She vomited up salty water as she pulled herself out of the freezing ocean and onto a rock, the sharp edges tearing at her bare skin as she gripped on with numb fingers. She took a shuddering breath, the cold air rattling through her burning lungs. The stars looked coldly down upon her, their brightness as fragile and weak as her failing body.
“It’s bad luck,” the captain said. “Bad luck sailing at night with a woman on board.”
She used her feet to leverage herself further onto the rock, her chest scraping painfully, causing thin tendrils of blood to slide down her stomach.
“What can we do, cap? We can’t just throw her overboard!”
She’d sat, huddled silently behind the brutish men, gag in her mouth. They were all pressed together tightly aboard the ship, the warm tendrils of dusk seeping everything in a gentle gold. The dull ache of dread sat low in her stomach. She knew the captain had already made up his mind.
Everyone began talking at once, throwing up their hands in uproar. The captain silenced them all with one look.
“The night spirits will kill us all if we don’t.”
Bile rose in her stomach again, and she spat it out against the rock.
Everyone knew of the night spirits.
They were every child’s bedtime story. Wailing women, they were called, drowning every sailor who came across their path. Anytime they knew a woman was on the ship, they would hunt them out, changing the tides and causing storms, manipulating the fabric of the darkness until it shrouded every living thing in the ocean.
It killed all the men, and the women were never found again.
The ships always found their way back to the shore, guided as if by ghosts, the gentle bobbing of the ship revealing nothing of the horrors within. They would gently bump onto the sand, and the village would run to see, only to be greeted with the stench of salty blood, every man's throat slit.
“No women on ships,” everyone would say. “No women on ships. Too dangerous for everyone. No women on ships.”
It was almost an old wives tale, repeated so many times that whenever the warning was given, people just rolled their eyes.
But no one doubted that it was true.
They stripped her of her clothes, pulling at her shirt and skirt viciously. No reason for gentleness, no reason for care. She’d be dead soon anyway, dead for the benefit of the crew.
One of the taller men pulled at her wrists, untying the tight ropes they had knotted to make her comply. She stood limply as they loosened, knowing there was no point in fighting. There were at least twenty strong men surrounding her, keeping guard. All of their muscle and weapons, and yet she was the most dangerous thing onboard.
She would never have risked it normally. She knew the stories, like everyone else. She knew that even if the spirits didn’t kill her, the captain would.
But she had to get away from him.
He followed her everywhere, leering at her with that snake smile, never giving her a moment's peace. She’d said no more times than she could count, practically begging him to leave her alone, but every time he’d just whispered in her ear, telling her she was his.
The thought made her vomit up even more salty water.
She had to get away. She was sure that he would kill her if she said no one more time.
She thought, maybe, if she hid from the crew, she could also hide from the spirits. Or perhaps it was the other way around. As she bled onto the rock, the salt in her mouth from the sea and her tears, she didn’t know which one was more dangerous.
“I’m sorry,” the captain said, and that is when anger flared in her chest. He was a cruel coward, and if he was going to kill her, he might as well be strong in his decision.
She turned her head, and spat at him.
“Don’t you dare apologise to me,” she said, her voice as icy cold as the freezing depths below. “You don’t deserve the privilege of being sorry.”
The captain had looked shocked, for a moment, and then had frowned. “Push her overboard!”
It had been stupidly easy to sneak onto the ship. Men, especially arrogant men, were easy to fool. It was the ship's dog that had given her away, sniffing and whining at her spot behind the barrels until someone thought to come check. They’d hauled her by the back of her shirt, and she’d known immediately she was done for.
Her body plunged into the icy depths, the freezing water a thousand needles on her skin. She screamed, then stopped, desperate to conserve every bit of her energy. She pulled herself to the surface quickly, gasping, but wave after wave pushed her down. She swam up and up and up, the salt stinging her eyes, praying to whoever, whatever, to come save her.
She was going to die here. She was going to die.
Her fingers brushed against a rock.
Even as she sat, half out of the ocean, she knew her time was limited. She felt nothing but pure rage coursing through her veins at the injustice of it all, her heart pumping in her ears as she let out a vicious scream.
“Wouldn’t it be nice?” the wind said to her, tickling the back of her ear. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get revenge? To fight back? Wouldn’t it be nice to prove them right?”
“Yes,” she spat, her fingers tightening. “Yes.”
“Do you want it?”
“Yes!” she screamed. “YES!”
Her body twisted and turned as she left the cold of the water behind, her mind warping and growing and joining the other women cast out to sea. Her body was their body. She was they. They wailed, a mouth full of sharp teeth, eyes becoming slits and nails becoming claws. They wailed, and wailed, and wailed, no longer in pain but in anger.
The darkness beckoned them, with the moon as their sisters. The stars that were cold in the sky shone bright for them, strong as their sisterhood, and as they looked up into the expanse of the night, they smiled.
There would be blood spilt tonight.