Tuesday, January 19


A fictional posting written by Tony Gerard:

"Lookie  'ere. Ya think the Doctor'd want it?"

Fritz, who had been dozing in the beached launch, sat up. He was part of the  boat crew on a treasured duty- ferrying the Doctor on this naturalist pursuits. It involved, mostly, waiting for the doctor to return. A full day of lazy napping, yarning, walking the beach looking for curiosities and occasionally rowing the Doctor to a new location.  

The young topman held a shell the size of a small woman's fist. It had a few blunt spikes around its spiraled end, the other end tapered to a long, narrow, blunt point, which the sailor used for a handle. The shell's inhabitant was obviously confused at being out of the water and touching nothing but air. It's glistening black body withered slowly from side to side, up and down. A thin, flat fingernail like structure, separate from the shell, moved along with the body. It all so tapered to a point.

"Da Frenchman wudt tell you you shudt be careful" he said.

"How's 'at?" said the Topman still intent on the mollusks movement.

"He haf a tale of a fellow dat was kildt by da sting of a snail"

"Whot?" Fritz had his full attention now.

"Various Cone Shells"
"He say he haf seen a fellow kildt by da sting of a snail" Fritz repeated. At that same time the narrow end of the flat structure hit the sailor between his finger and thumb. He yelped and threw the shell a good twelve feet down the beach. He looked frantically at the spot.

Brooks, who had also been dozing in the launch, chuckled "You ain't stung, he just poked you with that part he uses for a door."

Baptiste, the surgeon's mate, appeared on the ridge above the little beach. He held a gallon specimen jar crooked in each arm. He made his way to the launch where Fritz and Brooks carefully took the jars from him. Brooks held up a jar. All manner of sea creatures wiggled, crawled, swam and jostled against one another. "This spotted crab is making hash outta these wormy things" he said. Baptiste shrugged non committaly. 

"Becket!" Baptiste called to a young sailor setting up the beach with the rest of the boat crew " De Doctor wishes to hav more jars".

"Ain't my job" Becket called back.

"Come now- you are young an healthy, I am a feeble old man, I hav already turned too many stones today". Becket gave him a "drop dead" look, but then broke into a wide grin and loped over to take two empty specimen jars from Fritz.

"Dere. I knowed you was a good fellow, you will see de Doctor from de ridge"

"You owe me" Becket grinned as he loped off up the ridge.

"We should get some curbs" Baptiste said to no none in particular " I beg some onions an vinegar from Swendaw before we leave"

"Planned ahead, that's good" said Brooks, getting back up from napping position "curbs would go right nice".

"Whot's a curb?" asked the top man.

"Here I show him to you" Baptiste walking toward a clump of rock a short distance away. Fritz and Brooks walked off in the opposite direction.

" A curb is dis fellow" he pointed to a peculiar little shellfish clinging to a rock. It was composed of eight overlapping plates, with a rim of softer, almost fuzzy looking tissue around the outer edge. He took out a blunt pointed folding knife, sliding the end under the creature with a twist he popped it off the rock. It curved itself into an arch, but other than that could do little to protect itself.  Holding it upside down he indicated an oval, muscular looking suction cup. "Dis part is his meat".

They spent the next several minutes collecting the creatures until they had filled a knotted up neck cloth.  Returning to the launch Baptiste dug out a wooden bowl, two small onions and a small bottle. He minced the onions in the bowl and covered then liberally with vinegar. He then took one of the shellfish and sliced the meaty portion from underneath, throwing the rest into the gentle surf. The meat he minced up with the onions just as Fritz and Brooks returned, both holding their hats filled with curbs.

Baptiste scooped out a small piece of onion and meat on the knife's blunt end and held it out to the topman. "Try him". 

The topman eyed the piece suspiciously. The meat, so recently part of a living, intact creature, still quivered rhythmically. His speculation lasted too long and Brooks pinched the morsel off the knife and popped it in his mouth, "Curb's good." he admonished the youngster.

It was enough to overcome the younger sailor's suspicions and he dug a piece out on the bowl with his fingers.  Chewing speculatively he eventually smiled and nodded " 'Bout like squid".

The four then set to butchering the entire catch.

"Fritz says you seen a man killed by a snail whot stung him'" said the topman heartily chewing a curb he hadn't even bothered to dip in the sauce. He was now, apparently, a total convert.

"Yes, long ago in de Spanish Philippines. He was a Spaniard, but I still don't wish to see a fellow die like that."

"Ow so?"

"Knobbed Welk"
"We have been wrecked. I was a prisoner to de Spaniards. We was getting mussels at de low tide and dere was shells we did not know, but we tink to eat dem also. I have gathered up some of dem myself, but den dis Spaniard, he cries out an fall to his knees. He have a hole at de bottom of his thumb, an de shell, he have a little pike dat he is just drawing back in. De fellow say it hurt bad, an de mate- he is a cruel fellow- laugh at him to be hurt by a snail. But de fellow still say he is hurt bad, soon he cannot talk too good, den he cannot talk at all. By de morning he is dead."

The topman left off shucking curbs and walked down the beach to retrieve his shell from earlier. The mollusk, left high and dry up the beach, had retreated into it's shell, Brooks "door" part sealing him off from the outside world. "Ow 'bout this one?"

"Dat one is called a welk. He is harmless."

"Think the Doctor'ed want him?"

"Perhaps, we seed none like him today". The topman dropped the welk into the floor of the launch. The Doctor was a favorite of most of the crew. A chance to curry his favor was rarely neglected. 

"Later I learn dat dere are many of dees shells with de poisoned little pike. Most dey are shaped as a cone. But I  have only ever seed dem in de Pacific I think".

"Zat's gud" said Fritz, "day can stay zere."

Finished with the butchering and dicing they sat  the bowl between them. The four sat in the launch, leisurely eating with their fingers in the warm winter sunshine.  Life was good.

*Author's note
"Curb" is a Bahamian name for Chitons, a mollusk which lives attached to rocks in the intertidal zone. They are eaten throughout the West Indies.

Cone snails, cone shells or cones are common names for a large group predatory sea snails. All are capable of delivering a painful sting. Some of the larger species, which feed on fish, have reportedly been responsible for human fatalities.

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