Thursday, April 22, 2010

Excerpt: A Cruel Harvest

As the vessel cleared the harbour, the chained villagers were led through a hatchway into the confines of the main hold. The hold was layered with tiers of decking so that they could be arranged in rows, each deck placed no more than fifteen inches above the lower one. Under this system a surprisingly large number of bodies could be accommodated. The space between each tier was so narrow that a person was unable to turn on either side but was forced to lie flat. Every available portion of room was utilised, and the captives were squashed together, their manacled arms and legs overlapping.

Brannon had only regained consciousness a while earlier; he was tottering shakily on his feet, and now his stomach heaved when he caught a whiff of the stench inside the hold. It was vile, like rotten meat, and he fought to suppress a wave of nausea. Behind him one of the other captives vomited; he heard it splashing near his feet, and immediately the insufferable smell worsened.

It was difficult to see in front, the hatchway providing the only means of light. They were pushed along a narrow aisle by the decking and one by one allotted to a space. The crew worked diligently, securing loops on the chains through rings bolted to the bulkheads. Brannon was desperate to avoid this fate, being shackled down like a dog, but with the manacles restricting his hands and legs there was no chance of him mounting a fight against the brawny Arabs. As if to remind him of this fact, one of them cuffed him hard in the ear and shoved him on to the decking.

He found himself bundled beside two other men and could only squeeze his long frame between the tiers with great difficulty. There was barely enough room to lift his head, much less to move his body. He feared suffocation and took deep breaths to steady himself, though that was difficult in the foul, torpid airs of the hold.

‘Looks like we’re to be bedfellows,’ the man next to him grumbled.

Brannon recognised him as Pat Browne, a retired sailor who rented a farm near Dromkeen. ‘Who are they, Pat? What are they doing with us?’

‘You don’t want to know, young Ryan.’

With their prizes now safely stowed, the crew climbed out and shut the hatch, plunging the hold into darkness. A moment of silence passed. Then somebody began to sob in some corner, and this triggered off a clamour of wailing and lamenting. People wept and cried out to God, or yelled angrily, demanding answers. The cacophony of human anguish made it impossible to converse with anyone, and Brannon closed his eyes, trying to shut them out. He was dazed and confused, still unsure of what was happening or who the fearsome-looking foreigners were. This nightmare, however, was one he couldn’t wake from.