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February 2nd, 2020
The day was long dark, cast with an early night as snow began to fall and freshen the layer of white that covered the path and the surrounding woods. Lucilius slowed his horse a moment to flip his collar and button it and then urged the horse on. The darkness collapsed the small light around them but the hooves of the horse found their way until dimly a glow began to edge into the darkness up ahead in the woods. The few lights of the town blossomed into view as the trees gave way, and Lucilius reflected on the shape of his mind as it expanded with the lights.
He slowed the horse before the tavern of town and dismounted. He patted the horse, and removed a wide blanket from the belted back and covered the horse. Then he smashed the layer of ice in the water trough and the horse took in laps of water.
Lucilius climbed up the wooden steps, the planks of the porch creaking, reminding him of the ships he used to work, the way they whined in the waves, and groaned with advances of wind. Those ships, like old gods, always up to the challenge but still always about it like men, complaining as proof that they could take more.
The heavy door had a snug fit but swung open swiftly, and with it, the cold he brought. He turned the door closed, feeling the heat of the room cozy up around him.
The room was sparsely full, and quiet, and Lucilius took to the bar.
“Ale, a whisky and a room. A plate too if you’ve got anything.”
He fished a thick coin from his pocket and letting it land heavy and quick on the bar, felt the few stares from around the room. Lucilius was a man of industry now, and though he wasn’t one to show it, there were good boots he’d just purchased, the style unavoidable. Even in a time when things were made to last there were still some that were made to last longer, and only an idiot failed to realize that the thing built custom, with it’s whole life in mind, lasted longest.
Lucilius took his beer, his whisky and sat at lone table. He drank long from his beer and then stared into the golden amber spirit. The beer was cold, but the whisky would be hot, and no matter how hot the hearth was in this tavern room, he knew that old familiar heat of whisky pouring down into his body. He held off, and glanced around the room, figuring the stares would have subsided, tending back to their own private worlds now.
But there was one man across the room, near crossed with liquor, still staring at Lucilius. He saw that it was Lucilius and started to stand, struggling. The man took a moment to steady himself, remembering the old machinery of balance, before lumbering across the room.
“You’re Lucilius,” the man said.
Over the years Lucilius had become less and less impressed with his own memory, and this was not exception. Even through a thick haze of liquor, the man could see Lucilius struggle to place him. The man took a seat opposite Lucilius.
“The Ariadne,” he said. “After bowheads, western coast of Greenland.”
It all came back to Lucilius then. The grey skies that swirled to a torrent. That crazed Bluenose blood boat captain screaming to lower the boats to go after spouts. They barely made it away from the ship before struggling to return in the cold boil of sea as it began to battle that howling sky. The few left struggling to keep the ship watched in horror as the boats were, lost, dashed to pieces by an insane sea. The helmsman that day was superior, a friend of Lucilius but the captain was crazed for more kills. It was that struggle between that captain’s greed and that helmsman’s wisdom of the sea that sank the ship. The captain bludgeoned the man off the wheel and turned the ship back towards those long-since-seen spouts, hurling the ship into dangerous angles with the sea. The mizzen was the first to be torn from it’s stalk, snapping backstays of the main before diving into the sea to grab and drag the stern out of any control. The captain was lost and so too soon would be the Ariadne.
Lucilius had gone down below and began hacking at the roped barrels, hacking open the hold as the freezing water cuffed his ankles and began to climb in torrents, the barrels now becoming restless, and dangerous in their bobbing movement.
“What are you doing? We’re never to touch the barrels!” Lucilius could remember someone yelled as he worked his sheepshank.
The ship went down in the tumult, some few barrels spewing from it’s hold. In the chaos of that freezing landscape, between those walls of water, never ceasing, Lucilius made out one other man clinging to a barrel, far away, just as he was, holding on for all of life.
Hours, or days later when the sea was finally calm, Lucilius could see nothing else among the grey expanse. He was lost in that memory, thinking of that icy shore that found him and his long trek across the frozen land, when he remembered this drunk man before him.
The man had tears in his eyes.
“You were the other, on that barrel.”
The man nodded.
Lucilius smiled. He clapped the man’s shoulder.
“What a day that was,” Lucilius said, smiling. But the man looked on in horror, and Lucilius was confused.
“Ever get back out there?” Lucilius asked, thinking about the years afterwards he’d spent at sea before then building his industry, his place now in the world, now more as a decision after all those years of action.
“Been here ever since,” the man said, shaking his head. “Can’t go back. Can’t look at that watery hell.”
“The sea you mean?” Lucilius asked. The man only nodded, and Lucilius took in a great breath and slowly sighed, knowing the many years since this man had spent lost in his own liquored stupor.
Lucilius took back his whisky, feeling that heat pour into him, and now feeling it he almost missed the cold, out there in the woods before he saw that glow of town. He felt a meanness towards this warm tavern suddenly, and he looked at this broken man.
“We were smart to hold to those barrels that day. But why do you still holdfast to yours when there’s no wind and water here and now to try and take our lives from us?”
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