Brushing her teeth with the door open, Dayna watched her sister. For at least ten minutes, Erin had sat on her bunk gazing into a hand mirror. Now she touched her lips as if remembering a taste she couldn’t quite get her mind around.
“Narcissistic much?” The wisecrack came out of nowhere, and Dayna instantly wanted to take it back. Erin wasn’t at all self-absorbed. Since their parents’ death, she’d been the greatest big sister anyone could want.
When she didn’t answer, Dayna rinsed her mouth then sat down on the bunk beside her.
“Thanks for singing with me. We got some laughs, especially when you put your arms around Cookie on the final note.” When she still didn’t answer, Dayna said, “Cookie promised me five-hundred dollars if you’ll go to bed with him. I said you’ll knock on his door before midnight.”
Still no response. “Erin!”
“He kissed me,” Erin whispered.
“Who? Oh my god, the captain? Woohoo! I knew he was hot for you.”
“It’s not…” Whatever she said next was swallowed by the rain hitting the bulkhead and their tiny porthole. Then, “Every since he kissed me, I’m in his head.”
“What, like you can hear his thoughts?” Cool!
“Sometimes. Mostly when he’s angry or—” She threw the mirror on the bed, yanked open the door and ran outside.
She left the door standing open. Erin doesn’t do that.
“Erin! It’s storming out there.” Dayna ran after her.
Raindrops gathered in midair like steel shavings drawn together by a magnet.
Impossible, of course, but there it was.
Clumps of water hung collecting more and more droplets, forming a roughly human shape. The shape rapidly refined itself until it might have been a talented chef’s ice carving, complete with hair, beard, glaring eyes and crooked, rotten teeth.
But it wasn’t ice, it was liquid, which could move and flow and reform. It had legs, arms. It wore boots, clothing and a hat. It carried a rapier.
Captain Richard Stryker, my ancient enemy.
Whatever curse had burned out the Spanish brigantine, leaving me alone and unharmed on the Sarah Jane must also have immortalized Stryker in his own watery hell. Once every few months I could depend on his visit, always in a rainstorm, always raging mad.
Stryker’s entire manifestation took less than a minute. By then, I was headed his way, cattle prod in hand.
“McKinsey, you niddering mouse, get over here and take what’s coming to ye.” The voice was only in my mind, but the vision was real and Stryker’s sword was as solid and sharp as any blade.
I’d patched up more cuts than I could count from that blade, yet I once severed Stryker’s watery head from his watery body, and it flowed right back together. Bullets passed through him without harm.
A flare gun once had left a bigger hole, apparently evaporating the part of him it touched. A moment later, the hole was gone, and even in the rain, shooting off too many flares on a ship was piss-poor thinking.
How I’d hit upon using electrical current, I don’t recall, but for some reason it scatters the water, and it takes a minute or so for Stryker to reassemble. The battle can still go on and on, though, I with my electric stick growing weary, he with his rapier tiring not at all.
So now, to avoid losing an appendage, I sidestepped the blade aimed at me and gave my watery opponent a jolt. Half of his body sprayed the air. The other half dissolved onto the deck.
Seconds later, he reappeared behind me, coming fast.
The lad on fore watch must have heard the commotion. He arrived just as I prodded my opponent for the third time. The lad stood gaping as Stryker’s watery molecules scattered.
Unlike pirates, mates don’t carry weapons aboard my ship, so when Stryker materialized again and came at me with his sword, the mate nearly fell arse-backwards trying to get away.
“Don’t worry yourself about this,” I called to him, as I gave Stryker another jolt. “I’ll take care of it. You mind the ship.”
“And keep mum about what you see here.”
“Yes, sir!” Still agape, he tripped backing up but quickly righted himself and fled.
The skirmish went on and on, Stryker coming each time from a different angle. At one point he became so enraged at not being able to get at me that he sliced through some rigging for spite. Then he materialized behind me again.
I spun on my heel and started toward him. My boot hit a slick spot. I went down hard. The cattle prod slid from my hand.
In an instant, Stryker was looming over me, his booted foot on my groin, rapier raised over my outstretched arm. Despite the number of times we’ve fought this battle, there were always surprises. It had been a long time since I felt quite this powerless.
For a sudden moment I was nine years old, dangling by Stryker’s fist wrenching my collar, his glistening black eyes full of slimy crawling things and his laughter exploding in my ears. The moment passed, but looking up into Stryker’s hellish face, I couldn’t deny it: this time I was scared.
And maybe he had water for brains, but he knew what I was thinking. Whichever way I moved, his rapier could get there faster. I’d be without a hand. Or an arm.
I’d lived long past my pirate days when lost limbs paid extra. If the devil would go for my neck, one hard clean swipe, it might solve both our problems. I’m fairly certain I can’t grow a new head or meld my severed neck back together, as he can.
Go for the neck, I silently implored. Do a clean job of it. Cut the head right off. I’ll even stretch it out for you, and we’ll be free of each other for good. Stryker had always enjoyed maiming a bloke, though.
The moon appeared from behind the clouds, and the rain seemed to be letting up. Foolish to count on it.
The cattle prod lay some four feet away to my right. As these thoughts flashed through my brain, I glanced to my right, feinting, then twitched a shoulder in that direction.
Stryker swung his blade.
I rolled left while kicking his ankle with my boot heel. My boot struck water, of course, but it knocked a chunk out of him, and he stumbled.
While he got himself back together, I turned and reached for the prod—
The rapier got there first, missing my hand by a hair as I jerked it back.
And he was right there upon me, swinging again! No time to move— the blow struck above the elbow—
A shrieking banshee flew from the shadows. It barreled across the deck and tackled Stryker like a full-body battering ram.
My enemy scattered into pieces.
I grabbed the prod and scrambled after him. He was still missing some chunks when I hit him with the shock and sent him spraying into the wind again.
He’d be back, but the rain had definitely slacked off. So maybe not tonight.
Scanning for where he would manifest next, I spied the banshee that had saved my arm from being hacked off at the shoulder.
It was Erin.
This is our last week together on Paradise Cursed, so BUY THE BOOK now, because we’re only halfway there and you’ll want to read what happens next.