The Bosun and the Lad

from Forty Fables by Adam Acidophilus

A young lad with a taste for adventure ran away from home, and after many days travelling arrived one night on the coast.

“I’d like to see the sea,” he remarked to a fellow he met on the quayside — little realising that he standing right next to it.

“I’ll show you the sea,” promised the fellow.

The fellow was a wily bosun, who tricked the lad into boarding a ship, which sailed with the tide within the hour. By dawn the next day the harbour town was many miles behind them; and the young lad stared enraptured at the ocean.

“Quite a sight eh? Young fellow?” the bosun remarked. “You ever seen the ocean ’afore?”

“No I haven’t,” remarked the lad. “But I can see trouble up ahead! See over there? In the distance? The sea very suddenly stops. I believe we soon shall sail off the edge of the world!”

The bosun had a good laugh at this, and shared the joke with the rest of the crew.

“’Tis not the edge of the world!” they chuckled. “’Tis only the horizon! Why, the world is round and ’as no end and indeed it is this very curvature that creates the optical illusion that leads ye to believe we could sail off it.”

And the young lad nodded, scarcely comprehending — and the first mate showed him the sextant, and enlightened him as best he could to the science of navigation.

Now a few days later the young lad was sitting high up in the crow’s nest — advised to keep watch for obstacles and other shipping — when he became aware of a tilting of the mast and a whitening of the waves and a darkening of the sky, and rang the bell as if his life depended on it.

“Save us! Save us!” bellowed the lad. “We are sailing off the edge of the world! See how the water runs fast — as it runs over a weir or a waterfall!”

And the bosun beckoned the young lad down, and the crew took turns to whip him, and they all had a bloody good laugh at the youngster’s expense.

“’Tis not the edge of the world!” the bosun told him. “’Tis only a rise in the weather! The sea is often rough — have you never seen a storm? Why, ’tis these very variations in air pressure that create the necessary wind patterns to sustain a maritime economy! The water may be frothy, but it’s not beer, it cannot spill, the world is round!”

And he took him below and showed him the charts and explained a little of the trades and the doldrums — and discarded the whip, preferring to whack him instead with an ebony ruler.

Now a few nights later the lad was sitting in the map room; and as he studied the charts he made the most chilling discovery.

He rushed to the bosun’s quarters and woke him. “Quick,” he hissed. “We must turn the ship around! Through careful investigation I have established that we are close to the edge of the map — and thus inevitably within hours of sailing off the edge of the world!”

“Now hush thee there, my foolish lad,” the bosun whispered, thumping his young shipmate repeatedly — for he was sick of the ribbings he had taken for recruiting such an idiot. “As I told ye before, the world is round and never ends. The map, it is true, is flat and square — for that is how the paper is made. But in life, beyond the edge of the map the world goes on.”

And with that the bosun knocked the lad cold with a final, fatherly, punch — and rolled over and slept for many hours.

That is until he was woken by a sense of falling, and rushed on deck to discover that the ship was plunging through space: for they had sailed off the edge of the world!

And though the fall was infinite and never ended, the vacuum asphyxiated the crew — except for the lad, who had wisely made off some hours earlier in a lifeboat.

(Author’s note: This story is not set on Earth but on another planet — a flat oblong planet, nothing like this one.)

Moral: First, check your planet.

© Adam Acidophilus 2011