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On to NanoWriMo. I’m through Part I of Maelstrom (although not caught up on posting), and moving on to Part II. Story is coming along well, but shaping up to be larger than expected. The first 50,000 words will definitely be finished by Nov 14th, maybe even the 13th, but the rest may take some time! In the end, that’s a good thing as it means the story is robust and coming along well 🙂
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
8. Leaving Port for a Storm
If you read the trip planning websites concerning the island town of Tortuga, you will read about uncomfortable conditions, poverty and an aging society that most would never think of visiting. Despite the island’s colorful history, the nation just doesn’t have enough to restore and maintain it. I’d like to say that the secret society beneath it helps out with the bills, but the fact of the matter is, they’re descended from pirates, and don’t care about much other than themselves.
James and I spent the last hours before our flight getting blackout drunk with caricatures of Egyptian gods and seeing just how far we could stretch the limits of the CIA’s credit card. Let’s just say for a few hours, the casino floor was on our tab. Later we would receive a strongly worded phone call, but I maintain that it was worth it.
Stumbling drunk, we staggered onto the tarmac where I had apparently booked us a private jet. The memory is still hazy, but I do recall talking to the pilot and repeating the phrase “Spare no expense.” Before leaving, I had also managed to raid a bookstore for “informational research materials” which consisted of a tour-guide’s book about the island nation of Haiti, several books about conspiracies in the Bermuda triangle, and a coloring book filled with various sea monsters. We were off to a great start.
The plane we stumbled on to was filled with trays of food, a fully stocked bar, and a few carafes of the second finest coffee I have ever tasted. Despite the fact that we were both racing against time with a pair of the worst hangovers the world had ever witnessed, James and I were fairly upbeat about the situation. That being said, the last thing I remember of that day is sitting down in a plush seat, marveling at the food, and then passing out.
When I came to, we were landing at a small airport just east of Cap-Haitien. The state of the plane was an absolute wreck. Someone, I was unsure whether it was James or I had puked into a dish of soup, and apparently finished the coloring book I had purchased, pasting various multicolored monsters around the inside of the plane’s cabin like an art gallery. I’ve never been thrown off an aircraft so fast.
Before tossing what few items we had out onto the cracked tarmac, the pilot did have the courtesy of telling me the boat I booked was going to be arriving in thirty minutes, and they didn’t like to wait long. With that, he closed the plane door, and immediately prepared for takeoff.
James was having trouble standing, and instead propped himself up to a sitting position. “Where are we?” His memories of the previous night had clearly faded, and the pain on his face was evident.
My own hangover had started in full force, but living in a constant limbo between binges, I had grown somewhat accustomed to it. “If I’m correct, this is the Cap-Haiten airport, and we’re not that far from the port.”
“We’re in Haiti?” asked James, miserably. “That explains the heat.”
In the distance, thunderclouds rolled menacingly over dark green hills. The air was thick, humid, and oppressive. It reminded me all too much of my brief and terrible trip to the Amazon. “Alright, gather up your things, and let’s go.”
James looked at the scattered pile of books and half-eaten snacks around him. “Do we really need any of this?”
Examining the contents of our life on the ground, I was almost embarrassed. “ON second thought, no. Let’s go.” I did stop to pick up one of the conspiracy books and the receipt for our boat that I had stapled to a surprisingly artistic coloration of a kraken. You never know where you’re going to find the information you need. We left everything else and began jogging toward the airport.
Every movement induced both pain, and nausea, but I didn’t want to think about burning another day of our time with nothing to show for it. The airport was small, and housed a few bucket seats and a local coffee shop. Deciding that it was essential, I ordered two black coffees for James and myself and inquired about a taxi to the port.
Whether the man tending the stand understood anything that I said was unclear, but we did get our two coffees and were soon sitting in the back of a station wagon trundling along a cracked concrete road toward the ocean. The coffee was delicious, spreading warmth and vitality into a body that felt like it should have been dead long ago. It did little to alleviate my headache, but surprisingly stopped the nausea.
“This stuff really is a miracle,” I said marveling at the Styrofoam cup and the steaming black liquid within it.
James, still looking quite green and at odds with the world in general took tiny sips of his coffee and gave a weak thumbs up.
The ride to the port only took twenty minutes, mostly because the driver didn’t seem to care much for speed limits. I used what little cash I had to pay him, and hoped that Tortuga was still in the business of accepting credit cards. Most black markets were willing to take any sort of currency they were offered, but the thought was an uncomfortable one.
Finding the boat we had booked was surprisingly easy. As it turned out, most of the other boats had moored for the day due to the proposed strength of an oncoming storm. As we boarded the tiny vessel, the wind buffeted us, and the dark clouds on the horizon had grown even more menacing. The captain spoke perfectly passable English with a bit of a French accent.
“My name is Stanley,” he said Jovially, extending a hand to each of us as we boarded. His good nature was almost too much for me to handle, but I appreciated his promptness and did my best to smile. “Welcome aboard the SS Good luck. Some would consider it presumptuous to give a vessel such a name, but it hasn’t let me down so far.”
“Seems like a good sign,” mumbled James, speaking for the first time since they had left the tarmac.
“It is a good ship!” exclaimed Stanley. “I understand that you are wanting to go to the south side of Ile de La Tortue. There’s not much there, can I ask why?” He was already untying the ropes and preparing to go, but seemed genuinely curious.
“In search of a few myths and legends,” I answered, in a joking tone, hoping it would be enough to stop further questions.
“Ah, myths and legends. Well, you’ll find plenty of them here.” He smiled and gestured for them to follow him into a small cabin at the front of the boat, housing the helm and a few benches. “I’m sorry to be in such a rush, but we need to get moving if we’re going to beat that.” He gestured to the black storm clouds.
A fork of lightning split across the sky, followed too closely by booming thunder.
“You sure it’s safe to be traveling in this weather?” asked James nervously.
“Of course not!” said Stanley. “But you’re booking said you were in a hurry, and I’m the only captain who would dare take you. So, we will go quick, and hope that lady luck is on our side eh?” Stanley laughed the laugh of a crazy person and put the boat in gear, pulling out of the harbor at a faster speed than was advised.
As soon as they left the protection of the harbor, the folly of their decision became clear. Waves loomed high and foamed white. In the distance, the island of Tortue was only around sixty miles away, but with the storm growing on the horizon, even that distance was too far. In the best of weather and even with the fastest boat, which we didn’t have, it would have taken an hour. I suddenly wished I had grabbed a few bottles from the plane before leaving.
“We will go away from the coastline,” shouted Stanley over the roar of the boat’s engine as he put it to full speed.
“Doesn’t that seem like a really bad idea?” asked James.
The ins and outs of watercraft were not my forte, but I tended to agree with James that staying closer to shore seemed like a better idea. As we accelerated, the boat began to catch air with each wave crest, slapping down hard as it went over the troughs.
“We stay away from the coastline, so we don’t get smashed into the rocks. All around it are piles of rock, that if we run into,” Stanley made a motion with his hand of a boat smashing into something and exploding, “Boom! We’re dead.” As he said it, he smiled and laughed once more. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this many times.”
Whether that was true, we’d never know. I had been blacked out when I booked him and never had a chance to ask him. For the most part I was still nursing a hangover and holding on for dear life. There was also the idea of being so close to the triangle that bothered me. While on a map the borders may look concrete, the triangle is more of an idea. What it really should say is: The closer you get to the center of this area, the more fucked up shit you’re going to see.
Rain began to pound hard on the glass windshield of the boat, falling in heavy sheets. The coastline quickly evaporated from view, replaced by the grey mist of the storm. Lightning began to strike more often, sending flashes of bright sparks across the darkening sky. Soon it was the only thing illuminating the waves before them as the clouds blotted out what had been a sunny sky.
The world was plunged into an eerie twilight with no audible noise beyond the constant wine of the motor trying to push them forward, the loud crashing of the boat breaking through waves, and the cacophony of the storm. Stanley gripped the wheel tightly and continued to stare out across the vicious sea.
Instruments on the dash blinked what might have been warning lights, or simply diagnostics, I hadn’t the faintest idea. What I did know was that each toss of the boat threatened to break my back with its force, and sitting was no longer an option. Grabbing what little handholds there were, I stood and looked out one of the side windows. Another flash of lightning revealed waves that were quickly beginning to crest above the height of our ship.
I held on tightly, said a prayer to a god I didn’t believe in and stared grimly out.
Somewhere in the insanity of it all, James began to wretch.
“Hey!” yelled Stanley, struggling to be heard. “Do that out the back.”
James looked up at him, eyes red, and a pale greenish look about his skin.
“You don’t have to go all the way back, just out the door,” compromised Stanley, pointing a finger toward the back of the cabin and looking disgustedly at the slick floor. “You’re going to pay to have that cleaned.”
James might have weakly tried to give him the finger, but was brought down flat on his stomach by the force of another wave. Struggling to all fours, he crawled to the back door and tried to inch it open. The door swung wildly bringing a blast of gale force wind from outside with it. Rain pelted the inside of the cabin.
Stanley grabbed a plastic rain coat from a cupboard next to the helm and put it on. He looked down at his instruments, checking their position, and an expression of dismay crossed his face.
I had an idea of what had gone wrong, but wasn’t willing to face the reality of it. Steeling myself for the worst, I looked over his shoulder briefly to see the shipboard compass spinning in circles wildly, unable to find a bearing. “Oh shit.”
“Don’t worry, everything is fine.” Stanley busied himself with the other instruments as if somehow trying to right them. He slapped at the dashboard and banged on gauges, but soon none of them were providing anything useful. The electronic screen that showed their position relative to the coastline fizzled and then went dark.
“Stanley, where are we?” I asked, once more knowing the answer.
If James was worried, he was too sick to care. He held onto both sides of the doorframe, getting soaked by the torrential rain and regretting the choices of the past twenty-four hours.
Stanley said a prayer to himself that I was unable to recognize.
“Stanley, where the hell are we?” I repeated, firm, and aggravated.
He looked at me, the happiness gone from his confident eyes, replaced by abject terror. Looking back at the instruments, he swallowed hard and made the symbol of a triangle across his chest…