When Kayden arrived at the ship, it was already dark. The flames of the torch danced back and forth, fighting against the increasingly fierce wind. He had to hurry if he didn’t want to move in complete darkness. It took him a few steps to get on board as the ship leant heavily to starboard.
The ice must be pushing up from below, he thought and took off his snow goggles, hoping to see better. A sparkling whiteness spread across the deck, covering every inch of it. Rough ice covered the many cords and ropes that moved stiffly in the wind, the metal fittings squeaking eerily. The ship appeared to be in a deep, languid sleep, while the frozen surfaces reminded him of a ghostly version of an unworldly realm. The mainsails were gone, and the masts bent slowly but menacingly every time a gust of wind hit the ship.
Kayden, however, was not interested in the condition of the ship, nor how it got stranded here in this desolate region of the world. All he had in mind was to reach an entrance that would lead him inside this frozen but life-saving shelter. He looked around, his torch illuminating his surroundings vaguely, when he finally found what he was looking for. A way to the lower deck. A hatch.
He leant his body against the howling wind, shielding his face with his arms in front of him. Struggling to reach the door, Kayden managed by crawling almost on all fours, his torch lost somewhere behind him. The fuzzy weather took away most of his night vision, but despite all the blurriness, a shiny dark object caught his attention: a large metal ring attached to the hatch.
Kayden reached for the ring and pulled. Nothing happened. He tried again, this time with greater force, but the hatch did not move an inch. This ship had been on the ice too long, and it seemed time had sealed the way to the lower deck for good. He took off his left glove to get a better grip on the handle. His fingers suffered immediately a biting, almost unbearable sting, but Kayden continued.
He reached for the metal ring, his right hand clutching his left wrist for better support, and with all his weight he pulled back as hard as he could.
The hatch flung open with a hollow thud.
The momentum of the flying door caused Kayden to fall onto his back with a loud grunt. It took him a few seconds to recover from the heavy impact, and he gasped for air as a searing pain brought him back to reality. He looked down at his hand and saw the skin torn open, flaming red from the icy surface of the metal ring he had touched seconds ago.
Kayden crawled back to the open hatch and with a frantic motion searched for his lost glove. He found it half-covered with snow. Hastily, he put it back on and hissed a little as its rough wool brushed against the wound.
With a forceful push, he shoved the sledge down the gaping black hole of the entrance and listened to its rumbling descent. He followed, slipping and stumbling down the steep stairs.
The inside felt like an old grave, and Kayden fumbled for one of the self-made torches on his sledge. He lit the piece of cloth with a match he carried in his inside pocket and couldn’t help but gasp at the sight that unfolded before him.
Giant icicles hung solemnly from the ceiling. Like the outside deck, the walls and doors were covered in a dark, glittering film, which sparkled wickedly at the light’s intrusion. The entry area led to a narrow corridor with rows of small chambers—probably officers’ quarters - whose entrances were covered by frozen curtains moving back and forth stiffly in the draught. The common sailors’ dormitory had to be somewhere down below or in the bow, but a foreboding feeling told Kayden not to disappear into the depths of this ghost ship but to stay near an exit.
He followed the narrow corridor that led him to the stern of the vessel. A badly damaged door, which was partially unhinged, blocked the way. With determined force, Kayden prised the door open and stepped into the room. It was the captain’s cabin—the most luxurious quarter on the ship and epitome of Royal Navy splendor, now forever forgotten in this place.
The campfire created a soothing, crackling sound, bathing the cabin in a soft golden color. Chairs and other debris had piled into a heap under a massive table, which had slid to the right side of the room. Among the many layers of ice, Kayden was sure to find a rich panel of dark brown wood, and probably, a portrait or two of some famous and self-important people.
In the middle of the room, he took a seat on a polar bear skin he had brought with him and stared into the fire. He stretched his hands over the hot flames and felt the warmth return to his numb limbs.
A strand of his black shoulder-length hair fell into his face as he slowly undid the buttons of his coat. He took it off and then, removed his woolen jumper and undershirt. It was still bitterly cold, but the campfire prevented Kayden from freezing to death in an instant. He looked down at himself and frowned at the bandages around his right flank, then began to remove them layer by layer.
He grimaced at the touch to his side but still managed the procedure quite easily. The wound looked good enough but needed new bandages to prevent it from going septic. Kayden set to work, methodically, using boiled-out scraps of old cloth.
Back in his clothes, he began to prepare a simple supper. Eerie creaking filled the room as the screaming storm reached its full force outside. Perhaps I should set up camp on this ship for a little longer than one night.
He watched the trance-like dance of the flames as he ate his seal meat, feeding the fire with the wood he had found earlier under the large table. The mesmerizing fire played a game of yellows and reds when an overwhelming tiredness befell him.
The movement in the corner of his eye was inconspicuous, and yet, he had seen it. Kayden turned his head, slowly, and stared into the blackness hovering like a nightmare outside the room. He focused on a random spot in the darkness, but nothing moved except for the jumping shadows the campfire produced on the wall.
Don’t be such a fool, Kayden thought and forced himself to dismiss the fantasies only a lonely man could have on a deserted shipwreck. With a stick in his hand, he rearranged the burning logs and decided it was time to turn in.
At the second movement, Kayden jumped to his feet and drew his gun. He faced the doorway with a grim expression.
The glow of the flames impaired his vision and forced him to retreat from the fire, taking one careful step after another until he reached the large table. His eyes were glued to the doorway. Something was inside the ship. Of all godforsaken places in the world.
“Show yourself.” Kayden pointed his pistol with a steady hand in the direction the noise had come from. “I said, show yourself!” he roared, and a soft clink of ice crystals, falling from the ceiling and furniture, filled the room.
After a moment of silence, another movement began, accompanied by a repeated knocking on the wooden planks, Tok Tok Tok . Kayden watched in horror as the darkness began to form itself into an undefined mass, shifting its weight from side to side like a wave, each forward movement followed by the rhythmic interval of the sound.
It stopped short of the doorway, its features hidden in the shadows of the firelight, showing no intention of taking a step further into the room.
“Come closer, you bastard,” Kayden challenged. He only had two bullets left, and he wasn’t about to fire a random shot into nowhere. He intended to lure the creature into full view for a precise and probably life-saving aim. But whatever had found him seemed unfazed by his threats. Instead, it just stood there, rocking back and forth in place.
It’s mocking me, Kayden thought with grim fascination, feeling his arm muscles stiffen at the prospect of pulling the trigger. He was sure he would hit the thing, but to what extent the damage would be, he dared not estimate.
Suddenly, he heard a chuckle.
“Oh, I’m sure you will, Cully. Hear. Hear!” said a deep, rasping voice. “However, I’d be grateful if you could lower your weapon, so I can enter the cabin unharmed.”
Kayden felt cold drops of sweat rise on his forehead.
“I’m going to enter now, very slowly. How about you holster your gun, Cully.” The shadow moved forward again and with it the maddening sound of Tok Tok Tok. “There we go, Cully. Nice and easy.”