Jason Stanwick sat glumly in the bilge water of his ship. Well, boat. Alright, it was a dinghy with a sail on it, but it was his and he was proud of it. Or rather pleased. It was okay.
Let’s be honest, he thought, sucking on the end of his grey beard. It doesn’t even float. He looked over the side, a few inches down to where the sand of the beach held his craft in a little cupped cradle. Purple mud crabs picked at the seaweed growing on the hull.
Absently, Jason bailed some of the most recent high tide from the bottom of the dinghy, digging out the sand beneath with broken nails. Poking a finger through one of the holes in the side, he craned his neck to look up at the jetty towering above him.
It was busy up there, with people stacking cargo for loading on the next tide. Near to the edge, a matronly woman waved down to him, a basket on one arm.
‘How are you today, Mr Stanwick?’
‘I’m well, thank you Matilda,’ he called back, smiling. ‘Just working on the old girl, you know how it is.’ He patted the tiller fondly, and the end fell off.
Up on the jetty, Matilda paused.
‘I’ve got someone here who would like to see you Mr Stanwick, is that okay?’
‘Of course, of course, send them down!’
Matilda turned to someone out of sight on the jetty, speaking quietly. She glanced back at Jason briefly before she moved on, and he smiled encouragingly up at her. Good old Matilda. She did worry her silly head about him.
Only a few moments later, a young girl stood at the side of his boat, looking determinedly down at him. A long brown plait draped forward over one shoulder, and her hands were planted on her hips.
‘Hullo there,’ Jason smiled brightly. ‘I’m Jason.’
‘Nice to meet you Jason. I’m Jessie,’ she said, then hesitated a moment. ‘What are you doing today?’
‘Oh, just trying to fix up the old boat,’ he said, casting a critical eye up and down the craft.
‘Right,’ Jessie said. ‘In that case, do you need a cabin boy?’
‘A cabin boy.’
‘Ah, lass, but I don’t have a cabin.’
‘And I’m not a boy,’ she challenged.
‘Ha! You’re good. You’re hired!’ A sandy hand shot up at Jessie. She shook it delicately. ‘Now,’ Jason said. ‘What does a non-cabin non-boy do, exactly?’
‘Anything you need me to do,’ Jessie said. ‘You said you were trying to fix your boat?’
‘Yes, need to patch up these holes. Just not seaworthy with that much water coming in.’
‘I imagine not,’ the girl said. ‘Can you show me where the holes are?’
Jason clambered around in the dinghy, pointing out holes while Jessie followed him around on the outside.
‘I think I can help with this,’ she said after a while. ‘Will you wait here while I go and get some things?’
‘Be my guest, non-cabin non-boy!’ Jason beamed. ‘I’ll be right here.’
Jessie returned a short while later, the sleeves of her chequered shirt rolled up. In her arms she carried a bundle of what looked like heavy grey material.
‘What are we going to do with this?’ Jason asked sceptically, picking at the fabric that Jessie dumped in the now dry dinghy bottom.
‘It’s a new method of hole mending,’ Jessie said confidently. ‘We plug the holes with it.’
‘Ah, and if we paint it with tar, it will be nice and water proof! I’ve still got some here.’ Jason fished a tin out of a small storage hatch in the front of the boat. ‘Good thinking, non-cabin boy! Let’s get the old girl afloat! Climb aboard, come on!’
For a moment, Jessie hesitated, eyeing up the man in the boat.
‘Don’t worry lass, I don’t bite. Don’t have enough teeth!’ Jason cackled, displaying the few remaining yellowed pegs in the front of his mouth.
Jessie smiled at him, and accepted a hand down into the boat with a sigh. Together, the pair began caulking up the holes with wads of the stiff fabric, packing it in tight. Then Jason slathered each wad with a liberal slop of tar, smearing it down with the brush until the fabric was slick and gummed to the inside of the hull. The tar smelled strangely sweet, filling the small craft with its heady scent.
‘Why do you need to fix the boat, Jason?’ Jessie asked as they worked.
‘Well, she doesn’t float, lass,’ he explained gently.
‘Yes, I can see that. But what will you do once it can float?’
‘Ahh, now there, there is the question, right enough,’ Jason tapped the side of his bulbous nose, leaving a streak of tar. ‘I’ve still got me last piece of cargo to deliver,’ he said. ‘Most precious thing it is to, and the man I’m delivering it to will be missing it sorely.’
‘But what is it?’ Jessie asked, forming up another wad for the next hole.
‘I’ll show you, since you’re being so helpful. I’ve got it here somewhere,’ Jason put down the tar brush and tin, searching in the storage hatch again. ‘Here it is!’ Jason Stanwick held up a large glass jar. The fluid that filled it sparkled, shimmering in cold colours like phosphorescence under moonlight on the open ocean.
‘What is that?’ Jessie gasped, gazing at its beauty.
‘That, lass, is all the memories of Stanley Jaswick, the so called insane pirate captain of the Leaper.’
‘His memories?’ Jessie reached out to touch the jar. ‘But how are they in here?’
‘He put them there, of course,’ Jason said, rather morosely. ‘He had to save his crew from a siren, a sea witch who had them captive, and he had to keep his memories safe from her. She was jealous of his adventures on the land, you see, which she could never have, and he was afraid she would steal them from him. So he put them in here and gave them to me,’ Jason tapped the jar. ‘But without them, he wanders the oceans, not knowing who he is, where he’s going, or the love that he left behind.’
‘But that’s terrible!’ Jessie cried.
‘Aye lass, it is,’ Jason said, suddenly more sombre than he had been all day. ‘I’ve been trying for months to get my old boat to float, so I can go out myself and return them to him. Between you and me,’ he lent closer to Jessie. ‘I think having these memories here in this jar for so long is making me a bit loopy. I’d as soon be clear of them for my own sake, as well as his.’
‘Well let’s get them back to him, then,’ Jessie said eagerly. ‘I’ll help you. Let me go and get some supplies, and I’ll be back by the high tide. We can float your boat and go searching for Captain Jaswick.’
‘It would be an honour, non-cabin non-boy,’ the old man put a hand on her shoulder, giving her a little bow. ‘Till then.’
High tide found the unlikely pair standing in the foaming surf, rocking the boat to and fro to loosen it from its sandy bed. With a sucking sound, the craft abruptly surged upwards, rearing like a horse let loose from the stables. Nose into the waves, the little boat seemed to set out of its own accord.
‘Quick! She’s going!’ Jason cried, scrambling aboard. Jessie was quick to follow, dragging two stout poles with her for oars. The old man grasped the ropes around the tiny sail, pulling the sheet taut into the breeze.
‘Go, my Letto!’ He crowed, arms raised in jubilant triumph. The little craft shot away from the beach, proving to be quite fleet without all the holes. Jessie glanced over at her companion, seeing the delight there, and smiled to herself. Looking back at the dock, sliding past them with surprising speed, she saw Matilda watching them go. She gave the woman a small wave.
‘Where do we find the Captain of the Leaper?’ She asked Jason.
‘We’ll start at the Thread Isles, just down the coast,’ he pointed out to their right. ‘We’ll have to be careful. Those waters are full of serpents in the deeper sections; they come up to bask alongside the sands.’
‘This sounds like a true adventure,’ Jessie said eagerly.
‘That it is, lass! That it is. The last great adventure.’ He gave Jessie an odd smile.
~Adventure on the Letto~
For the next few weeks, the pair explored among the various islands frequented by pirates, looking for the mad Captain Jaswick. As Jason said they would, they saw the serpents of the Thread Isles, their sinuous bodies gliding like liquid gems beneath the water’s surface. Jason told Jessie of their singing, that sailors could sometimes hear them at night when the moon was full, down in the depths of the ocean. He said they sang the songs of each others lives, to remind one another who they were and where they came from.
The old man told a great many stories, when the seas were calm and his Letto could glide along with ease on the sparkling waters, the breeze rippling in his thin hair. Jessie enjoyed just watching him, listening to his voice. What a life he has had, she thought, the things he has seen. Once, that thought made her cry, and while she tried to hide it from him, he saw all the same.
‘Why do you cry, lass?’
‘It’s nothing,’ Jessie wiped her eyes and tried to smile. ‘Don’t worry about me.’
‘Oh but I do. You are my companion, my non-cabin non-boy, and I must look after you,’ he pressed.
‘I just wish I’d met you sooner,’ Jessie admitted. Jason smiled.
‘Well, you have now, haven’t you?’ The old man said. She nodded. ‘And you must always enjoy what you have in front of you, while you have it.’.
‘Yes. Do you think we will find Captain Jaswick soon?’ She asked.
‘It’s hard to say,’ Jason looked critically at the weather. ‘But something tells me that he might be closer than we think.’
That night, Jessie rested against the hull of the Letto, watching Jason gaze into the light from the memory jar until he fell asleep, captivated by its swirling lights. She couldn’t imagine not having her memories, not knowing who she was and who she loved. It made her shudder. She hoped they would find the Captain soon.
Several mornings later, they did.
‘Sails!’ Jason cried, pointing to the horizon. Leaping up, Jessie followed his gaze. On the edge of sight, the flags and upper sections of three masts could be seen.
‘Is that him?’ Jessie asked.
‘I know it in my soul,’ the old man said. ‘Hold tight lass, let’s see what the old girl can do!’ He pulled the little sail tight, and Letto surged forward ahead of the breeze.
But try as they might, the Leaper eluded them, always just the other side of the horizon. Further and further out to sea they followed her in their little craft, until there was no land in sight. Night began to fall, a hush settling over the glassy water around the little boat. Dusk ate at the horizon, hiding the Leaper entirely. Jessie began to become afraid, worried that they might become lost to the great ocean, with no hope of finding the ship and returning the memories to her Captain.
‘How can we catch them?’ She asked desperately of Jason, as he sat at the tiller.
‘We’d need a storm,’ the man replied. ‘One big enough to make her crew tie down the sails. My Letto can ride through nearly anything, much more than a big ship like the Leaper. We’d catch her then.’
‘How does that help,’ Jessie said, feeling close to tears. ‘We can’t just make a storm because we need one, it doesn’t work like that!’
‘I can,’ Jason said quietly, his face calm. ‘It’s my adventure, after all. I’ll dream one for us.’ And as if that settled the matter, the old man tied off the sail and settled down in a hollow of the bow, wrapping himself close in a blanket. Jessie smiled gently at him as his breath deepened in sleep.
Quietly, Jessie closed the door to her grandfather’s room. She picked up her school bag from the woman at the reception on her way out.
‘He’s sleeping now, Matilda. Thanks. I’ll come back again tomorrow.’
At home that night, Jessie sat on the floor in the sitting room, going through the old box of photographs. There was her grandfather, standing on his yacht in some far flung corner of the world. Another, on a beach surrounded by smiling men wearing uniforms and sailors caps. She’d spent her childhood looking at these photos, her earliest play spent in make-believe adventure on ships or strange islands.
Carefully, she unfolded the letter again, checking guiltily for her mothers presence. As she read, she picked up a bright shell from the box, rolling the little cone between her fingers.
My dearest Natalie,
Happy birthday! I hope you like the seashells I sent you. I dove for them myself off the quaintest little island. The locals thought I would surely drown!
I miss you my darling, and I hope to be home to see you again soon. Give my love to mummy for me,
‘Jessie, what are you doing in there?’ Hurriedly Jessie tucked the letter back into the box, thrusting it half under the couch.
‘Nothing mum,’ she called.
Her mother stuck her head around the corner. Like her daughter, Natalie was pale, her long brown hair gathered up in a loose bun. A frown grew across her face as she looked down on Jessie, still kneeling beside the couch.
‘Give it to me,’ she held out an exasperated hand.
‘I don’t - .’
‘Jessie!’ Her mothers eyes flashed, and points of colour gathered on her cheeks. The girl jumped to her feet, quickly depositing the shell in her mothers hand. Natalie dumped it back with the photos, pushing the box out of sight with her foot.
‘You haven’t been in there in years,’ she said, rounding on her daughter. ‘Why now?’
Jessie looked at the floor, twisting from side to side under her mothers glare.
‘You’ve been to see him, haven’t you?’ Natalie’s voice was low, dangerous. ‘Haven’t you!?’
‘Yes!,’ Jessie said defiantly, looking up. ‘I’d never met him!’
‘There is a reason for that. He was hardly a part of my life. He has no right to be a part of yours.’
‘But mum - .’
‘No, thats enough,’ Natalie’s voice was suddenly quiet, tired. She looked away, the lights from the kitchen reflecting brightly in her eyes. ‘Bed time now, please,’ she said as she walked away.
Jessie went, a frown on her face. This was going to be harder than she’d hoped.
Morning broke red and violent over the Letto, a wind whipping the sea’s surface into little coils of spray. Behind them, back toward the long lost shore, a dark thunderhead billowed to fill the sky.
‘What did I tell you?’ Jason looked as smug as a little boy as he readied the sail. ‘We’ll catch her now.’
Jessie looked apprehensively between the storm and the masts of the Leaper on the distant horizon, hoping that Jason was right.
The storm came on, bringing night with it. Its belly, filled with rain and lightning, scraped against the sea, raising it into foaming peaks of murky water. The wind reached the Letto before the Leaper, making her sail bulge and strain in the gale. The spray whipped into Jessie’s eyes, plastering her hair to her head as she fought the buck of the dinghy to follow Jason’s directions.
He sat at the tiller, eyes fixed on where he knew the Leaper would be, lost now in the dark of the storm. Gone was the old man smiling inanely from his little boat in the sand. This was where he belonged and it showed, making his eyes bright in the gloom, his voice strong and loud even over the howl of the wind.
‘Not much further!’ He cried. ‘She’ll have to bring her sails down in this, or risk losing them! Hold on now, Jessie!’
The Letto seemed to plummet from the crest of a wave, crashing into the trough, freezing water rushing in over the prow. Jessie scrambled to bail it out again, but not before the next wave came surging in, pinning her to the deck. All was dark, the wind screaming in their ears, the rain no different from the stinging salt spray all around them. The little dinghy, strained to its limits, creaked as if voicing its own agony.
‘We can’t keep this up!’ Jessie shrieked. ‘The Letto can’t take much more!’
‘She can! We all can! Being afraid is alright, and it’s better when we’re together!’ Jason bellowed, standing now in the wash of water. ‘Hold on lass, we’re nearly there!’
Suddenly the storm darkened ahead; a dim shadow in the night transformed slowly into the hulking shape of a tri-masted ship, looming above them. Jessie gazed up at the huge vessel, sitting steady in the swell, her sails bound tight to the masts.
The Leaper. They’d found her.
Coming into the lee of the great ship, the wind dropped, the waves settled, and Jessie was able to bail the last of the water from their little boat. Jason drew them alongside, tying off a line to the larger vessel. Excited, Jessie turned to the old man, eager to go aboard.
Instead, she found him settling down to sleep, pulling dry blankets from the storage hatch over himself. Raising a withered hand, he pointed to the stern of the ship, to the yet illegible writing scrawled there.
‘Not just yet,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Some things are not quiet ready.’
‘In the morning, then,’ she said, smiling gently at him.
‘Yes, love. In the morning,’ Jason reached up and patted her hand. ‘You get some rest. That was quite a storm.’ He smiled dreamily as she tucked him in, kissing him lightly on the forehead.
She fought with her mother again that night.
‘Jessie I‘ve told you to leave the old man alone!’ Natalie slapped her fork down on the table. ‘You know how I feel about the whole thing.’
‘You should at least see him once!’ Jessie insisted. ‘The nurses don’t think he has much time left. Neither do I.’
‘I don’t care!’ Her mother cried, the bright spots of colour showing on her cheeks again. ‘Jessie, he doesn’t even know who we are! He’s been like that for years, since you were young!’
‘I just wish I’d met him sooner,’ the girl said quietly, looking at her plate. ‘Before he got truly lost.’
‘He wasn’t the wonderful man you seem to think he was,’ her mother said. ‘You don’t know him any better than he knows you. Just because he is your grandfather does not mean you can gallivant all around the nursing home. I rang them today. They told me you two have been pushing that bed of his up and down the corridors using crutches! And that was his skin cream you came home covered in a few weeks ago, wasn’t it?’
‘He thinks the bed is his boat, mum. We were rowing it. And the cream was tar to patch the holes in the sides. You know where he thinks he is. It’s the only way I can reach him.’
‘Why do you need to reach him at all?’
‘Mum, just come with me tomorrow. He said that being afraid is alright, that it’s better when we are together. He needs us.’
‘You will not go there again,’ her mother threatened.
And when Jessie’s mother got the call that her daughter had skipped school after lunch the next day, she knew exactly where she was.
~Captain, Grandfather, Father~
‘Jason, wake up. Its time.’
‘Ah, Jessie, there you are.’ Jason looked over the side of the dingy from where he lay, up at the magnificent Leaper. Her name blazed bold and bright across her stern. ‘We found her at last.’
‘Do you think Captain Jaswick will be pleased to see us?’
‘I expect he won’t know, lass,’ Jason smiled as he pulled the gleaming jar of memories from the storage hatch. ‘But let’s go and remind him, shall we?’
With Jessie’s help, the old man pulled his Letto up alongside the ship again, heaving on the rope he’d tied off the night before. As soon as they were close enough he grabbed hold and scaled the side of the vessel, quick as a cat, the jar of Stanley Jaswick’s memories under one arm. In a rush, Jessie scrambled up after him.
The deck above was deserted, all except for a lone man standing at the helm, gazing into the middle distance. A captain’s hat perched on his grey hair, a great coat about his shoulders. Nothing moved as Jason and Jessie clambered over the side, the whole ship eerily silent, deserted. Thick fog drifted about the mast, enclosing them all in a featureless whiteness, as if the rest of the world no longer existed.
‘Didn’t think it was going to be this easy,’ Jason murmured. ‘Good thing to. I’m mighty tired.’ He hefted the memory jar, making for the helm of the Leaper.
They climbed the short ladder to the top deck and with that, without ceremony of any kind, they stood finally before the elusive Captain Stanley Jaswick. The man looked at them vaguely, his eyes reflecting the mist around them.
‘Captain,’ Jason stuttered, over whelmed. ‘I – I believe that this is yours.’ He held out the jar.
Captain Jaswick only looked at them calmly, barely seeming to register their presence. Jason looked back to Jessie, at a loss.
‘Maybe open it for him,’ Jessie said, breathless. Uncertain, Jason loosened the lid.
The effect was immediate.
The swirling light within the jar leapt forth, striking the Captain with enough force to lift him from his feet. The man staggered across the deck, reeling as the light swarmed upon him, soaking into his skin, into his eyes. Jason rushed to his side, holding him steady by the shoulders as the Captain shuddered.
‘Here man, why don’t you sit down?’ Jason offered, leading the Captain to a huge coil of rope lying on the deck. ‘That looked like it was a bit of a shock.’
Captain Jaswick opened his mouth, looking around him in wonder. Rasping, he sucked in a shaking breath.
‘That – is that? That can’t be little Jessie?’
‘It is!’ she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘Granddad, it’s me!’
‘I thought it might be,’ the old man smiled through his grey beard. He squirmed a little in the bed, trying to get more comfortable. Around him, a few hospital machines blinked softly. ‘Oh, what an adventure we have had, you and I,’ he sighed.
Through her tears, Jessie smiled.
‘There is someone I want to bring in,’ she said. ‘Is that okay?’
‘I had hoped there would be,’ the old man said quietly. ‘One last thing left to do.’
‘The forgotten love, left behind,’ Jessie said, and her grandfather winked.
She went to the door, unlocked it and opened it briefly, beckoning. Her mother strode into the room, glaring at her daughter.
‘Jessie, how dare you!’ She advanced.
Her mother stopped dead, staring at the man in the bed.
‘What did you call me?’
‘I called you Natalie, since that is the name of my daughter and you are she,’ the man said impatiently, if very quietly. ‘Now, I have wandered for a long time to remember what I do now, so come over here and don’t let me waste it.’
Shaking, Jessie’s mother walked to the bed, sinking into the chair at her father’s side.
‘I – I don’t know what to say,’ she said.
‘There isn’t much to say, really,’ her father said, taking a heavy breath. ‘And not a lot of time to say it in. But I have had the best of help, from the best of people, so that I could tell you this today,’ he paused for breath, and to give Jessie another little wink.
‘I love you,’ he said honestly. ‘I love you, and I have always been proud of you. I don’t care…what was said, who was…wrong. It doesn’t matter now.’
‘No, it doesn’t matter,’ tears sprang from Natalie’s eyes, and her face crumpled as she smiled and wept at the same time. ‘I love you to. I always have.’
‘Good,’ came the quiet reply. ‘That was worth coming all this way to hear.’
Jessie’s grandfather didn’t say another word after that. Her mother held his hand, and she held her mothers, until one of the nurses quietly came into the room. She checked a few machines, then turned to the older woman.
‘Natalie Jaswick? Your father Stanley has passed,’ she said gently. ‘I am sorry for your loss.’
Wiping her eyes, Natalie looked down at her daughter.
‘Thank you,’ she said.