Below is a little thing I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The assignment was to write the first act of a scary short story. Hopefully, someone will pick it up and finish it (I assume as next week’s challenge). Enjoy.
Finally some real rain—a decisive, if not delinquent, increase in ferocity compared to the drizzle that had hung suspended, noncommittal in the air for days. Water dripped from his longcoat as Josiah Leech lifted the last of the fancy trunks not yet aboard. His jaw tightened as he turned to make his way back to the Trinity. Whatever was locked in this particular trunk made it heavier than the others by far.
“That’s what April showers bring.
“And so do March showers. And May showers. And June showers.
“Mud. Mud. Fuckin’ mud,” he murmured as he trudged on, stubbornly wrenching his boots from the mire with each soggy step until, at last, he reached the docks.
Josiah’s stride narrowed to cross the thin, roughhewn board that connected the old galleon to the dock, but his pace never slowed. Just short of his destination, Josiah’s muddy right boot lost grip of the wood and he staggered forward, hands forsaking the trunk in order to grab the railing and prevent the Thames from claiming him. As he pulled himself back to his feet and onto the main deck, he watched the trunk hit slide to a stop next to the deckhouse. At least he had propelled it forward. Through rotten teeth, crows in the riggings laughed down at him.
“You’ll be payin’ recompense for damages caused by your imbecility,” said Bernard Ambrose. Without so much as a glance up from the manifest, the ship’s quartermaster addressed the nearest deck hand. “Master Clement, after securing the gangplank, do help Mr. Leach locate that trunk within Mr. Lambert’s stateroom. The grandiosity of it is clearly too much for but one man to bear.”
“Aye.” Francis Clement’s mouth spoke agreement as his eyes told Josiah something else. He too would rather be hoisting the normal cargo of woolen cloth instead of these thirty five haughty aristocrats and their weighty accoutrements. But in this rare moment of restraint, Francis held his tongue until they were below deck. “Gents will be the end of us. Had you slipped but one step further back, you’d been crushed between hull and wall. They know naught of what the sea brings yet they talk of hunting beasts and savages in uncharted lands. Worse, they’ve steered Captain Hore and Mr. Ambrose to folly. We’ve too many these trunks and too few stores.”
Josiah gave a single nod in agreement as he wondered from which gossiper the lad had stolen the words. They were too keen for Francis’ own mind, having been with him for only two voyages. “Aye, Francis. Let’s get this done and get to our stations.”
The pair carried the trunk through a narrow passageway formed by planks that had been hastily thrown up in the aft hold as a means to create apartments for their esteemed passengers. They rounded the last corner and dropped the trunk just inside the door of Mr. Lambert’s room. A heavy thud spread across the deck, shaking the makeshift walls.
“Reckon we should open it?” Francis asked. “Just to see.” Josiah paused, unsure if he saw inquisitiveness or fear lurking in Francis’ eyes. “Not to steal nothing. Christ, Josiah. I ain’t no thief.”
“That’ll be quite enough lads.” The steady voice came from somewhere inside the dark room. Francis was so overcome with fright that his clumsy escape made Josiah think of a rat thrown overboard, contorting its body frantically in search of land isn’t there. “You may be excused,” the voice continued. Josiah left with a nod, never having seen its owner.
Josiah approached the aft hatch and found clogged with sailors looking onto the main deck. “What delays?” he asked, pushing through. “I’m due at the wheel.”
“The passengers,” responded the originally named Mr. Cook. “They’re lined up at the rails like a boarding party of pirates. Yet instead of bearing muskets, they stand in the pouring rain, waving to all of London as if to the Queen herself.”
“Who do they suppose will dry their clothes and fancy hats?” asked Josiah, continuing to elbow through.
“We could hang ‘em from the foremast,” said the cook.
“The linens or the gentlemen?” Josiah asked as a matter of practicality.
During the voyage, the voyagers encountered storms typical of the North Atlantic and a few near collisions with icebergs hidden by fog. Nevertheless, most days were smooth and uneventful, even if the crew did keep below deck more so than usual. They weren’t so instructed. They preferred it to watching the highborns preen and puke.
Francis, or whoever he had parroted, was right about the stores; the crew had been on reduced rations for weeks when they finally spotted the New World. Strangely, the passengers didn’t seem nearly as distraught about this as the crew would have expected. Especially when repeated forays into the wilderness yielded nothing but hard roots and poultry herbs.
“Ho, landing party ahoy.” The announcement came from the crow’s nest. Josiah turned and gripped the railing with anticipation. The gentlemen cared little for the daily chores, yet they seemed to relish the opportunity to take landing parties ashore in pursuit of food.
“Mr. Lambert, what good news gives those with you cause to smile?” Captain Hore greeted the men with hope in his eyes.
Grins now absent, five of the six who left a day ago climbed back aboard as Mr. Lambert responded. “Not by Christ’s mercy, Captain. This is a terrible place. An awful creature came in the night and snatched young Mr. Clement. He wailed with terrible fright as it carried him into the wood.”
“Did you see the beast? Could it sustain us, just for a little while, if we return and overtake it?” asked Captain Hore in desperation.
“Nay, Captain. To be true, none saw this demon outright. The good Mr. Cook, for he was the one lying closest to poor Mr. Clement, did say that he felt a terrible shiver preceding the snatch. I fear that no good can come of another sortie. We must press on.”
Update: Check out act two here. Or feel free to write your own!