The bottle was nearly empty. Old Albert drained, rinsed and left it to dry in readiness.
A few weeks later the bottle lay on his work-table. Liquor had been replaced by a stormy papier maché sea, painted cobalt blue, flecked with white wave crests. Albert crouched over the table, tongue extended amongst a forest of white whiskers as he tested the string that would raise the masts, allowing the sails to droop loosely awaiting a wind that would never materialise. Perfect. Lowering the mast and sails again, he carefully inserted his creation into the bottle neck, prodded it into position with a needle, and then pulled the string tight. The ship flowered into life on the stormy sea, fifteen years of intricate labour finally completed.
Albert lowered his head and placed his eye against the mouth of the bottle, inspecting the finished creation. And that was where they found him the next morning, his lifeless hand resting on the cork that had completed his masterpiece.
Several years later, a young boy stood with nose pressed against the window of an antique shop, gazing at a beautifully crafted schooner cresting an expanse of stormy waves.
“What would it be like’ Joshua Riley wondered, ‘to be pacing those decks, and hoisting those sails?”
Twenty minutes later he left the shop with his purchase, stunned that the owner had parted with such a beautiful object for the meagre contents of Joshua’s money box. In fact the shopkeeper seemed almost pleased to be rid of it.
For many weeks the bottle occupied pride of place in the dining room at home, before his mother insisted he remove it to his bedroom.
“It gives me the creeps,” she said, shuddering. “Sometimes I think I hear noises from inside it.”
One evening whilst getting ready for bed, Joshua took the bottle from the shelf in his room and began to tilt it from side to side as if it were weathering a storm.
Suddenly, inside the bottle a tiny hatch opened on the deck of the ship, and an even tinier form, topped with a captain’s hat, popped into view.
“Ahoy”, he shouted, “what d’you think you’re doing there, young man?”
Joshua was stunned.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I didn’t know there was anyone in there.”
“Well there is,” the captain grumbled, “and you’ve just made me spill my rum ration.”
“Sorry,” mumbled Joshua.
The captain looked at him speculatively.
“No harm done, I suppose,” he grunted. “I say, would you mind taking the cork out for a while? It’s awfully stuffy in here.”
Joshua wrestled the cork out of the bottle, not without some difficulty, and the little captain strode up onto the deck, beating his chest and inhaling deeply, his cheeks flushed with pleasure.
“Splendid, my boy,” he said. “You can leave it out for a day or so, if you wouldn’t mind. A change of air would be nice.”
Joshua didn’t mind. In fact, he would have liked to get to know the captain better, but the tiny figure disappeared below decks, and he heard his mother coming up the stairs to say goodnight. He climbed quickly onto a chair and replaced the bottle on the top shelf, leaving it uncorked before clambering into bed, where he soon fell asleep anticipating the conversations he would have in the morning with his tiny new friend.
But when he woke Joshua found himself inside the bottle, lying on the varnished deck, from which position he watched as his gigantic parents, and later several enormous policemen tried to establish what had happened to a nine year old boy who’d gone to sleep as normal the night before, but had disappeared by morning. There was of course no sign of the tiny captain, and the cork had been replaced in the bottle .
Joshua shouted, leapt up and down and hammered on the inside of the bottle, but nobody ever looked up to the high shelf where the bottle resided. Eventually everyone went away, and Joshua sat for weeks, eating stale biscuits he’d found in the hold, trimming the sails and riding out the occasional storm.
Then one hot summer evening, as Joshua patrolled the decks of the ship that had now become his home, he heard the sound of shuffling at the open window of his bedroom.
Two wrinkled fingers appeared over the edge of the windowsill, followed by a peaked captain’s hat perched on top of a heavily bewhiskered face. With a lot of huffing and puffing first one booted leg and then another clambered over the windowsill.
“My, how he’s grown,” thought Joshua. His bottle went dark and began to sway as the gigantic captain lifted it down from the shelf and laid it on the bed. The cork was removed and fresh clean air drifted into the bottle.
The captain looked embarrassed. “Sorry about this lad,” he said. “I’ve been an old fool, I know.”
Joshua regarded him cautiously. He really wanted to launch himself at the captain, screaming, kicking and biting, but there was the little matter of the difference in size to consider.
“Would you mind awfully,” said the captain plaintively, “if we changed places again? You see I thought I wasn’t ready to leave this world, but now I see it’s moved on a piece, and really, what with all these lager louts, cheating politicians, overpaid footballers, and dear lord… those screeching guitars….well it’s just not my cup of tea at all.”
So Joshua and the captain changed places, with nothing further being said.
The odd thing was that Joshua’s mother didn’t seem the slightest bit surprised to find him in his bed next morning, and nobody seemed to have missed him at all.
Life continued just as before.
Except for the bottle containing the beautifully crafted schooner. After making sure it was securely corked, Joshua Riley buried it at the bottom of an old wooden tea chest in the attic.
The challenge for this week’s speakeasy at yeah write was for a story to begin with the sentence ‘the bottle was nearly empty.’ And there had to be some reference to the picture below. I’ve never written a children’s story before, so I’ve dedicated this to my step grandson. Have a nice day, Joshua. 🙂