CHAPTER 11 Convergence
The fat man pulled his “Mind the Gap” t-shirt down over his bulbous belly. It was never going to meet his kilt; his belly stuck out between the kilt and shirt like the blunt end of a half-shelled, hard-boiled egg sticking out of an eggcup. He stepped into his boots, and not bothering to tie them, stomped out on deck.
Today was his re-birthday—he would be born again by the storm—his new mother. He fancied the wind’s shriek to be her bingo win. The water surging across the brown deck was her upended chamber pot. The heaving waves were her rolled-up, blue-rinsed hair. He imagined the gale chewing the ship, rhythmically, methodically, as her teeth devastating a bourbon biscuit.
His face glowed with ecstasy; love for the crew burned bright in his eyes. His love for these poor creatures would today bring them to the Kingdom of Aengus, and he, the fat man, would become one of the Selected.
He would sink the ship, with all hands praying to the glory of the God Aengus.
He was an Aengusen—the representative of Aengus on the ship. Once, the Aengusens were Aengus himself, but Aengus was older now, weaker—he could no longer be in so many places at one time. The Aengusens had appeared in their thousands; men called—perhaps by Aengus, perhaps by their own frailties—to see that men obeyed the teachings of their God. Men feared and hated the Aengusens, but the Aengusens did what they did out of love for their fellows. They knew the way to the light and the path to eternal glory, and in their pure love, they guided the people there.
There were doubters who didn’t believe the Aengusens’ love was pure. They caused trouble, tainting the people’s passion for Aengus. The Aengusens were generous with the doubters, showing their devotion by allowing them the rapture of the fire. The doubters’ euphoric screams showed the populace the Aengusens’ love and the cost of doubt.
The doubters were the lucky ones—they would meet Aengus and learn their errors the soonest of all.
There were Aengusens in every group, every workplace, every town, every village. To the people, they were Aengus, and the people worshipped Aengus through them.
The Aengusens found their reward after death. They worked in the here and now, for a better place in the afterlife. The more they loved the people, the more they carried on the path to glory, the closer to the right hand of Aengus they would sit, the better to show their love for him.
The height of eternal glory for an Aengusen was to be Selected, assured only by an act of great love for the people.
There was no evidence for these beliefs, but no man could disprove them, so men feared and chose to believe. Not many wanted to be as lucky as a doubter.
The fat man had chosen this day and this storm. He would take the ship and its crew to the bottom of the ocean, while the crew glorified Aengus and his love. That would assure the fat man’s promotion to the Selected.
The fat man was on deck, the sheeting rain soaking him anew with every step. The wind tore at him, the deck pitched and rolled beneath him, as if the ship and the wind knew his mind and conspired to cast him over the side. He clung to a rail with both hands and looked around through slitted eyes. This was perfect.
The crew was professional, purposeful and busy. The old Captain was barking orders; the men complied speedily, dragging down sails, tying off ropes and clearing the deck. With two men at the wheel, the ship’s bow cut straight into the towering waves—any deviation in this weather and the waves would overwhelm her.
The old Captain saw the fat man on deck, his face alive with ecstasy, and roared to his first mate in sudden, prescient panic, “Get that man overboard!”
The first mate looked at the fat man and moved his hand to his forehead in a mark of respect for the old Captain. “I dare not sir. He’s watching.”
The crew, though small, stood a good chance—they had survived worse than this—until the fat man called for prayers.
The men, heaving on ropes, suspended on the yardarms, reefing the sail, fighting the wheel to keep the ship steady on course, looked at each other, unbelieving. To let up on the ship for one moment would likely mean their deaths. Some of the men—the true believers—cared not and rejoiced at the chance to die gloriously in the making of a Selected. Most of the crew were not so easy to sway, yet the fear of Aengus was deeply ingrained, so one by one, the crew abandoned their tasks and knelt around the Aengusen. Ropes, suddenly loosened, whipped squealing through pulleys and around capstans; sails crumpled to the deck, or hung crazily, partially reefed, from the yardarms. The unmanned wheel spun, the wind now choosing the ship’s direction. The crew knelt around the fat man on that pitching deck, in the storm, gazing at his face in rapture, as if they were in the presence of a god.
The old Captain screamed at them; the wind shrieked in the rigging; the men did not notice, so deep was their concentration on the fat man. The Captain clasped the wheel; it needed two young, strong men on a day like this, but the old Captain had no young, strong men—only himself. He heaved at the wheel with all his aged strength, the battering wind and rain trying hard to wash him away. The ship answered slowly, and began to turn back across the waves.
The fat man and the crew were saying a prayer—the wind blew the words away, but the old Captain did not have to hear it. Rather than lessening, the storm raged worse. The main mast, with sails half furled, broke with an explosive crack. It hung over the side of the ship, the sails catching the wind. The impotent wheel had no authority to match the drag of that mast and sail. The ship turned back along the waves, the wind whipping the mast away, dragging ropes, gear and the fat man’s cabin boy with it. The old Captain saw another chance—a last chance—and he spun the wheel again to grip the sea and save their lives. Again, the ship answered his aching arms, turning back slowly, but it was too late, and the ship fell sideways into the trough. A mountain of water hung above the old Captain like the fat man’s belly over his boots. The mountain crashed onto the deck, and the ship sank, pressed under by the stamp of a giant’s foot.
The fat man cried out in exultation, his mouth open like a fish, greedily filling his lungs with salty water. He was Selected and he was going to Heaven.
The storm died. What was left of the ship—wooden boxes, planks, rope and a single crate, marked “Animal Fur – Keep Dry”—floated towards the Lewis shore. The unsinkable fat man wallowed beside it like a dead whale.