A Bridge Between Unlikely Islands
April 14, 1912
North Atlantic Ocean
I am an observer. I cannot change the course of fate, no matter the countless times I’ve been tempted. I am bound by these laws of my existence. It is my curse. To watch. To know. To remember.
During my time on this earth, I’ve learned there will always be monsters, whether they slither beneath the sea or sit in a seat of power, just as there will always be those blind enough to enable them.
They make me weary of watching.
It is the rare and daring few who choose to stand against the monsters, no matter how high the risks, nor how insurmountable the odds, who make life worth watching.
Sadly, their stories are rarely sewn into the binding of history. Their chapters may have been lost, but they are not forgotten.
I remember them all.
This is their story.
And it begins with a bridge between an unlikely hero with a dangerous past and a Flemish girl with a dangerous future.
An oceanid, a sea nymph known as, Calypso, raced through the current to close the gap between her and the doomed vessel, dread coursing through her veins.
She was too late.
She spied the belly of the wounded ship a few meters ahead, dead in the water. After circling its ribs, she found six slices through its side where it struck the unnatural ice. Slight as they were, the damage opened the seams wide enough to tempt the sea.
Saving the ship was no longer within her power. But that wasn’t her task. She was sent to secure the artifact before the Cetus sniffed it out.
Calypso commanded a silent wave to lift her over the railing. As it broke over the stern’s sleeping bridge, her ebony tail transformed into legs that found their footing on the dripping deck.
“Find the key,” she willed the water. Salt water is not only an exceptional conductor of electricity, but of magic.
The pool at her feet shifted into a small school of crystalline fish that hovered a few inches above the planks. Calypso followed the fish past a curious crowd, their bodies bent over the ship’s starboard edge, where the serpent’s mountain of ice had scraped by and spat snow onto the deck. The air was thick with a danger they could not see. She knew all too well the creature that lurked beneath them. She could sense him watching, waiting for the ship’s surrender to the sea.
No one but I noticed the strange sable-skinned girl. Like all nymphs, Calypso could bend the water so that neither light, nor unwelcome eyes, could find her. She moved swiftly, covered in dark armor, her unearthly grey eyes peeking beneath long locks of silver hair that swayed as if she were walking underwater.
The fish led her to a narrow stairwell that descended into the ship’s humming center. The further she plunged, the more her surroundings shrunk. She followed them down a dry, dimly lit hallway marked STEERAGE, a series of doors cut into the walls like rows of polished teeth. Calypso couldn’t fathom why humans would willingly travel inside the jaws of such a beast.
The eager fish hovered in front of a door. With a nod from Calypso, the fish collapsed into a puddle that climbed up the door’s surface until it was coated with water. The door dissolved, leaving a clear rippling pool in its place, like a window of water that revealed the cramped chamber within. The room was lined with four beds, two set into each wall, one balanced precariously above the other, a white water basin and porcelain pot nestled between them. The walls were papered with half a dozen colorful drawings depicting a child’s vision of the sea, from a giant octopus chasing schools of silverfish, to dolphins playing with divers. Sleeping soundly in the beds were two snoring men, a restless woman, and a small glowing girl.
With a flick of her wrist, Calypso ordered the water to venture inside the room. Rivulets of sea water ran down the wooden face of the door until they formed a puddle on the floor that slipped underneath. Once on the other side, it shifted into the shape of an octopus, its translucent tentacles tugging the blanket away from the girl’s body, uncovering a curious contraption fastened to a brass chain that snaked around the girl’s sticky neck. Its intricate metal gears and symbols emitted a golden light, like embers breathing in a forgotten fire.
Over the centuries, Calypso had crossed paths with many forms of magic, but none were as dangerous as the ancient power that pulsed before her.
I knew the Aperion’s dark history, the tragedy it left in its wake. The secrets surrounding its origins had sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean millennia ago. It was nothing but a myth, a ghost of a god’s wrath that haunted the disintegrated deck of another doomed ship.
Myths have a way of bleeding into reality. The blood this one cost was far more than reality was prepared to pay.
The peril that washed over those above had slowly, too slowly, trickled down the decks from frightened lips into disbelieving ears. The souls in third class were the last to hear of their terrible fate. Grumbled protests of disrupted slumber grew to shouts of alarm as fear charged the air around them.
I knew the only sleep that awaited them was one from which they would never again wake.
The girl with the glowing necklace, Miss Catharina Van Impe, wiped the dust of dreams from her eyes and shuffled into the hall after her parents, a book clutched to her chest. Embossed on the mossy cover were gleaming gold images of a mischievous boy sitting at the water’s edge, flanked by a pair of mermaids, with a ravenous reptile lurking below. Little did Catharina realize that her present predicament mirrored that of her favorite fiction. Peter Pan, however, had a fighting chance.
Her mother, Rosalie, hastily wrapped a wool blanket around her shoulders and pulled her close while whispering assurances, “Alles komt goed, mijn lieveling.”
“Everything will be fine, my darling.”
But everything was not fine. While the Van Impes and their third class neighbors were fast asleep, an hour had slipped by since the serpent’s ice silently sliced into the ship’s hull. The first lifeboats were being lowered, while the sea surged into the nose of the ship and steadily strangled it.
After an upsetting exchange with a group of men gathered in the corridor, the girl’s father, Jean, confirmed the rumors, “Ze zeggen dat het schip zinkt.”
“They say the ship is sinking.”
Catharina reached for the small framed chalkboard that hung from a necklace of twine near her bed. Her trembling fingers gripped the chalk. Zullen we verdrinken, Papa?
Will we drown, Papa?
Though Catharina was nearly eleven, she had never learned to swim, not properly, not well enough to keep from drowning should the cold fingers of the sea catch hold of her. Born with an affliction that robbed her of hearing, Catharina’s childhood was sheltered from a world that was not ready to rise up and meet her for who she was, whether it was waves on the shore or hurtful words in a classroom.
Jean kneeled down in front of Catharina, his words careful and pronounced so she could discern their meaning. “Nee, schatje, we worden gered door de kleinere boten, degenen wachten op ons bovenop,” he promised.
“No, honey, we are saved by the smaller boats, those waiting for us.”
Salvation, however, was not within reach of third-class.
First and second-class passengers could easily access the boat deck directly from their set of stairs, where lifeboats were lowered, half-full, with women and children. It was dicey math when dealing with a mere twenty boats to shepherd over two thousand souls.
Catharina’s father was accustomed to the dangers of the open sea. Harvesting sponges was a hazardous profession, one meant for only the most accomplished diver, but this wasn’t a simple matter of holding one’s breath. The sea temperature was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to steal away their warmth, and with it, their lives, in under fifteen minutes.
The frigid sea seeped through the seams and raced down the hallway, snapping at their heels. Catharina’s eyes widened with alarm. She hastily scribbled, Ik ben bang, on her board.
Jean hugged her fiercely, the metal of her medallion pressing into his ribs. He pulled back and kissed her brow. With gentle hands, he reached for her necklace, a token of another time, a gift for his pregnant wife, Rosalie, upon his return home to Belgium.
In the year 1900, Jean was diving off the coast of the Greek island, Antikythera, when his friend, Ilias, rose to the surface holding a severed arm. It was this remnant of corroded bronze that led to one of mankind’s greatest discoveries.
The Antikythera Mechanism.
The spirit of adventure led Jean to follow Ilias to the ocean floor, where he pushed the limits of his lungs to reach the scattered bones of an ancient ship. It was there, half buried beneath a layer of sand, that he found a rare and beautiful relic.
The Apeiron. A key unlike any other, for it unlocked the unlimited power of the stars.
The charm had captured Catharina’s imagination since she was a babe in her mother’s lap, and was passed on to her when she turned ten. It was all she ever wanted, and in truth, it was all they had to give their cherished only child.
“Uw charme houdt u veilig,” he reminded her with a confident smile.
“Your charm keeps you safe.”
But I knew the terrible truth. What coiled like a noose around her neck was no lucky trinket. It was a death sentence.
© 2018 Samantha Redstreake Geary