THE RELICS OF TOMBS, thousands of years old, filled the hold.
Priceless jewels sparkled and ancient gold gleamed in the flickering lamp lights. Vessels, statuettes, and sculptures, carved from precious stone, nestled together in the packing. Crates of scrolls and tablets climbed to the ceiling.
We sailed for the ports of the civilized world. The waiting crowns offered rewards that helped us put the whispers of curses out of mind. Besides, we sailed through treacherous waters. Storms, sudden and fierce, had been known to swallow ships without leaving a trace. Angry ghosts gave us no real pause.
Our voyage was smooth, the weather was fair. For several days, nothing was remarkable until just before one evening.
I stood on deck, enjoying the cool air with the other men. Our conversations suddenly fell silent. We knew something was happening before it did.
It came rolling across the water, a strange and wonderful sound. It was unearthly in its beauty. It is impossible to describe, as though a choir of angels sang a single tone in perfect harmony.
But it came with an effect upon the men. We stood, entranced, consumed with a sense of peace and tranquility. It was bliss, contentment and ultimate fulfillment.
Then it faded away to nothing.
Some stood enraptured, others showed traces of anguish in their features. None had heard such a sound before and a few halfheartedly suggested that we abandon our mission to discover its source.
But the rest of us just laughed and we sailed on. Thereafter, we spoke very little, unless it was of that sound.
The next day, we spied a dark smear on the horizon to our south. We were safe from the storm at such a distance. We watched the distant flashes, dreaming of the sound.
Once you have heard it, you hunger to hear it again, to feel its warm and glowing presence wrapped around you.
How cruel is this universe to grant such wishes?
Again, it rolled from far across the water, growing by the moment as it washed over us.
Like before, it held the hint of promises in its wordless beauty, but unlike before, it also carried a sea of sadness and a sky of tragedy. The lament of a lover whose beloved has gone, it seemed to plead, sweetly pitiable.
I saw tears in the eyes of heartless men as the sound reached a crescendo. I brought my hand to my brow as my skull buzzed with the sound. Each heartbeat left me gasping with pain.
For a moment, we stood breathless and quiet. Then our voices returned. There was a near mutiny as men now demanded we change course. There was some fighting and men ended up in the brig and a few others were dead.
So it was that I ended up alone on the bridge, the door behind me barred. A dozen loaded pistols laid at hand should any try to breach it again. I held the ship on its course, determined to see us home.
Still, despite the despair it had brought me, I wanted to hear that sound again. I did not wait for long.
As it slid across the waves to us, it was not louder, but softer than the last. Somehow, this made it all the more difficult to resist.
Men wailed from the brig. One leaped overboard to splash and drown as he floundered toward the sound. I heard shots and cries as my knees weakened beneath me.
Somehow, I knew it was her voice. I knew she was calling to me. She whispered through that sound and told me of her heart, so lonely. She told me of her endless waiting for me, through centuries, through ages. She told me of her undying love and desire for me.
What else could I do but turn the ship into the sound?
The storm be damned. I will find you, love, and I will lay this treasure at your feet.
With the wind behind us and a current beneath us, the mighty ship flew faster than it ever had.
As we sailed on, the clear blue sea became murky and clouded. The sky above grew darker. Rain began to fall on us harder in enormous drops of stinging cold. The wind began to howl.
We rose on hill-like waves and dropped into the valleys beyond. In those trenches, the sea surged up to swallow the sky. Higher and lower, faster and faster, we rode the waves beneath countless blooms of lightning.
And on the peak of a colossal wave, the flashing sky lit up as the calling came again. Ahead, a twisted black rock rose from the water. Down we plunged so deeply that our hull struck the shallow bottom and we began taking on water.
But even as we sank the next wave hurled us up into the sky. For an instant, we tottered on the crest and I heard myself speaking.
“There! On the rocks! Do you see them? Look at them! Beautiful angels! Singing and calling from the rocks!”
Down came the ship, plummeting down… into the rocks.
Our ship, the mighty Persephone, shuddered and shattered as she scraped and rolled across the jagged reef. The ship, her treasure, and all hands sank into the dismal depths.
Battered and bleeding, I clung to a rock in the freezing water, knowing I must soon die. My cries were like nothing in the roaring wind, but to my ears there came another sound.
She was calling through the darkness.
Her voice is love.
As the lightning struck again, I saw her!
She slipped between the rocks with the grace and speed of an angel.
She is pale and cold and her eyes are deep and dark.
Her beauty is terrible with fangs and claws.
To her hungry smile, I offer my life, my final treasure.
With sweetly painful kisses, she tears me from the rock.
And down we dance into the darkness…
Beneath a stormy sea.
story by Joe Stanley