The Idol's Curse
He knew he should never have picked it up. It was barnacle encrusted, slimy from the algae that adorned its grey marble surface, and it smelled just awful. But he couldn’t help it. The moment he laid his sharp-eyed sailor’s peepers on its ruby red eyes, he felt drawn to touch it, to hold it, to cling to it. Kraken Idols were so rare these days, and to find one fully intact was a miracle indeed. From its bulbous octopod head down to its delicately carved tentacles, it was clear that this small statue had been made with an obsessive care and attention to detail that only a true master would take the time to include, perhaps affected by hours and hours spent sniffing too much marble dust.
They had discovered the idol a few months ago when they had been diving off the coast of Eleven Mile beach in Jamaica. As they swam through the ruins of the sunken city of Port Royal, its eyes had glinted in the shallow light of the sun’s rays as they penetrated the water. Ever since the moment that his salt-water wrinkled fingers had brushed against its cold stone surface, he had not let it out of his hands. It went everywhere with him. The shower, the head, the galley. It was with him at the helm as he steered his beloved ship, the Maelstrom, through the deep blue waters of the Caribbean. The idol was part of him and he was part of the idol. It exerted a strange kind of power over him, but it also gave him power. That’s what made the damn thing so addictive. He was obsessed with it.
This constant contact with the Kraken idol also had some rather interesting side-effects, which were probably caused by the curse that had been put on it long ago by the master craftsman who made it, in the midst of a marble dust frenzy. The curse itself seemed to be largely non-specific, reflective of the inane murmurings of the mad man who created it, but it did ensure that Captain Tiberius Bernard was sentenced to forever spend his days sailing with a skull for a head and the body of a man. This made smoking a strange new joy as some of the smoke from his pipe floated upwards to tickle his nose bone, and float around his mind in a warm cloud.
His new affliction did on the other hand making eating his dinner or enjoying his daily drop of whisky a hellish adventure for below his neck, everything still functioned as it had before – including his throat, heart, lungs and liver. Captain Bernard wasn’t quite sure how this was possible, but he could still taste, still talk, still eat, still drink – but you just wouldn’t want to be sitting in front of a mirror at dinner time. The whole thing was disturbing, as he could see the chewed up food sliding down his throat. As a result he had taken to eating a lot of soup, which his crew also appreciated. Yes, he lamented, a Captain must make sacrifices.
His crew had initially been worried about their Captain and his constant companion, but as it hadn’t really affected their day to day duties in the months since they had found the thing, gradually they had relaxed about his odd behaviour and even come to embrace it. They were not to know that over this same period of time the power of the Kraken idol had begun to grow and spread throughout the ship, feeding on their acceptance of its presence. They didn’t realise it yet either, but Captain Bernard’s men were also beginning to show the effects of being near the idol. Their facial features were starting to fade a little as their skin grew thinner, but unlike the Captain’s transformation theirs was so gradual that they had not noticed it, or rather they passed it off as either a trick of the light or a lack of vitamin C.
Originally they had started out from England on a journey of discovery, led by the famed archaeologist Damian Prescott, but he had taken ill after they had surfaced with the idol in Port Royal, and they had left him in Jamaica where he could receive proper treatment. Before they left him, Prescott directed them to return to England immediately with the idol and the other treasures they had uncovered, but Captain Bernard had other ideas. They could return home at any time, he reasoned, and he wanted to see more of the world. They kept to the itinerary set out by Prescott, which they knew would take them to many unusual Islands, and they relished the freedom that came from not having the Queen’s emissary looking over their shoulder.
It was this lust for adventure that had led them to their present course. For 2 days now they had been headed further East, towards a fabled Island the Captain had uncovered the latitude and longitude for in one of Prescott’s journals… or so he told the crew. He didn’t let on that the idea had actually come to him in a dream in which the Kraken idol had awoken and spoken to him. It told him to set sail for the Island of Arcadia, a once bustling trade port that had long been forgotten after its people had died of the plague and were wiped off the face of the planet. The Kraken revealed the Island was a trove of hidden treasures left behind by those who died of the aggressive disease, and had assured him in a conspiratorial way that it was their little secret and no one else knew about it. What could go wrong?
Back in the present, Captain Bernard looked out across his ship at his crew and smiled, which of course they couldn’t see because you need lips to smile. He had a lot of good men under his command, and he appreciated their trust in him. It made him feel confident that he was the right man to lead them, regardless of his recently acquired Kraken idol obsession. His gaze followed the main sail upward, towards the horizon in the distance, where he saw something troubling. The sky was darkening, and it was clear they were sailing into a storm, but that was the least troubling thing as far as Bernard was concerned. Another ship was headed their way, it was already close and was gaining on them fast. How could he have not seen it before? It seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. This was not a good sign.
‘Men! Ship ahoy! Do you see her?’ he called out to his crew.
‘Yes Captain,’ answered Benjamin, his navigator for the crew, ‘she came out of nowhere!’
‘Hand me the spyglass, I need a better look at her,’
Benjamin grabbed the ornate brass telescope from the table where it had been sitting next to the large map he had been studying and bounded up the stairs to the helm deck. Captain Bernard took the spyglass with a nod, and put it to his eye.
‘I don’t believe it, it cannot be!’ he said after spending a good two minutes studying the ship that was headed their way.
‘What is it Captain?’ asked his first mate, Hezekiah.
‘Why she floats above the sea!’
‘What do you mean sir?’ asked Benjamin, squinting into the distance to try and see the thing better.
‘She flies on her sails, which be like hot air balloons … I’ve never seen anything like it! From here it looks like she’s touching the sea, but she floats yet a few feet above it, here look through the ‘glass Benjamin, tell me what you see.’
Benjamin put the telescope to his eye and looked out across the calm seas, taking his time and pulling in all the details before he spoke.
‘Aye Captain she is floating, but from what I know of these things, balloons such as what she has for sails are meant to fly in the air. I’ve never seen anything like that on a ship before though, so I can only assume that she should not be listing so close to the water as she does, especially when the sky behind her darkens evermore. In my opinion she’s in real trouble, as she won’t be able to steer at that height, being neither rightly in the air nor sitting in the drink, and with that storm approaching, I wager she’ll be sunk by the morning.’
‘What do you want to do Captain?’ asked Hezekiah.
Captain Bernard stoked the Kraken idol cradled in his left arm thoughtfully, and looked out towards the strange ship.
‘With the Devil as my judge, we can’t leave her to her fate, let us see how she sails.’
The above short story was inspired by the artwork of the amazing Derek Nobbs.