The Ghost Ship Mipherros
By Rewan Tremethick
The ghost ship Mipherros hung in the bay, feeding tendrils of pallid green light into the water surrounding it. Ragged sails rippled in a non-existent breeze, rigging creaked as the ship rolled on the ocean’s undulating surface. Lines of flaming lamps lit up its hull. The whole ship was blurred and distorted, refracting as though it was under the water upon which it sat.
Father shuddered and pressed his hipflask to his chubby lips. His gullet burned as the brandy made its way down to his stomach, warmth spreading out across his belly. But the coldness that Mipherros had brought all too soon wrapped its arms once more around him, and a shiver sparked in his muscles. He held a shaking arm out in front of him, watched as stark white pimples rose on his skin.
In his other hand, he gripped the splintered haft of the chapel’s wood axe. Shards of wood dug into his palm, but he relished the pain, the warmth it brought to his hands. The tool-cum-weapon felt heavy, and he moved the haft slightly higher in his grip, finding comfort in the inertia of the axe head. Even so, he longed for the flintlock pistol that rested under his pillow, but that was in his cottage on the other side of the village. He was not going outside.
He took another swig of brandy, gazing down at the apparition which swayed back and forth like a candle flame.
The greenish halo it emitted seemed to have faded to a deeper colour. It almost looked inviting.
Father shook his head sharply, dashing those thoughts against his skull. He increased his grip on the axe haft, grimacing as splinters dug deeper into his skin. It was enough for his senses to return to him. They were not going to get hold of him so easily, he thought.
“Your father’s on that ship, boy,” he said over his shoulder.
Patrick felt the blood retreat from his face, and craned his neck, hoping to see over the window ledge to the apparition in the water half a mile away. He felt a connection with the ship, a sudden bond with it. It had born his father safely all these years. It was where he belonged.
The workings of his mind must have appeared on his face, as Father put down his hipflask and gripped him tightly by the shoulder. Patrick turned, only half of his own volition, to look into the priest’s shockingly pale eyes. His teeth were gritted, his flabby cheeks puffed up through a combination of fear and desperation.
“You’re hurting me,” Patrick said.
“Don’t look at it,” Father said. “Don’t listen to it.”
“Father, please!” Patrick cried, as the priest’s long nails began pressing too hard into his skin through the fabric of his jerkin.
Father seemed satisfied, and let him go. His hand snatched up the brandy flask, and he doused his mouth with it.
Patrick sat back and crossed his arms and legs. The cold stone floor stung his calves where they rested upon it. He gazed longingly at the stool at the opposite end of the window to Father. That would give him a perfect view of the ghost ship Mipherros. The thought both excited and chilled him. But he was more scared of a rebuke from Father than he was of not being able to see the ship.
“What's he doing there, Father?” he asked.
“Being dead,” the priest replied. “Why would I know, lad? P'haps he's come to recruit you.”
“Is that how it works?”
“Do I look dead?”
Patrick fell silent.
Despite his best efforts, Father’s eyes would not stop trying to make out figures on the decks. A ghostly sailor turned out to be a piece of cloth; a stray shadow became someone climbing the rigging. Yet Mipherros remained empty. Somehow an empty ship was worse; Father would have preferred it if the vessel had been swarming with dead crewmen.
Patrick was watching Father, but noticed with a start that the glow of the ship seemed to have intensified. He was now able to see the pale green light of it rising above the stone mantle of the window. Ice crept across his body.
Father’s breath clouded in the air in front of him. He tried to take a draught from his flask, then lowered it dumbly before his chest. Stretching out his arm, the priest upturned the flask. A few small flakes of ice drifted from its mouth and settled on the floor.
Patrick’s legs had become too cold. Ice had formed on the floor, and his skin felt as if it was crawling away from him. He stood up and settled himself on the stool opposite Father, the temperature of more concern than what the priest might say. The glow of Mipherros had been visible to him, and it had lured him closer. Even without the appearance of the ice, he knew he would still have moved.
“It’s really trying hard now,” Father muttered, seemingly to himself. “I thought maybe it was just reminding us all it was there, but no. It’s recruiting again.”
“What’s it trying hard to do?” Patrick asked.
Father gestured with the axe around the chapel. Every surface was coated with ice crystals, gleaming green in the eerie light of the distant ghost ship. The two oil lamps that hung from the wall had been cocooned in snowflakes. They looked like tiny suns shining through banks of thick cloud.
“It’s doing that,” he said. “Sometimes the glow is enough to make you go to it. If you’re strong enough of mind, you’ll look away though.”
He paused, aware they were both staring unblinking down at the ship. On the strip of sandy beach below and to their left, below the town, dark shapes were shifting slowly. Father grimaced again, and pined for his brandy.
“It’s got some already,” he said. “God only knows what it wants ‘em for.”
“Why is it so cold?” Patrick asked.
He drew his knees up to his chest, resting his feet on the lip of the stool, and wrapped his arms around them. He rubbed his upper arms with his hands, and let out huge steams of breath as he shivered.
“If the glow doesn’t get you, the cold probably will,” Father said. “It’s trying to sap the hope out of you. Once you feel as cold as death, you might as well join the ship.”
Down on the beach, the first of the dark shapes reached the water’s edge. Father thought he heard a cry as the figure waded unfaltering into the cold. It did not stop though, and soon the dark water was wrapped around its waist. More figures were emerging onto the sand.
“It’ll have the whole village at this rate,” Father said, his eyes large. His pupils were filled with the green glow of the ship, and Patrick buried his face in his knees to avoid having to look at him.
“Where does it come from?” he asked, hoping the question would make Father turn away from the window.
“The depths, most say,” the priest said.
The theories on the ship's origins relieved him slightly, as though establishing facts would give him comfort. If the truth – any truth, no matter how terrifying – were to be revealed then Mipherros would simply be another ship in the sea. Pick any random ship in the bay that did not glow, and Father could not give a damn what it was doing there.
Patrick raised his head cautiously, saw that the light had faded from Father’s eyes, and straightened his neck. He did not know why Father had looked away from the window; down in the bay, the first figure’s head had just disappeared under the water, and more were quickly following.
“Very few think it makes port anywhere,” Father continued, for Patrick’s curiosity had not faltered, “It just turns up whenever it needs to recruit.”
“Recruit for what?”
“A war?” Father suggested. “Nobody knows.”
“Are all the crew from this town?” Patrick wondered.
The ghost ship had first come to the bay seven years ago, when Patrick was little more than a baby. He was one of the first people to have grown up with the ship ever-present. Every night he would rush to his bedroom window and stare out into the bay. Whenever Mipherros was present, he would have only a few minutes before cries and alarms sounded across the town. His mother would rush into his room, his sister already tucked under her arm, and drag him away from the window. There they would stay, his mother praying, his sister crying. Patrick longing for another glimpse of the ship.
“I don’t know,” Father sighed. “I doubt it, though. The amount of nights where it doesn’t appear in our bay…”
His eyes flicked out of the window. The first black figure had reappeared next to Mipherros, head bobbing in the water. It reached out to touch the ghostly hull. There was a flash of green, and the figure vanished. More were approaching.
Father felt bile rise in his throat. Dizziness clouded his vision and his huge girth swayed on his stool. He rubbed his forehead with a thumb and forefinger then opened his eyes. The feeling left as quickly as it had come.
“I don’t think that thing ever stops,” he said quietly. “If it’s not recruiting from other towns when it’s not here, then it’s out there using its crew up, ready to come back and…”
His lips twisted unpleasantly, his face becoming a ghoulish visage. Looking at it made Patrick feel he would lose control of his bladder, and he screwed his eyes shut. He buried his nose into his shorts. They smelled of home, of stale hay and the fresh wildflowers his sister constantly brought back from the meadows. He felt comforted somewhat.
“But what does it need people for?” he asked, unable to reign in his curiosity.
“Do you want to go over there and ask them yourself?” Father snapped.
Patrick thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he said finally.
“Exactly I didn't think – you what?”
Father had grown paler still, a feat Patrick had thought impossible.
“One day I will,” Patrick said firmly, “not for a while perhaps. But when I'm big.”
The ghost ship Mipherros had taken dozens from his village, Patrick thought. He would have to sleep in the chapel tonight. In the morning, he and Father, wearing the sunlight like armour against their fears, would walk down into the village and see who had been taken. Usually it was men, but sometimes women and children too, all unable to resist the call of Mipherros.
Patrick wondered if his mother and sister would still be there when he returned. He had not seen how many figures had made their way towards the ship. If he had, he would have feared the morning more than the ghost ship itself.
Father craved to get drunk, to pass out and not have to face a sleepless night, knowing that when the cock crowed, he would have to lead Patrick back to a village that was almost certainly empty.
He glanced out of the window.
“Look here, boy,” he said quickly.
Patrick leapt to his feet and pressed his chest against the windowsill. His fingers gripped the cold, rounded rim of the ledge.
In the bay, the ghost ship Mipherros was sinking into the silent water. The slick blackness swarmed over the ship’s deck. After less than a minute, only the skeletal fingers of the three masts remained, and before long they too had disappeared below the surface.
It was several minutes more before the water in the bay stopped glowing. Despite the constant lack of sound, somehow the silence now seemed harsh and oppressive. Neither one of them spoke, yet both of them longed to.
Patrick made a promise to himself. One day he would travel aboard Mipherros. Not for a long time, perhaps, for he would wait until he was big and strong, but time did not matter. The ghost ship would wait for him. It would come again and again, each time testing his patience and his resolve. But he would not give in, he told himself.
Yet when the time came for him to board, the ship would need none of its tricks. It would not take the ghoulish allure of its aura, or the herding chill of ice to get Patrick to come. For one day he would know the time was right, and he would walk into the icy black sea, swim across to the ghost ship Mipherros and touch its glowing hull. In a flash he would be transported into the spirit world, and find out what bidding the ship had laid out for its enslaved crew.
The ship would call to Patrick, and he would go willingly. Perhaps that was its final trick.