The Curse

This is a fictional story I wrote for Meldrum’s Writers’ Group. It is based on the true story of the slave ship Trouvadore, which sank on the coast of East Caicos. Most slaves survived the shipwreck and were freed as the island had abolished slavery. One woman was killed on the beach.

I’d like to thank Bob Douglas for his help on the ship’s sailing terms as I haven’t got a clue about those myself.

Image By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35448188)

(Keywords: Ghost story, female, ship, trunk)

(word count: 2091)

 1841

“Shorten the main course!” Captain Martinez yelled at the crew of the Trouvadore, trying to get his voice to rise above the raging wind.

The storm was blowing them off course and treacherously close to the reef off Breezy Point. They needed to claw the ship clear of the rocks, and fast. He’d already given the order to shorten the top-sails and top-gallants of the fore, but he knew it wasn’t enough. “Hurry up, you lazy, rotten mongrels!” He raised his cat-o’-nine-tails and flayed the closest person he could find.

His journey was almost over. The crossing had gone as good as could be expected. They had managed to cross the Atlantic unnoticed by the British Navy patrols. Slavery had been abolished by the Brits several years ago, but that’s what made this trip so profitable. The Cubans needed slaves on their sugar cane plantations and the ones he had stored below deck were a fine lot. He’d lost more crew on the way over to Africa than he’d lost slaves coming back. He’d do well after being paid for this expedition. Maybe he would settle down with a nice, warm, white wife.

As he abused some more crew members verbally and physically, his thoughts flashed back to that black wench he had in his cabin the other day. His eye had fallen on her as soon as she had stepped aboard his ship. She was a beauty, with strong limbs and beautiful teeth. And those lips! The memory of the things he had made her do with those made him harden again. Then the stupid witch had made demands. Who did she think she was? She was a slave and was in no position to make demands. The scurvy bitch had demanded better food and treatment for ‘her blacks.’ The whore! He had beaten her near to death, the only reason these creatures understood.

When she had been able to get up again, she had cursed him and his family. She had taken the wooden statue from his desk and done some mumbo-jumbo dancing around it. He had bought the statue from the slave trader in Africa. It was a lovely statue of a woman with huge breasts and a big butt. He liked his women that way. Now she was defiling it with her voodoo magic. One more blow to her head had shut her up. That had taught her who was master. He had locked the statue in his trunk and thrown the woman on his bed before having his way with her again.

Martinez chuckled at the memory as he adjusted his package in his trousers. The smile on his face disappeared when he heard the hull of the Trouvadore shatter on the reef. The ship fell off to leeward, making the waves come crashing over the deck. Wails rose from below deck.

“Cut the blacks loose! Go, before they drown, you son of a whore!” Martinez shouted to his bosun. He followed the back of the man as the bosun hurried off. Martinez then took in the dramatic scene, the white of his eyes matching the white of the waves crashing onto the deck. He’d been so close! East Caicos was British territory and not a good place to strand. He was sure he’d had to deal with that soon, but there was no point in worrying what could happen if none of them survived.

Fortunately the ship had stranded on a shallow reef close to the beach. When the blacks were out of their shackles, crew and cargo climbed over the lee side into the shallows of the bay. Martinez was the captain, but no way on earth would he stay on the ship last. He worked against the tide through the crashing surf, chest high, and made it to shore. Feeling like a drowned cat, he fell to his knees, catching his breath. Like him, many others made it to shore. Drenched, drained of energy, they fell into the sand, praying to their gods that they had survived.

As Martinez turned around to find his crew, he noticed movement from the corner of his eye. Some of the blacks were trying to escape, running the length of the beach. He opened his leather pouch and pulled out his pistol. Quickly loading the weapon, he aimed and fired. One of the blacks went down. It made the others stop in their tracks. Martinez sent his first and second mate over to retrieve the slaves. When they dropped the body of the slave that had fallen at his feet, Martinez recognized her as the woman who had cursed him.

“Poxy whore,” he muttered as he kicked sand over her dead body. He would have gotten a fair price for one as pretty as her.

“Oi, you there!”

Martinez looked around to find where the voice came from and found locals had surrounded them on the dunes enclosing the beach, holding muskets and pistols aimed at him and his crew.

“Rotten landlubbers,” Martinez swore as he and his crew were taken into custody.

 

2004

They had predicted a storm coming, but there was still time to make one more dive. The team was very excited they had found what they thought to be the Trouvadore, the Spanish two-master that had taken slaves from Africa to the Spanish territory of Cuba illegally, years after the treaty between Spain and Britain that abolished slavery. The story of the ship was a great one as it was rumoured that one-hundred-and-ninety-three slaves had survived the shipwreck and, as slavery was outlawed on the island, they were all freed. Now they hoped to find the remains of the ship near the shores of East Caicos, where wooden remains of a ship had been found.

Derrek checked the scuba gear of his dive buddy Luke. Luke did the same for him and when they both had checked their wrist computers, which told them they had enough air for about forty minutes, they jumped from the ship into the warm waters off Breezy Point. As they surfaced, they made the divers’ sign for ‘okay’ towards the boat crew, exchanged their snorkel for their regulator and disappeared under the water’s surface.

Derrek and Luke were both archaeologists. They had met by chance during their scuba training course and had been diving together since. Shipwrecks were their favourites and to be asked by the Smithsonian to help find the Trouvadore was an offer they couldn’t refuse. They had gone over the letters that had surfaced about the alleged ship and had done some digging in archives to find out as much as possible about it.

“Hey, the captain’s name is Martinez,” Luke had said to Derrek as he was reading one of the letters from the Smithsonian archives.

“You’re kidding?” Derrek said as he looked up from the paper he was researching. “Really?”

“Yes, really. It says so here. Captain: Alvarez Maria Guan Martinez,” Luke read aloud from the paper.

“Wow, he could be my ancestor. My father always said we had sailor’s blood in our veins. Remind me to look into that when we get back. Dad often mentions we had a curse put on our family, but nothing interesting ever happened to any of our relatives as far as we know. He doesn’t even know what the curse was. This could give us more clues though.”

“Sure, Maria, but you know as well as I do that Captain Martinez didn’t die when the ship went down,” Luke grinned.

“Shut it, that’s a perfectly normal Spanish name for a boy. They’re very catholic over there.”

“If you say so, Maria.”

“Oh, shut it, I said!” Derrek kicked Luke in the shins and they had continued their research in silence.

Through the silent waters off Breezy Point they swam, until they came upon what they thought was the wreck of the Trouvadore. You had to have some imagination to see it as a ship as it was covered in barnacles and corals, but to Derrek and Luke it was clear from the moment they saw it that this was not a naturally formed coral reef.

Beautiful coloured fish swam and hid amongst the ship’s skeleton. Derrek and Luke looked at each other and both made the ‘O’ signal at the same time. ‘Jinx,’ thought Derrek. He wanted to smile, but that was hard to do with a regulator in your mouth.

They circled the wreck, hoping to get an indication of its age or what sort of a ship it had been. They became sure it had been a two-master, which matched the description of what they had found during their research of the Trouvadore. When they swam over the wreck, Derrek saw an opening. He took out a metal pointer and tapped it on his scuba tank. Luke heard the noise and turned around to Derrek. Derrek pointed downwards to the hole in the reef. Luke’s eyes grew big and he made the ‘O’ signal before adjusting his BCD to go deeper. They both had come prepared with nets and lights. They, of course, also had knifes strapped to their legs, just in case they met inquisitive sharks.

Before they entered the hull of the ship, they switched on their lights, mounted on their heads like true spelunkologists. In the depth of the ship they found more barnacles, more coral, and structures that looked like platforms. As they found the remains of iron shackles on the platforms the both of them became ecstatic, knowing that they had found what they were looking for, the slave ship Trouvadore.

The slave trade hadn’t been a pleasure cruise for the slaves as their captors had tried to pack as many slaves as possible onto their ships, packed shoulder to shoulder, without enough space above them to even turn around. Seeing the proof of these torturous circumstances made shivers go down Derrek’s spine. So much so that he became unwell. Derrek didn’t know why, but he wanted to get out. He was breathing faster than normal and couldn’t think straight. He was panicking. This was very unusual for Derrek, having a long list of wreck dives to his name, which made him panic even more. He grabbed Luke by a fin and pointed towards the exit. Luke wondered what was wrong, but nodded and followed him.

Derek almost got out when something kept him from going forward. He couldn’t move his legs. His heart skipped a beat and he almost stopped breathing. Turning around as fast as he could, he relaxed when he saw it was Luke holding him by his fins. Luke pointed at another hole in the wreck. Derrek consulted his wrist computer and realised they had enough time for some more exploration. He made a conscious effort to breath slower and rationalised he should be okay. He didn’t want to disappoint Luke as they may not have another chance to dive for another few days with this storm that was coming.

Derrek followed Luke into the hole. This had to be the captain’s quarters, or what was left of it, according to the maps they had studied. There wasn’t much left of it. One object that had been preserved in miraculous good condition was a chest. As soon as Luke saw it, he swam to it and opened it, greed the main motivator. Derrek felt the hairs on his body rise under his dive suit as he witnessed the following scene. From around the chest swam a barracuda which attacked Luke’s face. His mask was ripped off, regulator hose torn, blood everywhere. Derrek was petrified, unable to move, but not because of what happened to Luke.

As Luke had managed to open the chest before being attacked by the barracuda, Derrek saw a wooden statue stuck in the chest. It had the shape of a voluptuous woman. It wasn’t the statue that frightened him though. It was the ghostlike shimmer that rose from it. The ghost didn’t disappear. It hovered just above the chest and looked at Derrek. It actually stared at him. This was what gave him the creeps. Then it began laughing. There was no sound, but the image of the ghost laughing at him made his heart stop and blood drain from his head. A feeling of pure evil flooded his senses. He had to get away. Derrek moved backwards as fast as he could and bumped into the back of the cabin wall, damaging the first stage of his regulator, making the air in his tank escape with forceful bubbles.

The last thing Derrek saw through the red waters was the laughing ghost disappearing from the ship, finally free from its captivity.

Copyrighted (c) by Jacky Dahlhaus

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