Prompt: As you’re returning to port you see a woman on island needing rescue. Her motorboat is old but she appears to have been their only a few days. You take her aboard and you realize while talking to the crew everyone describes her in radically different ways varying in height, weight, race, etc.
“Aye, that stowaway is fat for my likings, but she has nice, almond eyes,” Tommy says, standing out on the forward, near the railing.
“Fat? What do you mean, fat? She has a body like that of cloth on a wire, but her hair, like seaweed, stinks of it, and skin like mildew, too,” Henry replies.
I wonder who they are talking about, certainly not the woman we retrieved from a desolate island, who now napped in my cabin, as I pass the forward. I open the door to the narrow bunk-lined corridor and walk into the mess. Some of the other crew are sitting around the stained, rickety table, playing cards and sipping from their canteens. Alcohol or not, it matter naught now; our work is done, all that is left is to return home. They are snickering and scowling, talking about the same woman they others were.
“Plump and ripe and tan, like an orange just waiting to be bitten into,” Gregory says.
“Sinewy and thin, dark, too, beef jerky set out too long,” Chester says, grimacing, “not even salt would help the taste. And, her legs are far too short, she could barely reach my waist even if she stood on her toes.”
“Are you two fools? Mad? Have scurvy?” Lyle pipes in. “She’s a goddess; tall; long, brown hair; endless ivory legs, a bust that’s not too large, nor small; perfect cups in which to hold.”
I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer. “Who are you bloody fools speaking about? You and the others out on the forward all speak of someone, but who?”
“Are you serious, Captain?” Chester asks. “Are you mad, too?”
They all stare me.
“We’re speaking about that doll you pulled up not an hour ago,” Gregory says, smirking. “A plump, delicious fruit in which to suckle.”
They begin to laugh, except for Lyle, who shakes his head. “A goddess she is,” he mumbles.
“If you are speaking about the same woman, then why are you fools seeing all sorts of things? I only brought up one woman, not a dozen.”
They fall in silence, then return to their card game.
I left them to it, and return to my cabin. I knock before entering. It might be my ship, but she is a lady.
“Come in,” she says.
I enter and close the door behind me. She sits on my bed with her pale, thin legs drawn beneath a white gown. Her blonde hair is tied back in a tail, and her hands are cupped in her lap. When she looks at me, her blue eyes gleam under the sunlight coming in through the port window.
“May I sit?” I ask, standing near the bed.
I shake my head, smirking. “I’m sorry lady, but I must ask you a question.”
She turns her head, facing me. “What is it, Captain?”
“The men — they believe your appearance changes.”
She smiles. “What do you mean?”
I laugh. “Well, they all see something different when they see you. Some say you’re as fat as a pig, others say a frail as a scarecrow, and some think you’re ripe as a plum. For instance, I see none of those things when I look at you. I see a pale, blonde woman with blue eyes.”
She giggles, covering her mouth, and with her other, places it on my hand, then says: “Well, they ought to see those things, for I am ever-changing.”
My mouth becomes dry. I lick my lips. “What?”
“Why do you think I was on that island, Captain? Why do you think that motorboat was so utterly rusted, aged years and years? I was there longer than all years of the men on this ship.”
“But—” I start to say, but dizziness overcomes me. I grip the edge of the bed to keep myself from falling back.
“You see what you want to see, or see what deep down you want to see. There’s others, like me, too, out there in the world. We’re a race, an old, old race, traveled here eons ago. I was captured, foolishly, by jealous, hatred-fueled men and tied to that motorboat, tampered with to go without a Captain, and left to aimlessly drive and drift in the sea. But, as you know, I did not.”
My grip on the bed goes numb and the world tilts, shifts. I stare at the ceiling. My temples throb as I try to make sense of her strange story, try to understand what is happening to me.
She leans over me, strands of blonde hair dangling and framing her face. “Our touch is poisonous to you folk, see? That’s why I was tied to that ship. Too many men angry that they can’t get what they like. Look, not touch.” She smiles. “Now, before the darkness comes, would you like to see my true form? I could at least grant you that for taking me onto your ship.”
I open my mouth, but only a gargle escapes me. My heart slows, my lungs feel like they are filling with tar. I cough and red specks splash over her face. I close my eyes, open them and God only knows what I see. Her flesh ripples like water, her wide, misshapen eyes burn like hollow fire pits, her hair sprouts from the sides of her head, drooping and connecting to bulbous things protruding from her shoulders. She opens her lipless seam beneath two slits and reveals a darkness that not even the starless night possesses. I hear something like wind, something like screaming, drift from the bottomless hole within her. She closes her mouth, and smiles.
“Now, succumb to the darkness, Captain,” she says in a guttural, throaty croak.
My eyes close.
Read my previous prompt, “The Stars on the Inside.”
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