If You Ever See A Figure Of A Woman In The Atlantic Ocean, Do Not Try And Save Her

beorn
beorn

Midlife Crisis.

That’s what I named my ship. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. I bought her on a whim, dreaming of sailing away on the ocean and starting a new life. In the five years since I’d tied her to the dock, she’d lost her pristine sheen and that new-boat smell that had attracted me to her. She was still sea-ready, but I regretted not taking her on her maiden voyage sooner.

I set sail on the Atlantic, with no clear destination in mind. I just wanted to go east, towards Europe. I’d used all the vacation days I’d accumulated over the years to free myself up for an entire month. I had food, radio equipment, and a rudimentary map. The bare minimum.

Then, one night, as I was sitting on the deck letting the waves gently rock the boat, I spotted something in the water. It was just a blip in the distant horizon, but one that was impossible to miss. A white shape that stood out from the dark blue expanse around me. Curious, I set down my bottle of lukewarm beer and wandered to the front of the boat.

Unable to take my eyes off the shape, I pawed blindly at the top of the control console, trying to find the binoculars I remembered tossing there earlier. My hands landed on the lenses, so when I brought the binocular to my eyes, all I could see was a streaky smudge. I quickly wiped them on my shirt and peered through them again. I expected to see a wayward buoy or some sort of flotsam, but instead, I saw something impossible.

I saw a woman walking on the waves.

She rose and fell with every swell of the ocean. Neither sinking, nor floating: she casually strolled along the surface of the water, as though on solid ground.

I must be dreaming, I thought as I put the binoculars down and rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I was sure I’d wake up on my cot at any moment and the surreal scene would fade from my memory. But, when I pinched myself to check, I felt the prick and realized I was awake.

I reacted out of instinct. Not wanting to believe what I’d seen with my own two eyes, I convinced myself she must have been a passenger from another ship. Someone who’d fallen overboard. Someone that needed to be rescued. I powered on the engine and set sail towards her. As I began to bridge the distance, I looked through the binoculars again for a better look.

She wore an elegant dress. White with lilac lace and a floral pattern embroidered on the larger surfaces. The skirt flared above her hips and fell in the shape of a church bell. The dress was tight around her waist, a corset holding her stomach stiffly in place and squeezing her breasts up just enough for a hint of them to be visible at the low neckline. Her sleeves started below her shoulders and ended halfway down her upper arms, where they gave way to long silk gloves. Her feet weren’t visible under the dress’s frilled hem, but I imagined she must have worn elegant heels that matched her outfit.

Her skin was paler than the moon hovering above us. That paleness, along with her heavy red lipstick and rosy cheeks, made her look like a porcelain doll. Her immaculate hair added to that impression. It was pinned back with a rose brooch and cascaded down the back of her neck, ending just above a black choker. The choker was accompanied by a gold chain and locket that dipped halfway towards her chest. She looked like someone straight out of a history book.

I was mesmerized, watching her closely as we continued along our respective paths. She towards me, and me towards her. As though we’d become tethered together. The waves should have made her drift off-course, but somehow she kept going in a straight line through shifting terrain, as though pulled by an unseen force.

By the time I got close enough to see her clearly with my own two eyes, I knew she wasn’t just another castaway. The waves at her feet were crystal clear and solid like glass, but they buckled and rolled with the ocean’s ebb and flow. I could hear the distant clatter of her heels on the water as she approached. Solids where there should have been liquids, clatters where there should have been splashes, walking where there should have been swimming; the discrepancies were disorienting. Maybe I should have been afraid of her, but I was too fascinated. Too captivated by the solemn smile on her face.

I cut the engines, trusting my ship’s forward momentum to take me the rest of the way to the stranger. I didn’t want to risk overshooting and having to turn around. I had the strange feeling I’d only get one chance.

A gust of wind brought the smell of roses to my nostrils. A pleasant scent, if not for the fact that it masked a hint of something else. An odor that closely resembled the stench of dead rodents festering in a shed. It ripped me out of my awe-struck stupor and grounded me back in reality. She was the distance of a football field away when the fear started to creep in. When the impossibility of the situation brought worry to the forefront of my mind.

Who –or what– was she?

The ship came to a graceful stop and, for a moment, I considered turning tail and running. I couldn’t do it, though. Curiosity, fascination, sheer stupidity? I’m not sure which was to blame, but I was compelled to stay put. I waited for her. And, when she came within range, I threw her a life preserver so I could pull her on-board. She caught it and held it against her chest. Air sputtered out of it as it deflated and crumbled into pieces. Probably from five years of neglect, I figured. The woman’s sad smile remained.

I motioned for her to go around back where she could climb a ladder to the deck. With an urgent shuffle, she circled around the starboard side. I followed her to the back and dropped the ladder into the water. My heart pounded against my chest like the waves against the hull of my ship. I was afraid of her, but she seemed so harmless. So desperate for help. I couldn’t have anticipated what would happen when she got on board. As she climbed the rungs one at a time, I could hear the grating sound of metal bending and buckling. I should have realized what was happening, but I didn’t. Not until I saw it with my very eyes.

Her hands grasped the railing tightly. The paint crackled and chipped away. The metal rusted. As soon as she pulled herself aboard, her feet began to sink in the wooden floorboards. They decayed and turned to mush. Panic set in. I screamed at her to get off, but she walked towards me, her face twisting as she let out a desperate, soundless cry.

Instinct took over.

I shoved her. Hard enough that she fell over the side of the ship. So hard, in fact, that I staggered forward and tripped on the hole in the wood. From over the edge of the ship, her hands shot up and clutched my arm tightly. I could feel my skin stinging violently, as though from a sunburn. With a forceful tug, I jerked myself free, but the damage was done. My skin started to flake off, exposing my raw epidermis. Even the cool ocean breeze felt agonizing against it.

The woman pawed at the ship, her hands corroding its sturdy hull. As I peered over the edge, I looked at the bright, crystalline surface at her feet and saw her reflection. It was terrible. Her hair was dishevelled, her dress was stained with black handprints, and her face was covered in boils and scarred skin. Her expression, however, was the same. Sad. Desperate. Lonely.

I could hear water trickling into the boat from below deck. She’d made a hole. Whether on purpose or not, I’ll never know. I ran to the front of the ship and started the engine at full speed, then raced below deck to seal the hole. Through the cracked metal hull, I could see her following in the boat’s wake, even as it raced away. She was trying to catch up, but I was faster.

Once I finally plugged the hole, I returned above deck. Something caught my attention. An object gleaming in the moonlight. It swung from the back railing like a pendulum. Avoiding the rotten wooden planks, I reached around and grabbed the object. Her locket. Unlike the rest of her, it didn’t cause decay. I pocketed the object and returned to the control console to adjust my heading. It was time to go home.

beetlejuice

To be honest, I’d forgotten all about the locket by the time I reached port. I was in too much pain, and still reeling from the encounter with the woman walking on the waves. I tied Midlife Crisis down, and rushed to the hospital to get my arm treated. The doctors said it looked like a chemical burn. I didn’t correct them.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I saw the necklace again. It clattered against the bottom of my washing machine as I threw my clothes inside. I reached in and pulled it out, examining it closely. Inside was the painted portrait of a moustached man in a top hat, wearing a fitted jacket, high collar shirt, and some sort of frilly bow tie. I brought it to an acquaintance of mine: a historian that worked the museum circuit. He pried the portrait loose and looked at the back. A note had been penned on it. It read: Duke E.S. 1885.

After a bit of research, he was able to track down the pendant’s origins. The man painted on it was Duke Edward Smith, married to Duchess Elizabeth Smith. She was rumored to be a “loose” woman. When she contracted syphilis, Edward had her thrown to sea. Alive. It’s said that she swam after the ship, following it for hours from afar, before succumbing to the waves. Edward’s life ended just a few years later. He was executed on suspicion of witchcraft.

Now, Elizabeth wanders the ocean, suffering a punishment unfairly disproportionate to her alleged crime. She walks on the waves, looking for a ship to save her. But everything she touches withers away.

She can’t be saved. TC mark

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