The Ocean's Star [Prologue, Chapter 1-3] PREVIEW
Prologue: Myths of the Ocean
92 Days till Autumn
Day 5 At Sea
What is a home? Is it the one we’re born in or the one we make for ourselves?
In the water, the upswept bow and the flared sides break the waves, and the ocean spray crests the boat’s body, misting us with her salty droplets. No clouds in the sky and no land in sight, just a canvas of blue in front of us and behind.
On days like these, even the ocean winds and her waters are hot. The sun is not a friend, just a scorching foe for all sailors alike. But our worst nightmare is the vacant cry of the seagulls when land is our destination. It is then the unseen horizon that can break even the strongest of men.
And here I stand, looking out upon her vastness. Five days out and the excitement of a new life has ebbed. But we had all agreed to take sail and keep drifting further, not knowing if the ocean was never-ending or if the map I had was authentic. But that is how three boats amassing 250 passengers and 74 crew members have come to be a reality.
And it would have never been so if it weren’t for him. He is the one bringing everyone together. The first to give me this idea. That man…although currently, I don’t know where he is. Probably off napping somewhere or drinking.
My boat is the lesser beauty of the three, but as my father used to say, any boat that sailed well is a good boat. I just hope she holds in the storms.
I sigh silently, tapping my finger against the side of the boat, when I hear someone come crashing from the bunks below deck and running to the edge, while covering his mouth. One of my newest crew members – Eagan. A dark-haired man I have gotten to know well since he arrived on this boat a couple of days ago. He had one friend with him, a little blonde girl, traveling to this unknown destination that we seemed to be heading to.
We all share one dream, to find a new land that is kind and plentiful. A new world free of the monsters lurking back home. Whether they wear uniforms or not.
We had no idea if this entire journey would just be a folly when we started out. But, even now, we have hope and a burning desire to start a new life. One where we could find love and start families of our own and grow old.
Everyone in our world dies young, including most of the parents of the people on this ship. It is the same for Eagen, who, at this moment, is hurling his breakfast off the side of the vessel. I have heard from the blonde girl his parents died most horribly, though she didn't share all the details. It is a shame, but it is our new normal now.
From the rumors circulating in the ship, Eagen’s parents took an experimental drug to cure their ailments, given to them by the royal Prince Kenneth, who is nothing but a scheming bastard. Never trust any of the blues. Each one is worse than the other.
Poverty, sickness, monsters… human and not. They all kill you before you reach 40. Maybe sooner.
I play with a strand of my blonde hair that is being tossed by the ocean winds. It was barely touching my shoulders when we started on this journey. Now it has grown. I turn around, leaning my back against the ledge, and watch Eagan as he continues to barf over the side. I smirk, my lips twisting. “Still haven’t found your sea legs, even after five days, have you? Even that little girl with you and Wilder seem to handle it well. Though…I have seen her in the bunks vomiting into a bucket in the first two days of our travel.”
My eyes drift over to the girl as I peruse her from head to toe.
She doesn’t look too good either. And to think, she had just started to recover from her earlier illness. Out of everyone on the ship, she and Eagan seem to have gotten the worst of it.
He glares at me after his bout of heaving, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His green orbs, dark and eerie, seem to look deep into me. At times, I wonder what horrors he had been subjected to in the past.
He sneers, “Oh, shut up… I must have eaten something bad. On this ship.”
“Oh sure, you ate something bad. Then why aren’t we all getting sick? Huh? We ate the same thing,” chimes a good-looking blond man from where he sat on a barrel, sweat dripping from his forehead as he shines the boots his mother gave him before our departure.
My eyes turn toward his voice. The blond man, whom I have come to know as Camber, is too pretty to be out at sea. Not originally from our coastal town but further inland, he just wanted a journey to put his stamp on.
He seeks publicity to take it back home. I’m sure he will find some pretty little wife after he is done with the voyage. Eagan’s glare shifts to this blond, and he grits his teeth. “Huh? Did you say something, shit face? I’m not the one worrying about my damn looks when we all could be in danger. Fucking pretty boy.”
He shouldn’t be here is what Eagan is trying to say…and what many others think.
Camber narrows his eyes and tosses the wet cloth he was using to shine his boots at Eagan’s chest. The impact makes a wet flop sound as it hits his chest and then onto the deck. "Shut the fuck up, you smelly bastard! I'm just as worried as you are about being surrounded by nothing but water, but at least, I groom myself. And try not to think about it."
I look at them. “Wait. What are you guys scared of? Not finding land?”
I can’t believe it. We all knew there was a possibility we would find nothing. Either be lost at sea or trapped. We knew the risks, yet these grown men are now squabbling about it.
Shit! I’m not that confident about finding land either, but I am their captain, even though I may be leading them to their deaths, not the bright future we have all desired. Regardless, I need to think of something to say, to ease everyone’s nerves.
A chubby woman with rounded cheeks and curly hair, whose father I took on as the head cook butts in, “Miss, truth be told, they aren’t afraid of not finding land. They are scared silly about what is in the water. We all are. Thanks to that girl.” She points to the blonde girl next to Eagan, who has just arrived to check in on him. “She has been telling us all these stories since the night prior about the things called Sirens. Beings that are half-fish and half-human. They are said to lure men and women with their songs and then go on to devour their flesh.”
I start snorting in an attempt to hold my laughter in, but I can’t. Camber becomes flustered as a result, his cheeks gaining a ruddy tinge on them, while Eagan’s glower is shared between us.
Camber yells in response, “It isn’t true. Only this idiot Eagan believes in them.”
Eagan grumbles back. “I am not scared, but it is nothing to laugh about, regardless. It can be true.”
My laughter dies down to a chuckle. “Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. This story is a new one for me. I have heard of mermaids back at home, but not these Sirens. Come on. Tell me more about these creatures. I am intrigued.”
Eagan replies with a frown, “You probably have never listened well to the story of Gimgar as a child. I don’t know why I should be telling you this if you are only going to mock it. Have this fucking shit-face tell it to you.” He then walked away, dragging the blonde girl with him.
The story of Gimgar… I want to ask him more, but he is already gone below deck. I purse my lips and frown slightly before turning my attention to the blond boy. I whisper. Gimgar… I like the way it sounds out loud. A place where myths are made.
I sigh. “I think he means you, shit-face,” I tease Camber, giving him a smirk. “So, are you willing to share with your captain the story that has all of you spooked?”
“Captain, I will have y’know my name is Camber,” he corrects me formally before slumping his shoulders and crossing one leg over the other. “Anyway, it was her grandfather’s story, who supposedly had watched one of his closest friends walk into the sea, one day, for no apparent reason. When the grandfather went to stop him, a naked woman, sinfully beautiful, arose from the waters and started to touch his friend intimately, singing a haunting melody like no other. He had to stop in his tracks. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she smiled widely at them both, her mouth full of sharp teeth, then proceeded to rip into his friend, tearing his body into pieces.”
I gain the complete picture from his words. And, as much as the storytelling is good, I don’t think it’s true. But I do see the addictive appeal to the whole tale, another story to pass the time with. “Sounds like her grandfather had quite the imagination. Don’t you think so?” I ask, turning to the plump woman.
She gives me a sheepish look. “I don’t think Rose is the sort to lie or her grandfather.”
I scoff, flicking her with my finger, then put a hand on my hip as I walk away. “I haven’t seen any such creatures, and I have been traveling up and down the coast with my father for a long time. The only matter we have to worry about is how things are back home.”
She grows quiet on hearing my words, so also Camber, not saying anything more. I can’t believe these idiots have placed their faith in such myths and tall tales. The blonde girl Rose, or whatever is her name, is probably seeking attention on this long trip with such stories. All our lives, we have been told the ocean is evil and that the waters are just as bad as the lands we live on. We have been warned if we ever left home, we would be damned forever.
I think they are full of shit. I am not blinding myself to the danger the sea offers, and I do know there are worse things than these Sirens. Things like starvation and dehydration. If we don’t find land soon. I fear that it is these things that will take our lives, not the stupid tales or myths. Mermaids and Sirens do not exist. They are only told to make us fearful. I know that for sure.
Chapter One: Forests are Dark, Seas are Darker
91 Days till Autumn
Day 6 At Sea
I sit at my desk with my arms folded across my chest as the oil lantern burns strongly. I strum my fingers across the wood, continuing to stare vacantly at the map before me, given to me by my lovely friend Marcus. Supposedly, there is an unnamed island to the east of Eversly, our home in the west.
I trace my fingers over the markings, with an intense desire for it to be real. If we don’t find land soon, we will all be doomed.
Please be real. You have to be.
Lost in my thoughts and not wanting to feel the depths of my yearning, I grab a bottle before twisting the cork off. It comes off with a pop. I don’t bother with a glass but drink straight from the amber bottle. All I want is for the liquid to fill my belly and for my head to go numb. Bringing peace.
Sometimes, I don’t even have to eat. Alcohol is the best substitute. Maybe, that is how I have stayed thin and lithe all these years. I know this behavior is not healthy. I have more of a relationship with alcohol than I have with anyone else. I just hope I don’t run out.
I stand up and approach the open window, looking at a distance through it. The winds are steady, and the stars twinkle brightly in the skies, clearer than ever. It seems we’re still on track. Good. I should probably do my rounds and head off to bed. That way, I can get an early start in the morning.
A few more chugs from the bottle and I find my way back up to the deck. Everyone is sleeping, except for Charlie, who is sitting cross-legged, staring out at the night. A brown-haired boy is he with curly tresses and a soft belly pushing against the buttons of his shirt.
“Can’t sleep?” I ask softly, checking in on him, as I often do, finding him here like clockwork every time.
He looks at me solemnly with those big brown eyes, then speaks with a slight accent. “No, Captain. Most nights, I can’t. I keep feeling uneasy. Like something bad is about to happen. My mether has always said the forests are dark, but the seas are darker.”
He is obviously not from the coastline like the lot of us but further up north. Only the animal hunters who came to trade pelts or meats spoke with the same drawl he had.
I laugh. “They’re both scary, but they both also provide adventure. Why did you decide to join us?”
“I am not much of a hunter, too awkward and much of a clod, and the north doesn’t raise no losers.” He shakes his head ruefully, his action speaking for itself.
I know the northerners are harsh, so it makes perfect sense why he is here. But I worry about how he will fare in the future. For some reason, deep down, not even admitting fully to myself, I worry about this boy’s safety. “Well, when we get to land, you can be anything. Remember that.” I smile before continuing on my rounds while holding the lantern out. “Try to get some sleep. Don’t let these pitiful seas be the last thing you see.”
“Yes, Captain.” He nods, then gets up, seeming to take my advice for the night. I walk around the deck, seeing only a few men about, those who are standing guard, but even they have to stifle a yawn or two. Bowing in acknowledgment of their waves, I walk on.
Before I can check the bunks and the inventory, I almost trip on a pair of long legs that are in my way, belonging to the man lying there with his hat pulled over his face. Sleeping in such an odd position on the stairs leading down will strain his neck.
I make a face while having to shift my body awkwardly and skip a step. A chill suddenly runs down my spine as I sense a set of eyes upon me, and I freeze on the spot. The body behind me is shifting his hat to take a peek at me.
I have my reasons to feel as I do now. But the more I am at sea with him, the more I can feel his aura growing darker. I can’t explain my reasons, but I get the creeps at night, especially around him.
Just ignore him, Star. I try my best to do that as I walk around quietly. Making sure everyone is comfortable, showing no sign of plague or any other problems that can arise from cramped spaces. I must be well prepared for this long journey with my crew if I wish to keep all of them alive.
But that is easier said than done.
As I walk down the narrow aisles, I see Wilder drooling on himself, not a care in this world, while Camber sleeps with his mouth wide open, snoring quite loudly, which makes me smirk.
They’re good men.
I lose my smile when I flash my lantern on the empty bed next to them. Eagan is missing. I wonder if he has gone to take a piss. I pay it no mind. But then, I see him coming out from a supply closet, shoving something into his pocket and away from my view as soon as he sees me. He narrows his eyes at me, in anger or fear, I don’t know. I am about to say something when Rose too comes out of the closet, looking like she has been up to no good.
I glance at her, then sigh softly as he walks past me and back to his bed.
I see. I knew they were close but not that close.
Just like the peacefulness of the night, all seems to be well here too. We’re off to a decent start. Inventory seems to be good too, with no one stealing or taking more than they should. When I turn back to go up the stairs, I expect to see Marcus, but he is no longer there.
Such a strange man. He never sleeps with the rest. Always in odd places. Who knows where I will find him tomorrow or the day after?
I make my way up the steps and jump when I hear a splash in the water. I turn my lantern toward the sound, though the dull light seems to not illuminate much. I can’t see anything. I stay still and wait for long moments, but nothing shows itself.
I walk back to my room, and after setting the lantern down, I turn it off, the light from the stars through the window my only source. I sit on my bed, taking off my boots and throwing them. Some soreness in my feet from standing too long.
I lie down, letting my eyes close.
Must have been a fish. A big one, though.
Chapter Two: Locket
82 Days till Autumn
Day 15 At Sea
More days have passed, and I feel nothing has changed. Just another day at sea. Relentless and monotonous. Soft waves crash against the sides of the boat in a repeated fashion, lulling us into a false sense of security. The water is midnight black, and trying to peer into its depths is impossible. Just the reflection of the full moon on its rippling surface is the only thing that can be seen.
It's pretty eerie, if not scary…
When I think about it, I realize we, as humans, will never truly know what sorts of things hide just beneath the calm exteriors of the ocean surface. We sail blissfully over her waters, unaware of the dangers that lurk in the depths. And then, even a darker thought looms over me.
What about the things that lie in wait, ready to eat us? Sea creatures, things the size of the boat itself.
I’m instantly reminded of Rose’s tall tale about creatures called Sirens, who sing sweet songs and drown grown men and feast on their flesh. Rose’s grandfather is said to have witnessed everything, and if he wasn’t some crazy old fool or drunk…
They couldn’t really exist, could they?
Shivers run down my spine at the thought of such things being real, despite knowing they are stories meant to scare children or make drunken men ponder for a moment about what calls the ocean home. I mean, my imagination is running wild. I’m pretty drunk myself right now.
But if they existed, they could pose to be a deadly threat since all around us there is water. What will I do if such a situation arises? Accept a watery grave?
It’s stupid to even imagine them, a being with the upper half as a human and lower half, a fish. I wave a hand in front of my face to dispel this foolish notion. Bahh. It sounds silly, if not preposterous.
I’m sure some drunk came up with it, perhaps after eyeing a beautiful woman, then a fish, and somehow letting his mind wander to dirtier and more unruly thoughts. Though I wonder…a man…how will he look as half fish.
I start laughing, gripping my stomach and leaning against the railing. The old man definitely had a vivid imagination…Rose’s grandfather…I give him that. But where did he come up with the idea of these things eating human flesh for dinner and then having supernatural strength, enough to tear a human body to shreds, where it ended up looking like chum?
Can it be true? My laughter dies down, and I turn my head on hearing the crew’s boisterous singing and dancing in the distance. They are partying and hollering drunkenly as usual, loud enough to beckon these Sirens, if they are somewhere close to our boat. But I don’t blame my men. Parties are the only things that keep us occupied and away from thoughts such as mine.
I can pick out a couple of the voices distinctly. Camber and the other one is Eagan. It sounds like they are becoming good friends despite their yelling at each other. I’m sure it is something dumb they are arguing about. As usual.
I mute out their drunken fight. In the beginning days of this voyage, it was amusing and entertaining, but now I’m sick of hearing the same things every day, every second. The same old shit. They never change their lines, whatever be the topic.
I’m also secretly sick of being around men, and the few women on the ship, Rose and the plump girl whose name I’ve yet to catch, have already called it a night.
My vision begins to blur slightly. I shouldn’t have drunk so much with them either. That is pretty stupid of me. I should have a clear mind as their captain, but I can’t honestly say I do, with or without these drinks.
But what’s more embarrassing is I nearly kissed Camber, thinking he has a pretty face. Luckily, no one noticed my cringeworthy moment at all, as the rest were even more drunk than me. Even Camber himself. When I went in to kiss him, he had turned to the edge of the boat to vomit. Ruining the mood.
Even now, I feel my cheeks burn. Camber is another odd crush of mine. I suppose I have always liked weird things. He is the last person I would expect someone like me to like, out of all the men and sailors here. I guess my mind, and my body, thinks he is charming after being on this ship with him for over two weeks now.
It is fortunate that he or any of the others, for that matter, never noticed my drunken misdemeanor, else I will never hear the end of it. Never. I will just be laughed at and mocked.
I’m their captain, for God’s sake, one of the very first female ones on these waters. In fact, I can’t afford to be looked down upon by them for having a crush on one of my crew members in my first two weeks here. There is no love while at sea, and certainly none for a captain.
I sigh and stare at the locket in my hand. My skin has started to get a nice, healthy tan from being out in the sun each and every day. And to think I used to have the palest hand before all this. Well, not anymore.
I rub at the surface of the gold locket with my thumb, feeling the grooves and ridges of the design. Much of it has been worn down with how often I rub it and also due to its usage by the previous owner.
My fingernails are short and ragged, dirty too. Like the paleness of my skin, my cleanliness has all but disappeared. I probably smell more of sweat and booze. Not the romantic combination of smells.
How I yearn for a nice hot bath, but the sailors don’t dare to bathe in the ocean or even go near it to collect water, including me. The water supply on the ship is running low even as I speak. I suppose we can go on with this water for two and a half more months. But at what point do we go back if we could?
Where exactly is the nearest island or land? We’ve heard just rumors of there being places on the east, north, and south of us, but our main destination is this island in particular, which we don’t even know if it exists. I worry more and more every day.
If only it would rain. It’s been nothing but clear skies so far. I know how dangerous a storm is, but if we can fill our reservoir again with more drinking water, then maybe we can go farther. Everyone here is scared the day will soon come when we will drink the last drops of water.
Another sigh leaves me. I can’t believe we all actually agreed to this craziness just so, on the off chance, we can find better land and make it our own. If we did find it, I doubt it will be better. I’m sure there are monsters there too. Why wouldn’t there be? It will be too easy. There would have also been rumors before us of Westerners traveling further out.
Maybe it would have been better if we had just stayed put. We could have been safer in our homeland even though the monsters roamed the night and royalty controlled us in the day and pinched us of every coin we had. Safe or free was the question. That is why we did it. To be free.
Though how much longer will we be? Truly?
Some like Camber and others are beginning to doubt if we will ever see land again, despite us barely making it a month. They are also thinking that we may be sailing forever, and our final days will be spent looking upon the vast blueness surrounding us as we take our last breaths, our mouths painfully dry from dehydration.
While some like Eagan stay in the middle, not knowing what our futures hold for us. Then there are other sailors who are eternally optimistic, like Rose, assuring that there has to be land besides our own and we would happen upon it soon. Any day now, she says.
That is the only time I have sided with the little blonde girl. I am also optimistic and have never spoken my worries out loud. A captain can’t put fear in her passengers and crew. And what’s more, this voyage can’t be all for naught.
As these thoughts ruminate in my mind, I start playing with my locket, running it over and under my fingers. Probably not my best idea when my hands are hanging off the sides of the ship and the drinks have made me fuzzy-brained. I like the feel of the cold metal against my hot skin. I know I shouldn’t, but my mind is enveloped in a fog.
I start to feel the necklace slip through my fingers, and my heart stops. I try to snatch it from mid-air, but the effect of gravity is too fast, and before I know it, I hear a ‘plop’ in the calm waters.
“No!” I scream as my eyes widen in horror. That necklace is a memento of my mother’s. I cannot lose it. It is all I have had of her.
I look into the dark waters and swallow hard. I might still have a chance to grab it, though my plan is risky.
The waves are calm tonight, and my necklace could have already sunk to that depth where I will never be able to reach it. Or perhaps I still have time. I have to give it one try. My eyes glance at the rope attached to the pole hanging off the side of the boat.
I can do this. I have to do this. I don’t allow sanity to reach my brain when I kick off my boots and climb up on the ledge. Without thinking, I dive into the water to retrieve my necklace.
The salt of the ocean immediately stings my eyes, and I can’t see a thing once I am underneath the surface.
Of course, I can't! I am so dumb! It's dark. How will I find it?
Out of the corner of my eyes, I see a glint of silver, and I follow the quick flash of color.
This must be it!
I feel excited as I stretch my arm out, my fingers reaching for it. But my instincts nag at me. Something isn’t right. Why is it not sinking further into the water? Is it caught on something? But what?
We are in the middle of nothing but water all around. My mind is slow to ponder why my locket has stopped its descent to the bottom of the ocean. I blindly try to grab it and pull it toward me, but there is resistance and a tug. As if someone else too has grabbed onto it.
What on earth can…?
My eyes focus hard in that direction, and I swim closer, going far below the surface of the water. It is then, in the darkness, I see two piercing gray eyes looking back at me. Narrowed and dangerous.
What the fuck! What the actual fuck!
I open my mouth to scream, forgetting where I was. Instead of producing a shrill noise, bubbles rush out of my mouth instead. And then comes my need to breathe. I forget all about my necklace when I start to choke on the water. Salt burns the lining of my throat. I flail my arms violently at the same time, reaching up toward the surface and kicking my feet in a blind panic.
In the end, with such violent movements, I manage to startle the creature. It draws back, then leans forward, showing me its razor-sharp teeth, pulling back its lips and hissing. In a flash, it swims away.
I flail to the surface once the being is gone, gasping and coughing. I can’t believe my eyes even now. There was something there. In the waters. I saw it. A living thing…a living human-like thing…in the ocean with a human set of eyes, mouth, and hands. And the sharp teeth.
And now it has my necklace too. Stupid.
I swim toward the boat, which is some distance away, as fast as I can and grab hold of the rope and start climbing quickly, in fear for my life, now remembering the story about Sirens. Midway in my ascent, I turn my head, feeling the burning stare at my back, my wet tresses sticking to my forehead and water dripping into my eyes, obscuring my vision just a little more.
Something is still out there. Looks like a fishtail. It suddenly slaps the water with a loud splash, and I grip the rope a little tighter than before.
It couldn’t be, could it?
I scamper up the rest of the way, my heart pounding crazily. Upon reaching the deck, I flop down against the sturdy railing. My breaths are quick and intense as my mind replays the entire encounter. I look off the side of the boat again, the ocean now seemingly peaceful. When, in reality, I know it is not. Especially not now.
My mind must surely be playing tricks on me! I mean...I mean... I'm not a hundred percent sober here.
Is it possible I have seen something else, and since I am secretly scared of the Sirens, my mind conjured it up?
I continue to stare out into the ocean. The only logical thought is that my mind has made up this 'Siren' creature.
I suddenly feel a drop in my chest as sadness hits me. Even if that creature is a product of my active imagination, I have still lost the necklace. I feel ashamed. And lost without it.
I grip the side of my boat. My drunken state has gotten me into trouble once again. This time I have lost something very important to me, that I will never get it back. A piece of my heart.
An angry wail is suddenly heard over the partying of the sailors on deck, then there is another, followed by two more.
What is that if the creature is just my imagination then?
Chapter Three: A Captain
I rush past everything, including that man Marcus, who is slumped against the wall, not far from my office. His hat, pulled low, shields his face, but I swear I see a tiny grin when he tilts his head on hearing me rush forward and a devilish glint in his dark blue eyes. That is the last I see of him in my hurry. Probably more of my imagination on this hellish drunken night, I am sure.
Still, I can’t seem to get inside fast enough.
I slam shut the door and slump against it, my body slowly sliding down it as adrenaline still courses in my blood. My throat burns, and with my lungs tight, my heart is hammering in my chest.
WHAT THE FUCK!
The lock. I must get to the lock. I stretch my body and reach up, my fingers clumsy. But eventually, I am able to bolt it. I put my hand over my chest and squeeze. It hurts. I can’t get a full breath of air.
I couldn’t have imagined that. No amount of rum will make you see what I saw and hear those screeches. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I need my gun. And some dry clothes. Being wet is weighing me down. I can’t seem to walk straight on my two feet.
I scramble across the floor to the bureau next to my bed. My gun is supposed to be there, and I yank open the drawer, flinging my undergarments onto the floor.
Where is it? Has someone stolen it? Who? One of my crew?
WHO? Who will dare to steal my gun?
I remember now. I used it as a paperweight on my desk the other day. It must be there even now, right? I glance all over the surface, taking in the map fluttering, not yet blown off, in the breeze from the ajar window. The curtains flutter too, creating shadows across the room. I crawl to my desk, patting the top before ripping the gun down into my hand. I check the chamber, double check it, to see if it is full.
I refuse to be that idiot who does not have a loaded gun in the face of the possible threats looming around. Thankfully, all six chambers are filled, and I close it shut.
Another gust of wind blows in, sending my map airborne and slapping it against the opposing wall by the door. I gasp and nearly jump out of my skin like some alley cat.
Fuck. My heart can't take much more of this.
That window needs to be closed now. I scramble to it, continuing to stay low to the floor. I slam it shut and latch it as well before scooting back until my rear hits the wall next to my bed. I need to remove these wet clothes so that I can move easily when danger closes in. With one hand, I remove my top, while holding firm the gun with the other. My eyes feel like they will bulge right out of my head as they dart from the window to the door, making sure my room is secure. I still can't get my breathing under control. My wet top lands on the floor with a heavy slap.
A hundred thoughts rush to my brain all at the same time, bringing with them fear and apprehension.
What if they attack my ship? Crawl onto it like in the stories that Rose spoke of? Those screeches too! There is more than one far-off in the distance.
I unbutton my pants and shove them down, kicking them away from me, leaving me nude. Then I crawl up to my bed, swinging my gun from left to right, window to door, and then back again.
I lie down on my bed and pull the blanket over me as I think back to the thing I encountered in the waters while keeping my ears peeled for more screeches or weird sounds closing in on my ship.
I can only hear the sailors partying and having a good time, clowning around and dancing to the raucous music. How had they not heard those screeches? Were they too intoxicated to hear them?
Fucking morons! They are going to get themselves killed fast if they are lucky. Being eaten alive is not the best way to die. I continue to hear them have a grand time.
They have no way of protecting themselves, though. Should I warn them? They will probably laugh at me if I tell them what I heard or saw. It probably won’t do me much good. They will just say it’s all in my head. Hell, even I won't believe me if I hear this story.
My hand holding the gun is trembling, and I wish I could steady it.
It’s not like I will be a big help if danger decides to visit us tonight. Not with this gun, anyway. I can probably use the six bullets to defend myself. But what about my crew?
I am the captain. If I die, they die too. They’re bigger idiots than me. Most of them have no idea how to read, let alone navigate using a map. Luckily, I learned everything from my father, though I have no idea who taught him. He never shared. I never asked. The rest of the crew will perish if I am gone.
That is a terrible thought, and I do not wish to ponder it again.
I’m being selfish, aren’t I?
I should have warned them or screamed for help when I climbed aboard. Something. Anything. But I didn’t do it. Why not?
My crew will be eaten or something worse if the Sirens decide to attack now. There is not a single sober person left awake above deck. I pull the blanket tighter around me, drawing my knees up to my chest. Instead of alerting everyone, I ran into my cabin like a coward. I am fucking pathetic.
Is this how a captain acts? Running to the bed and hiding under the blankets like some stupid snot-nosed little kid?
I should be out there on the decks, sobering up my crew and sending signals to other ships that are miles ahead of us. Though what happens if I am just really drunk and hallucinating? Maybe I saw some things and mistook them to be Sirens in my head.
My thoughts go round and round until my head feels heavy. Whichever way I look at it, I am sure I did see a creature. Even now when I close my lids, I can see the flash of the creature’s narrowed eyes. Gray and hollow-looking.
I have never once seen eyes like that. Void of life, nevertheless, human. Or perhaps not. The pupils didn’t look right. They reminded me more of an eel if anything. Like those of the dead ones that used to wash ashore every now and then on our land.
There is a sudden creak coming from the boat. Is this the boat settling or something else? I tense, putting my finger on the trigger.
What the hell is it? One of them?
As time passes, there are no more sounds. I am able to relax just a little. It must have really been the boat settling. I clench my chest again, another stabbing pain that makes breathing difficult. I feel cold too. I didn’t feel it at first, but now I do. I can't stop trembling. A delayed reaction or something else?
I shouldn’t have left the window open post-sunset. I am used to the summer heat during the day, but at night, the seawater carries its own chill in the breeze. As a result, my cabin is freezing, and I am also soaking wet, to add to it. The ends of my hair drip down my back and shoulders, cold wet droplets making my teeth chatter.
In times like this, I could use a nice man to keep my bed warm. I would feel a lot safer in a man’s embrace, but I need to be tough. A captain does not need a lover. Not at all. And I definitely don’t need a man to keep me warm, either. A blanket or two can do that. I certainly don’t need anyone to sleep with or to keep me safe or to protect me. I learned my lesson the last time.
A man would be the first one to throw me to the monsters, Sirens, or whatever they are to save his own fucking worthless ass. I lift my hand to reach for my necklace, patting my neck. But I soon realize it is not there. I hate this. I already feel lost without it, especially the weight of it hanging from my neck. I can't believe I have been stupid enough to play around with it and drop it in the sea, where it will be lost forever.
I sigh deeply, reflecting on my actions. I shouldn’t be cowering like this or blaming myself for the loss of my locket. I have so much to do as a captain. But at the moment, my courage has left me. I am too shaken. I make a list of all the things I need to do.
Inventory is one of the many things on the list. I should have been doing that now. But there are other things, more important things I should be doing right now, such as braving the upper deck alone. But fear keeps me hostage, and I move not a muscle. As time passes by, my eyelids feel heavy. My crew too begins to quiet down, perhaps falling asleep one by one in a drunken stupor.
I want to rest too…but that thing, or others like it, might be lurking in the water, waiting for the right opportunity.
My head too doesn’t feel right or like myself. The encounter today and the shock of seeing the creature have drained me completely. I feel so tired. But how can I sleep, knowing those things are lurking in the waters?
As the silence of the night reins in, I close my eyes, thinking of my father and how he would have been a far better captain than I ever will be in my lifetime. A true and brave man. He would have never done this. Never. Crow under the blankets and shiver.
I feel like I am a mess, far worse than any man.
I can barely control any of my men. That too can be blamed on me. I don’t act much like a captain most times. I feel the only thing I know is how to get drunk, set sail, course a chart, and complete inventory. Unfortunately, it is no secret the men have no respect for me, due to the older rumors. I can’t blame them for that.
I know once I take inventory, the rationing of liquor will begin. Which means I won't have any to ease me off to sleep every night. I sigh, my hand getting tired of holding the gun in this position. My fingers start to tingle. What I miss right now are the days when I was just a defiant young girl, thinking I was being a rebel by wearing pants, hanging out with the sailors, messing around on my father’s boat, getting certain favors, and enjoying the attention of a handsome and strapping older man. I touch my lips with the back of the gun as I recall the sailor. Despite my lack of womanly appeal or being feminine, he treated me like a princess. Rather like a queen. He used to tuck flowers behind my ear, make cute flower rings, promise me the world and my own ring as soon as he saved up some money.
The sweet words he called me…beautiful and cute… The way we used to kiss on the beaches… Or how we made love here in this very bed…
Everything was like a dream. Until the day it shattered. When I found out he was already a husband and a father. I had never felt so betrayed as I did that day. The man was all I had left after the loss of my parents. My mother had been long gone from illness, and it seemed not shortly after my father joined her, dying of heartache.
My once true love was a father of two children with a third on the way. His wife had been pregnant at the time. When I found out and confronted him, his eyes changed. He stood his ground and called me a whore, saying I had been the one who had always wanted to get into his pants. He accused me of seducing him, despite his telling me on many occasions that he was married.
Many believed him. I didn’t do anything to defend myself. That was my nature. So, he outcasted me from everyone. I lost all my friends, and eventually, I came to be known as an easy woman and a homewrecker, as his life left him shortly after. And the people made sure that my life was a living hell. Wherever I went, men would call me a ‘whore.’ Even offered me naqks, sometimes flicking them at me for my services as they chuckled and sneered like boys. Even people who knew me from my father’s years of captaincy.
Little did anyone know the sailor had been my first everything. And he was the one who came on to me, kissed me, all the while saying he was a free man.
He knew I was innocent and vulnerable yet decided to deceive me with those words. It’s my fault. I should have decked him, stood up for myself, done something when he accused me of loose morals. But I didn’t. I did nothing. Stood there and took all the abuse. Just like I am doing now.
Being here on this ship with men who knew my father, I know all of them whisper behind my back, calling me the same ugly word. The only reason they have not called me so to my face is out of respect. Not for me. But for my father. Knowing I am his daughter.
I don’t get it.
If I were a man, I would have been praised for getting into another woman’s pants despite being married. But as a woman, I am looked down upon. That is the way it has been and will always be.
Maybe I should have been born a man. I would have probably become a better leader too.
That sailor not only ruined my womanhood and destroyed every ounce of pride as a lady, but also ruined my position as captain. I know this for certain. He will not affect my life here as he did back home.
I will work on being a better captain from now on. I must. Men are vile and evil creatures, all of them, so I don’t need their love.
My eyes drift shut, and deep sleep overcomes me, but my hold on the gun does not ease. Not even once.
During this time, I fail to hear a scream from a certain sailor above. A blood-curdling one as something is dragged violently across the deck.
The screams suddenly stop, and like me, no one else hears them, as all of us are sound asleep the very night of our first attack.
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE OCEAN'S STAR (WATER BRIDES 2)
OCTOBER 16, 2023