October 25th, 1889
The air was cool and heavy laden with chills. The close proximity of the ocean caused larger frost layered edges of ice to form on cobblestone roadways and stone steps leading into homes, etched by traces of salt.
Horses and their masters moved slower in the cooler air, their hooves leaving sloshy pools of slushy prints in the paths behind them.
The animal’s snouts breathed heavily with each step, exhaling white puffs as they walked, as though spewed forth from a burning pipe, yet no scent of tobacco followed with it.
The London Dock Strike that broke out in August, which ended in September, still kept the town in an uproar. Its citizens continued to argue with one another, some over labour’s rights, while others, the men paying their wages, disagreed. A battle doomed to eternity.
On the outskirts of London, to the West, far away from the civilized world, off a weather-beaten trail layered by mud, hoof prints and horse excrement, housed the fifty room brick-walled structure known as the Royal London Medical Institute.
Or to those who knew it best, the Royal London Lunatic Asylum.
For its inhabitants, the world around them, its news, its travesties and its concerns, bore little interest, or for that matter, any regard.
The facility had bars for windows, steel plates for doors, and a complement of royal soldiers to ensure its guests never posed a risk to any in England.
It was a beautiful place with lush green pastures surrounding it, high trees with large flourishing leaves, yellows and reds with the season, and stone structures from yesteryear encompassing the property and making those inside feel as though they were privileged residents, not simply prisoners.
In one of the upper rooms, the office of the Medical Superintendent, administrator and overseer of this facility, sat one man, resting comfortably.
Captain Rios was in a high back red leather chair, his boot covered feet, one atop the other, rested on a corner of the large ornate desk before him. He was leafing through a report he had found. He was impressed with the handwriting within, delicate and fine, written with a careful hand, each loop and whorl an artwork in itself. One who took serious pride in his record-keeping.
Rios looked up to the window then resumed his reading while he waited patiently.
He was the same man as he had always been, steadfast and confident. Yet now, as a retired Captain of the British Navy, he had lots of time on his hands. His once dark beard was laced with grey with silvers and browns battling in his mane, white fighting to take dominion.
Age and time were enemies many men feared, always losing the battle to keep them at bay.
Rios sat quietly and reflected on his life.
He had crossed the oceans more times than he could count. His accounts were laden with gold and he had more property than many of his peers. He held many commendations as bestowed upon him by the Royal Court, combined with the respect of all who served under his command. He had no family of note, but never sought one.
His only legacy was his satisfaction in living the life he wanted.
With one exception.
A mystery he had never solved continued to gnaw away at his thoughts.
Rios looked again upon his finger, rubbing the tip and reminisced.
“Good morning.” A male voice stated, closing the door behind them.
Rios was pulled from his reverie while the other man crossed the office.
The man was wearing a long white coat and a pencil balanced over his left ear. He was a small man, standing at five eight, with short blond hair, brushed back and deftly behind his head, layered with a hint of oil. His gold rimmed spectacles were round and light, resting atop his sharp nose, and framed by a clean shaven face. He spoke with a German accent, smooth and light, as he moved around to the chair to behind the desk revealing the office was his own. He took his seat and saw Rios had been reading the most recent update.
Doctor Sebastian Gerber placed his two hands together, his one finger sporting a University of Munich ring, as he quietly reflected on Rios and his presence. He began. “Interesting reading I presume.” Not surprised or bothered to find his papers being rifled through or examined.
Rios smiled but offered no apology. “Nothing eventful with our guest I presume?”
“Not for some time.” Gerber offered. “He’s been a model inmate. I suspect, in a few years he may even be able to retire outside these walls.”
Rios chuckled, doubtful. “From what I read has occurred in London, this is a far safer place. Have they not caught that monster from White Chapel? The Ripper or something like that?”
“I’m afraid not.” Gerber replied. “But from recent news, he seems to have stopped. Some believe he’s killed himself.”
Again, Rios doubted it. ‘Monsters don’t die. They simply go into hiding.’
“I knew the third girl, Elizabeth Stride.” Rios offered. “She was a fine lass. Made many of my men fit for the seas. I wonder what possible threat she posed to this madman.”
Gerber had no answer. Though he understood with the current state of the economy, the reasons for these women selling themselves to sailors and their ilk, he had never conceived a person who felt justified in tearing woman asunder as this Ripper did. “Well if they do catch him, I’d want to speak to him. Even keep him here, under secured restraints of course.” He paused. “We might be able to learn what makes him tick. And prevent future monsters.”
Rios nodded agreement, but he was not really listening.
Gerber and Rios stared at one another, silence growing between them.
Gerber waited patiently for Rios to ask, knowing his small talk was always the preclude to his real interest. And Gerber could wait a very long time, as it was his profession.
“Has he remembered anything new?” Rios queried. “I’ve been gone almost three months.”
“Then I can assume, you chose not to meet with him today?” Gerber asked, already knowing the answer.
Rios nodded, noting his reluctance to do so. He clearly wanted to talk to Gerber first.
“He’s offered nothing more than you already know.” Gerber leaned back. “We know his crew pulled into a coastal region south of America and they discovered an island for which the sun does not set. Or so he claims.”
Rios thought. ‘This I know. But I need more. It’s been thirty years.’
“We know they found something. As to what, he can’t remember. And in my estimates, he never will.” Gerber took a breath, some resignation in his tone. “And I can assure you, I’ve asked him over and over. He’s not lying.”
Rios was a man of the seas, not a man of the mind. He could not understand how a man could drown out things he saw and experienced, and in a manner so deep it could not be salvaged. If it was locked away, they simply needed to find the right key.
Gerber offered his hands up and open. “Anything he offers would be equivalent to a guess.”
“I’ll take a ‘guess’ over nothing, any day.” Rios responded.
Gerber peered out his window. “From my discussions with him, and there have been many, they delivered their stores to a port North of Texas. Upon completion, not unlike your own ship, its Captain ordered the crew South, in search of adventure with no destination in mind.”
Rios sighed. ‘The world is a big place and everything is South of North.’
“It was my good friend and colleague, Doctor LaFleur, who referred you to me...” Gerber casually mentioned. “In 1864, I took it based on pure study and his insistence.”
Rios turned to him. “You had no difficulty in taking my money each year quite readily when I paid for this man’s care.”
Gerber did not refute this, but this was not the debate. “Let me ask you this. How many times will you ask him the same questions? How many times does he have to tell you the same answers before you accept them?”
Captain Rios turned to stare out the window. After a full minute of solemn observation, he explained. “He’s the sole survivor and the former first officer of a mysterious ship for which the entire crew has vanished without a trace. And to this day, I’ve nothing to explain what happened.”
Gerber raised both his hands. “We may never know.”
“I refuse to believe that.” Rios stood, putting both hands behind his back. “He has the answers. He simply doesn’t know it.”
Gerber was always amazed with the zeal in Rios’ convictions. “I read the Captain’s Log you provided to me, and to him, to help jog the officer’s memory. And be assured, it was equally unsuccessful. He neither remembers what was written nor why for that matter he destroyed the pages.”
’Not destroyed my good Doctor…Ate.’ Rio thought, but offered. “Still, he saw the pages. Otherwise, why destroy them? So he must have known of their content before ridding the world of them.”
“Of this I have no doubt. But I must point out, he knew, being the past tense.”
Rios was frustrated. He wanted answers now, more than ever. “Regardless, if you read the entire log, before the page’s ingestion, the last entry noted pulling into a cove that leads to this Island of Eternal Night. So unless his Captain was insane, there is such an island.”
“Writing something does not make it a reality.” Gerber noted.
“Captains don’t write fiction.” Rios bristled at the suggestion an official logbook could be falsified. “As God is my witness, there’s an island, and I believe it to be true.”
“Yes, that remains a real possibility, but again, these things cannot be forced. He needs time.”
Rios clenched his fists. ‘Time is a luxury I don’t have.’
Gerber could see Rios’ annoyance and offered. “Over the past three decades, each time you took shore leave and returned here to spend time with him, and he considers you a valued friend by the way, you’ve asked him dozens of questions, in hundreds of ways, to illicit small segments of information. Now with your skill and experience of the ocean, should not all these pieces assist you to assemble a picture of where he went.”
Rios did not offer Gerber an answer, nor revealed what he knew. Over the past thirty years, he had carefully and delicately drawn small pieces of information from his survivor of the seas. However at great cost as each time, the man would be drawn back into his nightmares, screaming and regressing back into his mind, useless for more information, forcing Rios to return at another time.
As Gerber had surmised, in that time, Rios had amassed a great deal of information, unbeknownst to the former first officer, all of which he kept close to his vest. The prize would be his and his alone.
“Regardless of his trip, or his route, it’s that which took the lives of over four hundred crewman which is vitally important to me.”
Gerber nodded solemnly, sensing Rios already had a route in mind. “In the case you had to face them yourself with a crew of only a hundred?”
After a full minute, Rios grinned understandingly. “Then you know.”
Gerber was a very intelligent man and what he could not derive by Rios’ words, he could from his contacts in the world. “I’ve been recently informed you’ve purchased an ocean going vessel. If I’m not mistaken, it’s currently being outfitted in Bristol for a long crossing. A complement of one hundred men correct?”
“One twenty.” Rios felt no need to lie. Plus he assumed, Gerber would see them as such. “She’s a small ship, yet sturdy and true. My crew, equally small, are my finest from years at sea.”
“And they’re men who like a challenge?”
Rios knew Gerber would end every statement with a question. It was a psychiatrist’s game. “They like my money and that I make my own destinations, not that of my employers.”
Most self-employed men will tell you, it was a marvelous feeling to choose your own fate.
Gerber added. “And you’re preparing a cast off very soon?”
“Of that, it’s also true.” Rios stood firm. “So I was hoping to glean any remaining information I could before I departed.”
The doctor remained seated, hands clasped with his two index fingers pressed together, pointing skyward to form a steeple. “And will you say goodbye?”
“He knows I’m a seafaring man. So long departures do not faze him. Why bore him with a story of another?”
“Because this one involves seeking out the very island he has so desperately tried to forget.”
Rios looked to Gerber. “If’s there’s even a shred of truth to what I suspect, I need to find the island, and the answer.”
Gerber paused as looked at the Captain. After a moment, he reflected. “I’ve lived a long and happy life. I have a wife who adores me, children who love me and a career I’m considered distinguished for.”
“And you think you’re a better man for it?” Rios asked, not seeking an answer. “But what of your legacy?”
“My children will be my legacy. When I move on, it will be under my own terms.” Gerber smiled, proud of the life he has lived. “I’ve absolutely no interest in seeking out that which can do to a man what was done to our friend.”
Rios took it in. “That’s where we differ Doctor. This mystery needs a solution and I want what he discovered.”
Gerber rose and moved until he stood directly behind the Captain. He placed a gentle hand on Rios’ shoulder. “Some things were never meant to be found.”
Rios grinned. “Then why put it out there.”
Gerber pulled away and stood to Rios side. He took a deep breath and offered a profound nod of his head. “A great being once put an apple in a tree and told his two children not to touch it. But the children asked the question, ‘Then why put it there?’ So they picked it and took a bite.” He let the story sink in. “And look where it got them.”
“I’m not after the apple…” Rios smirked, causing the slivers of his beard to curl up the wrinkles of his skin around his mouth, brushing it with his right hand. “I want the tree.”
Rios loved these philosophical debates with Gerber. It gave him many intellectual things to consider, not unlike his long nights around the conference table aboard the Serenade with LaFleur over a casket of wine.
Rios turned to Gerber. He paused before asking his next question. “And what of his journal?”
“What of it?” Gerber asked innocently.
“May I have it?.”
“Absolutely not!” Gerber appeared astonished at such a request. “For him, it’s his anchor to sanity. One I can’t let you haphazardly pull from the waters hoping it snagged a treasure chest.” Using imagery Rios would understand.
“I can purchase him a new one.”
“This has been his only way to make real thoughts he is too frightened to voice into reality.” Gerber scoffed. “Unlike a pet, one does not replace one’s memories put to paper with a blank pad and hope the writer doesn’t notice.”
“He’s still a madman.”
Gerber snarled under his breath at the remark and at the suggested invasion of a patient’s privacy. “Regardless, he still writes in it. And he has many pages to go. To take it from him now would be to betray any trust he has in me and this institution. And if he truly holds a secret, it’ll be lost forever by this one action.”
Rios already suspected the answer before he asked it. “And of what has he written?” Hoping the good Doctor had seen something Rios did not.
Gerber motioned, denoting nothing of importance. “He writes slivers of what he can. He’s trying to piece together what happened on that island. I suspect before the end of his life, he will.”
In that, Rios agreed, but long after he left.
“I wish I had more time.” Captain Rios stood, his sword knocking on the edge of the doctor’s desk. “I’ll be leaving tonight. I may be gone for some time. But I assure you, our patient’s expenses will remain covered. I’ve spoken to the bank and they’ll relay the payments to your institution for as long as necessary.”
Gerber would have forgone the payments, as the patient was far too important to release into the world simply due to lack of funding. He knew he would personally pay if Rios had not. As regardless of the island, his story, if ever dug up from his mind, would be worth it.
Rios turned toward the door.
Gerber offered up his only warning. “I’ve seen many men over the years, battle worn with damaged minds and souls. Some are spending the rest of their lives either jumping at shadows, paranoid of everyone around them, or even refusing to leave the safety of their homes.”
“Your point Doctor?”
“My point is… Whatever happened to our first officer frightened him to his very soul. And that is a hard target to reach, by anything known to man.”
Gerber sighed, knowing he was not Rios’ keeper. “If you believe the island exists, which you do, then you must believe in the second part, that this island possesses a Horror, and that’s what he calls it by the way, a Horror, lives upon it. One so terrible, our friend lost almost all threads of his essence facing it.”
Rios was confident. “I’m prepared for anything any man can throw at me.”
“Presuming it was man…” Gerber replied with solid conviction. He hoped he was getting through to Rios, but doubted it. “Combined with the guilt for the loss of his crew, he may suffer for a very long time.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“So does dying.” Gerber casually inserted
Rios ignored the last statement. “I’ve shown you my finger correct?”
“Do you know how many times I’ve cut it?”
“Many.” Gerber leaned forward, speaking in a grandfatherly voice, offering a soft and gentle assurance. “I don’t deny the miracle. I deny the price.”
Rios looked to the window. “I’m prepared to pay it.”
“Are you?” Gerber knew this was his final chance. “Whatever happened to that ship, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of crew and drove our mutual friend to the point of absolute madness, in my estimates, is a price not worth the cost.”
Rios was confident. “I can afford it.”
‘God I hope so.’ Gerber thought. He gestured to Rios’ belt, changing the subject. “I see you still carry that old Flintlock.”
Rios massaged the grip. “It’s a dependable weapon.”
Gerber knew little of weapons, but he did know, each minute he delayed Rios was a minute of reconsideration. “Even at sea? With the salt air? Doesn’t it dampen the gun powder?”
Rios placed his hand on the hilt of his weapon, staring into the setting sun on the horizon.. “Paraffin.”
“Paraffin?” Gerber started at him quizzically. “You mean wax?”
“Yes.” Rios took solace in his ideas. “I put a single drop at the pin and one on the end of the barrel?”
“And what does that do?”
“It keeps air, moisture and salt away from the gun powder. Sure it seems strange, but I assure you, nary has a chance existed when I pulled the trigger did it hesitate to fire. No matter how long I wait to pull it.”
Both men took solace in one another’s words.
Their decisions were made, and the direction of their lives paved before them.
Rios departed the doctor’s office, his hand on his belt, dreams of a discovery men would die to have.
No ’Horror’ would keep him from this bounty.
Rios ship pulled out of port at 9:47 p.m. that evening, its moonlit silhouette shrinking on the water with each mile it sailed from England.
The oceans settled as his ship sunk into the horizon.
Captain Rios, his ship, and his crew were never seen or heard from again.