Kit reached the Red Lion Inn right behind Mr. Whyte. The two men pushed through the front door together and then stopped abruptly.
The Red Lion was one of the better inns in town, with a low wooden ceiling, whitewashed plaster walls gone gray with smoke, roughhewn wooden benches, and a bar with barstools along one side. It was busy that night, filled with working men and sailors who caroused in every corner, drinking from earthenware mugs and slinging around pitchers offering everything from whiskey, to ale, to mead.
Kit squinted at the sailors closest to him, trying to find his uncle, but the light from the candles and lanterns got caught in the smoke floating above the floor, turning it into a haze that seemed to obscure everything and everyone--not unlike the fog outside. He quickly realized, however, that he didn’t need to see his uncle, he only had to follow the sound of his uncle’s bellow. Although laughter and conversation filled the room, they weren’t loud enough to drown out the sound of John’s strident voice.
“Aye, that’s right, get her over here!”
Sailors had formed a ring around the table at which his uncle sat. Some of the men were laughing, but one sailor—a native of the West Indies with close-cropped brown hair and light, coffee-colored skin—had a deep frown etched into his face.
His leg throbbing, Kit pushed through the sailors with Mr. Whyte at his side, and stopped dead. He drew in a shocked breath.
His uncle had plates and mugs tumbled around him, as if he’d eaten enough for five men. He appeared to be roaring drunk. A few of his teeth had fallen out, and his face appeared even thinner than it had two weeks ago. But it was the look in his John’s eyes that made Kit’s internal temperature plummet: they were dark and bloodshot, and filled with a strange malevolence.
“Get on this table, girl,” John roared. “I aim to relieve you of years’ worth of future trouble.”
A few of the sailors bellowed with laughter. The West Indies man, however, tensed and looked toward something in the corner. Kit followed the direction of his gaze, and stilled too. A young, dark-haired serving girl with a lacy cap atop her head huddled against the wall. She wore a prim gray uniform and her abdomen appeared distended in an unmistakable way. Trembling, with her arms hugged around her belly, she had tears streaming down her face.
Mr. Whyte elbowed him in the ribs. “Look at the table behind the captain’s.”
Kit glanced at the table behind his uncle’s and his stomach rolled sickeningly. A bloody dissected calf carcass lay spread out upon its surface, along with several sharp, wicked-looking knives. The calf’s spine had been meticulously exposed and its entrails placed in a neat pile on a nearby bench. Some of the entrails had been gnawed upon.
Struggling to regain a neutral expression, he refocused on his uncle, who was tossing down a mug of ale and still hadn’t noticed him in the throng of sailors. “Uncle John...”
John slammed his mug down on the table. He looked up to see who had spoken, and when he saw Kit, the harshness in his face drained away. “Kit, what are you doing here?”
Kit exchanged an anxious glance with Mr. Whyte. “Mr. Whyte and I are bringing you back to the Apollyon. The ship sails at dawn. Your men need you on deck.”
“The hell you are. I’ve got more work to do tonight.” John extended a blue-veined hand toward the entrails. For one nauseating moment, Kit thought his uncle planned to pick them up and eat them; but then he saw John clutch the red pearl, which sat near the carcass. John brought it close to his face and stared at it.
Kit could see the pearl’s swirling reddish-black fluid reflected in his uncle’s eyes. “What work, Uncle?”
John’s attitude suddenly shifted from confrontational to quiet. He placed the pearl next to the entrails once again and frowned. With one bloody hand, he picked up a coin pouch and shook it. Coins jingled together. His frown deepening, he held the pouch toward the serving girl. “The girl is my work.”
Her lips forming the word no over and over again, the girl shook her head wildly from side to side and pressed her back up against the wall.
Kit took a panicked step forward. “You can’t tumble her. She’s heavy with child.”
John dropped the coin pouch on the table. “Who said I want to tumble her?”
The circle of sailors around John suddenly became hushed.
His mind awhirl with disbelief and revulsion, Kit stared at his uncle.
John shrugged and refused to meet Kit’s gaze. “It wants to know.”
His uncle swiveled his head to gaze at the pearl, and remained that way for several seconds, like a rat frozen by a snake’s stare. Again, Kit noticed the swirl of reddish-black fluid reflected in his eyes. “What does it want to know?”
“Propagate,” his uncle replied, his lips hardly moving.
“But the girl won’t oblige us.”
“Then we should let her leave, Uncle,” Kit said evenly.
John seemed to snap out of his reverie, and finally looked at Kit. Kit saw the shame in his eyes, along with tears and something else--some raging desire his uncle seemed powerless to control. Just as quickly, though, his uncle’s gaze shifted away.
“Aye, go,” John barked to the girl. “You’re useless if you’re going to argue with me.”
Her bosom heaving, the girl pushed herself out of the corner and hurried away, pausing long enough to give Kit a tremulous smile.
Once she was out of sight, his uncle scowled at the sailors around him. “What kind of crew are you? Don’t you see your captain’s cup is empty? Fill it up!”
Several sailors stepped forward, and one tilted a pitcher to pour amber liquid into John’s mug. John smiled with drunken satisfaction, revealing once again that mouth full of rampant decay, and Kit couldn’t stop himself from recoiling.
John nodded. “Aye, Kit. My teeth are rotting in my head. ‘Tis a wonder I can still eat.” He paused to gesture wildly at his crew. “Bring me oranges, you damned scurvy dogs.”
“You don’t have scurvy, Uncle.”
John shrugged, then picked up his mug and drank its contents down in a single gulp. “Go home, Kit. Before you get hurt.”
The sailor with the pitcher stepped forward to refill his cup, and the next time John looked Kit’s way, his gaze passed over Kit, as though he didn’t exist.
Kit backed away, through the ring of sailors around his uncle and then against the wall, which he pressed against to steady himself. Then he collapsed onto a nearby bench. Mr. Whyte and the West Indies man broke away from the crowd, too, and moved to stand next to Kit.
“You saved that lassie’s life,” Mr. Whyte breathed.
Kit passed a hand over his face, rubbing it in the process. He felt drained. Exhausted.
“This is Bede Bramwell,” the quartermaster continued, gesturing toward the West Indies man. “The captain hired him as the ship’s cook some years back.”
Kit shook hands with Bede. “Good to meet you, Mr. Bramwell.”
“You too, Mr. Cabot.”
A sudden, unintelligible shout from John drew their attention. Kit could see his uncle was becoming louder and more quarrelsome by the moment.
Bede gazed at John with wide eyes, then turned away, his face tense. “What do we do now?”
“We wait until he passes out,” Kit said, “and then we carry him back to the ship.”
“Aye, laddie,” the quartermaster agreed.
John interrupted them with another lusty bellow. Kit heard the strangeness in his uncle’s voice, that malicious, evil edge, and sagged. This problem seemed to be getting bigger by the moment. “What do you two think is behind his breakdown?”
“It must be the orb,” Mr. Whyte said, his voice low.
“It looks like a red pearl.”
“Indeed it does.”
Kit quirked his eyebrows. “What in God’s name is it?”
“I don’t know.” The quartermaster took a seat next to Kit. “The captain changed the day he found the thing, though. So somehow, it’s involved.”
Bede also took a seat on the bench. “In the West Indies, we call it Sasabonsam.”
Kit swiveled to regard Bede closely. “What’s a sasabonsam?”
“It’s an evil spirit. It sucks the life out of you, and takes your soul.”
“Bede is the son of an Obeah man,” Mr. Whyte interjected. “He knows about these things.”
“An Obeah man?”
“A priest of sorts,” Bede clarified.
Kit’s lips twisted. “Really? A priest, you say? Well, he needs a lot more than a priest.”
“You’re right. He needs you,” the quartermaster agreed. “If you care at all for him, you’ll come with us when we sail tomorrow morning.”
“Why does he need me?” Kit asked. “What am I going to do to help?”
“You’re the only one he listens to. The only one he really cares about. If you tell him to do something, he’ll do it.” Mr. Whyte’s gaze pleaded with Kit. “With you on board, he might actually agree to get the doctoring he needs.”
“My father needs me at the warehouse.”
In the corner of the room, John tossed back a mighty sip of whiskey, then collapsed onto the table with a sigh. His eyes closed tight, he started snoring.
Mr. Whyte nodded toward John. “Right now, he needs you more.”
“Are you saying I should stow away on board the Apollyon?”
“Aye...and I know it’s a lot to ask,” Mr. Whyte confirmed.
Kit swallowed. Hard. The idea of stowing away was both terrifying and exhilarating. He wasn’t sure he had the courage to do it. And yet, if he didn’t, what would happen to his uncle? He debated with himself a moment or two more, and then he nodded toward John, his heart beating wildly in his chest. “Let’s get him on board.”
Mr. Whyte let out a gusty sigh. “Thank you, laddie.”
The three men grabbed hold of John’s unconscious body and hauled him out from the circle of sailors surrounding him. Kit paused long enough to pick up the red pearl and throw it in a refuse heap. Then the three men carried John, who remained unconscious and smelled like a butcher shop, out and into the thick wall of fog blanketing the night.
Title: Stowaway: Curse of the Red Pearl
Author: Tracy Fobes
Set on stormy seas during the early nineteenth century, Stowaway: Curse of the Red Pearl features a unique plot revolving around a classic adventure that quickly becomes supernatural horror.
In Stowaway: Curse of the Red Pearl, Kit Cabot is being groomed to take over his family’s shipping fortune in 1808 Boston, Massachusetts. While Kit yearns for the approval of his father, he finds the day-to-day operations of the family business incredibly boring.
Determined to do something more with his life, and attracted to the seafaring life of his uncle, Kit decides to stowaway on his uncle’s ship. But instead of being swept up in the life of adventure and romance he always imagined, Kit finds himself subjected to harsh 1800’s maritime conditions and another stowaway with a sinister mission of its own.
Stowaway: Curse of the Red Pearl combines high sea adventure with dark horror, and paints a world filled with both mundane and otherworldly dangers. It builds a claustrophobic sense of supernatural terror as Kit and his friends are forced to deal with the dangers of nature and an unknown horror possessing the ship.
Horror Palace Review:
Pennsylvania author Tracy Fobes is an award-winning writer of ten novels in the categories of romance, paranormal, and horror. Prior to deciding that a literary career was her passion, Tracy gained a BS in Computer Science (minor in mathematics) from the University of Scranton and followed that path working as a computer systems analyst for the Fortune-500 conglomerate Johnson & Johnson. She now devotes herself to writing novels.
As she states, “The inspiration for a new story comes from many places: art, music, old movies, books, newspapers. Occasionally, when I’m listening to a song or looking at a painting, I feel an intuitive jolt, an unexpected click. An idea about that painting or song sets my creative impulses to bubbling. I can always tell when I’m on the right track because excitement grabs hold of me and the skin at the back of my neck tightens. The ideas that give me some sort of visceral reaction are the ones that usually end up as my stories. Stories about women and men who come together to love have always been my favorites.”
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