I’ve been working hard this week, learning about book design: margins, fonts, layout, gutters, and more.
Meanwhile on-board the Sea Cucumber…
Foxy clutched Tim’s hand as Electra led them along the open-sided companionway away from the ship’s mess.
Below them a rolling night-dark sea ran to the horizon, above them a cloud-strewn starry sky. The ship drove steadily across the ocean through salt-tanged air.
Foxy slid her fingers along the rail. ‘I like this ship, this Sea Cucumber. She’s sailed the oceans for many years, through storms and high seas, across glassy calms, over shallows and reefs. She’s seen such sights.’ She squeezed Tim’s hand. ‘And she’s always brought her crew home.’
Tim simply did not know what to make of her.
Electra descended a steep companionway to the main deck. Tim stood uneasily at the top. ‘Our cabins are up here.’
‘We thought you two young lovers would like to spend the night together, so we changed your room,’ Electra said.
Dolores hugged herself. ‘That’s so sweet.’
‘Does Koponen know about this?’ Tim said.
‘He’s going to have a few surprises tonight,’ Imelda hissed in his ear. Tim recoiled from the fishy reek of her breath.
‘Get them down here,’ Electra ordered. ‘Push them or throw them, but get them down.’
‘What’s it going to be, guys? It’s much easier to walk without broken legs.’ Imelda turned to Dolores. ‘Are you going to help this time, or do you just want to watch?’
‘Please go down the stairs,’ Dolores said to Foxy.
Foxy started down.
Tim clenched his fist impotently. Electra was below, Imelda behind, both nightmarishly strong and violent. To get away he would have to hurt one of them more than he’d ever hurt anyone before.
And then what? A mad flight around the ship in the desperate hope he’d reach Koponen before the others caught him. And how would that look? He’d be better off with Jarglebaum, at least he had some inkling of the trouble they were in.
Electra hauled open a heavy metal hatch set in the deck. ‘Welcome to the bridal suite.’ Metal steps led down into a dark and cavernous space.
She led them through the gloomy hold towards the bows. A single row of bare, low-wattage bulbs cast pools of dim light. One each side stacks of enormous blue plastic drums ran the length of the hold. The group stopped beside a container set on its own. A coil of marine rope lay neatly on the lid.
Electra studied the label on the drum and smiled at Dolores. ‘Koponen really likes you. The old fool.’
‘A fool and a loser,’ Imelda agreed.
‘He’s been kind to me,’ Dolores said.
Tim studied the label:
Brassica napus (Canola) var. doloresvogler
Recyclable container (100% Cellulose)
Imelda’s hand lightly circled Dolores’ throat. ‘You are still with us on this, aren’t you, darling?’
Dolores’ eyes glittered. ‘We’re sisters, brides, daughters, wives. I know sacrifices must be made.’
Imelda began to squeeze. ‘You are completely sure?’
‘Yes,’ Dolores gasped.
‘Prove it. Make a sacrifice.’
Dismay consumed Tim. He’d had a chance on the stairs and hesitated. Always he’d hesitated, concerned for Foxy or for some other reason. The time for killing was here. These women would not hesitate. It was always later than you think.
He took a small step back into the gloom.
Foxy shook her head a fraction and mouthed, ‘No.’
Tendons stood out on Imelda’s arm as she throttled Dolores.
Dolores lifted her arms above her head.
Her little finger jutted back at an unpleasantly high angle.
Imelda released her grip on Dolores. She licked her lips. ‘Do it again.’
Pale and wide-eyed, Dolores took hold of her next finger.
This was actually insane. Tim slid another step deeper into the shadows.
Imelda studied Dolores’ hand. ‘Nice one. I never thought you had it in you.’
‘My pleasure,’ Dolores gasped. ‘It really was.’
‘Isn’t that nice, we’re all friends again,’ Electra said. ‘Let’s move on. We have a schedule.’
Tim took a long sideways step behind a stack of drums. Out of sight of the women, he cast around for some sort of weapon, a piece of wood, a crowbar, anything to fight with.
Dolores breathed against his ear. ‘I do necks too.’
He turned as fast as he could. Dolores swayed back out of reach. This would have to be fast, brutal. Tim rushed her in the narrow space. Not one punch, a dozen, a hundred. Feet stamping, kicking.
He caught her one solid blow on her cheek. She rocked back and there was just enough time for him to feel the satisfaction of the contact, register the surprise in her eyes, and feel a moment of hope. Then Dolores flowed, moving impossibly fast. Before he could react she took hold of his arm. In one motion she lifted, twisted, and dislocated his shoulder.
The pain was astonishing, a blinding white flare. For a moment he could neither see nor think. Then – a world of agony and worse, the feel of his own shoulder bent into an unnatural shape.
‘Quite a rush, isn’t it?’ Dolores pushed him lurching back into the light. ‘Got him.’
‘Little Timmy got lost in the dark.’ Electra pouted. ‘Did you bump into something nasty?’
Tim forced himself to stand straight, his arm frozen and useless at his side. His voice slurred with pain and shock. ‘Yes, Dolores.’
‘Great repartee, but don’t give up the day job.’ Electra gasped in mock surprise, ‘No, wait, this is your day job. How’s that going for you?’
Imelda held a coil of rope in her hand. ‘Stand by the drum. Put your hands behind your back.’
He couldn’t do it. His arm would barely move, when he tried the pain was atrocious.
Imelda hissed with irritation, grabbed his wrist, jammed her other hand under his armpit and pulled. His arm slid back into its socket with an unpleasant wet snap and more pain. Lots of pain.
Tim zoned out again, dimly aware of someone holding him upright. When he came to, he and Foxy were tied back to back at waist and ankle with their wrists behind them.
Imelda ran a second rope behind the knots at their waists, threaded it through one of the eyes on the drum and tied it off on the far side and well beyond their reach.
Hands on hips, she considered her work.
Dolores sighed as she ran a nail along Tim’s jaw. ‘You really are quite cute. Never mind, there are plenty more like you.’
‘Goodbye forever, little Timmy. It really has been quite ordinary,’ Electra said.
Tim’s blood ran cold. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘Sink the ship, stupid.’
His head was muzzy from pain, he did his best to think. ‘You work for Koponen.’
Electra’s face became a blank mask of hostility. ‘Not for some time. Not since that voyage he made us take down into the depths. Not since his obsessions almost got us killed. We would have died, our lovely lives smashed and ripped.’ Her eyes grew wild, spittle flecked her mouth. ‘Down there we met someone much stronger than Markus Koponen. Older too, wiser and stronger. He showed us things. Tuoni showed us how to remake ourselves. Tuoni told us our true names–’
‘You’re dry-shod yet you spoke his name,’ Dolores cried.
‘We’re over water.’ Electra flung her arms high, her body strained against the crimson silk of her dress, the tendons in her neck rigid. ‘We are the sisters and she is the wife-sacrifice. Tuoni will accept our ship-gift and he will take his bride. We are his handmaidens and shall sit beside him in glory!’
Wide-eyed, Tim and Foxy shifted uncomfortably in their bonds. If there was anything worse than being tied up in the gloomy hold of a soon to be sinking ship with little hope of escape, it was being tied up in the gloomy hold of a soon to be sinking ship while listening to the ravings of a violent lunatic.
There had been times when Tim had doubted his own sanity. Confronted by Electra, all he could think of was to try and keep her talking. ‘For God’s sake, why are you doing this? Why does the ship have to sink?’
‘You really are a little fool. Koponen wants to cool the world. We want the opposite. Tuoni was bathed by cold currents for ten thousand years. Now the water is warming and he awakes. This ship will never reach harbour. These seeds will never put down roots, their horrid white flowers will never bloom.’
‘Let Foxy go. Give her a chance, give her baby a chance.’
The hold fell silent. Behind him, Tim felt Foxy stiffen.
‘What baby?’ Foxy said coolly.
The three women began to laugh.
Dolores held out her hand and studied her distorted fingers as if she were inspecting her nails. ‘She doesn’t have anything to worry about. How long do you think you can hold your breath?’
Despite having their ankles tied together, Foxy managed to kick Tim.
‘I’m not pregnant.’
‘Foxy, I saw–’
‘I’m not. Just leave it, OK?’
Thrusting her hips, wrists twisting, Imelda danced in front of Foxy, her voice a nasty sing-song. ‘When Tuoni wakes he will reach for his consort. A bride to stay by his side in his drowned kingdom. You will become Kipu-Tytto birth mother of Tuonetar, destined to be Tuoni’s daughter-wife.’
‘You’re all mad,’ Tim croaked.
‘What if we are?’ Electra said. ‘Soon you’ll be dead.’
Imelda stopped her weird dance. ‘We’ll come back for you, darling. We’ll find you down in the deep and the dark when the silt has settled and Wassiter’s lungs are full of salt water.’
She leaned in to kiss Foxy, who twisted her face away. Imelda gripped Foxy’s jaw and pressed her lips against Foxy’s. She jerked back with a cry half way between laughter and pain. Foxy spat onto the deck and glared, triumphant. Imelda wiped her mouth, looked at the blood on the back of her hand, then back at Foxy. ‘I’ll see you later.’
‘You’ll drown too,’ Tim said.’
Electra shook her head. ‘Only if we stop moving.’ She turned to Dolores. ‘Sort your fingers out. It’s time to say hello to the crew.’
The three women moved back the way they had come, appeared briefly under one of the overhead lights then vanished into the dark.
‘They’re heading for the engine room,’ Tim said dully.
Foxy gave no reply.
Away towards the stern came a short, sharp crack, and a gasp, followed by a louder crack and a shrill cry.
Electra’s voice echoed through the hold. ‘Did that hurt? Tell me, Dolores. Tell me.’
Silence fell. Tim shifted uncomfortably, his shoulder ached abominably. ‘Are you OK?’
He tried again. ‘We could try and sit down.’
‘It might be more comfortable.’
‘I said I am fine.’
Tim gave a despondent sigh. His shoulder really hurt. ‘I’d like to sit down.’
That close to the waterline there was less roll and pitch than on deck. The steady, rumbling throb of the marine diesels overlain by occasional creaks, distant metallic bangs and vague thuds formed a strange rhythm. Slowly the gloomy hold seemed to expand in size, reaching out in all directions to become an infinite place. Somewhere in the middle two people had been tied together, roped to a huge blue drum of seeds under a shallow pool of light.
Tim chewed on his lip. ‘I thought you were.’
‘Well, I’m not.’
‘I saw your tummy and thought–’
‘You thought. Well, I thought it wasn’t polite to mention a lady’s waistline. And while we’re on the subject, where did you think I had the opportunity to get… you know. Thing.’
Tim felt pretty stupid. ‘I thought you had a boyfriend.’
‘What? One of those fat creeps with their short little arms? I came to Brighton to get away from them.’
‘It’s just that you were getting bigger and–’
Foxy jerked at their bonds. ‘Stop it. I’m not, all right? I’m not pregnant. It’s just that time of year.’
Even though they were tied back to back, Tim could still feel her angry eyes and Foxy hear his unspoken question.
‘Look, I’m gravid,’ Foxy said.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘What do you mean “What’s that supposed to mean?”’
‘What I mean by “What’s that supposed to mean” is I know what gravid means, I just wondered what you meant when you said that’s what you were.’
‘It means I’m, you know.’ Foxy’s voice dropped to a self-conscious whisper. ‘Heavy with egg.’
‘But I’m not pregnant.’
‘I just could be if I wanted.’
Tim took a breath. ‘Foxy?’
She went still again. Tim felt her fingertips find his and press against them. ‘How’s your arm?’
‘I’m sorry too.’
‘Foxy. All that stuff about Tuoni, they’re mad aren’t they?’
‘I hope so.’
When it came they nearly missed it. A dull thud, a faltering in the ship’s motion, a hesitation in the sound of the diesels. Then the big engines continued, their vibration a little more insistent, a little more urgent.
Slowly Sea Cucumber lost way. They felt it in the way the ship began to wallow. No long after they also felt a tilt in the deck, slight but growing. Sea Cucumber began to settle towards the stern.
‘They’ve killed the ship,’ Tim said.
‘She’s tough. I know her, she’ll make a fight of it,’ Foxy said.
Tim felt for her fingers and squeezed them. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be all right.’
Unseen by Tim, Foxy’s eyes brimmed with tears.
To be continued…