Has it been 20 days? 100? I dare not ask, I feel as though we’ve been on this ship headed for the New World for decades. It’s dark down below, but we can’t go to the deck. The weather’s been horrid. Many people are coughing in here, I worry I will soon take ill. My mother sits beside me on the hard wooden floor, patting my head when I murmur in fear. She thinks it’s from the ship’s ceaseless rocking, or the noise of babies crying, or the shouts of the sailors above deck trying to keep the ship steady in these heavy waves. Maybe I should be afraid of these things. I’m not. Two blue orbs of light pass by me, every night when I’m supposed to be asleep-that’s what scares me. The first night I saw them, I tugged at my mother’s sleeve, waking her, and begged her to protect me. But the lights disappeared as soon as she lifted her head. Maybe I’m seeing things, I haven’t eaten much since we set sail. I’ll have to remedy this.
I ate a biscuit so stale it felt like a rock. Surely we aren’t low on good food so soon? Even so, my mind feels clearer. I feel silly for having seen those apparitions. I’ll laugh about it with Tara and Gilly later.
The blue lights are back. Even as I write, they circle over my head. At first I shrieked, and the passengers who are huddled on the dark floor all stared at me. Silence descended-besides the waves and sound of coughing. I mumbled about a rat biting my hand, feigned a wince, and the piercing stares turned away. My mother offered to wrap my hand in a bandage, but I lied, saying the mark was small and I’d be fine. I never lie to mother, but I wanted to escape her scrutiny. The blue orbs circled me for a few moments before flitting up towards the ladder to the upper deck. There they circled each other for a long while. They’re circling still. Are they waiting for something? For me to follow them?
Mother had concern on her face. I could barely see in the dark chamber of this ship, but I could tell that much. She asked me what was wrong. I hesitated to tell her I was seeing things, possibly delirious. I convinced her I’m not chilly enough to have fever. I asked her if she ever saw moving lights, ones that aren’t stars or embers. She said she always loved the shooting stars, and that it’s been so long since we’d seen the sky, she was worried she’d forget how stars looked soon. I sat with my arms hugging my knees to my chest for a long moment after that. I spent a while longing for a small straw doll mother had made for me when I was a young girl. All of the sudden I wanted so desperately for something I could cling to with all my might. Something real.
I awoke from a brief nap to find the blue orbs right before my eyes, blocking my vision of anything else. I jerked back and crashed into a little kid, who began crying. I apologized over and over, more so when groans indicated I’d woken up other passengers. I feel like every noise I make is a burden to someone else. What I wouldn’t give to be alone for just one hour!
Maybe I was too rash, too crazy even, but I couldn’t sleep with the lights circling. So I got up, stepped over people’s arms, legs, and bags, and waited. As I suspected, the lights flitted over to the ladder and circled each other again. I marched right up to the ladder and put my foot on the first wrung. The light rose higher and higher as I kept climbing, until I pushed up the cellar door and pulled myself out of the bowels of the ship. The night was dark and cold, and I wrapped my arms around myself. Much of the crew was scrambling in all directions. I walked carefully across the wet floorboards and was approached by a sailor, a tall man with massive mussels and curly brown hair. He took me by the arm and told me:
“Miss you can’t be up here! It’s a storm, it’ll get worse before it improves.” I pulled away from his grasp, seeing the lights move out of the corner of my eye. Sliding as I ran to the railing of the ship, I saw the orbs of light flee into the distance where they illuminated some jagged rocks ahead. They were massive, much larger than our boat and I scrambled over to the sailor who had helped me up and shouted:
“Sir, look over there! It’s a bunch of jagged rocks!” The man patted me on the arm.
“Miss, you need to go below deck, it’s not safe.”
“Don’t you see the rocks?” I said shakily.
“Miss, it’s too dark to see anything. Come with me where it’s safe.” I ducked away from the man and looked around the ship. Was there anything I could use to get them to see what I was seeing? Lightning flashed in the sky and a loud clap of thunder followed. In the brief blanket of light, the rocks were clearly visible, but only for a fraction of a second. I fled up the stairs of the ship to the captain’s location. At his belt was a telescope.
“Captain! Over there! Rocks!” I yelled over the thunder. He turned around, a stocky man with cropped hair and a look of confusion on his face. Just as the next flash of lightning struck, he raised his telescope and peered inside.
“Rocks ahead, on the starboard side! We’re going to evade them, brace yourselves!” He bellowed, and the men clung to the mast, the ropes, and I to the captain’s coat as the captain turned the ship’s wheel and everything tilted heavily to the right. I looked out at the rocks to see how narrowly we missed them. Surely a loaf of bread couldn’t have fit in the empty space between us and their jagged surface. Once they were out of sight, the men cheered. The captain looked down at me.
“Little girl, how did you see the rocks in the dark before I did?” I hesitated, unable to admit I was seeing things.
“I had a bad feeling.” I said simply. When I arrived below deck, I wrung as much water out of my clothes as I could. I sat beside mother, lit a candle and wrote all of this. Due to the swaying of the ship, the other passengers are wide awake. Their expressions are so serious. I don’t have the heart to say how close to death we came.
Land! We’re finally standing on solid ground! We ate fresh fish and turkey and it never tasted so good!
Feeling a little shaken. I talked to my grandfather about floating lights. He and my father had been busy fishing most of the trip. I said to grandfather; “What if someone saw lights floating in the air that led them somewhere? Ones no one else saw?” And he told me about will-o’-the-wisp and how they lead a person to their death. Did the will-o’-the-wisp save me? Or were they warning me about coming to the New World, that I may meet my death here? I can’t be sure.
I saw the will-o’-the-wisp again. Is this place what they’re warning me about? I don’t know, but I intend to keep an eye on them.
-Olivia Addison, 1620