Thursday, 31 October 2013

Captain Kidd in Salem

The Trustees of Misery Island

It had been a bad business in Salem right enough. Kidd was not long married at the time, enjoying a spell on land in Boston. All summer, it was all anyone could talk about, by the autumn, it was done. Kidd was no stranger to witchcraft, most of the sailors he knew were as superstitious as they were drunk, so he knew the difference between magic and mischief making. It was not so very long ago that Kidd had sailed with the old Sea Witch herself - there was a real terror; these poor women though, Kidd doubted more than one or two of them had the gift. Or curse, depending on how you looked at it. But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and if there's one thing witch trials were good for, it was scaring folks - and scared folks with witches on their mind were apt not to notice a spot of pirating, and even less likely to go snooping about places they believed were unnatural.

So it was that Kidd had travelled up to Salem not too long after the last of the ladies were hanged at Gallows Hill. Knowing the hanged  would not have been buried in the churchyard, Kidd simply looked to the ditches and fields on the outskirts of town, to those places where the bodies of the women unclaimed by families were likely to have found rest. Digging up a body is little different from digging up treasure, and by this time, Kidd had a little practice at both. He knew exactly what he was looking for, any coins or stones still stuck in the throat would do - there's no guardian better for treasure than a damned soul. And here in Salem, most of the work had been done for him.

Not all his treasure had spectral guardians - magic could sometimes cost more than the gold; the Chinese horde had an ingenious device of clockwork and gunpowder, the French haul was protected by the strange blue lights which confounded compasses and closer to home, the cherry trees hid a particularly nasty surprise. But for this loot, in this place, a little witchcraft seemed appropriate. His macabre booty gathered in, he strolled away from Salem town and back to his boat.

Misery Island was well named. The broken rocks tore out from the shoreline like the teeth of some unseen beast, smashing apart the boats foolish enough to venture near. It was a small island, dark and quiet, but with enough of a tree line to hide his activities if he were still here by daybreak. Last time he had buried treasure, he'd taken a few of the men with him. It always seemed like such a waste. He'd lost a good Cabin Boy on that trip. But you could never be sure when your luck would change. Just one shovel tonight.

Kidd dug long and hard, not too deep to be lost, not too shallow to be found. He would place the stone near the top. A well travelled sailor would recognise a witch stone immediately, a superstitious one would flee. Thereafter, the soul would wander near the treasure, keeping all but the stone's owner at bay.

Kidd's shovel hit the island bedrock much sooner than he thought he would, the clash and chime of steel on stone broke the silence. Kidd knew immediately that something was wrong. Looking down to shore he saw the fogbank rolling slowly in, gasping between the rocks. And something else, a humming. There was something older, something darker than the damned souls of Salem on Misery Island, and it wasn't something Kidd had brought ashore. The edge of the pit Kidd had dug began to crumble, the small wooden casket tumbling in.
'This island already has a guardian.' Kidd cursed, the chest was too far down to be taken back easily, and the trees now shook and shuddered in the quickening breeze. The ground continued to give way beneath him, and as he scrambled towards shore, roots and branches twisted and grasped in his wake.

The island. The island was the guardian. Sleeping, silently waiting, awakened now by the evil which had swept through the little town nearby. The ground spat out the bones of the lost, long gone sailors who had fallen beneath the waves and under the dark spell of the island. The ragged fingers of those who were ripped apart on the rocks scratched at his heels as he ran. He could hear the stone beneath him as it screamed and sang. There were treasures worth being damned for. This was not one of them.

Not once looking back, Kidd sailed into the black, away from the fog and the strange howling of the rocks.

Salem was a dark place to be sure. And for all the wrong reasons.

Happy Halloween folks. Don't be forgetting you can have fun staging your own witch trial later this evening...

And if a free download of the Tales of the Oak comic hasn't quenched your thirst for blood, you must also check out Hallowcream 2013...96 pages of nightmares.

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