The Allegory of Despair - James Prescott


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The Allegory of Despair

Copyright © 1996 James Prescott


Imagine, if you will, a man standing upon a longship, part of a fleet steering through the stormy sea.


Night, rain, wind, cold, heaving decks. He stumbles, puts out his hand to save himself, but pitches over the side into the cold, cold sea.


The main part of the fleet sails onwards, unconcerned with his plight, bound for the dark horizon.


The chill water rushing into his clothing is a brutal shock.


His own ship, realizing his loss, puts about in the high seas to look for him. He can see them quartering the ocean, he can scream out to them, he can wave his arms, he can swim towards them. He can see them, a long while later, giving up the search, and setting a course for the same dark horizon. His ship can carry on without him.


The cold is sapping his very life blood.


But they have set a boat adrift in the seas for him, and he sees it, and swims for it. He gets his near-frozen arm up over the side. The sea, ever the cruel sea, rips him and the boat up into the air, one jumbled mass of man and boat and foam and wind. When they smash down, the man's arm is broken, his head is oozing blood, and the boat is in a thousand splinters. The boat has no more use for the feel of his hand on the steering oar.


The cold means he feels no pain in the broken arm, he feels no pain on his scalp, just a great numbness of body and mind.


He sees one last hope -- a yard that has somehow survived the wrack of the boat, and is tossing wildly in the night. He struggles towards it, and touches it. At that moment the boat's anchor, which has been falling through the ocean depths, pulls tight the cable entangled around the yard, and in a swirl of bubbles it is pulled under. The yard desires no longer that he set a sail upon it.


The cold. The darkness. The empty tempestuous sea. The taste of salt water in his mouth, in his throat, in his stomach.


The cold. Always the cold, reducing his sight and his sound and his thought to focus on the loneliness of one dark chip of wood trembling between the fury of gale and ocean a few feet in front of him.


The chip of wood no longer has a function to serve on the mast in the boat of the ship from the great fleet.


The man, too, who lived to serve, can serve no more.



[ For a bit about the history behind this story check here. ]


[ For the sequel to this story check "The Sonne in Hir Splendoure". ]




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