A short mood-piece I began writing in the fall of 2011, I finally finished this in Sept. of 2012 so it could be ready to post as a Halloween treat.
Illustration of the Kairos

The sea spray was stale and warm, and it hung in the air so thickly the full moon shone nothing more than a dim pallor across the deck of the Kairos. There was no breeze to move the dampness, nor the ship. The sea was silent and lifeless. The only sound I could hear was the occasional groan from the boards beneath my feet.

For a moment, I felt a twinge of anticipation. I gripped my cutlass—a futile gesture should it return. Every man aboard had been armed in some way. Every man aboard except myself was now gone.

My eyelids were heavy. I couldn’t remember when I had last slept. It felt like weeks since it all began, but it could just as easily have only been days. My legs wavered in their ability to hold me upright and I stumbled against the starboard gunwale, letting the sturdy ship do the job my body was increasingly unable to perform. I peered over the railing and into the dark mists, my blurry sight and the thick spray conspiring against any hope of catching sight of whatever was out there.

As I squinted, I could suddenly see dark shapes moving across the the water; black ensigns waving over the otherwise still surface. Surely, I thought, my vision is playing one last trick on my mind before the end. Then, as if to confirm that suspicion, my ears joined in on the conspiracy as a sort of low, deep rumbling combined with a distant crackling whistling slowly rose from the edge of perceptibility until I could not deny I was hearing something. And the sound was getting louder.

I staggered away from the gunwale and towards the aftcastle cabin. Perched above the doorway, gaping open and dark, was the captain’s avian pet. It began to squawk the usual pleasantries, which I had long since learned to ignore, but as I passed beneath it into the false safety of the interior, she changed her tune.

“klikli—There’s no closing what’s been opened—kliklikli,” it droned loudly. “Best be sayin’ your prayers—klikli—there’s no one left!”

My feet hit something in the darkness, and I fell to my knees. Just as I regained my balance, still half-prone, I heard the familiar sounds of the crew atop the deck working as if nothing was wrong. I turned on my knees and looked back out.

My stomach turned. As I stared through the darkened doorway framing my vision, I saw my former crewmates in ghastly forms meandering through the still rigging and across the otherwise lifeless deck... but only where I did not directly focus upon them. The moment I'd look directly at one, they were suddenly gone as if they had never been there at all! The sounds of their distant voices was, as I took in the horrifying sight, becoming distorted while the whistling from outside slowly continued its rise.

There was a loud crack and the foggy sky lit up white as daylight for an instant, and when my eyes were once again able to see, it was the sight of the entire ship of formerly familiar wraiths now staring directly at me. They did not move. I could see them easily now, thin somehow like tissue on the surface of the sea, but no longer elusive. They only stared.

I lurched again, struggling to keep my head and stomach, and I managed to work up the final courage to stand and lunge ahead at the doorway to close the cabin from the unearthly apparitions outside. I reached the door, and again there was a crack, followed by a silence. I stopped in the doorway, frozen in fear and unable to move in the anticipation created by the sudden lack of what was previously a deafening sound. Even the ship no longer spoke its constant creaking chatter. There was nothing but silence, with the voiceless crew still staring.

Just when I was unsure how much longer this could go on, the silence was finally broken by the flapping of wings directly overhead, and I looked up in time to see the bird vanish into the fog, shrieking, “It’s here...!”

I lowered my head to see the dark shapes I had witnessed in the water before, now flowing over the sides of the ship; we were taking on a most foul ocean of waterless, featureless creatures. As they slowly rolled across the deck like warmed molasses, the ghostly crew dissolved on contact with it, seemingly pulled into the dark current. I hesitated only a moment, and then finally shut the door.

I sank to the floor with my back against the door, alone with the smell of stale seawater which filled the cabin. There was nowhere else for me to go. Nothing for me to do. I forced my eyes shut in the darkness.

***

“Sir! We’ve accounted for all aboard: 27 crew in the ship’s complement,” the young deckhand informed his captain as he re-boarded the la Cecília with the grim news. “All dead.”

“Thank you, crewman. Were you able to determine the cause?” The Captain was still reading through the recovered logbook from the Kairos in the pale light of the morning sun.

“No sir. They look to have simply died. Some of the men suspect poisoned food.”

“Quite possibly so. Their log mentions stopping off at an uncharted island on their way back from their last merchant stop.” The Captain, still poring over the log, was obviously concerned. “It seems they acquired some unidentifiable items there which they hoped to sell along with the rest of their mundane cargo.”

“Your orders, sir?”

“Let’s not risk further exposure, just to be sure. Once the rest of their cargo is aboard, tell the men to cast off from the Kairos and scuttle the ship.”

“Aye, sir. Anything else?”

“That will be all.” The Captain turned to his second mate currently on watch, visibly unsettled by the ordeal. “Make our course for the port at Weymouth as soon as we’re clear; that fog coming in makes me uneasy.”

Illustration provided by Erin Stilwell.