The things will come for me now. I have trouble finding the words to describe what –even now my voice fails me. The monstrous and bloody things are. . .horrifying and . . . But I must try for who ever, if anyone, finds this. I must send out some kind of warning for had we been warned, had any of us knew. . .
I would face a thousand other deaths than the one that faces me. I look about me now in the slim hope there is a loaded rifle, a sharp blade that I can end myself with first but alas, no. I am not even sure I am any longer of sane mind. My voice is grated and weak but perhaps putting it outside my head into words help me to die with my senses . . .what am I saying? As if I want to.
I do not even know what day it is. Think, Morris, think! It hasn’t been long. The thing has only just happened but in the perpetual day of this Northern hell I cannot say if it is tomorrow then. Tomorrow when? From yesterday I mean. Wasn’t it yesterday we passed within sight of the North Cape? No, the day before. The sun went down. No it didn’t. It’s near Midsummer and never does the sun go down again. Never! Not for me. . .
I am sick with fear. I have a story to tell here, I have to. Someone must know. Who? Who is going to know? If anyone happens here they –I can’t think on it! No one should ever come this way! We were lost. What way is it again? Where were we going? Svalbard. I have no idea where we are. . .or how this place came to be. . .there is whisky in the barrel next to me, sweet elixir of heaven. Perhaps it will calm my voice. I can hardly stand the sound of myself.
It’s still quiet. The stench! Ha! Well now we know what that’s about.
My story, yes, finally I’m a storyteller. All of my life spent writing things in the hope of the glory of being published and lauded. Around the keg of evenings all would tell stories of high adventure, of conquests of women, of riches won and lost and only I weaving those tales of terrific woe and horrifying preternatural beings. To stories then! My stories! I have one last to tell now, let them come after it is said. Another toast to myself, tragic story teller of the North Star Company. . .
We sailed the day after Walpurgisnacht, May 1, aboard the Katarina from Nordenham for Pyramiden, Svalbard Islands with dry goods from the mainland. We were to return in two weeks time after enjoying the hospitality of our Northern kindred with the bounty of those rich archipelagos. We all of us were blear-eyed from the reveling of the night before but that was not a first--oh! To know it would be our last! Once we’d gained the open sea we kept Norway’s shore visible from our starboard until we’d passed Lofoter Isle and from there we followed the path of the Northern Star.
We were our usual company; the Katarina’s Captain Elias Morag, Martin Minsk, the First Mate, myself as Watch, Boatswain Carl Bergen, Able-seaman and First Engineer Claudius Berget and his assistants Gunar Thronson and William Jones, both the ablest seamen I’ve met since Berget, Captain Morag’s nephew, young Thomas whose widowed mother imposed upon her brother to give the boy a future livelihood after her own husband was lost to Aegir’s Feast.
Young Thomas, the gods! Poor lamb and last to die and the look of his face as. . .as . . . My hands shake.
I am mistaken, I am the last to die on this journey into nightmare.
As the sun climbed back into the sky from its resting place near the horizon we faced a So’wester and Minsk began to tack. I began watch at midday and four bells went by as we battled the wind and sea. And then, as suddenly as it had come up, the So’wester quieted and the winds that usually sped us toward our destiny became absent. As the sails snapped and fluttered uselessly, Morag ordered them to shrouds and the motors were put to use.
On this point I am sure we somehow strayed from our course by sinister device. The sun began to lower once more and at the seventh bell a mist began to rise from the sea and lick the boards. From the crow’s nest I watched as the sea became veiled slowly, the mists thickening until I could no longer see the water. Then the gentle swell of the calm Northern Sea changed. It felt almost as if we’d run aground. Minsk ordered the motors stopped and called out to me but all I could offer him was the complete obstruction of the sea by the mists that now began to caress the Katarina arduously as she became still, caught in whatever substance had exchanged itself for sea. He then ordered the sails put out but not a breath of wind stirred anything fore or aft. They hung like the raiment of a corpse. Everything, even the ocean came to silence. I could hear the breathing of those standing onboard. Then the stench arose like a miasma, the stench of rotten flesh and our breaths turned to gasps.
“The devil!” shouted Bergen. The others were silent, some holding their sleeves against their faces.
Again, Minsk shouted up to me to look, something had to be seen. Taking up my glass I carefully scrutinized the mists around us. I saw nothing in them. For my second round I raised the glass higher to take in the swirling pall and thought I saw something resembling a turret about a knot away from us.
“There’s a structure a hundred yards starboard!” I shouted down.
“What is it, can you see it well enough?!” shouted the Captain who had joined the company from his quarters.
I squinted into the glass. The mists swirled and completely obstructed the thing.
“No, I can’t see it!” I shouted back.
I looked down to see their upturned faces like pale orbs floating in the mist that now enveloped the Katarina, encasing her in gossamer twilight and sickening odor.
“Keep post!” Morag yelled.
I resumed my perusal in the surrounding fog while the crew below me huddled. Shapes appeared to form but dissolved before materializing. I thought more than once that I could see another crow’s nest or a battlement of some kind at varying distances from our starboard. I pulled my compass from my pocket. South-South-East. I tapped on the glass face of it. How did we get turned around?
“Minsk,” I shouted down at the huddle. “Check your compass, mine seems to be malfunctioning. . .”
I saw him pull his from his coat and promptly tap it as I had done to mine. The Captain looked at his. They looked at each other. It was at this moment that a shadow traversed my peripheral vision. It loomed across my line of sight at the level of the Crow’s nest like a giant bird of some kind but was gone before I could see it, becoming part of the mists.
“What was that?” called the Captain.
“I didn’t quite catch it, Sir! I—“
Just then the ship keeled aft-ward as if we’d been hit by. . .as if we’d been hit. All those standing on deck were thrown to the boards. I clung to my perch but my glass fell and disappeared. I hit the deck before the Czarina sluggishly became upright. Without being told the crew assumed emergency positions; the Captain at the helm, Minsk at his side giving orders to the bosun and Berget’s men. Young Thomas was ringing the distress bells.
We perched at intervals around the perimeter of the ships deck but we may as well have been blind. We listened but we may as well have been deaf. Everything was silent and still save the mists that swirled around us, colored weakly by the midnight sun that was somewhere near the western horizon.
“Bring me the harpoon!” Captain Morag ordered. One of the men came almost immediately with it and Morag, holding fast to it lowered it off the port side. The pole was over twelve feet in length, the iron almost three feet longer. Morag leaned over the rail holding fast to the end of it. Two men stood on either side, ready to pull him in should something happen.
He lowered it into the damnable mist. “I’ve hit a surface, I think,” Morag half-whispered. Suddenly, the pole jerked from his hands. Morag had the presence of mind to let it go but the men grabbed him, pulling him back. He had a puzzled look on his face.
“Not water. . .nothing. Something --” was all he could manage.
Then the thing that hit us previously hit us again, this time on the port side. The impact sent us sprawling across the deck, Jones screaming as he was catapulted over the side and down into. . .ashis screams became shrill, inarticulate shrieking before fading and we were again enveloped in the stinking mist and silence.
The Katarina became upright again. The ships bells rang erratically.
“Go and get Thomas,” Morag said to a wide-eyed Bergen.
“Cap’n,” Bergen was trying to put to words what none of us could.
“Get Thomas, I said.”
“Aye.” Bergen scuttled away.
Morag looked at me and Minsk. “Get the canon, he said, “And the HEI’s.”
The canon was in the hold. We’d never needed the thing, it was only for confidence. We brought it up into the cabin and whilst we were below we checked the boards for any damage that might have been done by the blows. A quick but thorough perusal showed that the ships sides held together, at least then. We’d only gotten the gun to the ropes when Thronson screamed, “DRAUGAR!!! Gamall bluouger gyga! Hingal gaeta –“ and then in English “No! No! AHH!! GOD IN HEAVEN!! AHHH!!!!”
We heard them running across the deck and Morag literally threw young Thomas on top of us before jumping in the hole, Bergen on top of him.
“The hatch!” they both screamed at us, Morag pushing me aside and grabbing the ring swung the hatch closed and bolted it.
The silence surrounding our gasps was more terrifying than the noises of Thronson. Both Morag and Bergen stared at the bolted hatch while Thomas whimpered quietly at my side. Presently, Morag looked at us.
“Load the gun,” he hissed at us. “Make ready.”
For what? “What happened?” I asked.
Bergen looked at me dumbly, his eyes glowing eerily with a look of horror I’d never imagined let alone seen before.
“Do as you’re told!” The Captain was already behind me hoisting the box of ammunition above our heads.
We quickly set the canon, loaded it and readied it aimed at the hatch, the silence terrifyingly thunderous in the passage. Nothing was heard above, or below. It seemed an eternity we stood gathered around the gun, staring upward, listening. Eventually we dared to look at each other. Captain Morag and Bergen stared out from pale orbs, one in utter disbelief, the other in utter horror.
“What in God’s name is going on?” I demanded. “What happened to Thronson? What was he saying?”
The Captain looked at Thomas. “What did you see?” he asked him as gently as he could.
Thomas shook his head and did not stop until I held it in both my hands. “It’s all right Thomas, it’s all right,” I tried to soothe the boy but he was worse shaken than the men.
“He was speaking in the old language,” Minsk offered, “The first thing he screamed was draugar.”
“What does that mean?” I asked him.
Minsk paused a second. “I think it means. . .” he stopped.
“What does it mean?” I insisted.
“Dreg, ‘flesh eater.’” Minsk crossed himself. “He said draugar, that’s more than one.”
We’d spread out a little in the cabin. Bergen was standing next to a port gripping the ropes as if he needed them to stand. The light from the port suddenly went dark.
“Bergen!” the Captain screamed just as the hole burst open and a . . .an arm, tentacled, its rubbery flesh hanging obscenely, wrinkling around the clawed fingers grasped Bergen by his neck, bent him toward and squeezed his head off through the hole where the port used to be. Another tentacled arm appeared and wrapping Bergen’s body in their clutches dragged him out.
Thomas was screaming.
“THE GUN!!!” yelled Morag and we fell over each other turning the canon around. Minsk lit the fuse and we held fast. Morag pushed Thomas behind us.
The canon exploded into the torn side of the Katarina, tearing an even bigger hole as powder flashed and smoked mingled with the mists roiling inside, bringing the death stench with it. As the smoke cleared, the beast raised up, showing itself.
How does one describe that which not only should not be? It appeared to be, or to have been human, or something resembling but did not any longer. It grinned at us, meat and cloth hanging from its fangs, blood dripping down its neck and chest. The skin was greenish orange and glowed with unearthly brilliance as did its mysterious green eyes that swirled like the mists around us. The canon had not touched it. As we stood staring it seemed to drift closer and we backed away from it. The ports behind us shattered as another creature seized Minsk in its slimy grasp and I felt his hand rip from my shoulder.
“Get Thomas to the hold!” Were the last words of the Captain before he was gone in a melee of fleshy, greenish orange tentacles.
I grabbed Thomas and ran when another crash beside us erupted, hurling me off my feet. I landed on my back clutching Thomas to my chest. His face was frozen in terror, his wide eyes glazed with the defeat of death as he was torn from my embrace.
I scrambled to my feet and made the hold, not only bolting the door behind me but throwing everything I can find in front of it. By the time I stopped every crate, every ballast, every sack of goods was piled high against the door. I now huddle in the corner furthest from the door where it’s dim but not completely dark. Nothing is ever completely dark in the Northern hemisphere from May until September.
It is silent again, save my rambling into this recorder. I know the silence will not be for much longer. I remember now those dread tales, the ones inspiring me to my own tale-telling, heard around the bonfires of Wintersnight told by the toothless hags who still remember the Gods and their curses of long ago. The Draugr, not living, not dead, not human, not animal, to be prevented, but not vanquished once encountered. Now I—
The recording cut off.
Wasn’t that the wrong way?
“This was in that mess of stuff drudged up in our nets?” Ian asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I noticed it when I was dumping the stuff. I thought it might have some cool music or something.”
“You thought.” Ian sneered. “Quit messing around and help me pull in the nets.” He looked up into the sky. “It’s probably about eleven pm. Looks like noon. I’ll never get used to this midnight sun business I tell you.”
“You don’t think it’s for real?” I asked.
“Are you shitting me?! Someone has a weird sense of humor telling a dumb story like that. As if! C’mon, let’s get going. We should be close to Svaldbard by this time tomorrow.”
We pulled in the nets. Our fishing excursion this summer in the North Sea had turned out to be costly. We’d caught nothing worth keeping. I took the wheel while Ian tied up the nets and gear. A mist was beginning to form in kind of thick swirls ahead. I look at the compass on the board: South-South-East.