Sea Tales - Steve Vernon - ebook

About seventy-five percent of the world is covered in water - and of that water nearly ninety-seven percent of it can be found in the sea. Maritimers will tell you that there is a story for every wave that has ever washed upon the shoreline.Here are seven of them."In the Dark and the Deep" offers a very haunting yarn of World War 2 convoy duty and a sailor who made and kept a terrible bargain."Harry's Mermaid" introduces you to a group of homeless men who catch something that MIGHT be a mermaid. If that doesn't tell you enough about this story just try and imagine what Steinbeck's CANNERY ROW would read like if it had been written by HP Lovecraft."I Know Why The Waters of the Sea Taste of Salt" is a tale of an Okinawa-based Japanese Air Force suicide pilot and his encounter with a sea monster - of sorts."Finbar's Story" is a dark fantasy tale of the deeper currents that eddy and flow within the deep quiet currents of a man's cold heart."The Woman Who Lost Her Tooth From Laughing Too Loudly At The Sea" is a quiet little fable of salt water, tears and regret."Between You-Know-Who and the Deep Dark Blue" is a story of the last bargain on earth.This collection begins with a bargain and ends with a bargain - which sounds like a heck of a bargain to me.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi

Liczba stron: 124

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:





Steve Vernon

Steve Vernon Sea Tales



To the sea that swims


all of us...


I am a storyteller, first and foremost.

My natural habitat is close to the campfire and I breathe words the way that some men smoke.

I have lived by the ocean for nearly four decades. I have listened to the waves talking to the shoreline. I have heard the old ghost stories told around a thousand campfires. I have listened to the sea gulls complaining about the fishing.

This is the first of what will be a series of stories based around the sea.

You don’t have to read every one, any more than you have to count every wave that rolls up to slap itself upon the beach.

Come here and give a listen.

I’ve got a tale for the telling.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

In The Dark and the Deep

It happened that fast.

A torpedo track, furrowing the water, passed straight abaft of our corvette, theThistle. There was a muffled crump of impact. A mere seventy-five yards away from us, the tankerCassandrasettled and tilted, taking on water fast.

“Man the depth charges,” our captain sang out.

The order was instinctive and unnecessary. Men already stood by, ready to roll the fat deadly barrels from the stern rail. The crews of the port and starboard throwers launched another pair of depth charges into their high carved arcs. We spread the charges out as widely as possible, knowing that the U-boat would already be on the move, trying to evade our certain retaliation.

The depth charges were a blind luck measure. They sank slowly, giving the U-boat a lot of time to escape. It was almost impossible to aim them, and the hulls of the U-boats were so solid that only a near-direct hit would have any effect, but they panicked the U-boat crew, and more importantly, they gave our crew the much-needed feeling of accomplishment.

The asdic crew hunkered beneath their headsets, knowing full well that the rough water and the impact from the depth charges’ undersea explosions rendered their listening gear nearly useless.

We were aiming blind, as usual.

Fumes of petrol coiled up from the tanker like slow blue snakes curling hypnotically through the air. I saw the captain frozen at the helm for less than half of a second, his mind warring between trying to save the crew of theCassandraor else hunting the U-boat.

A fragment of a second.

That’s how long a war can last, sometimes.

TheCassandrawent up in a ball of fire. Men screamed in the flames, their lungs filling with oil, flame and sea water. The tanker - gutted and twisted into a dozen strange angles, slowly slid a little farther beneath the calm gulp of the cold gray Atlantic water.

Silhouetted by the lantern of the rising flames of the sinking tanker we saw the the U-boat, its deck crew frantically training their gun towards us.

He might have surfaced to finish the tanker off, or perhaps our depth charges had driven him up to the surface. We didn’t know, and it didn’t really matter. We hit them with everything we had. We pounded them with our 4-inch cannon, the steady 2-pounder pom-pom, the 40mm Oerlikons, and the big .50 caliber machine guns. Those who had pistols and rifles stood at the deck railing firing away like we had come to a pigeon shoot.

The gods of war smiled on the U-boat gun crew. They got off a single lucky round that neatly snapped our radio mast. That was their last good shot. We closed in on them, raking their deck mercilessly. A point-blank blast of our 4-inch cannon demolished the U-boat’s conning tower.

The U-boat was helpless. We could have ordered their surrender, but we weren’t in the mood for any kind of mercy.

War will do that to you.

At this point of the game it was nothing but simple retaliation. They had hurt us and now it was our turn to hurt them.

We moved in closer and began banging away in earnest.

And then the flames reached theCassandra’ssecondary tanks and the resulting explosion blasted the U-boat to the lowest region of hell. The blast rocked theThistle, charring the port side of our vessel and damned near sinking us.

We cheered like a boatload of blood-crazed barbarians. Hurrah, blood had been spilt.

Hurrah, victory was ours.

It was our third day at sea, and we had suffered our first casualties.

Our luck was beginning to turn.


I volunteered for duty during the first year of the war.

I had originally wanted to fly for the RCAF, but my reflexes refused to test quite fast enough.

“Well,” I said, “if I am not good enough for the Air Force, then the Navy can have me.”

As far as I was concerned, it was the RCAF’s loss and the RCN’s gain.

I served my first day at sea on the twentieth anniversary of my birth. There were younger men on board than I. In fact, most of our crew was youngsters. The oldest sailor on the deck crew was barely thirty years of age, and we called him Pappy.

We had shipped out of Halifax, escorting an HX class convoy, bound from Halifax and headed towards Britain. It looked easy on the map, just a happy two-week jaunt from here to there.

Or rather a two-week jaunt through U-boat-infested waters. And as we got closer to the English Channel, we’d have the Luftwaffe Condors and the dive-bombing Stukas and patrols of German E-boats to watch out for.

It was as easy as falling overboard, and a little more dangerous.

Still, we made out fine.

We had a good crew.

Our captain was in his late forties, I would guess. We called him the old man when he wasn’t listening. He had the lean weathered look of a man who had spent most of his life upon the open sea and the rest of it impatiently waiting for his next mission.

Just as soon as I laid eyes on him, I decided that he was a man that I could trust with my life, yet there was one other whom I would come to rely upon in a far deeper fashion than mere trust.


I met Big Jimmy Noonan the first day I boarded, bumping into him as I stepped off of the gangplank. It was a little like banging face first into a solid brick wall, only not half as gentle.

“Well, I take it that ‘Grace’ is not your middle name,” he rumbled.

I stepped back. Big Jimmy Noonan was one of the biggest men I’d ever seen, his shoulders bowed like bow staves, his arms the thickness of hawser cable, with fists that could easily serve double duty as caulking mallets.

He fixed me with a once-over sweep of a stare, like a captain might eye an uncharted shoal that he was trying hard to fathom. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked to see a rank, but the fold of his sleeve seemed to obscure any sign of insignia or station. I didn’t know it yet, but that air of mystery was a style that Big Jimmy Noonan wore as easily as some men wear a hat.

“Don’t ‘sir’ me, boy. I work for a living, and you would do well to remember that. What’s your name?”

“William, sir. I mean—just William. William McTavish.”

“McTavish, is it?” he asked. “Well, you’re ‘Taffy’ from here on out, d’ya understand?”

I nodded.

“Keep a weather eye forward and the bean farts abaft of you, and you’ll make out just fine.”

He grinned and slapped me on the shoulder. I felt as if I had been issued a temporary stay of execution.


Two days had passed since the sinking of theCassandra.

The sky was clear and the sea was calm and you scarcely would have known that there was a war going on.

“Look at that sun up there, shining away as blissful and blithe as care-you-not<” Big Jimmy Noonan said. “What d’ya think of that, Taffy my boy?”

I looked up and shrugged.

I guess that I didn’t get what he was going on about, but I reckoned that he would tell me soon enough.

Big Jimmy Noonan was a man built for illumination.

“It’s a sun, Jimmy,” I said. “Nothing more than a light in the sky. Means the weather’s good, I guess.”

“Not in the sky, young Taffy me lad. That there’s a light in heaven. God peeking down, having himself a squint. And d’ya think he sees us down there?”

I thought about that.

“God sees everything, I expect.”

“Wrong. That there God sees nothing. The old gaffer is as blind as Saul and twice as ill-tempered. Especially out here, in the dark of the deep water.” Jimmy went on. “Yes sir, the ocean is a kind of blind spot to the man. There are things out here that have been wandering lost and forgotten for a very long time.”

He scratched his head.

“And as for good weather, enjoy it while it lasts.”

“do you think it’s going to turn?” I asked.

Big Jimmy Noonan looked out to the sea, his eyes lonely thoughtful bullet holes, his cheeks puckering in and out like soft billowing sails. He nodded slowly, thinking things through.

“Rooster one day, feather duster the next,” Noonan said. “Take a look at that sky. See them clouds, piled and rolling like the waves? That there’s called a mackerel sky. It means that the weather is turning. Fronts are moving in. Take a long look at that sun, Taffy me lad. You won’t be seeing much of it any longer. A mackerel sky runs to rain and then maybe fog, out in these here parts.”

Big Jimmy Noonan shook his head softly, chewing on his thoughts and savoring them.

He was a big man, all angles and joints, like he had been cobbled together out of cold steel and rivets. He had a quiet way of looming, like he was waiting for something. There was a thickness about his neck and shoulders that spoke of a lifetime of toil. His head was haloed with an unruly shag of soft gray hair, tousled like the wind-tossed waves.

I watched a black backed gull wheeling and shouting high overhead.

“Now there’s a pretty sight,” Big Jimmy Noonan said, eyeing the capering gull. “We calls them coffin birds or preacher wings, on account of the black backed soot they wears on their wingtips. Flew too close to the sun, he did.”

Noonan was right. What a wondrous thing the gull was to watch. Soaring and sailing effortlessly through the heavens.

Big Jimmy Noonan smiled the kind of smile that the Creator might have worn on the morning after he’d finally finished his creating.

“No ship could sail as smooth or sweet as that bird eagling through that forever blue ocean of a sky.”

All at once, the bird exploded in a burst of feathers and meat. I looked and saw the cause of it. A sailor, bored with the calmness of the day, stood beside the 4-inch gun, a smoking rifle in his hand.

Big Jimmy Noonan did not waste a heartbeat. He loped across the deck, reached up and grabbed the top rail of the gun mount and pole-vaulted himself up and over the railing just as quick as the world’s largest flea. Then, before the target-shooter could utter so much as a word of protest, Big Jimmy Noonan snatched the rifle clear away and handed the sailor a clout that laid him out colder than a frozen mackerel.

Then Noonan whirled about, facing down the rest of the crew and the captain as well with a hard winter of a glare.

“Any man-jack that thinks it good sport to pop away at seagulls is flirting with their tombstone on this sailor’s ship!”

No one said a thing. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched what was left of the gull plummet from the sky to hit the waves with fat wet splash. Something in the water grabbed it, and it was gone. Our luck went bad from then on out.


Our job as convoy escorts wasn’t particularly glamorous. We were nothing more than glorified lorry men, seeing that the wood and the steel and the gasoline were delivered on time.

Quite simply, we were the lifeline.

Our own convoy consisted of twenty-one merchant ships lined and rowed up seven ships wide and three ships deep. Our escort consisted of one old lend-lease destroyer and three flower class corvettes, theThistlebeing one of three.

The flower class corvetteThistlewas a sturdy little tub of a vessel, scruffed together from the basic blueprints of a small whaler. Broad in beam with a blunt rounded stern, she certainly wasn’t fit for ocean travel, but the Navy needed us out there, so that’s where we went.

“She’s a wet ship, indeed,” Jimmy Noonan said. “Her arse end will tip up like a mud-sucking duck. She’ll roll on wet grass and turn you biscuits over gravy as quick as you can say puke.”

Then he fixed me with a stare as merciless as a gun sight.

“But count on her, Taffy me lad,” he went on. “She’s hell for stout when it comes to blow. Yes sir, when the water is high and the wind blows hard, you can count on the ladyThistleuntil the very end.”


It had been six days since we’d left Halifax.

Six days out to sea, and the sky started to rain.

Actually, “rain” was an understatement. It pelted, it drenched and it pissed straight down. What my old dad would have called “horizontal weather”—nothing but wet as far as the eye could see.

In weather like that, a man did well to stay indoors. Those who couldn’t clung grimly to the lifelines, to the railings, and to anything else God would give their hands strength enough to latch onto.

I was crouched in the doorway, officially on duty, but taking shelter along with Big Jimmy Noonan, who was holding forth as usual.

“Now there’s a rare blast, Taffy my lad. God’s great garden hose turned on full bore. That’s what rain is for, y’know. The washing away of old memories and long-forgotten sins. Cleans all, forgives all. No sir, I don’t believe in the confessional or the passing of verdicts. If you want to be truly shriven, just stand yourself out in the heart of a driving Nor’easter.”

At that, he stepped out into the downpour, feet planted and head turned upwards into the raging deluge.

I think that’s a picture I’ll always remember. The image of that great old ship hand, standing and grinning like a small boy in the hardest rain that fell since Noah donned gum rubbers.

“Oh, sweet swimming Christ,” Big Jimmy Noonan swore.

I looked past him, just in time to see a figure caught in the wash of a high stepping wave, sliding towards the railing.

Big Jimmy Noonan ran across the deck, taking his own life in his hands as he tried to save another. I saw the figure slipping over and through the lower railing, catching hold of the pipe rail and hanging on for dear life.

Big Jimmy Noonan acted without hesitation, throwing himself belly-down and sliding like a baseball player headed hell-for-leather for a hard third base. He could have just as easily slid off the deck himself, but he reached his big hand out forward and snagged the fallen man.

“Come on, Taffy!”

I couldn’t move. I was frozen to the doorway, held by fear and the unscrupulous instinctive sense of self-preservation.


He was calling for me. There was no one else in sight, and his big voice was drowned out by the wind and the rain and the roar of the ocean.

I stepped out towards him.

The ship reeled, and I fell to the deck.

And then I rallied.

“I’m coming, Jimmy!”

I might as well have been sending a telegram to hell. My voice was carried away with the wind.

I inched forward, trying to dig my fingernails through my sea mittens, hanging on to the salt encrusted deck, keeping my gaze squarely focused on Big Jimmy Noonan.

The Lord is my shepherd, I prayed to myself.

Inching closer. I could see them now, in the wild ocean torrent.

Big Jimmy Noonan lay spread-eagled on the deck, his big clamp of a hand wrapped around the smaller hand of the fallen man.

I turtle-crawled a little closer.