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Ibrahim shook his head and laughed. He was too smart for him. He would not take the dare. He was already three shots of rum in, and the fourth might be the end of him.

“No, it’s your turn, he said, “unless you’re afraid, that is.”

The Englishman glared at him. He could abide many things on a long voyage, but a snickering challenge from a Bahamian galley-slave was not one of them. He felt  his head swim—six shots of rum to Ibrahim’s three—but he was certain he could meet the challenge. Certain as a dead man could be.

“Give it here,” the Englishman snarled. He grabbed the half-empty bottle from Ibrahim’s hands. A cold, low stare rose in Ibrahim’s eyes as he watched the Englishman swallow the rest of the rum.

There were three weeks’ wages in the bargain if he could drink and walk—all the way to the end of the bowsprit and back. It was no mean feat. The seas around the horn were up that night—way up. Curling gray beards of foam spit at them from waves out in the darkness. Thirty feet high, the ocean rose, and thirty feet down, the ocean fell, with each rolling swell.

The wind screamed like a mad man, but there was no man on the water that night madder than the Englishman. The rest of the rum now in his gut, he took his balance on the bowsprit of that ship, heaving in the swells, and began to walk—unsteady at first, then with more confidence as he found his legs beneath him. Two steps . . . Five steps . . . Ten more and he would be all the way there—all the way to the end of the sprit and back again, safely on board, where he would be the richest bastard among the crew with his winnings.

He had once said that seven was his lucky number, but his luck failed him that night, for it was the seventh step that brought his doom. At that moment, a great black wave—more like a mountain than a thing made of water—rose from the deep and swept him off his feet into the abyss, like a speck of dust. All that Ibrahim could see of the Englishman was the glow of his teeth from the light of the moon as his body flew away. He was looking back at him.  He could have been smiling, or he could have been screaming, but it didn’t matter. Either way, he was gone.

© 2014 by M. C. Hurley

I wrote this story on October 9, 2014 as part of an exercise at the Thursday night Writers’ Group meeting of LILA, Charleston’s Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts. Deborah Bernard, LILA’s executive director, was the moderator of the general fiction group I attended. With no advance notice to anyone, including me, Deborah opened to a random page of my novel, THE PRODIGAL, and read the first line she saw, which began, “Ibrahim shook his head and laughed.” We were all then given 19 minutes, exactly, to write a story flowing from that line. There were some wild tales told, and this was mine.  As readers of THE PRODIGAL will recognize, this story and the setting of Cape Horn have nothing to do with the plot of the book. It is instead a complete lark in another realm of fantasy, entirely. That was Deborah’s intention in the exercise, and that’s what made writing it so much fun. 

I want first to thank Deborah for forcing me to write something that gives readers of THE PRODIGAL a completely different perspective on the character of Ibrahim. I also want to highly recommend LILA and these groups to all writers. They’re a great way to connect with other writers and improve our craft. For more information about LILA, of which I am a proud new member, go to their website at