DAY THREE HUNDRED TWENTY SIX
It took the better part of this day to clear the wide-ranging obstacle and we are now back on a southerly course.
Elijah tells me that the crew is quite upset over the recent developments. They have taken to blaming the missing government official (Stan) for everything. And avoid his former cabin like the plague.
The Purser caught an earful and passed their objections on to the Captain. I accompanied him when he went forward to see things for himself and to calm his men. He became alarmed when he could not open the cabin in question. He sent for his machinist mate to evaluate the problem.
At that point I felt I was in the way and left.
DAY THREE HUNDRED TWENTY SEVEN
A messenger from the Captain came for Elijah early today. But he was already out and about and I did not know where.
This crewman was downcast at the news. They had been all night trying to cut their way into Stan’s cabin – unsuccessfully.
I told him to check the superstructure from this level down, and I would cover the upper levels.
I learned his whereabouts when I questioned the Purser in his office. That gentleman told me that Elijah was in the sanctuary cabin.
I turned to go, but he held me up. Elijah had left word that he was not to be disturbed.
There was nothing to do but go tell the Captain that we have to wait.
DAY THREE HUNDRED TWENTY EIGHT
Elijah emerged from the set apart cabin, staff in hand. And I was waiting for him.
He simply said, “I know,” and beckoned me to follow. I offered to fetch the Captain, but he answered it would not be necessary.
No one was about when we arrived forward. The acetylene torch and its paraphernalia were cluttering the passageway outside the cabin in question.
Elijah ordered me to wait outside, and cautioned me to do nothing no matter what I saw or heard.
He struck the door with his staff. It opened and he entered, slamming the door behind him. Smoke or mist which had issued forth, was sucked back in by the action of the closing door.
Again, I wait.
DAY THREE HUNDRED TWENTY NINE
The Captain came down yesterday and kept vigil with me. It is strange – for all Elijah’s caution about not reacting to any sight or sound from within, there was nothing but that wisp of smoke at the beginning.
The crew still gave the area a wide berth, keeping the Captain fearful about it becoming a festering problem if things are not resolved quickly. I did my best to give him hope that it would be soon done and forgotten.
At that very juncture as if to emphasize the point, Elijah emerged from the cabin. He seemed to have just awakened and to be surprised that the Captain was present.
He declared that all that was needed was a good scrubbing.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY
Stan’s former cabin is now swabbed out. The crew to a man refused to do it. The Captain was at the point of rolling up his sleeves and pitching in himself, when the Purser and the First Mate volunteered for the chore.
However, the Captain ordered the entire crew forward to view the cabin before the two volunteers tackled the task. And he had them all go through it after it was cleaned. His goal, I am sure, was to cure them of their fear.
I was standing at the rail near the bow, wondering if he had been successful in his intent, when the view changed my focus.
I climbed back to the bridge to report an approaching ship.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY ONE
I was in error.
The other ship was not moving at all. It was the motion of our ship, its momentum, that created the impression in my mind that the other vessel was approaching. The Captain saw it right off.
And he also slowed our approach to better evaluate what we were getting ourselves into.
The bloody morass still lay off in the distance on our right. And it now appeared that we had a similar phenomenon far to our left. Was the way ahead the only channel through to our destination?
The Captain decided to press on. Perhaps our answer lies with the becalmed ship.
The Captain has ordered all hands on the alert, both day and night crews.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY TWO
The water was noticeably placid where we held up last night. An undisturbed mirror. No wave action at all.
That all changed after the Captain ordered our ship forward to close with the becalmed ship. The cut water at the bow cleaved ahead, parting the waters and ruffling its placidity.
We hailed the ship and received back no answer whatsoever.
The Captain sent his First Mate over in their cutter. After a few attempts with a rope and grapple they were able to gain the deck above.
They were some time getting back with their news.
The ship is a grain ship. But no longer carrying grain. It is filled with the carcasses of locusts.
Elijah wants to go over.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY THREE
Elijah was granted his wish today. The Captain held back his permission until after the search for the crew on the other ship was completed.
The remains of the other captain and his team were found in a barricaded cabin off the bridge deck, though not the entire crew. The rest must have gotten off. A fact that appeared to be proven when two lifeboats were discovered to be missing from their davits.
Elijah asked me to stay behind while he chose the Purser to accompany him over. They turned up one of the missing lifeboats. It was tucked up out of sight alongside of the grain ship, its occupants mere skeletons.
Elijah wants to collect some locusts for food.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY FOUR
Elijah and the Captain came to a compromise of sorts. Records on the grain ship indicate that it was also headed for our next port of call. So Captain and crew are exercising salvage rights and now have it in tow while a skeleton crew tries to get it operational again.
The locusts aside, the Captain is of the opinion that there may be a substantial amount of grain beneath the weight of their carcasses.
Elijah is confident that this action will prove out to everyone’s benefit. He has one caution, however. He recommends that we only partake of the locusts in immediate contact with the grain, and avoid completely those found near human flesh.
We will see to it.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE
The sea continues calm. With the grain ship in tow, our speed has dropped, despite that favorable circumstance.
Seabirds discovered the locust laden vessel and gathered from all points of the compass to partake. This alarmed Elijah. He insisted that a watch be set to shoo them away.
The Captain had to go over anyway to help his First Mate with a problem (which slowed us down again, as they had to stop to effect a transfer), so Elijah made the trip too, to practice what he preaches.
They have succeeded in getting the grain ship underway on its own power.
And Elijah has returned with the Captain. But only after a crewman was assigned to fend off the birds.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY SIX
The Captain was concerned about the narrowing gap ahead between the bloody morasses on both sides of us. Elijah pointed out that the gap is narrower behind us, and indeed has closed off at a couple points.
We are committed now. The Captain has ordered both vessels to full speed ahead.
Some time in the afternoon we came upon the missing lifeboat from the grain ship. The Purser wanted us to close and investigate, but the Captain denied that notion. Timing is too crucial.
When still a ways off we could see nothing but birds on that craft. As we passed near by our wake rocked it, setting the birds to flight, revealing the picked clean bones of three men.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY SEVEN
On deck the air radiated hot and oppressive, despite the fact of our swift forward motion. At the bow it was more akin to a blast furnace.
Elijah stayed in the sanctuary cabin over night and was missing from the vigil we were keeping on the bridge in the early dawn hours. So I assumed he was still there.
Out of the grayness a wide expanse of ocean came into focus beyond the closing pincers of the enveloping morass.
The Captain despaired. In his judgment the welcome sight was still too far away.
But then it were as if we crossed a line into a polar region and a fierce wind blew from behind us forward, forcing the pincers apart.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY EIGHT
Fair seas and following breezes accompany our little convoy. The Captain estimates that we have only lost three days in our roundabout passage.
The crew had a happier frame of mind, though the sight of Elijah or myself on deck is cause enough to send them to anyplace we aren’t.
The grain ship, which once trailed us, is now out in front, having found some extra speed. The Captain has signaled them not to go too far in advance.
Elijah has asked the favor of being transferred to the other ship. The Captain briefly weighed his request before deciding in the negative. He does not want to lose the time it would take to grant his wish.
Ultimately Elijah agreed.
DAY THREE HUNDRED THIRTY NINE
I passed a pleasant hour in conversation with the Purser.
I had been seeking Elijah in the usual places, starting with the sanctuary cabin, when the Purser emerged from the same.
Obviously, Elijah was not within, nor was his current location known by the Purser.
I had turned to continue my search, but he begged to ask a question.
I stayed to hear him out, and that one question grew into a mutually edifying dialogue.
He asked me if I had known anyone who had disappeared three and a half months ago. I flashed back to when Grazie and the others ascended at the Glorious Appearing. I nodded.
He then asked if my missing ones like his mother followed Hamashiach.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY
Elijah monopolized the Purser most of the day. Actually it was longer than that, commencing yesterday after I finally tracked him down and informed him about our conversation. They have been held up in the sanctuary cabin through the night hours.
If the Captain had not needed him, who knows if they would not still be at it.
I took his place in the sanctuary cabin with Elijah. And he filled in what gaps were remaining for a better understanding on my part. Of particular note is the revelation that the group to which the Purser’s mother belonged and that of the sign of the fish in our last port are one and the same.
Truly His ways are higher.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY ONE
And His thoughts higher than our thoughts.
Both Elijah and I were newly encouraged that we are indeed on the right path. That we are exactly where we are supposed to be, doing exactly what we were meant to do.
Elijah asked the Purser if there were other followers of Hamashiach among the crew. For sure he was aware of two others, with several other possibles. Then, the thought occurred to me to ask if any crewman bore the mark.
The Purser thought not. For they were never in one place long enough for any government authorities to force the issue. Besides the Captain was very protective of them in that way.
Then he caught himself, perhaps the First Mate.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY TWO
The grain ship has disappeared from the sea to our front. The Captain’s immediate concern was for the missing vessel’s engines, fearing that they may have failed, and we passed them by during the darkness. He considered coming about and going in search of the vessel.
The Purser spoke up and opined that it made more sense that they pressed on to the port, which he calculated was only a one day sail away.
The Captain was unhappy with that conjecture as it cast a bad light upon his First Mate, calling into question his motivations.
With what we suspected we could not help coming to the same conclusion as the Purser.
Elijah took him aside to explain our suspicions.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY THREE
Well, our doubts have vanished. We arrived off the harbor of our destination port, and were awaiting a pilot to take us in. From our vantage point we could see clearly that the grain ship had preceded us.
Through his glass the Captain made out a commotion engulfing that vessel. Her deck appeared to be aswarm with scavengers, and an ever growing number of soldiers was arriving to combat them.
The Captain confessed that he felt conflicted at the sight. On the one hand satisfied at the misfortune of his subordinate, and on the other filled with pity for him.
News that we will be kept here longer arrived with the pilot.
Elijah had already come to the same conclusion.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY FOUR
We are still being held offshore, awaiting someone’s decision to allow us to enter the harbor.
All appears peaceful in the vicinity of the grain ship’s anchorage, but that is most likely due to the rather large security presence surrounding her.
The pilot has been tight-lipped and taciturn, and when spoken to, changes the subject when questioned about conditions in the city.
Elijah broke through when he asked after the pilot’s family and how long the famine has endured. This reduced the man to tears and it all came tumbling out.
Food has been scarce in the area since the descent from the north of a great plague of locusts. The survivors have taken to consuming the dead invaders.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY FIVE
We have been brought into harbor. But instead of the empty berth next to the grain ship, we were escorted to the other side of the harbor.
It may well be because we are a container ship, and this side of the harbor is given over to them. Still the Captain is highly displeased with the assignment for he won’t rest until he confronts his First Mate.
Elijah let it be known that he and I want to go ashore as soon as possible, and asked how long the ship would be in port.
The Captain put off the question of our stay, until we know more about local conditions, but did promise we could go ashore when he did.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY SIX
The unloading of containers continues. Only about a third of our total, according to the Purser, is being offloaded. We will be able to take on more than we delivered since the ship has been running under capacity. This knowledge gave Elijah hope that we may have a reasonable amount of time ashore. We went in search of the Captain to ask if he had made up his mind yet.
We found him dealing with a knotty problem, finding a misplaced container. However, he put that task aside to talk with us.
He thinks that by tomorrow we can all go ashore.
I felt the need to replenish so I passed the remainder of the day in the sanctuary cabin.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY SEVEN
A long day. This despite the choice to take a boat across the harbor to the grain ship. The Captain thought it quicker. Elijah was not happy because he desired to be on land.
The boat master seemed starved for business, at every opportunity he was touting this or that tourist site off the route determined by the Captain. Elijah and I paid close attention for future reference.
When we arrived at the ship that the Captain considers his by right of salvage, a vast throng was milling about awaiting handouts of grain or locusts, all rationed under the supervision of government officials.
The Captain was denied access and ordered away. But he promised to seek restitution and their punishment.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY EIGHT
We will indeed be longer at this port. All shipments for this city have been off loaded, but not everything consigned to ship has arrived to be stowed aboard. But even if they were, the Captain would not depart before he gets satisfaction for his claim on the grain ship.
Elijah was happy this time around for we landed and traveled about on solid ground.
First call was at the Customs house, where we were referred to the Port Authority.
We departed from the Captain at that institution and struck out on our own. Elijah and I are seeking those not bearing the mark, and those new followers of Hamashiach.
Our efforts were crowned with success, the Captain’s were not.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FORTY NINE
Permission was granted us to go ashore. The Captain stayed behind to supervise loading. I believe he would have come himself, if he had any notion of what to do next about his problem.
We found some Hamashiachites in the poor quarter of the city near a small fish market. Elijah took the morning to instruct their gathering in deeper things of the Spirit. Afterwards we set out to chase down rumors of another group meeting elsewhere in the city.
The whole metropolis crowds the shoreline, being pressed to it by the surrounding high hills. It is more intact than any city we have thus far visited, yet for all that, emptier.
We shall return to search these hills tomorrow.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY
The Captain told us that loading should be completed tomorrow. The last item is due to be delivered then.
Knowing our time was short we got an early start.
The high hills hemming in the city are dotted with the homes of the well-to-do. One look and I despaired of finding this other group of believers. Elijah, however, singled out one hillock from the rest. It was the only one graced with a waterfall. Which indicated the presence of a stream or brook at the top.
Following his lead we found a villa beside the stream that fed the waterfall. And a group of Hamashiachites baptizing. Upon seeing Elijah they crowded around in welcome.
We stayed the night.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY ONE
The gathering of believers on the hill didn’t want us to leave. Our time together was indeed special, but Elijah assured them that with the help of the Spirit they possess all that is necessary.
Elijah did have one more goal, to tie together the two different groups. To that end we invited Tomas, the son of the villa owner to accompany us down the hill to the city.
There we introduced him to the other group. Elijah made the case that they would all soon need to seek the aid of one another in the times of trouble ahead.
Having completed our exhortations, we bid them goodbye.
We arrived back at the ship to find it surrounded with soldiers.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY TWO
I misread the reason behind the presence of the soldiers. They were there as escort to the last item mentioned by the Captain. Everyone was kept away from the area while it was winched up and stowed aboard. We were held in a makeshift guardhouse.
Then we were vetted before being allowed back aboard.
The soldiers will keep their station until we depart.
And we don’t yet know when that will be.
The Captain, in conversation with the commander of the soldiers, picked up a few pointers on pursuing his claim to the grain ship.
He has gone ashore today to follow them up. He asked if we wanted to accompany him. But we declined, preferring a day of rest.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY THREE
Upon stepping onto the bridge, we were greeted by the Purser, not the Captain. He had stood watch the entire night, and was beside himself about the prolonged absence.
He was at the point of deputizing me to take the watch and dragging Elijah along with him in search, when the Captain was returned under armed guard.
His countenance was combustible, but he calmed down enough to give us a rundown. Because the First Mate bears the mark he has been given undisputed claim to the grain ship, and because the Captain won’t take the mark we are being expelled with these guards to accompany the shipment.
But the Captain swears that he won’t leave without a new first mate.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY FOUR
I was of the opinion that we depart right away, lest the authorities change their minds and forbid our leaving. Of course, the Captain would not hear of departing until he had a first mate. But Elijah quietly stepped forward with both an idea and a plan.
In talking with Tomas, Elijah had learned a lot about the young man – not only has he studied at this country’s maritime academy, but has also worked on ships in his father’s merchant fleet.
The Captain was familiar with the family shipping firm and expressed his wish to meet the young gentleman.
Elijah went ashore and brought back an amenable Tomas to meet the Captain.
Our ship now has a new first mate.
DAY THREE HUNDRED FIFTY FIVE
We had cast off the night before and were awaiting a pilot in the roadstead in the growing light of morning, when a tug hailed us and drew alongside.
It did not deliver our pilot, but rather a group of three young men sent for by Tomas. They have volunteered to replace some of the hands that had gone with the First Mate. The Captain gave his approval, no doubt helped along by the fact that none of them bear the Mark. And one of them, a fisherman in these waters, offered to pilot our ship out.
When we were underway, Elijah took me aside to share some news, the Hamashiachites per his instruction are all safe in the hills.
ON TO MONTH THIRTEEN