A full moon hung low in a clear night sky. The Dead Calm drifted through calm waters, the sea lapping at the hull of the ship. The crew gathered on the deck, their raucous songs of celebration filling the air. Captain Scarlight tottered between them, refilling their mugs with rum.
"Happy New Year, lads! Let's toast our health, and hope next year is a good 'un!" he cried.
The crew cheered, raising their mugs to the skies. Dark droplets of rum spattered the deck. Methuselah fluttered across the ship to perch on the wheel. The telepathic parrot nodded his agreement with the Captain's sentiment.
"Gaaarrrr, ye shouldn't toast on New Year! Not during a full moon," said Flintlock Francis. The grizzled bosun lounged on the rigging, a mug of rum in his hand.
"Why not?" asked Captain Scarlight.
"Gaarrr, yer but a young pup, ye won't know....The Legend," said Flintlock Francis.
"What legend?" asked the Captain.
"THE legend," replied Flintlock Francis.
I do believe he is employing stalling tactics to increase the tension associated with what is no doubt a popular slice of local folklore. In the name of peace, I believe it would be best to allow him to tell the tale.
Captain Scarlight looked at Methuselah and nodded in agreement. Flintlock Francis flicked his bloodshot eyes between the Captain and the parrot.
"Do ye want to hear the legend or not?"
"Aye, we do, we do!" cried the crew.
"It's a legend few know, but ye should! It's said that if ye toast to health under a full moon on the eve of New Year, then ye can expect a visit from the Reaper 'imself," said Flintlock Francis. He looked at each of the crew in turn, fixing them with an ominous look.
"Is that it?" asked the Captain.
Flintlock Francis nodded, taking a swig of rum.
"That's rubbish! I never had ye pegged as being the sort to believe in fairytales!" cried the Captain.
He spun round to face the crew. His boot slid across the spilt rum, depositing the Captain on his back. His head connected with the deck with a dull thud.
* * *
Pain throbbed in the back of the Captain's skull. He opened his eyes, and stars exploded across his vision. He expected to see the crew huddled around him, but he gazed up at the sky. Silence drifted across the deck.
"Bloody hell, what happened?" he moaned.
"I believe that would be called 'taking a fall'. You slipped on a patch of rum."
Captain Scarlight wriggled up onto his elbows. He expected to see Methuselah perched somewhere, the familiar disapproving look on his avian face. Instead, he saw a young woman standing near the ship's wheel. Raven hair tumbled around her shoulders, and her eyes formed dark pools in the stark white of her face. She smiled, her purple lips parting to reveal black gums and grey teeth.
"Who are you?" exclaimed the Captain.
"I am someone who has not had a dance these forty years together. Would you do me the honours?" asked the woman. Her cold voice rasped with decay.
"I don't think I'm up to dancing," replied the Captain.
"Of course you are. You need only try," said the woman.
Captain Scarlight rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself onto his knees. His jaw dropped open at the sudden lack of pain in his head. Somewhere in front of him, fabric caught on wood and ripped. He looked up to find the woman standing over him. A slender white arm snaked out of her midnight cloak. The woman held out her hand. The Captain shuddered at her icy touch.
"Music, Maestro!" cried the woman.
A violin creaked into life, singing its eerie melody to the full moon. The woman pulled the Captain to his feet and they set off around the deck. Captain Scarlight knew he didn't know how to dance, yet his feet possessed a mind of their own as he led the woman in the dance.
They spun around the deck, carried along on the haunting violin music. Captain Scarlight tried to avoid eye contact with the woman. Confusion and fear competed for his attention.
"Why do you fear my gaze, mortal captain?" asked the woman. The laughter of flies buzzed at the edges of her voice.
"I'm a bit bewildered, if I'm honest," said the Captain.
Before he could stop himself, the Captain looked the woman square in the face. Vertigo seized him as he gazed into the velvet depths of her black eyes. Stars glittered beyond his gaze, clouding his vision. The music grew faint as the world closed in around him.
* * *
"Cap'n? Cap'n, are yer awake?"
Captain Scarlight opened his eyes. A spike of pain drove itself into the back of his skull. He groaned, suppressing a wave of nausea.
That was quite a fall you took, Captain. Are you alright?
Methuselah sat on the Captain's chest, peering into his face.
“I’ve got the headache from hell,” replied the Captain.
You were humming.
Yes. A doleful yet infectious melody.
“I could have sworn I was dancing,” said the Captain. He sat up, raising tentative fingers to his head. He winced when he found a bump.
Dancing? With a woman?
“Well it wasn’t with you, Thusie,” replied the Captain.
Captain Scarlight struggled to sit up. Methuselah fluttered across the deck. He watched the Captain stumble away to his cabin.
“The Cap’n was dancin’, alright,” said Flintlock Francis.
He leaned in close to Methuselah. He gestured to the deck with his mug, slopping rum across the wood. Methuselah followed Flintlock’s gaze.
A patch of midnight glistened below the ship’s wheel.
* * *