Shades challenges the derelict
Shades stood as near the Maximum’s bow as he dared, liking neither what he had seen, nor what he had heard.
Max’s disappearance alone was enough to convince him that there was something very wrong on the Sweet Lady of Twylight. Or perhaps he should simply call her the Twylight, her true name. No matter what he called the thing, it didn’t change the fact that this ghost ship had swallowed his friend whole.
Just as all of the dread legends of the sea spoke of.
Shades considered himself a man of few superstitions, but he knew seafolk were a people of many, and he was fast figuring out why. Recalling the events of his passage into this world, the small radio in his pocket had by now become a regular part of his “investigative” equipment, and even now he kept it tuned in, hoping to catch something useful out of the occasional fits of random sounds that broke the otherwise faintly staticky silence on all frequencies.
While listening to his radio, he walked the entire length of the Maximum’s deck with the ship’s compass, originally from Earth— an object of some curiosity to him on this plane of existence. Yet no matter which way he went, the needle always pointed dead-center at that derelict. This he found even less reassuring than the radio interference, which past experience already marked as more than adequate cause for alarm.
Something was happening on that ship, and none of his observations so far were giving him even the slightest hint as to what.
He made his way back to the read deck. Very careful to mind his footing every step of the way. Not wanting to learn the hard way what might lurk in the depths of that pea-soup through which he got only brief glimpses of murky waters.
When he reached the cabin, Shades stood there for a long moment, frustrated at how this puzzle was proving as incomprehensible as a bad campfire horror story. But his vexation kept melting into a vague anxiety as he first glared, then stared in apprehension, at a place he now feared he would have no choice but to return to. With an effort, he suppressed what he was sure would have been hysterical giggles at how he kept expecting to hear a foghorn sound somewhere in the distance…
He was about to go ask Justin for a second opinion, when he caught something new on the radio. What sounded to him like random soundbytes from myriad splintered conversations, all jumbled together. This was the single biggest burst of radio activity since the initial event, and he already wondered what eerie turn of events this new anomaly would herald.
Even as he turned to tell Justin to be on his guard, he spotted a movement out of the corner of his eye. Wheeling sharply back toward the Twylight, fearing for a moment that perhaps this unearthly atmosphere was finally making him see things. For the shades of men who now walked the deck seemed to wander in and out of existence at random intervals.
An ever-shifting slice-of-life procession of sailors, passengers and shadowy shapes whose true aspect he could only guess at.
And among them, Max.
Looking confused, disoriented, lost. For a moment, Max turned his head and strode over to the railing. On the other side of the deck. Facing away from the Maximum, he stared out at sea after something Shades couldn’t see. Appeared to be calling out, but all Shades could hear was the shifting static and jumble of voices haranguing him through his headphones.
“Max!” Shades cried out. “Over here!”
But this shadow-Max gave no indication of even having heard him, continuing to stare, then wander off after something else he couldn’t see, fading away as the other figures already had.
It wasn’t until he heard Justin shouting at him that he realized the sounds on the radio had also vanished, so intent was he on trying to pick his friend’s form out of the fog that had once again swallowed him up.
“Shades! Hey! You awake!”
Trying not to look like Justin just scared ten years off his life, he turned to face him.
“What the hell happened, man?” Justin pressed him. “The radio went nuts again, and you just started staring off into space…”
“You mean you didn’t see it?”
“See what? And why were you calling for Max?”
“But I just saw him…” Shades trailed off. There were implications here he didn’t quite follow, but felt like curtains of fog being lifted away on the full gravity of their situation. That he wasn’t really sure he wanted to know, but felt sure he would have to risk finding out, possibly the hard way. With a grim expression, he told Justin, “I’m going back in.”
For once, Justin had nothing to say, just stared at him for a moment, finally nodding in what Shades assumed to be grave understanding.
“I think we’re running out of time,” Shades filled in the gap. “I don’t know if I can solve this mystery, but I have to try. For Max.”
“I suppose you’ve got a better chance, don’t you?”
“I sure hope so.” Even as he forced his cold feet every step of the way toward that ominous vessel, he could feel time slipping away from him like the sands of an hourglass he couldn’t see. A hidden time-bomb counting down to an unknown event. All he was terribly sure of was that they didn’t want to still be here when it finally happened. “I think it has to be me, if you didn’t see what I saw.”
Though easily twice her length, the deck was about the same height as the Maximum, so they had bound the two vessels together with mooring lines, which Shades used to steady himself as he crossed over.
“Better you than me.” Justin shrugged.
Though underneath his friend’s flippant tone, he was pretty sure he could sense a good deal of frustration and apprehension. At least that was what he hoped it was as he prepared to bet his life against one of the darkest legends of the high seas.