It feels like centuries past when, in the year of our Lord 1731, I was a bright-eyed, dark-haired lad seated near the bow of an English sailing ship, my knobbly knees hugged to my chest against the stiffening breeze caused by the frigid Atlantic and the brisk pace of the vessel. It feels like centuries ago when my mind raced with the adventure of the voyage and the excitement of landing at my new home. Our new home.
It once struck me as strange, being a well-learned boy, or at least as well learned as one could be born to a shop owner situated in a Whitechapel street, that I had never heard of Isla Sirena. My twin Sister, Ariel, my junior by mere moments, had told me that it was Spanish for “Island of the Sirens.” It was a place wrapped in mystery, having supposedly been discovered only two years before and having been settled by the Empire mere months after its founding. The schools in Whitechapel were poor at best, but Father always pushed us to make the best of it, at great cost to himself. Ever since our mother died shortly after bringing us into the world, he had always put us before himself. It was this selfless love that made him accept the offer of service for his Majesty, King George II. In exchange for his service and the donning of the scarlet uniform, our family was guaranteed a place in a new home with a fresh start.
I still remember my father, just like that day when I spotted him making towards me across the deck, how splendid the man looked in the colors of the Eastborough Expeditionary Force, bound for Isla Sirena, and us alongside him.
As I have said, I nor any of the children at school, or even any of the adults that shared the crowded slums of Whitechapel with us, had ever heard of this new land. Normally, at home, the boys in red would brag to no end of the might of our empire and the acquisition of new territories. Not a word of the island had gotten out, and now I wonder if it were not guarded secret rather than true ignorance. But at that moment, it was of no consequence to me. We were on a new adventure, and a new home awaited us.
My father stood next to me as my sister and I leaned against the railing of the ship, a tall and stately man with just the faintest hint of grey in his braid. A smile crossed his face as he stooped down to drape an arm around me, who, on that day, had become a young man of sixteen years. Together, we gazed out on the featureless ocean and the horizon just now dying down to an orange tint with the falling sun.
He surprised me that day, coming to find me aboard our cramped vessel where I was playing with some of the other lads. He had a smile on his face when he produced a journal from his satchel, which now bears the wretched tale of those who undertook that doomed voyage.
Bound in leather and brass, with a small belt to secure it shut, I remember no greater moment of joy and contentment as I held the gift to my chest. My father put a hand on my shoulder, sharing my joy, and he said “Someday, someone will read that book and marvel at our accomplishments here. Amaze them, and fill that book."
The next day, I took my father’s advice and set about filling my new journal. At supper time I would write what had happened during the day unless something really needed to be added to it before then. It had been almost a week since the first entry, and nothing worthy of note had yet happened. We were all insufferably bored, as anyone would be when confined to the cramped quarters of a ship for months on end. Fortunately, the favorable weather allowed the passengers free reign of the deck during the daylight hours, and I played with the several other adolescents aboard helped to pass the time.
One of these others was a young man, my senior by two years, named Rudiger Albrecht or, as he wanted to be known, Roger. A tall, thin lad with a long ponytail of fair hair, and a pronounced Germanic cadence that called from his Saxon homeland. I do not recall how he had found himself on a voyage flying his Majesty’s flag, but his sharp wit endeared him to me. He knew even better than I the use of pen and parchment, and in exchange for the use of his treasure of books, which sharpened my thirst for knowledge and helped alleviate the oppressive banality, I taught him much of the English he came to speak.
There was one whose company I came, by far, to enjoy the most. Abigail Braddock, a girl of my age with almost crimson hair, skin like marble, and silver eyes that outshone the sun on the water. It was no secret why she was there, her family was incredibly wealthy, hailing from Mayfair where a mere peasant such as myself would only dream to call home. Her kind never set foot in the likes of Whitechapel, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found that her parents had gone ahead of her on a different voyage, for I believed they would scorn my being in her presence.
It was common knowledge that the Braddock family was funding the entirety of this voyage, and even much of the construction that had already taken place on the island. What was less spoken of were the rumors that the Braddocks had, in fact, bought the newly christened island from the Crown itself, in hopes of starting another tobacco plantation there to add to their own small but growing empire of commerce.
This was of little consequence, for Abby, as she implored me to address her by, dreaded talking of her family. She welcomed the trip across the Atlantic, even if only to give her a respite from the dreadful life of boarding school and endless, tedious social events that her parents subjected her to. We were of similar age, and she took great interest in my journaling, being perhaps the most well-educated person aboard the ship. We often talked for hours in the clear air of the open deck, about such a myriad of subjects that I cannot remember.
It was during one of these discussions, the day after I had received the journal from my father, that one of the first signs of the oncoming darkness that we careened unknowingly towards made itself known. Myself and Roger were propped against the forward port-side railing while Abby was seated beside us on a barrel, looking for some change on the horizon. Her eyes widened and she jumped up, pointing down at the waterline below.
“Wait a moment, did one of you drop something?”
I patted my pockets and was relieved to find that my writing nibs were still there (you would be surprised at how one had to bargain to find such menial things during a months-long voyage) as were the five pence I had kept from my last work back in Whitechapel. Roger also searched his person, and nothing was missing aside from the watch which he kept on a chain, which he often nervously ran his fingers across and, thankfully, was still on his person. The watch was a gift from his own father, and fumbling it seemed to comfort him, as he was often of a nervous disposition. Neither of us was missing anything. Abby insisted that something was in the water, and us boys both leaned over and immediately caught sight of what she was referring to.
Something small and dark floated in the water, slowly moving away from where the hull met the surf. I immediately recognized it as a common sight in a slum like our old home.
Abby squealed in surprise, pointing to a porthole in the ship’s side. “Look, there are more!”
I felt my stomach squirm as I saw more shapes, now dozens of them, falling from the porthole into the frigid Atlantic, each hitting the water and slowly but frantically puttering away from the ship. I turned to exclaim to Roger, but was struck silent when I saw his face. His already fair skin had gone deathly white and his mouth hung agape. His fingers clutched the railing as if he were about to collapse to the deck, and one word escaped his mouth.
Having never been asea before, and having very little to do with men of the oceanic life, I had never come to know about the many rampant superstitions amongst such men. Roger, however, had come from a long line of Germanic seafarers, and this was far from being his first voyage. His fingers disengaged from the railing as he stumbled backward and began to babble, trying to control what was obviously an intense fear boiling over in him.
Abby had lept up and taken a hold of his arm. “Roger, whatever has come over you?”
The poor boy’s haggard glare remained fixed on nothing as he continued to mutter. “They only leave a doomed ship… they know when danger approaches...”
Abby seated the shaken Saxon boy on the barrel and massaged his back, one of her many little skills. Roger soon began to calm. I patted his shoulder as he breathed deeply, the pale leaving his cheeks.
“Whatever was that about, Roger?” I spoke softly, afraid that a raised voice would agitate his condition further.
He gulped and hesitated, but then began to regale us in a hushed, shaking voice. “Rats have sailed alongside men for as long as we have taken to the sea. They hide in luggage, provisions, and even run up the gangplank on the day of departure. Wherever we go, they follow. But some places reek of doom that only their noses can sense. Sometimes, they catch wind of it, and deem it wiser to brave the open sea than whatever is to come.”
I looked to Abby, who seemed to show discomfort at such talk, and she voiced the query at the front of my mind.
“Roger, we are months from the sight of land, perhaps weeks from landfall. Whatever could drive rats to such fear as to risk the certain death of drowning at sea than reaching land with us?”
Roger looked right into her eyes, the fear darkening his own hazel ones. “Why is it that no one has ever heard of this place? Why have the French not spoken of it, or the Spanish? I fear that we are sailing into darkness, my friends.”
We sat silent for some time, an odd feeling in my belly, but I gave Roger a hearty slap to the shoulder and put on my best smile. “Come now, Roger, those are stories. Rats are no smarter than any vermin. Besides, they are probably as tiresome of the food on this ship as we are.”
We all had a merry laugh at this, and Roger seemed to feel better. We spent the rest of the day at the front of the ship, looking onwards in hopes of being the first to see our new home, although Roger’s mood never fully brightened from that moment on. To be truthful, I was merry, for I would lay myself to rest a little easier that night without a rat trying to eat the hammock away from under me.
Abigail, much to my joy, shook me awake the next morning, two hours past the watch, to the sight of land. Shaking the sleep from my eyes, we ran to the front of the ship where we stood next to the nightwatchman and ship lookout, Abe.
He never gave his full name, if Abe was even his true name. A lithe and grizzled man, his skin tough and tan like belt leather, and two extremely sharp eyes that twinkled with the sunlight. Much of the time he could be seen dancing amongst the lines of the ship like an acrobat, hinting that he was far younger than his peppered beard and hair told the eye. Although rarely seen without his signature grimace and squinting glare, he was very cordial, more so than most of the passengers. I got the sense that he was a solitary yet lonely man, not prone to many words, the sort to listen and watch rather than talk. With what time he had to himself, he enjoyed conversing with us “young ‘uns” and spent little time with anyone else.
As we came to the front of the ship, Abe swung down to the deck from aloft and stood alongside us in the warmth of the rising sun, pointing a calloused hand towards a darkened shape on the horizon. “There she is, young ‘uns. Isla Sirena, or as we Britons say, Siren Island.”
Roger visibly gulped. “Sirens?” As a member of a long line of sailors in his family, Roger knew of such myths, beautiful women of the sea who lured unfortunate souls into the deep with their enchanting voices, only to drown them for their troubles.
Abe took notice of Roger’s disturbance, chuckling dryly, and clapped the young Saxon on the back. “Oh, fear not, m’lad, such things are mere legend.” I caught notice of a strange look across his face, however, one that seemed to not exude the confidence of his words.
Unclasping a leather cylinder that hung from his belt, he withdrew a polished brass telescope, which he passed to me first, giving me a look that said: “hold onto that tight, lad”. I opened it and saw the rock did not look like much more than just that.
The landmass was wide and flat, and at this distance, all I could see was simply an unassuming black void on the horizon. I passed the telescope to my shipmates, and they too cast unimpressed glances at it.
However, some hours later close to sunset, our jaws fell.
The still distant island could now be seen more clearly, and would best be described as an ominous-looking pedestal, looking as if it had suddenly risen out of the ocean. The edges of the island, wreathed in fog, were nearly perfect, vertical surfaces, black as pitch and menacing as cannons. Abe told me that, according to scout ships, the entire perimeter of the island was like this, no shore whatsoever, no beach, not even shallows. It was as if the island were more like the tower of a fortress erected upon the bosom of the ocean itself.
“There be but one point of entry, lads'n'lass. On the far side of the island, facing the north star by night, is an ‘arbor. An inlet, with cliffs low enough to disembark from a tall ship. The inlet is also only wide ’nuff to allow one ship to pass.”
“What is that rock, the kind the cliffs are made of?” Abby spoke up, clearly excited.
Abe gave a shrug, still staring landward. “No one knows. Supposedly, it’s almost like flint; sharp, brittle stuff, and smooth as church glass. They call those cliffs ‘The Teeth.”
Roger murmured something under his breath that I could not make out.
We soon lost interest in looking at the island, and Abe soon ceased talking, so there was little left to do. It had also grown colder on deck as we approached the island, a mist appearing to hide anything worth seeing. Abe told us that it would be best if we retreated below, the going would be sluggish as now our vision was limited to a matter of one hundred meters.
It was not until we had been below deck, in the warmth of the hold that I noticed that Roger was shivering, and his eye was twitching. I put a hand on his shoulder and he nearly jumped and uttered a guttural shriek, the likes of which I had never heard him utter before.
“Heavens, Roger,” I exclaimed, “what’s gotten into you?”
He seemed to not hear me, in fact, he did not even look at me, or anything else, but instead seemed to stare into some invisible beyond. Abigail put a hand to his forehead, then to his neck, and made to sit him down.
“Daniel, his skin’s cold as stone! Roger, you must be ill. Come, lie down here.”
Her voice had taken on that soothing, motherly tone that one could hardly speak against and Roger obliged, lying down on the straw-filled sacks. He stared at the ceiling, silently, scared out of his wits. He finally spoke, slurring as if his fear had cost him proper control of his tongue.
“We should never have come…”
After this, no matter how hard either I or Abigail pressed him, he would not say anything else. It seemed as if he had closed his ears to us. Abigail went and brought Peg, the ship’s doctor. I saw the stern old man give Roger a spoonful of something dark, likely laudanum, and Roger was asleep within the hour.
Abigail and I were both thoroughly disturbed by Roger’s sudden illness, and we sat by a portal looking out over the darkening sea as darkness fell. We sat together in silence for hours, staring out into the featureless fog that surrounded the ship, the only sounds the creak of the hull.
“Roger...” I started, but realized that I had little to say. She nodded, her smooth brow furrowing and the hint of a tear glinting from the corners of her eyes as they fell to the floor.
I instinctively reached out and touched her hand, taking it in mine, and our eyes met. We held each other’s gaze for some time before her eyes drooped, a sleepy smile crossing her face. I helped her to her bed and retired that night, after recording the day's events in my journal, wishing to be well rested for our arrival in the morning.
My hopes of rest that night proved to be wishful thinking, as the entirety of the following few hours were spent tossing and turning in my hammock, unable to sleep or lay my mind to rest. Everyone else in the hold slept peacefully around me, their lanterns all dowsed and only the dim light of the moonlight through the portholes to light the room. Stiff and restless, I decided to enjoy a breath of fresh air on deck, alone in the late night hour.
The sea was calm, like the surface of a mirror, and all was silent as the grave. The air was cold, urging me to pull my jacket a little closer, and yet did not feel very refreshing at all. To this day, I remember the stench and the rank of Whitechapel’s streets and alleys, and yet it occurred to me as more pleasant than whatever lay on the air that night. There was a strange taint to it, an impurity, a slight, subtle stain that I could only just taste. It was like no one thing, but made me think of copper, rotting wood, and the slightest odor of old meat.
Then, somewhere I could not determine, I swore that I could hear the sound of someone singing the softest, sweetest, most haunting melody I had ever heard.
Just like it came, it passed, and I inhaled pure, slightly salty night air over a calm, and once again, silent ocean. It did relax me, and I leaned onto the rail, looking out onto the water. This soon proved useless as the mist had barely thinned at all, allowing only a bit of the moonlight through.
Then, I noticed the orange glow of a lantern on my left, far above my head. I looked up and smiled. It was Abe, as usual, always watching, always awake, and always alert. Thinking of nothing better to do, I grabbed the rope ladder and heaved myself upwards.
“Lookout, ho!” I called out in a hoarse whisper, as I had sometimes heard him call down to the captain. He twisted about to look down and chuckled.
“Ah, Daniel, yours is a good face to see. Come, join me.”
I was never the strongest and, even with recent practice, it was some minutes before I had scaled the ladder and seated myself next to the wizened sailor on the spar, catching my breath, the sail rolled up beneath us. I sat with my back against the mast to keep my balance, but he simply sat on the spar itself, perfectly upright and still, his hand gripping the wood softly. I was surprised at how much more the ship seemed to rock up there than down on the deck.
As he often did, he spoke without facing me, his eyes fixed forward. “Call of the sea keeping ye up, lad?”
I shrugged. “Something like that, I suppose…”
He gave a gravelly chuckle. “Well, if you need to ‘url, please aim it overboard. ‘Ave pity on the swabs.”
I chuckled back. “I’d worry more for Roger, Abe.”
He nodded, still looking out into the night. “Aye, ‘ow is the lad? I worry when I see the skin turn pale.”
I knew Abe was sharp as flint, but this observation struck me as odd. “What do you mean,” I asked.
“I’ve seen me share of land lovers givin’ in to the sea and surrenderin’ their dinner to the deep. Face turns an odd tinge’a green when that ‘appens. But Roger, ‘is skin was pale, and ‘is eyes, they were wide, weren’t they?”
Abe said this more matter-of-factly than as a question. He continued talking. “No offense to you my boy, for I do ‘old you to be a smart lad, but you are a born and bred land lover, are you not?”
I nodded. “There is nothing wrong to keep to land, the sea is not for all men.”
“Aye, ye be right there. But no matter what side ye favor, each side garners its share of tall tales and titles. Ye who stay on the land think of us sailors as unruly, unclassed, and superstitious…”
Abe trailed off again, seemingly waiting for a response, but as I opened my mouth to speak he continued.
“.. but we all fear the sea, lad. Look at ‘er. She covers the world, rules the world, and knows no master but the good Lord. We know more of the stars that guide us by night, then we do of the depths that ‘ave claimed so many. ‘Tis that fear that makes us superstitious, lad. Because, out ‘ere, to fear nothin’ is to be a fool.”
I now saw, to my surprise, that in his other hand he grasped a tall green bottle of ale, from which he now tossed back a deep swig. This explained his sudden talkativeness. I had never suspected him to be a drinker, for while this was a common characteristic of men of his trade I had never seen him with a bottle before.
“When ye travel as much as I have, your life being at the mercy of the sea, nature deciding ‘oo lives and ‘oo dies… ye see things. Things that no one should see. Things that I wish I could unsee.” His voice had taken on a slight tremor, as if holding back a bottled-up emotion I had not yet seen.
He drank again, shaking his head vigorously as he threw the now empty bottle down into the sea with a dull splash that shattered the deathly silence. In the dim moonlight, I could see something in his eyes as, for the first time since we had met, he looked into mine. It was a look I had seen in Roger’s eyes only hours past.
In that moment, I saw pure, unbridled fear in Abe.
And, just like that, the moment seemed to pass. Abe returned to his taciturn self, staring intently out into the mist.
“It’s late, boy. Ye should rest.”
Unnerved at the sight of the near-breakdown of this hardened sailor, I quickly began to scale back down the ladder.
“Daniel?” I heard him mutter. I looked back up at him, and was relieved to see a small, genuine smile on his lips as he looked down at me. “I’d be in yer favor if ye didn’t tell the Cap’n ‘bout the gin.”
I could not help but grin, and bid him goodnight. Falling back into my hammock below deck, sleep finally overtook me. But before it could do so, Abe’s words rang through my head, as clear as if he now knelt beside me as my conscience ebbed away...
“… ye see things. Things that no one should see. Things that I wish I could unsee.”
I woke to Ariel leaning over me, prodding me awake softly, but persistently, and the moment my eyes opened she hauled me to my feet. She talked excitedly.
“Dan, Dan, we’re finally here! It’s amazing!”
I was still sleepy as the cold morning air off of the ocean hit my face, causing my eyes to dash open. I was very irritable and grumbled in protest, but Ariel was obviously excited beyond belief as she leaned me against the railing and pointed ahead into the mist, which to me seemed more like a very low-lying cloud. And, as we looked, along with the other passengers, the mist seemed to peel back like a stage curtain, and our jaws dropped as a spectacular set showed itself.
The ship passed through the mouth of the inlet to show a huge, yet somehow hidden, lagoon. The Teeth towered over us still, but this time in shelves, and at several locations I saw palisade towers manned by familiar red uniforms. Ramparts of sharpened palisade were built all over the tiers of stone, built right into the cliffs, leading up out of sight into the hanging mist.
At the back of the inlet was the largest structure of all, with a wide dock and ramp stood a small fort, this one made of stone, and, to my surprise, even a small number of cannons. It stood like a guard dog, anything entering the inlet could immediately be fired upon.
As if on cue of thought, my father sidled up next to me, dressed in his full uniform and his musket across his back. He grinned at the look of awe in my eyes. and draped an arm over each of us.
“Devil of a spot, isn’t it? We could be attacked by all the fleets of the world and come out smiling. I cannot think of a safer spot for us than here.” He smiled and gave us each a squeeze. “I want you each to know, I do not regret a thing. I would’ve given up that little shop a dozen times if it meant a better place for us.”
I saw a look come into his eyes. “If only your mother were here as well.”
We shared his sadness, but like the Kipling he is, he shook it off and held us close. “If Margaret had survived, perhaps I would not have my two wonderful children. That I do not regret.”
Our ship came smoothly into port, the water of the inlet smooth and still as glass. My father embraced each of us and went to join the other soldiers going ashore first. I and Ariel watched proudly as he and the other redcoats filed smartly onto the dock to go into the fort.
Not everyone was as happy as we were. Roger, who had recovered from his feverish bout on arrival, now sat with his back to the main mast, his arms crossed, and his eyes staring at nothing. Abigail tried to get his notice, to get his mind off of this imagined trouble, but his gaze was occupied trying to bore a hole into the deck floor.
Ariel, myself, Abigail and the other passengers gathered our things and we began to file onto the pier down the gangplank, but a firm hand held me back as the others left the ship first. I turned to greet a steely pair of eyes. It was Abe, and he looked deathly serious. Deep in his eyes, I could just see that look that he had gotten when he had been drinking.
“Daniel. Ye best take care of yourself in this place.” His look softened for a moment, a kind twinkle revealing itself in his eyes. “I’ll miss watching over ye from the mast.”
I gave him a look of surprise. “Will you not be coming ashore with us?”
He lowered his head and ran his fingers through his slightly disheveled hair. “Nah… my place is on the ship, my young friend. Tis’ my curse to bear, I need not take on another.”
I was about to ask what he meant when he looked me in the eyes again. “Watch your loved ones carefully. I do not know what it is about this place that your friend Rudiger fears, but it’s gotten me too.”
I tried to laugh nervously, rolling my eyes to the overhead mist. “What are you afraid of, old man? It’s just an island.”
His voice faltered as he fought for words. “I… I wish I could explain it. Just remember what I told ye, boy. To fear nothin’ is to be a fool. Watch yer back, always.”
With that, he gestured for me to take myself down the gangplank. Slightly unnerved, I now stepped tentatively onto the solid pier as the ship cast off behind me. Joining the others, we all walked to the end of the pier to be processed by the soldiers. However, I felt eyes on me, and I stopped to chance a look back.
As the mist came down to hide the ship once more, the last thing I saw was the lean figure with the peppered beard and sharp eyes, watching me from his place up upon the lookout, that haunting look upon his face. And then he was gone, never to be seen again.
I did not fear this place as Abe the sailor had, but for the rest of my day after our disembarkment from the ship, there were many strange things about this rock that I would, from that day, call home. After we all were recorded and father was sent off to the barracks, I was given instructions to where we would be staying. The path leading out of the inlet was a long, winding path up the cliffs, so high that we were now up in the low lying fog. It was eery, and Ariel held my hand as we marched up in complete silence.
Finally, we came across what looked like yet another fortress, with six meter high walls of wooden palisade with towers and one extremely heavy gate. We were allowed in by the gatekeeper, a grave-faced soldier whose name was never given. We were now in the main town, his Majesty’s newest territory.
It was not a hideous place, there was certainly more charm in the fortress than in a place like Whitechapel back in England, although that perhaps does not say much. The buildings here are mostly wood with a few larger stone builds, all with thatched roofs and sturdy oak doors. Abigail’s family seemed to had spared no expense in the buildings here. In fact, the street was even cobbled with stone, swept clean of dust and rubble, and lamp posts stand dormant until their appointed time to light the streets.
I was astonished, as were Abigail and Roger. Even with the Braddock’s backing, how had all this been established in so short a time? How had it been maintained so well, and how had they been able to maintain such a sizeable garrison? I will admit, it filled me with pride to see the hard work and determination of the British people.
I was surprised to find that my family was to have a house of our own. I found later that if a soldier brought his family, they would be accommodated as such. Not far from the main gate but off the main street, it was a humble but clean affair with three rooms; a larger living space furnished with a fireplace, table, and a place to prepare dinner. The two smaller rooms had simple bunk beds with straw mattresses, with two beds per room. The house had no windows, just a solid, oaken door with a sturdy lock. These were features I would find to be uniform among almost every house on the island.
Ariel was dancing about the place as I wrote in my journal, our meager belongings having been quick to unpack. I had never seen her so happy. She was so young then, we both were of course, and must have seen this as such a grand adventure. I had as well, or at least I had until Abe the sailor had acted so strangely. It was as if the old merlin had cast a spell over this place, and now I was unable to see it for the wonder that my younger sister could see.
Father had not yet returned from the barracks, and I imagined he may be later still, so I decided to rest, the excitement of our first day in our new home leaving me, not to mention my rude awakening earlier that morning, significantly tired. The mattress felt incredible after months of being curled up into a hammock.
I woke the next day to find Father was home, working at the table, cleaning his Brown Bess musket. He smiled at me, brushing back his long, dark hair.
He was the one person I allowed to call me Danny. Our mother, in that final month of her life after our birth, had used to call me Danny when she would sit beside my bed as an infant, her having to be carried there by father in her ever-weakening state. It was his way, and mine as well, of remembering her. He would often state how clearly I resembled her.
Ariel and I spent most of the first day exploring the new colony. There were nearly four hundred souls there, including fifty-odd redcoat soldiers reinforced by Father and ten others from the ship. The streets bustled as people moved about, and we discovered that everyone had a task to help maintain the colony. Father told us that we would have our work by tomorrow, but for today to simply enjoy the new surroundings.
As we walked the streets, with Ariel sashaying about to my annoyance, it occurred to me that I had not seen Abigail since we had disembarked the previous day, so I plotted to try and excuse myself from my sister to look for her. Her being my sister, Ariel saw through my excuses and immediately fell to teasing me.
“Don’t we all get a little close cooped up on a ship for months, eh? Some closer than others?”
I folded my arms and rebuffed her. “Yes, and don’t believe for a moment that I haven’t seen you with that fair-haired boy from Hyde Park. You know, the one with the lisp, like ‘thith’”.
That was all it took, her face turned a livid red and, with a loud huff, she went her own way. Slightly ashamed of my jibe, I tried to console her but she had already disappeared around a corner. She knew my weaknesses, and I knew hers. We were siblings, after all.
In a moment, I was alone in a small alley between two larger buildings. I realized that a mist was forming around me, and the air had grown a bit colder. I looked around and decided to investigate the Wall before the sun could set.
From the outside, the colony could be assumed to be a fortress, with high walls and towers. Divided into three concentric circles, the main fort and harbor in the innermost circle, surrounded by the Inner Town, where my home was located, and then the Outer Town. Having lived in a dense city all of my life, the colony felt so wide, so open, mostly because the bulk of the inhabitants actually lived outside of the main fort, which has an outside wall with two gates. I soon found a ladder, and, casting a look about, went up, certain that no one was around.
Now atop the wall, my curiosity was not so satisfied as I had hoped. I could see all the houses in the outer town, as well as many small gardens for vegetables, and then the outer wall, which, while shorter than the inner wall, was made entirely out of stone. But past that, all one could see is a tall screen of trees, wreathed in the mist like a beard concealing a face.
The trees on the island were most peculiar. They seemed huge, but I suppose I had never seen a big tree in my life. Their bark was smooth, pitch black, and had a strange sheen. Their bark was not unlike the strata that made up the Teeth.
Then, as my mind wandered, a strangely familiar sound drifted across the scenery to my ear. Something sweet, soft, a melody I could not quite place, that sent a small shiver up my spine. I leaned over the battlement with my head tilted towards the woods, trying to ascertain whether it came from the colony grounds or from further away, for it seemed to be both near and far at once.
And then it was gone, swallowed up by the mist.
I barely hid a surprised yelp as a strong hand grabbed the nape of my shirt, and yanked me back with the strength of a cart horse. I nearly fell off the wall, but the same hand grabbed my kerchief and stood me on my feet.
Towering over me with a sour glare on his face stood an immense man in a dark coat. One bright eye glinted in the dusk light from under a worn, black three-cornered hat, and I was riveted by two very pronounced features that made him the most intimidating man I had ever seen: the three parallel scars running across his face, and his right eye, which was white and milky as a full moon.
Suddenly, his chest began to shake with a deep chuckle. He released me, and I nearly stumbled again, my knees weakened to the consistency of jelly. The glare was gone from his face, replaced by a jolly smile, and he removed his hat, revealing long, black hair tied back in a braid.
“Lawd above, what do ya think yer lookin’ for up ‘ere, boy?” He spoke with the unmistakable dialect of Eastern London, most certainly a Cockney man. The sternness was gone, a grin now crossing his scarred face revealing a set of bright teeth. I could almost forget what had made him so frightening in the first place.
“Ye could 'ave fallen an' 'urt your 'ead, best stay down there where ye belong, laddy, eh?”
I gulped, and, unable to conjure words, pointed wildly towards the woods beyond the wall. He glanced, and then looked back at me, slapping me firmly on the shoulder.
“Blimey! Don't yew worry about the outside today, sonny. Ye best be gettin' yourself 'ome. Go on, get. Nuff said, yeah?” He spoke quickly, and very amicably. He then turned and began to walk away from me along the rampart, and I too turned to leave. Then, I called to him.
“Wait, who are you?”
He swiveled on one boot to face me, and I now had a good look at him. His coat was dark, and the hemline came down to the ankles of his tall boots. His clothes looked slightly worn and well used. His braid came down to his waist, and he seemed to bristle with arms. A large knife and hatchet at one hip, a pistol on the other, and a fowling piece across his back, not to mention a powder horn and pouch. I had never met a huntsman before, but I will never forget the look of the kind of man who hunts in the wild.
He gave a small bow like a grand stage actor, sweeping the hand bearing his hat, which I saw had a long, green feather in it. “Friends’a’mine call me Lobo. Pleasure meetin' ye, Daniel. Get yourself below, ‘twill be dark soon.” Before I could ask how he knew me, he strode off with the swiftness of a breeze and was out of earshot in a moment.
Thoroughly flabbergasted by this brief but overwhelming encounter with such an outstanding individual, it took me a moment to collect my thoughts before I could find my way back home, Lobo’s countenance running through my mind the whole way home.
I reached my door and entered my home, not looking up as I discarded my coat.
“Ariel, I’ve returned! You best be home or Father will have your…”
My cheeks burst with redness as I snapped my gaze up. Ariel was indeed home, but, to my surprise, Abigail Braddock herself stood by the table, having risen to meet me. She looked even fresher and more radiant than I had ever seen her on the ship, and I found myself standing dumbfounded.
Ariel, who still sat at the table, giggled and rested her chin in her hands, her eyes glancing cheekily between me and Abby. “I’d say Daniel is pleasantly surprised, aren’t you, Dan? Look at those cheeks of his!”
I snorted in annoyance, doing my best to ignore the warmth spreading across my face. “It’s cold out! Ariel, have you nothing better to do or must you refuse to act your age?”
I must have glared daggers at her, for she rolled her eyes and retreated into our room, leaving the two of us standing alone in the sitting room. An awkward silence hung on the air until I cleared my throat.
“So… father’s not home yet, it seems.”
She nodded and walked slowly to within short range of myself. “I just thought it best to welcome you and your family in person.”
She spoke so softly, so delicately, it broke almost all of my resolve. I gave her a weak smile, struggling to meet her gaze. “I greatly appreciate the sentiment, Ms. Braddock.”
Abby immediately burst into giggles, a smile on her face. “Oh, Daniel Kipling, since when did we fall on formalities?”
I did not know just how red in the face a lad could become. “Of course, Abby, of course. It’s good to see you.”
Still smiling widely, she curtsied and bade me good night, excusing herself to return home. Once I shut the door behind Abby, exhaustion overcame me. I entered my room, greeted by Ariel playfully jabbing her tongue at me, which I gladly returned. I collapsed onto my bed, thoughts of Abby, Mr. Lobo, and that strange tune that I swore I had heard somewhere before.
Back in Whitechapel, most children and young adults spent much of their time playing in the dirty streets, making fools of the adults for a little fun at someone else’s expense. Ariel was one such urchin, the spirit of a boy while still very much a girl. I, however, had no such endless liberties, for, being the oldest, I always seemed to have some task at hand. Father’s bookshop was always enough to get by on, but I was never happy with just getting by.
Few of my jobs, of which I had many, ever paid much; a farthing here, a penny there, usually enough to help with food for a day or two. I was raised to believe that idle hands were the devil’s workshop, to let my family starve or not earn our keep would be a great dishonor. Of course, such principles only seemed to apply to me and father while Ariel had all the responsibilities of some fairy creature, but it was a burden we happily bore.
The day after our arrival, I started my work. Everyone was given a task to fulfill, to help maintain the colony, and mine was simple enough; mind the fort physician’s shop whenever he had to go out and to keep the place tidy while he worked. It was a quiet enough place, small, musty, carried the distinct floral odor of poppies. The doctor, Edouard, an amiable and energetic Frenchman with unkempt red hair, a monocle, and always firmly clutching a cane (if not the strongest grasp of English) goes out often, as in a new place people are always ill or getting injured somehow, and since I can only sweep so much dust much of my time is spent sitting behind the counter, bantering amiably with the cat who dutifully keeps her paws clean when not prowling for non-existent rats.
One day, some weeks past our arrival, Edouard was obliged to go and tend to a pair of badly broken legs, some dreadful accident that happened in the lower town. Before he went, as he always did, he alerted me to the list of prescriptions in the form of a row of bottles behind the counter. For the most part, they are all the same at some point, mostly opium, alcohol, and a few herbs.
Someone would often come in to claim, but at some point or another, I would have to leave the shop to deliver the drugs. That day, I was to bring medicine to one of the soldiers who was posted on the southern inner wall. The fog seemed to hang thick that day, as, in fact, it always seemed to. Not once in all my days on that rock did I ever see the sun, and almost never could I gaze farther than one hundred paces. Used to the thick blanket of mist, I closed the shop, my satchel of tinctures over my shoulder, and made my way on my own rounds.
I soon found the stairs up onto the wall, now familiar with my surroundings, and found the grey-haired man at his post who, wincing as he stood to his feet, happily accepted the medicine. He was not alone, however, two other men conversed with him, and among them, I immediately recognized the unmistakable form of Lobo.
He seemed to be in the same attire as the day prior, although missing his hat. In one hand, nearly as tall as himself, was what was unmistakably a Germanic long rifle, the weapon of a skilled marksman rather than a rank-and-file soldier. He would repeatedly thump it softly on the rampart, like the rhythm of a drum. When I saw him he was staring out over the wall, bearing that brief scowl, but his face instantly lightened on sighting me, and he waved me over with his wide grin.
“Well, wotcha doin’ there, Daniel? Come on over, ‘tis good to see you!”
I joined him as he leaned jauntily on the wall, pulling out a heavy pipe, hand carved out of cherry wood and iron, looked like it weighed at least a kilogram. He held it to me, but I declined, which he accepted with a knowing smile.
“Aye, ‘tis a bit’n'all strong fer a lad anyhow.” With flint and steel, he showered some sparks into the bowl and puffed out a little cloud out over the ramparts, watching it leave like an old friend. He seemed deep in thought as if I were not even there anymore.
“How goes, Mr. Lobo?”
He chortled a bit, blowing smoke through his nose. “Oh, that’d be me father, and ‘e ain’t here. Just call me Lobo.” He gave me a wide grin past his scars, clear to see without whiskers.
“How do you know my name?”
“Har, I know many thin’s, boyo.”
“You aren’t in a uniform, what are you then? A policeman?”
He shook back his head and howled a single, booming laugh. “Ha! Me, a bluecoat? Oh, how you do joke so, little Daniel.” He puffed a bit more from his pipe, and then tapped the still glowing embers onto the ground, stifling them beneath the heel of his boot. “No, I don't even bunk in the inner city. Too stiflin' in these 'ere walls. Know what I mean?”
I confessed that I did not. “Where do you live then? Down there?” I asked, pointing towards the lesser houses of the outer wall. He shook his head, and gestured towards the trees, with almost a braggart attitude to his point.
“See’em trees? Beyond 'em is a clearing, that's where I built me cabin. Today I 'ad to come into town though since the soldiers need me 'elp. I know a lot more about the outside than they do.”
I saw a strange look across his face, a sort of wariness, and he pursed his lips. “To a fella like me, t’ain’t much that’s strange no more. But this island... It's not somethin' I can explain. The trees, rocks, the very grass, feels like everythin' 'as eyes on ya out there.”
He grinned and slapped me on the shoulder. “Ye’'ll see some time soon, lad. I'd be'er get along to the fort, Colonel Braddock’s waitin' on me.” He turned and began to walk quickly away, and without breaking stride he turned and called out “ Oh, Daniel, yer pap says take care of things, 'e ain't gonna be 'ome fer a while.”
My heart was heavy to learn of this, father’s long absence had been taking its toll upon my soul. He was often my sole source of guidance, and after so long without him, I had fallen to feeling rudderless.
I returned home to find one lantern left burning and the fire nearly dead. Hanging my coat and stoking the fire, I checked our room to find Ariel fast asleep. I sat beside her a while, stroking her arm. She was still a child, a child having grown up without a mother, and our journey had taken its toll on her. I went to douse the lantern in preparation for sleep and found, next to the lantern, a note with our names upon it.
“Dear Danny and Ariel
I am sorry, but I learned of this but moments before writing this. I have been assigned to a long-range patrol which will be scouting the island for two weeks. Please, Danny, watch your sister. Ariel, mind your brother. Both of you make sure the fort is still standing when I return.
Your father, Peter Kipling.”I yawned deeply, finding myself far too tired to mind much. Father had spent much of his time wrapped up in his work back in England, leaving me to almost raise Ariel myself often for days on end. It was certainly harder, at least it was on me, that she was a grown girl, but I was not worried. As I darkened the house and drifted away to sleep in the comfort of my bed, as did happen every night, thoughts of the strange qualities of the island flooded my mind, thoughts of Roger falling ill, of Abe’s cryptic warnings, of Lobo’s strange observations.
It was in the following week that events went from curious and odd to something far more sinister. My workload increased, forcing me to spend more and more time away from home as Edouard had taken his leave from the shop indefinitely to care for an ill relative in the lower town. The medicine, at least, was not very complex in nature, mostly opiates. I knew it was rather helpful to those in pain, but the regulars around the shop were too much akin to regulars at a tavern.
In the time I was at home, I was often the sole caretaker as Ariel had begun to act out in full abandon. I tried my hardest to be understanding, for the relocation to the island had been hard for all of us, but I feared her behavior had become disgraceful. She was always off with some boy or another, what few others there were in the colony, out at all times of the day and night and seemingly refusing to tend to any of her chores.
One day, around noon, I was sweeping up the sitting room floor to my liking, when there came through the door none other than Abby. I quickly leaned the broom against the wall, standing straight and wiping the dampness from my brow. My welcoming, if not boyish, smile quickly disappeared when I saw the dreary look on her lovely face, and the tears welling in her eyes.
“Abby,” I cajoled, taking her arms and guiding her to sit at our table, “whatever is the matter?”
She was hesitant to speak, obviously trying to control herself. She looked deep into my eyes like she often did with her gentle, yet scathing gaze, as if her very eyes were trying to explain her inner sorrows to me.
Having made her some tea on the fire, she began to tell me of a series of very unfortunate events. I came to find that my troubles were, by far, the least severe.
Three people, a woman and two men, had disappeared seemingly without a trace. The news had spread fast and people had already searched the colony grounds high and low for the missing persons, but not a single sign of any of them had been uncovered.
“There have been rumors spread in the void of information,” she explained, “one speculation is that they were murdered and the bodies hidden in the woods beyond the wall. After all, their homes had all been broken into, some of their things in a struggle smashed but nothing taken. Oh, Dan, how I had hoped we had left such violence and beastly behavior behind us!”
I nodded solemnly. “Have there been search parties sent beyond the wall? Perhaps Father and his soldiers will turn up something.”
She shook her head, dabbing a tear from the corner of her eye. “No, the sentinels will not let anyone leave the grounds. The only ones who come and go are the soldiers and one other man, some hunter.”
“Lobo,” I interjected. “We’ve met, he’s an interesting character. Perhaps he may know something of the matter.”
Her lip quivered and her eyes fell to gaze on the embers in the fireplace.
“There’s more?” I asked, my stomach clenching softly.
She took my hand in hers as the tears now flowed unguarded down her cheek. “It’s Roger.”
“What of him? I’ve not seen him since we disembarked from the ship weeks ago.”
“He’s… he’s fallen ill.”
My heart sank with this grim revelation. “What are the signs?”
“I do not know… but… Dan, his eyes! They’ve lost all color, darker than the night, and he will not move from his bed. He won’t speak, eat, I swear upon my life that, at moments, he does not even breathe!”
I stood up and grabbed my coat. “Take me to him, I must see for myself.”
Abby lept up faster than one would expect of such an elegant creature, taking my arm with an even more surprisingly firm grip. “No, Daniel!
“Perhaps I can help him” I reasoned, ”something from the shop may…”
She immediately cut me off. “I won’t allow it. I don’t know what I would do if the same ailment were to befall you!”
I worried deeply for my friend, but something in her pleading voice warned against pursuing the matter any further. “Very well… but it is getting dark, I must get you home.”
“You should stay and wait for your sister,” she reasoned.
“That urchin has been trying my patience, and she often does not come home at all. Besides, what gentleman would let a lady in distress walk alone?”
She agreed, her cheeks reddening the slightest bit at my overly chivalrous behavior, and we walked, her arm around mine, to her home. The Braddocks were housed in the fort proper itself, behind the thickest gates and highest walls. I left her at the gate, watching her as she disappeared behind the solid oak which boomed shut behind her. With Abby gone, my mind wandered to worry about Roger’s sudden illness. Never had I heard of catatonia accompanied by darkening of the eyes, and even apparent halting of life functions themselves. And what of the vanished colony members? Who could possibly be behind it all?
I returned home, finding, with little surprise, that Ariel had not returned. I cursed under my breath, but left the door unlocked when I retired to bed, hoping to wake and find her having returned in the morning.
In the next few days, the already sinister events became even more severe. Four more disappearances followed, all during the darkest hours of the night, no traces found, houses ransacked. The tension among the populace had risen to something more akin to hysteria. Everyone cried out to know what had happened to their loved ones, demanding answers, only to be left with nothing but their own words seemingly falling on deaf ears. The soldiers not only refused to provide any tangible effort to calm the people, but they also seemed strangely nonchalant about the events of the past weeks.
Abby came by once again, this time making no effort to conceal her tears as no sooner had I opened the door to her knocks that she threw her arms around me, weeping openly like a child. I hesitantly wrapped my arms around her, softly caressing her shoulders as they heaved with her wracking sobs.
“Oh, Daniel,” she choked out between fits of tears, “Roger’s gone! He’s not breathing, his eyes have closed, his skin is cold as stone!”
My heart fell and my belly became cold. Not Roger, I thought, not my brother, the young man of many books, my tireless companion for the months aboard the ship. I quickly threw on my coat and demanded that Abby take me to where his body lay. She resisted but I was stubborn, so we walked quickly to a rather decrepit tavern in the lower town.
“He worked here, you see,” she explained to me. “He boarded in one of the rooms upstairs.” We went inside, the place smelling of sweat and bitter ale. No one was about except the round man tending the bar, who eyed us with a fearful glance before returning to his work. We walked up a set of creaky steps and Abby pointed me to the first door to our left. When she reached for a key in her pocket, I reached out and pushed on the door, which swung open.
It had been standing ajar.
Abby’s already porcelain face paled even further. “I swear on my life, Daniel, I locked this door when I left.”
I tentatively stepped inside, the small room musty and dark, the curtains having been drawn and the shutters barred. The latch upon the door was broken, clearly forced. Clothes and other meager possessions lay strewn across the floor, and a candle stood unlit on a small table. Taking my tinderbox I lit it, the weak light revealing the surroundings clear enough to notice one thing:
Roger, or his corpse, was nowhere to be found.
I turned to Abby, who stood with her mouth agape. “What do you make of this?”
“I… I left him right there, covered in a sheet!”
I touched the bed, which was depressed where someone had clearly laid down recently. It was cold, as was the bedsheet. A pair of shoes lay by the door, a coat hung on a nail in the wall.
“Well, he must not have left on his own, his shoes and coat were left behind.”
“I tell you, he was dead as a stone.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Dead men do not get up and walk, Abby. Perhaps someone came and collected him.”
Closing the door, we returned to the downstairs area and asked the bartender if he had seen anything. He shook his head, clearly wanting us to leave without asking questions. Abby and I suspected him to be hiding something, but exactly what that was we could only venture to guess.
Having walked her home, Abby stood with me by the gate, staring out into nothing, clearly dazed by the day’s events.
“Something is afoot, Daniel. Something dark.”
“Aye,” I agreed. “And our dear Roger’s fallen afoul of it.”
So wrapped up in my thoughts I was that, upon returning home, I almost did not notice that my door swung freely as I absently pushed it aside. Snapped from my daze, I was horrified to find that my door had been forced as well. This was all the more shocking, for my door was not held shut with a mere latch but a fairly sturdy iron lock. I looked about and saw nobody, and moaned in despair to know that likely no one had seen the culprit.
I moaned once again to see the state of the place. Everything seemed to have been tipped over, thrown about, scattered as if a great wind had come down the chimney. My blood boiled when I saw that even Father’s room had been forced into. Calming myself, I set about taking stock of our things and cleaning up the mess. I cursed to myself, wherever is Ariel when one needs her?
I prayed that night for Father’s swift return, surely he would make everything right again, and perhaps he could tame Ariel. In the meantime, whatever goblin that had violated what little sanctuary I had left would get a taste of the fowling piece I always kept loaded above the fireplace.
By the next day, even more people had gone missing, all in the same fashion, but this time I had not learned of it from Abby. A crier passed through the streets, followed closely by a crowd of desperate faces. A curfew had been put in place, no one, by any exceptions, was to be out between the hours of dusk and sun-up, as it had been surmised that it was during these hours when the now almost fifty people had vanished. All doors were to be locked, and all windows, what few there were, were to be barred.
My sole remaining hope in these increasingly dark times was dashed when a young soldier knocked at the door, delivering a message written in my father’s hand.
I wish it were not so, but now I must go again. I do not know for how long, but my company has been repurposed as a search and rescue troop. We are trying to find if we can pick up the tracks of the missing people from the colony. Please, be patient while I do this necessary task, and I will be home before you know it.
Peter Kipling."I crumbled the missive into the tightest ball I could and threw it into the flames, exhaustion of both mind and body quickly washing over me. I retired early that day, but not before taken precautions against another intrusion. As promised, I locked the door, having fixed the bolt of the lock earlier. If Ariel wants to be elsewhere. she can be elsewhere, I had grumbled to myself.
Oh, how I wish I had not been so careless, so cruel even, towards my dear sister, for the next day it came to my mind that she could be amongst the missing. My aggravation towards her quickly became sincere anxiety. To this day, I wish I had searched harder. It is a regret that I carry in my heart to this very day.
Events elsewhere seemed little more hopeful. Now nearly one hundred people had been listed as missing, a fifth of the entire colony. The hysteria had now boiled over into madness, fights broke out in the street, and a group of fellow colonists marched over to the fort to Colonel Braddock to demand passage off of the island. I heard that they were driven back by the flash of bayonets. My heart leaped to my throat when I heard the thunderous boom of a musket in the afternoon.
By that night my eyes were deeply red from weeping for my lost sister, my search having turned up no trace of her, and the tightly-knitted community of this colony had, at this point, severed itself, everyone having locked themselves indoors as if a plague roamed the streets. I lay draped over the table, staring at the door, praying for Ariel to return, for Father, for an angel to end all of our suffering.
I suppose something had heard my prayer, for a knock came at the door. I lept at the door and flung it open to find Abby standing there, carrying a small bag and wearing a hood. I quickly inducted her into the house.
“Daniel, has everyone gone mad in this place?” Even with the door bolted behind us, she spoke in a whisper.
“It would certainly seem so. What are you doing here, the streets are far from safe now.”
“My home is no safer, someone fired a musket through our window!”
I swiftly and instinctively wrapped my arms around Abby, the fear of her in such danger overwhelming all decorum. She laughed softly as I ashamedly let her go. “No one was hurt, Daniel, everyone was fine. My parents were very shaken up, of course. They forbade me to go out and tried to lock me in my room, but I escaped out the window and came here.”
“No one saw you?” I asked. Even in the midst of all the madness, I feared the consequences of the Braddocks finding that their daughter had defied them and hidden in my home.
“Not a soul, no one dares be out after dark.”
“For your sake, as well as mine, I hope that you are right.”
I bade her take her things into my own room, which she hesitated to accept but agreed to nonetheless. I instead elected to sleep in a comfortable chair Father had made for resting upon by the fire, turning it to face the locked front door. I slept poorly that night, my finger constantly caressing the trigger of a shortened fowling piece I always kept loaded with pistol balls.
Not long after I had finally managed to finally fall asleep, the sun already peeking under the crack of the door, there came a pounding that nearly startled me into discharging my weapon. Composing myself, I answered the door to see, at long last, Father had returned. I immediately flew into his embrace, clutching him so tightly that I suddenly noticed that he felt somehow smaller than when I had last seen him. However, once I looked up into his eyes from so close to him, I almost gasped in horror.
My father, once a muscular, virile man for his age, was not the man I remembered from mere weeks before. Once standing tall and strong at six feet, he now stooped slightly, and his once dark but peppered hair now had stark white streaks like veins of silver coursing through stone. His cheeks had hollowed, his once square jaw now looking pointed and gaunt, and his skin had paled to an almost sickly greenish white.
By far the most haunting new features were his once bright. sharp eyes, now dark, watery, and significantly sunken back into his skull. Red and black rings encircled them, red from apparently crying, and black from some unknown torment that I could only imagine.
He took my shoulders, holding me so firmly I could feel the steely muscles in each finger like claws. He stared into my eyes, a glare so serious it almost hurt.
“Dan. This is important.” He spoke in a hoarse voice, gravelly and tired. “I… I heard about Ariel.” His voice trailed off, his jaw clenched in an attempt to hold back a supply of tears long since exhausted. “You must listen to me. Danny, you are all I have left.”
I cut him off, half defensively, but also in an attempt to console him. “Father, please, I’m sure we’ll find her…”
“Listen to me.” The familiar boom of his voice had momentarily returned. I said no more.
“You watch your back from now on, and get someone to watch your front. When the sky starts to darken, you MUST lock yourself inside, and open it for no one. You must stay safe in the house until noon the next day, do you understand?”
I nodded. “Are you sure, Danny? You must never leave the house in the night, absolutely never. Your life depends on it.”
I promised him, but before another word could leave my lips he grabbed me into another hug, and I held him back. I could hear his heart beating, and his ragged breathing through the pronounced hardness of his ribs beneath his uniform. Suddenly, an officer on a horse came riding through, shouting his name, and my father left with him. I stared after him as he went, frozen, shocked that this mere corpse of a man was what remained of my father, Peter Kipling.
By the time the sun had risen to its zenith in the sky later that day, what little of it that shone through the ever-present fog, I learned that now nearly ten score people had been reported to have been missing. However, a strange calm of resignation had fallen over the colony. I believe that they, like myself, had surrendered to the fact that there was nowhere to go. Not until the next ship was to arrive. There was little left to do but wait.
I resolved to resume my duties at the medicine shop, despite protests from Abby. She even softly took a hold of my arm in an attempt to keep me from leaving, her eyes widened with fear. Whether she was more afraid of being alone or more afraid for my safety, I was uncertain, but I told her to lock the door and open it only for me.
Surprisingly, the shop was still intact. The door stood firm and nothing had been taken. I sighed, taking out my key, wondering when Edouard would return, if he ever would, when something caught my attention out the corner of my eye. I froze in place, trying not to turn in surprise.
There, leaning against an abandoned cart, was a dark figure, staring at me, as if daring me to run or react. I exhaled aloud, however, when it revealed itself to be Mr. Lobo, who for all of the madness surrounding us still wore that grin on his face. He still appeared as heavily armed and untouchable as ever.
He stepped up to me as I nervously fumbled the key, trying to get it into the lock. Leaning against the doorframe, he removed his hat and scratched his head.
“Daniel lad, 'ow’s it been?”
I sighed aloud, clenching my shaking hands. “I’m still alive, sir. Still here.”
“All that matters, kid.” He put a hand on my shoulder, gently, although his calloused hands felt like bark. “How’s ya family 'oldin’ up?”
I felt my shoulders twitch as I told him about my missing sister, and I gulped down the emotion that I had been restraining in an attempt to remain calm and composed. His hand gripped my shoulder, and softly rocked me in a soothing, fatherly gesture, not unlike what Father used to do when I became upset. “Can’t be all rosy, ya pa bein’ away. Boy should not ‘ave to be a man so soon.”
I gulped, licking my dried lips. “I suppose.”
Lobo released my shoulder and withdrew his pipe. I, by now, had ceased trying to unlock the store and simply stood there, staring at the lock as if my will and anguish would force it to open. He offered the pipe to me, but my lack of response made him frown, and he emptied the bowl with a flick.
“Ey, listen. I know you’ve got questions, lad.”
I nodded. “What in hell is going on here? What are the soldiers doing? What is father doing? Where have they all gone?”
He hung his head, as if tired. “Listen. I know I ain’t a friend, or even a chum a’ yours. I know it may be ‘ard to trust me, but can ya try?”
The forward manner of this question got my attention, and I looked him in the eye. He looked deadly serious, his eyes steady as a stone. “What do you mean?”
He looked about, a fruitless gesture as the streets were as empty as a church on Monday. “Tonight, come ‘ither to the southern outer gate. Ye got a piece?”
I knew he was asking if I had a firearm in the house. “Yes. Just one, a bird gun loaded with pistol balls.”
“Very good. Bring it ‘long. Is anyone else at ‘ome with ya?”
I told him about Abby staying with me, and he scratched his chin. After some thought, he withdrew one of his pistols and held it out to me. “Leave this with ‘er, and tell’er to be ready to use it.” I took the gun as he continued. “Now, ‘ere’s the rub. You must come at night, just after sunset.”
I was about to tell him what father said, but he seemed to have read me completely as he kept talking. “I know, ya pa said this was bad porridge, but I can see ya needin’ answers. You meet me there, tonight. You may get some answers. Best if ya keep to the lit parts as ya walk, laddy.”
He started to walk away, and I turned to dash home before he faced me again and called to me. “‘Ey, you got a stiff belly, lad? I won’t force ya to come if ya don’t think you can tackle it.”
I nodded, feebly. I was not sure what I would see, but I knew that I did want answers. The soldiers would not give them, the Braddocks would not give them, only this odd man seemed willing to shed any light on the current events. I walked home briskly, entering the house with my key to find Abby asleep in my chair. She had slept poorly the previous night, and must have dozed off with little else to do in the house. Without waking her, I placed her in my bed and sat beside her. I watched her shoulder fall and rise with the steady, soft breath of sleep. I envied the serenity of her face, for my sleep, what little I was able to achieve, had been restless. I took up my place in my chair, and dozed off myself, hoping to have as much strength in preparation of whatever would happen come nightfall.
When I awoke the sun had already gone down. Checking my fowling piece once more to make sure it was primed and loaded, throwing on my heaviest coat, I threw open the door to step out into the night.
Suddenly, a surprisingly strong force took a hold of my arm and yanked me back over the threshold into the house, and I whirled around to see Abby look up at me with a look of indescribable panic on her face.
“Daniel, you can’t!”
I tried to shake loose, but her grip of desperation did not abate. “This has to be done, Abby, I must get to the bottom of all this or we’ll all be next!”
She moved her hands from my elbow and took my hand in both of hers, I felt the strength lent to her grip by fear. “Please, Daniel, only evil lurks about this place after nightfall!”
I withdrew the pistol Lobo had given me. “This will keep you safe until I return. Here, take it.”
The look did not leave her face as she shook her head, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. “Daniel Kipling, what if you do not return? Tell me, what will I do then? What will I do without you?!”
I yearned to heed her warning, to stay and protect her, to give her the courage to make it through the night. So, removing my hat, I did the only thing I could think to do, something I had desired doing since the day I had met her aboard the ship bound for Isla Sirena.
I kissed her.
She went still when our lips met, her trembling seeming to cease. My hand cupped the smoothness of her cheek, and her hand came up to my chest. I released her, and the look in her eyes had changed to something new.
“Do you trust me?” I asked her softly. She wordlessly nodded.
“I love you, Abigail Braddock, and as God is my witness I will return to you. That is a promise.”
I placed the pistol into her hands and closed her fingers around the handle. “It’s loaded and ready to fire,” I told her, “use it only if you must.”
She wrapped her arms around me one more time. “Daniel Kipling, you had best keep that promise,” she whispered into my chest. I let her go and once more stepped boldly out into the night, closing the door and waiting until I heard the lock click into place.
I followed Lobo’s advice and kept to the brighter streets. I’m sure the bird gun on my shoulder would have scared away all but the maddest fool who would be roaming the abandoned streets. Oddly enough, no soldiers were about to enforce the curfew, for indeed people seemed all too willing to stay indoors. As I walked, I saw, with a sinking heart, just how few houses still had lights in them.
I saw torchlight ahead as I approached the southern gate. Lobo stood in plain sight, but looked a much more powerful figure in the stark light of a fiery torch. He did not smile when he saw me, but locked onto me with those steely eyes.
“Ya sure ‘bout this, Daniel?” The way he said this was not so much to warn me off, but to be sure that I knew what I was getting into. To be truthful, I still was not, but I had to know something. I nodded, which he returned. With two hands, he shoved the gate open, just enough for him to slip through.
On the voyage over, on a very hot day with little wind, the ship had been slowed to a crawl. Some of the boys decided to take a swim into the deep to keep cool. I had joined in, but before I jumped, I stopped to think of what I was about to do, below me was the deepest depths of the ocean, endless darkness, cold, unknown darkness. As I stood before that open gate, I was, for a moment, that boy on the ship. In front of me was the unknown, where anything could be lurking.
However I overcame this, thanks to confidence instilled in me by Lobo’s presence, and I dived into the darkness, setting one foot in front of the other a step at a time.
No matter how fast I walked, Lobo seemed to glide on ahead of me with sweeping strides. He looked straight ahead, the torch held before him, as if nothing were wrong. But as I struggled to keep up with him, my trembling fingers grasping the weapon tightly, everything felt wrong, like something unseen was crawling ever so softly over my skin like a snake. As I walked, my ragged breaths turned to clouds of mist like gunsmoke from a musket.
A twig broke in the darkness, the negligible noise booming through the void like a cannon blast, and I stopped dead in my tracks. The light of the torch faded into the distance, Lobo had not noticed the sound. It seemed that he was used to whatever crawled about in the night.
I, however, was completely in the dark. I felt like I was submerged in freezing water, all my hackles were raised as I looked about into the inky blackness. I was aware of several things, the light was completely gone, the temperature was dropping quickly, and there was not a single sound. Even my heart seemed to have stopped beating as if it too were intently listening for something.
What I heard next was the last thing I ever could have wished for, and a sound that haunts me to this day.
It started soft, so soft that I first thought it had come from far away, like the distant sound of a bird. But as it grew louder, my stomach shriveled as I could clearly recognize it as the sound of humming, a sweet but chilling tune that could only be made by a fellow human being. It was closer than I had thought, encircling me from somewhere to my right. The strange beauty of the song left me frozen in place, but my heart raced like I had run several miles.
Something flashed in the side of my vision, and I slowly swiveled my head to look, for fear that even the grinding of my neck bones would draw unwelcome attention. Finally, my eyes rested on what I saw. It was then that all move to will gave way to the paralysis of fear.
The only thing I could see in the darkness were two red orbs, glowing brightly as coals in a blacksmith’s furnace. They were so bright they cast a weak beam of light, and I felt a sudden heat waft over me like a blast from the fireplace. They seemed to hover, fixed upon me. I swear that even the blood in my veins ran cold and stopped moving, my whole body sharing this unearthly terror.
After what felt like hours but could only have been a few moments, the two orbs suddenly moved off to my right and blinked out, swallowing everything in darkness again. I needed no further opportunity to move, and I flew down what I hoped was the path. Branches slashed my face, and stones hampered my feet, and only keeping my hands in front of myself prevented me from knocking myself unconscious against the trees.
Finally, what felt like a rope successfully halted me so suddenly that I fell to the ground and rolled for several paces. I could only shut my eyes as I tumbled further and further, until finally, I came to a stop on what felt like grass. I did not dare move for several minutes, until I opened my eyes to see that I was in a clearing illuminated by torchlight.
I stood up and saw that I was now in a perfect circle of a clearing, floored with grass, but torches stood on poles like sentinels, lighting up the whole clearing. Several sets of sharpened stakes were set into the ground, all facing the outside of the clearing, as if guarding against the entire forest. I turned, and there in the center was a small log cabin.
I saw that I had grievously strayed from the path, having fought through the thickest part of the trees. The path led from the door of the cabin into the forest, and Lobo soon appeared, socketing his torch into a vacant pole. He stopped, staring at me with mild amusement. He ran over to me and brushed the leaves and thorns from my battered coat.
“Lawd above, Daniel! Thought ya’d given up and gone ‘ome, or somethin’. Where the devil’d ya go?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I was spooked by something in the trees, and you had the torch, but went on without me. I ran for my life, but nearly killed myself running like a mad fool through the woods.”
His brow folded at the mention of what I had seen, but before I could explain it a familiar horror overtook me, the crawling sensation filled me. We froze for a moment, and exhaled gunsmoke. It was getting colder once again.
Suddenly, one of the torches near the edge of the forest just hissed out. Not flickered out, not blown out by the wind, but hissed like red-hot steel submerged in water. I did not move, but Lobo swung to view the event. Another torch went out, this time closer to us. And another, and another, and the darkness was rapidly engulfing the clearing. In my paralysis, I felt a strong hand take my arm, and I was yanked towards the cabin.
“Mary, mother’n’Joseph, move yar arse Daniel!”
Before I could speak, I was dropped by the door, but only for a moment as Lobo opened it, and grabbing me again, he flung me through the threshold like a mere doll. I skidded to a stop and looked up.
The cabin seemed much larger on the inside but was a single room. It was indeed a hunter’s lodge, strange furs and bones covered the walls, as well as several muskets, a pike, and a wood ax occupied the corner by the doorway. This was all illuminated by a blazing fire.
Lobo slammed the thick door, and threw a large iron bolt into the lock. Breathing heavily for the first time since I knew him, he swept up his rifle, and backed away from the door. He stared towards it like a guard dog. I was still lying on the floor, too shocked to move.
With a whoosh, a great wind came down the chimney and scattered the fire like a kick from an enormous foot, blowing ashes across the floor. I curled into a ball, eyes closed in reflex, as small cinders rained upon me. I heard Lobo’s rifle clatter to the floor, his hand thumping against my body.
“Lands, Daniel! You’ll catch ablaze, roll over would ya?!”
The cabin had descended into darkness barely lit by the embers of the fire, and once I had been saved from catching on fire, I realized it had all gone quiet. So quiet that I could make out sounds coming from outside the cabin.
That chilling song was back, but louder than I had ever heard it before. And it was no longer the sole voice, an entire chorus of them now emanated from all directions, even from above, pouring into the room through the walls like water into a breached ship's hull. The hymns penetrated my very heart, chilling me to the bone and leaving me still as a stone. I screamed silently, begging with all of my heart for the ghostly songs to stop.
For a moment, all suddenly fell silent. The silence was not long-lived, for a familiar childish giggle rang through. One that nearly drove me to tears, one that I had begged to hear again for days past. It can’t be her, I thought.
Ariel’s voice could be heard outside, cajoling me, calling me by name. Something took a hold of me and, before I knew what I was doing, before Lobo could react, I lunged for the door, screaming for my sister. I threw back the bolt and opened the door.
The door opened merely a crack before a hand thrust itself inside, immediately latching itself onto my throat. I felt long, sharp nails digging into my neck and stars appeared before my eyes. I clutched at the arm, the skin feeling cold, clammy, and rough as a grindstone. Every bit of my strength tried to force the door shut, but the strength of whatever had its hand around my throat was incredible.
There was a sickening tearing sound and a thunk, and the grip immediately loosened from my throat. An agonized screech assaulted my ears before the door slammed back into closed position, the bolt immediately thrown shut once more.
I fell to the floor, catching my breath in gulps, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Lobo now stood braced against the door, which shook with the booming thunder of dozens, maybe hundreds of hands brutally pounding against its sturdy timbers. An axe was in his right hand, the blade coated with something dark and thick like tar. What nearly made me retch was what sat on the floor by the doorway.
It was a hand, writhing on the ground like a pinned spider. It looked human and had five fingers, but the fingers were long and bony, tipped with claws, and grey as the island sky at noon. The grotesque object finally stopped moving and began to crumble into dust before my very eyes.
The banging having slowly stopped, Lobo turned to stare at me, a strange look on his face. “They can only come in if ye let ‘em in,” he muttered.
“What the devil was that?” I asked him, massaging my throat, now encircled with what I was certain were bruises.
“Lawd, if I only knew, Daniel. They don’t come out durin’ the day, and they only can enner’ a house or a gate if it’s opened for ‘em. I ain’t got a good look at ‘em as they always attack at night, but…”
His voice trailed off, but I finished his thought. “They sound like us, don’t they?”
He grimly nodded. “Aye. There be somethin’ afoot 'ere with these vanishin’s’. The soldiers keep leavin’ the colony to go into the woods, and they won’t let no one ask questions ‘bout it.”
I felt confused, still dazed from nearly being choked unconscious. “I thought you knew these woods?”
“Oh, I know the way ‘bout, don’t mean I know all the goin’s’ on ‘round here. The soldier boys have me find paths for ‘em through the trees. Ain’t stopped me from snoopin’ around a bit on my own, though.”
He waited for me to ask him to elaborate, but when I said nothing he turned his gaze back to the door.
“Y’ever noticed how bloody quiet this place is? Not a cricket, not a bird. The only thing I’ve ever 'eard is them.”
“You’ve heard them before?” I asked.
His gaze never left the door, and Lobo said nothing more. I was overtaken with fatigue, and I fell asleep in moments, the night's events having taken all the fight from my body.
Lobo woke me some hours later as the glow of the dawn crept over the fog, barely illuminating the gloom that had always covered the island. Together we walked back through the woods in silence. Nothing needed to be said. Somehow the Huntsman managed to help me slip past the watch of the guards upon the wall and saw me to my door. I knocked on the door and called out to Abby to let me in, which she did in what seemed to be mere moments. She swiftly embraced me with a strength that I did not know she had.
I turned to bid Lobo a good night, despite it being morning, but he had already disappeared into the gloom.
Abby quickly pulled me back into my home and bade me lie down. “Where in God’s name did you go, you had me worried sick!”
I drowsily smiled at her. “Ms. Braddock, you are radiant when you are angry.” She swatted me on the shoulder, not too hard. She applied a cool, damp rag to the tender marks upon my throat.
“Please do not do that again,” she spoke softly, her fear and anger had abated and her voice soft as down. “Affairs are dreadful enough without my worrying for you.”
As I drifted to sleep, I chuckled. “Worry not, Abby, I don’t believe things can possibly get worse.”
The next day, I was to be proven wrong… oh, how wrong I was. That day, our world fell apart and descended from madness to true terror.
I was walking in the lower town. As much as she detested being left alone, it was unsafe for Abby to be out and about, while I still had my duties as the town’s de facto doctor. As I was finishing my rounds, a commotion drew my attention, I heard much shouting, one voice loudest of all.
Rushing to the scene, I saw Lobo having wrestled a young soldier to the ground. The boy could not have been older than me, he seemed afraid and frail next to the indomitable figure of the Huntsman.
Lobo spat with fury, addressing the gathering crowd of curious onlookers. “Ain’t it been all too interestin’ how these redcoats 'ave stood about and done nothin’ to protect you lot from the darkness?! The king’s finest? Rather the devil’s worst!” He glared at the soldier lying prostrate on the cobblestone, paralyzed with fear. “Tell ‘em!”
The boy hesitated until Lobo viciously gave him a boot to the ribs. His voice trembled as he cried aloud.
“We did what we were bade to do! They would not take no for an answer, it was either sacrifice some of us or all of us!”
“Who?!” cried someone in the crowd.
“This island… the Spaniard explorers who told the Crown of its location, they chose the name well. The sirens, voices as old as time, whispers from the deepest pit of hell, they spoke to us. They implored us for food, for people… for hosts. There are things on this island that bow to no god, we tried everything to persuade them to leave us alone, but they wanted bodies!”
He broke down weeping until Lobo kicked him once again. “We resisted, so the voices came in the night and took those they wanted in spite of our pleas. Those they took became husks, silent, unbreathing, their eyes pools of darkness. We were forced to oust those poor souls from the walls, hoping the Sirens would be satisfied. Every day they wanted more, so we surrendered what they asked for. I did not want to obey, but those who refused to carry out orders would be shot… or worse.”
The soldier curled up into a miserable ball on the ground, his breath hitching. “We’re all going to die on this godless island!”
Lobo and I stood silent, as did the crowd, aghast at what had just been revealed. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, a squad of soldiers rushed into the area, dispersing the crowd and training their weapons on Lobo. Unfazed, the hunter put himself between me and the ring of shining steel. An officer stepped forward, sword drawn.
“You’ve meddled where you should not have. You both shall come with us.”
“They’ve all seen ya for what ye really are, now. Ye’r not soldiers, ye’r cowards, each of ya!” Lobo spat at the officer’s feet. The man glared coldly and raised his saber into the air. Lobo did not flinch, but I could not help but despair as I waited for the order to fire.
Cries were heard from the wall, drawing the officer’s attention. I saw a guard waving frantically to the soldiers in the street, who disregarded Lobo and I and ran to towards the commotion. Soldiers were piling onto the walls, all gazing in horror out beyond the wall. So transfixed were they that Lobo and I, as well as several onlookers, joined them on the rampart to take in the most horrid sight I had ever, and will ever, lay eyes upon.
At the edge of the trees stood a group of people, standing motionless, all staring towards us on the wall. Even from this distance, I could see their eyes. Black as the night.
“By God…” murmured Lobo, who in spite of his sturdy demeanor was clearly shaken at what was unfolding.
I noticed more of the things emerging from the treeline, forming ranks, the group growing into an entire crowd of spectators. Onlookers gasped, cried out, and wept as they recognized the husks of their loved ones shambling into view. My breath caught in my chest when I recognized two familiar forms appear at the center of their ranks.
Roger and Ariel. Their skin pale as the rest, their eyes dark, standing motionless as statues. Not a shred of their humanity remained.
I felt suddenly cold as a soft wind picked up, catching the tears on my cheeks. I felt a firm grasp on my shoulder, and turned to see Lobo beside me, clasping his hands on the sides of his head.
“Cover yer ears, Daniel, for God’s sakes cover ‘em!” He growled.
The husks mouths all fell open at once, stretching wider than I thought one’s mouth could, and out poured that same chilling song. Even muffled as it was by my fingers jammed into my ears, it was overwhelming, strong and overpowering like honeyed liquor. My legs became weak and I fell to my knees, screaming in agony. My scream, and those of the others, was unheard over the hellish cacophony.
One of the soldiers struggled to his feet and, steadying himself against the ramparts, took aim at the figures. The report of the musket could only just be heard, and I saw one of the figures fall to the ground.
All fell silent, and my ears rang in the sudden void. I unsteadily got to my feet and we all stared in horror outwards.
“My god, what has he done?” I gasped.
Lobo merely shook his head. “Poor fool’s only wasted a bullet. Look.”
The figure struck by the soldier’s discharge was slowly getting back up, seemingly unfazed by the large hole now gaping in its chest that oozed blackness to match its eyes. All was silent once more as we waited to see what would happen next.
The husk that was Ariel was the first to start walking towards us. Then Roger, then another. They shambled towards us in a wave, an army of the dead on the attack.
Lobo turned to me once more and, for the first time since I had met him, I saw true fear in his stoic face. He barked just one word to me: “Run!”
An officer sputtered some panicked order and the other soldiers took aim at the approaching assembly. Muskets thundered and several of the abominations fell to the ground, catapulted backward by the force of the rounds, only to gain their footing again with sickening somersaults. The creatures, not even slowed by the volley, now fell to all fours like wolves and broke into a sprint, covering the distance with horrifying speed.
I took Lobo’s advice and we escaped the wall as the screams of the soldiers could be heard behind us. I looked back and saw the creatures had somehow scaled the wall like spiders, their clawed hands tearing into the redcoats and onlookers like scythes. Bayonets and gunfire went unnoticed, screams for mercy and for help went unheeded as the monsters cruelly savaged everyone in sight, ripping them limb from limb. I could only hope that the massacre would allow me to escape unseen.
Having lost sight of Lobo, I broke into a sprint of my own towards my home. As I ran, I saw people trying to escape their homes being ambushed in the streets, and the creatures effortlessly smashed their way into the homes of those who did not dare take their chances outside. Blood ran across the cobblestone like water. My shock left me numb and focused on finding Abby.
In the street by my house, one of the creatures cut off my escape. Several holes in its body leaked an evil black ooze, and blood dripped from its mouth and claws. I gritted my teeth as I waited for it to pounce and render me to pieces. It lept at me, and I shut my eyes.
I heard a clap of thunder and opened my eyes as the husk shot to the side, its head exploding into a disgusting dark mess. Standing in the doorway of my home was Abby, the pistol smoking in her shaking hand. I rushed over to her grabbed her arm, yanking her away as the now sightless but enraged creature flailed about. She went with no resistance, and we quickly made our way towards the Braddock house, away from the carnage that had now overtaken the upper town.
Short of breath, we took refuge behind the gate. I looked back towards the lower town to see that some of the houses in the distance had caught fire and towers of thick black smoke beginning to rise into the air. I still heard gunshots and screams, all growing closer. We were running out of places to hide.
“Abby, is there any way you know of off of this cursed place?”
“I don’t…” she hesitated, clearly trying to think, and then snapped her finger. “Yes, Father has a small boat secured in an alcove down at the dock. He keeps it supplied and ready to push off!” Then a look of despair crossed her face. “But it only has room for three people.”
“We’ll worry about that when we get down there, but now we must run!”
“No!” She protested, trying to run towards her estate. “I must find my father, my mother, I can’t leave them!”
At just that moment, several of the abominations appeared over the wall over our heads and lept like cats, crashing their ways into the windows of the Braddock house. Screams came from within, and Abby fell to her knees.
“Daddy! Mum!” She screamed, her voice breaking with complete despair.
A head appeared in one of the windows, and out jumped one of the creatures. It crouched low on all fours, encircling us, clearly toying with us in some sick game. I jumped between the thing and Abby as it tensed for an attack. Before it could jump, a figure in red dashed from out of sight and plunged a bayonet into the creature’s side, knocking it off of its feet and pinning it to the ground.
The figure thrust all of his weight into the musket, and screamed: “Run, Danny!”
I stood transfixed as my heroic father struggled to restrain the abomination that furiously hissed in anger, clawing and writhing. The sickly husk of my father had transformed into a ferocious lion defending its cub, and that familiar vigor and strength I thought lost blazed in his eyes. He turned to me one last time. “I love you, Danny! I’m proud of you! Now run!”
The creature took hold of my father’s musket and ripped it from his grasp, almost disemboweling itself with the bayonet in the process, and delivered a savage backhand that knocked him to the ground. Straddling him, it tore at his defenseless flesh, filleting him like a fish as I watched the life drain from my father’s eyes. His jaw was set in defiance to the end; he never screamed once.
I was yanked back to reality Lobo’s firm hand took my arm and dragged me elsewhere, and Abigail along with us. Together, the three of us ran all the way down to the dock where, sure enough, a small boat was docked. It was little bigger than a ship’s longboat, had a collapsible mast and sail, and a sealed box at the stern. Before I could think about what to do, Lobo shoved Abby and myself into the craft and, before I could react, grabbed a long pole and shoved us clear.
I last saw that great man standing stoically on that dock, that old grin back where it belonged. He drew two hatchets and clutched one in each hand. Behind him, I could see a wave of bodies flooding down the cliff-side path towards us, towards Lobo who now stood alone. As the distance grew between us, fear never once showed on his face. If anything, I saw a sort of peace come across him.
“Lobo!” I called out to him as our boat drew further and further away from the dock with about fifteen yards between us. “What are you doing, you fool?! You could have saved yourself!”
He shook his head softly, the grin not leaving him. “No, Danny-boy. ‘Tis my curse to bear, not yours.” With that, he twirled his weapons in his hands and turned to face the oncoming monsters. I saw him raise his hatchets and roar in defiance as the mist swallowed them all. I was so dumbstruck that I almost did not notice Abby clutching onto my arm from behind for dear life. The boat seemed to continue away on its own out of the cove, crawling past the sheer rocks of the Teeth at the cove’s mouth. I looked up at their tops one last time, and finally, the shock wore off and allowed the tears to stream from my eyes.
Hundreds of faces, just visible in the mist, stared down at us from the head of the unscalable cliffs. Faces I had come to know, some more than others, and some I had even come to love. Father was there, Ariel, Roger, Edouard, soldiers, women, children. They all had no expression, were as pale as the fog itself, and stared with unblinking, soulless, black eyes.
I heard a rumble build beneath the boat, far beneath us in those lightless depths of the ocean, casting ripples outwards as something began to emerge from the waters. They churned and frothed as something immeasurably big, smooth, and almost flesh-like rose from the depths, coated with scales like those of a fish, and then another object just like it, with ten altogether. Then, I saw they were joined in what can only be described as two massive black, scaly hands They placed themselves on the Teeth, so big that they must have wrapped around the entire island itself, gripping them so firmly cracks spread in the brittle unknown strata.
With that, Isla Sirena began to sink. No, not sink, it was borne down into the bosom of the sea by those leviathan hands as if it were a cooled pie merely being taken off the shelf. The whole ocean seemed to bubble and froth like it was boiling. Finally, the tallest height of the Teeth, along with all of its specter-like onlookers, vanished below the surface with a colossal splash, creating a wave that exploded outwards. Instinctively, I covered Abby with my body in the bottom of the boat as the wave lifted us like a child’s toy. I felt us skim along at a growing speed and we were tossed around against the gunwales. I thought it would never end until my head collided with the sturdy wooden hull and I knew no more for several hours.
I woke to the sun in my eyes, an alien sight after all those months on the overcast island. Indeed, I felt as if I were in another world altogether. Abby cradled my head in her lap, looking down at me with a strange look on her face. It was not shock or relief, hopelessness or fear. It was the look of one who has been broken. I’m sure, when my eyes opened, I shared the same look with her.
Lobo’s sacrifice ended up being our saving grace. The ship had been stocked for a speedy departure, this was true, but our rations may not have lasted with three of us onboard for as long as we were. I lost count of the days, but in all that time I do not believe either of us shared a word. We barely ate or drank, we slept every night with Abby in my arms as we waited for whatever fate allotted us.
Weeks, perhaps even months after our flight from that accursed island, we were rescued by a British ship on route home from the Americas. It had only spotted us by chance but swiftly came to our rescue. I saw the sailors turn white at the look in our eyes, and although they pried us with questions to no avail, they could tell we had been through the worst.
They bore us home without a bother, the crew seemed to think our presence was one of bad luck. No sooner had Abby’s feet touched the dock, finally back on British soil, she broke down weeping, curling into a tight ball as the many tenants of the dock looked on with confusion. In truth, I wept as well, but it was not tears of joy that streaked down our faces. I suppose that, now that we were back in reality, it had all become too clear what we had suffered.
Fortunately, Abigail and I still had each other, and as she managed to obtain some of her family’s wealth in the aftermath of their obliteration we moved as far inland as we could find and away from all human contact. She had a comfortable cottage built in a remote section of an inland moor, far away from trees or the sight of the ocean, and there we stayed the rest of our lives.
Ever since we arrived back home from that hellish venture, Abigail and I swore to never again speak of what had happened, not to anyone else and not between the two of us. However, ever since our return, the events of Isla Sirena began to blur in our minds, to fade away as if slowly dissolving into nothingness. Honestly, as I copy over the entries from my old journal, which had fortunately been in my satchel that day, I almost find those events unbelievable. Yet, as I read them over every now and again throughout our lives, something moved in me. Like a bit of metal left lodged under my skin, a vestigial reminder of what had happened. Abby must have remembered as well, for the very sight of the article’s worn leather covers would set her in a frightful panic until I would lock it away in a box beneath our bed.
In all those years, many of which hold happy, peaceful memories, I kept my promise to Abby. However, her recent passing prompted me to break my oath of silence. Oh Abigail, my beautiful Abby. I loved you and you loved me, that much I know. I only pray that this nightmare of our past did not come to you as you drew your last breath.
I feel the life ebb from my body as I finish this account. I rejoice in going to rejoin my wonderful wife. Maybe my mother will be there as well, but I wonder if my father and sister or Roger will greet me at the gates given their unfortunate end.
The ocean, to this day, harbors more darkness than I believe could ever be cataloged in all of the future years of mankind’s reign over the land. It is the one place we truly cannot ever tame. I dare say it is the one place where God turns a blind eye. Please, be cautious on the high seas. My tale is but one of countless others, stories that assert that mankind does indeed not rule this earth. There are things that prey upon us from under the waves, things we will never understand. Things we cannot plead with. Things that view us as mere toys, insects even. I know not exactly what happened to my fellow colonists on Isla Sirena, but I pray that whatever took them to have mercy on their souls.
It is the year of our Lord, 1750, and my name is Daniel Kipling. My father was Peter Kipling, my sister was Ariel Kipling, and my wife was Abigail Kipling, once Braddock. Now I know that, in a way, they all live on, as will I. Do with our story as you will, but take heed. Man does not, and never will rule the seas. Once in a while, something rises up from the godless darkness below to remind us of that inexorable, unbending, eternal truth.