Authors: Jack Jewis
Also by Jack Lewis:
Albusian Sea, Half a Mile Away from the Mainland
It sounded stupid, but he almost thought
that the waves were angry with him. He used to watch them crash against the
stone cliffs and chip them away piece by piece, the passage of time eroding
something that had seemed indestructible. At least when he stood on the Golgoth
Cliffs Ed had known that he was safe, that total erosion would never happen in
his lifetime and it would be centuries before the sea fully swallowed the
He couldn’t say the same for The
Savage’s ship. The bow dipped into the sea and then rocked through it,
surfacing into the air seconds later. The vessel seemed fragile, and Ed knew it
wouldn’t take the water as long to claim the boat as it would the cliffs. The
sooner he was on land, the better.
Back on the island of Golgoth, beyond
the main street where the smell of rot hung over the village, was Ed’s house.
It was the only one he’d ever known, and he’d shared it with his mum, dad and
his brother James. His childhood had been happy, but it seemed like it had
faded away as quickly as the closing of his eyelids. One by one his family had
died or disappeared, and his house grew colder, the rooms too big. Soon enough,
Golgoth Island itself fell to the infection. After that, it wasn’t only Ed’s
house that was empty.
“Wetgills?” said a voice on the deck
behind him. He ignored it, letting the hint of mockery get lost in the wind.
If he returned to the island, walked
into his house and went upstairs, he would have found his bedroom. Stepping in,
he’d pay no attention to the iron-tinged smell of blood in the air, and swat
the flies that buzzed around his head. He’d keep his gaze rigid as he passed
April’s body so as not to see the stab mark in the little girl’s temple. He’d
ignore the stain of her blood matted on the fibres of the carpet.
A vision of Bethelyn, the girl’s mother,
flashed through his mind. Eyes frozen wide, her fingers uncurling and dropping
a knife to the floor. Blood splattering on the carpet.
“Not being sick again, are you?” said
the voice on deck. Ed didn’t answer. The mast made a clapping sound as it
flapped above him.
Back in his room in a drawer beside his
bed, there was a passport that he had never used, and an application to a
Mainland university that was never filled in. Next to those, still as shiny as
the day he took it out of the envelope, was a provisional driving license. He’d
never upgraded to the full version because, like the passport and the
university form, it was another thread of life that he had never bothered to
Even though he was in his twenties, he
wasn’t legally allowed to drive a car on his own. Not that the Driving License
Agency was still around to give their approval. Yet here he was steering a ship
through a black sea, gripping the helm and turning it in the direction of the
wind as though he knew what he was doing. The wood was rough and rubbed on his
skin, but without something to hold onto, his hands shook. Golgoth was behind
them. It was a dead island fading in the rear view of his mind, but a part of
it would never leave him.
He worried that when he thought of
Golgoth Island, he wouldn’t remember it as the place where he lived a happy
childhood anymore. His memories wouldn’t be sneaking away to smoke stolen
cigarettes with his brother James, or throwing stones from the cliffs and
trying to hit a buoy that bobbled on the water surface. Instead, he’d remember
blood mixing with rain water and staining the cobbled streets. He’d see his
neighbours rising from the ground, with skin full of bite marks and clothes splattered
with crimson, and walking toward him with faces twisted by hunger.
Water sprayed over the starboard and
onto the deck, seeping into the wood. Old timber always soaked in the smells of
the things that passed by, and it held in its grains the emotions of the events
that happened around it. The ship must have been decades old, so Ed wondered
what these old treads had seen. How many people had died aboard this vessel?
How many throats had The Savage cut open until blood dribbled onto the deck?
As if on cue, a voice called for him
“Getting the hang of it, Wetgills?” said
The Savage joined him at the bow. His
shoulder-length black hair was stuck to his head by the water that sprayed up
from the sea. His mask melded into the darkness of the night, but Ed could see
his eyes. Hungry and alert, always wearing a trace of mockery. Up close, The
Savage was two inches taller than Ed, but he didn’t carry much muscle.
“You’re holding the helm like a clown
juggling an anvil,” he said.
“Well, I’m not exactly Captain
Seafaring wasn’t his thing. His clothes
were constantly damp from the salt water that sprayed over the decks, and it
seemed like even the air carried moisture in it. His jacket and shirt had been
wet and then dried off so many times that his skin felt raw and the fabric
chafed on him.
The Savage had given Ed a rudimentary
lesson in steering the ship. He wasn’t a good teacher, always watching Ed and
waiting to throw a barbed insult. Ed remembered when James had given him
driving lessons when he first got his provisional. His brother seemed to have
endless patience, constantly ready with a word of encouragement or helpful tip.
The Savage could have learned from him.
Driving wasn’t the only thing James had
taught him. He seemed to revel in the role of wise older sibling, and he’d
taught Ed a range of things from playing the guitar to the names of the
constellations in the night sky. James had learned them for navigational
purposes during his navy training.
This is what Ed didn’t understand. James
always seemed so sure of himself and where he was going, so what had happened
to him? For years, after the sea-soaked remnants of his ship washed up on the
shores of Golgoth, Ed had thought that his brother was dead. When The Savage
told him that he was alive on the Mainland, he couldn’t believe it.
He looked at the sky. The stars gave a
pale glow, and he ran his gaze along them, repeating to himself the names of
the constellations he knew. He stopped when he reached one that he had seen
many times before. It was a constellation called Algol, named after a demon
which was the snake-like head of Medusa. Was it possible that James was sat
there somewhere on the Mainland staring up at the same constellation?
The ship lurched to the right. Ed
remembered The Savage’s lessons and steered into the turn, but it only seemed
to get worse, and it was hard to keep his footing. He gripped the wheel harder
and the wood rubbed against his calloused hands. A wave splashed over the side
and water ran across the timber and over his feet. The wind moaned all around
The ship rocked again, and a giant wave
crashed over the port side. Ed didn’t have time to brace himself, and he was slapped
by a shower of sea water. The force of it was enough to knock him to the floor,
and the icy touch of the water pressed against his back. Thunder rumbled from
miles away but grew louder as though it was coming for him. The sky flashed
blue and Ed saw lightening spit from the sky, so close that he thought he could
feel the heat. The ship shook, and the waves battered against the timber.
much more could it take before falling apart?
The Savage was above him now. He offered
out a hand, but Ed ignored it. He got himself to his feet. His back and legs
were already freezing into numbness. The Savage looked at him. Ed couldn’t see
his mouth, but somehow he knew there was a mocking grin on his face.
“Daddy’s going to take over for a
while,” said The Savage. “Go below deck and rest a little. But don’t be sick
down there. I’m not cleaning up after you.”
“That was once,” said Ed.
“Once a Wetgill, always a Wetgill.”
“What does that even mean? If it wasn’t
for your ship being a piece of crap, maybe I’d be okay. Is it too much to ask
that this thing doesn’t wobble at every wave? I feel like it’s going to fall
The Savage gripped the helm. His hands
seemed stronger than Ed’s. He turned it ninety degrees clockwise and the ship sailed
straighter, but then another wave hit. This time, Ed braced himself. The water
hit his shins, and he stayed on his feet.
“You could do a lot worse than this old
thing. I could always take you back to Golgoth if you’d prefer?”
Ed thought of his old home. The island
he knew was gone, and the residents had baser needs these days. They didn’t
care about farming or building anymore, they had only one desire. He thought of
the tortured sighs, the blood, and the pain-filled screams.
The Savage tapped the helm.
“Then you might want to apologise to the
boat. This old thing could sail through a cyclone. Found it anchored a mile
away from the coastline a few years ago. Back then I was a Billy-no-mates,
hadn’t seen walls and a roof for weeks and my ribs were showing like a carved
roast chicken. I remember one morning waking and feeling this tightness in my
stomach, and I looked up at the sky and felt snow hit my noggin. Winter was on
its way, and it didn’t have good things in store for me. I’m not gonna lie to
you, Ed. You might think I’m this happy-go-lucky guy - ”
“I really don’t.”
“But back then, I started wondering what
the point was. So when I saw this old thing, I dropped my gear on the ground
and I swam out to it. I had my knife between my teeth like a commando. You
know, from the old action movies?”
“I got on board dripping wet and ready
for a fight, but when I stood on deck it was like being in a mausoleum. The
only thing I could hear was the water lapping against the hull, and a seagull
screeching above me. Blood was smeared all over the decks, but I couldn’t find
a single Tom, Dick or Harry. After that, the ship was mine. I don’t have the legal
documents or anything, but I don’t think the owners are coming back for it.”
“Still, the storm’s getting pretty bad.”
“This ship will sail through the wrath
of God if I want it to.”
The Savage held the helm with his left
hand and turned to face Ed. His scalp showed through his sodden hair.
“We have worse problems than a bit of
wind,” he said. “It’s been 25 days since I last had anything for my condition.”
Ed thought back to Golgoth. He and
Bethelyn had stared out of a bedroom window and watched The Savage and his men
chase down one of the Golgoth residents. They had killed him, and The Savage
had cut a chunk of flesh away from his body and fed it to one of his people.
When infection had spread to Golgoth and
the residents fell into a coma, the only ones who woke were those who were immune.
Some thanked their Gods when they woke up alive and well, but for most, the
horror was only beginning. Ed thought the infected were bad, but he never
imagined that there were worse things out there.
“I don’t want to know about your
condition,” said Ed. “Just get us to the Mainland and then we can separate.”
The boat bobbed down into the sea and
then rose again like a car trundling over a speed bump. The wind whipped at the
mast above them, creating a booming sound as the canvas struck the wood. Ed
wiped his runny nose, and a deep cold settled on his skin. Everywhere around
them the black of night melded with the utter darkness of the sea.
The Savage turned the helm. He tutted,
then turned it again.
“I’ve seen you up here, you know.
Staring up at the sky like some kid. You appreciate the stars, don’t you? Well,
here’s a constellation for you. Follow my finger.”
The Savage pointed up at the sky.
“See that one? That’s called the
“Never heard of it.”