Arthur Jones was five years old that summer.
Leonard Jones was a well-respected fisherman. He had been in the trade since he was nineteen. It was one of the most laborious jobs in Lewisville, but was one he had always loved. Leonard’s father had been a fisherman too, and he was expecting to teach his son the ropes when he was a little older. Arthur had already shown an interest in the sea and the fisherman’s lifestyle. He loved to take tours on the fishing trawlers and see the skippers at their place behind the wheel. It was always an adventure braving the waves and mother nature’s wrath. And that was what made it so rewarding.
One morning, as bright and beautiful as most summer mornings in the region, Arthur was skipping down to the beach with an old wooden bucket in his small hand. It rolled back and forth in his hand, swaying rhythmically from the loose rusty handle. The small clack sound the bucket made when it moved seemed to echo over the empty white shore that seemed to invite him with open arms.
There were a few gulls circling the blue sky, trying to catch their fish before the afternoon humidity set in. Their cries were distant, drowned out by the crashing waves along the dark bar in the sand marking the tide’s current reach. It was inching its way towards the boy’s boots, but for the time being it hadn’t reached him. Arthur stuck his tongue out at the greedy waves before strolling down the shore with his bucket. He was looking for aesthetically appealing seashells that the high tide the night before had brought in.
He found plenty of seaweed. There were ribbons of kelp in beautiful colours. A deflated puffer fish was also amongst the morning catches. Arthur poked at it for a bit with a scummy stick that had also been found in the washed up treasure box. When it was clear that the fish had inflated for its final time, he moved on with a loss of interest. A few shells were added to the bucket; mostly rusty orange fighting conches and mocha coloured moon shells. There were a few spotted slipper shells, but not as many.
The tide was starting to edge closer to his boots by the time Arthur reached the farthest end of the beach. But it was there that he found the treasure he had always been looking for. He picked up the conch with a look of dumb excitement on his face. Arthur’s small hands brushed sand from the seemingly large shell until it was clean. It seemed to glow white in the morning sun, and the mouth where the crab would have lived was as pink as a cat’s nose. He checked for a crab living inside before holding the shell to his ear with wonder.
There was a soft wailing inside. It was as if someone had managed to capture the wind and lock it inside the conch Arthur had found. It seemed awful big for a shell, but it seemed awful small as a confinement for something as big as the wind. His expression changed slowly from excitement to sympathy as he listened to the sound of mother nature caught in the shell. It sounded like a woman shouting. She was calling for help.
And then everything for Arthur went black.
It was two hours later when Leonard finally shambled down to the beach in search of his son. The tide had receded back to its level height, but the little fair-haired boy was nowhere to be seen. A jumpstart of panic sent the older man running down to the shore, tugging on his jacket clumsily as he went. Leonard could see a small lump at the end of the shore that looked like the bucket Arthur always took with him to collect shells. It was overturned.
“Artie?” Leonard called above the waves. His voice had cracked with panic. Before Arthur could walk he had been taught to stay away from the shore when the tide was at its peak. Leonard had made sure it was a lesson well drilled into his head, because even if Arthur decided that he didn’t want to be a fisherman, he would still be living in a seaside town. The tide was always something he would have to worry about. “Artie? Artie Jones? Where are ya?”
There was only silence from the ocean as Leonard picked up the bucket. He looked inside, but it was empty. Any shells that Arthur might have collected had been taken back by the sea. And he too had been reclaimed by the forces of mother nature. Tears filled Leonard’s dark eyes as he dropped the bucket. It rolled into the shallow reaches of the sea as he took off up the grassy slope at the edge of the beach. He used handfuls of grass to pull himself to the top before hurrying to the heart of Lewisville.
He needed to find his boy. Arthur was all Leonard had after his wife passed away. Soon after the boy had been born, Samantha Jones had fallen very ill. Her health had deteriorated faster than Leonard had ever seen. The town doctor hadn’t been able to give her a proper diagnosis before the illness took her life. It had been requested that there was no autopsy performed on her body before it was buried in the rolling northern fields where the Lewisville cemetery was located.
Leonard couldn’t stand the thought of having another stone erected there with Arthur’s name on it. His life’s work would seem empty, meaningless, without someone to share it with.
Leonard Jones passed away at the ripe age of sixty. Arthur had been at his side when it happened. It was a gentle passing despite the illness being extremely painful for Leonard. He was thankful to be freed from it all. The only thing, he had said with his dying breath, that would cause him regret was not seeing his son become a trawler–that, and he would miss his work in the rest-easy afterlife.
But he kept the feeling of misplacing his son until the day he died. There were a lot of happy moments, a lot of excitement, but that one day stuck with him forever. There had been search parties out for the first two days after Arthur went missing. Every fisher or sailor in Lewisville had been willing to offer a hand in finding the missing boy. It had been one of the most horrifying times of Leonard’s life. He couldn’t help but feel he had let his wife down; he had been the one to let Arthur do something so foolish when he was supposed to be the responsible parent.
In the wee morning hours, one of Leonard’s deckhands told them it was pointless. The morning tides were strong enough to carry a grown man into the sinking depths of the ocean. It was impossible for Arthur to still be alive out there. The trawler reached the Lewisville harbour at the same time the pale dawn sky was streaked with blue. The morning tide was starting to come in, and Leonard told a few of the sailors’ brides that they hadn’t found Arthur. He then stated that he wanted to be alone for a while.
Before he could leave the crowded harbour front, one of the village women broke through the crowd with a soaked body in her arms, tears streaming down her face. “It’s him! It’s Artie!” She was shouting the words over and over in a chant. The crowd seemed to part as if Moses was standing amongst them. Leonard couldn’t believe it. After three days, Arthur had washed up on the shore and–“He’s alive! Artie’s alive!”
That magical moment when Leonard knew he was looking into the eyes of a miracle had been lost forever in his memory. He didn’t remember the feelings of taking Arthur into his arms from the kind woman who had been combing the beach with some of the other village ladies to at least find a body. Arthur had been coughing out a small clod of water from his throat, but there wasn’t enough to have filled his lungs. Leonard knew this had been some kind of miracle. “Thank God,” he praised. “Thank God, thank God, thank God.”
But that moment wasn’t the one that he had remembered on his death bed. It had only been the fear, the idea that he had let Samantha down, that he remembered. There was nothing more frightening in his life than having lost his child for that short span of time. And now his precious Artie Jones was a full-grown and handsome man with a rough five o’clock shadow and windblown fair hair. He was going to be a fisherman, and he was already a gentleman.
Leonard Jones’ name lived on. Arthur Jones named his first fishing boat the Leonard in remembrance of the man who had introduced him to the trade. After the events on the Lewisville shore that summer day, Arthur had decided to give up on shell hunting. There were more exciting things calling to him from the ocean–fish, sharks, and something that he dared not mention. It was that thing that gave him misty eyes when he looked at the churning dark waves for too long.
The bartender poured Arthur a tall glass of amber-coloured ale. It foamed at the top as the keg’s tap spilled a little of the spicy liquid down the side. It hit the table with a thump as the old grey-haired man behind the counter looked hard and long into Arthur’s light eyes. “Yer takin’ the Leonard on ‘er maiden trip this aft, eh?” He inquired, and Arthur nodded with hints of intimidation. The old man was staring deep into his eyes, almost skeptically. “I wish ya luck wit ‘er, lad. Sounds like ya got some sea luck, though. Heard ‘bout yer misadventures as a tot.”
Arthur ran a nervous hand back through his hair, sweat and ale slicking it back. The dim lights of the pub made him feel like an adult. He supposed, in terms of numbers, he was. But he was still in the passing stage between child and adult. “To be honest,” Arthur said between sips of ale, “I don’t remember much about that time. I can only really remember searching the beach for shells and that.”
“Ah, well. The ole women round ‘ere have taken to callin’ ya one of them miracles ya read ‘bout in the Bible,” the bartender said with a softened smile. Arthur had been hearing that wish-wash all his life, but it hadn’t really been a miracle that had saved him. He took another gulp of the spicy drink that had been put before him. He would need it before meeting with his crew. “Ya can have that shot fer free, lad; one fer the road.”
He had been about to dig through his pockets for some change when he was relieved of the tab. Arthur gave the old bartender a pleasant smile before fingering the glass. “Thanks,” he said, and then the movement stopped. He looked up at the grey-haired man, and their eyes locked. The bartender was idly washing out a glass with an oily rag. “Have you heard any stories about sea creatures native to this area? You know, those haunts about creatures that want to drag under unsuspecting sailors?
The old man set the glass down on the wooden counter top and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Finally, he let his head shake back and forth. “I’m not thinkin’ of any stories like that, lad,” he said with a shrug. “It’s prolly ole wives tales made to scare the knickers off their husbands. You needn’t be worryin’ ‘bout things of that nature, lad. ‘Ere, let me pour ya ‘nother glass.”
Arthur let the old man waddled off to the keg with the half empty glass. The young man turned to look out at the harbour. Brilliant blue waves shone in the distance, rippling towards Lewisville like sneaking soldiers. The faint smile that usually held on his face had faded away at the thought of sea monsters, but he shook them away when the bartender brought him the refilled glass. “Thanks,” he said again, but this time with a little less surety.
Sabrina Richards, the Leonard navigator, was sitting across a wooden bench in the harbour with her arms leaned over the back and her legs spread wide and out to full length. Older women walked by with disgruntled looks and shook their heads, having to stumble aside as to not trip over Sabrina’s pant-clad legs. Skirts were considered normal for females her age, and for females in general, but working on a trawler meant a skirt would be a nuisance. That was really the only thing that kept her from wearing a skirt, as she liked them a fair bit.
“When is that crackpot skipper gonna get here?” Sabrina moaned. There was another deckhand seated a short distance down the bench from her. He was lighting up a smoke and cupped the flame of his matchstick against the wind. Once it was lit, and he had safely stomped out the burning match, the man shrugged absently. “I mean, this is ‘er maiden trip to sea. We’re finally gonna be on a trawler all our own. You’d think he’d be excited for that, y’know?”
There was another deckhand, a shorter and stouter man than the one at the end of the bench. He kicked a pebble into the harbour idly and watched it sink beneath the waves and into oblivion. Everyone could speculate what was at the bottom of the harbour, but nobody knew for sure. “Who knows what goes on in his mind, Sabs,” he said as his gaze pulled away from the water. “The boy’s crazy as hell, but then aren’t we all?”
Sabrina turned her head from the man to look at the deckhand beside her. He was smoking comfortably in the silence. “Leave the complicated talk for those who know what they’re talking about, Connie,” Sabrina said as she slid herself closer to the quiet boy. There was a wicked look in her eyes as she did it. “Hey, Dev, have you got any of them smokes to spare?”
Conall Ferguson brushed off Sabrina’s coldness like snowflakes in the dead of winter. Devon Morris looked at her for a moment with cold eyes, and then turned his head as if he hadn’t heard her. He took a drag from the rolled cigarette between his fingers as his eyes searched the busy afternoon traffic for the friendly face of their skipper. He was nowhere to be seen, and Devon sighed irritably.
Sabrina was just as irritated, but she leaned away from the older boy instead of trying to press herself on him for a smoke. She knew her place. “Fine, be that way,” she said, and then stood up from the bench. Devon didn’t give her the satisfaction of being admired. Sabrina was tall and handsome in her own ways. She took a handful of her dark hair and tied it up in a messy bun against the summer heat. “If skippy comes along, let him know that I’ve gone to buy some cigarettes for the trip.”
And with that she took off into the crowded streets. Tristan Robertson and Drew Kerr, who had been off to the other side of the bench tossing a couple of dice in heated bets, roamed over when Sabrina left. “Does the hotshot know the skipper is due any time now?” Drew asked as he cocked a thumb in the direction Sabrina had wandered off in. Devon shrugged. “She’s certainly a handful. I can’t understand why Artie made her boatswain of all people.”
Devon looked at Drew for a long, hard moment. “With his luck there will never be a need for a boatswain on the Leonard,” he said, and then looked back at the beautiful trawler Arthur had bought for his twenty-first birthday. It was an old wooden thing filled to the brim with lobster cages and nets. It was a fisherman’s dream. “You must have heard the stories about ‘im washing up on the Lewisville shores after disappearing at sea for three days. He probably gave Sabs the position out of pity.”
Just then, Tristan said in a slow drawl, “Here comes the captain.”
The crew members gathered around the bench that waited beside the gangplank of the Leonard all turned their heads to look. Sure enough, the slight figure of Arthur Jones was fighting through the crowd with a couple of the elders behind him. They were people from his childhood, the ones who had gone combing the ocean with his father, and the woman who had found him washed up in the tide. They wanted to see him set off on his maiden trip.
Arthur looked over the motley crew he had hired to do a head count, but it didn’t take him long to figure out who had disappeared. “Where’s Sabrina?” He asked. Devon shrugged, and crushed out the half-smoked cigarette. “Someone has seen her around here this afternoon, haven’t they? I don’t want us running late because Sabrina had to make a bailout without telling anyone.”
“Sabs just went to get some ciggies from one of the local shops,” Conall assured. Devon stood up from his place on the bench and was immediately flanked by the two lackeys who had spent the morning gambling all of the money they had made at their previous workhorse jobs. “Dev wouldn’t give ‘er any. She’s due back any minute now.”
The explanation was plausible, but Sabrina would get a talking to once they set sail. “Oi! If it isn’t the skipper of the Leonard!” An excited voice called around a cigarette. Arthur turned to see Sabrina pushing her way through a throng of elders who had come to watch the barge set off, and there was a lit cigarette bouncing between her smiling lips. “You certainly took your time, Artie Jones. Are we all ready to go?”
Arthur took one last look at his crew, and then nodded. He waved them towards the gangplank that had been laid out against the harbour wall. One by one they disappeared onto the Leonard, with Sabrina being the last of the deckhands to make it on board. Arthur hesitated before going up, and gave a few last hugs and cheek-pecks to the old women who had come out to see him. “You’ll do wonderful, Artie,” the old woman who had found him washed on the shore said with a smile. Her eyes wrinkled from the gesture. “The Gods are watching out for you.”
“I know,” he said with a smile, and then followed his crew up the gangplank. Tristan was waiting at the top to drag the piece of wood safely on board. Arthur gave the large man a soft smile before heading off to find his place at the ship’s large wooden wheel. I wonder if she is still watching over Lewisville…