The derelict boat bobbed up and down with the waves as it moved across the dark ocean. It listed to starboard as it continued to take in water, every moment bringing it closer to sinking. There were no visible crew onboard and the boat appeared to have been long abandoned. Its faded paint and missing beams revealed that it had been in the water for a long time and had not docked for repairs.
As the tide receded, the boat settled on the coral stones. Wood and metal groaned and creaked with the weight of the boat, its hull threatening to break. Waves continued to batter it with strong blows that gradually weakened with the ebbing tide.
Two men walked from behind the rocks towards the shore carrying containers filled with water and some fruits. They resembled each other, but the older man had graying hair and his sunburnt face was heavily wrinkled due to age and exposure to the elements. Both men were wearing thin shirts that barely protected them from the sun and wind. The younger man stopped in his tracks upon seeing the grounded boat and set down the water container he was carrying. He removed the straw hat from his head and used it to fan himself as he looked at the boat with interest. The older man merely glanced at the boat and continued to walk past his companion without saying a word. Feeling the rush of air as the older man passed behind him, the younger man replaced his hat, lifted his water container, and followed the older man.
After walking silently for a few minutes on the rocky beach, the two men finally reached the edge of the water and started wading towards their own boat - an outrigger with a rectangular sail. A boy sitting in the outrigger was playing with seashells when he noticed the two men walking towards him. He dropped the seashells he was playing with and jumped up and down excitedly, waving his hand while pointing at the grounded boat.
"Look! There's a boat that got grounded!” The boy shouted, the excitement evident in his voice.
The older man did not respond while his younger companion followed the boy’s finger and gazed briefly at the grounded boat.
“Can we board it, grandfather?" the boy’s eyes widened as he asked the older man who ignored his question. "Maybe there's treasure on board. Maybe we can find something precious we can take home to mother.” The boy tried to get his grandfather’s attention and pointed at the abandoned boat.
"Stop pointing your finger at it!” The old man admonished the boy who quickly lowered his hand. “You know it's bad luck to take anything from an abandoned boat. Who knows where that boat had been. The dead crew may still be inside and their ghosts will haunt us until we get into some disaster ourselves," said the old man as he set down the bunch of bananas he was carrying beside a water container.
The old man's companion from the shore spoke as he gazed at the derelict boat. "You said it yourself that the crew could be dead. What if we just take a look to find out who they were and who the boat belongs to? We may be rewarded for reporting this to the governor."
The old man's face softened as he said, "No harm, I guess, if you just look." Then, with a stern tone, he quickly added, "But don't you take anything from it. If that boat is cursed, I don't want you bringing anything to the house that will give bad luck to your whole family."
The old man averted his gaze from the abandoned boat and saw the torn sail of their own boat flapping in the wind, the old man turned to the boy and asked, "Didn't I tell you to fix that sail?"
"I've replaced the ropes and tied the knots as you taught me, but I don't know how to sew the sail," said the boy while looking at his feet, his voice wavering.
"That's what you get for leaving this work to your son," the old man admonished the boy's father. "I'll fix this. The two of you can go and board that boat."
The old man turned to the sail and proceeded to tie it properly. Without wasting any time, the boy jumped into the knee-deep water and waded towards the stranded boat. He got there after only a few minutes and immediately climbed aboard using a rope that dangled to the side.
"Careful!" the father shouted to his son, but the latter had already reached the deck and disappeared from view. The father grunted as he used loose boards on the side of the boat as footholds and lifted himself up using the same rope his son used. Soon, he was able to climb to the deck and found the boy waiting for him.
"Nothing on deck!" reported the boy after a quick look around. "I'll look in the cabins below,” he said and ran towards the door leading to the lower cabin without waiting for his father’s reply.
The father made a quick scan of the deck, but like his son, did not find anything of value. He went towards the aft side of the boat and saw ropes tied to the rusted railing. Along the side, he could barely make out some letters scratched on the wood: A Y U D E M E
Instinctively, his eyes followed the rope that led to a corner that was partly hidden from view. What he saw caused him to gasp in shock. Tied to the end of the rope were the remains of a man in the early stages of decomposition. Its sunken eyes stared at him and its mouth was wide open as if to scream.
A big wave reached the side of the boat and it lurched to the side, catching the father of the boy off balance. He held on to the side rails to stop himself from being thrown overboard then went after his son, shouting the boy's name as he did so.
The door to the lower cabin through which the boy entered was partly open and the father opened it wider to get inside. He descended a few steps and saw a dim room lit by just a weak ray of sunlight streaming in from the top window.
The boy turned his head and saw his father entering the cabin. "What do you think these are?" asked the boy as he kicked the wooden crates that were piled on the floor. He lifted the cover of the crate closest to him to peer inside. "Looks like sand or something," he said.
The father counted nine crates. He tried opening the other crates, but these were nailed shut. He was looking around to find a suitable tool to open the crates when he saw a closed door leading to an inner cabin. He walked towards it and tried the knob. The door was unlocked. He opened the door, but had to quickly cover his nose as the odor of rotting flesh filled his nostrils. He took out a match and lit it to see inside the dark room.
The room was briefly filled with light, but it was quickly extinguished as the father of the boy let go of the match in shock at what he saw. There were two more dead men inside the cabin, with sunken eyes and mouths wide open in an eternal scream. Like the remains on deck, their hands were tied with thick rope.
With a gasp, the man quickly closed the door and turned to his son. To his horror, he found his son lifted a few feet off the floor, head bent to the side with glazed eyes looking upwards. Behind his son were two glowing eyes that seemed like pinpoints of red light coming from a dark figure that was holding his son high in the air.
In panic, the father rushed towards his son and tried to attack the dark shape, but he felt a strong force that threw him backwards across the room. Dazed, the father held a hand to the back of his head and felt excruciating pain from his back as he struggled to stand up. He saw his son being lifted higher and thrown to the side like a rag doll.
Then, the dark figure stepped into the light. It looked like an old man, but with grotesque features that could only be described as inhuman. The father of the boy struggled once more to get up and was able to crawl to the door leading to the deck. The door burst open and he pushed himself to crawl out. Behind him, the dark figure approached, its eyes a brighter red. Just as the father of the boy was stepping out into the light, he was yanked violently backwards and the door was shut as his muffled cries were drowned by the wind and the waves.
The plane was arriving an hour late due to the air traffic congestion at the main airport in the country's capital city of Malen. Flight delays have been the norm lately, thought Jon Aster as he looked around the crowded terminal. He had been travelling extensively in the past three years since he took on this job. He liked the mobility and the freedom it gave him, but the constant delays in the airports were starting to make it less and less enjoyable. Already, he missed Lisa and remembered her face and her tender gaze as he left her that morning. He would have stayed longer with her if not for this business trip that his manager said could last a few days. The steady buzz of conversation and noise that accompanied human activity inside the terminal was drowned by the pleasant voice of an airline staff. With a light tone that sounded like the female host of a radio morning show, she spoke the words as if announcing something delightful rather than another hour of delay. The
It was a short two-hour flight and Jon felt comfortable in his first-class seat. He turned on the in-seat massager and tried to relax. Immediately, he felt the gentle movements of the massager loosen the tense muscles of his back. He then flipped the pages of the inflight magazine and started reading about new destinations available to the airline. When nothing took his interest, he replaced the magazine in the seat pocket and tried to take a nap. He drifted in and out of sleep, seeing foreboding images of castles and howling wolves. Clouds drifted over the moon and casted eerie shadows over the walls and towers of a gray medieval castle. The wind blew fiercely, carrying dried leaves from branches of trees and leaving them as bare skeletons silhouetted against the evening sky. The leaden clouds continued to drift overhead and once more revealed the ominous silver moon to the delight of the howling wolves. Jon woke up inside what appeared to be a dimly lit dungeon wit
As they resumed their journey, Jon saw the poor state of the villagers' houses and the still evident signs of the devastation caused by the recent typhoon. Trees that had their branches torn off by the strong winds were still growing new leaves and in some sections of the road, felled trees were simply moved to the side to give way to the infrequent traffic of trucks and passenger buses. Jorge said that not all of the roads had been cleared of landslide and debris and had they taken the usual route, they would have extended their trip by more than an hour. Fortunately, Jorge knew of an alternate route that led through dirt roads used by farmers bringing their produce to the market.The province was frequented by typhoons and was the worst hit area when a Category 5 ravaged the region a few months ago. Warnings had been given by the national weather bureau about the intensity of the typhoon before it struck and meteorologists noted the probability of storm surges. Howeve
The weather was calm, much to Jon's relief. He could see clearly across the ocean to the line of the distant horizon, broken only by a few islands that seemed to sprout out of the water. The leaves of the coconut trees that lined the beach barely swayed in the almost imperceptible breeze and the sky was a bright blue with a few seagulls flying across it. The occasional call of the birds could be heard in harmony with the rhythmic sound of the waves gently lapping the sandy beach.In other circumstances, Jon would have enjoyed relaxing and swimming in these turquoise waters. He could imagine himself hanging from a hammock between two coconut trees and sipping a glass of ice cold tropical fruit juice as he listened to the soothing sound of the waves. He wanted to close his eyes that very moment and lie on the sand as he listened to the sea that beckoned like a welcoming innkeeper, inviting wearied travelers to rest.The sound of laughter caught Jon's attention and he turned his gaze to
The sharks continued to encircle the boat as it made its way through the tiny islets that seemed to sprout from the sea. The formations became more fantastic and grotesque as they moved southerly. The sun had moved closer to the horizon and the occasional flock of birds that flew overhead were already flying home.Jon decided to go to the deck to catch some air and watch the islets as the boat cruised along. The sharks had increased in number since he last saw them a few minutes ago with Captain Salazar. He felt agitated as he remembered the many stories and myths that revolved around these creatures. The closest encounter he had had with sharks before was when he went to an Aquatic Adventure theme park with Lisa a year ago. Before that, his knowledge of sharks were mostly from the movies he watched.Lisa had always been the expert on these things, Jon thought, as he tried to recall their previous conversations about the ocean predators.Shark attacks are fierce
Jon stayed inside his cabin for the rest of the journey. He felt claustrophobic and without anything of interest to look at, felt every movement of the boat. He could not take his mind off the image of the body being dragged across the deck and the trail of smeared blood. The crew did not seem at all disturbed by what they were doing, as if it was just some cargo that needed to be transferred somewhere. As for Captain Salazar, he seemed not in the least affected that one of his crew had died, but furious that Jon witnessed the body being pulled across the deck. Jon thought about the poor crew member who fell overboard and wondered if he or she was one of those who served him not too long ago. He inadvertently began recalling the faces of the crew whom he met when a question surfaced in his mind. How were they able to recover the body from the sharks? That one, Jon can answer: Perhaps they have tools on board, maybe a net or hooks, whatever they use for fishing. Then, another question c
"I am glad to hear you say that. As you can see, I have amassed considerable wealth over the years and I am also aware how easily these can be taken away from me. That would have been the case had I not discovered the duplicity of someone I placed my trust to." Dante heaved a sigh, his eyes appeared to be searching the far wall."I don't know what more reassurance I can give you, Sir, but I'm sure you have heard of our firm's reputation and our promise to all our clients," said Jon, remembering the marketing materials he was required to read at the start of his employment. "We have been in the business for more than a century and we have grown with our partners over the years. In fact-""It is not your firm that I'm worried about." Dante cut Jon mid-speech. "I have had transactions with your firm many years ago. What I am looking for is someone whom I could trust with my work, someone who would see it through whatever happens."Dante seemed composed as he faced
The way that Dante brushed off the death of one of the people under his employ like some mundane occurrence troubled Jon. He too nearly lost his life to the sharks if not for the quickness of Captain Salazar. Or is Dante intentionally evading discussion of the incident? Could he be hiding something?Questions flooded Jon's head, but he decided not to talk about the incident any further with his client. Dante seemed to be no different from the captain of the Golden Cowrie as to his apathy and coldness towards people under his employ. If not for the difference in physical appearance and state of health, Jon would have thought of Dante and the captain as the same person.Dante seemed more alive than when Jon saw him at the entrance hall earlier. His movements were faster, his speech clearer, and his face, though still pale, seemed more relaxed and youthful. Perhaps, there was some truth when he likened himself to nocturnal creatures who become fully awake at night as they