The lonely seaside village, nestled in the rough outcropping of rocks along the protected bay, swayed in the stillness of the dawn. The waves came with the tides and crashed the misty waters across the breaks in the old paving stones. Generations of waters had shined and polished the stones as smooth as glass. The waters dancing across the morning sunrise, they sparked their mysteries to those who would approach. The mysteries that only those who know the sea, those that have lived the sea, truly know.
The old-time sailors, those that knew, would kiss their hands, and press them to the stones as they silently trudged to their vessels. It was a silent prayer, a homage, for their safe return, so that they may once again kiss the stones as they walked home. Rerio did not understand why so many of them would do this, but he watched them every morning in silence. No one would speak of the silent tradition, but every morning and every evening the ritual was repeated as the men came and went from the stony docks.
Rerio thought this morning looked different than other mornings. The air was deathly still, yet still the waves crashed upon the rocky outcroppings. An eerie feeling of gloom hung in the mists, almost a levitating spirit, creeping among the villagers as they went about their morning business. Jonas, the leather shop keeper, while opening for the day looked him in the eyes. “Bad salt in the air today, my lad. Best not to be walking upon the seas this day. This be a day that widows be made. Mark me words, stay clear of the seas. Do ye not feel it?”
The sun tipped its rays upon the rocking waters, and Rerio did feel it. He felt it prickling upon his spine, the curse of the ocean. The call of the debt that was due, long outlived its final payments. But what was he to do? A lowly ship’s boy did not get the option to not report to the ship. Not if he wanted to keep his position, which is what kept him fed.
His parents had died two years previously when their horse jolted in a particularly damning winter storm. The cart had jolted over both of them, and loaded with winter stockpiles for their small store, it was sufficiently weighted to crush them. It didn’t take the creditors long to swoop in like famished vultures and take the store and what little inheritance Rerio might have hoped to claim.
Orphaned and impoverished at the age of twelve, he had sought one of the few available means of survival afforded him. He joined a fishing crew as the lowest paid, lowest member, of the crew. He barely made enough to survive. It had now been two years since that fateful day, and at fourteen he was approaching manhood and may soon actually find a better position on another sailing vessel. Perhaps in as little as two more years he might earn a more livable wage. It was a lofty goal, but he had clung to it with a viscosity that shocked what were the other village children.
Although Rerio hadn’t been a child now for two years, but he saw the child in those that were in his age group throughout the village. Those children that were still being tutored by their parents’ teachers; the children that still had never put in an honest day’s labor. His peers or so it was said. They were not his peers. They might be of his age, but his life had taken a decided turn, and he was more a man than many of them would be a decade hence.
Rerio knew all this of course. Many of the village children also saw it in his eyes, and they knew as well. He did not want to be like them, they were soft. Childish. Weak. But that never stopped the envy that rose in his bowels every time he saw a father’s instruction or a mother’s loving hug. The rare occasion a parent would buy a sweet for their child at the local general store, and both parent and child were locked in a euphoria of the simplistic joy of life. Those moments Rerio felt, he felt them in the depth of his soul. He could not describe that which he felt, likely he didn’t know himself. But it was the sensation of questing for a thirst that would never be quenched. Searching for a lost item that could never be found but searching all the more for it.
Rerio startled as the hand cuffed him on the back of the head. “Get on the boat, boy! You’ll move or we’ll leave you!” The captain did not tolerate being late or being absent of mind. Men died on the waters when they were absent of mind. Focus was critical. Rerio scrambled on the boat. The captain cuffed him again. “You’ll kiss those stones this morning, or we’ll be throwing you into the sea! Do you not see the omens upon the land! Will you kill us all with your brashness? Out of the boat and pay your respect to the land and sea. Have you learned nothing these two years?”
“Might want to leave him today captain,” offered the first mate. “He’s always been of questionable luck. Today might be a sign that we let him go for good. You’ve been gracious enough these last two years, surely some other crew can take him up now. He isn’t entirely worthless now, just mostly.”
Rerio had quickly, but respectfully, kissed the stones. He then bolted to the furthest point on the vessel. If they removed him from their employ, there was a good chance he wouldn’t be eating this week. A fate that might result in his demise. He immediately started his duties, pointedly not looking at anyone.
The captain and first mate appeared to be seriously considering it. The conversation went on for some time and then the first mate threw up his hands. His next words were loud enough the entire crew heard it clearly. “You always were too soft! Should have cut him lose a year ago, and that was still a year too long!”
“I am for sure too soft; I’m still keeping you onboard as well, isn’t I? Perhaps I grow a bit harder and get me a new first mate and a new ship’s boy, aye?”
The first mate tossed his arms in the air once more and walked off to start shouting orders at the rest of the crew to cast off the vessel. The shouts were particularly vulgar, and most the men got berated for their efforts. To a man, they all knew who was responsible for the ire that was befalling upon them. Every one of the crew cast eyes that were pitched aflame at Rerio, the smoldering of their anger clearly apparent upon their faces. This was clearly his fault, and he would pay. The ocean always brought justice.
The fishing vessel slowly shifted its way out of the sheltered bay and proceeded out into the deeper waters. The first mate’s barrage of insults didn’t last as the oppressive feelings of the day weighted on the entire crew. The sails had been raised and they caught the wind, and the crew was pulled out to the open waters of the sea.
“That do be the damnedest thing I ever do see,” muttered Ulda.
Rerio didn’t dare ask what it was that he referred to, still fearing the anger of the crew from the tongue lashings they had endured because of him. So, he kept his head down and busied himself with his cleaning, a task that never seemed to be finished on the boat.
Ulda kept muttering to himself though, “They did be right. We should have never departed today. Cursed this day is, cursed. Look boy, how can you not see it. All the crew do be seeing it.”
Rerio dared to glance up at the rest of the crew. All of them stared at the sails, many of their eyes and mouths in shocked awe. He kept searching the faces of the crew, many of their eyes showed something else, shocked terror. Rerio’s eyes followed what all of them were looking at, and he finally understood. The sails were at full wind, and the vessel was making top speed.
But there was no wind.
The minutes had passed, and they were now into the deep waters of the open ocean, and still they traveled further on under full sail. The captain and first mate finally shook themselves to decisions and started barking orders about turning the sails and the rudder to bring the ship around. The fear and hesitation in the crew marked the palpable worry of them all. Would the vessel respond? Would it turn?
Several hearty sighs and exclamations left the mouths of the crew when the ship slowly pitched to starboard.
“For the love of the gods, half sails! Half sails! Slow this beast or she’ll drive us to our deaths yet!” The captain was as frantic as the first mate was.
The crew scrambled trying to pull up the sails, successfully hosting them up to finally be at half sail. But it became apparent that it was unnecessary, as the no wind now appeared to be in fact true. The sails hung limp, entirely lifeless. Not so much as a ripple touched the fabric.
The blood slowly drained from the first mate’s face as he raised a shaking hand and pointed it back toward where land should be. A wall of blackness was slowly approaching them. There was no land in sight, there was nothing in sight except the wall ahead and the open ocean behind.
The quartermaster was deep in a prayer, gesturing the ancient symbols, “The stars have forsaken their children! Will they not protect us in our time of need? What is it? What is this? I’ve never seen clouds look like that. It looks like a granite mountain, end to end upon the horizon!”
The first officer quivered a bit and looked at the captain, “Cap, what dare we be about? Shall we splinter upon it as we would upon rocks and shallows? Do we dare hit it at speed? Should we turn back to the open ocean?”
The captain was the captain for a reason. It was times like these where a man had to have the fortitude of decision. A confidence to make a decision, even if a poor one, that would either save them all or doom them all. The responsibility of the moment was not lost on him, and the responsibility for the lives of his men was never far from his mind at the best of times.
“We hold this position. We wait. If these… clouds… pass into us, we row back to our homes. Let’s make for quarter sail. Clearly none of us be trusting the winds this day, but if the seas do smile upon us, perhaps, we don’t row the whole way back.”
The silence that spread over them was so pervasive that one man reached out to try to touch it. Two men standing adjacently who had been securing the sails to quarter sail locked eyes. They looked at each other and then in turn at the other man’s heart. A look of wonder came over their faces when they realized that they were hearing the beating of the other man’s chest. Such was the silence, a gripping, flexing, thing.
The darkness came into them like a wave. The blackness did not crush them like a boulder, as so many of them feared it would. But it crushed into their minds as if it was physical rocks falling from the high places. The silence and blackness in the mid-morning dawn crippled their wills and the terror rose as the wind mysteriously again to whip at the sails. They neither felt the wind, or heard it, or could sense the salt in the breeze as all experienced seamen know so well. Stillness. Yet, in the crippling silence they all still heard the sails burst alive, catching every scrape of what would normally have been gale force winds.
The vessel surged forward, being driven by the unseen and unfelt gale. The captain and first mate shout out orders, trying to get the ship stable and steady. Even on the darkest of nights they would have been more prepared to navigate. But there was no sense of direction, only darkness, and winds unnaturally strong. They were powering directly towards their home, or so they assumed from their initial setup, but even that was now questionable.
The first mate was trying to strike tinder to light anything so they could even make out shapes upon the deck. “We best have two men ready on each anchor!” screamed the captain. “Jessup! McNeal! Be ready on the sails. We will have to raise them on a moments notice!” In the quietness that was the darkness, his voice boomed across the landscape.
One of the junior men, petrified with fear, whispered under his breathe. But still, it carried throughout the entire vessel. He had only wondered, “Should we not raise them now?”
And truly, he had been right, for bodies went flying. Hurdling through the air, those at the front of the ship did not even have time to know what had happened before their bodies slammed into the rock wall that the ship at mashed into at full speed. Their corpses were lifeless before they even hit the water.
The helmsman was split in two right over the wheel he was operating. The captain just seemed to vanish, the darkness appearing to open and accept him as a forfeiture. The ship quivered, almost as if letting out it’s finally breathes, as it clasped itself into the rocks that had crushed it asunder. Eventually its weight shifted, losing its temporary hold on the rocks. The ship at once been the pride of the village, now it listlessly started to drift beneath the waters. There were no trumpets or fanfare, just the cold and dark, the crushing silence of creaking deck boards as they shifted beneath a waveless sea.
Three days later the villagers found a boy of about fourteen on the beach. He lay saturated in salt and blood. His clothes destroyed and mostly missing. Deep lacerations covered almost every inch of his being, and small sea creatures were picking at his flesh. His arms, one of which was surely broken, were wrapped around two broken planks. As one of the young women of the village approached the broken body of the youth, she let out a gasp. “By the spirit of the seas! The grace of the waters is upon us! Hark, men, and see. His chest, it does waver.”