This could have gone like this: a priest and a pirate walk into a bar. But it’s not some lame dad joke.
It’s the story of how an excommunicated priest – Marcus Keane – and the captain of a wildlife preservation ship – James Flint – meet in the only bar of the most remote island there is, near the north west Pacific shores.
The island can be described as a rock covered in tall green trees – mostly pines – with not many things to do there. Despite having a plethora of wild animals, being a safe haven for otters, elks and tufted puffins, the rock lacks the same in activities.
People who live there are either farmers, or lost souls – hence the presence of Marcus Keane – or wildlife preservers stationed there to study one specific species, or hiding from the authorities – hence the presence of James Flint – or simply wood workers.
Apart from exceptional walks through and around the island, one can enjoy bingo night at the post office every Tuesday. Usually, to entertain themselves the islanders turn to the mini market to get groceries and talks from Miss Mercy who seems to know everything that’s going on on the island and around. And if there’s nothing new to chew on, Miss Mercy would just tell some wild stories she’s been cooking up in her mind for God knows how long. That’s why on the rock, saying “have some mercy” hold a whole other meaning than in the rest of the world.
However, the place to be – the only place to be really – on the rock is the local bar.
It is the centre of all things. The beating heart of the island where nothing ever happens but everyone is welcome. There’s a pool table with only one queue because the second has been destroyed three years ago during a bar fight between one drunken sailor and his shadow.
For the record, the sailor believed his shadow to be a vampire and taking a page from Buffy the vampire slayer’s book, broke the wooden queue in two and stabbed his own shadow, which, to this very day, is still attached to the sailor.
Despite a pool table for one, the bar is equipped with the latest of technologies that include a juke box that would play only some Nick Cave’s songs, a colour tv screen broadcasting only black and white movies and a computer never plugged in, although it is said that it was the first ever on the island to have known the internet.
The best and only review you could find on this particular place to go, was written a few years back by a certain RobertS_99 who happened to come across the rock on his way to an even more remote island to live in peace with otters.
“Filled with exciting entertainment facilities from another age, misshapen tables and alcohol that flows freely, this place has a resolute old school vibe where every customer is a true barfly. As soon as you enter through the heavy glass door, your senses are all over the place but in the best of ways. Frankly, I did not expect much of the only bar in town, but what I got in return was tremendous! Homemade salty and crispy French fries, juicy burgers and incomparable apple pie. All of which served with a local beer I’ll dream of for the rest of my days.”
The review goes on for an almost five hundred more words and is framed on a large wooden pillar, near the coffee machine.
Marcus was reading it for the third time, moving his wrist in circle making the single ice cube ring against the glass. A faint but blissful smile hangs on his lips.
The smell of the bourbon draws him to his drink from which he takes only one slow sip. It’s all about the taste, not the rush, he reminds himself. He has no need to get drunk. Not anymore.
The place is relatively quiet except for Nick Cave’s voice filling the void. Marcus’ ear would sometimes focus for a whole verse before the song becomes white noise in the background of his mind.
The bartender never seems to notice when a song is stuck on repeat. It always takes someone else to tick and get straight up to the juke box to slam the top of broken machine so the song could get on its way, hopefully to its end.
Often, hitting the juke box doesn’t just fix it and the song would be played again as if a higher power wanted to listen to nothing but this one particular song.
There’s power in repetition, thinks Marcus, although he is not quite sure what power resides in repeating the beautiful, yet very depressing words of Nick Cave.
His nose above the half‑full glass, Marcus lets the words sink in and closes his eyes, the way he does when he hears His voice.
It’s been some time since God spoke to him and even then, His voice wasn’t very loud and His intervention lacked clarity. Marcus had cried upon hearing His call, his heart swollen with infinite love and thankfulness because the Lord had not forgotten about him.
God’s work had led him here, on this rock. The reason why still eludes Marcus but he is confident enough that all will be revealed soon enough. After all, he is on a lengthy journey, walking roads untravelled with so many bends and turns destined to lure him away from his path, away from his goal. Away from the Lord. He has to remain prudent, while keeping his heart open.
Marcus empties his glass and asks for another one with just a nod, to which the bartender answers with a polite smile.
Marcus glimpses at the TV screen and tries to remember the title of the movie showing. He has seen it while just a pup, sneaking his way into the theatre. He vividly recalls the slap he earned when he was caught, as well as the kicks in his arse, but the title is nowhere near his memory.
A sudden brisk runs through his short blond hair, raising his hairs on his neck. The front door has been open, letting the outside wind in for a brief moment.
Unbothered, the bartender puts the drink Marcus has asked for in front of him and taps his fingers twice on the bar, signalling Marcus, who is now considered as a regular, it is time to eat a little if he’d like to drink more in the future. Marcus bobs his head and retrieves his wallet out of his back pocket, to get a handful of green bills. He gives more than his due, tacitly agreeing with the bartender that he’s about to stay for a while longer.
At first, the bartender had been uncomfortable serving a man of the cloth. It has been a while since the island has had one, and to the people on the rock, a priest that drinks as much as Marcus does is a weird thing. However, Marcus managed to charm his way with his Irish accent and cheeky smile. And also by saving a local girl from an ancient demon. That helps to get some free drinks.
“What can I get you?” the barman asks to a massive shadow two stools to the left of Marcus.
The voice is what gets Marcus’ attention first.
Deep, raucous, and naturally commanding with that undeniable British composure. It belongs to a man with broad shoulders and thick forearms covered in freckles. He wears his natural red hair short and a matching scruffy goat around his straight smooth lips.
The man glares at Marcus, stabbing the priest with his blue, almost turquoise, eyes. His gaze is beyond piercing. It shows a silent and boiling rage barely concealed under a layer of sorrow.
Marcus welcomes him nonetheless, quietly and casually raising his glass. As soon as the bartender gives the man his drink, the stranger answers Marcus back with a similar gesture.
There’s a natural understanding between the men who both focus on their drink, desperately trying to silence the turmoil of their minds.
From time to time, Marcus would glance sideways and catch the man’s gaze. They would look elsewhere at once, both chuckling inwardly. The left corner of the man’s mouth stretches upward like an arrow, creating a lovely dimple his goat can’t hide if it tries. When the lovely smile appears, the, otherwise, stern and quiet man turns into a boyish version of himself, shy and cocky at the same time.
Marcus has eyes to see, therefore he has noticed how handsome the stranger is. Gruff on the surface, but soft and tender underneath, no doubt. However, and no matter how long it has been since the last time he had company in his bed, Marcus is not in that kind of mood tonight. And that surprises him the most.
All the conditions are reunited to ignite his desire; depressing music in a dim lighted bar, good spirits and a beautiful male specimen that is not impervious to Marcus’ charms. There’s also loneliness slowly becoming unbearable since he shot his last chance of a quiet happiness in the foot months ago. However, none of these factors are a good enough reason for Marcus to soften and succumb to his sweet basic instincts.
A lightening bolt flashes through the windows at the same time the front doors burst open. A large and unshaped creature enters. It has a dozen of heads and twice as many arms and legs. It has not even taken on step in, that already the relative quietness of the place is gone, defeated by the loud and unapologetic laughs that come from the creature who begins to detach itself.
Men and women spread around the place, eyeing the décor and people scattered here and there. Marcus goes back to his drink, bracing himself for the up and coming roars that always follow a troupe of seamen and women.
“Ahoy Captain!” yells one of them.
The stranger straightens his back but glares in the mirror instead of saluting his crew. It’s possible said captain was looking for a little bit of peace and tranquility. However, he should have known the local bar is not the most perfect place for seeking solace. Especially if it’s the only for miles and miles.
“The storm is upon us.” says the man staring at his glass. “I gave specific orders...”
“Silver said to...” replies a short man.
“Is Silver the captain now? Is that it? I told you all to stay on the ship.”
Silence falls and uneasiness spreads amongst the crew. Marcus notices one dancing on his feet, eager to get out even if the storm threatens to break sooner rather than later. The sky has turned from grey to almost black in minutes and rain is about to fall down and drown the place up to the port.
Marcus watches the trees bend while leaves fly across town as if chased by an evil wind. He realizes with little interest that he will most likely spend the night there. There are worse places to kill time. He has known worse places to kill time, and then some.
“One beer.” concedes the captain. “Then you go back. We can’t stay long.”
“But...the storm.” states one of the sailors pointing at the window.
“We’ve seen worse.”
It’s all the captain says before an invisible iron curtain falls between him and his crew. The sailors order their beers and pick a booth as far away from their captain as possible. But as soon as they settle, their joyful confidence and obvious relief to be on land get the upper hand.
Marcus has seen strange things in his life. Some so odd, he still can’t explain them to this very day. But the idea of sailors settling down for only one beer after weeks, even months, at sea, appears to be the most ludicrous one.
Against his will, a childish giggle escapes his throat, drawing the captain’s attention onto him once more. Their eyes meet.
Marcus holds up a hand in apology but feels the need to state his thought out loud.
“I know.” agrees the captain with a smirk. “We’re not supposed to stay and I just longed for a cold ale and bit of quiet. I don’t know what I was thinking, telling them to wait for me on the ship.”
The sailors behind them clap their hands, daring one them to do something Marcus can only imagine is childish at best. Their roars merged into one booming voice testifying to their cheeriness. The captain gives the bartender an apologetic look even though a faint smirk hangs on his lips.
“Calm is overrated anyway.” adds Marcus with a shrug. “Noise is good.”
That being said, the crew starts to sing a sea shanty so out of tune everyone’s ears will soon be bleeding. Marcus squints and sinks his head between his shoulders. God has a funny way to show that He listens.
“Perhaps not all noise.” Marcus laughs with a grimace.
“I apologize for my crew. They’re good people but they couldn’t sing in tune even if their lives depended on it. And a beer is all it takes for them to get singing.”
The captain and the priest share a laugh. Marcus is glad the man has decided to talk even though he can’t figure out why he feels this way.
“It’s a loud family you got there. I understand now your need to withdraw for some semblance of peace.”
“And I sure as hell didn’t pick them.” answers the captain taking a sip from his drink.
“Aren’t you suppose to though? I mean, I’ve barely set foot on a ship myself but I thought a captain was supposed to pick the members of his crew. Or at least has a right to do so.”
“Weirdly enough, they chose me.” the captain answers sucking air through his teeth and putting his empty drink with a bang on the bar. “They all decided to put their lives between my hands.”
The mood brusquely turns cold as the captain focuses on the glass he holds so tight, one would think he might crumble without it. His gaze gets lost in an empty contemplation of nothing, overwhelmed by his collapsing thoughts.
Marcus returns to his drink as well, toying with the idea of having another one. How many has it been today? Despite having lost count of his drinks, he’s far from drunk, a state he does not wish to be in anyway. He tries to focus on something else but the shadow of the captain at the corner of his eye keeps on capturing his attention.
The captain is all Marcus can see, all Marcus can think about when the man seeks nothing but solitude. Don’t we all want to be left alone from time to time? thinks Marcus. But being alone is nothing compared to the burden that is solitude. It falls upon one’s shoulders until it crushes them and there’s nothing left to bring back and right now, what Marcus witnesses is a man digging his own grave in solitude.
Marcus has been down that road before, left alone, deafened by the almighty silence. He can’t in all good conscience let another one wander alone. He would never forgive himself.
“You must be one hell of a captain then. What kind of ship is it?”
“The kind that’s supposed to stay at sea to avoid trouble.” the captain answers gravely.
Marcus feels the urge to know more and is about to ask why when the epiphany comes to him. His eyes open wide as he recognizes the man sitting two stools to his left. Though the name escapes his memory, he knows he knows the captain. The infamous captain who’s launched countless attacks on whalers and other fishing vessels that had nothing to do where they were.
If Marcus’ recollection is correct, the man used to work in politics when he found himself in the midst of some outrageous scandal. It had been all over the news at some point, enough for the captain’s face to become imprinted in Marcus’ mind though he can’t remember what the deal was.
The epiphany leads Marcus on a whole new path.
The captain sighs and grumbles something along the lines “I shouldn’t have come.” to which Marcus replies with a sympathetic smile “You’re not the only castaway to wash up on these shores.”
The man gives Marcus a brief laugh, one that broadcasts his relief but also shows a deep deep tiredness. Maybe he’s tired of running away. He looks like he’s at the end of the rope and soon he will let go and be lost.
“I don’t want to lose you.” had once cried Marcus.
“Then bring me back.” had answered Tomas, trusting him completely.
It’s his job after all. It’s literally his only purpose; to bring people back. Back to the light, back to something beautiful. You never give up on something beautiful, do you? So when the captain gestures to the bartender tacitly asking for another drink, Marcus seizes the opportunity to truly break the ice.
“Just a tip from a barfly, there’s a secret top shelf. Something you will not regret if you’re truly a whisky connoisseur.” Marcus says leaning on one elbow “Ask nicely and you shall receive.”
The captain’s eyes twinkle as the charming, boyish smile appears again.
Marcus opens his hands, stretching his ten fingers in the air, closing his fist and opening them again. The captain gets the message and when the barman walks in front of him, a twenty‑dollars bill has appeared in front of the captain’s drink. And the very next minute a new glass, from which escapes a strong and sour smell, materializes in the captain’s hands.
“Wow! That’s...” the captain’s broad smile lights up his face, chasing the shadow away.
He brings the glass closer to his nose, breathing in slow and steady.
The smell of the homemade whisky reaches Marcus’ nostrils and automatically his mouth waters. His tongue remembers the heavy taste and for a moment he wonders if he should ask for one as well but decides against it.
He watches the captain’s features soften as the amber liquid runs down his throat. By the look of it, the secret top shelf seems to be the very thing he needed. Is that why I’m here? To get pretty sailors drunk? wonders Marcus gazing at the light above his head. God moves in mysterious ways. He truly does.
Like the island, the captain appears to be a lonely rock lost in the middle of a stormy sea. Spending a week there has taught Marcus that there is more to find out about the place than it initially lets on. Surely the same thing can be said about the captain.
God’s words led Marcus there. He did what he was supposed to do, freeing a poor soul from a nasty old demon. The case was resolved rather rapidly and the girl is now alive and well, but somehow Marcus has found himself always postponing his departure. It is as if he’s tethered to the place even though he’s got better things to do, more roads to travel. The reason why eluded him until the captain entered the bar and the thread bonding him to the rock vibrated so it was impossible for him to ignore it.
“I’m Flint.” says the captain stretching his hand to Marcus.
“Captain Flint, terror of the sea.” jokes Marcus shaking the captain’s hand. “I’m Marcus. Marcus Keane.”
“And what kind of terror are you, Marcus Keane?”
“I suppose I spook one or two demons now and then.”
Flint genuinely laughs. He doesn’t believe Marcus. How could he? Apart from the people who’ve called for his help, no one believes him when he claims to be an exorcist.
“What kind of demons are we talking about?”
“All kinds really. There’re as many as God’s creations”
A shadow clouds Flint’s gaze. His smile half disappears.
“You’re a priest.” he states with untamed contempt and a bit of disappointment.
Marcus is used to it. Being a priest was never a trendy nor quite popular profession and he gets why. The Church, despite having many good people, is rotten to its core. Powers at play have corrupted it for the longest time, stranding it away from its original and glorious purpose. Scandals over scandals, unresolved matters and an outrageous tendency to slip through the net of justice are reason enough for the folks to resent or mistrust the Church and its representatives.
Unlike Tomas, Marcus has never worn the robe outside of mass or rituals. In his everyday life, he fits in the crowd like a regular Joe which often leads people to react the same way Flint has upon hearing he’s a priest.
Without resentment, Marcus points out the fact that he’s technically not a priest anymore. A glimmer of curiosity shines in the captain’s eyes. But as Marcus has refrained himself from asking too many questions before, Flint’s mouth opens and closes right after. Marcus appreciates Flint not pushing him to confess and the irony is not lost on the priest. However, he feels like he needs to talk, to prevent the ice from building up again.
Marcus can’t figure out why he has to preserve this new and fragile bond between him and the captain. It’s not about sexual attraction, nor even about the need for some company. It’s something else entirely. Something he can’t explain. Something that has been decided for him.
“Do you want to hear a story?” asks Marcus.
Flint shrugs although he’s clearly interested. Playing hard to get I see, Marcus thinks rather amused. He takes Flint’s silence as a yes and begins telling the tales of his life. He skims through his abused childhood and how he found God in the first place and skips a whole portion of his life entirely to jump on the most recent part that still haunts him. Tomas. He can't bring himself to say his name out loud. It pains him too much even though Marcus can’t stop smiling when he talks about the man he refers to his partner. That’s what Tomas was. What he is despite the distance. Despite the silence. A tear arises at the corner of his eye when his story comes closer to the end it has known a few months ago. How many times have they been apart before? And how many times have they found their way back to each other? This time shouldn’t be any different although Marcus has a feeling it is.
“I trained him.” Marcus says in a breathe. “Against my better judgement I attached myself to him and there’s not a day I don’t regret it.”
“Because I blame myself. I saw right away he was not ready, that he might never be. Being an exorcist demands a lot, it demands the strongest of will, the ability to keep your soul away from temptation while your heart remains open to God’s love. I meekly tried to stop him but I was blinded by his heart, by his devotion and the genuine love that poured out of him.
He was eager to help, to prove himself worthy. He needed to be redeemed, you see. Don’t we all? His pride cost him a lot, tainted his heart a bit. Put him at risk.”
“Why have you left him then, if he’s in danger?” there is a hint of reproach in Flint’s voice. “He depended on you and you...you just...left him?”
“We parted ways, Captain. He refused to hear my warnings and chose to go his own way. There was nothing I could have done to change his mind.”
“You should have tried harder.”
“I’d give my life for him.” says Marcus, picturing Tomas sitting to his right. “I’d battle all of the demons but I can’t fight his battles for him, no matter how much I want to. So I do what I know and I listen. I keep my ears open for Him. For the Lord.”
“Do you actually hear...Him?”
“Not as much as I used to, but yes.”
His words float in the air as Flint chews on them, nodding his head slowly as he processes the pieces of information that have been given to him.
“Must be nice.” Flint says breaking the silence. “Hearing someone you love.”
At first Marcus thinks of Tomas and his heart sinks for a minute.
“It is.” answers Marcus his eyes wandering from his drink to Flint’s face.
He wishes he could hear Tomas again. Hear him and see him. Touch him even. But Flint never meant to ask about Tomas. He doesn’t know about him, not truly and it becomes clear when he wonders out loud: “How does He sound, God?”
He has let go of all preconceived ideas and barely raised an eyebrow when Marcus mentioned the exorcisms. Flint is now drinking Marcus’ words. Is it to avoid talking or simply because Marcus is an inviting storyteller?
The priest has to stop and ponder before he can answer Flint in all sincerity. Most people ask him about what God says to him and to that he has a ready‑made answer but as to how God sounds, Marcus draws a blank. Only for a second though.
“Hopeful.” he answers with a simple joy.
Marcus has moved one stool to the left and Flint one stool to the right leaving them sitting next to each other.
“Who do you hear?” Marcus asks eager to stir the conversation away from his former partner in crime.
Flint smirks at Marcus’ straightforwardness but his eyes reflect only sorrow and Marcus knows he has struck a nerve.
“No one.” Flint answers drinking down in one go the strong spirit.
Nervousness has taken a grip over his legs that shake uncontrollably while he glares in the mirror at his loud crew. His sailors are still drinking despite the one beer rule, using their captain’s distraction to have some well deserved fun time. None of them fear him coming at their table and ruining their night since he’s too occupied flirting at the bar. Or so they think.
Outside, the rain is pouring heavily. The sky goes from some dark shades of grey to full on black as the sun sets. Soon, the only road leading to the port will close and every one in the bar will be forbidden to go out. There’s worse places to spend a night in, thinks Marcus as he asks for something to eat.
“The usual?” asks the barman.
Marcus nods, his mouth already watering at the thought of crispy French fries. Flint raises his eyebrow so high it makes his scar dance.
“How long have you been here?”
“A week, or so. I was to leave today but something told me to stick around for a bit.”
“Was it your God?” Flint scoffs. “Why are you here anyway? It’s just a rock with trees on it. I doubt otters can get possessed.” he jokes.
“I would not be so sure. I’ve seen stranger things in the past but I doubt I’ve seen it all.”
“What’s the strangest you’ve experienced?”
“Oh there’re too many to count.” Marcus dismisses with a chortle although the memories are very vivid in his mind. “Right now, I’d say that a gruff captain sailing to a rock with only trees on it intrigues me the most.”
“Gruff? You think I’m gruff?” Flint laughs.
I think you’re hiding, Marcus wants to answer. I think you are flying away from something that has been befouling your soul for quite some time. But Marcus doesn’t say anything. He senses that the time for talking has passed.
Flint’s ring clinks against the glass, ringing to Marcus’s ears like the lightest of bells. His nervousness is painful to watch. Marcus is sure they have reached a dead end when Flint reveals he’s a wanted man.
Marcus listens and nods politely.
“I was in politics, before I became a captain. Naive enough to think I could make a difference. But the system is broken. Has been from the start. Money and power have corrupted the men behind the wheel for so long they don’t know how to act any different, how to think any different. They are ready to point their finger but not one is willing to take the blame.
After a while, I began to ruffle the wrong feathers and got my back stabbed more times than Cesar’s. And now, here I am, a pirate sailing the seas just to stay alive.”
“And keep on fighting.” Marcus points out.
“I wouldn’t know how to stop. They depict me as a monster only because they don’t have it in them to admit the truth. But I don’t mind being the monster. If I scare them it means I have power.”
“You give hope, Captain. To your crew, to those who hear the tales of your adventures and believe in the righteousness of your battle. Hope is a much more effective weapon than fear.” Marcus says.
“Father, with all due respect. You’ve no idea what I’m up against. Those men behind their desks are the real demons and there’s not enough holy water to get rid of them.”
“The thing is about demons...they never go away. They just crawl back to the hole they came from, waiting and lurking in the dark. They prey on poor unfortunate souls and launch their merciless attack on those desperately alone. You would do well to never be alone, Captain.”
“I’m far from alone. I have a whole crew. Fearless men and women that have sacrificed their lives for a cause that is just, for a fight that is inevitable.”
Marcus sees beyond the cold mask Flint’s put on. A boiling rage sharpens his turquoise gaze.
“You’re strong of heart, Captain. Well‑built for such a fight no doubt.”
“Are you hitting on me, Father?” Flint chuckles.
“No.” Marcus sheepishly laughs “All I’m saying is that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You’re no Atlas my friend. And for the record, if I were hitting on you, you would know.”
They share a short laugh and go back to their drinks.
“Is that why the Church fired you?” Flint asks rather bluntly. “For being gay?”
“It’s more complicated than that but it didn’t helped. Being in the service of God should link us in His infinite love, but the world doesn’t work that way. I believe we’ve walked along the same roads you and I. The Church, unfortunately, is all about politics, about who knows who and who has the more money and the more influence. The powers that be thrive for a better position, a better view from their golden tower. As much as I wish it would be all tinsel and love, it’s...not.”
“You’re more bitter than you let on.”
“It’s not bitterness Captain, it’s called being realistic. I know the Church has its flaws but I believe it can be better. There’s certainly room for improvement. Don’t you?”
He’s been through hell and back, literally, and something tells him Flint has lived some similar experience.
“If someone had told me that I’d myself looking in the mirror while talking to a priest...”
“Oh you’re much prettier than me.” Marcus laughs.
“Should we have a toast to the Queen?” Flint offers with a childish smirk.
“To the Queen!” yells Marcus raising his glass.
“To the Queen!”
Drops of whisky splash their hands and the discussion goes on while they share a plate of fries. It’s easy talking with Flint. There is something about him that eases confidences as if his ears are the only ones Marcus would want to whisper in. But when he talks, his voice is all Marcus can hear, wants to hear. Flint knows how to capture his audience. Wether he does it purposefully or not it doesn’t change the fact that Captain Flint is simply mesmerizing.
They share some small talks over a burger and fall silent while waiting for the legendary Coast Pie, the one that enchanted RobertS_99 three years ago.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re here.” says Flint all of a sudden.
“Would you believe me if I were to tell you that I just exorcised a tufted penguin?”
Flint laughs and his eyes lighten.
“I came here because of a vision God sent me and I thought this was the road I had to take.” Marcus answers more seriously. “But Tomas isn’t here, obviously.”
The name has finally crossed the barriers of his lips and it's not as terrible as he would have thought. It has been said so casually, Marcus surprises himself upon hearing Tomas' name. And it feels...good. Flint, on the other hand, twitches on his seat, letting go of his fork that falls on the floor. Marcus diligently retrieves it and cleans it with his napkin.
“Are you alright, Captain?” he asks with concern.
Flint pretends to be fine but Marcus sees through the charade. He notices the shake of his hands, the tap of his feet and how tight his jaws suddenly are.
Marcus’ mind rewinds their conversation, as he looks for the possible trigger that would explain Flint’s reaction but he doesn't have to think for long.
“His name’s...Thomas?” he says as if the name is cutting glass on his tongue.
Once again, Flint’s question remains unsaid. Instead, he drinks it away and finishes his whisky in one gulp. No doubt the amber liquid burned his throat but if he felt it, Flint shows nothing. Marcus assesses that the captain must be an expert at concealing his thoughts and feelings but one tiny detail slipped through just a moment ago and of course, Marcus has noticed.
Every time he invokes the name of Tomas, he sees Flint flinch. It doesn’t take long for Marcus to connect the dots.
“Tell me about yours?” offers Marcus.
“My what?” answers Flint avoiding the priest’s eyes.
“Has your God told on me?” Flints asks trying to sound more joyful than he is but fails spectacularly.
“I don’t need God to see the obvious.” remarks Marcus with a gentle and sympathetic smirk.
For the second time that night, Marcus fears he has crossed a line with the captain and that he will lose him for good. By the look on Flint’s face, and the way he digs his nails in the palm of his hands, Marcus understands how sour the subject is.
However, Flint tells Marcus everything. His name used to be McGraw and at some point in his life he met the most beautiful and kind man that was: Thomas Hamilton. It was during a political rally where they shared their views of the world. Flint speaks of how they quickly became friends, and how that friendship turned into something else.
Without any hint of shame, Flint reveals the nature of his relationship with Thomas and his girlfriend Miranda. The three of them became inseparable and love seemed to pour endlessly. Everything was perfect until Thomas’ father entered the game and found out about his son’s way of life.
The man did his best to separate them. But Thomas fought with all his strength and will to stay with Flint. Miranda, who loved them both, did everything in her power to keep Thomas and Flint together. But the scandal was already out. Flint was accused to be a home-wrecker and Miranda, being nothing but a woman in love, was accused of adultery and soon became the favourite prey of the media. As to Thomas, the word spread that he was mentally unstable and therefore abused by Flint and Miranda who had to leave and go into exile.
“It was not enough of course. Ultimately, he took Thomas away from me and I let him.”
“You did your best.” says Marcus in a breathe.
He gently lays his hand on Flint’s forearm.
“I should have done more! I should have fought harder.”
“And do what? Shot the bloody man in the face?” says Marcus calmly.
“Among other things.” answers Flint with fire in his eyes.
His tongue is sharp and his hatred understandable but Marcus doubts it does the captain any good. Quite on the contrary.
“Stop. It’s fruitless, this spinning guilt trip you’re on. Trust me when I say it does more harm than it does good. I’m sure Thomas doesn’t blame you half as you blame yourself.”
“Thomas’s dead.” grunts Flint, battling against the tears that rush to his furious gaze.
“He lives in you, in the memory you have of him. Thomas lives in the love you still harbour for him. You are fighting a war in his name, truly he can’t be dead. He’ll never be.”
Flint slowly turns his head and dives his eyes into Marcus’. For the first time since they met, Marcus sees the inner battle that is taking place in Flint’s heart. His eyes burn as he would not cry, he would not even acknowledge the pain as he is too accustomed to it. Marcus gazes at the turmoil and sees past it. Tomas, he thinks. Was it really you the Lord sent me after?
Doubt creeps under Marcus’ flesh and sinks into his bloodstream, spoiling his heart. The vision he had months ago had seemed pretty clear but now he’s not so sure. He asks God to guide him, but the Lord stays silent.
How Marcus hates the silence. The Lord is not speaking to him as often as He used to in the past making his silence even more unbearable. The few times Marcus has been blessed with God’s voice, he had felt something lingering in his heart after the rush of bliss had faded away. He’s always dismissed it focusing on Tomas rather than on this peculiar thin feeling.
However, speaking with Flint as well as listening to his unfortunate tale, Marcus senses the feeling coming back more powerful than ever. It’s impossible for Marcus to shrug and dismiss it.
He imagines Flint searching the seas supposedly to stay alive, to keep on fighting whereas in fact he’s been steering his ship seeking for the one soul that matches his. In that, Marcus sees himself in the captain.
Marcus lifts his fingers, gesturing to the barman he is done for the night.
“Closing the tab?” the barman asks sweeping his hands on his beige wet clothes.
“Close it when the last fellow leaves.”
“You sure?” asks the bartender, glimpsing at the merry sailors.
“You don’t have to do this.” adds Flint.
Marcus shuts his eyes as if it would prevent him to hear any complaint and smiles at the barman and the captain.They continue drinking, eating and talking. Flint tells about his life at sea and Marcus has a feeling the ghost of Thomas is haunting his every moves.
Marcus can't blame him for having the shadow of his lost love constantly hovering over him. He has is own after all. I shouldn't have let him walk away, thinks Marcus. Flint was right calling him out on this but at least he is trying to make amends whereas Flint seems to have lost all hope.
The sailors are happily drinking when the door opens for the first time since it began to rain.
A white man with long dark curls cascading on his shoulders enters. He’s leaning heavily on a cane, his twisted leg forcing him to limp instead of walking. Marcus steps back, bumping against the bar.
The soaked man enters the light, revealing a pair of icy blue eyes that hold a sharp and steely gaze.
“Captain.” he salutes Flint as if all is normal and that he hasn't literally gone through a storm just to join his captain.
“Silver? I told you to stay on the ship.” Flint grunts but concern pours over his face.
“She’s safely secure." he dismisses with a shrug. "I see you’ve made a friend.” Silver answers eyeing Marcus with contempt and curiosity at the same time.
“Marcus Keane.” the priest introduces himself to the man named Silver.
They shake their hands vigorously and for a minute it looks like a pissing contest between them. Silver orders a beer and despite the joyful call of the other sailors, he stays beside the captain, filling him in on the latest news. Marcus, who was about to leave when Silver came in, sits back on his stool and pretends not to eavesdrop although he definitely does. There’s no remorse, not the slightest guilt. He listens while Silver talks and Flints answers with a nod or a grunt.
“Or I can go back to the ship if you’d like.” adds Silver.
“Don’t be stupid. Take your beer and join the others, they’re calling for you, anyway.”
Silver stares into the captain’s eyes, leading Marcus to believe he will not obey him. But he does. Silver grabs his beer and complies not without a last hard look above his shoulder.
“He’s quite the popular chap.” says Marcus.
“I made a bloody mistake earlier. I assumed you were alone, but clearly I was wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Mr Silver over there has only your best interest at heart. He sent the crew to check up on you, and when they didn’t return he braved the storm to see if you were alright. If that’s not loyalty I don’t know what it is.”
Flint scoffs, his shoulders shaking as he begins to laugh.
“Silver’s only loyal to himself. He probably craved for a good ale, that’s all.”
“OK. Call it dedication then.”
Or love, he wants to add but dares not. Marcus watches above his shoulders Silver amongst the sailors, laughing and joking, his bright smile lights up his round face but his eyes always go back to Captain Flint’s shape. And for a brief moment, the smile fades away and a shadow clouds his otherwise mischievous blue eyes. Flint shots a look at Marcus but glimpses in the mirror when he thinks Marcus is not watching. The priest follows his eyes that lead him to the shape of Silver in middle of the crew.
"Does he know about Thomas?" Marcus hears himself ask. It's rather a blunt question but at this point he doesn't think Flint would mind.
"He does." answers Flint sipping his whisky. "He knows everything."
A low chuckle rumbles in Marcus' throat. Of course he does, Marcus wants to say.
"In that case I'm afraid you were in the wrong, Captain."
"You said Silver is only loyal to himself but I don't think that's true. Or if it was, it's not relevant anymore. The lad is devoted to you, he's a beacon..."
The rest of Marcus' sentence hangs in the air as he connects the dots without thinking about it. It is as if he's only the witness of some mighty hand putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Something has taken the control of his thoughts. The very notion of losing control should petrify him, but Marcus is used to be guided by forces he could never fully comprehend. God is often steering his mind on the path he should be seeing, and Marcus is a willing passenger. He watches Silver keeping an eye on Flint. Of course, he thinks not without a bitter spare thought for his beloved.
His quest for Tomas has led him there, to this rock covered in trees where another tortured soul wandered. Despite his beliefs, Marcus feels the weight of fate over his shoulders. He had his visions for a reason. A reason he had misunderstood all along. This was never about Tomas, or if it is, the road will take quite the detour before it leads Marcus back to him again.
The priest sighs, his head heavy in his hands as he begins to laugh. A single tear appears at the corner of his eye. He leaves it there.
“Why you laughing?” asks Flint confused.
Marcus laughs because for the first time in what seems forever, he finally understands what God has whispered to him all along. He laughs because the picture that appears in front of him is the most splendid one. He sees the lighthouse and the silver moonlight that shines through the magnifying lenses, guiding him on the road to nowhere. But it’s not him. The shadow doesn’t belong to Marcus. It never did. And ahead of him is not his Tomas. It never was.
A warm breeze surrounds him even though all the windows and doors are sealed shut.Outside, the storm is calming. The wind tempers the sullen sea, pushing the clouds away for the stars to shine upon the rock again.
“Do you have room for one more soul on your ship Captain?” asks Marcus with a glimmer in his eyes.
“Everyone on that ship has a purpose and a place, Father. How do you suggest you find yours?”
“Counsel, prayers, cleaning the deck. You name it.”
Flint’s eyes scan Marcus from head to toe, checking every little box he has on his list to see if the priest would indeed be of help.
The question does not surprise Marcus. He was expecting it. But can he tell the God's honest truth to the doubtful broken captain? Can he tell him that Thomas is alive? This is what God has been whispering to his ears for months and, Marcus, as selfishly human as he is sometimes, simply misunderstood which T(h)omas He was talking about. There is no scenario in which Marcus sees himself telling all this to Flint, so he shrugs and leans on his natural charming Irish cockiness.
“Fresh air. Fresh start.”
That is a notion Flint is more willing to understand and accept. He and his crew are a band of misfits, linked by a common goal, a common rage against the corrupt system. Marcus is confident he would fit on the ship despite his goal being slightly different from theirs. He has always fit in. His ability to listen and counsel has been a tremendous help, guided by the hand of God no doubt.
Flint takes a moment to give his answer. A look above his shoulder tells Marcus he wants to consult Silver on this matter. Perhaps he even feels the need to discuss the possibility of the priest joining the crew. However, the second is hidden behind a deck of cards because he plays Go Fish with the merry sailors.
“I’ll be quiet as a mouse.” promises Marcus. “Or loud as a bear, if that’s what you need.”
“Tell me, Father. Are you expecting to put some faith in us heathens?”
“Believe it or not, you've plenty of that already, Captain.” he says leaning on his Irish accent a little too much. “I’m quite good with a broom, not afraid of heights and I have a bagful of stories for quiet nights under the stars.”
“Quiet is not something you’ll find on this ship.” Flint assures him.
Marcus doesn’t mind. He has seen the road ahead and all that is required is the captain’s agreement. Wether it’s about Tomas or Thomas, Marcus knows which way to go for as finally understands what God has been whispering in his heart all this time. Sorry Father for being so presumptuous, he prays though he knows God will not resent His son.After all, he's been made in His image and despite all of his flaws, Marcus has never turned his back on his Father, he never had a doubt and chose to accept anything thrown at him.
We'll find our way back to each other, Marcus promises Tomas in silence. The road is just a little bit longer than I expected but I will see you soon.
“I’ve known both. Chaos and peace.” answers Marcus with his cheeky smile. “I’m fine with either of them.”
Flint glimpses above his shoulder, no doubt eyeing John Silver who pretends not to notice.
“Welcome aboard.” the captain says stretching his hand for Marcus to grab and shake.