The Gauntlet 2021 9: The Man Who Hardly Spoke

Challenge 9: Attending a Burial At Sea (Any): Conjure up a captivating tale taking place aboard a whaler ship, and include three different euphemisms for taking a poop. Every third word, when read separately, needs to form a story of its own.

Because I went with the captivating tale first, every three words form a vague, strange and at least a bit abstract story. For a better reader experience, I collected the words together and gave them punctuation. You can read what ensued from that process after the story.


“Want to log an entry? Now’s the last time you should. This Big Guy is gonna go next.”

That was the first time Murphey said anything to me. At that time, I did not understand what he meant, so I just shook my head, confused, while he went into the tiny toilet. I was new on the ship and far from having responsibilities regarding the ship’s logs, but Grandpa used to be whaler back in the day, so even I knew that you did not do anything with logs in the cramped toilet.

Later that evening, when I went to take a poop, I learned what he had meant.

~

During the following days, I learned from both experience and other crew members’ stories that Murphey, although jovial and confident when he did speak up, hardly spoke. The ship’s captain, Wulfric, even said that he was surprised when he spoke to me on my very first day at sea with the crew.

“One summer, we had a woman named Ivy in the crew, and Murph wouldn’t talk to her at all for the first month.” Wulfric chuckled into his coffee. “I think he’s shy around women. Except you, it seems.”

“How does he communicate with everyone then?” I asked, frowning at the comment.

“Gestures. Mostly his hands.” Wulfric shrugged, then cursed when his coffee spilled onto the floor. That was my cue to get back to work.

~

One evening when I was sore from work — we’d managed to catch a whale; unlike the times I’d been on whaler ships of people my grandfather knew from old days, this time I’d had to do a lot of physical work because of it — I ran into Justin and Murphey in the corridor. Or mostly just Murphey since when I turned to corner, Justin was ending the conversation with something about making room for lunch and thus leaving.

That was the first time I heard Murphey chuckle.

That was also the first time I saw that he winked at me.

Thinking about his smile back there in that darkish corridor still makes my heart flutter…

~

As the multiple weeks passed by, the comment about logging an entry somehow remained the only thing Murphey had said to me. Any conversations I managed to have with him outside work and sleep were rather uninformative at best and one-sided at worst. Well, I guess I should have expected the former when I was talking with a person whose main forms of communication turned out to be thumbs-up, thumbs-down, shrug and that damn infuriating enigmatic smile that he liked to give me especially during the times our conversations were mostly one-sided.

I did learn that he either did not know sign language or refused to acknowledge and use his skills at it.

I probably should’ve expected that.

~

“How long have you known Murphey?” I dared to ask Wulfric one evening when he and I were the last ones still eating.

“Hmm… Good quesftion.” Wulfric scratched his neck before taking another bite of his bread. “I fthingkf… that it’s been most of the time I’ve been on this ship. Feels like forever. He used to be a seasonal worker whenever he wasn’t at school when I first came aboard — never actually found out where or what he was studying or if he even graduated — but some years into my career he became a full-time man here too. What about it?”

“Just curious. Was he always this silent?”

Wulfric hummed. “Pretty much. He was a bit more talkative before he started to work full-time, but not enough more for anyone to notice the difference before Al, the captain back then, realized mid-season he hadn’t heard Murph speak a word since we first left the port.” He snorted. “Murph looked so embarrassed when Al asked him to say something to make sure he hadn’t lost his voice.”

“I see.”

Wulfric finished his dinner while I pondered what might have happened to Murphey back in the day. “Welp, I think I gotta go release the Kraken. G’night.”

“Good night,” I replied.

It was probably for the best to finish the dinner and go to sleep. It’s not like I’d get any answers by just sitting and thinking.

Honestly, knowing Murphey, I probably wouldn’t get anything but that damn smile even if I looked for answers.

~

Eventually, the summer season came to a close. The time on Silent Whale was over for the year for the seasonal workers, namely Ian and I.

When we docked at the port, it was time to farewell and head separate ways.

“I hope your teachers are happy to see that you didn’t get snatched by a shark!” Murphey said and laughed with everyone else.

“I’m sure they are,” I told, grinning. “Who else would pay for their work if not us students with our tuitions?”

That was the first time I heard Murphey downright laugh.

That was the last time I heard Murphey’s voice and saw his enigmatic smile.

When we all wished one another the best for the rest of the year, he winked at me one more time before I left.

That was the last time I saw him.

~

A year later, I went back to Silent Whale so that I could work another summer. After a year of questions and memories buzzing in my head, I hoped I would be able to get some answers I hadn’t sought out last year.

“Where’s Murphey?” I asked.

“Who?” Joe, a new seasonal worker, asked.

The crew I’d learned to know last summer all looked away, grief on their faces.

Wulfric was the one who spoke up. “He’s dead. Fell overboard in January and got pulled underwater by something before we could haul him back in.”

“It looked like a shark,” Justin remarked. “There was nothing we could do.”

“I hope your teachers are happy to see that you didn’t get snatched by a shark!”

“I’m so sorry,” I breathed.

All my hopes of talking with Murphey were gone by then, stolen by a hungry shark.

Whatever questions I’d had, they disappeared as the reality of never seeing the quiet man again set in.


“Log? Now’s time. This is next.” -The Murphey to That.

“Did what?” So shook, confused, went. Tiny was the far responsibilities. “Ship’s Grandpa, be in.”

So knew, did anything in toilet.

Evening went, a learned had.

~

The I. Both other stories. Although Confident did, hardly. Ship’s even.

“He, when? To my day? With one had named.” -The Murph

To all first chuckled: Coffee. He’s women. It does, with I, at gestures, hands. Then his, onto that cue back.

~

One, when sore, we’d catch.

Unlike I’d…

Whaler people knew days I’d do of. Because? I, Justin, in. Or Murphey, I, corner.

Ending with making lunch.

Leaving.

The I chuckle, also time that at… About? Back that still heart.

~

The passed comment, an remained thing said. Any managed with work were at one-sided well. I expected. When talking person forms turned.

Be. Shrug. Damn, smile! Liked me? The conversations one-sided?

Learn either know or acknowledge his, it should’ve.

~

“How you?” I ask. Evening and the still good scratched before. Bite bread. That most time on feels. He be worker, wasn’t when came. Actually, where he or… even some?

My, became man.

What? Just he. Silent.

Pretty was more. He work not for notice. Before, captain realized. Hadn’t speak since left.

He looked, when… him… something sure lost…?

I finished while… What happened? Back day. Think.

“Go, Kraken!” -Night

It for… to dinner, to not get by. And knowing probably anything, damn, if… for…

~

Summer to the silent: over year seasonal. Ian, when at it, to head.

I… Teachers to you: snatched shark. And everyone sure.

“I… Who pay, work? Us? Our was time. -Murphey

That last heard. And enigmatic, we. One best, rest year at more. I was time, Him.

~

Later? Back, whale. I, another, a…

Questions buzzing!

Head!!

I, able? Some… hadn’t… last…

I, Joe, seasonal. The learned, last looked on.

Wulfric, one up. Fell. January pulled something. Could back.

Looked shark…

There, we…

I…

Teachers…

To you…

Snatched shark…

Sorry…

All of…

Murphey…

By… By…

Shark…

I’d… disappeared…

Reality…

Seeing…

Man… in…

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