I've been playing with the idea of writing a short story or posting a chapter from my novel each weekend. If I see many positive responses (or even some constructive criticism), I shall continue these posts.
The original writing prompt for this short story came from Josip Novakovich's Writing Fiction Step By Step. As many writers do, I tweaked it more and more into the story below. Enjoy!
His name in black and white under his picture sent a repulsive shudder through me as if I had relived a bad dream. In truth, Clementius Wigg had haunted my thoughts daily for more than forty years. His voice sounded in my head reminding me of my darkest moment. Yet, when he stopped talking to me—in real life—a euphoric gleam entered my life. It was like my bedside lamp that remained unused because I thought the oil had run too low when all that it needed was a new wick. All for a simple change. No longer having him in my life was like that. Only it also caused illumination. Suddenly, I could read before bed again for more reasons than the obvious.
The artist captured well the windblown mane and scraggly beard of a madman. The hard-line of his mouth—as if he had eaten too many prunes (and who knows that he could have because intestinal tie-ups often plague the high-strung)—still made me swallow as if the pit had transferred to me. He did that to people. He passed on his tasks and obligations. Perhaps it was his right as we were all sailors on the ship he captained.
For my part, because I was the only one who could read (thanks to my mother’s instruction before she died in childbirth along with my stillborn brother) I served as ship’s doctor. A poor physician at that by my own admission. I wielded a meat cleaver as well as the ship’s cook, and we had a standing wager on who cut the cleanest shank. That was all well and good, for my work brought well-being to the gangrenous as much as the cook’s did to our gullets.
It was Wigg who caused wounds to fester and innards to churn. His gossip spread like scurvy through the group until it was palatable. He lured followers with promises like buried treasure. They obligingly dug at his command. Little did they know he stood ready to cast them into the holes they excavated and stole all the glory for himself.
I suppose my fault was I cried mutiny. Once.
The rally he organized trying to get me to jump ship was impressive and oppressive. Still, I remained steadfast in my assertion that he was the one who deserved to be cast out. The amazing thing was, I also choose silence as my weapon. I let him set his sails against storms only he could stir up himself. I bided my time. Only when others wanted to make a leader out of me did I finally speak again.
An emphatic “no” was my reply.
So for all his accusations that I demanded control, nothing could be proved. At the next port, he abandoned us for another ship, a coward’s act by any captain’s standards. His first mate went along at the first. I heard years later they parted ways, but not until reading the details for the obituary knew why. I assumed that Wigg had done more harm than any good. Yet, now I wondered at the harm done to him. I surmised he was survived by a wayward wife or one he had dismissed. Then I noted in her second husband’s name the familiar one of Wigg’s former first mate. The son, an actor, remained a bachelor. Though the billings revealed he preferred the women’s roles. His daughter had a last name different from her three children and no current spouse listed.
I felt bile rise with the elation. Because I did and didn’t want to know about his pain.
I knew his life would come to all this. A small part hoped I might be wrong.
“What do you have there, Sims?”
I turned to face Sherwin Rakestraw, the newspaper’s senior editor. I had joined his staff a year after Wigg jumped ship, exchanging my scalpel for a pen. The change had served me well. Rakestraw also proved to far superior to Wigg as a leader. Both Rakestraw and I had made names for ourselves. Yet, I was grateful for a byline rather than the responsibility the editor carried. Until now.
“The details for Clementius Wigg’s obituary.”
“Ah. Your former captain.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Give him justice, Sims.”
“Give it to him.”
“And you know you have it.”
I did. Rakestraw spoke the truth. I stared at the information before me. I carried my own secret about Wigg buried behind my left jacket pocket. Rakestraw knew. I told him the night he saved my life. That night I made him vow to take it to his grave. I planned to do the same.
I guessed he meant for me to break that vow now that Wigg had entered his.
I considered it. Then I took up my pen and wrote my nemesis’ obituary.
But, I wrote what I could live with reading.
I wrote with mercy.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Penny J. Johnson. All rights reserved.