Journal Entry: The Cloven Heart

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(An excerpt from Mina’s journal during her first voyage at sea.)

I was awake late last night. The ship was so very still--only a slight breeze came across the sea--and we were surrounded by a thick fog. On deck, perched at the rail, I could hear nothing but the lap of waves against the hull, sometimes mistaken for the beats of my own heart. A rustle of cloth announced the approach of someone--Mordechai, it turned out.
I asked, was it not strange, how one could imagine shapes out from the fog, like the neck of a sea-serpent, or the prow of a ghostly ship like in the stories?
“A ghost ship? Aye, there are many tales of those. A story to chill the bones of boys on a ship for the first time. I’ve heard a few in my travels--tell of ships with tattered sails, like the rags of a moldering shroud, or a ship crewed by the dead, their polished bones glowing in the moonlight, and even the ships adrift with not a soul upon them until you sail too close and it steers sharply away, to disappear into the night.
“There was a sailor I knew once, shaw a ship on a foggy night just like this one. His was an honest merchant ship, which bore passengers on occasion. There was a lady on board that time who used to spend hours on deck, at the rail, looking out over the sea, looking sometimes as if she cursed it and sometimes as if she wanted to throw herself in. You ever lose a loved one at sea, girl?”
I had not.
“She had--her own betrothed. He’d gone out as a sailor to earn his fortune, and did it, too, so they could be married. He was on his last trip at sea, on his way home for the wedding, when the ship caught a storm off of Ireland. Not enough to sink her--just wash a few unlucky men overboard, and her James was one of them. The ship’s captain himself came to tell her. She never married, and could never look at the sea without thinking of him, pining for him.
“There they were--this lady and my sailor friend--gazing out into the fog like we are now, when a ship comes hove into view, silent as the grave for all the men working on board--you could hardly count them. And the flag--not that of any country, but a blazon: a heart, clove in two by a sword, with three drops of blood dripping down.
“My sailor friend was ready to call out ahoy when he saw the lady out the corner of his eye. She’d gone pale as the white fog, with her eyes locked on the ship. ‘James?’ she whispered. He looked across the short distance of ocean that separated them from the other ship and saw a man standing still at the rail, staring at them. The fog pulled back a little, so they could see well the bluish pallor of his skin, and his eyes glazed like a thing long dead, yet burning with hellfire. The man was suddenly flying toward them across the expanse of bare water, his arms outstretched to the lady. Then as she reached open her arms for him, his hands turned over into claws, his lips drew back into a rictus of hate. Just as he almost reached her, he and the ship were gone as a gust of wind blew over them, and my sailor friend had to catch the fainting lady before she hit the deck. As another gust came over them she gasped out ‘James’ once more, and died.
“The Cloven Heart’s a true ghost ship, crewed by men who’ve been lost to the sea, but are trapped there by the memories of the ladies who lost them. It sails through the fog, picking up the souls of dead youths, consigning them to a hell of endless wandering until they find the maid who once loved them. Mayhap you won’t see it, as you’ve never lost your man to the sea, but maybe you should be careful, as one of the lost souls might get desperate and mistake you for the one he once loved.”