Short Story: Guided by Persephone
I came up with this story while reading primary source documents for a Revolutionary War era US history class. Most were short, to the point and gave no real insight into the person who wrote them. One in particular caught my attention. The story of William Moraley, a young man who sold himself into indentured servitude after his father died was extremely riveting. I wrote a hub on indentured servitude and included part of his story in it, but I didn't feel completely satisfied. He was still running around in my head, eagerly awaiting an adventure to be churned out of my imagination. Taking his tale, I dramatized key elements of his existence in London and some pieces of his negotiations to emigrate from England. Here is what I came up with, I hope you enjoy it!
Guided by Persephone
I wandered down the same putrid alley I had aimlessly traversed each night for the past month. The shadows of humans living in the squalor of the slums issued cries from their haunts above. They were sounds I had never been aware of prior to my arrival in London, but now I understood the pain and desperation within them. My father had been a wealthy merchant, twenty years the elder of my mother, a beautiful but selfish and conceited woman. Within the first year she produced a son, and determined her marital duties had been fulfilled. She spent her time pampering her vanity, insulting and degrading my father while spending his fortune. Meanwhile, he worked himself into exhaustion to support her wants and earned himself his death only two months ago. So unexpected was his demise that his will left some doubt as to who would inherit his fortune, my mother or myself. As quickly as the confusion was discovered, my mother seized all the assets and married a lawyer. I was removed from my father's home with nothing but 12 sixpence in my pocket. The only traces of my former life are my education and my clothing, such as my wig, which I had purchased for an exorbitant fee last spring. The sharp, blue coat with black buttons and tattered lace that now shields my emaciated body from the chill was a favorite of dear Eliza's, the most beautiful girl from the neighboring estate. This morning I read that she is to marry my friend, a good fellow who betters me only in fortune. I cannot blame her for inconsistency, as no promises had been given, but the rejection stings nonetheless.
Near the harbor, I broke from my dark musings to reseal the hole growing in my shoe with another political pamphlet tossed on the ground. Light, warmth, and rum-induced joy spilled out of the adjacent pub onto the cobblestone streets. I could have no part in the workmen's celebrations as I had earned no wages, and thus shunned the glow as quickly as I could rise. As I turned the bend, the sea air struck me with force and then died softly down to an insistent breeze, as though beckoning me away from the labyrinth of alleyways. With no where else to wander and no energy to wander with, I followed the sea's command and arrived at the harbor. I read for some time at a board covered with pamphlets and papers declaring "Implore the King to Reclaim the Colonies!" or "Democracy or Death!" or "Lost: One Child, Boy, Six Years of Age". My eyes strained in the darkness, seeking answers in the scrawled and violent handwriting. The wind had died down till I seemed to exist in a soundless vacuum, reading the passions and wants and needs of my fellow men. Without warning, an icy hand gripped my shoulder. I spun around in terror.
"Good Evening, master." A strange yet cheerful man said, tipping his hat to me. "Seems to me you have fallen on hard times. I wonder what be it that you are lookin for there?"
"I do not rightly know myself." I responded, turning back to the board with a sulk.
"If you do not mind me saying so, you seem to be a gentlemen of standin' who has lost his friends. I have a proposition for ye on a ship embarking for the New World."
My initial reaction to this notion was overwhelming disinterest. Despite myself, I had hope that my mother would write to me, would find maternal feelings within herself and implore me to return. But then, what manner of life would that be? Living in my father’s home with my mother and her new husband? To live in a town near the woman I loved and her groom? No. I no longer desired to be surrounded by such treachery. This acknowledgement was revealed to my companion by a deep sigh.
"Aye, the inconsistency of men. Come my boy, let us find ourselves in the pub and talk business."
After my first pint, as the warm and heavy liquid filled my empty stomach, my mind instantly began to wade through the notions the man was pouring in. By the second pint, I had realized it was a peculiar thing to bought drinks by a man whose name I did not know. When the third pint had been consumed, he guided me out of the pub and down to a barber shop that was still open, where I was shaved and made presentable for introduction to the captain. I did not know what I had agreed to, but it was of no consequence. The man, whoever he was, seemed a nice, particularly attentive fellow. When the barber accidently scratched my chin, my companion stepped forward impulsively, I assume to tend to the wound. A trail of blood began to fall down my face before it was blotted by the starch-white cloth worn by the barber. As the kind man paid the barber and we prepared to leave, I became fixated on the blood stain in my drunken stupor. Attempting to regain some decorum, I looked to the gentlemen who accompanied me. As he waited for change from the barber, he too examined the blood stain. Strange how fixating it seemed to him; I did not recall him touching his drink in the pub.
We set off for the harbor to find the captain of my new home. Another gentleman greeted us in the gloomy mist, alone on a barren piece of harbor. I wondered where this ship was, but neither of the two men seemed concerned. The second gentlemen held out a paper for me to sign, and I read over the words as carefully as I could. The man glared at my companion, as though my ability to read was a disappointment. There was no reason for alarm, however, as after I found key words to my liking, I scrawled my name with a reckless hand and handed the sheet back to the gentlemen. He smiled, and made a sound almost like a hiss through his clenched teeth. A black shape in the water seized my notice, and sliding through the water, the great ship Persephone approached and let down a small skiff to retrieve her passengers.
Sobriety from the cool sea air struck me. It occurred to me that I did not know where I was going, I did not know who I was traveling with, and on a ship in the open water, I could not escape if there were trouble. The men in the skiff, I realized, were pale. Pale as death. I looked to my companion, who I now realized was heavily covered in makeup to conceal the unnatural pallor of his flesh. The second gentleman noticed my discomfort and my slowly retreating steps, and bared his teeth in response. Canines as sharp as blades shone in the moonlight. I was consumed by terror, I cried out and turned to make my escape, but was quickly tackled by the two creatures. The strength of my attackers was formidable, but the horror that gripped my sinews gave me powers I had never known. With a ferocious shout I flung one attacker from me, shoved the other to the side, and had just regained my footing when I was struck in the head by a heavy object. First stars, then warm and enveloping darkness conquered my mind. The blackness comforted me and gave my soul a temporary refuge from the hell I found myself in.
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