It’s the weekend, and I’m furiously writing trying to hit my 50,000 word goal by Monday, so I’ll keep it short. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far and want to help me with publishing costs of my first book, check out the link below and share it around. Everyone who donates gets something cool (it may or may not be a picture of my cat). Today’s post is also a double chapter as I’m a little behind on posting 🙂
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,
3. The Last Good Bar in Hell
When we entered, the pirate who had first greeted us on the beach was standing atop a wooden bar, holding a massive cask with three black X’s burned onto it. “Welcome one, welcome all,” he said in a deep gravelly tone. “Today, we have not one, but three new arrivals.”
James and I stood closer to the back of the bar, watching the proceedings.
“Does he think we’re dead?” whispered James.
“Just go along for now.”
The bar itself was odd, filled with nick knacks from all eras. Propellers from several classes of aircraft hung on the walls. The dim bar light came from a small generator that had somehow been made to chug away in the corner. The bulbs flickered every now and then, but given the circumstances, it was quite the feat.
“Now as Stanley has informed me, these men were attacked by a beast of the deep, just off the shore of our very own Tortuga.”
This garnered a general hiss from the crowd.
“I know that we’re not here under the best of circumstances, but we all need to make due with what we’ve got.” A flicker of sadness crossed the pirate’s rotting face, but he played it off as a twitch and continued onward. “Now, we toast to celebrate our new friends, for tomorrow we return to the sea to resupply!”
A mix of cheers and groans filled the small stone building. From behind the bar, a small man who appeared to be nothing more than bones barely connected by sinew rose, arms full of glasses. The pirate cheered joyously and began to pour thick, black liquid into them, passing them around.
“Don’t drink that,” whispered a voice at my side. It was the female pilot once more, looking as though she had realized something terribly important.
“Why?” It had been quite a while since I tasted pirate grog, and I was rather fond of it. Good, strong stuff, and gets you drunker than anything modern day “brewers” sell.
“Unless you want to end up like us, trust me and pour it out.”
I nodded, not entirely understanding, but not wanting to go against the word of an amiable dead woman. The prospect of not getting a drink was depressing, but the thought of not living was worse so.
“It’s eerie,” said James as the glasses came around.
“What? The dead people?”
“No… Well, yes. You see, when I was in the Land of the Dead and dead myself, it all felt normal.” He looked pensively over the sea of undead faces before us. “This just feels unnatural.”
“Hey,” jabbed the female pilot. “I take offense to that.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just, I’ve been on the other side, and this doesn’t seem any better. It seems worse.”
“Not exactly great bedside manner, James.”
“It’s alright,” said the pilot. “What do you mean you’ve been on the other side.
The cups were being passed back. She grabbed on of them, drank the contents and then handed the empty cup to me. When the next came, she did the same and passed it to James.
“I’ve died,” said James, matter-of-factly. “Sliced open belly to breast by a yeti.” He traced the scar on his chest absentmindedly as he said it. “Spent a year in the Land of the Dead, dicing with my relatives and listening to the same stories over and over again.”
“It was,” he admitted. “But there was a level of peace to it.” The way he said it was almost longing.
The pilot bit her lip, as if thinking hard about something.
The pirate standing atop the bar had stopped pouring grog and proposed a toast. We all raised our glasses in unison, pretending to drink. As the toast died down and the dead began to mingle with each other, the pilot spoke again.
“There’s a working boat on the other side of the island.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why haven’t you taken it?” When faced with unbelievable luck, I tend to just think I’m being tricked.
“I haven’t had a reason to. Think of what the outside world would do if they saw me.”
While she did occasionally look almost living, any close inspection would have proved otherwise. “All of my family is probably long dead, and there’s no one waiting for me to come back. Staying on this island seemed better than confronting the reality of my own death.”
“What about them? They don’t know they’re dead.”
“I’m not sure they even see it. I mean, I’m sure they do, but somewhere deep down, they convince themselves it’s not there. Every day they walk into the ocean pulling scrap out and adding it to The Captain’s monstrosity?”
James perked up. “Monstrosity?” Having faced one monster all-too recently, it was likely another didn’t sound intriguing to him.
“It’s a massive ship they’ve been building from pieces of others. If you ask him, he’ll tell you it’s not ready yet, but when it is, we’ll all use it to escape.” Her eyes glazed over slightly, but then retained their focus. “It’s never going to be ready.”
“Then let’s go for the boat,” I said.
She shushed me, intensely. “Keep your voice down. They may not know something’s different about you now, but they will if you try and pull a runner. They’re not going to be happy about that.”
“It would remind them of the truth. Classic clinging dead… No offense.”
It made sense. They wouldn’t want anyone escaping the island or they’d be at risk of realizing their own decrepit state and accidentally passing on to the next life. For those who fear death, there’s nothing worse than watching the living carry on without them. It’s like they feel like they’re missing the party or something.
“So how do we get to the boat then? Wait for everyone to go into the ocean tomorrow and snag it while you’re gone?”
The pilot made an indignant tsking sound. “No, they’ll want you to come to the ocean, and another thing, you’re not leaving me behind.” Her voice was indignant but firm. “I may be on the verge of the end here, but I’m not giving up without a fight. Take me with you to wherever we’re going and then we’ll part ways, but I can’t stay here.”
I wasn’t exactly fond of having a second nearly-dead companion with us, but she didn’t seem dangerous. “Fine, what’s your plan for getting out of here then.”
She grinned. “All we have to do is wait. They’ll drink themselves into such a stupor that none of them will even see us leave. Give it another hour and then meet me out back.” She tossed her hair again. “Until then, enjoy the party, you’ll likely never see anything like this again.”
We mingled for the hour, talking to long-dead captains of vessels I had never heard of and chatting up some of the “best pilots in her majesty’s royal air force”. Outside, the late evening wound on to night, and outside the windows became pitch black. Eventually the conversation died down. The alcohol didn’t stop flowing, and the surprisingly coherent speech of the dead turned into the incoherent slobbering and moaning that one would expect.
Once they all seemed to be lost in their own dreamlike states, James and I slipped out the front door, ignoring any vacant stares we got along the way.
Outside, James whispered: “Are you sure we can trust her?”
“No, but we’re currently on an island of the dead with no drinkable booze, and I want off. Don’t you?”
James thought about it for a second. “I suppose your right.”
We walked around the back of the building, trying not to disturb any of the foliage and wake those within. Standing around back was the female pilot, hand on her hip, tapping her foot impatiently. “Come on, we need to hurry before one of them suspects something.”
Neither James nor I argued and soon we were plunging back through the thick forest to the beach beyond. Lucky for us, the island was not large, and we picked our way along the beach to the other side in no more than twenty minutes. On the way, we passed a massive iron hulk just off the shoreline, bobbing restlessly.
“That’s his prized ship,” said the pilot quietly.
In the moonlight it looked horrible and sharp, like a ship ready for battle. I tried to put thoughts of it out of my mind as we continued along the beach. For a while it seemed as though everything was going very well. We were making good time, and the night air was actually pleasant.
All things considered, it hadn’t been that bad of a day. That was, until the alarms started blaring.
4. The Great Escape
Air raid sirens blared from what felt like the entire island. In the distance behind us, I could see the flash of red lights. Again, had I not been running from it, I would have been amazed by the ingenuity. Although I supposed with enough time, and a limitless supply of scrap, anything was possible.
“What’s that?” asked James, referring to the sirens.
“The alarm,” responded the pilot. “We’re almost there, we need to hurry.” She attempted to run, but one of her legs dragged slightly behind the other, making it more of a lope.
We weren’t much better, still recovering from the hangover to end all hangovers and our near brush with death. Although, with each step I felt like I was getting my wits back more and more.
Soon enough we were coming up on a small wooden dock with a smaller coastguard craft tied off to it. The boat looked a little worse for the wear and unpolished, but it bobbed serenely in the water.
“That’s the boat?” James was less than impressed.
“If it floats, we take it.” I looked back in the direction of the flashing red lights. They were no longer visible, but the air raid sirens had continued to sound. “Unless you want to see what it is that they have in store for us.”
“I’m good.” James moved to the boat and began untying it from a dock.
“So, captain,” I turned to the pilot. “What’s the plan?”
“Oh,” she said, a little embarrassed. “I’ve never operated a boat.”
“Great… Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll drive then.” I had piloted a few small fishing trawlers but the boat at the dock was slightly bigger.
“Not at all, captain.” She said the last word with just a hint of sarcasm.
“First time for everything right?”
As I was walking over to the boat, the sirens that had been blaring constantly suddenly stopped. “That’s a good sign, right?”
The pilot looked uneasy. “Unfortunately, I don’t think so. The sooner we cast off, the better.”
The three of us boarded the boat. The keys were in the ignition and after running the blower for a few minutes, the boat chugged to life. The engine whine slightly, but ran just fine. In a matter of minutes, we were pulling away from the dock into calm seas.
The cloudy skies of morning had given way to an inky black sky, dotted with bright white stars. The boat cut through the water like a knife, it’s chugging the only sound apart from the gentle lapping of waves. In short, for a very brief moment in my life, everything was peaceful and I thought I might actually get to enjoy it. Believing in fantasy was my first mistake.
We weren’t far from the island when in the distance, the sound of war horns blew, and the captain’s monstrosity became visible around the edge of the island. “The dead always love company.” I had never found any reason to doubt the statement. I fished around in the compartments near the helm and found a pair of binoculars.
“James, take the wheel for a minute.”
He did not argue and took my place. I walked over to the edge of the ship and looked into the distance. The Captain’s ship was a giant, pointy mass of metal and wood, cobbled together with who knows what. Two holes in the front of the ship revealed massive fires below deck, likely powering its movement. The ship had no sails, but continued to move forward at a pace I didn’t want to find out if we could match.
“I think we’re in trouble,” I said.
“You think? What do you see?”
“Nothing good.” I moved back to the wheel handing James the binoculars.
He peered through them at the ship. “At least they don’t appear to have any weap—” his speech was cut off by the boom of artillery fire. Seconds later there was a massive splash as it struck the water fifty feet away. “I stand corrected.”
“Everyone hold on, I’m going to see how fast this bucket of rust will go.” I pushed the handle that served as the boat’s throttle all the way forward. The engine whine increased, but the boat did not noticeably shift in speed. I looked back and saw the ship turning slightly.
“Uh, Nick,” stammered James. “I think they’re going to try for a broadside.” As the ship turned, rows of cannons began to extend from its side, all pointed directly at us.
“Everyone brace for impact!”
No one needed to be told twice. The three of us hit the deck and waited. There was a large crash as cannonfire echoed across the water, and I winced in anticipation of the inevitable crunch. It never came. There was a splash far off in the distance, but no whizzing of hot metal flying past the boat, or cracks as it tore us asunder. Nervously, I peaked my head up and saw with delight, the ship’s problem.
The massive iron hulk had begun to keel over to one side, fires beginning to consume what parts of the ship would burn. “I guess it really wasn’t ready yet.” As I said this, there was a massive wrenching of metal stretching and eventually breaking. The began to break in half, and started sinking.
“The cannons must have been too much.”
James and the pilot stood to watch as the ship slowly lowered into the water.
“Now they can start building all over again, and the illusion won’t be shattered,” said the pilot softly. “In a way, we just did them a favor.”
“I’m just happy to still be standing.” James felt his body as if expecting to find some wounds that he had forgotten about.
“We’re not out of the woods yet.” I began looking around the ship for any sort of navigational charts. There was a small, lit box on the console that showed our position on a nautical grid, and thankfully, it was working. “Do you have any idea where we are?” I asked the pilot.
“Not in the slightest, but give me one of those maps and I’m sure we can find out. Besides, we have the stars, should be easy enough to find our way back.”
She was right. So long as the current hadn’t taken us too far off course after the wreck, the easiest thing to do would be to head west until we hit land. “My guess is that we can’t be that far from the crash site. There’s plenty of uncharted islands in the triangle and we weren’t that far from the edge when we went down.”
“What’s the plan then?” asked James.
“We stick with what we had planned originally. We’re going to Tortuga. Any objections miss…” I realized we had never asked her name.
“Call me Amy,” she said, smiling. Her teeth almost glittered in the dim running lights of the ship.
“Right, Amy. Any objection to heading to a pirate town where we plan to drink our fill and resupply from less-than-reputable merchants? Might even be a mystic there who can help you sort out what exactly has happened to you.” I wasn’t sure it was true, but black markets held just about everything you needed. Tortuga had a reputation for being a spiritual home to the pirates as well as a physical. People prided themselves on welcoming spirits, so it didn’t seem like that far of a stretch.
“So long as you’re not dropping me back on that spit of land,” she pointed to the island with the now sinking ship next to it, “I’m fine with anywhere.”
“Tortuga it is then. Now, it’s just a matter of finding it.”
“Don’t you know where it is?” asked Amy incredulously.
“As a matter of fact I don’t, that’s why I hired a guide. Although once we get to the Isle of Tortue, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where to find it.” Among the many drunken rants about various creatures and their mating habits, my master’s journal also contained a list of the known black markets in the world and how to get into them.
“Hold on a minute. Known black markets?” asked Good Cop, intrigued. “You happen to still have that list on you?”
Nick smiled and motioned shook his shackles against the table. “What you see, is what I’ve got. It’s a big, leather-bound book, so if I had it, you’d know.”
“But it is on the boat, isn’t it?” Good Cop pulled out a pad of paper and began jotting down notes. “Finally, something we can use,” he mumbled to himself.
“It very well might be on the boat, or it could have washed up on some distant shore. As I’ve been trying to explain, I don’t remember.” Nick finished the dregs of his coffee trying to avoid growing too frustrated. “Either way, if you were paying attention, you would have heard me talking about security features earlier.” So much for playing nice.
Good Cop looked up, peeved. “Yes, I heard some mumbo-jumbo about booby traps, but we have a squad for dealing with things like that.”
“Your ‘squads’ aren’t equipped to handle that.” Nick was more so trying to save the lives of the squad if anything. Everyone who had tried to open the book without permission had met various unpleasant ends, and as much as he disliked the police, no one deserved what black magic had in store.
“I think we’ll be the judge of that,” said Good Cop with the certainty of someone who thought he was dealing with a complete fool. He pulled out a walkie from his belt. “Dispatch, tell the men on the crime scene to keep an eye out for a large leather-bound book. It’s highly dangerous, so don’t touch it. If you find it, call in a hazard team.”
There was a crackle of affirmation and then the radio went silent.
“Satisfied?” asked Good Cop.
“Not really.” Nick sighed heavily. “If those men get seriously injured, it’s on your hands.”
Good Cop ignored this comment. “You were saying something about a dead woman and heading to the Isle of Tortuga?” He threw the terms out casually as if he hadn’t really been paying attention.
“So, you are listening,” said Nick, picking up on it. Don’t try to downplay your interest. I can see right through you.
“As I said before, it’s an interesting story.”
I’ll at least have you questioning some truth by the end of this. “Right, so we were heading to Tortuga with no map, a compass we hoped was working and the general direction provided by the stars…”