The Seventh Hour(7)By: Tracey Ward
She’s looking to the land, the continent that’s always on our starboard. Dark shadows scurry across the landscape with torches in hand. They’re running for their holes in the mountains to hide from the storm like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
I shake off my mother’s hands and take hold of her arm. “We should get below decks,” I tell her firmly. “We’ll sit in the parlor and play cards. The worst of it will pass soon.”
She looks to the south where the other ships sail ahead of us. “Your father—“
“Will be fine,” Gav assures her with a practiced, winning smile. “The other Dashers are farther ahead of it than we are and once we speed up we’ll be clear of it. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Yes, you’re right. Livandra,” Mother says to me as she steps closer to Gav. To his reassuring warmth and strength. “Get your shoes and follow us down.”
I smile kindly at her, nodding my head, but I don’t speak. I hold my tongue that dies to thrash against the order.
She frowns at me before she turns.
That’s the last thing I see; my mother’s frown. It’s fitting in a way. My father’s frown was no doubt the first thing I saw when I was born. Abject disappointment should be the last thing I know before I die.
The world explodes as lightning strikes the ship. It pierces the deck, digging deep into the hull where lives, breaths, and babies lie. That’s what occurs to me as I’m thrown backward, spiraling toward the water again with no hand to reach for this time. I think of all the lives on the boat that are already lost. Of all of the lives that will be lost in the coming moments.
I think of Gav; my life, my light, my sun that I’d follow to the ends of the earth.
As I hit the icy water, the world going black as the night, I’m screaming his name.
Even in the muffled world under the weight of the sea, I can hear the ship crack and groan. It’s a lost cause, I know it. Dead as its passengers. And it isn’t the first time. Sailing the seas like we do isn’t as easy and blissful as the people living on the land like to think. When a storm hits, and they always do, Moles can escape into the safety of their mountains, digging and burrowing down. Not us. When a storm strikes at sea you have nowhere to hide. We have to ride it out and pray we survive. And we do it alone.
If a ship is struck as my home has been now, the others don’t come back for survivors. It sounds calloused, and maybe it is, but there’s no other way. The survival of our tribe depends on us making port when planned and remaining in the perfection that is the Seventh hour. For any of us to stray outside of it, ahead or behind, is deadly. We’re not conditioned for the cold or the heat. I can barely see in the dark and when we ride too close to the Sixth hour the glaring light makes my eyes ache in my skull. The heat hurts my skin like a burn from boiling oil.
So I know when I hit the water that I’m alone, as is every other person living on this ship.
I kick hard, reaching with my arms as my lungs scream for relief. I fly through the bubbles and currents that swirl around me, try to confuse me, trap me, bury me. My hands strike against something solid that cracks my bones painfully. I take hold of it in blind desperation. My wide open, terrified eyes see the outline of the object through the water – a broken piece of the hull most likely. I don’t care what it is, it’s floating and it can support me so I pull on it until it brings me topside in a flurry of limbs and gasping breaths.
I break the dark surface just in time to see the ship snap nearly in two. The mast is in flames, the sails being devoured angrily as a violent wind picks up and whips them harshly. There’s screaming coming from every direction, pieces of the ship and the contents of the hull already spilling out into the water.
It’s darker than I’m used to. I can’t tell what’s human and what’s floating garbage. Our lives are scattered across the surface of the water, bobbing like bloated corpses. Despite my blindness, in the distance I spot the receding shape of the other four Dashers. The imposing shape of the massive city slowly moving on. Leaving us alone. Leaving us to die.
“Gav!” I shout, searching frantically for him in the bedlam. “Gav!”