There Will Be a Feast Tonight


 
 
 
 
 
 
There Will Be A Feast Tonight

 

Saturday, February the 9th, 1833

 
There will be a feast tonight.  The Chaplain says that I am to be damned to the eternal Pit for it, but after what I have seen, I doubt the Devil himself has anything worse with which to threaten me.

 
After the typhoon took our mainmast, it spit us out off the islands of Feegee.  We managed to navigate to the mouth of a small bay, but I dared not take her into the harbor for lack of room to maneuver.  We had a clear view of the beach, the cocoa palms that fringed it, and the forest beyond.  The water was robin’s egg blue, the sand purest white, and the vegetation the lush green of the Tropics – an Eden, by the look of it.
 

The patrol seemed routine at the outset: send ashore a landing party to cut a replacement mast.  It was a task we’d accomplished many times in many lands – but this land was Feegee, and we had heard tales.  I ordered that the landing party go well-armed onto shore and keep a keen eye out.

 
Lieutenant Henderson commanded the party, and I observed from the ship as his two boats entered the tiny bay and made the beach.  He left sentries at the boats as the rest of his party – sixteen men in all – scouted inland for timber suited to the task.  The cocoa palms on the beach would not do; only the harder, straighter trees further inland could serve.
 

 I ordered a constant lookout on the shore, and I myself made observations of the shore at quarter-hour intervals.  I was making my eleventh such inspection when I heard distant musket fire and the lookout raised an alarm.
 

In my glass, I saw three men run from the forest line onto the beach – three only – and even from my distance I could see that they were in a bad way.  The sentries made ready to fire on the unseen enemy, but the fleeing men made plain with gestures that the sentries should put a boat - only one - into the water.
 

The remnant of the landing party had no sooner pushed the boat off and piled into it than a horde of natives emerged from the forest.  A volley of spears flew toward the boat, and only Providence made them fall short of their target.  The sentries fired their muskets at the advancing warriors, but four muskets were overmatched by four hundred savages.
 

More than a few natives attempted to swim after the boat, but she managed to outdistance them.  I ordered the small gun brought to bear on the beach, and three rounds of grapeshot drove the attackers back into the trees.
 

Within a half-hour, the survivors were back aboard.  They told a tale of horror: the Lieutenant organized the scouting party with great care and located a suitable tree.  He placed his lookouts to best advantage; despite his precautions, the party found itself surrounded by several hundred hostile natives.  Their few muskets had had no more effect than the beach sentries’, and the Lieutenant ordered a retreat to the beach; however, the natives were as thick in that direction as any other, and there was nothing left but to fight for it.  Our shipmates fell to spears and war-clubs, and, dead or alive, were dragged away.

 
I keenly felt the loss of a good officer and twelve good seamen; just as keenly, I felt the continuing lack of a mast, without which we had no chance of crossing open ocean to any other likely place to obtain one.  I therefore resolved to go ashore in force, to rescue any survivors and recover the remains of the slain, and to harvest the tree the Lieutenant had located.
 

The ship’s complement of fifty officers and men, save three to winch us off and back on and to man the small gun, were ready in the space of a single hour.  We rowed to shore in our last five boats, with all our muskets and the ship’s two swivel guns.

 
I spared no sentries for the beach.  We marched inland, following the well-worn trails that indicated a path to the local settlement.
 

As I had anticipated, the native army amassed to block our advance.  Our four dozen muskets and two guns swiftly drove them to retreat.  We chased them two miles and reached their village.

 
I had dismissed the tales of the bloodthirsty natives of Feegee as mere sea stories.  I was wrong.

 
We found the bodies of our shipmates next to open pits in which fires had already died down to embers.  We found them bundled up in large leaves.  On other islands, we had seen such bundles before: pigs prepared for pit ovens.  Our comrades were to be placed on the hot embers in the pits, buried, and baked for consumption by the villagers.

 
Yet that barbarism did not compare to what we found next.  Lieutenant Henderson had survived the annihilation of the landing party – but only partially survived what followed.

 
The Lieutenant lay naked on the ground in a clearing, next to an open fire.  His legs and his right arm had been severed, and there was no mystery why: one of his legs was on a spit over the fire, and other limbs were laid out on large leaves along with other foods.  Our arrival interrupted the grisly feast in mid-mouthful, for we found strange wooden forks, the prongs in a circle rather than in line, with strips of flesh wound on them like flax on a spindle.


The Lieutenant confirmed that his captors had eaten his flesh in his very presence – and even tried to force him to partake of it.  Had we arrived half an hour later, he said, not only would his left arm be roasting, but his tongue would have been pulled out, cooked and eaten before his eyes.

 
The pitiable sight of Lieutenant Henderson shook even the most battle-hardened of us.  I admonished my crew not to succumb to dread, but to fight so as not to become a savage’s repast.

 
We made our way into the forest, the Lieutenant bearing up under his pain and wounds to guide us to the tree he had chosen for our mast.  We made short work of felling it and trimming its limbs, and we rigged a harness to pull it back to the beach.

 
We were still half a mile from the tree line when the natives attacked again, perhaps thinking that with twelve men pulling the mast, two carrying the Lieutenant and six more pulling the bodies of our fallen shipmates, we were no longer a match for their numbers.  But I had instructed the rigger to construct the hauling harness such that the men would be able to drop their ropes and take up their muskets instantly.  In seconds, all of the men had brought their weapons to bear on the enemy.
 

Lieutenant Wilkes, commanding a squad of six men, cut off the retreat of a group of native warriors.  He shouted, “Captain, come quick!”  I reached his side and he said, “They’re shielding that tall one, sir!  D’you think he’s the chief?”

 

The rest of the warriors were in rout.  Lieutenant Wilkes and his men subdued the tall man and his guards and took them prisoner.
 

As we tied the captives to the harness, Lieutenant Henderson called to me: “Sir, that’s their Chief!  He fed me meat from my own leg!”

 
We marched back to the beach, the prisoners pulling the mast.  Soon we were in the boats, on the water and headed back to the ship.
 

The carpenter is busy fashioning the log into a proper mast.  We sail on the morning tide.

 
But tonight, we will bury our shipmates at sea – Lieutenant Henderson among them, his wounds having overcome his courage.  And then we will celebrate our victory over their murderers.
 

We will celebrate with a feast.  Ten warriors will dine with us, and the tall, proud Chief will be the guest of honor.  After the feast, we will let the ten warriors swim back to their native shore to tell of our customs.
 

For at the feast, I will take the limbs off that proud Chief and roast them on deck.  I will force-feed the meat to his bodyguards.  And then I will personally yank the pink tongue out of his cannibal mouth, fry it up, and shove it down his gullet.  I will watch him choke on it, and as he does, I will pitch him over the side and watch him sink into the black water.

 
Whether Hell takes him in then or not, I’ll be satisfied: his punishment in this world will fit his crime, and his people will learn that we can be just as terrible in victory as they.  Perhaps that will give them pause the next time one of our ships, out of necessity, puts a landing party on their shore.

 
Stuart Creque

 
Stuart is the screenwriter of the feature THE LAST EARTH GIRL WENT TO SPACE TO FIND GOD (2018) from Cellardoor Cinema Productions.  Stuart also wrote the short films AUTONOMY (2007) and HE KNOWS (2014) and wrote and directed the short film MEMENTO MORI (2017).  His non-fiction articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and National Review. You can watch HE KNOWS here: https://vimeo.com/109098992

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