by Kurt Newton
From the November 2021 issue of CHM
17th March 1886
The HMS Windborne has been adrift for three days now. The storm that blew us off course and into this God-forsaken latitude and damaged our ship was like none I’d ever witnessed. Its formation was imbued with an almost demonic character, as if a great puppeteer were manipulating the elements of sky and water, and we were merely play-toys for its amusement.
I must admit now that some of the things I saw at the height of the gale were indeed true manifestations and not simply the phantasms of an overworked mind or the blurring of my vision from the pelting rain and the stinging of the ocean spray. Things I dare not mention in this log for fear of future recriminations against the state of my sanity.
I have yet to speak openly about this with the men, but I can see it on their faces¾as they sit in silence, their bodies still fatigued from the battle that nearly sank us to the bottom¾that, they too, bore witness to things they choose not to speak of, and like myself, are trying to stave off the thought that something is not quite right; that what began with a strange blue apparition rising above the ocean waves, a seemingly harmless veil of swirling mist like a maelstrom turned on its side¾a maelstrom that ultimately pulled our ship like a magnet into the belly of the storm waiting on the other side¾was but the tip of an even stranger set of circumstances yet to come.
18th March 1886
“Land ho!” Our prayers have been answered. Our barrelman has spied an island thirty degrees to our south. A gentle wind has also returned and we now steer in the direction of the lone green speck in the distance.
The crew’s spirits have lifted, buoyed by the prospect of fresh food and water. They are in desperate need of rest and relaxation. May God grant us these amenities and welcome us back into his good graces.
19th March 1886
This is going to be a lengthy entry, so bear with me while I detail the events of the last twenty-four hours.
As mentioned in my previous and rather optimistic log notes, we had come upon land, a small island in the vast ocean blue. As the HMS Windborne drew near, it had become apparent that the island was unspoiled by man’s touch, as virginal as any crew could hope to find. Such ominous beauty yawned before us, a verdant landscape as lush and long as any coastal neck. We circled round in search of a spot on which to land our skiffs. At last, we dropped anchor, having found the most pristine of beach heads with sand the color of pink quartz that sparkled like diamonds in the noonday sun. Before the first of the crew departed, I gathered the men and thanked God for the bounty about to be bestowed upon us.
A celebratory playfulness imbued the men as they rowed ashore. Protocol demanded I remain aboard ship with the Quartermaster and Navigator. And it was divine providence that I had. For no sooner had the men dragged the skiffs into shallow water, they were met by a tribe of naked creatures that could only be described as hominid-like. Flat heads with brutish features, long muscular arms¾they were more apish than human. Yet they were waving frantically.
At first, it appeared the natives were on the offensive, a race of primitives defending their land, but their actions were to the contrary. Their grunts and gestures, although a meaningless jumble, did not impart a predilection toward violence. Their warnings appeared anguished and sincere, as if the island held a danger not readily seen.
I watched the events unfold through my spyglass and made the decision to call the men back. The Quartermaster rang the ship’s bell. The skiffs were boarded and the men reluctantly returned, but half the men remained on the island. The ones who’d returned had made the correct decision, because a series of unbelievable events quickly unfolded.
The men who had stayed behind began to exhibit the traits of the natives, as if caught in some hypnotic spell. The men began to grunt and drool, their arms hanging low, and their statures bent as if by physical pressure from within. The fear and confusion on their faces was heart rending. I speculated it was a pox of an unknown kind, airborne perhaps, that infected the weakest of the men and brought about their swift regressive symptoms. Unbelievably, however, the sickness was not isolated to changing the men’s behavior; there were physical changes as well. The faces of the men, whom I’ve come to recognize from the months spent on this voyage, began to reshape themselves. Their heads began to flatten, their features became thick and pudgy like bare-knuckle fighters, and their arms grew noticeably more muscular. All of this occurred in a matter of minutes. If I hadn’t witnessed it with my eyes, I would have not believed such an illness existed, an illness that could change the very shape of a man.
Which led my thoughts to the most wild of speculations: what if the natives on the island were once men such as us? Perhaps they had experienced a similar fate? Who were they and where had they come from? These were questions, perhaps, to which we will never find the truth. Thankfully, only half our crew was affected. The two skiffs and their men were pulled aboard and we set sail immediately, leaving the island behind to those who were now its caretakers.
Among the crew, my decision to leave was not a popular one. The grumblings grew louder the more water we put between our ship and the island. Add the strain of fatigue and hunger and it was a perfect storm for mutiny. I commanded the Quartermaster to secure the firearms and alcohol. It was an uneasy time, but there were enough chores and duties for the now limited deck hands to perform to keep their minds off commandeering the ship. Come nightfall, however, mutiny became the least of my concerns.
One of the men, the ship’s cook, who went by the name of Burgess, began to exhibit the same symptoms witnessed on the island. What was believed at first to be an overboiling of mood and temper¾a disagreement among crewmates often attributed to blowing off steam¾had escalated with the dawning realization that the same disease that had forced us to strand half our crew on some God-forsaken island had followed us on board, stowing away in the bodies of the men who had escaped.
A level head was needed as panic among the crew quickly spread. When a second crew member began to exhibit the same peculiar behaviors, an Us versus Them mentality inevitably surfaced. While the numbers were in their favor, the remaining crew quarantined the two below deck. Some chose not to touch the infected, using their swords as buffers. Some even suggested the infected were a threat and needed to be sacrificed to the sea for the well-being of the rest. As Captain, I reminded the men of our duty to both God and our good conscience. My belief was that the infection, however transmitted would somehow be negated once we returned to the very same place that initiated these strange events that had befallen us. The blue veil, I began to refer to it; that unusual phenomenon that sucked us into a storm and into this unpredictable realm. We must return to the very spot and, hopefully, reverse whatever was happening to the crew. I pointed to the night sky to make my case.
As discussed previously, after breaching the blue veil, it was noticed by our navigator that the configuration of the stars was the same but their alignment was off, and only now was I able to put forth the reason why. Star fields shift over time, and if my navigator’s calculations were correct, we were in a time that precursed civilized man. Perhaps our presence here had rebirthed the ancient primitive in every man that civilization and civilized behavior buries deep.
The crew, though scared, took my theory to heart, and with renewed vigor, steered our vessel back the way we had come. It was now a race against time. And though I liked to believe that faith mattered in times of trial and tribulation, I suspected our situation would get much worse before it got better.
Thankfully, the seas were kind, the salt air a pleasant reminder as to why we became sailors in the first place. There is none such peace to be found than the steady rise and fall of ocean waves. With morning’s arrival came a remarkable vision upon the horizon ahead: the blue veil we had previously encountered in what seemed like eons ago but was a mere five days prior.
But, as fate would have it, the crew’s time had run short. The changes experienced by the two crewmen in the ship’s cargo hold was now spreading throughout the remaining men¾even the two men who had stayed with me on the ship as we sat anchored outside the reef watching the events on the island unfold. The men’s regression spawned behaviors only fear and uncertainty can manifest. Fights broke out over the limited food and water. The more naturally aggressive members of the crew intimidated the weaker members into submission with threats of violence. But among the strongest, the Quartermaster included, the scuffles were more than mere territorial posturing. Blood was spilled and a deckhand was brutally beaten, his life extinguished in a fight for dominance and leadership. The ship’s crew had become a tribe, much like the tribe on the island we had stumbled upon.
While the men’s attentions were focused on their savage initiations, I had secured the ship’s wheel on a course heading straight toward the center of the blue veil. As I was the last of the crew to remain unchanged, I then locked myself in my cabin in the hopes that all of this madness would subside once the blue veil had been pierced.
20th March 1886
And here I sit, while a storm tosses the HMS Windborne from side to side and buries her in wave after monstrous wave, a captive on my own ship. Not to mention the hideous apparitions and ghostly creatures that have returned to haunt us, true monsters of the deep that have come to feast on the souls of seafaring men who dare to pierce the blue veil only to drown in the horrors of the unknown. And it appears what remains of the crew of the HMS Windborne will soon join them.
The men outside my door have no interest it seems in keeping the Windborne from capsizing. Perhaps the knowledge they once possessed has disappeared along with their humanity. But above the din, I hear not their angry tones of aggression but what sound like cries of desperation¾a mewling like that of blind, helpless pups after their mother has slipped away¾as if beseeching me to be the captain that I am and take control of our floundering vessel.
Unfortunately, the light from my oil lamp has revealed to me something more disheartening than the fate of the Windborne. My hands have begun to grow thick and unwieldy, my arms have become heavy as lead. I can feel my face changing, my forehead pressing down, my lower jaw protruding. Even my lips, teeth and tongue are reshaping, reforming, returning to their ancestral origin. As the last to remain unchanged I believed I was immune. I believed God had reserved a special place for me as this voyage’s one saving grace. But no. Perhaps there is no God and we are all at the peril of our circumstances, and our one true purpose, above all, is to simply survive what nature rains down upon us.
In the hopes that my penmanship will still be legible, I write these last few lines in haste. I speculate that even if we successfully pierced the blue veil and returned to a civilized time, could the damage be undone? That said, even if we managed to return to our former selves, after what has been revealed would we be able to live with this knowledge of who we truly are inside?
My mind is now made. Whether by the fading intellectual in me or the brute I am about to become, the choice appears simple: a change of course is the only way forward.
In a moment I will unlock my cabin door, the last few pages of this ship’s log torn from its binding, rolled and stuffed into a rum bottle and sealed with wax. I hope to toss this last testament into the blue veil in the hopes that it will be found on the other side and serve as a warning to others who may venture near.
I trust my men, however impaired, will recognize that I am still their captain, one whose primitive heart carries the same blood as our ancestors; one who now feels the same tug and pull of the island, like a whisper of fate luring us to a new dawn. Or, perhaps, a very old one.
I trust the captain in me will serve me well as I endeavor to right this ship and shepherd us safely home.
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