Beware of the Chimera!
She was of divine race, not of men, in the fore part a lion, in the hinder a serpent, and in the middle a goat, breathing forth in terrible manner the force of blazing fire.
And Bellerophon slew her, trusting the signs of the gods.
(Homer, Iliad 6.181, 9th century BC)
Chapter 1: The Omen
He was running. Running for his life. Running from death personified. There was the putrid smell of decomposition and sulphur and the sickening sweetness of blood. It was all around him. Even he himself stank. He didn't want to think about it. In fact, he was way too scared of what this might mean. The air was heavy with it and it made him gag.
He ran and ran and ran...and still it seemed it got him nowhere.
Looking behind him, he saw nothing but oppressive darkness. Yet, there was something breathing its hot, stinking breath in his neck. He could feel it. He had no idea what that thing was. A who or a what? Did it really matter?
His heart was thumping so hard it felt like it would break out of his chest any moment.
No breath. No air. Except for the stinking air which made him gag.
His ears... A permanent ringing sound and the rush of his blood. And something else. The snorting and growling of something big... Invisible. And still his senses were hyper assaulted by this presence which oozed evil and decay. A fire-breathing creature from hell... There was no doubt about it.
Moreover, he knew there was no way outrunning it.
Fear was taking a strangling grip on his heart and it made his chest feel tight.
He stumbled and fell. “Oh no! Oh, no-no-no-noooo!”
A deafening roar assaulted his ears and, turning onto his back, both arms held up ready to protect himself – a futile act, he soon realized – he got a visual of the hunting creature for the first time.
A hell hound...Cerberus! Or no... The body of a hound, maybe, no...a lion... It had a lion's head with a goat's growing from its back, and its tail ended in the head of a snake. The...creature's eyes were flaming red as it bared its fangs.
Χιμαιρα! The Khimaira or Chimaera! Something he remembered from history classes and reading all about the ancient Greek mythology...and a past case on board a ghost ship: the Chimera!
His heart stopped as the creature from hell leaped at him in attack and he screamed and screamed as he felt its talons tear through his flesh.
Gasping, Timothy McGee shot bolt upright in his chair, the movement stopped short by the seat belt. A hand...his neighbor's hand lay on his arm and he just stared at it.
Then, it dawned upon him. He'd fallen asleep and he'd had a nightmare.
Oh my God!
And the notion he'd made a spectacle of himself – or so he thought – proved enough to make him blush furiously. He hadn't really screamed out aloud, had he?
He swallowed and closed his eyes briefly, attempting to calm down. His heart was still working at a speed more befitting a marathon runner. Heck! He had just run a marathon, hadn't he? It sure felt like one!
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Sure.” Since when had his voice changed into that of a...girl's? He cleared his throat and dug out a handkerchief to wipe his brow. “Just... Fell asleep. Nightmare. Sorry.”
Tim slumped in his seat, still embarrassed but relieved his voice was its normal manly deep again.
“Where are my manners,” the young black woman smiled flashy white teeth – the most perfect set he'd ever seen. “I'm Leora Murphy. How do you do?”
Tim accepted the proffered hand and shook it. “Timothy McGee.”
“Really?” She seemed a little disappointed. “I'd have sworn you were somebody else.”
But then she smiled again. “Never mind. Will you be spending your holiday on the beautiful isle of Antigua?”
“Er, no. Not exactly. I'll be taking the ferry to Montserrat. And, yes, I've got some time off. Are you...?”
“I'm visiting my granny...in Montserrat, so we'll probably be on the same boat.”
“Visiting...” he replied. “You don't live there?”
“No. My parents and I left the island when we lost our home back in 1995. Yeah…buried under some 39 feet of mud and ash when the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted. We relocated from Plymouth to DC. My father's a photographer...”
They talked for a little while until Tim became pensive.
“Uhm... Did I... Did I...make a lot of noise when...when I...a'hem...”
She laughed, shaking her head. “No, you didn't. You were just...well...becoming restless. You gasped a little when you woke up.”
“Nothing more. Really, nobody noticed,” she reassured him with a laugh. “I can see, though, you're in need of a holiday. You must be having a stressy job, right?”
Then, he yawned, and suddenly realizing it, he quickly brought his hand over his mouth to cover it. “Sorry....”
“No need. You must be quite tired.”
“I am,” Tim admitted. “My job...can be rather...taxing. And getting everything ready for my trip... You know. Rush-rush.” He grinned.
“Well, I'll leave you to catch up on some sleep while you still can.”
“Thanks. Sound advice.”