The Ship of Dreams

“I will arrive by week’s end, my love. Wait for me at the White Star Dock and together we will have the someday I have promised you for so long.”
Those had been the words Harry had written Clara in the last letter before he took to sea. Now, she held that letter before her as she stitched shirt sleeves with the other young women chatting around her.
“News from home, Clarrie?”
She smiled up at the older woman. Erin was a kindly grandmother of a woman with curly hair that had once been as red as Clara’s was blonde.
“From my fiancé. Harry’s coming over on a ship this very week.”
There was a chorus of excitement all about the factory, one which was quickly silenced as they heard the door from the offices opening. It wouldn’t do to be seen lazing. Even if they were doing no such thing. Clara’s sewing needle darted in and out of the cloth she was stitching as she imagined seeing Harry again for the first time in nearly a year. They could finally marry, finally start a family and finally have the life they’d been dreaming about for so long.
As Clara tidied up her station, Erin waited patiently. It was a custom of theirs for Clara to walk the older woman to her lodgings before headed home herself.
“So, tell me, Miss Clara. Is he coming on that fine ship of dreams everyone’s been talking about in the papers?”
Clara absolutely beamed, her smile threatening to split her cheeks.
“He is! I’m just so excited, Erin.”
Placing her hat on her head, Clara turned that smile on Erin.
“Any day now.”
Erin offered her young friend a smile of her own, then concern flickered onto her face.
“Will you be leaving us?”
As they walked to the door, Clara waved that concern off.
“Not right away. Someday, certainly, when we’ve a mind to start a family. But we’ll need the money I make until Harry’s all settled in.”

The sound that woke Harry O’Dell was like nothing he’d ever heard before. It was metal shearing metal, like the very walls of the ship were being rent by some giant with a knife. He leapt out of his narrow cot and was in the hallway in naught but trousers in a moment. There were others there as well, women holding crying children, even some of the ship’s crew looking just as lost as the rest of them.
“What’s going on?” He grabbed one of the crewmen as he passed. “What happened?”
The man looked at Harry, taking in his red hair and freckled face before shaking him off.
“Nothing. It was nothing. Go back to bed.”
The man continued on down the corridor, moving briskly and leaving Harry in his dust. Resigned, Harry turned back to his room to help the young mother bunked in with him calm her two young children.
When the water began to enter the compartment, Harry knew they had been lied to. Whatever had happened was far from nothing.

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Titanic sinks! Massive loss of life!”
Clara stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turning to look at the young newsie standing on the side of the road.
“Wh-what did you just say?”
“The ship, Ma’am, it sunk. Hit a big old iceberg, it did.”
She was shaking as she held her hand out.
“How much for the paper?”
“A penny, Ma’am.”
He held out his hand and she gave him one of her precious pennies, taking the paper. Slumped against a nearby building, she began to read. In the dark hours long before dawn. A great loss of life. Mainly women and children among the survivors. Harry, oh Harry.

Hot, silent tears streamed from her eyes and Clara’s grip on the too fragile newsprint tightening until it tore. She stared for a long moment at the shredded yellow paper in her hands. It didn’t matter now. It didn’t matter how much they had both saved and scrimped and scanted. There was no future for Clara and Harry, no future in which she was Mrs. O’Dell. All the happy dreams of a home together and a little crop of children under foot were as sunk as the vessel that had called itself the Ship of Dreams.

The paper fell from Clara’s fingers as she walked towards Pier 54 where the ship would have come in. There was already a crowd when she arrived, but she paid them no attention. She stood nearby, as close as she could get, and stared out at the water. It wasn’t the ocean, not here, not really. But she wondered, as she stared into the water, if God would bring her to Harry if she jumped in anyway. The thought nearly slapped her in the face when she realized why she had come here, what she was contemplating. Then she thought of the life ahead of her, so far from the land of her birth and her family and now without her Harry O’Dell. There were tears in her eyes as she stepped off into the air.

Return to Port

She knew she wasn't supposed to go to the docks. They were a rough and vulgar place, or so her grandmother said. But Sarah Alcott was not content to wait at home when sail had been sighted on the horizon. Not when it could be her father coming home. Her brother, Garret, was as bad but despite being five years her junior, the nine year old was considered fit to venture to the socks on his own. All that meant in reality was that Sarah had long since mastered the cleverer routes to the harbor.
"Back again, Missy?"
Sarah climbed down from the low roof to stand on a barrel beside the start of the wharf.
"I heard there were sails, Jimmy. Help me down?"
The old shoreman gave her his hand and Sarah jumped down, landing on the wood of the dock with a flutter of skirt.
"Your Grandmama is going to be one pleased about this."
"I know, but I promised Papa I'd be waiting for him."
A few of the hands nearby heard and shook their heads sadly. Poor girl. Not a one of them had the heart to remind her that her father, the good Captain Alcott, was more than a year overdue now. The odds of the man returning to his family went down with each day that passed. Jimmy just smiled sadly. He was used to Miss Sarah and her ways.
"Well, come have a seat and practice your knots until the ship comes in."
She climbed up onto a crate and fished two lengths of cord out of the small bag she carried.

The sound of a bell ringing was what broke her concentration. She nearly had the marlinspike hitch mastered. Just a bit more practice and she'd have it for sure.
"They've made port, Miss Sarah, and the gangplank's down."
Scrambling, she slid down in a manner she was quite certain didn't befit a girl of her age and station and she didn't care. Her eyes were only for the ship. It was a smaller vessel than her father's and she sailed under the Union Jack. The Catherine Ann, named for Sarah's mother, was a three masted vessel and this girl was a two. Nevertheless, she waited to see if perhaps the captain had news of a Captain Alcott who sailed under the Stars and Stripes.
The crew began to unload cargo and Sarah could hear the officers organizing the effort. She would have to wait until they disembarked. She watched the crates being brought up out of the hold and wondered what they carried. Maybe spices and dyes like her father so often carried. Or the fancy fabrics her mother liked to buy. Then her gaze settled on something that made her blood run cold and her spirits sink. She remembered when her father had had the figurehead installed on the ship with the same bright gold hair and green eyes her mother had, saying this way his Catherine would always keep watch over him. That way, he would always come home to their children. So why did this strange ship have her Papa's figurehead? Protocol and politeness demanded that she wait and speak to the captain when he'd stepped onto the dock. Protocol be damned, she wanted answers. Hiking up her skirts, she ran up the gangplank before anyone could stop her. When she found the captain, he was on the deck yelling down to someone in the hold.
"Be careful! Dammit, man, we got you this far. Don't die on the steps."
"Excuse me, Captain?"
If the captain was surprised to see a young woman standing on his ship, he hid it well.
"Yes, Miss?"
She took a breath, drawing courage as best she could.
"Captain, I was wondering if you could explain why you have my father's figurehead among your cargo."
She did her best to sound calm and to ignore the wood on wood thumping noise coming up from the hold behind her.
"Your father's, you say? Are you Miss Sarah Alcott, then?"
Her eyes widened as the man smiled.
"He's told me quite a bit about you and your brother."
The thumping came faster now and Sarah whirled around to see the source. Her father, leaning on a crutch and making his way to her as quickly as he could.
"Papa!"
She threw her arms around his waist and he held her tightly.
"I told you I'd be back, little one. It just took me a bit."
"Papa, what happened?"
He shook his head a little.
"We went down in a storm. Luckily for me, I grabbed the figurehead when she broke off and we floated to shore. I think your Mama was watching out for me from Heaven. I broke my leg, but I'm home now."

Jolly Roger

She flew the Jolly Roger high above her deck. The old wave-rider cut through the storm, her keel a fine steel blade in her captain’s hand. And that redoubtable old captain stood at the helm with her face pointed into the storm as she made for the eye. The Jolly Roger flapped and twisted in the gale, wrapping itself soaked around the mast. Then they burst into the silence. The eye of the storm loomed heavily, more fearsome even than the storm itself in its deathly silence. The captain let her gaze fall now to her ship, exploring every timber and beam and patch of canvas. Then she let out a sigh. A hatch opened and a small boy stepped out, his red hair bright against the blackened tar timbers and storm tossed sky.

“Mama?”

Nearly there, my buck. Nearly there.”

Lights

The water was calm and still as the ship steamed through the night. One figure stood on the deck, leaning against the rails. He was watching the lights that flickered and played not in the sky, but under the waves. Most nights, he watched them, wondering. Tonight, tonight though, he was going to try something new. He took the sealed bottle out of his hand and dropped it off the back rail, watching it sink. After a minute or so, he couldn’t see it anymore and so he returned to watching the lights.

The next night, he went back to the rail and watched the lights. They were just reflections. That’s what the other men in the crew said. He wasn’t so sure. There had to be something more to this. That was when something thunked onto the deck near his foot with a little splash. The bottle. He picked it up and realized it was open and there was something new inside. The letter he’d written was gone, replaced with a picture drawn in ink of a woman. Well, her top half was a woman. The bottom half was tentacled, almost like an octopus. He laughed aloud and ran to grab his old polaroid to send her a picture of himself and the simple note. “Want to meet?”

Recovered Scientific Log

October 15
We have arrived in the observation region and begun taking exploratory samples of water chemistry. Results will be included. We have also begun the preparations to deploy the deep-sea rover.

October 18
Have located a swarm of sea jellies. This swarm will serve as the first data point for our study. The swarm contains hundreds of individual sea jellies and we have set an undergrad to counting them.

October 19
I send the undergrad down to medical. I think she’s hallucinating. She swears one of the jellies exited the water. I’m going to check the tapes tomorrow and see what happened.

October 20
She was right. I don’t know what I’m seeing, but she was right. Worse, they did it more than once. I’m setting up more cameras. I need to send this data home and hope someone else can make something from it.

October 21
Vessel is being swarmed by jellies now. They’re in the air. Have barricaded ourselves below decks. Two of the crew were stung and they’re down in medical. It looks bad.

October 22
They may be flying, but at least the damn things haven’t learned to open doors yet. I radioed for help but I don’t think they believe me. All I can hope is that someone finds our footage and figures out what to do before these things swarm the mainland.

Eternal Patrol

It wasn’t until the Second World War that it became obvious, not until the blood of thousands was poured into the sea in the Pacific theater, not until atoms were ripped apart. That was when man first discovered that something else lived on their planet, something older and far more terrifying than the newly discovered weapons they waged war with, something that slept far beneath the waves and was threatening to wake.

Submarines are never declared missing. They were just on eternal patrol. It didn’t matter how long they were out of port, how many decades gone. They were on patrol and that was that. There was one department, though, one group of Naval officers and a radio operator who knew precisely what was going on out in the pacific.

“Sir, we’re being hailed. U-122 is transmitting deep breach coordinates.”
The radio officer turned to look at the officer of the deck and the man nodded, his uniform still as crisp as it was the day they left their port of call in ‘68.
“Set a heading for those coordinates and tell them we’re en-route. Battle stations, boys, it’s show time.”
All around the vessel, men were in motion, busily loading torpedos and monitoring sonar stations. They knew what was out there.
“Should I hail topside, Sir? Let’em know playtime is starting?”
The skipper chuckled quietly.
“Sure, give’em a call. Asahi and Goliath should both be in range if they stuck to their patrol patterns.”
With a quick salute, the radio officer was back to work. Outside, the deep sea was deathly silent and dark as submarines began to gather and head towards the same location.
“U-338, U-122, and K-8 have joined us, Sir. The Commies say they’ll maintain a wide sweep while we clear this junk so we don’t get nailed from behind, Sir.”
Something surged out of the darkness before them, something that bore a passing resemblance to the flailing tentacles of a squid. But no squid had ever been so large, so vicious, or gave off such a feeling of wrongness.
“Air-breathers are in place, Sir. Anything hits the surface and they’ll jump on it.”
Torpedoes were launched from both U-boats with a burst of sound and trailing bubbles behind them.
“Let’s hope nothing makes it past us.”

“How are things looking out there?”
The radio operator stood up straight, saluting as her commanding officer entered her domain. This small Pentagon radio room held equipment from across the decades. It even sported an enigma machine secured to a table in the corner. The whole room was operated by a single officer, a young woman with a no-nonsense expression and her hair tied up in a tight bun.
“The number of deep breaches is rising, Admiral, but they’re keeping up well. The plan to use the wolf packs as scout vessels is more than successful.”
The admiral nodded, drumming his fingers against his uniform hat held in one hand.
“But the number of breaches is rising? That’s worrying.”
The radio officer glanced at the situational map on the wall.
“I’ve been tracking that, Sir, and it looks as though it surges after each nuclear disaster, for a period of about 10 years. We just haven’t had a break.”
“Keep an eye on things then and alert me the moment something changes. And don’t forget the Broadcast is in a week.”
She saluted.
“Yes, Sir. I’ve got it marked on my calendar, Sir.”

“Only friendlies left on sonar, Sir.”
The entire vessel let out a collective sigh of relief. Another breach contained.
“Then we resume patrol, boys. Any casualties in the fleet?”
There was a brief moment of silence as the comms officer listened, then he shook his head.
“U-338 took a bad graze off one of those things, but they’re going to take a near-surface patrol until it patches. No other damage to report.”
“Let them know we’ll cover their normal patrol until they’re good to go again.”
The officer on deck scrubbed at his face and looked at the map, carefully adjusting the patrol patterns to account for the damaged u-boat. There was no way they had enough vessels to cover this whole area. He didn’t have time to think about that, though. It didn’t matter if they had the manpower. He had work to do.
“Shift course 15 degrees starboard.”

The deepest parts of the sea are madness, darkness, and sorrow. They’re twisted places where space bends and time seems to stop. Even now, the depths of the sea are dark, dangerous, unknown. The further into the depths humanity explores, the less humanity understands. Only madness dwells at the bottom of the sea.

Søren and Solveig

Solveig loved her brother. She loved him as the sun loves the moon, as the sea loves the shore, as the night loves the day. Even as she and Søren grew older, she loved him. Søren was tall and bold, easy with a laugh or a smile. Women chased him for his beauty as much as his skill on the sea. But Søren son of Valter loved no woman so much as he loved the sea, except perhaps Solveig.

He spent his days alone on the water, with a wool cap pull down over his ears and the open sky above him, until the day the small faering arrived bearing only a young woman and her hound. She was Torill, daughter of Amend who held land to the south, and she was as cunning as she was beautiful, as brave as she was strong, and she knew the sea and stars as old friends. It was there on the shore that Søren met Torill. No more was the sea’s own son distant, for he had found a companion of his soul in this daughter of Amend.

Together they took to the seas, adventures sought and new lands seen. And all the while, Solveig waited and wept. Her brother would take Torill to wed, of that she was sure. So Solveig made a plan.

When the sailors two returned from their voyages, Solveig waited on the shore. Jealous Søren’s sister held a basket and offered them a feast. Drawing them both, brother and foe, to her home, she gave them drink fit to slake the thirst of the greatest of mead halls. Only then did she act. While Søren slept the sleep of drink, fair Solveig told Torill that her hound bayed in the night. Bright Amend’s daughter went out, stumbling with the drink, a knife in her hand to face any who would dare venture near her ship in the dark.

Then did Solveig rouse her brother. She wove him words with her silver tongue, laced with feigned fear, of how she had seen the shadow of a man near to his ship and was sure it would be gone by dawning. Søren took up his bow and went into the night.

Torill alone was on the shore, but Søren did not see her bright gold hair or playful eyes. He did not hear her song-filled voice. He only saw a shadow bent over a ship on the shore. The arrow was loosed and it flew straight and true, finding its home buried in Torill’s breast.

Only when the sea’s lost son heard the cry did he know what Solveig’s games had wrought.

Triangle

   It was one of those clear summer afternoons, the ones where nothing feels so good as the wind in your hair, the sand between your toes and the kiss of the saltwater against your skin. It was the kind of day where a person could get lost in it all. The kind of day that promises everything and nothing all at once.

   500,000 square miles. It seems so big when you’re out there in your boat or your plane, trying to find land against all odds. Compared to the nearly 200 million square miles of the Earth, though, it’s nothing.

   Not, of course, that any of that matters now. The sky around you isn’t clear anymore. That piercing summer sun is lost behind a bank of fog that came up out of nowhere. The instrumentation panel is going haywire, gauges and meters jumping and lights flashing. Even the compass can’t find north. The fog is gaining on you now, encircling your little plane. But there’s a chance. Before you, as the two ends of the fog bank converge, there’s a window directly in front of you. A tunnel. Hope. Surging forward, you fly as fast as your little plane can go. You can see the little sparks of electricity building up on the skin of the plane and try desperately to ignore it. Everything is fine. Everything is going to be fine. The sky is gone. All you can see now is fog.

   The memorial service was a small thing. Just some family and friends coming together to mourn another life claimed far too soon by the waters of the Triangle.

The Siren Song

We both knew how the stories all went, how this tale ends. Land and sea can only mix on the shore and only for a brief time. At first, I believed it. Then I met her. Maddie will tell you I saved her, but I will swear until the day I die that she saved me.
It was one of those summer days mortals write songs about. The kind of day where the light skips off the water and plays games in the spaces beneath. I lay on the bottom, watching the girls playing on the shore. One bolder than the others ran out into the water and dove beyond the drop-off. She didn’t realize she’d caught a foot in one of the ropes that littered the seabed. They didn’t realize she hadn’t come back up. So, I freed her and brought her to the surface.
Sitting on the rocks at dusk, we talked alone. She didn’t know then what I was. I was just a pretty girl named Carys and she was just Maddie. Every day, she came back to the same beach to meet me until I was sure she must know, she must have realized.
Realization didn’t come until we’d gone moon to moon twice. Under the stars on that dark night, she kissed me. She tasted like hope and taffy, like young love and summers bright. Her lips were so warm against my own. It left me breathless. But she realized that I was cold despite the warmth of the air, that my lips tasted of salt and sea foam, that my feet were wet even this far from the surf. She knew the stories, knew I wore a sealskin as a coat about my shoulders.
She didn’t take it. We both knew the stories, and I almost wanted her to take my coat and hide it somewhere where neither of us would ever find it. Take me away to her dry shoreland and let me be hers. But she spoke of a thing called University, of studies and grades. And of a promise, sworn on the sea, to return.
The sea is a fickle thing, her faces changing with the tides. But four years later, a young woman with bright eyes and a bag of saltwater taffy walked up the beach. She left her shoes on the shore and walked out into the water calling my name.
She didn’t take my coat then either, though I would still have accepted it. She spoke of research and tides, of the faces of the sea and the wonders beneath the waves. And of something called scuba.
My Maddie and I know the stories well. When a human takes a Selkie’s coat, they stay together for a time and part in anger and sorrow. But when a human gives her heart to the sea, things are very different.

To the Sea

The sea is never silent. Not when there are no ships for leagues around. Not so far from land that a bird is a rare sight indeed. Not even when a young man alone lays in his refuge of wood and nails and prays that the end would be gentle and kind. Two score and ten days, he had drifted since the Bedford sank beneath the waves taking all hands save for himself. He had clung at first, then pulled himself into the small boat that had survived. It was one of the many meant for chasing whales, but the only one that had broken free of its mooring lines. He had drifted as the moon changed above him and now this lonely son of a New England port wished his boots had never left the docks.
He nearly didn’t hear the surprised gasp over the mournful wind and the sea clawing at his safety. But he couldn’t miss the voice, reverent as it was.
“A human.”
Sitting up, he saw a young man’s smiling face sticking just up over the side of the boat. Lean, tanned arms rested on the low side and the strange man started to pull himself aboard. He was bare to the waist, save for a fur mantle he wore with the hood down and his leggings seemed to be made of fur. He was quite fit, a well-built specimen of manhood with tanned skin and lean muscles. His eyes were a bright, clear blue and his smile full of wonder.
“I’ve never seen a real human. And a man, no less! What are you doing all the way out here? I thought humans needed sand and shore and the green places.” Then, as almost an afterthought, he leaned in. “I’m called Macsen. Who are you?”
“I…I’m Tad.” The young sailor paused. “Thomas Jameson.”
“Well, you’re awfully far from the mortal halls, Tad Thomas Jameson.”
Tad blushed brightly and Macsen moved closer to him.
“Just…I’m just Tad.” Taking a breath, Tad began to explain about the ship, about the storm, about the sharks and even about the men who hadn’t made it. Macsen wrapped an arm around Tad’s shoulders.
“I can try to get you back to your shoreland if you want.”
Tad was startled by the sudden contact and looked up into those clear blue eyes.
“You’re real,” he breathed, the words barely escaping his lips.
Macsen chuckled, his laugh deep and infectious.
“I’m as real as the sea and the stars. You’re not nearly so lost as to be seeing what isn’t real, I promise you that.”
For a long moment, Tad was silent. Then he looked at the young man sitting beside him.
“What manner of devil are you, then? Or maybe some kind of sea monster?”
Macsen pulled back, affronted.
“Monster? I will have you know, sailor boy, that I am a Selkie.”
“I thought Selkies were maidens?”
The question came slowly from Tad’s lips and Macsen chuckled again.
“Mortals, I swear. Selkies are just like humans, my dear boy, just more free.” Macsen brushed his fingers lightly over Tad’s cheek. “Are you telling me you’d rather have a fair Selkie maid because I somehow doubt that.”
Tad felt his cheeks go hot and he looked shyly up at Macsen.
“How did you know?”
Macsen cupped Tad’s cheek gently and brushed his lips against Tad’s. He was warm to the cold sailor and tasted like salt and sweet and wonderful things, and like a promise.
“I’m a Seal Lord. We have our ways.”
Tad leaned against Macsen and then spoke quietly.
“Were you really going to take me home, Macsen? To the shore?”
“Only if that is what you desire.” Macsen stood carefully, pulling Tad up with him. “Or, my dear young sailor, you could come with me.”
Tad rested his hands lightly on Macsen’s bare chest, leaning so his face was in the soft fur of his mantle.
“I can’t breath under water…I would drown.”
Macsen pressed his lips to Tad’s forehead.
“But if you could?”
For a long moment, they stood there in silence, gazing into each other’s eyes.
“Then I would go with you.”
“And dwell beneath the waves as my husband?”
The blush crept up Tad’s ears and down his chest now, under the collar of his shirt.
“I would.”
Taking Tad’s hand in his own, Macsen turned to the edge of the boat.
“Then come into the waves, love. And I’ll give you one of our seal coats. Be a human no more.”
Uncertainly at first, but then with his eyes full of trust, Tad removed his shirt and boots before jumping into the sea. Macsen followed a half step later, pulling the hood of his mantle up as he hit the water. A large gray seal swam up next to Tad and butted him affectionately. Then they swam. Down and down and down into the depths they swam until Tad had no more air in his lungs and could feel the darkness rushing up to greet him. Then Macsen pulled him into a grotto mercifully full of air for the breathing. It was a beautiful place formed of stone and shells and pearls, full of treasures of the deep. A luxuriant nest of furs filled one corner of the place. One more, Macsen took the shape of a man. This time, he strode purposefully to a waterworn chest and produced a mantle to match his own.
“For you, my bold one, for daring to come away with me.”
As Tad pulled it on over his shoulders, he felt the change. No longer was he cold or wet. No. He was a Selkie, made to swim beneath the waves and walk the shores in the moonlight with his fair and handsome seal lord at his side.