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The Black Boat

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Cape Disappointment . What a name. There’s historical significance, I guess, to why it’s called that. Some explorer or another didn’t find what he was looking for, so he took it out on the land. I laugh a little to myself as I park my truck, walk up to the railing outside the small little coast guard station to get a look at the river, at where the ocean meets the freshwater. Big boats come and go, and the breeze is nice. 

I know what you’d say if you knew about the history here. Typical man

As I’m watching, a woman comes out of the center and joins me at the railing. She’s clearly the officer on duty. I try not to make my interest too obvious, yet after a few minutes she looks at me and smiles. 

“First time here?” she asks. 

“Um..yes.” I manage to smile back, hoping I’m not blushing too badly. It’s been a long time since a pretty woman has smiled at me like that. It makes me miss you, A-Qing. “I’m just passing through, officer…?”

“Jiang Yanli.” Her smile is so kind as she extends her hand. “And you?”

“I’m...I’m Qin Su.” We shake, and then turn back to the water. I chew the inside of my cheek, watching the passage, currently empty of the large ships that would be coming through it. “Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to them?”

“I’m allowed a break once in a while.” Jiang Yanli gestures at the water. “And there’s not much traffic now.” 

“What about that boat?” I point to a smaller boat floating near the mouth of the passage, painted all in black. It looks empty, from afar. My hands reach for my binoculars, but Jiang Yanli’s hand is on my arm, holding it down. 

“Don’t pay attention to that boat,” she says, softly. She’s so much closer than before, right next to me. “It only brings trouble.” 

“But…” I glance back at the boat. I can’t help myself, even if it looks deserted. “Why? It’s just a boat.” 

Jiang Yanli looks away, then back again. There’s a terrible despair in her eyes, a heavy weight that makes me wish I hadn’t asked. You would’ve been so much braver than me, A-Qing; you would’ve forged ahead to get the answers you needed. I’d rather run away right now, if not for how Jiang Yanli still holds my arm. 

“Nobody knows where it came from.” Her grip loosens but she doesn’t let go. “My brothers always used to watch for it, wanting to know where it came from. Why it always sat there, why the tourists who passed through never noticed it. And one middle brother, Wei Ying, declared he would solve the mystery once and for all.” 

I watch Jiang Yanli’s throat bob as she swallows. “He rented a kayak and went out to the boat. We lost sight of him, somehow, even though it was the middle of a sunny, cloudless day. He never came back. And when he didn’t, my youngest brother became obsessed with that boat. He insisted it had taken Wei Ying somehow, and he was angry. So he rented a kayak and went the same way as Wei Ying. I haven’t seen him since.” 

I can feel the pressure behind my eyes; I want to cry. I can’t imagine how it must have felt, and yet I can. Because of you, A-Qing. Because of A-Yao, the day he disappeared. 

I look back to the boat and now I see...something. Something, on the deck. 

With trembling fingers, I pull Jiang Yanli’s hand away and lift my binoculars. And on the boat…

There they are. Dozens of faces, staring at me as I stare at them. So many dressed in fashions that are decades out of style. They all have the same listless, blank expression, mouths hanging open, their empty eyes riveted in my direction. 

And at the front, on two opposite sides, are two boys. I don’t know what Jiang Yanli’s brothers look like but I know it’s them anyway; one of them looks like her, the same jawline, the same nose, and while the other looks completely different, I can still tell. I don’t know why. I’ve stopped wondering why, after all these months on the road. 

I drop the binoculars, shaking harder. I thank Jiang Yanli for her time, tell her how sorry I am about her brothers. I turn my back on that boat and those empty eyes, nearly running for my truck. 

I can’t do this, A-Qing. I can’t help them. I can only take on so much. 

On the bridge out of the cape, there’s a traffic jam, and as I sit there I can’t help but look toward that passage, toward that boat. And I see the yacht coming through, the yacht that’s--that’s too close. It’s obvious, even from here. It’s going to be a near miss. It’s so close to the black boat--

--Oh, A-Qing. It wasn’t a near miss. The yacht, it, it--

Torn in half by the collision, the black boat sinks. I’m not sure if anyone else on the bridge sees it. There’s no one on the deck, now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I watch the pieces sink beneath the water. I wonder if Jiang Yanli watches too, watches her brothers disappear, forever out of her reach. 

When the jam clears, I drive on. I can’t save everyone, A-Qing. I still have to find you, and stop the Thistle Men. I’m...I’m sorry.