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Dark, Cruel Sea

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The storm came up out of nowhere, a darkness on the horizon that raced towards the Vast Explorer faster than seemed natural. A strange green mist preceded it, creeping over the ship, stranded in strangely stilled waters as the engine failed. Over all these years Judson had seen so many strange things at sea but never this. There had been nothing on the radar, no chatter on the airwaves, or weather updates giving warning. Black clouds rolled across the sky, blotting out the sun, plunging him into darkness as the back-up generator failed, cutting out the lights. After more than two decades on-board the Vast Explorer, mostly alone these past years, Judson knew this ship intimately, feeling his way across the galley to where he had stowed an oil lamp in one of the lockers. He lit it, taking momentary refuge in the orange glow it cast out before holding the lamp aloft to guide his way back onto deck. The darkness seemed absolute beyond the meager glow of the lamp, the air heavy and cold, and Judson could feel no movement in the deck beneath his feet as if the ship was sitting in a dry dock rather than afloat in the middle of the ocean.

He frowned when he noticed a green glow just ahead towards the bow, growing brighter with each passing moment. It coalesced into human form, the features indistinct and yet Judson thought them somehow familiar. It rushed towards him and he took a step back as it glided past, tendrils of green mist icy cold against his skin.

"Mac?"

It-she turned and smiled at him before fading away into the darkness towards the stern.

He had not seen her in a decade. She had walked off the ship with a jaunty wave, and he had never seen or heard from her again despite making inquiries. He had always known she had secrets and others hinted that some of those secrets had finally caught up with her. Eventually he sailed on without her, believing she would turn up one day when she was good and ready, acting as if no time had passed at all. Days had become weeks, months... years.

More ghostly green shapes appeared and faded, familiar faces from the past. Some smiled. Old friends he had never quite forgotten. Others were rivals and enemies, and they snarled and snatched at him with icy tendrils as they rushed passed, each of them heading from the bow to the stern before disappearing into the darkness. He saw Gabriel, who had left to follow his father's political aspirations and died too young of heart failure, just forty-two years old. Judson reached for him as he passed, moving to follow the beckoning green tendril of a finger. He saw so many people he had once known and lost, some far too soon and some not soon enough, causing pain and misery to others before they passed on. He found himself studying each blurred face and realized he was seeking one in particular.

Stefan.

As if conjured by his thoughts a shape appeared through the heavy mist and darkness at the bow, gliding towards him with a familiar smile, reminding him of happier days when he and Stefan had worked alongside each other, laughing and playing like kids as they hunted treasure. He recalled balmy days, sunbathing on deck before diving into the sea to check out old wrecks, hunting for the elusive ships that would have carried precious metals and stones from the New World to Spain. Spanish treasure.

Stefan had died in his arms, surrounded by a green mist much like the one that had enveloped the ship, and Judson had mourned him every day since.

Unlike the others Stefan's misty figure lingered, beckoning to him and Judson felt a longing so great he had no choice but to follow, the glow of the lamp parting the darkness as he walked towards the stern. When he reached the rail he felt Stefan's presence beside him, saw him staring out just as he used to do back in those early days when they had loved each other deeply, before Stefan's anger and resentment came between them.

"I've missed you," Judson murmured, and Stefan smiled, holding out a hand.

Judson reached back, his own hand liver-spotted with age, fingers slightly gnarled from too many years at sea in the cold and damp. He was surprised when Stefan's icy cold hand seemed solid, fingers curling around his. Then he was falling, the shock of cold water momentarily shaking off the stupor that had befallen him on deck before Stefan's arms wrapped around him, warmth surrounding him as they sank deeper into the blackness of the dark, cruel sea. Taking him home. Together again. Always and forever.

****

A coast guard vessel came across the Vast Explorer several days later, floating dead on the water. They searched the ship but found no sign of the famed explorer Judson Cross, just the remains of a half-eaten meal in the galley.

The Bermuda Triangle had claimed another victim.

END