SERENITY OR SAILS • by Dale Ivan Smith

Alexander Simon had been on the deserted isle for at least two years when the sails appeared on the horizon. The bonfire burned from the peak — Jade Peak, he called it, since it was covered in green foliage. So was the rest of the island, but to Simon’s fevered brain the name made sense when he first set foot on the island. He had washed ashore, sole survivor of Captain Billy Briggs’s pirate brigantine Juno’s Fortune. The Fortune’s crew had taken Simon captive when they captured the merchantman carrying him to the new world, a young doctor out to seek his fortune and escape the dissolution of London’s taverns and card rooms as his dying father had wished. He had refused to join the pirates when given the chance, and they tormented him in return, making him run a gauntlet across the deck in the hot sun while they betted on how long his passage would take.

The sails grew on the horizon, billowing from three masts. It must be a big ship, perhaps a warship. Hugging the bole of a coconut tree where he had climbed to pluck a coconut, Simon smiled. The nightly ritual of lighting the fire was over. So was the endless eating of fish and coconut. How he would savor his first bite of roast beef, and how sweet the first tankard of ale would be!

And women — even now Simon could not bring himself to think of them — imagining their sweet faces and curving hips would drive him mad.

How he wanted, craved, lusted after the embrace of a woman. His father had lectured him long and hard against the temptations of the flesh yet Simon longed for a woman. How the nights had been so empty on this tropical paradise that wasn’t. All he had were the nightmares of the drowning crew of the Fortune.

The ship came into view over the horizon, its hull dark against the sapphire blue of the Indian Ocean. In Simon’s wildest dreams he never imagined he’d wind up in the Indies, but Briggs had been inspired by Kidd and his Adventure Galley’s foray into the waters beyond the Horn of Africa, and sailed the Fortune in search of an East India Company treasure ship.

Halfway across the Indian Ocean a colossal gale had thundered from the east and driven the Fortune before it, her masts toppling in the shrieking winds. The gale hurled the ship onto a reef, and emptied her contents into the heaving waters. Simon had fought to stay afloat, the ocean lashing him and sapping his strength with its cold embrace. His grasping fingers had closed on a shattered spar; only that piece of flotsam had saved him from the watery abyss.

A seeming eternity later he had washed ashore. Two years ago, or was it three? Endless days and nights spent fishing, writing in the sand, staring off into space. He would have given two years of his life for a book to keep him company; he had given two years anyway with only the occasional sea bird looking on.

He dropped down to the sand, ran the two hundred yards to his hut and retrieved his spyglass, and sprinted back, sides heaving and breath sharp in his throat.

His hands shook so hard he had to brace the glass against a tree trunk, close his eyes for a minute and take a deep breath to steady himself. He put the spyglass to his eye.

The ship came into focus. She was turning toward the island. His heart hammered hard in his chest, and he lowered the spyglass, wiping his mouth.  His rescue could be at hand.

His hands shook as he raised the spyglass a second time to his eye and it took him a long moment to steady himself. When he finally looked through the glass he could make out the crew. Men in ragged linen breeches and shirts crowded her decks and scrambled aloft in her rigging. There was a cluster of men at the stern, overdressed in crimson and green coats, looking like Spanish merchants out for a debauch.


The telescope slipped from his fingers and landed softly in the sand.

Suddenly a choice reared up before him.

He could be rescued, if they didn’t kill him, and for them not to kill him, he’d need to tell them that he was a doctor, skills perhaps a little rusty, but a physician nonetheless. Then they would keep him. He would sail with them to Tortuga and Grand Bahama, and know the delights of women’s flesh and drink a river of rum. He would be marauder, a thief. And when justice came for them, as it always did, he would be hung along with the pirates, considered one of them.

Or he could stay on the island, hide, and wait for them to leave, and return to his solitary existence, with only the swaying palms and the occasional seabird that flew past.

He glanced up at the smoke curling from Jade Peak.

Simon would have to hide very well — but he could do that. If he did, who knew how long it would be before another ship arrived, before he had another chance to leave this lonely isle?

He stared at his empty hands. Not a penny to him, and he was likely dead to the world. He licked his dry lips. It had been so long since he had tasted rum.

So the choice that lay before him was between this serene and empty island or the chaos under the sails yonder, a tedious yet safe existence set against a short life but possibly a very merry one.

He walked to the surf and waited for the longboats to arrive.

When not dreaming of sailing the Seven Seas with pirates, Dale Ivan Smith is writing another episode of his superhero serial, Weed. His stories have appeared in 10Flash Quarterly and Every Day Fiction, and can also be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other eBook stores.

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Every Day Fiction

  • At the beginning I was thinking that it was unrealistic for the first lot of pirates to keep their prisoner alive. But the author shows he knows this, from the issues brought out by the arrival of the second lot of pirates, so why didn’t it work out that way the first time?

    By the way, the only way the Indian Ocean could ever be “the waters beyond the Horn of Africa” (the easternmost point of Africa) is for pirates starting in the Red Sea, or possibly just outside the mouth of that sea, there being no Suez Canal in those days to let them start farther away. Kidd did not start there, nor did others like Avery (whose career, like Morgan’s, showed that “when justice came for them, as it always did” isn’t true).

  • Tee Ways

    I liked this. I wasn’t sure for awhile just where it was going, but the end was an interesting internal debate. I was almost disappointed to know his decision; I would have like to be left unsatisfied and thinking about his fate.

    I must say, though, that I was confused by some of the grammar and punctuation. In the opening, it’s said that “..the sails appeared from the horizon. The bonfire burned from the peak…” and I had to read it about 5 times to realize the ship wasn’t on fire. Also, “And the women… imagining their sweet faces…” made me wonder why the women were thinking of themselves. I realize these are petty points as compared to the compelling story, but they did pull me out of the tale again and again.

    Lovely pirate story! Makes me want to write up something about a deserted island, too!

  • SarahT

    A little too much info packed into this one. The telling of “how” and “where” things came about is a distraction from the actual tale. This story is really about a man’s moral delimma: live up to societal expectations, or fulfill the very human need for social contact. I would have liked to read more about his life before leaving his homeland, spend more time getting to know him as a person.

    Thanks for the good read.

  • Pirate stories are right up there with gunslinger stories…love them all. Four stars.

  • Nicely told, Dale!

  • Shere Khan

    ARRRRR… I’d have made the same choice myself (disregarding any moral issues about embarking on a life of priacy), but I’d have to get a lot more creative to convince them I’d be worth sparing.

  • Shere Khan

    I meant to type “piracy,” of course.

  • Captain Morgan type pirates in the Indian Ocean? I felt that was stretching things a bit.

    That said, a good read.

    What time are the longboats arriving?

  • good job, Dale! Could almost smell the ocean.

  • Actually, PAF, the part about pirates switching their activities to the Indian Ocean is based on sound history. European navies became active enough in the West Indies and valuable ships plentiful enough in the Indian Ocean that it happened in the early 18th century. One of the most profitable captures was led by Captain Avery, who gathered together several ships in the area to attack ships of wealthy Indian Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. Pirate havens in or off Madagascar took on the role formerly played by places like Tortuga in the West Indies. It’s all well documented.

  • Well, you learn something new every day. Unfortunately, I can now envisage the films Pirates of the Caribbean 5, 6 and 7 set in Madagascar.

    Or perhaps ‘Madagascar 4’.

  • Thanks for the comments everyone! Much appreciated!

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