Authors: Gene Doucette
Adam's adventures on the high seas have taken him from the Mediterranean to the Barbary Coast, and if there's one thing he learned, it's that maybe the sea is trying to tell him to stay on dry land.
The year was 1942, there was a war on, and Adam was having a lot of trouble avoiding the attention of some important people. The kind of people with guns, and ways to make a fella disappear. He was caught somewhere between the mob and the government, and the only way out involved a red-haired dame he was pretty sure he couldn't trust.
On a nice quiet trip to the English countryside to cope with the likelihood that he has gone a little insane, Adam meets a man who definitely has. The madman’s name is John Corrigan, and he is convinced he’s going to die soon.
He could be right. Because there’s trouble coming, and unless Adam can get his own head together in time, they may die together.
When he’s in a funk, Adam the immortal man mostly just wants a place to drink and the occasional drinking buddy. When that buddy turns out to be Santa Claus, Adam is forced to face one of the biggest challenges of extremely long life: Christmas cheer. Will Santa break him out of his bad mood? Or will he be responsible for depressing the most positive man on the planet?
Immortal At Sea
I don’t like boats all that much.
I used to be okay with them. Working as a fisherman was one of the first things I did that could qualify as a profession, back before there was anything like money. This was for trade, because the idea of doing something
also didn’t really arrive until there was money. The basic idea was, I would catch more fish than I could eat personally so that those fish could be used to get things from people who had a surplus of something else.
It was an interesting progression. We began as hunter/gatherers, but that was a really unpleasant way to live, especially when the head count started to go up and bigger and bigger game was needed just to keep everyone from getting lethargic. From hunters we became settled farmers with land we considered ours, and that worked much better because then it was easier to divide up the responsibilities. Some of us farmed, some of us protected the farms, and some of us left the farms and went out and hunted. If we were near water, the hunting we were doing was usually fishing.
We did not, at first, need a boat to fish. We just had to wade into the nearest river with a sharp stick and wait for something to swim by that looked edible, hopefully before something came along that felt the same way about us. It worked well, but was time consuming. There weren’t a
of fish close to the shore, and nets worked better than spears, especially in deeper water.
That’s when boats came along. The water got deeper, the nets became more efficient, and somebody figured out wood floats, and then it wasn’t all that long—all right that’s a lie, it was an achingly long time—before we were navigating them across the Mediterranean, and fishing with them on the Sea of Galilee and so on. (I was a fisherman in Galilee for a little while. Yes, it was the right time period, and no I never met him.)
I was okay on boats back then, for the most part, because I could almost always see land from where I was. I’m not a great swimmer, but if I can see the shore, I’m usually a good enough of one to reach it. I needed that reassurance—seeing the shore—because ultimately, I didn’t trust any boat to remain afloat.
Here’s the thing: if you’ve been around for long enough, you’re bound to experience a few unpleasant things: fires, earthquakes, avalanches, volcanoes, sometimes all on the same afternoon. Boats, I can tell you from first-hand experience, sink. A
. Sometimes it’s because whoever made the boat for you made a crappy boat. Maybe
made a crappy boat. There is also the occasional psychotically malevolent storm that doesn’t care how well designed your boat is. When you encounter something like that, and the thing you were relying upon to keep you alive ends up sinking, you really want to know you’re not too far from the safety of solid ground.
Oh, and here’s another thing to worry about when you’re in a boat: sea serpents.
* * *
I’ve had arguments about this before.
, I’ve heard. Whales, and giant squid, and seals and all of that, and I’m willing to put my bet down on at least one or two of the things I’ve seen on the water being attributable to something mundane. But I have also seen sea serpents with my own eyes.
The first time was when I was a Carthaginian merchant. I had a small fleet of ships that operated across the Mediterranean, moving goods from the African coast to Greece and the safer ports of the Roman Empire. It was probably my first really successful business enterprise, and it only ended because it’s always been hard for me to settle down too long before people start to worry about the fact that I haven’t aged.
I only very rarely rode my own boats. The whole point of being a merchant is that you get to hire other people to do unpleasant things like combat nature in an environment humans aren’t really supposed to occupy, which is how I feel about the surface of large bodies of water. (Also, the tops of mountains, and the moon.) I was on this trip because it was destined for the Greek coast and I had business in Athens involving a religious cult that liked to worship me from time to time. (Long story.)
The boats moved across the sea through a combination of wind and rowing. The sails were square-rigged and relied much more on favorable wind currents than the modern fore-and-aft rigs everybody uses now. We planned the market schedule around favorable winds because rowing was an enormous pain in the ass.
The captain, whose name I can’t recall, was a Hebrew whose personality was the kind of mixture of scrupulous honesty and degenerate violence that makes for a good sea captain. He was the one who put a name to the thing in the water.
We were roughly halfway across the sea when we lost the wind. In Atlantic crossings (later, when people started crossing the Atlantic in ships) these are called doldrums, but on the Mediterranean we called it whatever curse word we had in whichever native tongue we preferred, and then we pulled out the oars.
didn’t. I watched. Because I owned the thing. And since there was no below-deck to speak of other than the hold where the supplies were, I had nothing much else to do except stand next to the captain and look out over the still waters of the sea, occasionally check in on the two boats behind us—which I also owned—and listen to the drum. One of the sailors manned the drum from the prow, pounding a rhythm the oarsmen were trained to follow. It was animal hide pulled over the mouth of a barrel, and it made for a deep bass that reminded me of at least one or two animal sacrifices from more savage days.
Some time passed in which we did little more than listen to the grunt of the oarsmen and the drumming, when a cry went out from one of the sister ships.
“What is it?” I asked the captain.
He squinted at the trailing vessel. “Is that the Assyrian? Pah.” He spat, as one did. “He is an idiot. Who cares?”
My vessel captains were unreasonably competitive with one another, something that was not obvious unless at sea with them. Ashore, they acted quite comradely.
The captain cupped his hands around his mouth to shout. “
Did you drop something? Go back and get it! We will wait!
A second later, a torch was lit on the other ship. The Assyrian captain performed an up-and-down sweeping motion with the flame, then turned to the third ship, trailing behind both of us, and did the same. Then he doused the torch.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
The captain turned pale.
“Drop oar!” he commanded. “Stop the drum! Run still!”
The first mate silenced his drum and repeated the order. All the sailors, as one, pulled their oars in, stowed them on the deck, and then fell to their knees and covered their heads. Entertainingly, it looked as if they were bowing to us.
” the captain silenced me. He was listening to the sea, as much as it was possible to do such a thing when not in the water.
I looked at the other ships and saw they were doing the same thing: oars in, hiding on the deck.
Then I heard something. At first I thought one of the other ships had failed to silence their drummer, but the faint thrumming wasn’t coming from above the water, it was from beneath the surface, as if the sea had developed a heartbeat.
The captain stepped to the railing of the foredeck and peered over into the water, looking for whatever it was that made the noise. He gestured me over, and pointed.
A terrible beast was moving below the surface. It was serpentine in nature, if not in size. It was easily the largest animal I’d ever seen. (I had seen larger trees, but for the most part they didn’t move.) It slid through the water the same way a snake might across land: back-and-forth sideways motions. It crested twice, a spiny back that rolled over the surface.
I saw the head only once, briefly, on the second circuit. It was a little like a horse’s head, if the horse had a head the size of an elephant. The heartbeat—if that was what it was—got louder on each close approach, but never changed tempo.
And then it was gone.
For close to an hour we remained silent and motionless on the water, just drifting and hoping it didn’t come back. Then the captain gave the all clear, the drumming resumed, and the sailors got to rowing again.
I asked the question that had been on my lips the entire time. “What was that thing?”
“It is tanakh,” the captain said. “And when you next speak to us about our commission you remember the risks we face out here.”
* * *
Tanakh, my captain said, was in the habit of destroying entire fleets, and it was only through the superior seafaring knowledge of he and his fellows that my riches had not ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean long ago.
Had I not seen the serpent myself I’d have taken it for the usual exaggeration of a man trying to justify a higher bid. I still thought he was going a little over-the-top since I’d not seen the creature even acknowledge the boats he was swimming with, but that’s a little like saying
prove to me that bomb can explode
. At some point you have to take an expert’s word for it.
For a while I became obsessed with this Tanakh. I am unreasonably well versed in many of the myths and legends of many of the early cultures of man, partly because I’m
a lot of them, partly because I was there when the thing that spawned the myth happened. But there were fewer legends about sea monsters than I expected, and a lot of them sounded like a different creature.
The pursuit of one of these legends later brought me as far as China, where I ended up in a small village and confronted what turned out to be a water dragon. They are (or rather were, since dragons are extinct) only a little similar to the tanakh, but much smaller and more akin to alligators. They also go away when you hit them on the nose.
I didn’t expect that to work with a real sea serpent, and I also hoped I would never have a chance to find out.
* * *
It was the early fifteen hundreds before I had another opportunity to contemplate the wisdom of being on a ship on a large body of water. This is not to say I didn’t spend a lot of time using boats in the interim, only that the voyages were mostly uneventful.
Sea travel was impossible to avoid completely. I did spend a long time moving overland in Eurasia, along the Silk Road and so on, in a conscious effort to stay away from boats, but some places couldn’t be walked to. England, for instance. Also, the land route from India to Europe was time consuming and dangerous, especially in winter, so the wiser course was often to charter a merchant ship to North Africa.
In 1530, or thereabouts, I was making a living as a traveling scholar/poet. Back then, “poet” meant something slightly more general than it does now. This was especially true in my case, where I interpreted
writing fictive prose however I want
. I hardly ever completed any actual writing, and when I did it was actually non-fiction stories about my own life that nobody took seriously as non-fiction.
Being a poet was mostly just a good way to get women into bed with me, but being a scholar was what paid the bills. By this time in Europe there was a decent amount of gold bouncing around in the hands of a lot of uneducated people. These people placed value in an educated man who didn’t answer to the church. (Meaning, not a priest or a cardinal.
answered to the church.) I was hired to teach reading, to consult important texts, to adjudicate legal issues, and so on. I had patrons in houses in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and parts of France, and none of the houses knew about my freelancing. It was a good gig, and easy enough since all I had to do most of the time was figure out what my employer wanted to hear and then find a way to tell them that. It was a lot like my time as an astrologer, in that sense.
It all fell apart because of a greedy Spaniard—Juan Pedro de Hoyos, of the house Hoyos, an old line that may have since died off. Juan Pedro was a self-defined entrepreneur who had it in his head that he could challenge the Portuguese grip on the Indian spice trade. He was hardly the first or the last to dream up such a notion, but he was the only one that I know of to screw it up before he even got to India.
My involvement was partly my own fault. I told Juan Pedro once that I had been involved in the spice trade “long ago”, by which I meant five hundred years. He took this to mean I had active connections I didn’t have any more, because everyone (as it later turned out only
everyone) I associated with in those days was long dead, but I couldn’t tell him this. I wasn’t telling
my age if I could help it. I wasn’t concerned about not being believed, but there was a valid fear that if I was believed, the person I told might feel that it was best for all concerned if I were burned at the stake. Just to be safe.
I became one of the secret weapons he hoped to leverage in building his spice empire. The second secret weapon was Juan Pedro himself.
If you haven’t met a royal person—or a very wealthy person, which is fundamentally the same thing—in your lifetime, this might be difficult to grasp, but a lot of them think they are deeply, profoundly amazing individuals. The evidence for their amazingness is their vast personal wealth.