by Fiona Jeeves
Peony read with coverlet pulled over her head to hide the light of the red wax candle held precariously in her hand. Her hammock swayed as she turned the page of the penny-fiction that she’d found stuffed behind a chair in the captain’s cabin. Wax dripped between her fingers and onto the deck below.
“Don’t read afterhours, Peony,” she muttered to herself. “It’ll damage your eyes, Peony.”
She took a moment to look out from her nest at the dark cabin beyond. No other light crept in through the window. The comforting glow of the moon was obscured, hidden by the swathe of cloud they sailed through. The room was otherwise bare and bleak in the darkness.
“Don’t leave your cabin tonight, Peony.” She grimaced as the candle wax slid over her fingers. It stung. “Even the dead might walk this evening,” she repeated the Captain’s warnings in a bitter whisper. She usually enjoyed sitting through the long star-strewn evenings beneath the balloon.
Her father had taught her to rise above petty superstition. She was supposed to grow up as a woman of logic and reason, not of fairy tales and imaginings. She paused, listening for the steady fall of heavy boots across the floorboards above her head. All that she could hear was the inward wheeze of the bellows from across the deck as hot air was pumped in a constant flow into the balloon that kept his ship aloft in the heavens; that and the distant grating of the bronze cogs.
A shadow moved beneath the door. Peony blew out the candle. Red wax coated her palm and splattered across the clean, linen sheets.
“Don’t break the rules, Peony. You’ll wish you’d been buried with your father, Peony.” She barely breathed the words. Her eyes widened in a night that was, almost, as dark as pitch.
Then a word eased its way beneath the darkness, into her tiny cabin. A name.
She stilled, mouth falling open.
“Peony.” The name sounded again, drifting in and around the room with the wind. It curled around her. The voice was low, gruff and coated in sweet familiarity.
“Pa?” she whispered back, casting off the coverlet.
She thought that she saw movement at the door. The latch rose and fell.
Despite her best intentions to be a good child, she gathered her nightgown and dropped, silently out of her hammock. She tiptoed across the bare boards.
The door creaked on its hinges as she opened it and peered through the slightest gap. The deck was mist-covered, silent, still and empty. One small lantern hung from a rope fastened to the balloon above; it cast a dim, orange glow into the fog that crept around the door and wisped around her toes, nose and fingertips. A lone figure stood with his back to her, in the centre of the deck. The lantern cast his frame in shadow.
“Pa!” Her cry came a little louder. She’d never truly believed that he had died. Her loving father would never have left her in the care of her uncle, the Captain of The Merchant’s Revenge.
The door forgotten she stepped out onto the deck. The shadow of her father did not respond. She ran to him but realised he wasn’t standing in the centre as she had imagined. He stood instead at the edge of the ship.
Peony reached out for him, but her fingers curled through empty air. She cried out in despair as the shadow dropped back off the side of the ship and vanished. She leant forward over the railings and scanned the clouds skimming below.
She screamed as a rough hand gripped her shoulder and squeezed the blood from the flesh with its ferocity.
“Don’t break the rules, Peony.”
About the author:
Fi Jeeves writes in a variety of genres but has a particular love of fantasy. She is currently studying for an MA in writing and trying to finish her second manuscript. An occasional doodling artist she drinks far too much coffee and owns too many cats! She can be tracked down at fibijeeves.wordpress.com.