The captain had been staring at the strange cloud formations for days. He seemed particularly interested in the horizon at dawn. At daybreak, his eyes widened when the sun split the world's curvature, falling upon the water like interlacing fingers, eventually ensnaring the known world.
Finally, he spoke. In a strange and unusual drawl, he told the first mate that he was convinced he saw mountains. Though most of the waters were uncharted, the few that did exist showed no signs of land, not even the tiniest islands. But the captain insisted, and it was evident that this possibility was beginning to drive him insane. He didn't sleep, abandoned all his responsibilities, and refused to leave his newly established post on the quarterdeck. The first mate insisted they continue as the cargo was due in Port de St. Jean, food and fresh water were running low, and, worst of all, the crew was getting restless, which, as any captain knows, can lead to treachery. The captain maintained his vacant gaze upon the horizon, repeating, "Land, land, land.."
The crew set off in a dinghy out of respect for the captain and not fancying the idea of being hung for mutiny. They also wanted to see their families and be paid for their hard work. So they took the mumbling captain, hoping it might cure him of his obsession if proved wrong, or he proved them wrong; either way, they set out.
The captain stayed at the bow, and his rambling lost in the wind. They rowed. Sweat beaded and fell; they wrapped their hands to prevent blisters. Finally, the captain rose after some time and hollered, "Land" The others peered about, jostling for a view. "He spoke the truth; he did," exclaimed Mathew, one of the deckhands. The clouds had parted into a thin mist, revealing the undeniable sight of land. The vista put energy into their efforts and renewed faith in their captain. They rowed. They shifted positions to conserve energy and strength and paddled onward. The sun had long since passed its arch, and its once-interwoven fingers were peeling apart. The sea was slowly changing into a dark, inky blue.
When Mark, a young deckhand, began to chuckle, the rowing slowly lost momentum and rhythm. "Mark," said Luke," what the devil is you goin' on 'bout, son?" But the laugh turned into a cackle. "Land," he said, then began giggling quietly. The others murmured, whispering amongst themselves before falling silent. Now, the only audible sounds were the captain's mumblings, the heavy breathing of the men who had over-exerted themselves, and the waves gently lapping against the side of the boat.
"We're doomed, I say," yelled Luke." But as he said it, his voice broke, and a shrieking laughter overtook him. “It's that bloody captain; he's possessed, and the devil is taking all of us..." Luke could not get out the last words; they tapered off, and laughter overtook them. “Enough out of you," said the first mate, "turn her around; we're rowing back." Mark's laughter shifted between giggling and babbling, punctuated by shouts. Then John let out a yelp, like a dog getting kicked, which subsided into babbling. The first mate shook him, trying to pull him from his bout of madness, but it only made him howl and babble all the more. All the sailors aboard the dinghy were slowly losing themselves to delirium.
When Mathew spoke, his voice was commanding and steady enough to silence everyone. “We’ve followed him here, here to this point, to this very point.” A snicker escaped him, followed by a grimace.
Mark, the first who had entered the laughing frenzy, stood up." Mark, what are you doing, son? Sit down." Mark looked into the darkening waters. "What the devil? Don't do it, lad," yelled the first mate, more sternly this time. Without a moment's hesitation, Mark stepped overboard. "Jesus, no!” Dislodging an oar, the first mate held out the end. "Mark, takea'old, lad." But the current was swiftly pulling him away from the boat. He was floating upon his back, blissfully looking at the sky, all the while saying, "Land!"
The first mate stared in complete shock as Mark's body floated away. From behind him came another splash, then another. Turning around, he looked on in terror as Mathew, Luke, and John stood and stepped overboard individually.
He lunged and narrowly missed John's hand. "Heavens, no!" he yelled, throwing another oar overboard, " takea'old, John!" But John did not attempt to reach the paddle, which floated within arms reach.
He was speechless and terrified and watched from aboard the dinghy as they drifted away.
He remained there for a long time, arms braced on the side of the boat, gazing into the ever-darkening waters. Then, after some time, he awoke curled up in the bow of the small craft. He had returned to a fully conscious state, and he felt chilled. Turning his attention to the open water, he started crying; his body shook, and he wretched heavily overboard.
"Damn you," he said, “God damn you to hell!” turning around, eyes wild with anger, he lunged for the captain, hoping to wrap his sea-weathered hands around his neck to throttle him. But instead, he tripped awkwardly off the vessel's stern onto a beach. He regained composure and knelt on all fours. His hands seemed to melt into white sand, smooth as silk, untouched by humans, untainted by fear, worry, or greed, only graced by the waves and nature.
He rolled in it, spreading his arms wide, and began to sob. "Land, land, land!” he shouted.