Women were bad luck on a voyage at sea. So it seemed to be true to Sophia Wainwright, daughter of Captain Bartholomew Wainwright of Ennis. She had never taken to her father’s ship or the sea itself really. Its movements made her stomach tighten in pain and there was nowhere to go. Endless days would pass with nothing to do but walk from one end of the ship to another. No matter how many quilts she sewed or how many little socks and toys she put together for the babies back home the hours would pass on slowly. She wished now to go anywhere even if it meant into the damn ocean. Tucked into the corner of her father’s study she squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could with hope to get some rest tonight.
The sea was roaring all right and the ship with it but it was the howling of the men that was keeping her awake. How could they still be drinking and hollering? Surely the spirits must have run out by now. Her father was out there too having his fill. He would not allow her to be part of any festivities for fear that her presence alone would ignite dark thoughts in the lads. She might have been the only woman on board in a long journey but none of these men had any interest in her. She was but a wisp of a girl anyway hardly taking up any space at all.
Her red hair was wispy, thin and straight; always put away in a tight bun on the top of her head to not call up any attention. She never looked her age either. Often she was confused for some girl of nine or ten years of age and treated like it. Hips like a boy and a bosom of a child, her mother would say, shaking her head at Sophia as if it was in her hands to develop into a more lovely, desirable woman and not in God’s will. Of course this was mostly due to her being an unmarried woman. Her parents wanted free of her hence this entire voyage. She was to go with her father to sell at the Caribbean Isles and hopefully there find a suitable husband.
At first, she had been excited at the prospect. Surely a young man in the isles would be adventurous and interesting? Her trip on her father’s ship, The Beal Inse, she had come to know the nature of sailors too well for her romantic dreams to continue unaffected. They would have their way with any woman on port and pay for it too with money they were supposed to be sending back to their wives and children. Sophia could only wonder how much sickness and disgust they brought back with them to Ennis. She did not want a life of waiting for a disloyal man to come home.
Men were good for one thing and that was stability. That was why these disheartened women waited for them at ports anyway, was it not? They would take all their abuse and villainy simply to have food on the table and a home to put that table in. Sophia was not allowed to sail, or make any sort of money on her own thus she had to tie herself to someone that was. Her plan was simple really. Once she was at port she would make friends with those buying the goods her father sold and meet one of their sons. Yes, the plan still involved relying on a man but this one could not get away to sea whenever he wanted. No, he would be a good and stationary man. Most importantly, he’d take her far and far away from the damned sea.
Tired as she was and lost in her dreamy thoughts she noticed the men were growing louder. They were five days to port. She had endured their blatant tomfoolery long enough. Rising from her bed, she donned her night coat and lighted an oil lamp. Stomping over to where the festivities were she opened the door, wrinkling her nose at the smell of them, “God help me it is late into the morning and I have gotten no sleep!”
The men turned to look at her, some surprised at the sound of her voice resonating through the cabin, others smirking at her show of bravery. Her father was among the shocked men, “Sophia, go back to bed,” he said firmly, wiping the spilled drink off his chin. His clothes were ragged with stains.
She was surprised he was not slurring, “How can I with all of this noise? It is by God’s will you have not woken the sea itself.”
As if responding to her words the boat rocked harder, the storm outside seeming to reach its highest point. The rumble of the thunder and the sea shook the wooden boards in place, “Sophia, you are barely dressed. Go back to the cabin.”
She looked down upon herself noticing the collar of her night coat was one button short of closed. Here these men were covered in their own filth and drink, telling her she was being improper. Infuriated, she stomped back to the cabin, the men’s laughter after she moved away making her angrier and angrier with each step.
Falling back into bed, Sophia tightened the blankets around her hoping to keep out the cold and the noise. Would she ever escape this place? She supposed in five days she would but what would it matter if she was attached to a sailor or a farmer. She would still be attached and would have no life of her own making. If only God would give her a sign, “May you see God’s light on the path ahead, oh lord,” she began praying, clasping her rosary in her hands and close to her chest, “when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear, even in your hour of sorrow, The Gentle singing of the lark-”
A strange sound stopped the prayer on her lips. Though it was raining hard outside the boat it sounded like….like water was coming in. It was not just coming in, it seemed to Sophia that it was pouring. She jumped out of bed and felt her feet touch the wet ground. Peering down, she saw the room was indeed filling with water but how could that be? She was in her father’s cabin, as captain he had the best and highest part of the ship to himself. The boat would have been half sunk down by now if her father’s cabin was filling with water.
She peered out the porthole nearest to her to see the horizon before her was still level. The ship was upright and still moving forward in the storm. Swallowing hard, she donned a pair of boots only to notice then that the hollering had ended. How long had they been quiet? Fixing her night coat collar this time before venturing out she clung to the rosary around her neck, “when times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone, may you always remember- Ah!” she screamed as she saw something scuttle across the hallway. It seemed large enough to be a dog yet there were no pets on the ship.
Sophia moved quickly to the mess hall, her eyes on the ground before her hoping she would not see anything else scuttle by. The boat was filling with water here too. How was that possible?
“Father?” she called out, the oil lamp in her hands the only source of light. The lamps on the sides of the hallway had all been snuffed out and it was terribly dark. Boots splashed in the rapidly rising water as she shivered, “May you always remember when the shadows fall-you do not walk alone.”
She had thought finishing the blessing would make her feel better. The words had always meant to her that God was with her no matter what sorrow she suffered. Facing the door of the mess hall which swung open back and forth on its hinges Sophia had never felt more alone in her life.
“Father, are you there?” she called out once more, her voice small against the silence. The storm raged on outside, tossing the ship up and down in billowing waves, but there was nothing else but the wind and the sea and the squishing sound of her boots as they touched the rising water. It was at her ankles now. Tears were streaking down her face, “Papa?” How long had it been since she had referred to her father that way? She was too old for it now at twenty. Steeling her nerves as best she could, she pushed the mess hall door open and walked in.
Her voice and breath caught in her throat. There the men still were, hands holding on to their drinks, the headless bloody stumps of their necks gushing. Her mind could not process the horror of it, not even in her wildest imaginations could such a sight form, and she stood there frozen in place begging God to wake her from this nightmare.
Her desperate lungs pulled in a shaking breath as her eyes shifted to where her father had been sitting. She did not want to see him yet there was only more terror at not seeing his body there. There should have been hope but as the scuttling sound returned behind her she turned only to see worse. It was but a few seconds of a body struggling, dragged by the head onto the deck of the ship, but she thought in that moment that it must have been her father.
The dark blood mixed into the colorless water all around her. Sophia felt she had no choice but to chase after what she had just seen. She willed her shaking legs to run but her breath came in short hurried gasps. Her voice finally broke through its choking hold, "PAPA!" she screamed. Possessed by a need to get away from this sinking dread, she found herself running up to the deck after the dragging body.
The rain whipped her face in the storming wind. For a moment she could see nothing but the outline of the deck she knew. Desperately she wiped at her eyes as she tried to find her father. There was no one there, however, to face the churning storm. Only scratches upon the wood that led over the railing. She thought for a moment to go look, to see if her father had gone overboard, but the blood and what looked to her like nails sticking out of the deeply grooved scratch marks made her choose a different fate.
There was a lifeboat attached to the great merchant vessel. She had been taught by her father how to ease it down with the pulley system of ropes it was held up by. She knew it was risky to get on the smaller vessel without supplies, to sail on her own towards a distant shore when she did not even know what direction to go towards, but Sophia knew what she could not do was remain on The Beal Inse.
Soaked to the bone she was in the freezing rain but she ran towards the lifeboat. She focused on the task before her, in easing one side on the lifeboat down through its ropes and then the other. She was almost there, she knew, just a little more easing-
The lifeboat stopped dead in its tracks rocking hard against the side of the larger vessel. Sophia's hands tightened around the rope she had been handling, burning in the effort, to keep from plunging into the raging ocean. She blinked up to see the ropes had caught in the pulley. She tried to pull them loose but they seemed to only tighten in their knot.
Sophia whimpered, the sound soft in her tightening throat, and she knew she had nothing to use to cut the ropes. It had been a longshot to drift to shore in the lifeboat, she had known this, yet now the thought of going into the ocean without it poured a hole into her chest filling her with panic. Something sticky and heavier than rain fell upon her head and she watched with widened eyes as the bloodwater that had been filling the boat was now pouring out of it. Not just the crevices but the very deck itself was oozing.
There was no time left to think. With a deep and hurried breath in, she plunged herself down into the fathomless waters below. Even in the storm, the Caribbean waters were not cold. There was a moment of peace being enveloped in the warmth. Yet her lungs burned to breathe. Submerged, there was a rushing sound to her ears as the ocean churned around her.
She felt swallowed up in a maelstrom as she kicked her legs and swung her arms around. She had to get out, she had to get up. She could see very little but a deep blue yet there was something white almost translucent in the distance. She focused on this, trying to use it as an anchor, but as she did she noticed how it inched closer and closer.
It moved like a squid, propelled in the water in short little bursts, and as it came closer she noted the tentacles coming out of its bright shell. She thought of a hermit crab at first seeing it but it must have been the size of her head. It seemed to notice her attention and for a moment it stopped its scuttling.
In that moment she realized that this had been the creature dragging bodies upon the ship, this had been the creature ripping heads off their bodies. She let out a muffled scream beneath the water as the creature moved as quick as lightning to wrap its tentacles around her head. Sharp, beak-like mouths emerged from the tentacles and bit into her flesh with mounting pressure.
There was a terrible pain and then there was nothing.
About the author
I love to write fiction stories of the supernatural, romance, high fantasy, or science fiction variety. A bit of a baby, a bit of a rolling stone, just doing my best to avoid getting arrested. @ziggyer5 on the instagram.