All loss is profound, but some cuts are deeper than others. Some losses become forever etched into our souls. A void that eats away until there is nothing left but a shell of a person.
Nothing cuts deeper than the loss of a child.
Neither the passage of time nor the countless bottles of whiskey had helped Rory forget that his son
disappeared seven years ago. The heavy fog was Rory’s drinking partner, high above the harbor, on the Whaler’s Church lookout tower. As the harbor foreman, Rory had spent many days looking out into
the horizon of the Atlantic.
The sun had yet to punch in, but Rory hadn’t seen his bed since the sun’s last shift. Bottle after bottle,
Rory had hope to miss this day. As he finished his fourth bottle of whiskey, the sun peeked above the horizon.
The fog blanketed the town’s people as they stirred from their homes. He watched them as they gathered in
front of the church like they have every August 20th for the past few years. Through the grey morning, he drank and watched as the black mass of villagers grew bigger like a cancer in the center of
He fumbled a crinkled photo from his pocket and struggled to focus on it. The whiskey and the early
morning fog made his old eyes work harder, but he finally could focus in on a photo that had been taken on that fateful day. His son standing beside him. They smile happily and carelessly, his
son’s arm thrown lovingly around his shoulder. The pride in Rory’s eyes shone brightly through the faded black and white photo. Behind them was the Shark’s Maiden. It was once the pride
and joy of the harbor but now it’s the symbol for its demise.
Sag Harbor, a small fishing town on the eastern point of Long Island, NY just west of Montauk, and made its living in the sea. It was home to the best whalers on the east coast. A town so famous
for its whalers that it was even mentioned by Melvile in Moby Dick. If a ship sailed the seven seas in the 1860s, there was chance you encountered a ship from Sag Harbor and knew the name of the
Rory rolled the photo and slid it into an empty whiskey bottle before struggling to his feet. A fresh
bottle of whiskey in one hand, Rory launches the bottle with the photo in it toward the ocean. He waited to hear if the bottle hit the target with a splash or shattered into a million pieces, like
his life but nothing. He heard nothing but the murmur of the crowd as Pastor Jake exited the Whaler’s Church.
Rory skimmed the ocean looking for the bottle. Where did it go? As he raised the binoculars up
toward the horizon, his heart stuttered in his chest. Frozen in fear, He let the full bottle of whiskey slipfrom his hand and smash on the ground by his feet.
Mary’s gaze was lost in the old, faded mirror. Her brown eyes, lifeless and empty, stared as she combed her long raven colored hair. With each rhythmic brush stroke, she was transported to seven
years ago when her husband left. They were both barely eighteen and newlywed - they had rushed the wedding once he received his orders - when he left her alone.
Stupid boys and their desire to chase adventure.
The sun burned hot that day, seven years prior. Unlike today, where the sun was in mourning with the rest of the village behind a blanket of Atlantic fog. She felt the northern wind attempt to keep
them cool as they embraced one last time.
The Shark’s Maiden loomed heavy behind them as they said their goodbyes. The ship wasn’t the largest in the harbor, but it was the most intimidating. Hanging on the front of the ship was a
figurehead of a beautiful young woman cradling a baby shark. They named it the Shark’s Maiden after her. The ship was built for speed. Three massive mast helped it cut through the
ocean as quick as a Mako shark. She was also fitted with four oversized broilers to quickly separate the whale’s blubber and oils.
Her last image of Daniel was him walking up the ramp with a smile and wink. Unaware that this was their last everything. Their last hug. Their last kiss. Their last smile. She wished she had held
him longer, held on tighter, and begged harder for him to stay. She wanted to cry out, “Don’t get on that ship.”, but she knew that it wouldn’t have mattered.
Sometimes she wished he’d headed south to the war between the states. Maybe then he’d have come back. Maybe not. The outcome could have still been the same, but at least then she wouldn’t have the
cold reminder of his death staring at her every day. She would never have to witness the tobacco plantations of the Carolinas, or the seas of cotton in Georgia, but with every wave crashing on
Windmill beach, she is reminded that Daniel will never be back in her arms again.
Mary moved through the morning haze in a slow, almost dream like state. The other townspeople faded in and out of the fog like ghosts around her as the dark, shadowy figures all moved toward the
Whaler’s Church. She followed the faceless horde as they mindlessly wandered to the vigil.
The Whaler’s Church towers over the center of the village. A massive spire juts from the top of the bone colored building. On top of the spire is a look out that sees into the Atlantic to welcome
the whalers home. The white wooden steeple was inspired by the center mast of the ships that rest in the wharf.
Mary drifted through the Whaler’s Church graveyard. She wasn’t worried about the real ghosts because most of the graves were empty. It was just a place for the families to remember their lost loved
ones. She was one of the few that didn’t take a grave once the news reached shore. Some villagers were lighting candles and leaving flowers by their ghost graves. She just kept moving forward to
the front of the church.
How can a broken man be the strength of a hundred men? Pastor Jake was a broken man. His faith
had been tested and he feared that when the results are tallied, he’s going to come up just short. He had failed - failed himself, the village that turned to him in their time of need, and most
importantly he failed God.
Outside his church the masses grew, and they looked to him for answers to unanswerable questions. Today,
of all the days, he had to stand before their broken souls and pretend to have the faith he preaches about. He must lie to the people who placed their grief and sadness at his doorstep. Who are
they to ask this of him? Why do they think he has all the answers? Regardless of the truth, Pastor Jake will have to lie to give them hope - that there is life after death, that there is more
to life than this pain. Hope that they will be okay.
He must tell them about God’s love and God’s will. If God really loved these men, would he have let
them die with lungs filled with saltwater? Is that Gods love or his will?
Maybe it was God’s will to stop the slaughter. Pastor Jake never hid his views on the village’s lifeline
as ungodly. The images of a blood- slick ocean never made him feel good. Maybe it was God’s will to even the score? Maybe God got tired of the butchers of Sag Harbor and decided to adjust the
He washed the doubt off his worn face before taking a moment. The cold water dripped off his grey beard as
he fixed his white collar. He paused to gather his false confidence with a heavy sigh because they look to him today, especially today, to guide them through the darkest day. He grabbed his Bible
and headed toward the front of the church. Pastor Jake paused at the door. He knows what is awaiting him on the other side and as much as he dreaded the opening of it, he knew that there isn’t
anyone else. He pushed the threshold open, letting the morning fog creep into the church, as he steps out into his fear as bravely as he can.
“Seven years ago, on this very day, this town was full of hope.” Pastor Jake started his sermon, “it was
the hope that one day, we would see the glory of the town’s past once again. We hitched that hope to a ship. Out of this hope, sprung a tragedy. Forty men set sail from here in order to fulfill
this promise. These men would never return. The hope that set sailed seemed to disappear with them.”
He guided the congregation to the dock and stopped at the end of the pier, the Atlantic stretched out into
a sky of nothing.
“Today we remember those brave souls of the Shark’s Maiden. We remember what they set out to do.
We remember the fathers.” Pastor Jake laid his hand on Charles’ shoulder. Charles lowered his head fighting back his tears as he placed a photo of a boy, about 10 years old, holding a tiny fish
into a paper boat.
“We remember the husbands.” Alyssa held her two small children, Simone and Angela, closely as they add
another boat with a letter to their father.
“We remember the sons.” Pastor Jake looked up to the look out where he knew his old friend Rory was lost
in a bottle of whiskey and sadness. “We remember our friends. Those dead and alive. We ask God today to keep us in his thoughts as we still search for answers. May he help us in our time of need.
Even though they aren’t here physically, they are alive in each of our hearts and memories. Don’t let those treasured times wash away in the tides of time…”
Pastor Jake was suddenly cut off by a stranger moving through the crowd. A woman he had never seen before,
her tan skin and dark hair was an oddity in this town. He fixated on her as she tried to hide between the villagers and the fog. His attention was diverted by faint shouting in the distance coming
from the Whaler’s Church. The crowd started to come alive with murmurs about the ramblings of the town drunk. Rory emerged from the fog and the crowd to join Pastor Jake at the head of the group.
“Look! Look!” Rory gave Pastor Jake his looking glass and guided his eyes to the hazy horizon. Pastor Jake
tried to focus through the fog.
“The Maiden is back!” Rory yelled to the crowd. “They sit just below the horizon heading this way.”
“That’s not the Maiden.” Charles demanded as he grabbed a hold of Rory’s arm. “They are gone.”
“Look for yourself!” Rory exclaimed as he pointed to the horizon.
Pastor Jake, puzzled and unsure, handed the looking glass to Charles. “Is he right?” Charles asked as he
Charles focused in on the ship. It seemed to be moving in at a hurried pace. The morning sun had begun to
burn the fog from the ocean and the ship began to be a little easier to see. Charles slowly lowered the glass.
“It really is the Maiden! She made it back!” Rory yelled to the crowd again.
“Do you think?” Pastor Jake asked a stunned Charles, who shook his head unknowingly. Charles looked
again, “He is right.”
The ship was now visible to the whole town. The once proud ship, now merely a shadow of itself, glides
into plan view. When the ship left seven years ago, the three large mast towered high but now there are only two left and barley any cloth hanging on them. The side of the ship is covered in rot.
The once beautiful figurehead of a young maiden holding a shark was weathered and almost skeletal. The ghost ship still flying the white flag with a black shark on the aft of the ship. The Maiden
had found her way home.
The villagers watched with bated breath as the Maiden sat just outside the harbor. It seemed to float just
outside the small wharf. Charles looked again.
“What’s going on?” A villager yells out. “Why aren’t they coming in?”
Searching the deck, he doesn’t see anyone on it. He sweeps up and down the ship, but not a single moving
image. Nothing. Just an empty ship.
“Someone is rowing in” Charles scans the waterline to find a small rowboat slowly battling the waves
toward the pier. A single rower pushes toward the shore. He watches, trying to see who is rowing but their back is turned to him and years at sea has taken a toll on the sailor.
“Who is it?” Rory demands.
Charles shrugs as he tries to identify the man rowing. He loses the tiny rowboat in the last of the haze.
By the time he finds it, the boat and man are both are just off the dock, “I think… It’s Daniel.”
Mary steps back into the crowd. Her heart drops when she hears the name and she fights back her hope and
excitement. Her breathing slows as the rowboat tosses a line on the dock and a couple men help the stranger to land. The disheveled and disorientated man looks at all the faces staring at him. His
eyes wide and brow hunched, he searches for something in the mass of people, his empty eyes longing for a familiar face. His breathing labored and salt matted hair blowing across his sun-dried
face, he has the look of a wild animal.
In the distance, he spots a familiar face. The lookout of the Whalers Church calls to him and he takes a
step toward it. With each step he takes, the crowd parts making a path, but they grow angrier as he ignores their questions. “Where are the others?” a fisherman yells to the stranger. He looks at
the fisherman with heavy eyes but no answer. He just keeps sluggishly moving toward the church.
His feet hardly leaving the ground as he shuffles his tired sea legs further away from the boat and to
safety, he spots a doll on the floor by his torn shoes. He picks it up the doll and studies her dress. A yellow dress with white stripes and golden hair, scrap of humanity and a reminder that
he is no longer on the ship anymore. A smile flashes on his scurvy ridden teeth through his manged beard. He hands the doll back to Alyssa’s youngest daughter, Angela. Her eyes wide on the
toothless grin on the sea monster standing in front of her. “Don’t be scared. I’m not the monster.”
He continued his journey to only safe place he remembered when another villager cut him off. “What
happened out there? We deserve to know! They were our friends and family out there with you.” The villager demanded as the path closes around the stranger. He just stared at him blankly. “You will
answer me. My father was on that ship.” The villager grabbed his arm. Daniel pushed his hand off his arm. His face hung heavy with sorrow and pain, he tried to move forward but the villagers built
a wall in front of him.
An old lady extended a soft touch to Daniel and a tear ran down his leathery face. “Are you the only one
on that ship?” Daniel looked away from her. Her pain and sadness seemed to be too much for him to carry. “Do you remember what happened?” Her soft voice cradled him back to her. He shook his head
no. “Where is everyone else?” Her voice broke.
The words echoed in his head. Where is everyone else? What happened? We deserve to know. He
lowered his head as the villager’s voices grew louder. He clenched his eyes and tried to shake the voices out of head. He raised his bloodshot eyes, a deep breath, and swallowed the pain, “Dead.”
He said softly but harsh enough. He looked back for the first time at the ship, “That ship is cursed. Whoever boards her is already dead.”
“Daniel?” A voice called from the crowd. Daniel’s bloodshot eyes scanned for the voice through the mob of
faceless villagers. Finally, he found Mary standing there. Her hands covered her mouth as she looked at the man that was once her husband. She extended her hand for his, but he was too ashamed to
reach out for her. She locked her arm under his arm and ushered him away from the shocked crowd.
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