Cerberus (novel excerpt)

Ari Bauer, '24

Waves crashed against the hull of the ship. “Reef the sails,” Captain Mebla shouted, “Benill, you’re going to have to climb up the rigging and tie them back; the lines are broken. Hang on, we’re going to aim for the edge of the storm.” 

Benill struggled forward towards the mast. The ship swayed violently under her feet. As she arrived, Hannes, a small boy and the youngest on the crew, was already there fighting with the ropes. She could see him being shoved around by the wind, looking like he was putting more effort into just wrestling with the rope then using it to tie back the sails. Grabbing the rope from Hannes, she took the rigging of the ship in the other. Benill wrapped the ropes around her shoulder and began to pull herself up towards the mast of the ship. She pulled herself up one handhold at a time, buffeted by the howling wind.

 Below she could see the rest of the crew running around on the deck. Grenillvan was struggling with another rope tying the lower sails, preparing himself in the event of a heave hoe. Jenin was standing in front of a group below, trying to reassure Donlan, who had been mopping a handkerchief across his forehead since the storm began a quarter hour ago, and Bovick, who was still shifting from foot to foot, the image of anxiety and fear. Distracted by looking down at the crew, a sudden gust of wind hit Benill, nearly throwing her off the rigging. Her right hand slipped from where it gripped the wet, slippery rope handholds. For a tense moment she swung in the wind, held to the rigging only by her left hand. 

 She considered letting go, the crew would not miss her. They had wanted her brother and they had lost him when he died a few short months before the start of the expedition. They had wanted her sibling and they had gotten her. She waited for the pang of melancholy, followed by the overwhelming pain she knew she should feel at her brother’s death. His death had been months ago now. She waited to feel sadness, loss, but as she so often did, all she felt was emptiness. She wanted to let go. But she knew she would have failed her brother if she let her crew, no his crew, die. She grabbed the rigging with her other hand and kept climbing. 

Reaching the sails she unwound the rope coiled around her arm and began tying back the sails. She had gotten through the first sail on the mast and was moving onto the second when the boat was struck by another howling gust of wind. Then several things happened at once. She was again slammed to the side, and she flailed out to grab onto the rigging to break her fall as she lost her grip on the rope. After a tense moment she felt something solid and her hand caught the very top of the rigging. 

As she was regaining her balance with one hand holding tightly to the handholds, she clenched the dangling end of the rope with the other. The ship rocked. She swung violently in the wind and dropped the ropes to keep her grip. Glancing down she saw the deck of the ship covered in water. She heard the captain shout something from down below but the words were lost in the howling gale. She thought quickly as she began racing back down the rigging. Best case scenario she could still help by reefing the sails. For that she still needed another length of rope to tie them back. With the captain sounding flustered below she would likely need Benill to fix something else. 

As Benill climbed down she saw Carricion (he was idle on the best of days, only tending to the ship when he was ordered directly and even then in slow deliberate manner that bordered on obstinance) and Euinmann (who was often just as curmudgeonly) running towards the hatch where the ships anchor was stored. If those two weren’t just hurrying but running then this was bad. Benill rushed as fast as she could down the rigging then dropped the last few feet to the deck of the ship. She felt the ship groan under her feet. Looking around, water covered the deck and the ship looked as if it was already sinking, a few slow feet at a time, into the ocean.