I wrote Light and Hope in year 12 as part of my English studies.
It's a bit clunky but perhaps one of the only short stories I have ever written that feels satisfying.
The assignment asked us to choose a painting from the South Australian Art Gallery on North Terrace in Adelaide and write a story based on it, incorporating a bit of research.
Throw Up Thursday. Winter 2008.
Light and Hope
by Daniel Murphy
The year was 1857. In a small house in Melbourne, Eugene von Guerard, a painter from Austria, was talking with his butler.
“How do you like this one?” asked von Guerard.
They were discussing his latest work. It was a painting of a sailing ship, battling through a storm of heavy rain and large waves as it passed by the southern end of Tasman’s Island. In the top right corner, clearer skies could be seen and in the opposite corner, a flock of white birds could be seen escaping from a cliff face.
His butler answered after a few moments thought, “I think it is fantastic… yes, indeed. It really captures… erm…”
“It really captures the wild Earth?” von Guerard offered.
“Yes,” the butler smiled, “and also how small we are.”
“Well, I am glad we are on the same page. Yes… I do remember that very expedition. That was a tough few weeks.”
Eugene von Guerard looked as though he was staring through the artwork covered walls all around him as he remembered the expedition.
“Captain! Are we to continue? It looks rough up ahead.”
“Yes! We keep going! We’re under strict orders and we are going to follow them through!”
Under his breath, a young sailor called von Guerard said, “He’s not the one who has to stand up in the crows nest.”
He continued up the rigging while trying to ignore the sails that were flapping heavily in the strong winds. He pulled his cap tight around his head as he reached the crows nest. After climbing in he looked up at the approaching storm. There was no doubt, he was scared. He decided that if he made it through this expedition he would give up sailing and settle down in Australia. The storm quickly approached and it was beginning to rain.
Within minutes, von Guerard was soaked. Thunder crashed all around him. It was too hard to stand up so he squeezed himself down into a sitting position and braced himself for the next wave. He could hear the other sailors below trying to keep the ship under control and thought that maybe it was going to be better up here than he first thought. Despite all the noise, he could hear somebody calling his name. He stood up, gained his balance and leant over the side. It was the Captain’s first mate.
“Eugene! We need you down here! Hurry!” he was yelling.
Von Guerard waved back and began to climb out of the nest. The ship was suddenly rocked by a giant wave and he was flung out into the air. As he fell towards the black ocean’s hungry water, he yelled out in protest. His body made several spins and somersaults before it hit the water with a heavy splash.
Von Guerard was surrounded by swirling waves of black, blue and gray. He tried to take in a breath but his mouth just filled up with foul tasting water. Finally his head bobbed above the surface and for one moment he was able to see his ship before another wave came across his view. He spat out the sea water that engulfed his mouth and searched for the ship again. He yelled in surprise when something brushed against his back.
“That better not be a shark,” he said to himself.
Again, something brushed against his back. This time, von Guerard quickly whipped around and lashed out. His hands closed around something thick and rough. He pulled it out of the water and smiled. It was a rope that had been trailing from his ship. He grabbed on tight with both hands and began to claw his way back towards the port side of the ship. For a short moment he glimpsed a flock of white birds flying away from a cliff face nearby. A short flash of lightning lit up the birds before another wave took him under the surface. He kept his eyes closed tightly and continued to pull himself along the rope.
“So what happened after that?” asked the butler.
He poured his host a cup of tea. The sun was shining through the window and there was a warm atmosphere in the room.
“Well,” said von Guerard, “When we got back to Melbourne, we all found out that our expedition was unsuccessful.”
“What were you trying to do?” questioned the butler.
“We were supposed to be mapping the southern part of Tasman’s Island because part of the cliffs had eroded away and our maps were no longer accurate. Of course, the storm kept us from our mapping and we were at the wrong part of the island anyway. It was just a complete mess up.”
“Wow! That is quite a story.”
“Yes,” von Guerard nodded, “and no one on board ever found out how I got back on board the ship.”
“Well… a few weeks after the expedition was deemed a failure, several of the men came down with a horrible disease and I didn’t really talk to any of the others. I abandoned sailing a week later, so I’m not surprised that they didn’t want to talk to me.”
“Amazing!” exclaimed the butler.
“Of course, I believe someone up above was watching over me that night. I have replayed the event over and over in my head and I cannot deny it. The white birds lit up by lightning. I would have to say that was a sign from somewhere. I just don’t know why I was chosen above the other men who died soon afterwards. I guess that is why I painted this picture like I have. It shows that even in a dark and terrifying experience there is light and hope coming from somewhere.”
The butler simply smiled at von Guerard before standing up. The door bell had rung.
You know when the corner of your novel's pages get bent or torn - Blog Ears.