Sunday, July 18, 2010

Whistling Up a Storm


Whistling Up a Storm
Michael Swanwick

“Tarnation!” the first mate said angrily.  “What in the Sam Hill are you doing whistling?”  But not in those exact words.  “It’s bad luck.  It’ll call up a gosh-darned storm.”

“Sorry, sir,” Weston Renoud said.  “I’ve been trying to break myself of that consarned habit but, gee whillickers, it’s not easy.”  Though perhaps in stronger terms than that.

“Well, heckfire and tarnation, I . . .  Good golly, what was that?!”

You don’t encounter many pirates in the Bering Strait.  Particularly when you’re on a government research vessel, performing a hydrographic survey of the ocean floor.  So Renoud, along with everyone else aboard was caught by surprise when the grappling lines flew over the bow and armed thugs swarmed howling up on deck.

Every seaman knows the standard orders in such a situation, however.  You are expected not to engage the pirates.  You are to retreat to the interior of the vessel, locking all doors and hatches behind you, to deprive the marauders of use of the ship.  You are to radio for help.  Then you are to wait calmly for others to deal with the situation.

You are not commanded to like it.  But those are your orders.

So Weston Renoud found himself sitting in the rec room, listening to the pirates trying to break through a locked hatch, experiencing a peculiar mix of terror and boredom.  He would’ve like to have had a glass of whiskey, something peaty and expensive.  But as there was no drinking on the ship and there was sheaf of paper among the game supplies, he settled for making origami figures.  It was an old habit.  It occupied his mind with something other than the obvious.

As he folded, he began to whistle.  Bits of show tunes.  The overture from The Flying Dutchman.  “Stormy Weather.”

His shipmates were too demoralized to object.

Then, just as it was beginning to seem that the pirates would actually break through, a white gale blew up out of nowhere and passed over the ship.  Since the interior of the ship was still denied them, the pirates faced the full brunt of the storm. 

It washed every single one of them overboard.

Five minutes was all it took, and when the winds had died down again, the first mate said, “I told you so.”

Renoud looked down at his hands, which still held the origami bird he had just finished folding when the gale blew up. 

It was a stormy petrel.

“Gee whillickers,” Renoud said, “maybe there’s something to those danged superstitions after all.”

Only, as may have been mentioned before, in somewhat stronger terms.



Weston Renoud said...

Thank you! Gave me a good laugh.

Michael Swanwick said...

I'm glad you liked it.