Illuminating the Backstory …. How Could This Have Happened?

If you’ve read any of the excerpts of The Fishing Widow posted at right, then you’re familiar with Ethan, Colin, Ellie, and Nan, along with the crew of the F/V The Case in Point homeported in Port Saint Anne, Alaska in 2010…. You’ve probably even figured out that there’s some kind of creeping evil thing stalking them–something that was aboard Revelation in September 2006 as was hinted at in The Prologue, but … where did this come from? How could this have happened? And… why does it KEEP happening?

In the course of the story based in 2010, Ethan has another encounter with whatever it is that is stalking him and his crew. This time, the shimmering skeletal form appears to him as a woman — described alternately as Nan … as Josh’s mermaid … as not Nan … after a rogue wave drives Ethan beneath the water during a man-overboard drill, she appears and breathes into his mouth, filling his lungs, keeping him alive until Brett and Tommy can pull him from the water. But, she leaves him something; when Ethan vomits water on the deck of The Case in Point, a ring falls out of his mouth and rings brightly on the deck. Inside the ring is a simple inscription… “Elizabeth.” “My Covenant.”

The scene serves as a bridge to the beginning–back to 1835 aboard the Nantucket Whaler The Covenant lost off the coast of SE Alaska. Captain Priam Hartt, his wife, Elizabeth, First Mate Tobias St. John, Second Mate Mattias Boyden, Third Mate Nathaniel Rawson, and a Tlingit boy named Peter are the primary characters involved in the tragedy of 1835 that leads directly to the horror of 2010. How Could This Have Happened? The roots are deep, firmly planted in 1835 with what was believed, at first, to be simply a cultural misunderstanding:

Boyden and St. John watched as Peter cast the net from the whaleboat. It circled wildly for a moment before it crashed into the water. Elizabeth watched from the deck alongside others from among the crew.

“Excellent cast,” said a voice quietly beside Elizabeth. She turned toward Nathaniel Rawson. “And a beautiful day,” he continued, his voice dropping lower. He hesitated and cast a furtive glance behind him before he stepped closer, his voice softening, “Elizabeth.” Elizabeth smiled as his hand brushed against hers. He smiled awkwardly at Elizabeth before one of the men clapped him on the back and turned him back to the scene below.

The weather had calmed, and it seemed Peter had more than a few tricks at his disposal for catching fish. Peter, standing in the whaleboat, hauled in the line, hand over hand, and the net circled like a purse, trapping the fish within it. He smiled up at the assembled members of the crew of The Covenant who whooped their approval of his efforts.

“He’s a good boy,” Priam said, suddenly at Elizabeth’s side.

Rawson started, withdrawing his hand quickly before moving away down the rail. He glanced back at Elizabeth furtively before turning his attention back to Boyden, St. John, and Peter. Priam’s dark eyes followed his Third Mate’s progress down the rail.

“He is a good boy,” Elizabeth agreed quickly.

She smiled as Priam took her hand and raised it to his lips. “Someday we’ll have one like him, dearest,” Priam started. He laughed and patted her hand. “Maybe not quite like him.” Elizabeth laughed as Priam bent to kiss her cheek, his lips lingering against her skin, before turning away from the rail.

Below, Matthias and Tobias were helping Peter haul the net into the boat. A mass of fish writhed within the whaleboat.

“Excellent, Peter,” Tobias said approvingly.

“One more cast?” Peter asked. The men laughed.

“One more cast,” Tobias agreed.

The net spun from Peter’s hand and landed in the water. Quickly, he began to haul in on the line and the net began to close again. Something large pulled, and a look of alarm spread across Peter’s face. He wrapped the line around his arm and tugged.

“Sir–” he started nervously.

St. John’s brow furrowed as he stood and grabbed hold of the line, helping Peter haul in the net that pitched and pulled wildly against them.

“Perhaps you’ve caught a whale,” Boyden joked as he rose to help them.

Elizabeth and several men leaned over the rail, watching as the two men and the Tlingit boy struggled to pull in the net. Elizabeth smiled as the men yelled and called out their encouragement to the three. She watched as Tobias nodded toward the oarlocks. Matthias sat and began to pull back to The Covenant. Tobias and Peter struggled to hold the net as Matthias rowed back to the ship.

“What’s the matter?” called down Nathaniel, laughing, as Tobias and Matthias looked up at him.

“We need the hoist,” Boyden called back.

Nathaniel laughed again. “Netted a whale?”

“Feels like it, sir,” Peter replied enthusiastically, and the men at the rail roared with laughter.

Rawson shook his head and ran a hook and line down to the three. Elizabeth watched as Tobias secured the line to the hook and looked up once more. “Haul away!” he called.

Nathaniel chuckled as the men began to haul up the net.

It broke the water.

Silence.

Elizabeth’s smile faded suddenly. She stared down at the three in the whaleboat. Peter had wrenched a knife from his belt and lunged for the net, but Boyden had grabbed at him and pulled him back.

“What are you doing, boy?” he started.

“Cut the net! Let it go!” The boy’s voice was frantic.

One creature in the net.

“Give me that knife, you’ll hurt yourself,” Matthias said grimly as he took the strange knife from Peter. “What kind of knife is this anyway?”

The boy was silent, his eyes fixed on the rising net, on the eye of the creature trapped within it. The eye, as blue as the sea, gazed back at the boy.

“Please, sir,” Peter started desperately, “you have to let it go–”

“We don’t even know what it is, boy,” Nathaniel Rawson called down to him. They hauled the net up to the level of the deck and swung it in. The tangled creature landed on the deck with a thud. The crew backed away from it.

Peter grabbed hold of the rope that dangled over the side of The Covenant and scrambled to the deck. “Please–” he started breathlessly as the creature turned an eye toward him. “It’s,” Peter hesitated, aware that the eyes of the entire crew were upon him, “important.”

“What do you mean, ‘sea monster?’” Priam chuckled as he walked forward from the aft deck. He stopped and stared at the tangled creature on his deck.

Its body swirled with color, through the smooth skin stretched across it, like a seal’s skin or the skin of a killer whale. Its head was large, elongated, a protruding mouth set with rows of interlocking teeth. Priam’s gaze fell to the animal’s claws that glinted, the color of copper, against his deck. The claws curled, tangled in the net.

Captain Hartt’s eyes snapped to Peter who drew back fearfully.

“Sir,” St. John started as he reached the top of the rope and set his feet on the deck.

“What devil have you brought aboard, St. John?” Priam growled suddenly.

The creature’s eyes blinked up at the captain. Priam’s eyes darkened as he gazed into the depths of its eye. The creature’s eye rolled, taking in the crew, it hesitated on Elizabeth, on Rawson, on St. John, before it rolled back to settle on Captain Priam Hartt. St. John opened his mouth and closed it again without saying anything. He felt Boyden reach the top of the rope behind him.

“Sir–” Peter’s voice was pleading.

Priam turned abruptly toward the rail and pulled a harpoon from its place in the rack. He turned back to the creature, and before Tobias could protest, Priam struck.

“No!” Peter wailed, dropping to his knees as the creature’s blue eyes rolled and it let out a terrifying whimper.

The sound of water rushing…

The creature’s mouth opened suddenly. “Yan yeené!”

Elizabeth stumbled back, startled, as Peter lunged for the creature. “Chía aadei yei x•t neey.oo!” Peter wailed, grabbing wildly, desperately, at the net.

The crew drew back, glancing nervously at one another. Captain Hartt’s eyes narrowed. “You would speak with the devil,” his voice was dangerously low.

Peter sank to the deck, covering his head with his arms, shaking and sobbing. “Please…,” Peter’s voice trembled, “forgive me…”

Captain Hartt wrenched the harpoon free of the thing and kicked at it until it went over the side. It landed in the water with a sickening splash and quickly sank from view. He thrust the harpoon into Rawson’s startled hand as he turned his dark gaze on St. John. “A devil,” he hissed suddenly.

St. John quickly bowed his head and closed his eyes. He heard the wind blow a little more strongly against the sheets above him. “Sir,” he said, his voice nearly lost in the sound of the wind that began to blow more fiercely.

“On your feet, boy,” Hartt growled at Peter as he turned to walk back to the aft deck.

Elizabeth stared at the blood on the deck, the smear of red that had followed the creature over the side. The men slowly drifted away, some climbing into the rigging that began to buckle and strain under the growing wind. Elizabeth looked back at Priam for a moment before she moved forward and sank beside Peter on the deck.

“It’s all right,” she soothed him as she took him in her arms and rocked him back and forth.

Peter shook his head, his hands grasping at Elizabeth. “Yan yeené…” His hand caught in her necklace, and he broke the chain accidently. “Be ready,” he breathed, his voice filled with terror. He shook his head as he looked down at the ornate locket warm against his hand. “No,” he said, his voice shaking as he cast the broken chain away from him as if holding it burned him. “It’s Captain Hartt.” Peter took a shuddering breath and finally met Elizabeth’s eyes, his voice, racked with despair. “He has brought Hell down upon us….”