Title: Mr Hollum's Christmas
Master and Commander Movie world
Word Count 850
Mr Hollum's Christmas
My contribution for Advent
The water stung his eyes. He could not blink enough to make it stop, he had to keep them open, he must keep going up, up and up. And the strength of the horror was leaving him now, it had been so brief. He had been foolish to hope it would carry him all the way. But no, he had to do it with his aching arms, with his scrabbling feet, with his fingers numb, and his poor quaking soul awake. He had to do it with his eyes open.
He could hear the man Wally, faint and shrill above. His voice did not sound like that of a man, his words were a bleat on the wind, and John Hollum thought of lost sheep, lost sheep, some song of childhood, of church. Idiot thoughts, blown away in the wind.
The sound of the wind was beyond any sound that buffeted ears. It was against his chest, a clawing, a striking, real as a beating.
But it blew his mind clear. . He climbed and climbed. The water was bruising him now, tearing at his poor human skin.
This fear was new, it was solid. It was pure as lightning. Of course he was afraid. He was afraid of death, of pain and cold. He was afraid of the fear he felt. Even an animal would feel this. Even an insect. This was permissible. This fear was righteous. He moved his hands up, and he kicked with his feet like a climbing bear.
“Help me--” The voice above was clearer now.
“I'm coming to get you Wally.” He shrieked it into the ripping wind.
This was not the shameful fear of other boys, other men. This was not that sweat under his arms, when he said the wrong thing, and they looked at him-- united against him, better than he would ever be, shutting him out forever. He washed that sweat away, over and over, furtively. But still, in the scalding moments before sleep, he knew he was unwanted.
The tears that coated his cheeks now were made by the wind.
And now he was next to Wally, arms around the muscled substance of him. Another body against his, how strange to touch another, be wanted, when never. Lost sheep, lost sheep.
He could not say later how they came to the deck. The doctor had blankets, rum. It burned against his lips, and he was laughing as he wept.
“I was afraid-- I was afraid.”
It seemed he had to say it, but they did not understand.
“Course you were son. We all were.” They bundled him away.
They bundled him below, him and the top-man, Wally.
“I was afraid. I was afraid.”
He could not stop saying it. The feeling was so big, and he was clean now, and they did not understand. I was afraid always, he wanted to say. I was afraid of being foolish and being alone, and I was afraid of all of you. But it would not come out.
Dr Maturin gave him a drink. It was bitter, and it made his ears go numb. He laughed a little
The doctor took his hand. “Your fingernails will grown back Mr Hollum.” he said. And that made the pain in his hands come real. But before he could think about it, he was asleep.
It was morning. He was in a hammock, but not his own. There was only one breath snoring nearby. He was-- oh. He remembered now.
He lifted himself a little to see the other breather. Wally. He could not remember the mans other name, if indeed he had ever known it.
But his thoughts slid away from the Wally man. He himself, John Hollum was enough to puzzle over. There was an empty place where the dirty fear had been. The wind and the water had plucked it away. He was empty now, in that place. So strange.
Steps now, and he turned his head to see who came. His neck hurt. It was the Captain.
“No, no, Mr Hollum, lie easy. The doctor says you must rest, both of you.” Captain Aubrey's big hand on him now, touching his face and hair gently. He had not known such things could be. And his throat closed, and his eyes wanted to squeeze down on the tears, but he had to see to believe.
The Captain was still speaking.
“— Could have lost you both,” he said. And John had lost the first part, so he did not know what that was.
“But instead, you are both spared. And that is well, because I will need good men.”
Well, that was kind, John thought. But a top-man was worth more than an aged midshipman.
The Captain was turning away now, but he paused. He tured back with a smile.
“I do not know if you are aware of the date. Let me be the first to say--- Happy Christmas Mr Hollum.”