The Wind Blew Out From Bergen

This Week’s Prompt:57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.

The Research:Sailing Away

I sat on the great cliffs of Moher, staring off into the fading sea. I’d come in quiet contemplation of all that I knew, facing into the inevitable turning of the tides. The moon was large that night, casting a great pale shadow on an otherwise dark sea. It looked, from those great cliffs, that the world ended just on the horizon. Or rather, that it wrapped itself upward again, so that the moon in the sky was as much a reflection as the one on the sea. In a moment, I thought, the sky will churn like the sea, and the moon will be rent to pieces.

It lasted all of a moment, my apocalyptic thoughts. In the next, the caw of a raven restored a sense of present. The cliffs were solid stone, and I sat with legs over the edge looking below. All was quiet, except the washing of the waves. All was still, despite the churning of the sea.

Cliffs of Moher above2.png

That was, until a curious sight caught my attention. It came up from the northern shore, first as a gentle cold breeze. Turning up, I saw the ripples on the water spilling onto the sea from some unseen source. At last, into view, came a vast sailing ship. Fog was round it’s sails, and flickers of lanterns lined it’s hull. Three sails full of wind pushed it on, but below I made out the motions of oars. It was as if a modern Englishmen had placed his hull on a ship of antiquity.

The Ship from the Cliffs

It recalled to mind, though, not the dread iron clads of this modern age. It was a wooden ship, moving at full sail. From afar, by some strange focus or unknown providence, I could still make out each hand and every sailor. My heart paused. For there, gambling on the deck, was Henry in his prime, his chest unmarred. No blood dripped on his uniform, obscured by royal red. His face seemed healed, both eyes still good and joy springing along his face.

And there, beside him, was William, drunk and laughing at some obscenity unspoken, waving his bottle like a cutlass. Recounting some half remembered story, of the Caribbean and pirates and smugglers and women. I leaned close, shocked further to see more of them. Brenard, reminiscing over the edge, laughing with Thomas. Robert had found William and the two were in each other’s grips. Oh, they all looked so young and well. Their skin was flush with color, no longer the pale and bloated things that floated to the surface of a stained sea.

More figures came into view. A crowd of Frenchmen here, a fallen German sailor there, a captain with fire in his beard, women and men alike. A strong man from the islands shared a pipe with a Frenchmen who, I sense, he may have beheaded. All seemed well. All was merry, there was drinking and dancing and revelry. Eventually I focused on the most peculiar figure. At the great wheel, he stood over six feet tall with skin the color of sea weed and hair as red as fire. Wildly he spun the ship’s wheel, and yet the ship stayed steady. Every now and then he would shout out a song, and half the crew would take up this shanty or another, a symphony of languages to the same tune.

But stranger still than that man was the thing that emerged from the captain’s cabin. A towering figure, with a single red eye, beneath a man of hair and above a beard that seemed to large to belong to a man. Like a large crab, with a wide brimmed hat dripping jewels, he stood surveying. And then fixed his eye on me.

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Reaching a gloved hand out, I felt his gesture calling to me. All of them, beckoning me as their ship began to go farther out to sea, shimmering in the breeze. Wordless sirens, they sang to my heart, already wounded. The promised calm seas and celebration, and green hills and isles of gold. I jumped out of my shoes, flew out of my body onto it’s warm deck. I was young again, my stomach full of fire and laughter as I stood upon the floor, music filling the air. Their singing my song, the band invisible is playing my rhythm, and Delilah is there waiting for a dance.

I mumble and try and to take a step forward. But something has caught my leg. I pull harder, as the ship beneath me is pulling away. As the rail hits my back, I cry out for them not to leave me, that I am soon coming. The crew don’t hear me as they fade away.

Again on the misty cliffs of Moher I sit, alone on darkened stones, staring into the pale sea. The black waters below smash with little fanfare along the shore and cliff face, leaving small traces of salt in open wounds along the rock. I get up, and turn to walk away. But somethings still fastened, lightly, to my leg. Looking down I see it fade. A pale white hand, back into the stones, lets me go at last as I head back to the road.

 

———–

I’m not terribly fond of this one. The hook of alluring memories of younger days occured to me two days before it was finished, and I don’t feel like I had the time or creativity to extend it longer than it was. It feels like a small scene in a larger story, which might be a good place for it. I am oddly fond of my illustrations this time though.

Next week, we stay in the British Isles to discuss a peculiar valley!

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Sailing Away

This Week’s Prompt :57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.
The Resulting Story: The Wind Blew Out From Bergen


Moonlight and invisibility are strong themes of these last few prompts. If I had the money to acquire a copy of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters, I’d wonder what possibly prompted this set of thinking or line of inquiry. As it is, we will press on. This prompt does have the benefit of being distinct from those before in at least one respect. The invisible no longer haunts us, nor is it revealed. Rather, we see the visible become invisible.

The beginning notion of sailing or rowing into invisibility, being lost to the sight of humanity, has some interesting parallels in the border space of folklore and urban legend. The basic premise is not too strange. After all, the sea is full of strange monsters, of sirens calling out to drown men, of ancient rebels against the gods, and more. But disappearances at sea? Those are old.

The most famous disappearance locale for American’s is actually far more recent then you might suspect. The Bermuda Triangle’s record only begins in the 1950s. But if there is a place more synonymous with “lost at sea” in the modern day, I’ve not heard of it. The triangle has it’s points at Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico. It’s reputation of consuming ships is famed enough that I will stop here to say that in all likelihood, the probable cause is the sheer number of ships traveling those waves.

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The related Devil’s Triangle in Japan is another recent notion of seas that enjoy sinking ships. It too has only been reported in the early 1950s, as has the notion of twelve of these paranormal vortices. While no doubt these can be sources of inspiration, their newness ought to be remembered.

Even ignoring these paranormal sightings, sailing to the land invisible is not so unusual. Odysseus did so, and found even stranger lands in the journey there. And funeral barges of Vikings and Egyptians alike were supposed to go on to the dead. King Arthur was sent out sailing to an unseen land, attended by three women. Like wise Väinämöinen built a ship of copper, with an iron bottom, to leave the land and sail to the heavens, out of the mortal(visible) world. Quetzacouatl left the realm of the living, in some versions, on a barge or boat of snakes! Such are the strange contraptions needed to reach the heavens.

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But outside the realm of myth, folktales from various places talk of the dead as invisible sailors. Near Brittany, some report the dead are gathered in great invisible boats to be taken to the Isle of the Dead. On the Breton coastline, skiffs come out manned by the invisible dead. This is typically an ill omen. A German folktale reports that these dead voyages can do what is implied by the prompt, and fly towards the moon. Rabbi Amram asked, reportedly, to be placed in a coffin and allowed to flow wherever the river took him. The coffin, much to the world’s surprise, floated up the river!

And if it is rending ships invisible by their sinking, then the Devil must have his due. Multiple demonic forces or malicious spirits are thought to sink ships when angered or displeased. The devil himself was once sighted at sea with a sword in hand. Other times, demons take the crew themselves!

The devil, according to a story from Schleswig-Holstein,still ferries people across Cuxhaven bay. He does this to liberate himself from the consequences of a certain compact.He had procured a ship for a certain captain, the latter to yield himself up with the ship, which was to be kept busy so long as there was a cargo. This Satan tried to find, so as to keep the vessel cruising until the compact expired, but the was outwitted at the end of the first cruise by the captain’s son, who crowded sail on and let the anchor go. The fiend tried to hold the anchor, but went overboard with it.” Reports Fletcher Basset, citing an older text (Schmidt-Seeman Sagen, which I did not have time to check).

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We then can consider also those ships that are now invisible, having made the journey. The Flying Dutchman, who made a deal with devil long ago and now serves as a sort of sea-bound Wild Hunt, has been mentioned before. But let us look at him at length. The Flying Dutchman is a man-of-war, a terrifyingly vast warship that emerges from the storm to assault ships as bad weather strikes. Another name for the ship is Carmilhan, with the goblin Klabotermen as it’s pilot. The ship has no crew except invisible ghosts, no sails but rags, and hounds ships to the end of the earth. Other times, the ship is a former slave-ship, which was struck by the tragedy of the plauge.

Related is Falkenberg, who sails the world and played dice for his soul with the devil. In some cases, Falkenberg is the Dutchman himself.

One amusing tale tells of a group of pirates that, in the stylings of Scooby Doo, pretend to be the Flying Dutchman, only to be assailed by the real thing. As the storm blows in, the demon ship is unflatered by it’s rival and engages in combat. The results are sadly one sided, as the demon ship lays them to waste with ease.

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But the Flying Dutchman is not the strangest of it’s kind. There is still the Bewiched Canoe. Yes, a magically canoe. From French Canada comes the story of a huntsman who so enjoyed the hunt, he made a pact with the devil to continue it forever. Not only is he in a canoe, but the canoe flies through the air.

Larger than these, is the ship Chasse Foudre, a French vessel that takes seven years to tack. It is so vast, it shifts all wild life around it. Her nails along the hull allow the moon to pivot, and climbing her masts take lifetimes. She is crewed by men so large, that their smallest pipe is the size of a frigate. A Swedish ship of similair size, the Refanu, is so big that horses are used to relay orders. Her crew is thus of a relatively normal size, as opposed to giants that lumber about other such world ships.

More strange vessels under sail include one recroded by Ibn Battuta, the Lantern Ship. Once the ship was a demon that, on occasion, demanded sacrifices. It has since lost it’s powers, and is forced back by recitations of the Quran by local visitors or a priest.

All these vessels then serve as the start for our own. But what start is that? I think the two more modern moments that this prompt calls ot mind are from Tanith Lee’s Darkness’s Master and H.P. Lovecraft’s own Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. In both, there is a celestial voyage to the heavens aboard a special craft. And I think, for both, the journey is more of an atmosphere of wonder or fear then it is a narrative. If we are to go to the moon, to the invisible world, a horror or fantasy that is mainly derived from strange monsters or explicit dooms is not the best. Better, I think, for something tinged with dread. A glimpse of the invisible, that unfolds. Something subtly moving, something just a little out of place. Of course, such writing is difficult. It’s not what I am used to, frankly, and doing something with subtly is not my strength.

Still, a story of a slowly vanishing ship under the moonlight, perhaps draped in mist, needs something more subtle then perhaps I would normally do.

Bibliography:
Basset, Fletcher S. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea Throughout History. Marston,Searle, and Rivington, 1885

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