People, Places & Things
Just Add Dice
It Came from the SlushPile
Note: the following is a horror story set on a Earth where Alexander the Great took his troops north into Europe rather than east into India.
On this day, stores were closed, people kept to their own houses. On this day, Nature taunted and lured, with a bright and clear sky, no rain or fog in sight. But the people who lived in the township of Breken, in the Nor’ Thalasson League, they did not pay attention to the visual clues; they trusted themselves to their culture, to their history, to their legends.
In one house within the Breken township, whose entrance served as an inn, a lone man stood at the doorway, knocking on the wooden gate. A young boy approached the gateway, looking up at the man with grey flecked in his deep brown short beard.
“Alus!” his grandfather barked from where he was cleaning tables for the master of the house, “keep away from there!” Alus obeyed, backing away from the door. The man looked sad, and yet as though he had expected such a reaction; he left, walking away to try another house.
Alus joined in, helping his grandfather to finish polishing off the inn’s dining area tables. “Story?” he asked hopefully.
His grandfather nodded. “About this day?”
Grandfather took some time to consider that request. In years before, Alus had been too young to hear about things like the reason for people keeping to their own homesteads on this day. Perhaps now he was mature enough…. “Very well,” he nodded at last. “Pull up a chair, child, and I will tell you about The Lost Ship.”
Alus did as instructed, and helped ease his grandfather down. “It was at least three ten-times-ten of years – what the Romans call a century – itself a full seven hundred years since the perishing of noble Alexander the Greek, who had shaped our world, spread our ancestors into savage lands ripe for the taming.
“A ship had been readied to test a belief, that their was a route past the ice which lies to our northeast, to spy lands unknown beyond the Finnik people of the Great Peninsula and Rhos tribes of the Volyga Rivers. But nothing went according to plan once the final timber was laid down. The first crew became afflicted with a sickness. The second crew went mad with
a berserker mind, a gift no doubt from a vengeful Ares. The third crew made it off, taking the ship far with them….and were never heard from again.”
A cry went up in the house: the owner, and their master, calling for Alus’s grandfather. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised, getting up, making his way towards the stairs.
But Alus knew that his grandfather would be kept busy by the impatient lord for quite some time. In the meanwhiles, there was that man wandering the outsides, no doubt still frightfully hungry. Alus ran for the kitchen, easing the doors open, thankful that his sisters had found a good lubricant for the hinges this time. There: some leftover deer meat and fowl eggs, most likely destined for the scrap yard, or selling to a swineherder.
He grabbed some, stuffing what he could into the sizable pockets that his well-worn shirt, passed down from his older brother, and then headed outside. He undid the latch at the gate, and slid it closed behind himself.
He ran down the main roads, not trusting the side routes and back trails that some unsavory characters might be using even on this day – if he was out and about, who else might be too?
Alus paused briefly from his run, to admire the rosy marble statue in the center of town. Alus knew what it was now, but did not know that it itself was a hybrid of two beliefs. A woman of the triton race, with wings in place of arms, stood in the center of the fountain bowl, her tail resting on a rock, her face the image of beauty. In the water beside her – or rather there would be water tomorrow, as even the watering systems had been turned off for this day – a dolphin swam, fins replaced by long graceful wings.
He walked slowly around the fountain, admiring it from all angles. Doing so, he almost tripped over the same stranger from earlier, who was resting his head against the fountainside, his legs lying on the cobblestone road.
Alus stood there for a few moments, suddenly unsure if this was the best thing to do – particularly given what day it was! When the stranger opened his eyes, to see who was blocking the sun, Alus tenatively held out one handfull of deer meat; it was accepted and eaten with gladness.
“What’s your name?” Alus asked the stranger.
The older man looked down at the ten-winter-old boy. “Alehander VI of Gaula. And you are Alus, correct?”
Alus almost asked how the man could’ve known his name. “You look hungry.”
A nod. “I am. But I’m also used to being turned away wherever I go in life.” Seeing that the boy was about to ask the old question of ‘why?’, Alehander decided to explain. “It is a long and old story, one far too boring for you to hear at your age, lad. Needless to say, most people turn
me away because of the day when I at last am permitted to show, and the others bear me ill will for how I took their blood from them.”
“Who’s stopping you from coming any other day?” Alus couldn’t help but ask.
A shrug. “I know not. Perhaps the gods, perhaps the dryads and their marine cousins, perhaps a people or thing which we do not know the name of. I know only that it does prevent me or my crew from making landfall on any other day.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the name of your ship?”
A shrill ship’s whistle pierced the air, forestalling any answer he might have given Alus. His demeanor suddenly went completely business-serious. “I have to go now. I thank you for the food,” accepting one final handout from Alus, before he turned and left, swallowed in the haze which surrounded the harbor and the ships in there.
Alus stood there for a time longer, his eyes moving from where the man had left, to the stark and cold statuary of the sea-people.
Come the next day, in a period where all the tasks had been completed, and they had some time to themselves, Alus asked his grandfather a question: “Grandfather,” Alus asked, “that ship you were telling me about: what was its name?”
“Alus my boy, the ghost ship has no name, and it never did. A storm’d bore it out to sea before a naming ceremony could commence….taking the crew with it.”
“Did he have a captain at least?”
“Oh indeed he did,” referring to the ship. “Alehander VI of Gaula.”
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