The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities
[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the fourth of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]
On the planet simply known as The Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?
Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled The Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.
So no one expected the descent of the rockets. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the first rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”
The City of Newlondon
The delta city of Newlondon is home to blue-eyed fishermen and The Globe’s finest sailors. They sail the South Sea and ply the Elizabeth River, carrying trade all the way to Belmont.
This story is set in Newlondon on the Night of the Rocket …
The Beast Below
by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Water crashed up the boat’s side, spraying Antonio and stinging his eyes. He staggered across the deck.
Oars thrashed against the water as sailors battled the sea, their voices raised to the rhythm of their rowing. “Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”
The shadow of Newlondon’s harbor defenses disappeared in the fog shrouding the city, now a speck on the horizon, as the boat drew further into the ocean. On all sides, the open sea vanquished everything, including the death that lurked beneath the surface. The death that waits for me, Antonio thought.
“…Our eyes we’ll hide from the monster’s glow. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”
This far from land, the ocean was no more than a grave. How many bodies lay buried on its bottom?
How did I get into this mess? Antonio scolded himself. Better yet, how do I get out of it?
“…Unfurl the sail, the ale will flow. With sharpened spear we’ll slay the foe…”
He toyed with the loose thread wrapped around his finger and closed his eyes. Images of Bianca flooded his mind. He forgot the salty tang filling his nostrils, pushed away the wind whipping his cheeks raw, lost to the memory as the sailors’ chant drifted into the distance.
“…And bring him home for a pot of gold. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”
Bianca’s siren song pulled him deeper. “Oh, Antonio, I am forever yours. Yes!”
How was that only yesterday? Now I’m on this deathship?
On the harbor cliff, Antonio took her tender hand. Bianca beamed at the delicate piece of twine circling her ring finger, and the matching one around Antonio’s.
“Marry me, Bianca. I’ll take every trade run from here to Belmont to afford a ring. I promise to give you the life you deserve.”
Antonio and Bianca, intertwined, weaved a path through the harbor back to his scow, oblivious to the incessant crowing of the crews preparing ships for launch. The tall masts of larger trade vessels towered over their heads. Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere.
“Antonio! Will you not stop for your best friend?” a voice demanded from behind.
Antonio and Bianca whirled to see a panting Solanio chasing after them.
“I’ve only been trying to catch you from three docks over. The fog isn’t that thick today, mate.”
“Sorry, friend. I think we may have been lost in a fog of our own making.” Antonio smiled at Bianca.
“It’s the most marvelous day, Solanio! Antonio has asked me to be his wife.”
“Glorious news indeed,” Solanio kissed Bianca’s hand and eyed the twine on her finger. “But it’ll take a lot more than the measly trading runs you’re doing to give this woman the ring she deserves.”
Antonio caught the faint darkness clouding his friend’s eyes. “I’m due to make one of those measly runs right now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Bianca gave Antonio a sweet kiss of goodbye. Solanio and Antonio watched as she headed into the village, deftly avoiding the fallen ropes at her feet.
“Let me know when you want to make some real money, brother. You don’t want that one slipping away,” said Solanio.
“I’m not desperate for one of your schemes yet, Solanio. See you tomorrow.”
Antonio hopped aboard his scow. He started the engine sequence and secured the rest of his cargo before pulling away from his slip.
Antonio disengaged the maglock, pushing away from Whitehall’s dock.
One more stop in Finsbury, then back to my Bianca.
The thought warmed him like the sun reflecting off the looming towers across the marsh. Antonio pushed the throttle, he couldn’t wait to return to that gloomy, beautiful port, and to his love.
Something landed on the deck behind him. Antonio spun straight into a punch, throwing him off-balance. The cloaked figure didn’t wait for Antonio to regain his senses, lunging for the cargo.
Antonio jumped on the pirate, prying him off the hold. The bandit swung again. This time, Antonio dodged and returned a slug, inflicting a sickening crack to his attacker’s ribs. The pirate grabbed a hidden laser-edged knife and slashed toward Antonio.
Antonio grabbed his opponent’s wrists as they grappled on the deck. Forearms bulging, the pirate pressed the knife toward Antonio’s neck.
Antonio kicked his attacker, grabbed a rigging knife from his boot, and stabbed in one swift rush. The bandit fell back on the deck, motionless. Antonio’s heart pounded as he looked to the pirate and then to the blade he still held in his hands.
A whirl overhead caught his attention. A Whitehall drone circled, then zoomed back toward the city.
What have I done?
Antonio covered the body with a tarp and sped back to Newlondon in the growing darkness. When he arrived, he docked in the visitor moorings instead of his own slip. He stowed the knife back in his boot and ran to Solanio’s office in the harbor.
“Solanio, I need your help!”
“Brother, what happened?”
“A pirate attacked me. There was a drone. It happened so fast. What am I to do?”
“I know a place for you to hide while I take care of everything. Follow me.”
Solanio grabbed a chain of keys from the hook on his door and hastened to the harbor wall.
Antonio followed him through the fret that masked the city. The tang of fish stung the back of his throat, and voices from the market echoed in the distance above the cymbal-crash of waves. Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs, and the salty fog surrounded the harbor’s defensive bastions.
“Over here.” Solanio stepped aboard a boat, fumbling with his keys. Antonio paused. Solanio unlatched a door. It swung open, leading below deck. “Antonio! What are you waiting for?”
“Bianca. They’ll come for her first. I need to get her out of—”
“Antonio. Listen to me. If the drone recorded you killing someone on the river, you need somewhere to lay low. Sea fret won’t keep you hidden long. Not from the drones.”
“I’ll take care of Bianca. You have my oath.”
“You swear it?”
Solanio’s lips squirmed in an eel-like smile. “Leave her to me. She’ll come to no harm.”
Solanio grasped Antonio’s arm, compelling him into the cabin. Solanio closed the door, eclipsing Antonio in darkness. A click snapped through the lock. Antonio tried the handle, but it wouldn’t give.
“Solanio!” he cried.
His shoulder crashed against the bolted door. From beyond, voices and footsteps mingled, and the floor swayed with the familiar rocking that belongs to a boat on water. Antonio grabbed the knife from his boot and lit the blade. Its laser shimmered, revealing a hook and pole on the wall. Engines rumbled as he snatched the hook and fixed it on the door’s seam. He extinguished the knife, replacing it in his boot, and heaved. His sinews burned as he wrestled the latch over and over. All the while, the engine’s low murmur disguised his grunts.
He threw himself upon the pole, wood splintering. The door split, sending Antonio stumbling onto the deck. Fog blanketed the ship. Through the mist emerged the captain’s hulking frame. His ice-blue eyes narrowed, and his lip curled into a smile as he stroked his beard and stomped towards Antonio.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? Looks like we’ve got ourselves a stowaway, lads!”
Antonio ran to the boat’s edge. Even at its widest stretch, he could swim the Elizabeth River without breaking a sweat.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the captain roared.
Antonio straightened up. “By how long we’ve been sailing, I reckon we must be near Westminster by now.”
The captain threw his head back. “Did you hear that, lads? This tar thinks we’re on the river!”
Crewmen howled, their laughs rippling across the deck.
The captain raised his hand, commanding quiet. “What’s your name, sailor?”
“Well, Antonio, welcome aboard The Tempest, the finest deathship this side of Belmont.”
Deathship! “You can’t be serious? We’re not—”
“Aye. We’re in open waters. Lads, kill the engines. Oars at the ready. If we’ve any hope of making it to the deep, we’ll need to run silent from here on out.”
Antonio’s mouth gaped open. “You’re a hunting ship?”
“That we are.”
“I never heard of a ship ever returning from a hunt.”
“We may make it back yet.” The captain winked. The engines’ rumble faded, and the ship lurched as it slowed.
Antonio scoured The Tempest for a way out. But all he saw was water and mist. “You have to turn around. I’m not supposed to be here.”
The captain shook his head. “You think any of us are supposed to be here? That any sane man would take on the hunt unless we weren’t up to our eyes in debt? Debt will drown you faster than the ocean, lad.”
“If we return without a creature’s corpse, we’d be better off sunk. The only way I’m turning this boat around is with a kraken in tow. Y’hear?”
“But… it’s suicide.”
“That’s why they pay so much. Now, are you gonna grab an oar, or do I have to force you in the brig?”
Antonio shook his head. This can’t be happening. Solanio. You murderer.
The crew slung their oars over the side of the boat and cried out in song to the beat of their strokes.
“Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”
Antonio stroked the twine on his finger. He clasped his hands together, pretending it was Bianca’s, trying to remember the softness of her skin and push away the calluses of his own. He opened his eyes as The Tempest crested the waves.
A shudder rocked the boat.
“Hold, lads!” the captain bellowed.
The sailors lifted their oars, and a hush descended. Antonio turned his ear to the waves.
Another shunt wobbled the ship.
A chill shuddered through the breeze. Antonio stepped to the boat’s edge. He peered into the murky water, where a faint glow skittered across its surface.
A strange fluorescence lit the ocean, spreading, growing. It shone brighter still, and the water glistened in a deathly haze.
“Weapons at the ready!” the captain yelled.
Sailors manned the guns, replacing their oars with blaster rifles.
The light intensified, as if the whole ocean were on fire. Then the creature broke through the flames. Its first tentacle writhed up from the abyss, stretching taller than the masts that lined the port, and wide as the pulsar turrets guarding the Elizabeth river.
Another tentacle broke through the inferno, twice as big, and still another, before the body of the creature turned the light to shadow. It shrieked a wail as it towered over the boat. A thick hide menaced its skin with spikes, like a thousand harpoons encrusted with boils hard as steel. The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow, and a single green eye cast a light on the boat bright as the lighthouse on East Cove.
If hell had a hide, it would have chosen this one.
The ship pitched and rolled as more tentacles wrapped around the gunwale. Men clutched their rifles, eyes wide in terror.
“Steady, lads! Fire when ready!” the captain commanded.
The first blasts struck the beast’s side. It shuddered and shook but did not retreat.
“It’s laughing at us.” Antonio’s voice was lost in the roar of the tossing and thrashing.
The captain growled, trying to match the leviathan, and charged across the deck. As he aimed his rifle, a gnarled tentacle flicked him overboard. Antonio covered his gaping mouth with his hand. He felt the twine on his finger.
Bianca. Bianca. Bianca.
The mantra fueled Antonio into action.
“Aim at the eye! Don’t waste time on its hide.”
Half the men obeyed while the rest were either huddled crying for their mothers or frozen in panic. Rifle blasts battered where it’s face should be, though there was no sign of a mouth.
“Keep going, men! Blind the beast!”
In a rage, the creature slammed its body onto The Tempest’s deck. The shockwave flung most of the sailors to their watery graves. Those who braced themselves continued their attacks. Antonio searched frantically for a gun. Gobs of neon green littered the deck. The only thing he could grasp was the hook and pole he’d escaped the cabin with. Antonio secured his knife to the hook. He engaged the laser and faced the beast.
A shot landed squarely in the creature’s eye. It released an ear-piercing cry as its face split, revealing its cavernous maw. Spiraling rows of teeth vibrated from the roar, like tiny saw blades waiting to hack its victims. A vicious emerald light emanated from its throat, hypnotizing the other men. Antonio seized his chance and dodged the lacerating teeth, thrusting the makeshift harpoon deep into the roof of the glowing deathtrap.
He sunk the knife, pulling the blade straight through the creature’s lantern eye, and sending it flying onto the deck. Brains and flesh rained down as the creature thrashed its last. Green ooze dripped from Antonio. The kraken’s eye stared at him from his feet, until its glow extinguished. The monster stilled, collapsed over the boat, almost bringing it under with its weight.
Antonio’s chest heaved. The creature’s stink invaded his nostrils, and he spat its bitterness from his mouth. He pocketed his knife and wiped the stain of the beast from his body.
It’ll take more than that to get rid of me, Solanio.
A violet hue danced across the waves.
Antonio grabbed an oar, and plunged it into the water, tugging with all his might. The few remaining sailors pitched their oars alongside him. His fingers wrapped around the wood so tight, it pressed the twine into his flesh, but all he could do was smile.
I’m coming, Bianca. Wait for me.
Then a faint glow shot across the surface of the water. He stopped rowing and craned his neck over the ship’s edge. A violet hue danced across the waves.
No. Not another. It can’t be.
He grabbed his blade and stood, calling out to the water.
“You can’t have me! I won’t let you!”
The glow intensified and the ocean lit up. But no creature emerged.
“Come on! Show yourself!”
He waited, but there was no beast. Only light. And then he looked up, towards the sky, where the same glow shimmered even brighter.
If you enjoyed Frasier and Shanel’s story, please share some kind comments below.
Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross. Set in the city of Finsbury, it’s filled with longing, regret, and a buried secret.
Finally, you can also enjoy the first three tales in the Globe Folio:
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- You just read: “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1″ by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2″ by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change–Part 1″ by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change–Part 2″ by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1″ by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross