I don’t usually get seasick, and the reason for that is
It’s different, though, on a huge wooden deck that’s pitching back and forth, with the sun beating down, your nostrils burning from the overpowering stench of saltwater, and big, sweaty sailor-dudes stampeding all around you. Just moments before, I had been relaxing in the pre-dawn hours of the late-1800s English countryside, and if the physical jolt of suddenly appearing here wasn’t enough to make me toss my shitty English breakfast cookies, the constantly-shifting floor was doing its level best to finish the job.
In retrospect, I have no idea what made me think that tornado was going to bring me home. I suppose I had sort of tricked myself into believing that if I could solve the moronic Sherlock Holmes mystery on my own terms, I could claim victory over whatever the fuck was even happening. So when I did it in less than a day, I assumed there would be some sort of prize? Plus, you know, the third time’s the charm or whatever?
It turns out that the third time is not the charm. The third time just answers the hypothetical question of what could possibly be worse than the vast, oceanless, scorching deserts of Mars: ALL OCEANS, ALL THE TIME, PLUS THE FLOOR NEVER STOPS MOVING AND YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO VOMIT.
At that point, I should probably mention, I vomited. I managed to hop backward a half-step as I did so I didn’t get it all over my coat and pants (Sherlock Holmes’ coat and pants, rather, since I had somehow managed to leave my own clothes in the previous book).
At least clearing my stomach of all its contents made me feel marginally less queasy for a moment. Okay, Arabella. Your next awful public domain adventure is apparently going to be on the open seas, so suck it up. Yeah, it blows. Also, Oz blew, and Mars blew, and late-1800s London actually blew slightly less, so of course it ended immediately, and your life is basically hell now. Five minutes of
The first order of business was to figure out what god-awful boat book I was even in. How many out-of-copyright ocean-faring classics could there even be? Treasure Island, maybe? That would have pirates, at least. It might also be some sort of Jason/Argonaut situation, although I could be wrong about that one, since to this day I have absolutely no idea what the fuck an Argonaut is. The only other possibility I could even think of was—
A booming voice rang out over the din of generic sailor noises, and my heart sank. “There’s the thing in question! Astern to port!”
I was in Moby fucking Dick.
And yeah, I realize that the cover of this book doesn’t read Moby Futhermucking Dick, but in all fairness, at the time I knew exactly three things about that book, just through pop culture osmosis or whatever: 1) It was insanely long and had entire chapters devoted to the finer points of whale oil and shit, 2) The main character survived at the end by clinging to Queequeg’s coffin, whoever the fuck Queequeg was, and 3) Just in case a gargantuan, pale-white flesh tube wasn’t already phallic enough, they LITERALLY NAMED THE WHALE “DICK.”
You know what, though? Fuck it. I had spent the previous day fumbling my way through a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and although I realize now that it was supposed to be a short story and I actually went 2,000 words longer than Arthur Conan Doyle, at the time I was under the impression that I had finished an entire novel in record time. So if this new misery was scheduled to end with a sinking ship and me clinging for life to a box built for a dead guy, I figured I could make that happen.
I mean, Captain Whale Boner’s whole deal was, like, self-destructive, single-minded obsession, right? I could get behind that.
“Batten down the hatches or whatever!” I yelled. “Either the white whale dies on this godforsaken day, or we do!” I was giving it my purple-faced, forehead-vein-popping all. “RAMMING SPEED!”
“White whale?” A big, strapping, square-jawed dudebro with a short red beard turned to face me (he might have been the same one who had spotted the behemoth a couple of minutes before, but I wasn’t actually at the point where I could pick any of these guys out of a crowd.) “You’ve been insisting for months that our quarry was a narwhal.”
“I believe Master is being sly,” a charmingly snide, extremely French voice said from behind me.
I have to tell you that I wasn’t in love the word “master.” I turned to see a short, fit, 30-ish white guy (THANK GOD) with a sneer on his face that would make Dejah Thoris proud. Although I would later learn that he was actually Belgian, he basically looked like the Frenchiest guy I could possibly imagine.
“Before we launched our voyage, Master once insisted that Leviathan Moby Dick fantasies were the exclusive domain of the feeble-minded or silly. Having now confronted the beast, I do believe this is his clever and self-effacing way of counting himself among them.”
“Conseil,” the red-bearded guy said, “I don’t believe I understood a single damn word of that. Whatever this monster is, though, I’ma harpoon it.”
He stormed off—in search of a harpoon, presumably?—and left me with Conseil. Who I guess was some variety of manservant? I’d have to figure out the particulars of my relationship with him later, though, because now my mind was going a mile a minute.
If this Conseil guy had recognized my over-the-top Captain Ahab schtick, then I couldn’t possibly be in Moby Dick. Don’t get me wrong, I was super okay with that,
It turned out that I actually had plenty of time to ponder the whole business, because I had been plopped down on the deck of that ship just after sunrise, and we would wind up chasing that narwhal around the ocean all goddamn day. Conseil barely left my side the entire time.
“Surely Master has found the morning’s rations disagreeable,” he said, leaving me to wonder, at first, if I was still “master” in this scenario. “In all the years we’ve traveled together, I’ve never known Master to suffer from seasickness. Is there anything he requires?”
“How about a bucket?” Being constantly addressed in the third person was irritating as hell, and it definitely wasn’t helping with
Moments later he returned with both—having somebody at my beck and call was actually sort of nice, even if he was kind of a strange little dude. Reflected back at me in the hand mirror, I saw a completely different middle-aged white guy from the one I had woken up as yesterday. This one was a smidge younger than Sherlock Holmes—probably right about 40—and much more fleshed out (not fat, per se, but definitely on the doughy side). He wasn’t unhandsome if you were into the type (for the record, I was not, but a lot of that might have been the greenish tinge and flecks of vomit). He was also wearing different old-timey middle-aged guy clothes than I was, which almost broke my brain. In previous books, I was wearing my own clothes from home, but everybody else saw whatever the main character I was replacing was supposed to be wearing. But in London, I had sent my hoodie and jeans out to be washed and put on a tweed jacket and sock garters which were now real to me but not to the other characters because I had changed books?
The whole thing was stupid, so I tried not to think about it too much.
After a few boring, pointless hours, the ship’s actual captain—who apparently was not me, but a flustered-looking guy with a white beard-tuft on his chin that he constantly twisted up in his fingers and occasionally chewed on—shouted the phrase, “Ned Land.”
At first, I assumed it was some dumb nautical term—because boat people can’t just talk like regular human beings and always have to call the specific distance you are away from land a “ned” or whatever—but the red-bearded harpoon guy (harpoon now in hand) reported to him at once.
“Well, Mr. Land,” the Captain asked, “do you still advise putting my longboats to sea?”
“No, Sir,” Red Beard (or Ned Land, I guess) replied. “Because that beast won’t be caught against its will.”
“Then what should we do?”
“Stoke up more steam, Sir, if you can. As for me, with your permission, I’ll go perch on the bobstays under the bowsprit—” (DO YOU SEE WHAT I HAVE TO FUCKING DEAL WITH?) “—and if we can get within a harpoon length, I’ll harpoon the brute.”
The captain seemed content with this plan. “Go to it, Ned,” he said. “Engineer! Are we up to maximum pressure?”
Some engineer guy popped his head out a hatch. “Aye, Sir. Valves charged to six and a half atmospheres.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed. “Charge them to ten atmospheres.”
Beside me, Conseil gasped audibly, although his face betrayed no hint of concern. “A typical American order if I ever heard one,” he said. “It would sound just fine during some Mississippi paddle-wheeler race.” He said it conspiratorially as if neither of us
“And if we charge up to too many atmospheres, what?” I asked. “We explode?”
“As Master wishes,” was his only reply. It didn’t give me any actual information, but I suppose it was good to know he was up for whatever. Like, explosion-wise.
We continued to chase the thing for several more hours, but when we managed to speed up to 18.5
He offered five hundred bucks to any cannon aimer who could hit the narwhal (Ned insisted that he be given first go, but he had already earned a cool two grand by being the first person to spot the monster, so the other sailors pushed him to the back of the line). Some stone-faced, gray-bearded old guy was the second person to try and scored a perfect, direct hit—only to watch his big-ass cannon shell bounce right off the monster and vanish into the sea.
“Oh, drat!” he said. “That rascal must be covered with six-inch armor plate!”
“Curse the beast!” the captain agreed. People had always accused me of cursing like a sailor, so hearing these salty old buggers swear so gently in genuine anger was actually kind of adorable.
We kept up our chase for the rest of the day, although after cannons proved useless, I can’t imagine what we thought we were going to do if we actually caught the thing. By the time nightfall rolled around, I had puked one more time, had a couple spells of dry heaving, and finally got my sea legs to the point where I felt like I could maybe eat something. The narwhal had already disappeared under the waves.
“So that’s it, right?” I said. “I mean, we can’t possibly hope to keep chasing the narwhal or whatever in the dark.”
“I don’t see why not,” Conseil said. “Glowing as it does, we certainly had no trouble keeping pace last night.”
Glowing? For fuck’s sake. Sure enough, sometime around 11:00 while I was chewing gingerly on some kind of giant, thick-ass flavorless cracker and trying to decide if I wanted to finally fall asleep or throw up again, somebody spotted the thing a few miles out. It was just beneath the surface of the water, completely still, and shining like a goddamned Christmas tree.
Ned Land insisted that he had harpooned more than one whale in the dead of night while it slept, which seemed like a shitty thing to brag about, but whatever. The captain gave the order, and we advanced toward it at half steam, practically holding our collective breath to avoid waking it. We crept forward, closer and closer, with that dumbass red-bearded harpooner hanging off the front of the boat. When we were almost close enough to reach out and touch it, his arm shot forward, and he chucked his harpoon right at the thing.
It hit with a clang and stuck.
Suddenly the electric narwhal light went dark, and we were hit with two massive waterspouts, which crashed onto our deck and knocked a bunch of crewmen right off their feet. Before I could even figure out what was happening—I mean, was it shooting water at us through its blowhole?—there was a hideous crash.
The motherfucking thing rammed us. And I was tossed over the railing and hurled into the pitch-black, freezing-ass sea.