Britany Duncan 2009
Tick... Tick... Tick... I can hear it again. What in the world is it?
Oh God, how I feared the dark; the stirring shadows and inexplicable sounds that came from the frightful abyss of night. I cared for nothing but sunlight, that pure and graceful being. If only it lasted a full twenty-four hours. That'd be a goddamn miracle.
And the dreams. Those terrible dreams that plagued me. They tormented me as I lay asleep in my bed. What an ironic thing, a bed: its warm blankets, crisp sheets and soft pillows. All inviting and friendly at a glance, but who knew it would send me nothing but demons and ghastly spectres? Of course they fizzled into dust come morning, but there was no escaping the nightmare's vice grip during the dark hours. I couldn't recall ever having a peaceful night's rest. I have learned to live with this curse, to wake up and take a deep breath. Though for all those terrible dreams, there was a reoccurring one that intrigued me.
I am standing in the darkness, but I am not afraid. There are no frightening faces or monsters to grab me, just emptiness. It feels as if I am filled with a purpose or a destination, maybe. After a few moments of pondering this feeling, a light reveals a sort of tunnel before me. In the dream I am certain that what lies at the end of the tunnel is very important. I hesitantly enter and I start to hear a ticking sound.
Tick... Tick... Tick...
It gets louder the further I travel the tunnel. Almost as if it's aligning itself with my footsteps. Suddenly, the exit and object of my apparent desire is clouded and my sister appears, calling my name.
"Klaus," she speaks slowly. "Not yet."
Then I wake up. There is never a changing factor in this dream. Each time, Mirelle says the same thing and I never find out what the ticking sound comes from. The dream dissipates and I sit up in my bed, confused as ever.
For all my petty fears, I considered myself quite brave, and so I must be. The field of my work is nothing short of running into thugs twice my size and getting the brunt of some of the strangest bouts of anger from every general direction. There's no question that I did something wrong, the trouble is I never know what. Being nothing more than a delivery boy, I never really expect much less. My trained route always led me to the harbor, where the airships were a constant coming and going and the angry crewmen plentiful, waiting to yell some such profanities at me. I tend to steer clear of them as much as I can. Their big arms and tattoos depicting women in compromising situations convinced me enough.
Today was none too ordinary. I rose at five in the morning to dress myself, ate a bit of breakfast and head to the postal office. It was an enormous dark green building in a line of identical ones. Rows and rows of rounded steel windows decorated the whole front. Below them was a large rusted sign: "BRITERRA POSTAL UNIT NO. 103". Further below still was a simple wooden door. I entered and showed my person's identification to the front desk, not before saluting the flag just to keep up appearances to the clerks. Any hair out of place was chance enough for me to lose my job. This was the absolute worst time for that.
My delivery sheet today had but one task on it. I was to deliver a new rudder sail for the HMS Starfield and a letter addressed to its captain. I took the large parcel and letter and placed them gently in my carrier's bag. Today would not be an arduous haul, and I was grateful. The clouds were dark and looming over the city, threatening to rain. I couldn't damage the materials, so I quickened my pace to suit the oncoming storm. To my advantage, though, the harbor was only a few streets away.
The Number 36 Harbor was not as grand as the ones dotting the western shores of Briterra, but it always excited me. The gates were fixed with bronze statues of eagles and a plaque that read "All those who take flight may come." Above it was BRITERRA HARBOR NO. 36 in large steel letters that ran from one eagle to the other. Every harbor was numbered, as with all government-run establishments. It seemed the powers-that-be, The Steel, were not too concerned with who's on the naming committee.
I glanced around the docks labeled International Importing. Two great red ships were coming in to land. One, the Misao-Lin, was larger and had a gold lining running around her middle and bright blue accents. The other, the Prashanthi, looked like a tired warship-turned-cargo ship. I could see the boarded up slats that used to carry her guns. They were from the far east, most likely importing spices and fine cloths.
The docks which carried the luxury liners were empty this season. In the summer months they would be filled with liners carrying the rich and famous all around the world. It was a sight to see but always filled me with jealousy. It was likely that I would never get to travel aboard these ships, though to watch them depart was fine enough for my tastes.
The buzz around the harbor was deafening. There were men shouting and all manners of machines making odd noises and movements. The roaring sound of airships taking off was too much, and I had to cover my ears; I didn't know how anyone could stand such a thing. I saw many terrified cabin boys making runs for their captains, looking like they were on the verge of collapsing. I coveted this job immensely. Cabin boys were paid ten bells an hour, and delivery boys only three. The work was laborious and long, but if it meant that I could send back decent wages to my family I would take it. My mother would have the nicest hats and my father a decent smoking pipe. At the moment, my wages were being sent to the Aeronautical Academy for my sister's tuition. Her work was devoted to becoming a navigator. She believed it was the combined bells of our parents, but most of it was supported by my deliveries. Some day I would tell her.
My usual destination was the National Exporting dock. There were five ships in the port today, all with the same brown exterior and wind-beaten balloons. None of them were as beautiful as the Asiaterran cargo ships, (though Asiaterra was known for its outlandish styles). They all looked a bit sad and weary as they swayed lightly in their stations. Their tether lines looked worn out and ready to snap. The surrounding crewmen looked the same: all-too-ready to snap and fall apart. In the middle sat the HMS Starfield, looking plain as ever with her leathery silver balloon and her creaking hull. Though for all her shortcomings, she was at least slightly admirable, looking as if she had just been scrubbed and newly painted. She had a roguish look about her that made me smile.
I boarded the gangplank of the Starfield and was quickly greeted by its first officer. He had a shock of blond hair and one blue eye. Where the left should have been sitting in its socket, there was a gaping hole of dark pink skin. I awkwardly saluted and he chuckled.
"At ease lad. My name is Oliver Chance, first officer, and who might you be?" he extended his hand and I obliged. I tried not to let my gaze linger on his missing eye.
"Klaus Windstrom, sir. I am here to deliver a new rudder sail and a letter for Captain Renaud." I showed him the two articles of my objective. He nodded.
"I'll take the sail, lad. Mr. Grimms will be happy to have it!"
"What shall I do with the letter, sir?" I held it to him, but he didn't take it.
"Oh yes, Captain Renaud will be pleased. I'm sure it's wonderful news from her loving sister." Mr. Chance said this with furrowed brows and gave a daunting sigh. My eyes gave away my confusion, I suppose, since he gave a booming laugh. "Not to worry, my boy, just a simple family feud!" I still didn't understand at all. Instead of an explanation, he pointed his finger to my right.
"There you will enter the captain's quarters. Wait for her in the library. Good day to you, lad!" He smiled big, trotted off and started barking orders to some disgruntled-looking man. I thought him to be absolutely mad.
I turned towards the captain's quarters. The name Colette Renaud was adorned on a small brass placard in the center of a large oak door. I ventured inside to find a dark hallway and a few doors. Inside the first held a small parlor with a plush emerald green couch and a table. Upon the table there were miscellaneous charts and papers, no doubt used as the captain's study. I decided it was best not to disturb any of this and went on. The next door held a lavatory. The next was a simple apartment containing a bed and wardrobe. The very last door took me into the aforementioned library. It was dimly lit by a small fireplace in between two shelves, but I made out the silhouette of a gas lamp hanging from the center of the ceiling. Every surrounding wall had shelves packed with books that rose to the ceiling. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and a boy entered. He looked about fifteen, with sandy colored hair and a slight limp to his walk. He struck a match and lit the gas lamp. The room immediately seemed to glow a sickly orange. The boy looked me up and down and finally spoke.
"Something to drink?" he asked. I shook my head and smiled sheepishly. "Miss Renaud will be about shortly, sir. Until then I trust you can preoccupy yourself with a book. She tends to take lavish breaks, as it were." He laughed and departed from the library, leaving me with the dusty old books. Well, they were more inviting than the crew I had met aboard the Starfield. There was the first mate with the maniacal smile and the gimpy cabin boy who spoke ill of his captain. What kind of ship was this Colette Renaud running? A cargo ship, no less! I dare say that I was terrified of meeting this captain for fear that she would be even worse than my first two acquaintances.
After a few moments of awkward silence between myself and the books, I decided to look around for some form of entertainment whilst waiting for this captain. I fingered a few spines of aeronautical manuals but lost interest when the titles started sounding identical. I grew impatient and stood by the fireplace. I sighed heavily. Perhaps it was sheer bad luck that I had no other duties for today and had to withstand the torture of waiting around for the Starfield's lazy captain. I longed to be somewhere else. I tapped my foot in annoyance and looked around the library once more. Then it caught my eye; a small blue book sat on the mantle of the fireplace. Its pages were spilling out the sides and the cover was bent. I picked it up gingerly so as not to harm it further. I flipped through it quickly and caught a glimpse of a few crude sketches. One showed a mechanical-looking spider, another depicted tall creatures with dark limbs. I turned to the beginning and read.
December Third: We have found the place. It is an unbelievable sight. The air is ice cold, for this island is high in the sky as we predicted. Somehow this glittering world rose up from the sea into the air. The ship almost crash-landed, for the earth is completely iced over. What used to be mountains are now glaciers. It might recall images of Glaciaterra, it looks rather identical save for the giant castle made of ice. If you don't look hard enough it may appear to be just another glacier. You may refer to my sketches of this palace. Tomorrow we have planned to explore this.
There is no vegetation here, as one might suspect. As far as we can see, there is just ranges of glaciers and the castle. We have encountered no life as of yet.
December Fourth: Life! They found us early this morning when we neared the castle. They are human but some have limbs made of metal and brass plates. They function as flesh and blood but are hollow and seemingly driven by steam. Every one of them is extraordinarily beautiful; men and women alike. They have ghostly pale skin and frightening blue eyes. I am amazed by these things, but since finding this lost city I am becoming less and less surprised. They speak English, also, and converse in a polite matter. They have a very intricate society and nothing but friendship to offer us. You may refer to my sketch of them as well.
Who would have known that such a place and people could be found? Atlan--
The library door slammed loudly and I was startled from the journal. Standing before me was a woman with bright red hair and astonishing green eyes. She stared at me accusingly and held out her hand.
"The book, lad. Hand it over to me this instant." her voice was calm but I could tell that it was driven by angry force. I willingly fed the book into her hands. She snatched it up quickly and exited the room in a huff. I stood bewildered. She returned shortly and thrust out her hand.
"Colette Renaud," she slapped her hand into mine and gave it a hearty shake.
"Klaus Windstrom, ma'am. And I'm terribly sorry if I offended you just now. I was just told to entertain myself, I had no idea that was your--" She cut me off.
"Quite frankly, it's none of your business Mr. Windstrom. It is not my girlish diary. It is just a story. Now, I hear you have a letter just dying for me to read, yes?" I handed her the letter and she stuffed it into her pockets. She then abruptly turned and left me with my mouth hanging open and questions on my tongue. I laughed in disbelief. All this damn trouble and she isn't even going to read it?Much less thank me for it? I needed to leave. Now.
I left the library and hurried down the hallway. My hand was prepared to turn the knob of the great oak door when the Starfield suddenly lurched forward. I was thrown onto my back. I cursed loudly and stood up, trying to regain my posture. The ship convulsed once more, and now I could hear the roar of her engines. My stomach dropped to the floor. The ship was casting off and I was still on board. I felt the rising sensation below my feet, along with bile from my stomach. Here I stood stupid in the hallway when I should have been running out the door. Still, I knew it was too late. I shrank into a corner and covered my face, trying as hard as I could not to retch at my next occurring thoughts.
I was stuck aboard the HMS Starfield indefinitely.
I threw up anyway.
Author's note: Fictionpress is disgusting. They won't let me tab my paragraphs. I feel so dirty. D: