Content warnings: Death, near drowning, thalassophobia
Richard was apparently a source of curiosity in his sun-proof suit. Every person on Nantucket Island was eager to see him, and were apparently disappointed now that he only went out at dusk. At least, that was what Alice told him as they walked down Main Street to the pharmacy on the evening of December first.
“I saw a kid today who wanted to know when you would be back out in that ‘funny black suit.’ I told him he was being rude and that you would be back out when you were back out.”
Richard smiled. The shops on Main Street were already decorating for Christmas, and he could hear some people singing in the streets, “Angels we have heard on high…”
“Richard?” Alice asked.
“Sorry,” he said. “Wow, look at that doll in the window, Alice. I should buy that for Caro for Christmas.” It was the third time he’d been out of the house in months, because of his concussion, and though his head still hurt, Richard was glad he’d finally taken the initiative to go out a few days ago. He very much liked Christmas, and it made him feel good to see everyone preparing to celebrate it.
The doll in question was an expensive china doll imported from England. Richard opened the door to go into the store it was in.
Johann yanked him back. Richard shouted, especially because the shock made him stumble and drop his cane.
“Johann!” Richard said.
“Sorry,” said Johann. “I have to say something important.”
“Great. What is it?”
“Mrs Fuller won’t die.”
“You mean, she hasn’t died yet?”
“Why are you so nonchalant? This is your profession.”
“Just because I deal in the dead does not mean I wish death upon the living,” said Richard, reaching down to pick up his cane. “Look around, Johann. Isn’t the atmosphere amazing? It’s Advent for real now!”
Johann shrugged. “I don’t care. We’re going to sail to Hell and steal the body of Albert Janson.”
The shock of the statement almost made Richard drop his cane again. “You’re doing what?”
“We are going to sail to Hell and steal the only other moderately fresh body I know of.” Johann pulled the sleeves on his ill-fitting coat down. “Are you coming or not?”
“I’ll come. Alice?”
Alice shrugged. “Whatever.”
Johann pointed down the street. “Monty is at some dock with a boat.”
“I don’t want some high kid driving my boat.”
“He isn’t high, and he’s older than you will ever be. He was born in the 1600s, for God’s sake.”
Alice shrugged. “He acts like a kid, so he is one.”
Johann shook his head. “Say whatever you want, but Monty’s still going to ferry Richard over the river tonight. You, me, Sylvia, and Deirdre are going on another boat that Duke Janson’s been using to go back and forth from Hell every day. He’s leaving in-” Johann checked his watch, “twenty minutes. We’re going to stow away in the hold. You and Monty will meet us in the graveyard and use your small skip to transport the body back afterwards, got it?”
“Yea, whatever,” said Alice.
“When are we doing this?” Richard asked.
Johann gave him a confused look. “Now?”
“Don’t you think you had better, I don’t know, plan a little more?”
“No time,” said Johann. “Go join Monty. Now, Richard!”
Even though he still thought it was an atrocious idea, Richard went.
Monty and Richard stood on a lonely dock, holding a line that seemed to lead off into the fog. It seemed that as soon as they’d managed to find the boat, the weather had immediately turned against them. Clouds and fog covered Nantucket, and the fact that the sun had just gone down didn’t help visibility.
But this was the only boat they were allowed to use, and this was apparently how they would get to Hell. The fisherman they’d bribed to let them use their boat had come and gone, and now they were standing on this dock, holding a rope that seemed to lead nowhere.
Monty hauled in the boat, and they found that it was even worse than Richard, at least, had expected. The fisherman had been sketchy enough, but his boat was just too much. The bottom half was covered in barnacles, and all the planks were covered in slimy green gunk. The ropes looked rotted away, the sails were patched, and there was water sloshing around inside it.
Richard turned green at the sight of it, and white at the thought of his father’s ghost. “I’m not getting into that thing.”
“Why?” Monty asked, climbing in and sitting on the side, near the mast. “It won’t bite.”
“It’s not the biting I’m worried about,” Richard said nervously, putting his hand on the side and putting both his cane and one foot in the bottom of the boat. He put his other foot in, and let go of the side, propping himself into the same position that Monty was in. “I’m just nervous, and my father-”
“Your father drowned,” said Monty in a very matter-of-fact voice.
Richard stared at him. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Oh, I just do. And, don’t worry, I’ve been sailing out of Nantucket since I was about six, and I worked on a whaleship for years and years. The only problem is that it takes two people to sail this thing, so you have to help me.”
Richard wasn’t sure he could help sail this boat, but Monty launched right into his sailing instructions. He grabbed the rod at the back of the boat. “This is called the tiller. It’s used for steering, and it’s connected to the rudder, which is underwater.” He touched a rope hanging off the sail. “This is called the mainsheet. It controls the sails, which is very important. When I say sheet in, pull on it. When I say sheet out, feed it through this pulley here, and be sure to stop when I say so. When we tack, put the tiller toward the sail and duck the boom, this pole holding up the sail here. Then we’ll switch jobs. I have no idea what the wind is like out there, so just do what I tell you and we should be fine.”
Apparently, that was all he was willing to say before the voyage, because he grabbed the mainsheet and pulled it in. “Keep us straight.”
Richard was still reeling from being on the boat in the first place, but he grabbed the tiller and held it straight, and, fortunately, they moved forward.
Monty looked out over the water. “Tiller to the right.”
Richard pushed it left.
“Toward the right, not left,” Monty snapped.
Oops. Richard jammed the tiller right.
Richard straightened the tiller out, and felt a gust of wind hit his face.
Monty let the sail out a little, and grabbed the tiller away from Richard, moving them to the right just a tad.
“Tack,” Monty said.
“What?” Richard asked.
“Tiller towards the sail hard.”
Richard shoved tiller as hard as he could. Unfortunately, he didn’t know to duck the boom and it hit him in the head.
“Dammit!” Richard took a hand off the tiller and rubbed his head.
“We have to switch jobs now,” said Monty. They traded, Richard with the mainsheet and Monty with the tiller.
“Sheet in,” Monty said.
Richard yanked the rope, and actually managed to bring it into the right position. He smiled and allowed himself a little triumph.
Richard ducked, but the boom still hit him in the back of the head. Now he had the tiller again, and sported a double headache. He kept the boat straight with one hand, and rubbed the back of his head with the other.
“Rock!” Monty shouted. “Tiller towards the sail!”
Richard shoved the tiller to the left, but was so absorbed in rubbing his head that he did not see the boom coming right for him. It hit him in the stomach, and he was thrown to the bottom of the boat with an oof.
“Dammit, Richard,” Monty said. “Don’t move forward!”
Richard didn’t, but he did put his hands in the front of the boat in an attempt to push himself up, putting all his weight on his palms.
“Oh, for fu-” Monty was cut off by the sound of the boat crashing into the water and flipping over.
Richard was flung into the ice-cold sea, and plunged downward like a dead weight toward the dark ocean bottom. He began to panic, because he didn’t really know how to swim. Fortunately, his survival instincts kicked in, and his hooved feet weren’t totally useless in the water. He awkwardly propelled himself upward, and grabbed on to the boat as soon as he reached the surface.
“Are you alright?” Monty asked.
“Fine, apart from being in the water,” said Richard.
“Alright, well, we have to turn the boat back over. Swim under it and push the side up.”
“You can’t swim. That’s just fine. I can do it myself. Monty took a deep breath and swam down to what would have been the top of the boat. He managed to get it on its side, and then had to come up for air. Then he dove back down and somehow got the boat upright again, before swimming to the back and pulling himself into their swamped sailboat.
Richard copied him and managed to get himself into the ship again, but not after feeling something like sandpaper on his leg.
“Erm… Monty? Are there sharks in the water? By any chance?” Richard had failed at not letting his nervousness slip into his speech.
Monty looked up sharply from where he was bailing the boat. “What? Sharks? I dunno. Why?”
“Because I just felt… something… in the water.”
Monty popped his head over the side. Richard copied him and went a shade paler. He could clearly see a dark grey form that was at least three feet in length. Then a dorsal fin cut through the water, and he was sure that the ‘something’ was indeed a shark.
Monty swung himself around the boat and counted aloud that there were eight total. Their mouths hung open as they swam, which might not have really been malicious, but scared Richard as bad as anything.
“Bail,” was apparently all Monty could say.
They threw water out of the boat twice as fast. It was now urgent that they got out of there, because the sharks hopefully wouldn’t follow them away from the site of their crash. At least, that was what Richard hoped, and he dared not think what would happen if that was wrong.
At last, the boat was empty of any water, and the two of them were sitting in their correct places again.
“Sheet in!” Monty said.
Richard pulled the sail in, and the boat shot forward, pitching him back. Monty put a hand on Richard’s shoulder to keep him from falling again. Why did his face feel so hot? Richard shook his head to dispel the feeling.
“Tack,” said Monty.
This time, both remembered to duck the boom, but Richard forgot to hand off the mainsheet.
“Hey! We have to switch jobs!”
Quickly, Richard handed the rope to Monty. There were no more mishaps for more than an hour, as they coasted through the calm water, sharks left far behind. There was something calming about sailing, without tacking and with the wind at their back. Then the calmness faded, and was replaced by a sudden feeling of fear and uncertainty. There was a splash to the left, and an ominous shadow passed under the boat. Richard looked around, but saw nothing. He peered into the fog and thought he saw something off to the right. Richard looked even closer, narrowing his eyes and leaning forward.
He sat there in that position for several tense moments, holding his breath and looking for any sign of what could have made those splashing noises.
Richard nearly jumped out of his skin. It was a demon from the deep, come to eat them! It was a siren, ready to lure them to their death! It was a sea serpent, jaws poised to bite their boat clean in half! He realized what it really was and jumped into action.
Fortunately, tacking had become easier by now, and they were able to avert the rock that had been right in front of them.
“That was too close,” Monty said. “I love you to death, Richard, but you have to focus.”
“I- You love me?” Why didn’t Richard mind this declaration, and why was his face hot?
Monty looked like a boy caught with his hand caught in the cookie jar. “I- Uh- just focus on the tiller.”
Richard went back to keeping the tiller straight, trying to dispel the warm feeling inside him.
Monty gasped and leaned far forward, so that his tricorn hat almost fell right off his head. Richard ignored him, thinking this was just another of Monty’s quirks. Seeing that he was being ignored, Monty punched Richard’s shoulder hard enough to almost knock him into the water.
“Ow!” Richard rubbed his arm. “What’ve you spotted?”
Monty leaned forward onto the prow, apparently having forgotten that that was what turned them over before. “Look at this, Richard!”
Richard let go of the tiller and crept forward, peering out into the fog. There was a dark mass coming toward them, which Richard realized was land.
“Hey, I think you found our land,” Richard said, pulling himself back into his spot by the tiller.
Monty grinned. “There’s probably a dock somewhere around here where we can tie off the boat.”
They looked around and tried to find a dock where they could leave their boat, and soon spotted a few nailed together planks sticking out into the sea. They were lopsided and covered in green slime, but this was better than trying to find the shore and possibly ripping holes in the bottom of their ship.
Monty sheeted in, and they cruised slowly towards the dock.
“Tiller towards the sail hard, like we’re tacking,” he said.
Richard shoved the tiller right and they swung around, pulling smoothly up to the dock. Monty jumped out, grabbed a rope off the bow and tied the ship off, checking and double checking that his square knot was tight enough.
“Hey,” he said, helping Richard off the boat. “That was pretty good, you know? Let’s just hope we can do it again with somebody else in the boat.” Monty laughed hysterically for a moment, before saying, “alright, but seriously, now. How are we going to get the body back here?”
Richard looked up from where he was tightening his boots. “Leave that to me. I have some ideas.”
Monty nodded and took a few steps into the fog. “Any idea what this could be like?”
Richard wrapped a spare piece of fabric around a stick and dumped oil from a small canteen on it. He lit the makeshift torch and shone the light out into the fog. “Not really, no.”
They began to walk forward, Richard leading. The island had a strange rainforest climate, and they had to fight their way through ridiculous amounts of plant life to get anywhere. Mosquitoes buzzed all around and they had to keep moving to avoid getting eaten alive. The sound of croaking frogs and rustling leaves reached Richard’s ears, creating the feeling that even the rocks were alive here in this jungle.
Then, just as soon as the forest had begun, they were through. The two of them were on a rocky ledge overlooking one of Duke Janson’s fortresses, the place Albert had been buried. There were no windows in any of the towers save the arrow slits, and even those didn’t have glass. Ballista peeked out of the front, and there were stacks of rocks for ammunition. Guards patrolled the ramparts, holding torches and with wickedly curved swords at their belts. They wore typical helmets, curved into a point at the top, with chainmail armor and tunics bearing their coat of arms. The only strange thing was that the dramatic lighting made their faces look almost… white.
“How thin are you?” Richard asked, eyeing the towers.
“I can’t fit through those arrow holes, if that’s what you’re asking,” Monty said.
Richard chewed his bottom lip and flicked his eyes all around the fort. “We have to get in through the second curtain.”
“I suppose our best bet would be to just climb over the back wall.”
“I can’t climb.”
“Oh, right. Well, we could go under it. Through a sewage grate.”
Richard shrugged, and the two crept forward. They reached the back wall and pressed themselves against it.
“There’s a grate right over there,” Richard said. “Open it and see how deep it goes.”
Monty hauled the grate open and revealed the sewer, which stank to high heaven but was deep enough to go under the wall and big enough to walk through.
“Well?” Monty asked.
Richard smiled. “Hold your nose.”
The tiller is the only thing that’s straight here (:
Fun fact: the sailing scene is actually lifted from an old story I wrote when I was eleven or twelve about a group of children going to defeat an evil wizard (right after I read the Shannara Chronicles). It was one of the better scenes in the story, which was kind of a confusing mess (as are most stories written by eleven year olds who haven’t read anything but fantasy from the 80’s in over a year).
Johann is angry in this chapter that Mrs Fuller won’t die, and historically, she didn’t, she hung on for several more weeks, long enough to name her killer and eventually put her in prison for ten years. Captain Nathaniel Fitzgerald, who was mentioned in an earlier chapter, was the one to stay with her as she slipped in and out of consciousness during the time leading up to her death, and he was the one to insist upon investigating her death. Unfortunately, this is their last impact upon the story, which means I’ll have to find something else to share fun facts about!
As always, thank you for reading!