THE BLUE BOTTLE: A SHORT STORY
My dear Margaret,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter of apology and anguish to you. We have met with some disastrous tidings here and it is least likely we shall be with you all for Christmas as I hoped we would. There is a foreboding of ill times ahead, the sea rages against our feeble vessel, there is an air of hopelessness in all the crew and if by some blessed miracle this letter should reach you, I wish you would console yourself. Though I know there is a measly chance for this ever being read by you, it gives me great pleasure and comfort to think that I am writing to you and keeps me from losing my mind. Not a day passes that is not filled with your sweet thoughts and the memories your pretty face as you smiled on our very first meeting. Your reluctance to let me go, the warmth of your hands as you held mine, crying, bring pangs of pain to my heart. Yet, my dear, believe me, I had to go. Anything less than complete devotion and loyalty to such a dear friend that brought us together will diminish me in your eyes for that honour you hold high of me and would become too unbearable. Madam, believe me when I say strange days awaited us both in Africa which I dare not dwell on for more minutes than necessary. I am pained to say that Stanley is a wreck, a complete shadow of what he was before this damned trip to Africa. Perhaps, Africa did not want us to go, it has some terrible and macabre hold on our lives and it will be God’s grace indeed if I should ever see your lovely face again. Since the day we have been on board this ship, we have been under some terrible curse.
This seems like some God forsaken ship now, storms lash mercilessly against us. There is the gale and the screeching of gulls to listen to when we close our eyes to repose. The fireplace in every room seems to die out the instant our backs are turned and we have lost our course too. A huge wave carried off many cartons of food that was stored and we have been half starved since the day we left, and even this shall not last long. My dearest, how I wish I did not have to write all this to you, but I find some selfish solace in knowing that I will have your compassion and tears when you read this and that is the only hope that makes me fight to stay alive, at least until I write this. I entreat you to allow me this pleasure. When I say I dream constantly of you, I mean daydreams, for if sleep comes over me, the most bloodcurdling dreams of those terrible days torment me once again. I have here a blue bottle with me that Stanley never parts with. I hold it before the lamp and feel some clawing weight tugging at my heart. I believe Stanley acquired this for two pounds at an ancient souvenir shop in Africa. It is rumoured to possess the spirit of some African Voodooist who was drowned at sea for his practice of black magic. Stanley found this story interesting and his journal dates up to the day he bought this confounded article. Since then, there have been no entries. When I arrived, I found him in a pitiable, stupefied and dazed state. His wit and senses seem to have deserted him. There is no lustre in his eyes, no cheer in his spirit. I feel a shudder whenever I look at him. He barely eats and seldom sleeps. He seems to be obsessed with it now. He holds it close to his chest so preciously as if his very salvation depended upon it. He often rants some delirious chant about the bottle.
“Hey ho! When the seas come to swallow
To take souls to graveyards to wallow
My soul to thee, I pledge,
Betwixt life and death's dark ledge"
All day long, he sits pale and listless staring into the empty fireplace but at night he is animated, even hysteric and keeps singing this terrible ditty. I do not know how long my nerves can bear this strain of looking into the face of one dearly beloved, seeing him wither day by day due to some devilish malady of the mind. As you know he is a deeply religious man, but since the African expedition, he seems to keep away from every Christian notion, descending day by day into some heathen form of worship and of course, the blue bottle is his idol.
Since he disrupts the spirits of the already stricken passengers, we have had to drug him with morphine at night to get some quiet. There are only six of us though twenty boarded on that fateful day, each night, we lose one of us, I do not yet know how long we still have. I have had to keep the existence of this blue bottle a secret from the rest of them though they know he chants it because for they have begun to believe that some evil object aboard this ship is causing all this misfortune. But if ever something should happen to this bottle, I am sure it would be the finish of my already dying friend. One day, when I ventured to suggest to him to keep it aside and rest a little, he refused. I was quite irritated, so foolishly, I snatched it out of his hands and a frenzy, a wild frenzy came over him. He gave a shrill I shall never forget, so unnatural it was and was on to me and clutched me by my throat. The captain chanced to pass by and hearing the noise, rushed in and tore him off of me. I can scarce write, I am so overcome by grief when I think of the sad condition to which my poor friend has been reduced to. Each night after drugging Stanley, we gather around in the dining hall for it is the largest room and this is a small ship indeed and pray for our lives. The candles we light die out the minute we close our eyes, a cold wind sweeps into the room. It is as if we have committed the most unforgivable kind of sin and even the Almighty has shunned us. But still we murmur prayers throughout the night. That is quite enough, my love, you need to know no more. I am sure you shall shed tears for me when you read this and that shall be enough. With all my love till my dying breath,
Ten years later, in the year 1859, aboard The Seagull, on the 25th of December, one Mrs. Margaret Ashton, married with two children found a blue bottle with a letter inside, bobbing along on the tame waters. It excited her fancy so her husband fished it out for her. Inside she found this very letter addressed to herself from her former sweetheart believed to be lost at sea while returning from a trip to Africa!