When night came again the fog lifted, revealing the black paper of the sky poked endlessly with tiny holes of light—a billion stars that winked and wavered in the lofty beds. Despernot was pleased beyond measure. He told Lori about each of them in turn, ignoring her complete disinterest. She sat shivering on the damp deck boards, clutching her shoulders. Her least wish was that she could go below and get out of the wind. She had tried, but Despernot had caught her by the arm, claiming it was criminal to miss the sky on a night like this. Her greatest wish was that she could have her godfather back.
She had barely known Foxe. She had left a lot of blame on him, for a lot of things. But she certainly had not wanted this to happen. At the worst, they might have gone their separate ways after reaching whatever end this stupid chase led them to and never spoken again. That would have been fine. But not this.
Lori’s stomach rumbled loudly. How in the world she could be hungry at a time like this was beyond her, but then again she couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten anything. Coffee and tea didn’t count. She lost herself in thoughts of nothing, too tired and miserable even to care about the name she had found or speculations about Despernot and his damn cursed ship.
Eventually, however, she became aware that his talk had shifted. He was no longer looking up dreamily at the stars. He was staring at her, the picture of concern. “What’s your name?”
“I told you.”
“You told me a lie. You said your name was Foxe, but that was what you called that man.”
She hesitated, and then decided she didn’t care. “It’s Lori. Lori Lawrence.”
“Are you all right, Lori Lawrence?”
He nodded solemnly. “Good. I’d be worried if you were.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, thanks. Really makes me feel better. Look, is there…a chance we might run into another ship? I mean, one with living people? Or land?”
“Most certainly,” he nodded. “The ocean is a patchwork. Places of In-shift, places of Out-shift, places of Both. It’s perfectly possible to find a port or a person.”
Lori raised her head for a moment, the faint warmth of curiosity rekindling. “So did you mean to sail into England, or did it just happen accidently?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I never navigate.”
“Fair enough. But the thing is, I’ve been looking for someone. Someone who was waiting for…something to arrive at those docks. I’m about ninety percent positive that was you and your ship.”
Despernot looked intrigued. “Really? Who?”
“I don’t know his name. He has red hair, a blue coat, and paints black crosses over his eyes.”
The effect was immediate. Despernot drew back from her as if he had been slapped. “Peter Grey.”
“…that’s Peter Grey?” For a moment, Lori forgot how cold she was, how upset. She had a face and a name, now. Google would soon be a lot more helpful. “Who is he?”
“He’s nobody,” said Despernot. “Just a pilot fish.”
“He killed my dad. Is that something a pilot fish would do?”
Despernot frowned. “He’s a pilot fish, because what inevitably follows him is definitely a shark. He’s a dog on a chain, nothing more.”
“Okay, now we’ve got too many metaphors going.”
The icy-eyed madman clamped a cold hand on her shoulder. “Stay away from him, Lori. You should know that, if what you say is true.”
“Of course it’s true!” she snapped. “What the hell would I lie about my dad being murdered?”
“People lie for many reasons, and you’ve already done it to me at least once.”
She started to argue, but then thought better of it. He was suddenly making a lot more sense than he had been five minutes ago, and she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. Perhaps he was lying, too—about being insane. Which would mean that he really had murdered everyone on this ship, like she had begun to fear. At least, for the moment, he didn’t seem to want to add her to the list.
“Right now,” she said, “I just want to go home, okay? I’ve lost my godfather, I don’t have any supplies and there definitely aren’t any on this ship…can’t you just take me to a port?”
“I never navigate,” he repeated. “But we can look for opportunities.”
He stood and went back to the railing for a moment, looking off into the unfathomable distance. Lori got to her feet as well, feeling faint with cold and hunger.
“You know,” Despernot said after a moment, his voice suddenly far away and full of waking dreams, “there is one ship of Out-shift that I’ve been watching for, all of my afterlife.”
The sails were still. Even the water lapping against the boat’s side was quiet. “When I was alive,” Despernot went on, “I heard whispers of it: the ghost ship to end all ghost ships. It has to be here. It has to be somewhere on the sea, floating between shifts. It was such a familiar legend, in my home town especially….”
His voice dropped to a near whisper, and he turned to look at her expectantly, his blue eyes twinkling in the darkness. “Have you heard of her?”
Lori shook her head.
“I thought as much,” he sighed, looking away again. “Still…she may be here. She may be. Shall I tell you the legend?”
“Please,” Lori said, lying to him again.
An eager grim replaced his disappointment. He cleared his throat and began, smoothing the creases from his sleeves.
“Maiden fair was Hannelore,
Lost from eastern sea.
There, golden waves broke on her bow
And shone unceasingly.
Her head held high, the mighty queen
Assailed the ocean deep,
Unknowing that her flowing skirts
Would drag her down to sleep.
‘Our maid will never find the grave,’
Proclaimed her faithful men.
‘For if she falls beneath the surf,
She will be born again!’
Hannelore procured their faith
And led them to their death.
They followed her unthinkingly
And gave their final breath
To maiden fair, to maiden strong
Whose might would never sway …
So claimed they ‘till her golden bow
Was lost, one fateful day.
No storm there came, no fearsome wind
Disturbed her rippling wake.
T’was only she and she alone
Who chose the plunge to make.
“Still strong and proud, the traitor maid
Bowed slowly to her doom,
Dragging down her faithful men
To a vast and empty tomb.
They cried for her to set herself
Aright upon the waves,
But Hannelore refused to hear
The pleas of condemned slaves.
With thunderous crash and hollow roar
Her mighty bow did dip…
And with a haunting dignity
Beneath the surface she did slip.
No ripple was there left above,
No sign was left to tell
Of Hannelore the mighty,
The beautiful and fell.
Yet whole beneath the golden waves
She glides throughout the deep,
Empty save for rotting bones
Of the men she chose to keep.”
The cold was growing worse. Lori spoke through teeth that threatened to chatter out of her skull. “Did you make that up?”
“Oh, no. I was many things, but never a poet.”
“And that really happened? There really was a ship called Hannelore that sank all by itself?”
“Of course there was,” he replied, shutting his eyes. “Do you find it any more extraordinary than what happened on this ship?”
Lori waited for him to continue, but he was evidently done speaking for the moment. He stood where he was, swaying with the ship, eyes firmly closed. “Despernot?”
Nothing. She didn’t wait for him to snap out of. She crept back down below into the cramped corridors of the ship. She tried a few doors until she found one that was unlocked and didn’t contain any rotting corpses. Exhaustion settled on her as she sank down against one of the moldy walls. Though she wanted to keep awake, to keep her mind focused and distracted at the same time, sleep overwhelmed her. She dreamt of a red sea churning with wreckage, and somewhere the cry of an owl.
(TCOS will return Thursday evening! In the meantime, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @companyofsouls!)