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Horror Never Did

  1. A shift in power
  2. A sudden fall
  3. Broken Promises
  4. Seafarer's journal


“Fraser, get back in line!” a hazy figure shouted from between sheaths of whipping sails, their linen livery dampened from the rain that made the deck beneath her look slick and sparkling. The sound of the sails was like gunshots in her ears as she clung to the fragile net, her fingers digging into it so hard they felt like they could bleed. His silhouette beneath her only crossed his arms, the surly muscles so covered in ink she could almost ignore that he hadn’t eaten in days.

“You need to come down, Katharine.” When her small frame stayed clinging to the lashing net, each wrap of wind making her tremble, he started up the net, every movement sending trembling waves up to her. “Your father’s not here,” he called, a note in his voice sounding almost forlorn. After a moment of only the screaming rain, he grunted and finished the climb up to her, carefully peeling her fingers from the knots they clung to.

“Let me go,” she sighed weakly, letting her hands’ grip soften as he guided her back down. “Just because my father is the captain does not mean I am a child. You know full well I am perfectly capable of everything he is.” The chuckle that tore from his lips was hearty, but she could hear his gasping breaths as they climbed and he eased her down onto the slicked deck. The other crewmates, most hurrying inside or still clinging to the rail, each gave Katharine a quick nod as they passed by. “Tell them to get working and start keeping this damn ship from sinking,” she huffed as she gave Fraser a slap on the shoulder. He nodded gently and stepped aside, leaving Katharine clinging to the mast. Her breath caught as she gingerly stepped away from it, every second a new wave pushing her in a different direction.

The thinning soles of her shoes found no purchase on the soaked mahogany, each step one that threatened to send her keeling over the rail into the thrashing waves. Her gaze stayed locked on the battered door ahead of her, her footfalls quickening as her father’s name became visible under the ship’s crest. She fell into the door as another cruel wave wracked the ship, the silver flaking under her fingertips as it creaked open, sending her crashing into the floor and the rain following quickly after. Grunting, she pried herself to her feet, shutting the door and setting her gaze on the countless trinkets that sat splayed across the tilted ground. The mess before her, the broken glass and scattered beads thrown astray, it didn’t look like the office she remembered playing with her father in.

It looked like an empty grave.

Katharine tried to ignore the feeling of the blood draining from her face as she sank back down to her knees and started rifling through the discarded piles, old silver earrings tossed among shards of the whiskey bottle she’d first drank out of when she was just sixteen. Her fingers danced over the wreckage, eyes flicking over each glimmering shard and rusted jewel looking for something more mundane. With each minute that passed the waves jolted harder and her stomach dropped more, the comforting din from the deck outside fading.

She could hear the sound of the hold door creaking from the deck, the familiar squeal calming her. Good. If they can clear the hold we’ll have some more buoyancy.

A thin frown spread on her lips as her eyes finally caught on a leather journal, the golden icon emblazoned onto it peeling at the edges. Even picking it up felt wrong — she’d been told not to so many times it felt like one of her own rules — but her sickeningly fast heartbeat said otherwise. Either way, her father clearly wasn’t around to see her break his only rule. There were so many days she’d sat on her father’s lap as a child and pleaded to see it, just one page or a peek, but now the sight of the familiar signature on the cover deepened the unease rooting around in her stomach. Just as she rose to her feet and struggled over to the door, a crack so heavy it felt further than lightning sounded. The ground underneath her shook in retaliation, sending the door flying open and throwing her against the cabin’s back wall.

Katharine stumbled to her feet and ran out, something in her chest whistling mayday frantically. She slid into the mast as the ship tilted again, her grip white-knuckled around the journal’s edge, fingers desperately looking for the hold of the net, something to anchor herself onto. The rain now fell as a curtain, everything past her cast in sheaths of dense water. Through peeks in the steady fall she could see the rickety rail of the ship, the crew that had lined it before she went in gone from the edge. The feeling beginning to tug at her mind wasn’t hope, but an acrid mix of fear and worry.

“Fraser?” she called, her voice small amongst the crackling lightning. “Anyone?” She tried to tell herself the silence was good — they were below deck, safe — but her legs refused to move. Her knees started trembling and she tucked the journal under the hem of her torn shirt, the fabric rippling over her against the biting winds. Katharine tried to keep her gaze from slipping to the water, from wondering if, but it was too hard. “Is anyone there?” She yelled, the sound stinging as it tore from her throat.

It was almost soft enough to miss, that same squeal from earlier, but it sounded like bells in her ears. “Fraser?” Katharine screamed, the fear in her voice replaced with something that sounded almost like tears. There was a soft grunt as he emerged from the rain and latched onto the mast, his cheeks pink with chill and chest heaving.

“Katharine,” he gasped, “you need to get inside. With the shipwreck cargo we picked up last week we’re too heavy. The ship is sinking.” Her face paled, another wave threatening to toss her over and making her tighten her grip.

“No. That doesn’t make any sense. Just have them throw it overboard.” She swiveled back, looking through the open door to her father’s office. “And where is my father?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Fraser grunted, cursing under his breath and grabbing her wrist. “You need to get inside. It’s what he would want.”

“Let go of me!” Katharine could see him open his mouth in protest before the creaking again broke through the rain. She struggled to see over Fraser, arms barely clinging to the mast as she stretched to see three others emerging from the cabin, many others huddled on the floor visible past them. “Sorscha? Sorscha, you can’t be out here. Get inside and help the others.” Even through the rain, she could see the way her joints poked out through her baggy clothes, the gaunt hollows of her cheeks. She shook her head, clinging to the doorframe.

“We can’t lose enough weight in time. There’s barely anything in the hull. We’ve thrown most everything that’s not essential.” Sorscha’s eyes stayed locked on Fraser, flicking away each time her gaze drew closer to Katharine. “We will find the land. Do it.”

“Do what?” Katharine yelled, but neither moved. “Sorscha, tell me. My father may be gone but that doesn’t mean there’s no leader. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope.” Even she could hear the desperation in her voice, and though she couldn’t see the spindly woman’s eyes, she knew she could too.

Fraser turned, gripping her shoulder with a strong hand. His eyes glinted oddly in the dim light, but not with tears. It was something Katharine had seen before, both in her father and the others they’d lost trying to get to the new land. It was the tone of sacrifice.

“Fraser, no,” she whispered, her voice laden with tears.

He only smiled softly, the soft gesture foreign on the lips she’d only known to bellow from the sails and laugh heartily over shared dinners. “Can you smell it, Katharine?

“It’s like angel’s breath. It’s close. You’ll find the promised land without me.” He pulled her in, his arms cold from the rain.

“We can’t do anything without a navigator,” she whispered into his shoulder, her voice bittering. “This is not the hero’s choice. It’s the coward’s.”

“You know that’s not true. Some of the others know. They will serve you as they did your father, Katharine. This is your time.”

“Don’t say that. You can’t leave me here, Fraser. You know him better than I do.”

He pulled back, his eyes sparkling again. “But I have to. You were right, Katharine. You’re not a child anymore. This ship is yours.”

“Just give me time,” she gestured wildly, her eyes gleaming frantically as she held up the notebook, still trying to keep her feet from slipping. “He must’ve written something important in here. Something that can save us. This journal is his life.” Fraser only shook his head, smiling one last time.

“Your father knew when to make the hard choices, Katharine. I can’t help you learn that, but I know now is one of those times. My duty was never to only navigate. It was to protect you.”

“I’ll never forgive you,” she pleaded, resting her forehead against the mast and shuttering her eyes. She felt his hand gently wrap around hers, his skin rough and the water slicking it cold.

She didn't have time to pull him in one last time before his hand slipped from hers, the waves ushering him into their frothy arms.

Her screams felt like echoes in her head as she fell to her knees, arms still clinging desperately to the mast like it was him. Like it was the man who was her father when her father was leading his people. Her people, now. She was limp as Sorscha pried her away from it, dragging her inside and giving the nod to the small crowd that had gathered behind the door, all waiting for the same fate she’d just witnessed.

Sorscha’s arms around her felt freezing, the click of the lock sliding into place like a gunshot as she pounded against it, splashes and cries resounding as hymns from the other side.

Discarded on the soaked floor of the deck was her father’s journal, its pages flipped open and water starting to carry the ink off in black skeins.

The guilt has faded, I fear, though I suppose that will make the rest of this journey somewhat easier. What truly scares me is that I no longer fear for Katharine. Not because I’ve finally been able to reassure myself that she will survive, but because worrying for so long has worn me down.

Clinging to each other and the mast as they hugged and slowly wished their goodbyes through tear-laden eyes and clammy hands, the group slowly lessened, each descent more silent than the last.

One thing that I do know, that each passing day reminds me, is that in the event she survives to landfall, she will make them believe that whatever they find is what I promised.

Hands from people that she felt like she didn’t know anymore tore Katharine back from the door, her fists bloody and ears ringing with the echoes of her fruitless screams.

I know, that when the next storm hits and I leave, she will read this. You will read this. Dear Katharine, I am sorry. I once told you that the world would give us all the promises I made, and that the knowledge of the promised land was already within us. That we knew. And while I can’t speak for you, or the others, there is one thing that you have probably realized by now.

I never did.

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