Sea Smoke
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Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:13 pm

Some way distant from Edingtol's coastline, to the North-West, lay a desolate and uncharted expanse of ocean. Rumours persisted that a renowned archaeologist, Dr Potrin T. Tritus, had long ago ventured into this area for his research; the story went that he had landed on a remote island, upon whose shores he had found a single sand dollar, a perfect specimen, like none that had been seen before. To this day, the archaeologist remained strangely reticent about this episode, which only served to fuel the mystery and superstition surrounding this part of the ocean, and most adventurers preferred to give the area a wide berth. The captain of the Rarebit's Revenge had, however, not enjoyed the luxury of choice in the matter…

The pirate ship had sustained serious damage on its last encounter and had been forced to flee, leaving behind the treasure its crew had sought to seize. The vessel now limped along, letting in water fast; all viable attempts at repair had failed, claiming the lives of two tars in the process, as they had valiantly swum underwater, trying to block a ragged, gaping hole in the hull. Accepting the inevitable, Captain Phineas Cutter had taken the heart-wrenching decision that his beloved craft must needs be abandoned; thus it was that he roared a command to lower the lifeboat, all aboard to leave the ship and take their chances on the open sea -- for that was all they saw, in every direction: no land mass, only water; in addition to which, darkness had fallen and a clammy fog was rising from the sea, enveloping them in a dense wall of grey which grew thicker with each passing moment.

Into the lifeboat they went, scrambling for positions and seizing oars, rowing away furiously from the now fast-sinking Rarebit's Revenge. They had rowed for what seemed like hours, adrift in the all-enveloping fog, when suddenly the frozen, half-dozing sailors were shaken into alertness by a shout from the lookout at the prow. "A light!" he yelled, kneeling up in the boat, pointing ahead, in a direction that deviated slightly from their current course. When Captain Cutter raised his eyeglass to look more closely, he saw that there was indeed a tiny but brilliant light, wavering against the darkness. Since their options were, to put it mildly, limited, they veered about to set a direct course for the light, hoping against hope that it was a beacon to guide them safely to land; oars slapped the water with renewed vigour as they rowed, yelling words of encouragement to each other.

* * *

Silken skirts rustled softly as she glided smoothly over the dunes, towards the beach, the pungent scent of the ocean growing stronger as she drew closer to it. Faint, echoing shouts reached the shore from the pirates' boat, and as she neared the edge of the dune, where it met the sandy stretch of the shore, she raised her flickering lantern high, swaying it gently to and fro, a signal in the darkness. The night was as starless as only such a night could be, and the moon was presently concealed behind a cloud, so her small candle lantern was the only light around for miles, a faint but constant point of brightness in the swirling mist. She waited patiently; time was on her side.

* * *

The pirates approached the beach and leapt from the boat, wading towards the shore, muttering to each other and pointing towards the light, which still wavered dimly, a little way distant. Feeling firmer ground beneath their feet at last, they halted in the darkness, huddled together, soaked to their skins and shivering from cold; several of them had rested one hand on a weapon, obeying their ingrained instinct to be alert to potential danger. As they watched the flickering light, it began to move towards them with an agonising slowness. Some men stood vigilant, weapons drawn; others, exhausted by the hours of rowing and frozen to the marrow with cold, dropped to their knees in the sand; but all stared expectantly at that single brilliant point in the darkness.

The moon peeked out from behind its cloud, partially revealing a shape framed against the night; the swinging lantern briefly illuminated a long full-skirted gown and a pale cloak that billowed around the one who glided soundlessly over the sand towards them. Seeing a lone female, the men relaxed their guard slightly, although some darted wary looks into the darkness, lest she might be leading a gang of brigands directly towards them.

The foremost pirate took a sudden involuntary step backwards, knocking into the man who stood behind him, as he gasped and raised a shaking arm to point at the figure. "Blood," he croaked urgently, "on her dress!"

* * *

The mist embraced and enfolded her like a friend, a swirling miasma of muted nothingness that clung densely around her upper body. She sensed the presence of the men, heard their guttural voices, rising panic almost palpable in their tone, as they muttered and questioned each other. Still holding the lantern aloft, she drifted forwards inexorably, moving with an excruciating slowness; the mist unfurled and oozed across the beach as she floated over it, caressing everything in its path with chill fingertips, leaving behind beads of dank moisture that clung like burrs.

* * *

The pirates felt her piercing, icy gaze boring through them, as if into their very souls, drawing them to look into the eyes that regarded them so intently; yet their need was denied, as the mists parted at last, to reveal that the apparition before them was headless.

They huddled together, frozen in place, like so many statues on the sand, their low muttering dissolving into groans and cries; big, burly tars, each one of whom was superstitious to his backbone, was fearful of that which could not be explained by rational means. Hands slid away helplessly from weapons, as each man recognised instinctively that brute force would be futile, unless turned upon themselves in a last desperate bid for escape.

Dark clouds concealed the moon's pale beauty once more; the tendrils of mist converged, thickening until the dim light of the gently dancing lantern was obscured, while a silken skirt swished softly, like a sigh. The gloom was pierced by a high-pitched, keening wail, whether from one throat, or several, it was impossible to tell; then a heavy, impenetrable silence descended like a pall.

* * *

As dawn broke, the sun arose majestically over the horizon, spilling its warming rays across the sparkling waters, dispelling the last lingering remnants of fine sea-mist. The ocean's surface was calm and smooth, save for dancing ripples caused by a school of brightly coloured fish which swam lazily just beneath, going about their daily business. Far below in the gloomy depths, rested the broken and rotting hulk of a once-proud sailing vessel. Fish wove languidly between its tall masts; crabs scuttled rapidly across its deck; curious inhabitants of the deep, intent upon discovering if there was anything worthy of foraging from the new arrival in their domain. The ocean's blue expanse stretched uninterrupted in every direction, with no land mass to be seen for miles around, no matter which way a stray seagull, far from home, might twist and turn to look.

* * *

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Defender of the Realm
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Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:25 pm
Wow. . .my Love, that gave me a chill up my spine.
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Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:44 pm
Thank you, my Love. I hope it is an appropriate tale for All Hallows' Eve.
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