Art of the Supernatural


Chapter Two: Voodoo Moon

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 6:50 PM

**Joseph Mathias O’Connell**

Ambrose dripped iced water methodically onto the sugar cubes suspended over two glasses, "Blast it, Captain, can’t we just drink it?" Joseph finally blurted out after fifteen minutes of this ritual.

Ambrose lifted his eyes for a moment then went back to dripping the water, "Any halfwit can guzzle liquor, the preparation and consumption of absinthe is an art." He said, observing the quality of the cloudiness in the liquid he called louche. He passed the glass to Joseph who downed it in one gulp wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Ambrose shook his head sadly, "Fine things are waste on the likes of you, first mate O’Connell." He said sipping out of his own glass.

"That was pretty good," Joseph belched, "let’s have another."

They had been in the Captain’s quarters for hours, having drinks and playing poker which Joseph abandoned when he lost almost all of the money he’d made on the trip to New Orleans. Ambrose was explaining about how the different watches on a ship were marked by the bells and how he’d have to memorize the pattern by heart and he’d been trying to get the Captain to tell some tales of life on the Serenity but he was strangely close lipped about it. Joseph had already surmised that the Captain was a pirate or something similar, but he hadn’t been hard pressed to reveal that he’d made enemies in nearly every country and few friends and that the marks were stolen so he wasn’t sure what about it that he was hiding so he changed tact, "Who are we meeting in Port-au-Prince."

"He prefers to be called Papa Midnite. He’s rounded up my old krewe from my running days."

"So you were a rumrunner? I thought they didn’t live long."

"Well one of them didn’t." Ambrose said bitterly.


"Earnest Caughlin." Ambrose almost spat the name into his glass, like it were white hot with hate and burning the inside of his mouth.

"What happened to him?" Joseph asked, curiosity causing him to abandon his first instinct and let the issue drop.

"He walked the plank."

"Like at sea?"

"Yes except here you’re two thousand meters up with nothing to stop you but the cold hard ground and a bullet from the captain in the back of your head to encourage you."

Joseph was shocked at the thought of his body plummeting and breaking on the ground below, "Who was the captain then?"

Ambrose grimaced finishing his cloudy green absinthe, "I was." He set the glass down and walked towards the door.

Joseph knew the Captain to be intensely clever, sometimes maliciously cold but somehow he didn’t believe he would do something so…cold blooded; or would he, perhaps his image of Ambrose in the war, cringing as each shell from the Serenity killed dozens of Confederate soldiers, unwillingly forced to kill by the Union on pain of death, was completely wrong. Joseph knew he shouldn’t ask another question but he had to know one more thing, "What was his job?"

"He was our Gunner…" he said, then just before he shut the door, "and the First Mate."

"You know if, I didn’t know better I’d say you’d planned on me joining up from the start, Captain." Joseph accused following him outside into the strong wind.

"What would you think if I said you were right?" Ambrose asked slyly.

"I’d think you were a dangerous, crazy son of a bitch…" then, because it had come out harsher than he’d meant it he added, "Captain."

Ambrose winked, "Well, think nothing of the sort, it’s nonsense. You joined on your own."

"Well just don’t go throwing me off of this thing like that traitor."

Ambrose went all stiff and rigid and rounded on him with a look in his eye like he hadn’t seen before, for a moment Joseph thought he was about to get hit again. "Don’t ever talk about things you don’t understand, O’Connell! Earnest Caughlin was the best man I ever knew, do you understand me?"

He didn’t wait for an answer which was good because Joseph wasn’t sure he could’ve given one. What kind of captain would make the best man he’d ever known walk the plank, what possible reason could he have? Joseph wasn’t sure but he made a mental note to ask someone in private when he met this old krewe. Once again Joseph was forced to confess that he really didn’t know anything about the man with whom he’d just signed up.

**Papa Midnite**

Papa Midnite was a tall, thin man with skin as black as the new moon. He had ritual piercings and scarification on his face and arms but he wore a deep purple waistcoat with gold buttons and pinstriped pants. He sat at a cherry wood desk at the end of a wide Chinese-décor hall as the heady clove-scented smoke wafted around the hall. His attendants shambled around the hall their eyes milky with cataracts. They were his creations; flesh preserved with the venom of the pufferfish and animated by a matrix of salamanders, his zombis.

Papa Legba needed priests and bokor in his service, but also needed generals and businessmen, Midnite understood this and so he was all things. A shuffling thrall brought a folder of intelligence gathered by one of his agents in the field near Munich. He accepted it, rifled briefly through it and placed it in a cabinet, he scrawled a note on a piece of parchment and handed it back to his revenant, "To the door." He commandedin a voice as deep as night and smooth as silk. The creature shambled off. No living person had ever seen Midnite’s face, like Papa Legba connected all roads between the Lwa and the world of people Midnite connected the separate and often feuding worlds of criminality so it wasn’t safe for him to be seen.

Almost before he could resume his work the novel clip of boot-soles on his tile floor alerted him to something amiss, since the zombis all moved with shuffling footsteps he knew at once that it must be an intruder. He drew a double-barreled coach gun from a hidden compartment beneath the desk.

"Midnite, where are your manners?"

Midnite dropped his weapon, "Airship Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant," he said gripping the well-spoken Brittanian’s outstretched hand, and grabbing his chin in his large ebony fingers he examined the aeronaut’s battered visage, "It is good that we meet again. Your road has been long and hard coming here but Papa Legba has watched your path."

"Well I’ll leave it to you to thank him for me, though you might tell him that paths can be short and easy as well as long and hard. Your chronofax said that my krewe would be dropping in today.

"Indeed. I will take you to them presently, but first I must address this one." He looked past Ambrose to the confederate man behind him who had previously been gazing around in wonder at his hall.

"Me?" he asked.

Midnite nodded solemnly, "We have much to discuss about your future."

The confederate looked helplessly at the aeronaut who urged him forward and he followed through the curtains at the back of his hall into an earthen chamber. Midite instructed him to sit in a chair at a small table that was the sole ornamentation of the room and had the sign of Papa Legba carved into it. "My gifts of determining the future are not as apt as those of the Captain Trant but they are more readily accessible."

"So the Captain buys into this stuff?" the man asked then quickly added, "No offense."

Midnite considered him carefully, if Ambrose had chosen not to reveal that information then he most likely had his reasons and Midnite would respect them. He traced his finger over the veve and the ceremony began.

**Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II**

It had been years since they had been together and yet it was like no time at all as they quickly depleted Midnite’s stores of brandy and recollections and stories passed like the bottle between them growing grander and more lurid with each telling. Hours passed and the night began to lighten to day when Midnite and Joseph finally joined them.

"Joseph, how kind of you to join us, you haven’t met the krewe yet. Boatswain Harkness!" He yelled the last command so loud that everyone in the room jumped, a broad man with a sort of good natured roughness about him pulled on a chain around his neck producing a boatswain’s pipe which he blew on creating the familiar, shrill, three-pitched whistle. The krewe jostled for position in the lineup and the man who’d blown the pipe took place at the head of the line. "This is Boatswain Jack Harkness," He indicated the man who’d blown the pipes who nodded back at him. "our Engineer Christopher Shane Macpherson," He announced as he strode by a thin short man with long wiry arms and legs, "we call him ‘monkey’," it wasn’t hard to see the comparison, Joseph thought privately, "and then we have our Horn-Operator Newt Caine Ferns." The man was also short but not quite as scrawny, he wore over one ear an inconceivable array of wires gears and antennae and he saluted sloppily, "and then Albert ‘Cookie’ Houlihan Flannery our ship’s cook." A tall, thick ginger man bowed graciously as though he’d just been announced to receive an award. "Our Physician, Dr. Alphonse Werner Brechart." He indicated a thin, slick, painfully German man with thin rimmed spectacles who tipped his bowler politely but somehow still made the gesture feel cold and mechanical, "Try not to fall ill." He whispered to Joseph privately, "Our Wrenchman, figuratively speaking, among other things, Selina Longworth Duplais." A pretty young lady dressed in men’s work clothes blew Joseph a kiss and he blushed.

"I thought it was supposed to be bad luck to have women aboard." Joseph commented.

"She’s pretty good luck if you have the right coin." The ginger cook, Albert said raucously.

The crew laughed heartily and Selina, far from being offended curtseyed to the cook batting her long eyelashes at him. "Finally, our Deckhand Samuel Colohan McNally and his bastard Collin Gilligan, our cabin boy." Both man and boy saluted when their names were called. "Krewe of the Serenity, this is Joseph Mathias O’Connell our new first mate, let’s make him feel welcome boys!" a cheer erupted in the witchdoctor’s hall and Joseph was engulfed in alcohol scented warmth and half shoved, half carried to the plush cushions surrounding the room and handed bottles of brandy and rum.

Alphonse watched him go smiling drunkenly, "You think it is good that he does not know what lies in store for him?" the shaman asked once they were out of earshot.

"Yes, Midnite, I think it is very good and I shall be very cross if you told him anything." Ambrose returned haughtily.

"I did not."

"It is for the best, Midnite."

"As you say, Ambrose Trant, as you say."


**Joseph Mathias O’Connell**

Joseph had never been made to feel so completely part of a group in such a short amount of time. Drink after drink was pressed into his hand and countless toasts were raised in his honor and to Midnite whose spirits they drank and the Captain. The morning passed in an alcohol and clove-stained haze and when they boarded at dusk he was still feeling a little dizzy. He wondered if every day was going to be like this and he thought that he would die very young and happy if it were. The first watch was his and at eight bells he had never been more thankful to see a bed in his life, he passed the boatswain Harkness, who had firstwatch and grumbled in reply to his half hearted wave.

Joseph descended into the crew quarters, which was just an open room with thick wooden beams supporting the deck above and bunks lining the wall. Selina, the girl engineer, tossed a lumpy pillow at him as he made his way to his bunk. "How was your watch, bunkmate?"

"Bunk-what?" Joseph stuttered beginning to blush again.

"You deaf?" she grabbed him by the collar and planted a lingering brandy flavored kiss on his lips, "I haven’t welcomed you properly yet, Mister Gunsman O’Connell." She kissed him again the smell of alcohol on her breath making him dizzy.

"Belay that welcome, Wrenchman Duplais."

Joseph spun around as the Captain stepped sharply towards them between the bunks, "Aw, Cap’n, you need him right now?" the pretty Wrenchman pouted.

"I’m afraid so, Wrenchman Duplais, I’ll have your bunkmate returned by four bells." Ambrose turned on his heel and Joseph followed after him.

"Thanks Captain." Joseph panted, relieved to be out of the assistant engineer’s titillating clutches.

Ambrose arched one of his eyebrows, "I thought you’d be eager to stay, she’s quite good and if she doesn’t give out many free rides."

Again, Joseph wasn’t quite sure what to think of his new captain, "S’cuse me, Captain, but am I to understand that we’re keeping a…" He dropped his voice to almost a whisper, "a whore on the ship."

"Ms. Duplais plays a critical role in the running of the Serenity." Ambrose explained blatantly, "It is often that her…services are the only source of income for the crew when the work is low." They had reached the captain’s quarters and Ambrose ushered him inside where he already had two phials of absinthe prepared. After they were seated Ambrose began by unfurling and tacking down a map, "First mate O’Connell, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that the nature of this ship is not, in the strictest sense, lawful."

"I gathered as much." Joseph said sipping his phial of absinthe as he had seen the Captain do the last time they’d drank together.

"Good, now what do you know about the situation in China?"

Joseph pondered a moment, had he been less inebriated he might’ve been able to recall a few scattered rumors but he had never been much interested in the affairs of the Far East, "Umm, nothing I suppose."

"That’s quite alright, I’ll give you the short version: The rebel Hong Xiuchuan has raised an effective empire of his own, the Chinese government have their hands tied with the Britannian invasion via India and the revolution has nearly taken over. This, on its own is none of our concern; however, the new laws implemented by this new government ban all sale and consumption of alcohol and opium in China. You can imagine this has left a sizable window of opportunity in the black market ripe for people in our position to move in on."

"So we’re smugglers?" Joseph asked, not disappointed.

"Among other things, yes." Joseph recalled when Ambrose had introduced Selina as the ships Wrenchman "among other things" and mentally noted that, with the captain, "among other things" could mean just about anything. "At any rate, that brings us to this man." He slid a darkened photograph across the table of a seedy-looking Chinaman. "He goes by Zaishen and he will be the one paying our salaries for the next few months."

"Looks like any other Coolie."

"Well he is not, he’s dangerous; eighteen dealers have had dealings with this man before us and turned up floating down the Mekong with bullets in their heads; if he whiffs a bad trade he’ll shoot us, if he feels like we’re asking one jiao too much he’ll shoot us, if he doesn’t particularly feel like paying us…"

Joseph took another sip of absinthe, "Lemme guess, he’ll shoot us."

"You understand the situation then."

"Reckon so, what do you want me to do about it?"

"We are detouring to Japan to hire extra protection for this job. There will be one man on the ground and a team of sharpshooters to stay behind on the ship, they’re crack shots, so I’m told, but they don’t have the nose for underhanded deals that I’m trusting you to have. If you think for even a moment that the deal is going to go south you shoot the man, the hired guns will take care of the rest."

"That’s it?"Joseph asked, a little disappointed that his first real duty as first mate was going to take place so far away from the action, "I reckon I can handle that Captain, anything else."

"Not at all, you can return to your bunk, First mate." Joseph stood to leave but Ambrose stopped him again at the door, "O’Connell…"

"Yes, Captain?"

"You really might want to consider getting to know your bunkmate better, just saying."

Joseph blushed, "Yes, Captain."

**Selina Longworth Duplais**

Selina missed the return of the new first mate, having passed out from too much brandy and when she woke up she was no longer in the mood for play. The engine room was calling and Christopher was certainly too damn lazy to have taken care of anything himself; barring an emergency he was about as much use as warts on a toad and it was left to her to do the major running and upkeep of the engine room. Popping up to the deck a bit to grab some fresh air first she spied the Captain manning the helm and gave a flirtatious wave, briefly reconsidering her earlier resolution to get straight to work, she decided otherwise and headed down to the engine room but it was nice to be working with the captain again. It was hard for her to find work as a Wrenchman anyway and she could have done a better job running ships than some of the boneheaded, dick-brained, sops she’d worked with since the war. There was only one Captain for her and that was Ambrose Trant.

Macpherson on the other hand, "Your work’s piling up while you slept the day away." He announced as she entered whilst sitting in a wicker chair and turning the pages of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. She threw a wrench which clanged off the wall above his head and made a lude gesture with one of her fingers; he lowered the book, raised an eyebrow, carefully turned the next page and went back to reading. Macpherson she could’ve done without.

**Albert Houlihan Flannery**

Having nothing really to do until eight bells Albert Flannery set about familiarizing himself with the new kitchen, being just below the captain’s quarters and attached to the crew quarters and the galley the Captain had already warned him not to have any more "incidents" like the grease fire that had nearly scuppered the ship in the Indian ocean, or the burned meat pies that had sent the whole crew above deck and turned the Serenity into a billowing smoke-filled disaster. Still, he didn’t feel like any of those incidents were entirely his doing, the crew didn’t understand the rigors of cooking on a moving ship, especially one that flew with the ground countless fathoms below, it was hard work and they were lucky to have a great cook like him in charge of their food preparation even if said preparations occasionally imperiled the ship.

He squeezed off a knob of butter and threw a lump of salted pork into the pan; he’d whip up something special to break the new kitchen in and celebrate the new ship and coming back together. If it turned out good he’d make it for the whole crew. He whistled The Rocky Road to Dublin as the meat sizzled happily in the pan.

**Jack Maxwell Harkness**

Jack ran full sprint the length of the ship sloshing the bucket of water as he ran into the kitchen throwing the contents of the pail onto the billowing oven, which let out a hiss of protest as the black smoke turned white. Jack beckoned to Albert who slouched over sulkily and rammed the empty bucket down on his head, "Don’cha cause enough problems around here without settin’ us all on fire ya bleedin’ idiot!" he bawled at the cook, rapping the bucket with a ladle, "Git yer ginger arse above deck where me an’ the Captain can keep an eye on ya!"

"Oy, steady on!" the cook wailed, "It’s only the new kitchen; I hadn’t gotten comfortable innit yet."

"Oh righ’, the kitchen’s fault now is it?" Jack crossed his arms dubiously, "Like you couldn’t sink a whole bloody ship with a bent spoon, Albert Flannery, now git yer speckled arse on deck afore I ring yer bells again."

Having dealt with the cook Jack followed him onto the deck and went to find the Captain, accidentally bumping into the new first mate.

"Mornin’ sir, how’s yer night?" he asked slyly, remembering Selina offering to wait up for him.

"Busy." The man replied disdainfully, Jack guffawed, "not that sort of busy, but…what’s he doing up here." He asked pointing at Albert and changing the conversation.

Jack’s expression soured, "Bleeder tried to sink the damn ship, told him to wait up here till time for him to be cookin’ the vittles, got plenty to do without putting out fires."

The first mate looked to the cook who shrugged hopelessly, "Well, carry on I s’pose." He said and wandered off.

**Newt Cain Ferns**

Newt never fancied himself a communications specialist, the job had been the Captain’s idea and always eager to be of use, he’d accepted. The communications room was always cramped and dark with only the old phonograph playing the jaunty vaudeville stylings of Uncle Dave Macon to alleviate the monotony. When he’d run through all the items on his extensive checklist he made to retreat above deck but ran into the Captain aft the bunkroom.

"Newt, glad I caught you, the equipment’s in order I presume?"

"All shiny Cap’n, thought I’d head above deck and catch some air."

"That’s well and good, Newt but first I need you to hail the Yorimitsu tell Hayabusa we’re collecting on our debt."

Newt sighed and sat back down on his stool, he switched the wires and the gears started whirring Ambrose switched off the phonograph as a crackling voice came over the horn. The first voice was Japanese which newt wasn’t that fluent in the first place and you could barely hear it over the hiss of interference, the second was a sharpish Britannian woman’s voice, "Attention unknown vessel, you have breached a secure channel, identify yourselves." She demanded.

Ambrose picked up a headset from a rack on the wall and leaned over Newt’s shoulder, "Moshi moshi, Orega Trant Ambrose desu ka, Jyuusho-taisho o oshiete kudasai."

A few moments of silent static passed then there was an audible click, "Hayabusa Jyuusho desu. Ittai nani o?!"

"Ah captain, good to hear your voice again. I trust you haven’t forgotten about Singapore, how is Takeo by the way?" The Captain said in his savvy Britannian swagger giving Newt a conspiratorial wink.

"Kutabare, what do you want Ambrose Trant?"

"I want ten of your most dead eye riflemen and one bodyguard with quick reflexes."

"Will that be all?"

"Hold on one moment," He covered the mouthpiece and turned to Newt, "did you want anything? A hooker, maybe an ice cream?" Newt shook his head grinning at the furious silence on the other end, "No I think that squares it away."

"Bring what you have, we will meet in Osaka."

"Osaka in the spring, you really know how to show a lady a good time, but we both knew that already."

"Kono yar…" Ambrose flipped the switch cutting the Japanese captain off mid-curse.

**Joseph Mathias O’Connell**

Vacations weren’t something that Joseph indulged in, there had always been work to do around the town and the horses on Angus Whittaker’s farm needed caring for in the winter and summer but from this moment forward Joseph vowed to spend at least one week of spring every year in Osaka. Twisted black trunks were lost in bright pink-white blossoms that looked like shards of the sun that had broken off and stuck to the trees, white walled castles that rose above fields that were greener than Joseph had ever thought grass could be.

The Yorimitsu was tethered floating over the grounds of Osaka castle, since it was Japanese military and they weren’t and the Captain had decided not to endanger their relations with what appeared to be the only piece of land on god’s green earth that let him set foot on their soil they were forced to walk through the city to get to it which no one seemed to mind very much.

Selina took a deep breath of the sweet scented breeze and sighed whimsically, "Almost makes me never want to leave…almost."

They navigated the twisting walled walk up to the castle and boarded the Yorimitsu via a long swinging rope ladder that made Joseph slightly nervous. The exterior of the Japanese captain’s airship was armored in iron and looked very severe; the interior however looked like the finest White Star steamship, with rich red carpets gilded mahogany staircases and crystal chandeliers. The captain met them in the lavish foyer looking suave and saucy forsaking the Imperial Japanese dress code for a tailored black silk jacket and overcoat with a gold cravat and matching waistcoat holding the gilded chain leash of a magnificent snow leopard in one hand and a flourishy alcoholic beverage in the other. Joseph was forcibly reminded of a shorter, more Japanese Ambrose. "Hajime Mashite, Trant-san."

"Well enough, though not as well as you it would seem." They shook hands like businessmen at a meeting.

"The photographs Trant, let’s not linger on unpleasant matters."

"Too right," the Captain fished in one of his many pockets and withdrew a leather billfold, "and on your end?"

The other captain frowned and clapped his hands together, eleven men filed into the room and stood at attention, "Ten of the finest shots in my arsenal at your disposal." He motioned to the men in long coats and bamboo shades. "And Kazunori Ito, my sister’s husband’s brother."

A man in Imperial uniform stepped forward and bowed, "ETCHI!" the man shouted as if he were sneezing or spitting out unpleasant food. The rest of the crew snickered loudly and Ambrose frowned looking to the captain for explaination.

"He is… unique, but very capable, I will swear to it, are these men to your satisfaction?"

"I think they’ll do nicely." Ambrose handed over the billfold, the Japanese man rifled through its contents and withdrew a single photograph sliding it gingerly into his inside pocket, Ambrose raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

"What does ‘etchi’ mean?" Joseph whispered to Newt who stood beside him.

"He’s cursin’, but he don’t mean nothin’ by it, he has a sickness." The man tapped his forehead indicating the nature of the man’s disorder.

**Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II**

His business completed Ambrose had a polite drink and swapped stories with his fellow captain but they didn’t linger long. Jyuusho was kind enough to drop them off at the Serenity which was dwarfed by the iron sided Yorimitsu, as they descended the rope ladder with their newly conscripted sharpshooters Hayabusa shouted down to them, "Bring back Ito, My sister will not forgive me and her husband also has a rather larger ship in his command."

Ambrose waved back from the deck of the serenity, "Saiyonara, Jyuusho-san."

"God speed, Ambrose Trant!" The doors on the underside of the Yorimitsu slid closed and the ship eased away, the ship’s propellers buffeting the Serenity’s envelope.

Ambrose watched the ship disappear into the bright sun, "God it is good to have good old-fashioned wood boards under my feet again; beautiful here but spring makes my nose itch." He took out a handkerchief and scratched his nose then checked a compass from his vest pocket, "O’Connel, Harkness!" he barked, "Get those airbags tight, we’re skyward bound five hours ago! Macpherson, Duplais!" The engineers snapped to attention, "I want to hear that boiler sing a song, make it a snappy tune we’ve got sky to cover!"

Joseph and Harkness jumped happily to work, Osaka had been beautiful, almost magical, but now that they were once again aboard their ship the spell was broken and Joseph could not imagine how he’d thought to abandon his life of adventure almost before it had started for a few cherry blossoms. After some clattering from below decks and loud arguing the now familiar hum of the Calgori boiler got the props flapping the tethers were reeled in and they lurched upward. Ambrose gave the wheel a spin and turned it southwest towards Saigon the boards creaked and groaned under the stress and those on deck had to grab onto something to avoid being tossed into the infinite sky. "Sally forth, into the blue!" The Captain shouted raucously as the props now rotated to propel the ship forward, within hours the glittering surf was beneath them.

Categories: Excerpts from Novels

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