THE TOP BEST MAN (1832) – Halloween Month continues! Published anonymously in 1832 this long-ish short story centers around a man found on a long-lost ship called the Top Best. This vessel was a ship out of Maine that is found trapped in ice in far northern waters.
The ship that has found it, the Dartmouth Lady, has likewise become trapped in ice and its crew has spotted another ice-bound craft off in the distance when it finally stops snowing. An away team travels to the other craft hoping to find survivors or at least equipment which can help cut a way out of the ice for both ships.
Despite the size of the vessel only one man is found on board and he seems to be frozen to death. The away team manage to get a fire started from some of the Top Best‘s own wood and resolve to warm up just a bit before heading back to the Dartmouth Lady with the equipment taken from the derelict.
The fire has warmed the surroundings sufficiently for the sole survivor’s cold body to be taken along as well, including the ship’s log he apparently died clutching to his chest. The crew of the Dartmouth Lady succeed in cutting their way through the ice and return to Maine. By the time they reach their home port it turns out the body has thawed and the Top Best man is miraculously still alive.
After one of his forearms is amputated and replaced with a hook it turns out he and the Top Best became stranded in ice 41 years earlier. The man identifies himself only as “Jones” to his saviors and is caught destroying the log book that thawed with him. Jones refuses to discuss in detail what happened to the rest of the crew but hints at a strange creature of the north preying upon them.
As the story continues a few of the Dartmouth Lady crew begin disappearing one by one. SPOILERS AHEAD
The ship’s captain (our hero) begins to put things together and realizes that the Top Best man turned cannibal and ate all of his fellow crew members. Since thawing out nobody has seen him touch a bite of food and – just because it’s a horror story – it turns out that “Jones” can only eat human flesh now.
He has been preying upon the vanishing crew members from the Dartmouth Lady and disposing of their bones like he did with the men of his own crew. A night-time man-hunt in the busy seaport town ends with the Top Best man cornered by an armed mob but unable to feel the pain of the bullets hitting him.
Eventually our hero succeeds in burning Jones alive, bringing the tale to an end. The Top Best Man is entertaining but ends just as it really gets going. A modern version could really enhance the ghoulish aspects. +++
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