“Good God!” cried Sergeant Major General, after what seemed like several days but was in fact the merest of mere moments. “How did that get there?”
The crew members were muttering amongst themselves, backing slowly away from Sergeant Major General. One man made the sign of the cross, raising his eyes to heaven and whispering prayers. Another started to visibly shake.
“What’s wrong with them?!” Sergeant Major General was filled with a sense of dread and foreboding, though it could have just been the cabbage.
“There’s a tale I’ve heard told over many a flagon of ale,” said the Captain grimly, “of a spirit that stalks men in the night, marking its victims with a gold circle struck through with black. Within 24 hours the marked man is dead, his heart ripped beating from his body! Well, it’s not certain his heart is still beating at the actual moment of ripping, that’s never been confirmed. It’s possible the poor wretch dies of fright first. But anyway, it’s said that once a whole ship was killed in this way, slowly, night after night, one man after another. Screams and blood filled the darkness, endless swabbing of bloody decks filled the day. Blood and swabbing, swabbing and blood, and all about, death! Until no man was left and the boat was but a floating ghost ship.”
“But why?” whispered Sergeant Major General.
“There are various theories,” said the Captain, lighting a cheroot. “Most of them revolve around the spirit being the spirit of unspeakable evil.”
“And the symbol?” said Kirk Bill, who suddenly felt he hadn’t had enough dialogue of late. “It’s known as…?”
“Yes,” said the Captain, blowing smoke rings as his crew whimpered and cowered and pointed. “It’s known as…the EYE OF THE TIGER.”
All at once the crew were cast into madness, shrieking and tearing the hair!
“Hold, men!” yelled Kirk Bill fiercely. “We must stay together! Find your courage!” But it was no use. While some men hunched wild-eyed on the deck or tried to hide under piles of rope, others took to the rigging or flung themselves over the railings and into the sea!
“Good God!” Sergeant Major General bellowed. “Poltroons! Are you men, or marmots?! I’m the one that’s marked with the bloody eye, get back here! Except you,” he said kindly to the wild-eyed and gibbering Swedish chef, “I don’t mind if you want to take off.”
The remaining men were strangely calmed by being compared to a marmot but Kirk Bill estimated they’d lost about third of the crew to the terror. In the distance they could hear faint screams as those who had jumped aboard were devoured by sharks and (probably) giant squid.
Suddenly the captain laughed. Kirk Bill and Sergeant Major General looked at him, astonished. “Well, this is a turn-up for the books,” he said, with a strange and feverish glint in his eye. “What an exciting voyage this is turning out to be! Men! Back to your posts! We continue to Mumbai!” The men mumbled things and shuffled off, except for the dead one, obviously, and another who was having trouble getting out from under a particularly heavy bit of rope.
The captain turned to our two heroes, grinning around his cigar. “Well, gentleman,” he said calmly, “what are we going to do about this beast that stalks our ship?”
“I have an idea,” said Kirk Bill, who had a lot of ideas and on the whole they were generally quite good. “But, my good friend,” he said, turning to Sergeant Major General, “ it will require you to be very brave.”
Sergeant Major General drew himself up. “I’m ready, whatever it is,” he said, manfully.
“Excellent man,” said Kirk Bill. “What I propose…is to set a trap for a TIGER!”
TO BE CONTINUED