This week's story is a suggestion from Lisa:
“He’s a lyin’ sack of rats!” the first mate snarled.
One creman called out, “He’s with them bastards that chased us up into where Hell done froze over!”
Another hollered, “Tie his guts to the mast!”
“No!” The man was crying now. He appealed to the captain, crawling across the deck to grovel at the booted feet. “Please, please, you have to believe me,” he begged. “I didn’t mean to come here. It wasn’t my fault.”
“You were hidin’ away on our ship,” said the first mate. “Ain’t no magic about that.”
“Please. Just give it back to me and I’ll show you. I promise.” The man’s eyes gleamed with unshed tears.
“Don’t do it, Cap,” said the first mate. “He’s got somethin’ planned.”
“I swear I’ll show you,” the man pleaded.
The captain moved with elegant grace, kneeling with infinite slowness until they were face to face. The man swallowed hard as he saw his face reflected in that harsh, unpatched eye. There was no sympathy to be had there, no forgiveness etched into the deep lines around the mouth. The lips lifted in the slightest hint of a smile. The man couldn’t hold his gaze and his eyes dropped to the floor, but a gloved finger found his chin and forced his head upward. The soft fabric of the glove was smoothly replaced by the cold steel of a dagger. The man gasped.
“You say this simple toy was what brought you here?”
A child’s top, pinched between the captain’s forefinger and thumb, was brought in front of the man’s eyes. To the naked eye, it was no different from any other wooden top; a pointed bottom expanding into a rotund body with a tiny head sitting upon a long, thin neck. It wore a pattern of faded stripes across its surface that must have been crimson and violet at one time but had become rose and lavender over the years. The man’s hand involuntarily reached for it, but the bite of steel at his throat halted the movement. He whimpered.
“I believe I deserve an answer.” The voice was soft and sweet.
“It’s true, it’s all true!” the man babbled. “It brought me here.”
“And how did you acquire such a…treasure?”
“It was in my grandfather’s things. I – I found it when he died.”
“How does it work?”
“You, um…you spin it. To go forward in time, you spin clockwise. To go backwards, counter-clockwise.” The man held up his hand and twisted his shaking fingers to demonstrate.
“And that’s how you boarded my ship without permission?” There was menace in the question.
“Without…no, no, no, I didn’t…it wasn’t…”
“Shhh.” The toy was palmed and the finger was at his lips. “Have you told me the entire truth?” The man nodded as vigorously as he could with the knife at his throat. “Good.” The captain’s smile bloomed full, teeth bared in a blinding show of ferocity.
The dagger slid silently across the man’s throat and his lifeblood poured forth before he even realized he had been slain. The scarlet fluid covered the deck, flowing like a red carpet before the crew. They cheered as the man slumped forward into the pooled liquid.
Steam was still rising from the cooling blood as the first mate stepped forward to offer his arm. The captain took the proffered limb and climbed to her feet. She brushed a lock of hair from her forehead and handed the bloody dagger to the first mate. “Take care of this for me.” The man obeyed, taking the dagger and disappearing from sight. The captain glanced down at her blood-spattered boots. “Damn,” she muttered. “I just had these cleaned.”
“Uh, Captain?” One of her strongest crewmen approached. “What d’ya want us to do about this?” He nudged the body with his foot.
“Toss it overboard,” she ordered. She looked up at the rest of the crew. “You all have work to do. Have at it.” The man scrambled to do her bidding. The captain walked back to her chambers. They were lush, befitting a true captain. Treasures from her many conquests littered the room; statues of marble and gold, monies from the tropical islands, silks from the farthest east, and the most beautiful gowns that had never touched her body. The captain strode directly to a large, mahogany desk and sat behind it.
Her focus was on the small, wooden toy in her hand. “Clockwise for forward. Counter-clockwise for back. Oh, what a little treasure you may be.” She placed the top against the desktop and playfully twisted it first this way, then that. Almost lazily, she twirled her fingers and the top began a slow, gentle spin.
The captain was almost disappointed. She had always been a skeptic, but there was still a small part of her that had remained hopeful. She sucked her breath in through her teeth and reached out for the top. As her fingers touched it, she felt a chill wash over her and the irrational thought struck her that her ship was sinking, but it was quickly replaced by another, more terrifying thought.
“Where am I?” she said aloud, then corrected herself. She was exactly where she had been. She was in a different when. She had spun the top counter-clockwise so she had gone back in time. “How far back did I go?” she wondered aloud. Her voice was muffled by the dome of ice that almost completely encased her. It rose up overhead, tall enough to where she could stand comfortably. She frowned as she realized that she was in some sort of prison and she reached for her dagger only to remember that she had given it away. A shiver rushed up her spine that had nothing to do with the cold. The captain slowly rotated on the spot and discovered there was an opening just behind her. She had to kneel in order to crawl out and the thought sent a flash of anger through her. She felt pain in her hand and she looked down to see that she was clenching her fist so tightly that the wooden points of the top were biting through the glove. She relaxed her grip and continued to examine the domicile. Moving to the curved wall, she pushed, but the ice refused to yield. She slammed her fist against it with no effect. Her eyes raked her surroundings, searching for another way out. She finally had con concede defeat.
She approached the aperture. Carefully, cautiously, she got onto her hands and knees. There was a howling sound from the outside. She was half-tempted to turn around and go back to her ship, but she had always prided herself on her willingness to explore new lands. This was no different than landing on foreign soil, she told herself. She pushed forward, ignoring the cold, hard ground scraping against her knees. The distance wasn’t far, but she was still relieved to stand up straight again once she cleared the entranceway.
A swirl of wind hurled snow into her face as a greeting. She raised her hand to clear her vision and found that when she did, she couldn’t see much further than five feet in front of her. She could barely see the igloo she had just crawled out of. The captain stamped her feet and rubbed her arms over her body to try to warm herself. She took a few steps away from the igloo, trying to feel her way with her feet, but all she discovered was more powdery snow.
That’s when she heard the growl.
It came out of nowhere, large and angry. Only pure instinct enabled her to avoid the sharp claws that swept by mere inches from her face. One tiny scream of terror escaped her lips before she clamped them shut and dropped to the ground, flinging herself toward the igloo. It wasn’t there. She didn’t feel the cold anymore; the terror pumping through her veins kept her warm enough.
Another growl was all the warning she had before she felt the slice through her right calf. She screamed in earnest this time and flung herself away her shoulder slamming into something hard and unforgiving. Realizing where she was, she felt her way along the wall, trying to find the entrance. The growl came again and she hurled herself away, hearing the thud of impact as she escaped injury once more. Desperate, she half-crawled, half-limped her way and almost cried with relief when she found the opening. She could hear heavy breathing behind her and she knew she had no time to crawl inside before she was gored, so she did the only thing she could think of to do: she stretched out a hand and spun the top against the flat, icy floor. There was a roar above her and she snatched up the top.
The noise, the wind, the cold – all of it vanished. She plunged face-first into the salty ocean. It was no longer cold. She pushed against the water and broke the surface, sputtering. The sun shone down on her. Not a cloud was in the sky. Her heart slowly returned to a normal rate. As it did, her brain recognized the salt water scouring the long, jagged cut along her leg. She gritted her teeth against the pain, praying that the salt would clean her wound.
This spin had been clockwise. She was a good many years into the future, long past the days when her ship had occupied this stretch of ocean. The captain knew she had two choices: she could spin the top again or she could swim for it. There was no land in sight. Knowing her injury would impede her pace and progress, she ignored the pain and used her legs as best as she could to keep herself afloat. She held her hand out above the water and used her other hand to place the top against her palm. Carefully, she spun the top against her palm, but as she did, a wave gently rocked her and, unable to use her arms to brace, she tilted. The top leapt from her hand and though she reached out to grab it, it sank quickly into the deep blue to join its former owner.
She had no ship, no crew, no treasure. She was left in the middle of an ocean, no hope of rescue. The captain moaned in pain; a pain that went deeper than just the wound in her leg. She was lost, but she still had her pride. She took a deep breath…and started swimming.