It’s been a while now since I’ve last posted on this blog. Hoping to get a second wind into this craic and start posting short some short fiction that I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks for taking the time to drop by and I hope you might even enjoy it too. The following (unpolished ) piece is about two unlikely companions that find themselves hell bound for a crime only one of them committed.
Joxer was no man’s fool. What he lacked in sobriety he made for in guile. ‘Course that same cunning had landed him into this crock of shite. A whiskey stained tunic disguised his bruised body, a hefty beating, even for a thief. He claimed had he an ounce more luck, he’d still be plaguing every pub on the Atlantic seaboard. But that was all hearsay and now he was hell bound on this wretched vessel.
The cabin cells were squalid and damp as an arse after a night on the cider. The scent would knock a gent off his high horse. What little light was on offer did naught but illuminate Joxer’s strawberry nose. They say it matched the contours of a pint glass perfectly, from many a’ night of hard drinking. His wispy white hair flowed across his face as if it were to take flight and he’d often blow spit at it to clear his gaze. That gaze on this fine night…morning…evening, it was hard to tell, wasn’t much. Bunk beds crammed under the deck’s floors, as men filled them like oversized sardines in tins.
“If you don’t move your gammy fucking toe out of my face, Joxer, I’ll string you up like an eel, ye thieving bastard,” hissed his bunkmate.
Aiden was a fortuitous man of only 25 summers, who had found himself an alleged accomplice to Joxer after he’d broken into his lodgings and taken refuge.
“Ah, would ye ever pipe down, ye miserable git? Sure that bottle was crying out to be saved. What good was it in a cabinet, ‘sept fer show? A thief no, a connoisseur, a saviour to all things fermented. A liberator is what I am! Daniel O’Connell you should be calling me! I’d even have saved some for yourself had I succeeded!” he jibed.
Having learned better than to rise, Aiden succumbed to sleeping with one black toe up his nostril for the night. There he dreamt of a land. A place he was told, where there were rats the size of donkeys that hopped upright on their hind legs. Where blades of grass were even more scare than desert in Ireland. This place was to be his destination, his prison.
The ship lulled from side to side as the rest of its cargo slept soundly. All but Joxer. As cute as a fox, he had just a sup tucked away for his pleasure, nestled within a pocket he’d sown into the inside of his boot. There, he produced a tiny medicine bottle. Fanore’s finest poitín. He dared not open it while men were conscious. They’d sniff out its contents like bloodhounds. Its browned glass glowed like amber in the candle light. A quick pop uncorked its top. Several droplets pursed his lips before a roar ensued.
“You sneaky fackin Paddy” screamed a guardsman.
Joxer hadn’t time to react and swallowed its contents whole. The guard’s keys rattled between his fingers like sleigh bells as he flung the cell door open. The cabin awoke at the commotion and began growling, more beasts than men.
“Skin him, pass it over, get him Tommy!” they chanted.
Coughing up a fireball, Joxer was encumbered by the concoction’s potency. He hadn’t time to react before his face was bashed against the iron bars.
As the guard raised his arm to strike again, Aiden flopped off the bed like a drunken seal. Joxer winced while Aiden bounced the man’s head off the floorboards in a fury of violence. The cabin screamed for blood as the Englishman went limp.
“Grab the keys you fuckin’ mongrel,” he barked at Joxer, who was still dazed.
His apparent drunkenness almost counteracted the blow dealt, and quick as you like, he snatched the keys.
“You might have just redeemed yourself, Joxer. Now help me tie this fat oaf up”.
Joxer tied the unconscious man to the bunk with his piecemeal belt and locked the door with great urgency. Aiden placed a finger on his lips and ushered the room to quiet down. The mood was palpable. Five weeks holed up in a stagnant boat would drive any man to the edge of lunacy. Blood had never tasted sweeter as Joxer scooped his tongue across his battered jawline. Aiden holstered the claimed pistol into the waistline of his pantaloons and paused for thought.
“We need a plan. There must be over four dozen crewmen on this wretched log alone” Aiden reflected.
“Plan?! We’re royally fucked now! I say we slide the man back outside and leave him with me poitín. Fool him into thinking he hit the bottle too hard and go back to our cell” Joxer protested.
The other prisoners began hurtling spit and obscenities at the pair, wholly unconcerned by their dilemma.
“Your face would be buried into the floor hadn’t I jumped in! This is our chance, but there isn’t a hope we’ll make it top deck with you carrying a mug like that. Pop on his cap and keep your head low. The rest of yis can pipe the fuck down. We’ll come back once we find weapons”.
Aiden shouldered Joxer forward down the cramped aisle ‘til they reached the doorway. The two peeked along the corridor to a set of oak stairs which climbed to the floor above. They reckoned there must be cargo holdings and an armoury just beyond, with just one clear pathway dissecting through the ships cavity.
Joxer, five stone less and two full feet shorter than his partner, glided up the stairs like a ghost. He watched in sheer amusement as Aiden struggled up the incline, grunting like an ox. Neither had walked so much since their incarceration months ago. Aiden wiped the sweat off his cheeks and onto his ragged beard and began to compose himself.
“I’ve seen finer hair on a mountain ram and certainly less mange than that scruff on your face” Joxer whispered, barely able to contain a laugh.
Before a reply could even be thrown in, the distinct clop of two boots were heard ahead. A single lantern shone as a large shadow cast itself across the narrow hall. Aiden cocked the pistol and tensed up.
“Come off it you bleedin’ eejit. You’ll alert half the empire with that ting! C’mere, lay down on the foot of the steps and pull this plonk down ‘em once I get em close enough”, Joxer snapped.
He scooped the hat on top his head and turned his shoulder away from the light. The figure moved closer. Putting on his best impression he called out to it:
“Oi mate, you wadn’t ‘lieve wot I just got! A full bottle o’ shandy this mugger ‘ad on ‘im!”
“Is that you, Charlie? You was only told to check on ‘em and report back. What’s up wiv your voice? Charlie?”
The shape bounded closer, picking up pace. Joxer shuffled towards the edge and called on him to follow. As the guard approached inches from Aiden, he rose up and yanked him off his feet. His body thumped off every step and flopped onto the hard timbered floor.
“You alright mate?” Joxer jeered as they hurried away.
The pair travelled along body of the vessel as the roars from below gently faded out into silence. The murky darkness was soon enveloped into light as shapes began to emerge.
“There! Just ahead” Aiden exclaimed.
Four doors stood before them, two a side. They deduced one must hold the guns. The first bore nothing but spoiled grain and dust. The second, ambiguous crates of all shapes and sizes. The third bore a reinforced door and an iron cast exterior, rusted to red by many an arduous journey at sea. Aiden snatched the keys and began trying each one, their jingles carrying through the calm night
“Watch my back” he barked.
Joxer, bored from the wait, turned his attention to the fourth door. Grasping the door handle with great delicateness he cracked it open. The warm, sweet, familiar scent of drink, glorious drink, filled his lungs. He clapped his hands together and let out a little “YAHOO” as he got to work. Bottles of ale, porter and gin lined the walls. He gulped down several bottles like they were air in no time. What a feast this was. As he stretched atop a barrel to pick a plump bottle of gin, a commotion ensued outside. Shouts were followed by gunfire. Aiden charged through the door, knocking him off the barrel, escaping the shower of bullets outside.
“Ye degenerate. Should’ve expected no less, Joxer”.
Rounds fired through the walls while they took refuge behind the barrel. Below, the bowels of the cell floor ignited in chorus to the commotion. Splinters danced across the room as Joxer was deafened by the returned pistol fire from Aiden. Joxer hurled glass bottles in response, grimacing at this waste of fine liquor.
“Come out and surrender, Taigs. You’re spent” boomed the voice.
Knowing these words were not for mincing, Joxer presented a snot stained handkerchief and waved it. Aiden sobbed quietly as he nursed his bloodied shoulder before sliding the pistol away in defeat. Hogtied, the duo were battered and presented top deck. The feverous sun savaged their blackened bodies. Such searing heat they’d never known. Pulled up by the roots of their hair, the officer pointed to the Martian landscape ahead of them.
“That’ll be the last bottle you’ll ever sink Taig. We won’t shoot you. No, you’ll both be worked to death and rot in Van Diemen’s land.”
The isle before them looked more parched than an alcoholic on Good Friday. As he gazed upon the horizon, Joxer savoured one last lick and mopped up the residue off his whisker.