Noemi shivered from the chill of the sea air cutting through her wet clothes to the bone. Jonah had fetched her a blanket once she had been pulled aboard, a thin brown scratchy piece of cloth that did little to stop the wind. There was not a man about the deck, as it sailed onward through the night ocean, rocking gently on the waves. In fact, Noemi had yet to meet the captain aboard the Dutchman, or even another being besides Jonah. She could hear them though. Not words, or anything clear, but Noemi could hear the creaking of wood beneath feet, the shuttering of doors as they swung open and closed between the decks.
As she huddled there beneath her itchy blanket, one set of footsteps seemed louder. Noemi looked up to see Jonah approaching with a tin mug in his hand. Steam was wafting over his face, making his features seem shadowed, gaunt and almost translucent.
“Here,” he said, as he handed her the mug. She took it, holding it between her still chilled hands. She could feel the heat radiating from the mug to her hands, filled with a dark looking liquid. “We have some stores for passengers, found some coffee. Don’t know when it’s from but I thought you’d want it for warmth more than taste anyway.”
“Thanks,” Noemi said as she took a sip. It tasted…metallic and weak, water with only the barest hint of coffee beans. Still, the warm liquid did give her a pleasant feeling as she sat up. “So…The Dutchman. Like the famous one?”
“Indeed!” Jonah said, with an eager smile as he quickly squatted down on an empty crate across from her. Noemi got the feeling that he spent a lot of time talking to the air and didn’t get much opportunity to talk with a person face to face, as it were. Normally, she might have questioned his…reliability as a conversational partner, if it were not for her own tendency to talk to a goddess in her head.
“I had a hard time believing it myself when I was pulled aboard, with nobody in sight! I guess I first started realizing what had happened when I realized I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, and wasn’t feeling hungry at all. You hear a lot about the hunger of the grave, but, well, yeah!”
Noemi didn’t say anything, letting his fast-paced words wash over her. She was talking to a ghost. The man in front of her looked as solid as any in the moonlight, but here he was freely admitting to his undead state of being. She sipped her coffee as she looked at him.
“So, uh, if there’s nobody but you on the ship, Jonah, how does it sail?”
“Oh, they’re here. They just…well, I’ve learned to hear them. And see them. I think it has something to do with just being dead long enough. I mean, this is a ghost ship, right? But…yeah.”
“Well, I mean, I can see you. How come I can’t see the captain?”
“Captain Van der Decken? Ah! Well, I’m not even sure if the ghost that’s the captain is even him anymore…but…I don’t know if it matters. I think at this point, the story is stronger than the spirit!”
“What do you mean, ‘stronger than the spirit’?”
“Well, there are many legends about the Dutchman, of course,” Jonah smiled. “But the one I was told was something like this…Once, many years ago, the master of the ship was Van der Decken himself, who sailed for the Dutch Crown. The seas in that day were filled with competition between England, the Netherlands, Spain, France…all the nations sought to race to find new lands, new markets.”
“Bet I knew a few people who would be mad you mentioned Spain but left out Portugal,” Noemi said. Right as she was starting to feel warm, she felt the cool air chill her to her bones again. The fog was starting to roll in, making it hard to see across the ocean. The stars were dimming through the haze. Noemi brought her legs up into her chest.
“Well, I wasn’t ever the best at geography, but anyway Captain Van der Decken sought glory on the seas, but how could he ever insure he was to be the first to find a new place? Some of the crew say he was a sorcerer, though the Captain hasn’t told me anything of the sort, but either way, one fateful night, aboard the deck of the ship, Davy Jones appeared to the Dutchman’s master.”
Noemi could swear she felt a hand brush along the back of her neck and it made her jump. Jonah just chuckled, earning him a glare from the redhead. “Go on. What did the devil want?”
“Don’t know if he’s the actual devil but it wouldn’t surprise me. Davy Jones promised Van der Decken fair winds for the rest of his days, safe sailing along all his routes, so long as he swore to never sail around the Cape,” Jonah said. “Ah, that’s Cape Horn, by the way.”
“Lemme guess,” Noemi said, her eyes growing heavy. She started to see shadows moving in the fog as it rolled lazily across the deck. Human figures that seemed to appear in the trick of the moonlight, in the corner of her eye, before vanishing when the clouds rolled over the moon. “He didn’t keep his end of the deal?”
“Ah, well, no. Captain Van der Decker sailed in defiance of Davy Jones around the Cape…Or he tried anyway! The winds turned against him as fog blocked his vision. By the time it cleared, he found his ship had been turned around! He tried again, only for the fog to send him back once more,” Jonah grinned, leaning forward, the moonlight making him glow a little as it pierced the fog. His features became lost in the gray haze as Noemi fought to stay awake. “The crew didn’t think too much of it until they tried to pull into a safe harbor to restock, only for the fog to pull them away once again!”
“Mmm, so that explains the fog, I guess,” Noemi said, readjusting herself as she finished off the thin coffee. “So you just…sail around?”
“Mmm,” At that question, Jonah’s smile wilted just a bit. “Well, I haven’t been here from that time, I came aboard after the end of the world and all that. But from what I understand, things that used to be trapped on the sea floor…aren’t.”
“What does that mean, aren’t?”
“It means they’re free, swimming about on the open waters, duh!” Jonah said, rolling his eyes.
“Anyway, being dead, us ghosts don’t have much to fear from things like sea monsters or storms or spirits.”
“Or Aztlan blood gods,” Noemi said slowly, her mind working through the possibilities.
“Exactly! But we are at the mercy of Davy Jones, who wasn’t too pleased with this jailbreak of all the monsters. So now, we’re basically his hatchet men. We get sent in to send anything that shouldn’t be sailing back to the sea floor…if we do it well enough, we can earn our freedom. I’ve seen…well, felt, some of the older spirits pass on and leave.”
“You get to leave the ship? Where do you go?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never heard from those who leave. They just sort of vanish.”
“Speaking of the crew,” Noemi asked. “How come I can talk to you and see you, but I can’t see them?”
“Ah, well! I’m actually a recent addition to the crew. The newest member! It’s why I’m the cabin boy, you see,” he said, perking back up again. “I was sailing off the coast of Massachusetts at the time when my ship went down.”
“Heh, you don’t sound like an American, at least not what I thought they sounded like!”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. I used to travel around a lot as a kid, so I probably picked up a strange accent. Anyway, I was drifting out at sea when I see this ship coming at me. I thought for sure I was saved but…well, it was empty! I heard the voices and they told me I was there to serve aboard the ship. All of us who are stuck aboard need to work.”
Noemi frowned. “It’s a magic ship, though. And does that mean I’m…”
“Hehe, no, you’re not dead. We don’t usually take passengers, you might be the first I’ve ever heard of! But I was told I was there to replace some of the crew that had been lost, gaining their freedom.”
“I see,” Noemi said. As they talked, the temperature dropped again, cutting right through the blanket. It wasn’t even the cool night air that she had felt off the coast of Brazil. This was bitter, freezing air. Her entire body started to shiver. “H-hey, why is it so cold all of a sudden?! And where is the fog going?”
“Ah, right…We’re at our next destination, the next sinking ship. Welcome to the coast of Scotland.”
“Scotland?!” Noemi jumped to her feet, running to the edge of the ship. The fog was starting to lift and she could see rocky shores and grassy hills in the distance. Not that she knew what Scotland looked like, but by all her accounts they shouldn’t have been anywhere near land for at least a week or two. “This ship can just teleport!?”
“I told you the fog kept us from finding safe port, right? Well…it also helps us travel to where we need to go.”
“We were just in Brazil!”
“And now we’re in Scotland,” Jonah said with a smile. “Magic ship, magic fog, I wasn’t just making it all up!”
He is not lying, Noemi.
She could hear the voice of Ophidia in her head, though it sounded much quieter, even for the usually stoic goddess.
We’ve traveled very far from the center of my worship. There is little of my essence here, I do not even think I can manifest properly beside you, only as the small serpent.
“We were trying to get you more power, not less!”
At the moment, only your belief in me lets me exist at all. So please, champion. Noemi thought she could almost hear a chuckle inside her head, though it was rather dry. Don’t let your faith end, or I may be gone forever.
“It’s alright, I’ll get you stronger here, somehow. I just…I don’t like the idea of being on a ship with a bunch of ghosts without you here to keep them away from me.”
I feared that too, but I did not see many options available, so I did not wish to worry you. But as they have yet to try to possess you or affect your mind at all, I would be cautious but not overly worried.
“There, do you see it Noemi?”
Jonah’s voice pulled her out of her own thoughts as he pointed across the deck, towards the dark night-time waters. The sea looked almost black as the starry night sky shone down upon it. Clouds rolled in front of the moon, hiding its light from the world.
The waves were rippling towards the Dutchman, which kept its course with its tattered sails down, rocking back and forth in the darkness as the fog rolled away from it. There was a single-person vessel darting through the waves, catching the wind and bouncing over the crests. Noemi heard splashing oars as her eyes were drawn away from the small vessel.
Behind the skiff were several longboats made of dark wood. Their prows were carved and shaped in the heads of dragons.
Ghostly hands propelled the ship forward, the strength of their arms pushing the oars through the sea.
Vikings. Ghost Vikings.
“What are we going to do?” Noemi said, looking over her shoulder to Jonah.
The cabin boy just shrugged. “The Dutchman does its job. Davy Jones is going to get his payment, one way or the other.
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa