The Crimson Sunrise
A Flash Fiction by Jason Zimmerman and Coralie
My hands slid over the sturdy wooden railing, smoothed by time, as my gaze drifted out over the water. Thick coils of fog wafted through the chilly evening air, stretching out over the surface of the bay like the gnarled fingers of an old man. The sun had charged after the horizon hours ago, and now, the remaining sliver of the moon had chased it until only the stars splattered across the inky sky. We should be setting out again soon. Just a few days more.
Gentle waves caressed the ship, rocking it back and forth to the soothing roar and crash of their eternal song and dance. My feet moved instinctively, shifting my weight as the deck tilted. Wood creaked along the length of the port, moaning in protest.
The low, dull sound of the village’s foghorn rumbled through the night, and I could barely make out the glow of the lighthouse just off the coastline, pressing into the mist. The docks were practically deserted. Not many were out at this hour, and even fewer in this weather. I tugged the collar of my coat up higher and pulled my muddy wool scarf tighter around my neck, trying to bury my nose beneath the scratchy cloth.
Captain and a few other shuffled quietly on deck, probably preparing the ship for Saturday. I glanced over my shoulder to see Eli, the cabin-boy, struggling to drag a trunk behind him.
I hope he doesn’t scratch the deck. Captain’ll skewer for it, and he’s already on thin ice for falling asleep at his post not two days ago. That boy!
I rolled my eyes and returned to staring out into the night. Why did I care what happened to Eli anyway? He was only a cabin-boy.
A loud thud and soft swearing drew my attention back towards him. He shook his hands and glared down at the trunk.
“What’re you doing with that thing anyway?” I asked.
Before Eli could answer, Captain cleared his throat.
I turned and all movement on deck stilled; my friend John with a rope in his hand, Cook with his stew pot and ladle in hand, and a few of the others with crates or maps.
But what caught my eye was the wiry, strange-looking fellow standing next to Captain.
Captain eyed us each in turn then spoke, his voice just loud enough to be heard over the rhythm of the tide beneath us.
“We’re settin’ out a day early.” Captain’s eyes narrowed at the raised brows around us. “Be ready by morn.”
Captain wasn’t a man to mince words. He meant what he said when he said it. We all knew that. He also wasn’t a man who changed his mind lightly. We all started at him expectantly, but by the set of his jaw, it was clear he was finished.
Tomorrow was Friday. Sailing on Fridays meant bad luck.
But no one questioned Captain.
The lanky fellow beside him pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with slender, ink-stained fingers and his dark eyes darted across the deck from man to man, though he never looked any of us in the eye. Whispers raced across the deck, but no one dared voice the question aloud.
The stranger flushed and clutched his worn leather satchel to his chest until his knuckles turned white. The protruding scrolls crinkled in his death grip.
Captain had already turned and was reprimanding Eli for not being more careful with the trunk. John walked over and stood politely behind Eli, waiting for Captain to turn. Captain looked up and waited for John to speak.
“Um, sir. . .you do realize that today is Thursday.” John fidgeted with the rope still in his hand. “Not that you wouldn’t sir, I was just. . .in case you forgot.” Captain’s eyes narrowed, and John’s face colored. “Not that you ever would forget, sir. I know you don’t do things like that. You’re very intentional, ‘course.” He wrung the rope in his hands now.
Captain straightened, but still didn’t speak. John glanced around, his eyes frantically searching the crew, lit by a mild panic. “It is Thursday, isn’t it?”
The stranger licked his lips and shifted his weight, but couldn’t seem to find his balance as the waves rocked once again.
John nodded enthusiastically at the stranger and looked back into Captain’s hard eyes.
“That makes tomorrow Friday, you see,” John said, still nodding stupidly.
“I am well aware of the day, John,” Captain answered evenly. “But our guest,” his eyes moved to the newcomer and then back to John, “has asked to leave as soon as possible. We won’t be ready to set sail at least until dawn, but we can hardly delay further. And so we leave by first light.” He squeezed John’s shoulder, and my own heart beat faster. “Are there any other questions?” Though his eyes never left John’s, his voice somehow addressed us all.
John shook his head fervently and he bolted when Captain released him. The men quickly made themselves busy as Captain disappeared into the lower decks. I stared at him for a second and then moved to the sails, checking knots as John coiled ropes beside me with a furrowed brow.
“He wants to go to Tarshish and he wants to go quick.” Lavi paused by us, settling a crate of provisions on his hip. Tried to get Cap to sail tonight.”
John shook his head. “I’d almost have rathered that than sail on a Friday.”
I ran my hands over my last knot and then moved to my left to continue.
“Strange, though,” Lavi said softly, “You’ve got to admit.” He paused, then leaned in and whispered, “That man, he must have paid Captain a small fortune to leave on a Friday, what with the bad luck and the changing of plans so sudden. Did you see how he’s dressed? And his trunk is full of books too. Man’s some kind of scholar or somethin’.”
John’s brow puckered again and he paused his work to glance over at the man. He turned to me. “What do you make of it, Gal?”
I sighed. “We mind our own business and do as Captain says.”
John shook his head and returned to his work, but Lavi nodded and strode off.
We worked until twilight and had the ship fit to cross the seas once again in record time. Captain ducked out of his quarters and joined us at the helm.
“We’re ready then?” he asked the chief mate. Benjamin nodded crisply, then began barking out orders. Men scrambled to obey his command, despite having worked to the point of exhaustion, and the ship left the docs to the same eerie fog into which we had sailed.
Just as the sun began to peer into the hazy sky, the strange man appeared at my side, resting his hands on the side of the ship.
“I’ve never been to sea before.” His fingers twitched and he pulled at the hem of his tunic. Something in his smile was unsure and his eyes still didn’t rise to meet mine. So he knew how the men felt. Perhaps he was afraid, too. He glanced over his shoulder and back to the docs, hesitation written all over his features.
“It’s a little late to turn back,” My eyes narrowed and my lips almost creased into a smile as I studied him.
He nodded and turned toward the sea, resolution in his eyes. “I’ve made my decision.” We watched as the sun broke across the horizon, lighting the sea aflame. A crimson sky.
The man turned to me, hand extended. “I’m Jonah. What’s your name?”
The winter air didn’t leave near the chill in my bones that the wretched foghorn did as we surged deeper into the blood red sunrise. I eyed the new stranger. “Gal.”
“Gal.” He nodded once again. “I like that name. Well, Gal, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other on this voyage.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder and then sauntered off, completely oblivious to the dark cloud that clung to him thicker than the fog we left further and further behind with each moment. This should prove interesting at the very least.
Thanks so so so much to Jason Zimmerman for working with me to create a little magic! I had a blast writing this with you for YDubs. And thank you for allowing me to share it here! Y’all go check out Jason at Awkward Truth!