The chaplain wore dark glasses.
He jumped off the ship, his hands full of chains and the chains attached to caskets and in each casket a living human being—100 in all—men, women, and children. On every casket shone a crooked cross.
He jumped with a grin on his face and the sun shining and the scent of pine tar and sea salt tanging the air. He jumped with a Bible in his hand, shouting “Forsake the Evangelical! Follow me to heaven! God wills it! God wills it!” before plunging beneath the waves.
As he fell, the chains played out and slithered across the deck—clanking and banging—and then BOOM! the first casket tipped over the edge and KA-PLOOSHED beneath the surface, trailing a cloud of bubbles.
Caskets cascaded over the deck and down into the waves in a long daisy chain—like a gigantic rosary being told—and the people within them shouting for fear and for joy: “God wills it! God wills it!” Men and women, boys and girls, friends and families sealed together in their tombs.
The green ocean opened its maw to receive them and the sun shone and the gulls screamed as the H.M.S. Evangelical continued to ply its course eastward, flags flying and worship bands playing.
Against the rail a few swarthy sailors leaned with their muscled arms folded in that pose of peculiar disdain reserved for the self-deceived by the self-assured.
“God ‘elp ‘em,” said one, cupping his hands against the wind to light a cigarette.
“We’ve seen this sort o’ thing before,” said his mate, spitting over the rail. “Should we throw ‘em a line?”
“Naw,” said the first, his eyes suddenly drawn from the sea toward a pretty girl in a red dress running along the deck. “Let ‘em sink. This always happens when we pass by the Bay of Legalis. It exercises a kind o’ siren call to those that are tuned to hear it. Makes ‘em think that heaven itself is just beneath the surface—Can you believe it?—and the face o’ sweet Jesus beaming up at ‘em. Something to do with the bending o’ the light and the screwy glasses they wear.”
He took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned against the rail. “They don’t realize that Cap’n Jesus is steerin’ this boat,” he continued, “and they won’t listen to a word of warning—bite every hand that tries to feed ‘em, they will. Don’t trouble yourself about ‘em, Swabbie; they’s got to see it for themselves. Half o’ them caskets will blow open when the pressure gets too great and them folks lose their glasses. We’ll pick ‘em up in a group. A few others will struggle free the deeper it gets, and the rest are goners—no ‘ope for ‘em at all. They’ll go down to the grave whistling hymns and talkin’ to ‘Cap’n Jesus.’ Wait an’ see.”
He hocked hugely and spit a plug of yellow phlegm over the rail. “And that’s for the chaplain who’s leading ‘em all to hell in a hand basket. Crazy controllin’ schmuck he is.”
Turning away from the rail he whistled loudly at the approaching girl, “Come ‘ere sweetie! Give us a kiss, won’t you Gracie?”
The girl danced past him, grabbed a red life preserver from the spotless white deck, and threw it over the side.
Out on the ocean there was a sudden plume of foam—a wet gasp—and the broken body of a boy bobbed to the surface.
“Gracie, help me!” he sobbed. “Throw me a line! Sweet Jesus, save me—I can’t save myself!”
This is fantastic. Love how you give the grungy sailors the insight…very powerful imagery.