Captain Lepe Deramo collapsed onto the weathered ship deck. He felt in his gaunt frame death’s presence. The two were well acquainted. He had watched his fellow shipmates perish from dehydration, malnutrition, infestation, pox, plague, rum madness, fighting. He had recited final prayers as bodies slid below the waves.
He was utterly alone. He lacked strength to bother with managing tattered sails or with throwing any more objects overboard to lighten the sinking craft. He had cropped his hair short from his face and head. It kept the itching lice away but his skin was scorched and blistered from the relentless sun and salt spray. He had eaten the ship’s vermin. Caught a few, odd fish and ate them without cooking. Drank morning dew condensed in his helmet. The ironies spun around in his mind. He had nearly drowned in torrential rain and now he knew he was completely dehydrated.
He did not know how to meet his Maker. Should he wait for an act of God or plunge into the mesmerizing sea? Did Life choose? Or did Death?
He lay still on a splintered deck staring at the constellations, vaguely aware of his surroundings. Maps lost long ago in an attempted mutiny as hurricane waves pulled screaming sailors into the waters. How long ago? Time had lost its meaning. The ocean seemed to lack seasons, only waves. Some high, some low.
He knew he was delirious again, murmuring to himself. “The water felt shallow here and calmer. I am sure I spied land, again, when breezes carried the smell of cooked fish over cedar embers.” The effort to hear his own voice cost his remaining energy.
Then, he heard It.
A low, soft scratching sound followed by a series of short pops. Perhaps, the failing ship was snapping apart or, he hoped, he had run aground. But he knew every sound of his ship for he had been aboard her nearly a year. This was the sound of stone rasp against metal, a human sound. Or, perchance, the Dark Ocean Ghost that many sailors whispered of had arrived.
Silently, he crawled toward the remains of the mast. One hand to his dagger, one to a remnant of rigging. When he leaned slightly over the edge. He saw what this ship had traveled to find, another kind of human. Dark-skinned, even in the bright moon, the man lay motionless, perhaps dead, on an small, intricately carved log. Near him, curved horns, white flat stones, several wooden spears, an elaborate reed basket rested. Perhaps, he was in a type of cultural funeral boat with his prized possessions. Captain Deramo felt profoundly sad and deeply alone. He wanted to talk to this man that he had come so far to meet.
On his knees, eyes to the night sky, he held tightly to his crucifix and rosary to offer up last rites for himself and the Native. He tried to speak but his parched mouth resisted pronunciation as he began The Penance. Only a sharp, painful syllable escaped his dry lips.
Before the single sound reached the night air, in a single movement, the Native had leapt onto the ship deck, torn the cross ruthlessly away, and was upon Deramo’s throat with a short, penetrating dagger. The captain heard his blood rushing through his ears from the pressure. A Dark Ghost had arrived as an answer to prayers. Death had chosen.
“O adio.” he gasped, his hands lifted toward the phantom. As he drifted into welcome unconsciousness, his last thought was a blur of Native eyes opening wide, both pleading and questioning.
In the North Ocean, they were two. The only two.
Yuta’s dilemma tore at his limbs. This was no warrior. This was a starving man-child, thinner than his youngest grandson. He seemed to be too simple minded to even speak prayer words of his own Far Away People. He had clutched at the silver cross at his throat as Yuta did his own totem. He was nearly dead of dehydration and malnourishment; not even smart enough to distill fresh water using condensation in an otter bag, protect himself from the sun. Nor how to catch the abundance of fishes all around. Against all that he knew to be right, Yuta felt fatherly. Unnecessary death was viewed very poorly by the Great Spirit.
Yuta mentally cursed at himself; he must be getting old. He had measured a full moon movement next to the craft, listening, smelling. Since not a single sound resonated in the ship, he concluded it was empty, as was often the case. He had moved noisily at his work, popping rotting sap and planks off the ship with reckless speed.
Now aboard the craft, he could smell fear and Sickness. He dreaded these more than the man-child. Before he could even determine why, he pulled the thin White One onto his canoe and with rapid, ruthless motions of his mammoth tusk sunk the failing ship.