This story was written by our readers. We started it off with the first paragraph, then each week a winner was picked and posted.  Each winner received a free month of Duckworks.  It was a lot of fun

The Cruise
(in which you, our readers, tell the story)

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled, and the water, glassy smooth an hour ago, tossed the boat about, making Nigel wonder if he had found that legendary whirlpool and would soon be meeting Neptune. The clouds were not yet a solid mass, and when the moon peeked through for a few seconds, he saw the bare mast bend left and then right. All at once, he heard a faint sound. It was a dull roar like the surf pounding on a rocky shore. Had he miscalculated his position? His GPS was kaput; he was using dead reckoning from the position he had gotten from a passing freighter earlier that day. He shouldn’t be anywhere near land. He listened again. It was unmistakable now.

Then, as the moon peeked through the clouds again, he saw it - breakers against a long, low black reef, where there should have been no land at all. The moon winked out. The sound got louder. At the next flash of moonlight, he saw the reef again and froze. He was almost on top of it, the edge he was heading towards had the letters "ARU" neatly painted on it and there was a life-jacketed body tied to a line that was tangled in the great freighter's scupper. (contributed by Laszlo)

Nigel held his breath, waiting for the moon to illuminate the gruesome sight once more. His mind was all a-tangle with fear (would he end up like the body, dashed and tangled on the reef?), self-doubt (did he really see a body or was it the lingering effect of the 5 martinis he had for lunch?) and curiosity ( where had he seen those letters before hmm?). Wind gusted the capricious clouds again and the moon shone her ghastly light on the reef-that-should-not-be-there. He was not hallucinating. The body still gently rocked and bumped in the wind like one of those cool Chinese glass floats in a fishing net. Nigel assumed the poor bloke was dead. But as the waves, seemingly with a will of their own, nudged him ever closer...he was not so sure. (contributed by Cara)

A hole in the clouds overhead allowed the moon to shine on the face. Nigel looked down into the water. It was a young face, clean shaven but bruised and swollen. The hair was straight and cut short. Nigel put a gaff into his coat and drew him to the boat. With some difficulty he looped a line around his chest and heaved him aboard. He wasn't stiff, but limp as a noodle. Nigel wasn't a big man, but he was wiry and fit and managed to get the awkward bundle aboard without mishap. Once on deck, he laid the body out flat and started going through his pockets looking for some kind of identification. There was nothing in the coat pockets, but as Nigel turned him over to continue the search, the dead man gasped and then vomited vigorously onto the deck. Nigel held the mans head, and when he had finished and somewhat recovered, Nigel lifted him into a sitting position and received another great surprise. He was a woman. (contributed by Dave Hahn)

An ear-splitting scream jolted Nigel back to reality. He had no idea how long he'd been holding the woman, but the color had returned to her face, and her eyes were now sharply focused. She was screaming at him and wildly pointing at something behind him. As Nigel turned to look, he was about to reassure her that they were in no danger; as he'd approached the freighter he had dropped his anchor and carefully let out the line so he could drop back just enough to reach her with his gaff. Actually, he'd thought himself a little clever for having figured out how to rescue her without endangering himself and his boat. Then Nigel saw what had terrified her. The anchor must have dragged, and the breakers were just meters behind his boat. He dropped the still screaming woman and leapt to start his engine. With a murmured "please start" he turned the key and was relieved that it actually started. He put it in gear and went forward to pull in the anchor line. As the line became vertical he realized the anchor had not only finally caught, but had wedged itself under a coral head. "Damned anchors," he thought, "and why is that crazy woman was still screaming at me?" Then it hit him. It wasn't English. Forgetting the anchor line, he turned and asked her if she spoke English. She just kept screaming. Now completely frustrated, Nigel shouted - over the chugging engine, over the howling wind, over the roaring breakers, over the woman's screams "DO .... YOU .... SPEAK .... ENGLISH?" She stopped screaming. And then for a long moment they just stared at each other. (contributed by Chris Stewart)

She lowered her eyes and started in surprise when she looked at the log book in the book case. Nigel had filled his old one, and had written "June 2003-" on the spline. The woman pointed at the book, speaking rapidly, and with some agitation pointed to to ship behind them and the book on the shelf. Nigel had no hope of understanding the words but was hopeful that his skill at charades would help bridge the gap. He handed her the log book, and she opened it. She turned page after page, not reading the text but looking at the dates. She pointed at each one and remarked on them with machine-gun rapidity. Nigel had been around and knew smatterings of Spanish, French, German and even a little Greek. The language was musical in tone, but he couldn't pick anything out of it. She again pointed at the dates in the book and back at the ship on the reef. He got the connection and pointed to her, to him, the log book and then the ship. She smiled and nodded. Nigel had no desire to board the ghost ship on the reef but decided that he might at least look the old wreck over in the light of the new day. Looking at the ship with a critial eye, he could see that it wasn't a freighter, but looked more like an old minesweeper. Getting out his binoculars he could see the name painted on the bow, part of it faded and stained, part new and bright. The ship's name seemed to be "Palau Aru". (contributed by Dave Hahn)

An uncontrollable shiver slowly crawled up Nigel's spine as he struggled to hold his binoculars level on the name. Slowly he began to scan the ship for clues. "Palau Aru" he repeated again and again, hoping that by sheer will he could wring meaning from the name. Palau Aru was distantly and uncomfortably familiar, but where and when had he heard the name before? Was it in a local pub, or was it at a briefing for a covert operation years ago? Not knowing made him uneasy, but he was even more uneasy about his GPS and radio suddenly going down. As the stern came into view, Nigel slowly reversed his scan. Suddenly his binoculars froze on a porthole. Nigel waited until he saw the movement a second time. "Palau Aru", he whispered, "Palau Aru." (contributed by Bob Peckham)

His musings were cut short by the slap of a wave on the side of the boat as it drifted beam to the wind. "Best to get away from here," he thought. After checking around the stern for lines and debris in the water, he put the boat in gear and turned the bow away from the dark hulk at low revs, minimum noise, minimum spash. He tried to make sense of the clues. Twice he had scanned the binoculars past the porthole, and twice a face had ducked away. He was being watched, and the watcher must have known about the woman now huddled on the forward thwart. What was her relation to the invisible watcher, and why was she in the sea? A new break in the clouds uncovered the full moon. Was that the significance of the dates, that tonight was the full moon? (contributed by Peter Vanderwaart)

The full moon lit the compass, and the steady thump of the motor took Nigel and his passenger away from the wrecked hulk. Good judgment would have told him to keep going, but it was not his style to leave, at least not until he had a few more answers. Once a safe distance out, he cut the motor and went below. He soon reappeared with warm clothes, and motioned the woman to go below. She shook her head and looked away. Nigel stood looking at her for a moment. He was not accustomed to having his suggestions ignored. "Ok miss, have it your way.," he said, dropping the clothing and a blanket in front of her. In a few minutes, he looked back and she was wrapped in the blanket with only her face showing. Her wet clothes lay in a pile beside her. She stared back at him managing a shy smile, and he could see the bruising on the right side of her face wasn’t as bad as he had first thought. He could also see she was young, probably in her early twenties. She reminded him of the hundreds of refugees he had seen over the years. Back then, leaving those people behind had been the hardest part of his job . Glancing first at the girl and then at the stranded ship, he whispered, "This time nobody gets left behind." Nigel had given up hope of finding a common language, but spoke to the girl anyway. "Tomorrow I need to go back and check things out but we are safe here tonight." He was surprised when she slowly nodded her head as if agreeing. "I bet you would agree to anything I say wouldn’t you?" Again she slowly nodded her head. Amused with his little game Nigel moved closer to the woman and whispered, "One more thing you should know. In my country I am considered a god." This time the young woman didn’t nod agreement. For an uncomfortable moment she simply looked up at him. Finally she whispered, "Yes, you a good god." (contributed by Bob Peckham)

"So, how are you going to get out of this one, laddy?" asked Giles, looking up from his keyboard. Writing had always been easy for him: create a character, get him into trouble, and then figure out how to get back out - along with the girl, the treasure, the ... well, the rest was really just details. But this time Giles was stuck. The storm, the girl, the boat, now what? As he often did when he took a break, he looked down at the lake to see his own boat resting at her mooring. But when the moon peeked through the clouds he saw she was gone! His first thought was that she had been stolen, but who would go out on a night like this? The mooring line must have frayed through. He jumped up from his desk and ran down to the lake, getting his dinghy off its rack and into the water in one smooth motion. Grabbing his oars, but forgetting his life jacket, he got in his dinghy and pulled away from shore. Rowing downwind, he put every ounce of strength into trying to catch up to his boat. He had to catch her before she was driven onto the rocks at Green Point. All at once, he heard a faint sound. It was a big lake and the wind was howling, but it sounded just like surf pounding on a rocky shore. The moon peeked through the clouds for a few seconds, and he turned to look for his boat. He saw the bare mast swing left and then right. The wind howled, and the water, glassy smooth an hour ago, tossed the dinghy about, making Giles wonder if he would soon be meeting Nigel. It was a dark and stormy night. (by Chris Stewart)


Thanks to all of you who contributed to this story. We will begin a new version is about two weeks. If you would like to begin our next tale, use the space below. Be sure to include a title. - Sandra