crew cheered as we left the icebergs, whales, pooping gulls, limpets, penguins and the midges behind.

That’s about it. My hands are still freezing cold, but it won’t be long before we’re in warmer weather. The wind is still blowing us north. We eventually were able to get Ribeye and Jigsaw off that kelp raft, much to their relief. They’d been stung by jellyfish, almost pulled off the raft by a giant squid and were burned to a crisp from the sun’s rays. Amazingly they’d managed to stay fairly dry. After a good hot meal they were ready to work again.

As much as I hate to admit it, I rather enjoyed our little adventure to Antarctica. Dungheap informed me of the name and showed me how to spell it. Antarctica. That has a pleasant sound to it, doesn’t it? We’re all no worse for the wear. The Treasure Hunter is a good, strong ship. I hope I never see another iceberg in my life, but I’m glad I was able to experience a few days in Antarctica. Antarctica. Someone should write a song about it.

Log entry – December 2, 1827


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