Up. Down. Up. Down. Sam's axe lifted and fell to the time of an unknown rhythm, chopping each piece of wood cleanly in two. Now he bent down and threw the pieces into a pile of chopped wood, and set up another. His strong arms brought the axe up and let it fall again. It hit the wood with a thump and cracked it in half.
Chopping wood to fuel the ovens at a small London bakery wasn't much of a job, but at fifteen, Sam was just a kid, and this was the best job he could get to make a few extra pence for his family.
He dropped the chopped pieces onto the woodpile as he walked by; heading over to a large stack of hay bales against the stone wall of the bakery on the other edge of the lot, and allowed himself to collapse, exhausted, into them, the axe leaning against his knee.
"Ye done yet, boy?" The voice echoed from inside the bakery and reached Sam's ears just before the hardened, aged face of Mr. Barker, the owner, appeared in the open doorway.
"Yes, sir," Sam replied, "I just finished."
"There's a good lad." Mr. Barker smiled slightly, and tossed two small brass coins in Sam's direction and then looked up at the darkening twilight sky with an odd fearful glare that Sam had never seen on the kind old man's face in the year he'd been working for him. Glancing back at Sam, he said, "Best be gettin' on home quick, lad. Tonight's not a good night to be out alone. I imagine your folks'll worry if you're not home soon."
"Yes, Mr. Barker." He waited until Mr. Barker had gone back inside to close up the shop for the night to pick up his day's pay from the dirt. He thought about the fear he'd seen in Mr. Barker's eyes as he sat back in the hay, pocketing the coins. His parents had had the same fear in their expressions earlier that day, and neither he nor his sister, Lucy, could figure out why.
He'd sat for only a short while when he spotted a small swinging light up the alleyway. At first glance, he'd have mistaken it for one of the gas lamps that lit the streets, but it kept getting closer. It was a glass lantern swinging back and forth as whoever carried it got closer.
"Hello?" Sam called into the impeding darkness. There was no reply, only the swinging of the lantern. He squinted into the dark, trying to see the person coming toward him, but he couldn't see so much as a shadow of anyone there. "Who's there?" he called. This time the lantern stopped moving altogether, in any direction.
Come. The gruff male voice echoed through his head, and although it wasn't his, or that of anyone he knew, it was so authoritative that Sam felt obliged to obey it. He stood up and followed the light as it resumed its swinging motion and started to move away, always keeping a fair distance between it and Sam.
The light led Sam through the city's streets. Usually, even at this time of the evening, the streets were still bustling with people returning home for the night. Tonight the streets were all empty except for a few unmanned carriages. The only sound that accompanied Sam through the streets was the clicking of his shoes on the cobblestone, ringing eerily off the walls around him, speeding up as the light moved at a continually faster pace.
The light led him through a tantalizing course through the back alleys, until finally Sam emerged at a full blown run at the edge of the London Harbour, where the light disappeared.
"Alright, you," Sam muttered, turning around and around, searching, "Where'd you go?"
His eyes searched the black harbour and found the light hovering over the faint outline of a ship on the other side of the harbour. He ran around the water's edge until he stood, panting, at the bottom of the ramp coming off the ship.
"Who's there?" a gruff voice shouted.
"I – I saw y-your light," Sam stammered.
A man appeared at the top of the ramp. His surly face crinkled up as the man studied Sam. "Ye did, did ye?" he muttered.
"Yes, sir," Sam replied.
"Well, come aboard, lad," he boomed in an accent that, although British, sounded odd to Sam's ears. But he scrambled up the ramp and onboard the ship anyway.
"Right this way, lad," the man continued, leading him toward the stern of the ship, pointing out things like the massive canons and crew's quarters, right up to the captain's quarters. "Now, this," he said, "Tha's where I live. I am Edward Tory, captain of the Sarah Jane, after me wife."
"She's nice," Sam commented.
"Well, I'm glad ye like it, Sam."
Sam nodded, and then stopped dead in his tracks. "Now just a minute," Sam said slowly, "I don't think I ever told you my name."
Captain Tory laughed wickedly, "Ye didn't."
"What's going on?" Sam's mouth formed the words, but he couldn't make any sound come out.
"But I know who y'are," he continued. "Sam Grange, fifteen, ye live with yer parents an' a sister. Lucy."
"What's Lucy got to do with this?" Sam managed. "Who are you?"
"Oh she has much to do with everything." Tory explained quietly leaning in toward Sam's face. "Haven't ye heard the legend of the Sarah Jane, Sam?" Sam shook his head violently. He was starting to get scared. "It's bin fifty years, now, Sam. 1803, was the year the Sarah Jane went down in flames into this very harbour, takin' all her crew with her."
"No," Sam whispered, "I don't believe you."
"No?" Tory snarled, and then aimed a blow at Sam's ear. Sam braced himself for it, but it never came. Tory's arm went right through him. "How 'bout now?"
Sam tried to run, but he couldn't will his feet to move. He stood there, staring wide-eyed at the captain in a mixture of shock, fear and adrenaline. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he found his voice. "W-who are you?" His voice came out in a squeak, not what he had hoped. He cleared his throat and was going to try again, but Tory spoke first.
"I told ye already, Sam, I'm the captain of the Sarah Jane, after me wife. O' course, she's bin gone forty-five years, almost as long as I have. See, my crew are strong. Even dead we can still reach out and touch someone if we choose." To prove it he reached up and flicked Sam's ear with his forefinger. "An' I get to come back, and live here one night a year, long as I take someone back across wi' me. And that someone is you, Sam."
"And you think I'm going to come 'across' with you?" Sam asked. His voice was stronger now. He still had hope of escape.
"How do you know?"
Tory grinned wickedly. "Because I've got an offer ye can't refuse." He pushed the door open and Sam's heart thudded and skipped a beat, all his hope vanishing in an instant. "Yer soul fer yer sister's life." She was sitting on the floor across the room, bound and gagged.
Tory gave Sam a push, and he fell through the doorway. "I'll be back fer ye's," he snarled, "Make yer choice."
"No!" Sam shouted, scrambling to catch the closing door. But the key turned in the lock as he got there. He slammed his fist helplessly against the door at the retreating footsteps, screaming whatever pleas came to mind.
Only a very muffled, "Sam?" brought his attention back to Lucy sitting across the room. He tried to compose himself and went over and untied her. As soon as she was free she pulled him into a tight embrace. Sam hugged her back, knowing they'd never see each other again. He knew what he had to do. He'd save her. "Lucy, I'm so sorry," he whispered in her ear.
She pulled away and looked at him oddly. "What for?" she asked, "You've done nothing to require you to ask forgiveness."
"Yes, I have. I won't leave you here. I've got to stay here. Forever. It's the only way you can leave."
"No," Lucy said, "No, Sam, you've got to go home. Mum and Father need you."
"I'm not leaving you here, Lucy."
"Then we both stay," she finished in a tone that told Sam that she would no longer discuss the subject.
They were silent for barely a moment before Sam said suddenly, "No."
"Lucy, we don't have to stay, both of us. I have an idea." And he explained everything he'd just thought of to her in a low voice.
By the time Tory came back they were ready. Both Sam and Lucy stood to the side of the door opposite the rickety hinges. They key rattled in the lock and the door creaked open. The footsteps barely sounded across the floor, and as soon as he was inside, they slipped out the open door behind him and tiptoed as quietly as they could along the outside of the cabin.
"Where'd ye's run off to, here?" he snarled again. He stuck his head out the doorway and looked around. He saw them and started after them.
"Run!" Sam shouted.
They raced off down to the main deck and headed for the ramp onto the dock. It was blocked. They ran from one edge of the deck to another again and again, always finding any possible exit blocked. Finally they found themselves at the edge of the ship, surrounded. Sam turned to Lucy. "We have to jump. It's our last chance."
She nodded and they climbed up onto the edge. With one last look at his sister, Sam took a deep breath and let himself fall into the cold water below.
The waterlogged clothes made it hard to swim. Sam had to pull Lucy along because her dress made it all but impossible. But they made it to a set of steel rungs on the edge of the harbour and pulled themselves out. As soon as they made it out, Sam grabbed Lucy's hand and they ran, Tory right on their heels.
Sam headed straight for Mr. Barker's bakery. When they made it, Sam had just enough time to hide Lucy inside the door as Tory came barrelling around the corner. He used his entire body to block the door.
"Get back here," Tory growled.
Sam stood his ground. "No. If you want either of us, you'll have to kill me first."
"Is that an invitation, boy?" Sam took the time while Tory drew his sword to charge at him, knocking him to the ground. He got up and charged back. They fought, Sam dodging every swing of Tory sword and returning it with a swing of his fist, some of which made contact while most blew straight through. Sam was losing the fight. Tory had him up against the hay bales, holding the sword above Sam's chest. It was over. Sam braced himself as Tory brought the sword down.
Sam's eyes shot open.
He felt his chest. Nothing. Just his shirt. His hair was dry. The axe still leaned against his knees.
He sat up, breathing heavily and looking around. He was alive.
The wind picked up and as he meant to glare up at the sky, he caught a small glowing in the distance.