No. 8.—The Monster Galleon, Part 1.

MANY YEARS HAD passed since my last encounter with the supernatural, a time I had spent fruitfully advancing the interests of my country. For my humble service my country had rewarded me with the rank of Admiral, and although I still managed to get out to sea occasionally, in times of peace most of my work demanded a ready hand at the pen rather than a steady hand at the tiller.

My reputation for expertise in unusual nautical affairs, however, had been kept alive in certain of the corridors of power; I believe in the corridors on the ground floor in the eastern part of the building, although I am not entirely sure of that, basing my speculations mostly on a floor plan and a number of rumors. So it was that, just a few years ago last August, I was called into the office of the Minister himself.

“Your reputation precedes you, Admiral,” the Minister declared after we had exchanged the customary shepherd’s pies (an immemorial tradition in the Ministry). “To be specific, it precedes you by about fifteen minutes. Young Captain Blanderson was just in here telling me how much his father thought of you. Since, with the daily urgencies of running the Ministry of War pressing on me from all sides, I seldom have the chance to inquire into the state of our military, I was glad to accept his advice that you were the man for the job.”

I thanked the Minister for his confidence in me, and assured him that I should always do my best to justify it.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said. “Now, the thing is, we have a rather unusual situation here, and it calls for a certain amount of discretion. We have been losing ships right and left up here south of Greenland in the North Atlantic”—he pointed to a map on the wall behind him—”and certain sailors who made their way back have been spreading the most astonishing tales. I would not have taken them seriously myself, but for the fact that we have lost an unaccountably large number of ships in the same area, and that the rumors have been spreading throughout Her Majesty’s fleet, rendering even the most experienced captains unwilling to sail in the waters off Greenland.”

That was indeed a difficult situation. Our relations with Greenland have always been cordial, and moreover the alliance is vital to our economic interests. Without unrestricted access to the green beans, green cheese, green salads, green peppers, green tea, green curry, green peas, green apples, green mole, green onions, and other greens commonly obtained from Greenland, our greengrocers would find themselves in a sorry state indeed.

I asked the Minister what tales were being spread through the fleet—for you must know that, at my desk job, I was shamefully isolated from the more active parts of our Navy, and the common sailors’ gossip no longer passed to me.

“It is a tale too strange, too uncanny to credit,” the Minister replied, “had not the cold statistics of our losses forced me to conclude that something more than natural must be at work, some sinister demonic force not unlike that which the sailors have described. In short, they tell a tale of a gigantic ship, which they have aptly named the Monster Galleon, three times the size of our largest man-o’-war, and animated by some demonic spirit, so that the thing actually appears to live by consuming other ships. Now, I trust, you can understand the horror with which even the boldest of our captains regard the waters in the vicinity of Greenland.”

I could indeed understand it, as I said to the Minister, though of course monstrous supernatural manifestations no longer held any terror for me after the first two or three I had faced.

“And that,” said the Minister, “is precisely why I have asked you here. Captain Blanderson informs me that a few of the other captains of the fleet have consented to sail into those waters and, if it be possible, defeat the dreadful apparition; but they will do so only under the condition that you command the fleet personally. I cannot find it in myself to order so distinguished an officer into such dreadful peril; I can only ask. Will you do it, Admiral?”

Of course I need not tell you my response.

To be continued.