The ship rocked, battered by the waves slamming themselves against the hull of the ship. The smell of salt was strong on the air, ever present on the journey.
The Captain never noticed it any more. It was a background smell along with the dark smell of BO emitting from himself and the crew, the shit of seabirds when they were close enough to shore to attract them. The smell of their food rotting. First turning a sickly green then a dark, ugly brown as they shrivelled and died.
The Captain had warned his men: no perishables. But would they listen?
The Captain was forced to make an example of the men who had brought the offending vegtables aboard his ship. He could not have his men ignore his commands. If they would dismiss his word as fodder when it was such a basic command, what would happen under more precarious circumstances? A hull leak or being boarded by an enemy ship?
No. Better to have them fall in line now while he could still control the outcome. There had been a pungent smell of blood on the deck of his ship that day. The coppery notes wouldn’t vacate his tongue for some time after.
To squeeze extra salt into their wounds, the captain had those useless sots clean their own blood from the knots woven throughout the floorboards. They were there, on hands and knees, scrubbing until the sun sank past the horizon, pulling the dark in after it. They had their own blood under their finger nails.
No one had disobeyed him after that.
All those smells were eclipsed now by the oddly sickly, sweet smell of rot lurking in every corner of the ship. It had seeped into the wood, turning it into a reciprocal for stench.
The Captain stood at the helm of his ship. Although rain flew down like icy bullets, it was preferable to be out here instead of within the bowels of the ship. The men. They had fallen ill. Nearly his entire crew. It had began with complaints of tiredness. He soon disciplined that out of them.
The Captain was not a man to tolerate tardiness on his ship. But then they started to drop, one by one, like lumbering beasst brought down by well placed arrows. They could not work.
As each man dropped they were taken below, not to be seen on deck again. When The Captain had dared to stick his head down below he had found his men deteriorating before his very eyes. Blood oozed from the pores of their skin, from their mouths, leaving them streaked with crimson disease; lips coated with blood like the mouth of some great leech after chowing down on some unsuspecting animal or other. Swollen, messy, vile. And the smell...
The ships doctor had done what he could for the men, attempting to clean their pores with alcohol. But when it came down to it the best treatment for the damned sots, short of a bullet in the skull, was to let them drink the alcohol, not bathe in it. The lip of every bottle aboard his ship had been painted red. No longer drinkable by sane, well men.
The Captain kept a bottle back for himself in his quarters. A man could not command a death ship past the horizon, into seas no reasoned man would dare set sail, without being a little pissed after all.
The Captain spent much of his time in his quarters these days. The previously roomy, elegant space becoming ever more tight, cramped and imprisoning each day and night he sheltered there. His haven was fast becoming his prison and he needed release.
The Captain stood on deck, inhaling salt air deeply. He leaned as far as he dared over the rail, with the storm fiercely striking with the anger of a god. He needed the salt smell. It was better than…
The only hope The Captain had was the map. The map held the key. It would lead him to vast treasures. The treasures of Cetus. All the legends said that the great constillation Cetus pointed to sparkling riches beyond any man’s wildest dreams. The power to change his life, to live how he saw fit. To evade capture from the bastard naval fleet for ten thousand lives lived over.
The map had been most difficult for The Captain to obtain. He had sat in gloomy, smoke filled taverns, snatching tales from the tongues of tipplers. A rumour here, a secret there. He wheedled all the collective knowledge from the tavern dwellers.
The Captain had sourced a crew, crossed oceans, made trades, sacrifices, widows. He did it all. He got his map and it promised him…
None of this.
But it was far too late to turn back now.
The Captain made the decision after the last of his well men also fell to the sickness; dropping like flies. There was no man to run his ship. No man to carry out his commands and see him to his goal.
The Captain took the last of the food they had, gold made edible, and his bottle of rum for good measure.
The moon hung above, its face leering down at the captain, the only thing to illuminate the tar black waters of the unforgiving ocean.
Loaded with provisions, The Captain lowered a modestly proportioned dingy into the murky waters, before lowering himself down.
With only the haunting glow of the moon for company, The Captain grabbed the oars and rowed, trusting that the stars would guide him when they made their appearance.
The waves were still, resting, only waking when his oars sliced them.
The Captain rowed until his arms burned. Rowed until the sun rose, sending blinding shimmers skittering over the water. Rowed until he couldn’t feel his arms, until his breathing laboured so heavily that the sound was deafening, alone on the open water.
When The Captain had stopped rowing, finally allowing himself a moments rest, his ship, the tomb of his dying crew, had been out of sight for some time.
The very thought of those men laying there, gasping. Clutching onto the very last morels of life offered to them before they were consumed by the disease, was enough to drive him to the bottle.
The mind melting elixir. Thick and dark like honey, with a taste and aroma that had more in common with a rat’s arse than sweet honey, slunk down the captain’s throat, burying itself in the pit of his stomach.
Drinking on empty, the brew hit hard with a kick to the skull and the captain slumped, face pressed against the damp smelling, splintery bottom of his dingy.
When he awoke later, head pounding, fuzziness on his tongue and smelling a little bit of sick, the first thing The Captain did was take another spoon of honey before continuing to row.
The stars were out tonight and shone brightly, pin pricks in a great black sheet. The waves rose and swelled, highlighted with silver streaks running down their backs.
The dingy rocked from side to side. It was difficult for The Captain to stay true to course, but so long as Cetus remained over him he knew he was on the way to his prize.
The Captain’s life became very repetitive.
Sleep. Row. Sleep. Row. Sleep. Row. Sleep.
He existed as an automaton, a clockwork wooden man whose only function was to operate. He lost himself in the motion. All sense of time and place gone, just a steely eyed focus on the man made of stars, reaching a guiding hand down to aid him. Cetus pointed the way.
Cetus loomed above him now, stretching across the sky. This was the point that all of the stories andthe map had told him that his treasure would be. It was the truth, it was here!
There was only waves.
No land in sight, not even on the furthest part of the horizon. There was no sign of animal life. No birds. No pods swiftly journeying toward a destination. Not even fish.
The sea was a stagnant pond, devoid of all life. Nothing but scum.
The Captain sat back, drinking in the watery doom swelling out before him.
No. This could not be.
It had to be here.
The Captain reached into his jacket with trembling hands, reaching for the map, the map he kept next to his heart. He pulled it out and his eyes dissected it, drilling in search of the merest hint of what the hell was happening now.
All was correct.
This is where he was supposed to be.
But it was all wrong.
The Captain's hands shook, blurring the map in front of his eyes.
He yelled, his voice cracking.
The Captain tore the map in two and shredded it, flinging the tatters to the wind. The shreds of broken dreams were picked up by a gust and hitch hiked out over the horizon.
The Captain turned on the sky next, cursing Cetus as a liar. The stars twinkled with mirth, laughing at The Captain and his predicament.
The Captain reached for the bottle. He wasn’t going to have just a spoonful of honey, he was going to drink the whole hive dry!
A single drop was all there was to wet his mouth. His sweet honey was gone.
The Captain’s lips were dry and cracked, lacerated by unforgiving winds and irradiated by the merciless sun. Dehydration wasn’t helping matters much either.
The Captain had finished the last of his food a few days prior. Not even a fistful of dried morsels, already turned stale, to satisfy his hunger.
The Captain had always thought that when he had found Cetus’s treasure, there would be food and drink to sate his appetite as well.
Cetus’s treasure was dehydration and shitting yourself.
The Captain lay stiff in the accursed dingy, a corpse in a coffin.
He dragged himself to the side of the dingy and hung over its side like meat on a wrack. He wretched, heaving little but spittle and bile out into the fathomless depths. The barest signs of life out on those damned waters aside from his own wretched hide.
The Captain was given a terrible fright when he saw a face like death’s mask staring back at him. Sallow greying skin that looked like to drop off before long, cracked, bloody lips crusted with sores at the drawn out corners. Blood shot, weeping eyes and patchy hair. The bald patches exposed a scalp made of scabs. Blood poured from that terrible figures ashen face.
The Captain was even more frightened when it dawned on him that the face of the dead man staring back at him was his own.
The Captain didn’t fill his coat anymore. It hung limply from limp arms and small shoulders, all muscle mass swallowed with his last meal.
The Captain slept under his coat from sunrise to sunset and back again, huddling and shivering as the damp air penetrated him, invading his flesh, preventing him from ever becoming warm. He failed to protect himself from nature’s cruelties.
He could not remember when he last felt warm, when he had eaten a warm meal, he had felt the warmth of a woman against him.
Each night The Captain endured on that black sea, there was more coat to wrap himself with, a small chance of protection.
The Captain woke with a start, a strange dizziness upon him (different from the dizziness he had endured so long). The waves chopped and churned, stirred by some great being’s whims. Yet they appeared to be...Moving further away from him?
The Captain stood shakily on matchstick legs and nearly lost his balance.
His mouth gaped open like a wound when he saw what was happening around him – The waves retreated, called away on some important mission, and fell back to the horizon. Leaving…
The Captain did not dare pear over the side of his dingy. He feared he would fall into the abyss, never to be seen again.
Cetus had grown in size dominating the skies, illuminating the waters, The Captain’s shrunken frame, the… hole?
The dingy began to move.
The Captain set himself down and braced against the sides of the dingy. He had no idea what was happening, no control of the situation. His dingy, the last ship he would captain, was descending below the water line, deep diving into the ocean,
Cetus was the sky. It laughed at him, malice glittering in its many glimmering eyes, shining maliciously. The Captain was terrified, a small child lost in the dark.
As The Captain’s dingy lowered into the belly of the sea, operated by some strange force, The Captain hung in open air, surrounded by walls of water. There was life here. Turquoise waves swirled and splashed playfully, lit by some unseeable, unrecognisable light source.
The water was inhabited by so much life.
Shoals of glimmering fish shone like rare jewels, dancing too and thro. A whale, a great beast larger than a house, swam by slowly, serenely, her calf nuzzling into her side. Brightly coloured shells jetted passed, propelling themselves at high speeds, strange limbs, seaweed given life, trailing out behind them as they raced.
A great behemoth loomed larger than them all. It’s single, gooey eye, an eye the captain could fall into, never to be seen again, stared at him, before it cast off, swimming out into the reaches of the ocean.
The walls of water streamed down with force, roaring loudly, a great beast in its own right. The sound of it’s roar was deafening to The Captain. The thrashing, roaring walls of ocean were growing in size, growing louder, more imposing.
The Captain’s heart pounded, a drumbeat to snare him into an early grave.
His world was still illuminated by the sea light. Great wonders swirled around him. Inhabitants of another world.
The dingy had made it’s descent. With a soft thud, it had reached its destination.
The Captain gingerly stepped from the vessel, feet resting on soft, white sand.
Above him the menagerie of the sea still performed and Cetus was still present, though its malevolent glare had been softened by distance.
The world at the bottom of the ocean was sculpted from coral. Beautiful, brilliant colours, so many colours. Rainbows given form and weight. They channelled him down a great corridor that stretched onwards for miles, leading him along to ever more inviting colour. The inkling of hope stirred in The Captain's chest again.
At the end of the corridor there was a bright light, a beacon hanging high in a chamber held in a bubble by the sea.
There was a great temple before him, reaching upwards, it’s head scraping off of the very top of the bubble. The temple was even more brilliant than the corridor had been. Shining with luminescence, the hues of colour shifting this way and that. It held a translucent quality.
The structure of the temple was strange with oddly formed, bumped protrusions reaching this way and that, an organic quality surrounding them.
There was a strange music emitting from the temple. A call so unusual, so unheard of. The Captain could not recall such music in the world he knew. The music carried on the swells of the ocean, the music was the ocean. It’s call. It held a peculiar eeriness, but beauty also.
The Captain felt drawn to the music, called by it. He walked to the base of a great staircase, his aching, tired, creaking limbs having forgotten the pain they had endured and felt imbued with a new strength.
The Captain carried forwards, eyes locked on his destination.
He almost walked smack bang into it.
An alien being stood before him, its stance aggressive.
The creature was almost like a man, it had legs like a man. But it was also striped garishly with orange and black, had glassy dead eyes, and a fish head.
The fish man mouthed at the captain, unable to form a single sound except for a quiet, moist slapping of its lips. It held a pronged spear in hands that had a strange blend between fingers and fins.
The Captain cowered on the great steps, terrified of this strange, threatening being.
The fish man leaned back, smacking its lips. It prodded the captain with the tip of its spear, nudging him gently without penetrating his flesh with the blade.
The fish man leapt to one side and waved its spear at The Captain. Was it indicating that he should continue?
The Captain picked himself back up and continued his assent. Every ten or twenty feet or so there were more fish men, bordering the steps, eyeing him, holding their spears in their hands threateningly.
The Captain would not be put off. He continued the climb.
Reaching the very top of the stairs, The Captain was met with great doors, carved from white coral. The door was adorned with great carvings of marine life, of fish men and of… Something else. Something hard to make out.
The Captain reached out, placing his hands on the Giant door…
A ship sailed a great ocean, no land in sight.
The crew had begun their crossing some months ago and missed the feel of the earth below their feet. A lookout called the captains attention to a dingy floating out on the water. The captain felt the appearance of a dingy in the middle of the dead sea was strange enough to investigate and deployed a dingy of his own and a few trusted men to go and investigate.
The men returned, saying there was no sign of life and that the dingy was filled with coral.
The crew agreed that this was a perculiar occurrence, but that it was not worth further exploration. They did not discuss it again.