Spielland: Chapter 1
[This is the first chapter in a potentially ongoing series about the adventures of Derek Small. Future chapters will be forthcoming if I have the inspiration, the motivation, and the time.]
Derek Small awoke with a start. What time is it? Am I late for work...again? Where the bloody hell is my clock? And my room?!...
The brightness evinced the lateness of the day. He was definitely late for work. Composing excuses in his mind, Derek rushed to dress. But something kept nagging at the back of his brain. Something wasn't right here. What was it? Ah, yes! The room!
Derek wasn't actually dressing, and he wasn't actually standing in his bedroom. In fact, there was nothing actually there at all, except a bright haziness and a cold dampness. Derek rubbed his eyes to clear them. Yes, it was definitely fog, and now the fog was creaking and splashing.
The fog dissipated a bit. Derek could make out ropes and sails. He could hear men shouting and running about. One of them passed nearby. Derek stopped him. He was short and had unseasonably dark skin.
"What the hell is going on here?" Derek pleaded.
"Where...am...I?" Derek asked, gripping the man's shoulders.
"Ah," said the man, trying to find the words. "You is on...sheep."
"A ship, yes, I can see that. Why am I on a ship? I was just in bed sleeping."
The man searched for something to say that might be satisfactory.
"We go to New World. We get work," he said.
Derek clenched his forehead in the way he usually did when his day started like this. Of course, he usually woke up in his own bed, but still. Sometimes his tea was bitter, or his sausages were overcooked. Now that he thought about it, those things were pretty normal compared to waking up on a ship.
Derek surveyed his surroundings, now coming more clearly into focus. The ship, with its huge sails and lattice of riggings, seemed far too small to be safe on the open sea. The part of his brain that liked to nag at him went ahem. He looked over the railing to his left. The open sea. Water undulated into the distance until it touched the sky.
At this moment, Derek realized that the surface upon which he stood was not as stable as he would have liked. His mouth tasted like bitter tea and overcooked sausages. He grabbed for the railing to steady himself.
Suddenly, a loud bell clanged above him.
"Land ho!" shouted a voice. "Prepare for docking in 10 minutes! You there! Who are you?"
Derek turned towards the voice. A tall man who was obviously the Captain looked down on him from above, his expression one of simple annoyance. He didn't wait for an answer, which was fine since Derek was still busy telling a certain part of his brain to shove off.
"If you are going to stow away," said the Captain as if reading from a copy of A Sailor's Guide: Protocol, Section III, "please let me know before we set sail."
"Rrrrright," said Derek.
The Captain turned and barked orders to various crew members. Derek, being too confused to care if it was allowed or not, climbed quickly up the ladder.
"Excuse me," he said to the Captain's back. "What is this ship?"
Without turning, the Captain replied, "We are taking...er...colonists...to their future in the New World."
Derek looked back upon the dozens of men below like the first one he spoke to. They didn't necessarily look excited about their future.
"The colonists. Where are they from?" asked Derek.
The Captain turned quickly. "Ahhhh. Come. Look. We are about to land. Isn't this exciting? You are about to set foot on the New World, having come all this way from...?"
"Sunbury," said Derek.
"Sunbury," repeated the Captain. "Is that near Madrid?"
Derek forced a smile. "No. Unfortunately, it's quite near Heathrow."
* * *
Derek planted his feet firmly on the dock. The ship exhaled its cargo of passengers and crew. Another man, carrying a scroll, approached from a nearby building, and began giving out work assignments.
"You three! To the fields in the south. You two! To the mills in the east!"
He approached Derek. "You!" he began to shout, but lost all conviction. "You are not on my list."
"I should hope not," said Derek. "My name is Derek Small. Where exactly am I?"
"These are the colonies of mother Spain!" declared the man. "We grow crops, and ship them home for the greater... What are you doing here? Are you a thief?"
"Of course not! Actually, I don't know what I'm doing here. Could you possibly...?"
"Because we've been having a bit of trouble, you see. Thieves from the capitol city," said the man, pointing west, "have been sneaking into our plantations and stealing our crops. Well. Everything but the corn. We don't really know why."
"Hmmm," offered Derek.
Derek turned to face the Captain. "Will you be heading back soon? I'd really like to get home."
"We will not be leaving until my ship is full of sugar from bow to stern," said the Captain proudly.
Derek wandered away from the activity feeling utterly overwhelmed. When he felt like this at work, he would usually crawl under his desk and pretend the world didn't exist. There were no desks or even cubicles here.
Derek noticed a small unoccupied building nearby. He slipped into the entrance. Inside sat four large barrels. One was open with only a scattering of dark beans on the bottom. This would do. Derek climbed into it, pulling the cover over the top. The darkness was comforting. So was the strong scent of coffee.
Coffee? Derek reached down and grabbed a handful from beneath him. He'd never actually seen real coffee beans before. And in this darkness, he still hadn't. As he let the beans roll out of his hand, he could feel 3 rather smooth, flat, and heavy objects remaining in his hand. They felt a little larger than a £2 coin, and had rough edges. Derek pocketed his newfound potential fortune, closed his eyes, and began to hum something from "The White Album".
Before he had reached the third verse, Derek suddenly realized that he no longer smelled coffee, but wine. He reached down, and, indeed, the bottom of the barrel was wet. He pushed open the top of the barrel and peeked out.
Derek stared mouth agape at the stone ramparts all around him. Suddenly, a strong hand grabbed his collar, hoisting him out of the barrel and onto the stone floor in one quick motion.
"Bad form, sir!" shouted a figure suited from head to toe in polished armor. "Bad form! This is my city! That was my wine! And this," he said, pointing to a large bundle, "is my cloth!"
The figure dragged Derek like a rag doll across the wall, and down a flight of steps.
"I don't know 'ow you got 'ere. You are not supposed to be 'ere. Comprenez-vous?" he said.
"I'll just be leaving then," said Derek, as he was being tossed into the street.
Derek sat up, taking stock of his surroundings and his anatomy. Leaning against a nearby tree alongside the street was a scruffy man fingering a blade.
"Bonjour," grinned the man.
"Oh bugger," said Derek.