The sun’s harsh afternoon heat scrapped their skin like glass, peeling it off with an intensity one could only imagine, but for the men of the Maiden Voyage, that was the least of their problems. The captain of the ship walked across the main deck, knife firmly in hand, looking over the chosen one, pinned down by his fellow crewmen.
“Please, sir,” he coughed, blood sputtering onto his skeletal frame,” please sir, I beg you.”
“It has to be,” the captain stated, “we’re so close, but at this rate, we can’t all make it there. Please understand, it was no easy choice to make.”
“A few more days…”
“It’s nothing personal. Please understand.”
“Sir, my wife and children are waiting for me. I promised them I’d be back! Please!” he wailed, some of the men looking away to keep away the wave of pity.
“We’ll help them…”
“I pray that you’ll forgive us, brother,” he said, nodding to the others, who pinned him down as the captain stood over him.
“Sir, please! Pl…” his mouth was muffled by one of them as the captain raised the knife.
“So many weeks – so many without meat,” he went, driving the knife into the man’s heart. Even in weakness, he struggled to remain in the land of the living, but his fellow seamen’s strength was no match for his, and ultimately, as the knife went deeper into his chest, he felt the chill of defeat in his bones and succumbed to his death.
“There you go, gentlemen,” the captain ordered, watching the men drive axes into the elder’s limbs, each of the remaining five men gnawing at the flesh with guilty glee; they would feel sorry in the morning, but now their bellies had rumbled their last and they had to have their fill.
The captain took a piece and retired to his cabin, where he chomped down the man’s arm, a euphoric feeling coming over with every bite he took. He barely noticed the young boy who meekly walked into the cabin.
“Sir?” he began, interrupting the captain.
“Young man? Why are you here? Have you had some?” he asked, wiping the blood from his mouth.
“No, not yet, but I will soon,” he lied. The captain looked keenly at him and deduced why he was actually in his cabin.
“Ah, you’ve never had to partake of your fellow man, have you?” he asked the boy, who slowly shook his head.
“Please understand, we had no easy choice to make. He was slowing us down and…”
“He said he had a wife?”
“Yes, and once we get to our destination, I’ll ask that she take care of his family.”
“Can she do that? From out there?”
“She can do a lot of things.”
“But is it true? I mean, we’ve heard of her stories before, but is it true? Does she really exist?” he asked the captain. He smiled at the boy and placed the limb down, walking over to him and addressing him like a son.
“Enough to make you set sail with us?”
The boy shook his head again as the captain continued.
“You hope she exists. You may have not seen her, but there is a part of you that prays she’s as real as you and I. that’s why you came here. That and the other reason you boarded.”
“Don’t be shy, young man. Many have set sail in search of treasures beyond their wildest dreams. Some for more, carnal reasons, but all the same, men have died trying to reach her.”
“Like Mzee Luka?” the boy probed, to which the captain sat on his desk and spoke.
“Son, these are the difficult decisions one has to make out at sea. You’ve probably heard of adventurers with their fantastical tales, but they’ve never told you what they’ve had to do to survive the raging waters. I assure you, you won’t be so wowed the next time they speak.”
“I understand, it’s just…”
“Promise me you’ll eat something. Otherwise, you’ll starve to death like the last two we had to throw overboard, and I won’t hear your reason for being here. Okay?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy said, standing at attention.
“No need for formalities, no one is watching.”
The captain chuckled a bit at his naiveté.
“So tell me, young man…”
“Joram. Tell me, Joram, how would you like to see what drives a man?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come along. Let me show you,” he said as he walked out the door and onto the main deck, where the men were gathered around.
“Gents, our boy here says he knows what to do once we get there. Shall we give him an ear?”
“Aye, sir,” they said in unison as Joram stood in the centre of the circle to speak.
“I – I’ll bend on one knee and recite the Old Prayer as my grandfather taught me. This will show her that I am still faithful to the Old Way. Then I’ll ask her for medicine.”
“What for?” one of them asked.
“For my siblings. I was the only one strong enough to come, so I promised I’d come back with a cure for their skin,” he replied, as the others nodded in commendation.
“A noble cause,” the captain said, “I hope you’ll get it.”
“I hope so too. We’ve done everything we can as a family,” he went on, the others looking solemnly at him.
“You’ll be fine. Now, would anyone else like to share?” the captain asked. one of them, a tall slender man waltzed to the centre, laughing as he spoke.
“I’m going to ask her to give me three women at my side for the rest of my life!” the others, except the young boy and captain, cheered at this as another burly one declared.
“Beer for the rest of my life!” they cheered on as another said.
“Beer and women for me!” one with a scar across his left blind eye said.
“Which women will want you One-Eye? You can’t even see clearly!?” the tall one said.
“Ai, what do you mean? Women love a strong masculine figure, not one thin stick of a man!” he stated as the others laughed.
“Ei, I know what they want. We stick figures are tall in all the right places!” he quipped back as the others cheered louder.
“Don’t any of you want riches? None of you has thought of asking for that?” the captain asked them.
“What for? We’ll spend it on beer and women anyway!” one more declared as the whole crew burst out laughing. Even the captain couldn’t resist joining in.
“Wow, such noble reasons, all of you,” he said.
“And yourself sir? What would you like her to grant you?” One-Eye asked him, all paying attention. He thought for a while, his gaze distant as the others exchanged glances, wondering what he would say.
“A day with a very special person,” he finally spoke.
“You came all this way for that? A coin would have gotten you two days with many more of them!” the man quipped, the crew erupting yet again. Joram couldn’t help notice the captain’s fake laughter, the sudden change in tone and the depth of his gaze. As soon as the captain saw his unsettling stare, he excused himself and went back to his quarters, leaving the men enjoying the sunset on still waters.
“Good to hear, gents. What are we here for anyway?”
“Treasures from the Mistress!” they said in unison as he left to his cabin, Joram following him in.
“You were serious, weren’t you?” the boy asked him.
“Goodness. Do you have any idea what privacy is?”
“Who was she?” he asked, watching him disappear into his thoughts once again, holding the pendant adorned around his neck and saying:
The boy took the hint and climbed back onto the deck, leaving the captain standing in the middle of the room, reminiscing on how he would spend the remaining time with his special lady. This had been his only request from the Mistress for years, and he was not planning on failing.
As he disappeared into his thoughts, sinking into his leather seat, the boat rocked slowly and lulled him to sleep, but he didn’t feel like it. In fact, he was fully awake: standing on a beach, the sun sparkling on the crystal seas and footsteps in the sand leading to her. She smiled broadly, stretching out her hands towards him.
“I’m here. I’m never leaving again,” he said as he ran towards her, and she to him. As they closed the gap between them, a lightning bolt struck the ground with a vengeance. He looked up to see gloomy clouds covering the sky, and back to the sight of her digging her hands deep into the sand, being pulled away into the sea.
“No! Not again! Please, spare her! PLEASE!” he screamed, dashing to her aid. Instead, he tripped and felt something pin him to the ground on his belly, hands and legs apart. He watched her get taken into the seas, her eyes appealing for a helper who would never appear.
“Please, please spare her! Take me instead!” he begged. Then, almost like he was heard, he was flipped over and he came face to face with its ghoulish eyes, crooked blood-stained teeth bared at him in a smile. It threw its head back, opened its mouth and cried out to the dark heavens as it sank its teeth into…
“NO!” he screamed.
“Captain! Are you alright?” One Eye and Joram asked.as they helped him up.
“What happened? Where is she?”
“Where’s who, sir?” Joram asked.
“You were screaming for help, sir,” One Eye said. The captain wiped the sweat off his brow, sat with his hand on his thumping chest and breathed out.
“We’re almost there,” he calmly said.
“How do you know this?” Joram asked him.
The captain ignored the last question, walking past them and onto the quarterdeck, the men following him sheepishly.
“Raise the masts. The wind will lead us there now,” he calmly instructed as the men on the main deck looked at him then at each other; the sails had shown no signs of waking up in the past few days.
“What wind?” one asked. The captain simply pointed ahead; slowly, a whisper of wind crept on their skins, starting warmly then biting with icy cold fangs, raging across the sea.
“Hoist the sails, men! We’re almost home!” the captain declared, turning the ship to the side of the winds, letting go as it charged through the waters.
“Captain! We’ve turned back!” Joram yelled.
“This is where we’re from, sir!” the tall one said but the captain paid no heed to them. He held on to the pendant, whispering to it as the ship gathered more speed.
“CAPTAIN!” another one called out to him, but he kept at it; holding on to the pendant, almost praying to it for protection, for only he knew what they were going to face out there.
“BRACE FOR IMPACT!” he shouted to the men, who held on to whatever they could find. Just then, the ship came to a crashing halt, throwing one of the men furiously to the cannon, his skull almost cracking on impact. The men grimaced in pain, only being able to imagine it. Luckily, he could still stand after being helped by the others, his hands wrapped around his throbbing head. The captain walked down to the main deck, still in a dreamy gaze as he spoke softly.
He climbed down to the shores of the island, his crew in awe at the sparkling sea under the sunlight and the impossibly clean beach they stood at.
“Where was this? We never saw it on the way here,” Joram said. The captain turned around with a big smile and said:
“This is where she lives, gentlemen. Congratulations, we made it.”
“WE FOUND IT!”
They held hands in a jig, humming as they went in a circle, all while the captain stood there, still looking ahead.
“She’s waiting for us,” he said, proceeding forward to the palm trees ahead of him, behind which a forest stood.
“Wait, she’s here? On this island?” Joram asked.
“Yes. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting,” he droned, walking faster. The men struggled to catch up to him due to the covering, which was abnormally large in comparison to them.
“What is that?” the burly one asked, pointing to a large, brown hairy rock to their left that stood over ten feet tall.
“What is that? I’ve never seen such,” another man said. The taller man walked ahead, climbing up a rock ledge. After staring in amazement, he then said.
“Yes, you have. Only much smaller.” They walked over to his side to see it cut open, revealing white flesh.
“It came from there,” he went on, pointing up to the bunch of coconuts that threatened to fall right on top of them.
“Oh my – he was right,” the boy said, “she is real.” The men stood still for a second, the mere thought of her existence weighing down on them. Sure, they expected to see someone who would grant their wishes, but they never anticipated that they would be as real as the stories they had heard before.
“I – I don’t like this,” one man said, “I think we should reconsider.”
“How? By going back now, of all times?” the captain asked as he joined them, all smiles.
“Sir, have you seen…”
“Do you want to see her?” he asked them. They traded looks, no one being able to say anything.
“Come gents, we’re so close,” he said, turning to the clearing right ahead of them. As they followed, Joram walked slower, eager to do a bit of exploration of his own.
“He didn’t seem surprised at this,” he said to himself, feeling the gigantic coconut from the ground up. There, he saw what seemed to be footsteps in the mud, much smaller in comparison; much smaller than his. As he knelt to examine, he saw a figure flit right past him and disappear into the forest.
“Guys, guys!” he called out to his crew members, running after them. He found them on the shores of the beach, one like the one they had just come from.
“Guys! There’s someone else here! I saw something in there…” he started.
“Look at the captain,” one man said, pointing to him; he had waded into the water and simply stood there, his mumbling now audible.
“He’s been at it for a few minutes now,” another one said, “I think he’s praying.”
“There’s something – someone in there,” Joram went on, tugging at the man standing next to him, “we have to go and find them.”
“What do you mean ‘someone’ in there? Living on an island as large as this?” the man queried, “how can someone survive here, all alone?”
“HELP!” His cries cut short their conversation.
“CAPTAIN!” they yelled, rushing into the sea to him, struggling with all his might to remain afloat as he was being pulled deeper into the sea, leaving the boy there on the shores.
“I thought he was a championship swimmer,” he muttered. Just then, another ear-piercing scream resounded from the trees.
“Something’s wrong,” he went on, unable to decide where to go. He thought of the trees to find the mystery person, but he remembered that there were much stronger men who had accompanied him, and he needed their help. So he ran to the sea but was stopped by One-Eye, who emerged from it while clutching what remained of his right arm, blood spurting freely onto the sand as he limped as fast as he could.
“Oh God! What happened?!” Joram asked him, but the man pushed him back.
“Go back! You’re going to die! It’s taken everyone else!” he cried out, trying his best to get away from the water. The boy, confusion and fright his portion, tried to help him, but he shoved him with his remaining arm, so hard that he fell into the sand.
“Run! It’s coming! GO NOW!” he bellowed, limping on as Joram got up, helping the man pick up speed. Just then, they heard another scream.
“See? I told you there was…”
“Keep going! She’s meant to scare you!”
“What the hell is happening?” the boy asked him; the man fell to the ground, the pain in his limbs unbearable for him.
“I – I can’t…”
“Yes, you can!” Joram tried to encourage, but One eye slumped onto the ground.
“We tried to pull him away from it for a long time, but it was so strong…”
“You were only gone a few minutes!”
” – mauled everyone, bit off my hand before I could escape.”
“What do you mean?!”
“Then I saw – the captain –
“You should go. I’ll buy you some time before he comes for you!” he said, resigning to his fate while pushing him into the trees.
“What is it? Tell me what’s happening? Please, I’m scared and I don’t know what to do!”
“I’m dead anyway! I can’t keep up!”
“No, you can’t leave me…”
“Please go, please! RUN!” he shouted at Joram, who reluctantly took to his heels into the forest, leaving the man behind. He was tempted to turn around, but the man’s agonizing screams strengthened his resolve to keep running.
“Ow!” he shrieked as he tripped. He examined the gaping wound on his leg thanks to a tree stump he hadn’t seen. Just then, he heard footsteps rushing in his direction. Coming from where he left the man was a soaked captain, about a hundred meters away, who was also limping but faster than his fallen comrade.
“Captain! Please help me!” the boy shouted as he waved to him, relief flooding his heart as he struggled to stand. The captain, a worried look on his face, rushed to the boy.
“Wait – I thought you were…” he started, remembering what One-Eye said:
“…before he comes for you.”
It then dawned on him, albeit too late, that the captain was indeed chasing him.
“No! No, please!” the boy started, trying to hobble away.
“HELP! WHOEVER YOU ARE, PLEASE HELP ME!” he kept crying out, but the captain caught up to him with a stinging jab on his cheek that sent him plummeting to the ground. The man then held him in a vice grip, covering his mouth as he pulled him back to the shore, past the remnants of his fallen friend and into the waters. Joram managed to pull down his hand to plead once more.
“Please! Please don’t kill me. Please, I’ll do whatever you want. PLEASE!” His appeals fell on deaf ears as the captain, having waded till the water was at his waist, hurled the boy into the sea and made his way back to the shore. The boy tried to follow, but a horridly disfigured entity emerged from behind him, wrapping its blue, tattooed arms around him and sinking its teeth into the boy’s neck. He wriggled and fought, screamed and cried as loud as he could, but as the blood drained from his body, he felt limp from one limb to the other, his voice choked back by the blood gurgling in his throat. Then, as his body was turned towards the being, his eyes widened in horror as he watched its blood-stained mouth open wider and wider until it descended into his skull, tearing off his head and crunching on it, then swallowing his torso whole, all while it waded onto the shore, where the captain was on his knees.
As it approached him, its bones cracked and its body transformed into that of an impeccable, golden-skinned woman adorned in a blue robe, with matching blue tattoos on the right side of her body from head to toe. She stopped at the man, who bowed in reverence to her, arms raised as he declared.
“Mistress, I pray that this sacrifice pleases you. I now wish that you grant me my request, the only one I have had for all these years.”
“Stand,” she spoke in a silky voice. He stood up clumsily and straightened himself as he said.
“Please let me see her.” At this, a small figure covered in a green cloth burst out from the forest and into the shores, running straight for the captain and leaping into his outstretched arms.
“Papa!” she cried out as she uncovered herself, hugging her father tightly as he wept.
“I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much,” he sobbed.
“Me too, Papa. She said you wouldn’t come, but I knew you would. You always come for me,” the girl said, smiling from ear to ear as her father kissed her forehead.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes. Let’s race first, and then we can have our picnic. I’ve made your favourite food!” the girl happily declared.
“Go draw the line. No cheating this time.”
“I’ve practised for long. I’ll win!” the girl squealed.
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. You’re old now, and I’m faster than you.”
“Sure? We’ll see about that,” he said as she skipped merrily on the beach, leaving her father with the woman.
“I’ll be out by sunset tomorrow. Thank you for this, Mistress,” he said, watching her turn back and walk into the seas, but not before she faced him again, warning him:
“More, or she’s next.”