Aclinic

by Pierce Nahigyan

Strange things were found when the ship sailed over the aclinic line. The wind ceased, the sea calmed. There was a screaming heard briefly, over the last flapping of the mainsails and the snaky twitching of the riggings, like someone we’d left behind calling out to us to come back, turn around. And many a man turned around to see what shrieked. And to a man, none of them would return from the voyage.

Strange things bumped against the hull, strange things that looked like flotsam but moved like eels. And there were no other ships that we saw, nor animals, just these wriggling rags and timber colored fish. They smelled like fish. I asked the captain what bearing to take but he hushed me with a thick, dirty finger. He’d been rubbing his thumb into the bowl of his pipe, burning it, tamping down until there was nothing but a hard sediment of tobacco not fit for smoking. “Don’t speak,” he said. “Keep your eyes to the horizon. Hold fast to the wheel.”

I felt the helm push against me. Despite the pull of the current or the push of the breeze, the tiller ropes growled. And for a moment, while the men turned back to the voice of the crier, I faced the horizon, and the horizon faced me. I felt the vast line of earth and sky glare, and stare. Such a terror lurked behind that red vacancy that I nearly let go of the wheel. I wanted to cry out. My knees knocked like bones drumming the wet boards. But the captain reached for my shoulder, and his fingers bit into me, hard, digging through my pea coat. “Eyes to the horizon,” he commanded. “Don’t lose it.”

The horizon moved.

I held the ship on course for hours, with the captain at my side, his hand never wavering upon my shoulder, and I kept the horizon before me, where I knew it should be, where it sometimes did not seem to stay. And when the darkness came, with it came strange, revolting stars.

No man relieved me. The captain kept the watch. And in the morning half the crew was gone, and the compass swung north once again.