Ship of Souls. TipsyLit prompt-Paranormal

I like being a landlord. I’ve got this rather nice little pub in Norfolk, overlooking the Yare. It’s called, not very originally, ‘The Ship.’ It’s an old building, lots of real beams, hanging baskets in the summer, a log fire in the winter months. I pride myself on my beers, too. There’s a little restaurant in the conservatory. Nothing fancy, but substantial simple food. Popular with tourists and holidaymakers. We get a lot of boats pull into the small landing stage and discharge hungry sailors. Lots of passing trade, but a lot of regulars too. I like to think it’s a cheerful place. People do seem to like it.

I have a bit of a sideline. I’m an amateur magician. Nothing too fancy. Card tricks, coin tricks, pulling eggs from the ears of customers. Nothing too hard, but it does amuse people, particularly when it’s cold and the fog rolls in off the river.

There is one rather special trick I have. On the bar, there’s a ship in a bottle. It’s in one of those gallon size whisky bottles, which stands in an elaborate metal cradle on a simple mahogany plinth. The ship itself is low and long, black, a three-master. It’s very very detailed; all the rigging is there, the sails neatly furled. The figurehead is a red dragon, and at the sternpost there’s a skull and crossbones.

To work the trick I need someone who’s never seen the ship in a bottle before. They must be new people for the trick to work. Here’s what I have them do. They can examine the bottle, the cradle, the plinth as much as the like, to see there are no strings or wires or hidden devices. Then they have to put their right hand on the stopper of the bottle, which is of the same intricate design as the cradle. The flat of their left hand goes on the cradle at the base of the bottle. Then I make a few incantations, move my hands gently in the air.

A most extraordinary thing happens. Suddenly the rigging starts to dance and move as if tiny crewmembers are climbing it. Slowly, ever so slowly, the sails unfurl, and fill as if the ship is running with the wind. The skull and crossbones flutters.

No prizes for guessing that the punter looks astonished. But always too, there’s something else in their expression. They’re not sure what, and nobody else sees it, but I’ve trained myself to observe this fleeting flash of vague disquiet, gone as suddenly as it arrives. It makes me smile every time.

Later, when the pub is shut, and everyone has gone, I put my hands on the bottle; right hand on the stopper, left hand on the base. The sails sag, then begin to furl again. Then the rigging shakes as the tiny phantom crew descend. The skull and crossbones hangs limp again. And the magic has worked.

The cradle and the stopper were made for me by a shaman. The delicate markings and symbols form a ‘soul stealer.’ They take a small part of a person’s soul, their life force, and drag it, reluctantly I imagine, into the bottle. The hapless customer has lost a bit of life. Not much, maybe a week or two. Anyone can afford a week can’t they? And then I take that week of soul, of life, from the bottle into me. I didn’t want to end up doing that, but I wasn’t ready to die back in 1890, and I’m not ready yet. I reckon there’s another hundred years of fun to be had, at least.

That’s why I like to see new faces. They really are the life and soul of the pub. They really are my life and soul.

16 thoughts on “Ship of Souls. TipsyLit prompt-Paranormal”

  1. Brilliant!! love that last line……spookily we went for the ‘soul’ theme! really like how I was lost in the ‘magic’ story and then ambushed by the paranormal at the end, well done – but now I face some stiff competition in this weeks poll!

    • Glad you liked this. It was the result of a photo prompt from a friend, It’s had over 200 reads over on Wattpad

      • I have no idea what this Wattpad is that everyone talks about…..! I mainly write poetry and academic papers and a blog….and shopping lists 🙂 Tipsy Lit is giving me a bit of a nudge to try story writing again, but I honestly have no idea what ‘sort’ of writing to do now I’ve finished my degree. Nice to have much more free time to actually do some reading though! Stupid question, but do I just type Wattpad in Google to find it?

  2. Wow, this is great. I didn’t see that ending coming and it had me from the beginning. I love how you drew the reader in, as if this was just an “average” guy and then we find out really who he is and what he’s been doing. Excellent and I so enjoyed reading this.

    • Thank you Brigitte. That’s very high praise indeed. there’s some really good stuff in the competition this week, isn’t there? Not that it’s not always good, but the standard is high.

  3. WendyStrain said:

    This guy seems so entirely normal – nothing about him to make me feel like he’s out of his time or element. Just another barkeep in just another town who is really great at making everyone feel right at home. I wondered what was driving the magic, but never suspected a soul-stealer. That ending line is brilliant.

    • Thanks ever so much Wendy. This was the result of a photo prompt from a very dear friend, ‘Here’s a picture you’ve got 12 hours to post a story on Wattpad.’ It was a picture of a schooner. How I got from that to a soul stealer is anyone’s guess, because I surely do not know. I don’t think I was on drugs at the time.

  4. The things people will do to to live forever. Thank you for this, I really enjoyed it!

  5. Very well done, Duncan! I enjoyed the twist at the end and the way the story lived up to it’s title.

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