The plan was to build a palace of pleasure, a ship that would sail out through the fog and cloud of the Western Isles and beyond towards America. It was to be called the Wave Knight, in reference to its advertised status as a place of protection and voyage on the scale of epic grandeur.
As time went on, the ship became a monstrous thing, moored up at some vague and imprecise location along the coast near Mull. A local boy, Danny, had been charged with keeping the innards of the ship in order, while its development lulled in the drift waters of a regional recession. Danny’s job consisted mostly of overseeing the cleaning of the ship’s fifty bedrooms, dusting the engine machinery and straightening the oil paintings on the restaurant walls. Mostly, however, Danny organised debauched parties with the maids and cleaners, raiding the kitchen cellar and draining the company’s lustful supply of cigars and wine.
It was on a freezing February morning that Danny’s supervisor finally arrived at the ship to inspect its internal condition. There were hints of business picking up in the area and the project being started again, so he had been ordered to check up on the handiwork of his domestic team. To his shock, he found the rooms in a most dreadful condition – the maids nowhere to be seen – and a hoard of empty bottles stacked on the tables of the ship’s restaurant. Eventually, the supervisor discovered Danny himself standing at the bow of the ship, his head billowed in plumes of smoke as he stared out into the streaky silver of the horizon.
“Danny! What in hell is going on?!” the supervisor bellowed, storming towards his employee. But Danny did not turn his head nor acknowledge his presence. The supervisor watched as he took a final, hungry draw from his cigarette before flicking it into the ocean, the orange glow of its smoulder disappearing into the mist.
“Now look here!” He reached out to grab Danny by the shoulders, but his hands went clean through Danny’s body, as if he wasn’t there at all. He clutched at the chasm of the air, feeling desperately for the solidity of flesh and bone. He discovered the sudden terror of realising that he was alone. The thought made him nauseous and he fought the urge to vomit. Of course, he had just imagined that Danny was standing there; it must’ve been something in those clams he ate at breakfast. The supervisor leaned over the bow, in the spot that Danny had been standing at, and sucked in deeply the crisp salt air. In the distant shimmer of snowy mountains, he saw a rainbow slowly dissolving.
But there was something queer about the horizon. The mountains seemed to grow larger as the minutes slipped behind him. He felt the floor below him rocking, the whole hull swaying as if to a lullaby tune. Could it be…could it be that the ship was moving? With frightened horror, he turned around and saw the wake trailing out behind him. All the scaffolding had collapsed into the ocean, and there was nothing to moor it anymore. Desperately, the supervisor ran to the back end of the ship to see how far it was to the land, to see if there was a chance that he could swim to shore.
Who on earth could be driving this ship?
He clutched the railings of the stern until his knuckles were white. The little village with its pastel-shaded houses shrank from view, until it was nothing but a string of multicoloured fairylights, tied along the land. So he looked below, seeking comfort from the rolling ocean waves – but what he then saw would haunt him forever. Floating along the wake were the bodies of seven maids, their hair rippling out behind their gossamer bodies like so many clones of Ophelia. Nothing was tying them to the ship and yet as it moved they moved with it. The supervisor closed his eyes, shaking. The wind whipped in his ears so that he could barely hear his own screams.
He turned around and opened his eyes and there was Danny, hanged from the mast, his body a hologram, a sickly grin of pleasure smeared across his face. As the supervisor stared into the poor boy’s hollow eyes, he thought he heard the sound of galloping hooves, loudening as if coming closer from a distance.
Prompts: wave knight ship photograph, breakfast, argument
by Maria Rose Sledmere