Category: Short Story
Genre: Adventure short story
Approximately 47 printed pages (or about 39 minutes to read).
A story about an ancient queen, an underwater king and bare-breasted maidens; a tale of mind-control and mystics and creatures of the sea; it’s about a shipwreck and a treasure and murder most foul.
A free preview of this story is available on this web site.
Available for $1.99. Kindle
When Dr. Chambers had finished his story, Pleasant Nash raised his mug of ale. “Amazing story. To have escaped without losing a limb is a testament to both your bravery and skill.”
Pleasant looked around the large oak table at the other storytellers. It was his turn. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his right thigh. “Many have asked about my limp but I have always brushed such inquiries aside. The tale’s too personal. I’ve been afraid telling it may somehow lesson its significance. But here tonight, in the company of you fine gentlemen and ladies, I feel the urge to share.
“My story is about an ancient queen, an underwater king and bare-breasted maidens; a tale of mind-control and mystics and creatures of the sea; it’s about a shipwreck and a treasure and murder most foul; but most of all it’s a cautionary tale about a bull-headed adventurer who rushes into challenges without thought of risk or consequence.”
My adventure begins in 1904 with a card game in Russia.
I had just wrapped up an excursion down on the Dark Continent, which is another tale. I hopped a clipper to Morocco and then secured passage on a schooner to Copenhagen. At least that’s where I thought our destination was. The captain had a different idea. The vessel sailed right past Denmark, through the Baltic Sea, and docked at St. Petersburg. I found myself in a strange land, unable to speak the language, barely able to rub two pennies together.
Such is life. Wasn’t the first time I had found myself in such a predicament and I dare say it would be the last. I set out to find a way to make a quick buck, or in this case, ruble.
My sense of smell is so keen I am able to hound out the scent of gambling a mile away. Following my nose, I soon found myself in a dingy, smoke filled room with men playing cards.
I studied the men. They seemed decent gents, for Russians.
“Does anyone speak English?” I asked.
A large, barrel-chested man with the bushiest mustache I had ever seen spoke. “Yankee, da?”
“Yes, I am from America. Although it has been years since I’ve stepped foot on her fair shores.” I held out my hand. “Name’s Pleasant Nash.”
The man took my hand, crushing it. “Grisha.” He pointed around the table at the men hunched over their cards. “Is Alexsi, Fedya, and Petrov.”
I nodded at the men.
For a moment, nobody spoke, then they eyed one another and broke out laughing—a loud, bellowing, slap-each-other-on-the-back type of laughter. I didn’t understand the joke. Perhaps vodka caused the merriment.
Grisha stood and grabbed my shoulders. “You sit.” I let myself be manhandled to the seat.
“What are we playing?”
“Is Prefarans,” Grisha said.
An English friend had explained the game to me several years earlier, although he had called it Preference. Since the game had similarities to bridge, I knew I’d pick it up in no time.
I reached deep into my trouser pocket and pulled out my money. Not much, but I acted confident, as if this were my starting stake, not all the money I owned.
Grisha grabbed my paltry few coins, hefted them as if his hand were an assayer’s scale, then put a few rubles from the table into his other hand. He moved both hands in a seesaw pattern, measuring each hand’s weight against the other, and added a couple more coins. Satisfied, he handed me the rubles. My money disappeared into his pocket.
I was sure he shortchanged me. Didn’t matter. I’d win it back.
The first few hands almost busted me, but I picked the game up, asking Grisha for clarification when needed. After an hour, I had most of the rubles in my pile. My winnings would provide food and lodging for the next week. The men around the table had lost all humor and glared at me over their cards. The time to make my exit had arrived. Grisha and Alexsi still had money on the table, but a smart gambler knows when to take the money and run.
I turned to Grisha, ready to make an excuse to leave. Next to him stood the strangest looking man I had ever laid eyes on. I hadn’t noticed the man’s arrival. He wasn’t old, early to mid-thirties. He wore a gray monk’s robe and stroked his long, scraggly, black beard while studying me. His hollow, vacant eyes bored right into my head, as if ferreting secrets from my brain.
Around the table, not a single card scraped nor any coin clinked.
Remembering my manners, I stood and extended my hand. “Pleasant Nash.”
Grisha shook his head, motioning me to be quiet. “Father Grigory Rasputin wishes to play.”
I had never heard of Rasputin. Later he’d be infamously known as the Mad Monk of Moscow.