Collective Hallucinations and Pissed-Off Pirate Magic (Chapter Fourteen)
“Captain, I’m sorry, I—I don’t know what happened!”
Gabe. He sounds desperate. I blink. A slow, sleepy blink. But . . . I don’t sleep anymore. Not really. What the hell just happened? I dig my knuckles into my eyes and turn a slow circle, looking for Doug, for Ted, for . . . anyone, I guess. But the ship is eerily still.
What was I just doing?
Another slow blink to clear my head.
That’s right. I was following Doug at a discreet distance. After Doug told us about the whole Walter Theseus murdering Beige Alice thing, Ted said I should keep an eye on him—make sure he’s okay. That one of us should always sort of guard him against supernatural attacks.
Also, Ted said, Doug takes too much on himself. Gets into moods.
Right, so. I was following him. He climbed the mast and called out for Theseus, and then . . . what?
But that was last night, wasn’t it?
I float in a bewildered circle, squinting at the sky. Weren’t the stars just out?
“I must have—have drifted off. Fallen asleep. I know I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry. I—I’ll never do it again.” Gabe sounds really upset. But why should he be . . .
And then it strikes me. I dart my eyes at the sails—limp. The sun is burning through the cold that has hung over the ship since the ghosts started pushing it along. The seas around us are still. Which means the ship is still.
We’ve stopped moving.
I nearly collide with Ted, who flies out of the hold, hair and eyes wild. Our voices mingle together. “Doug!”
“I thought you were watching him?”
“I was. He was right there—climbing the mast—and then I . . . I don’t know, blacked out or something. And then it was daytime, and the ship had stopped moving, and Doug got away from me somehow, and—”
“Relax, you two. I’m over here.”
Ted and I swing around, clutching each other’s sleeves. We release each other at the same time, self-conscious. I mean, I’m self-conscious. I have no idea what Ted is feeling.
Doug is down by Gabe, hand on his shoulder, reassuring him, I guess. Gabe is . . . Gabe is staring right at me.
Correction. Gabe is staring two feet to the left of me. But he’s definitely trying to look at me, which means he must know I’m there, which means Doug told him. Doug told him.
“How do I look?” I say in a rush.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Yeah. I mean. I—I know he can’t see me. I just—”
Ted huffs and grabs my elbow. “You look like you just died for the second time this month. Come on.” He drags me down to Doug and Gabe, who keeps staring at the spot where he thinks I still am—brow furrowed and eyes all intense under his perfectly side-swept ha—
Ted pinches me.
“Stop it. You’ve gone all Misty Maid of the Moors again.”
I giggle. “What?”
“I said what I said.” He pinches me again. “Focus. Something serious is going on.”
“You focus.” I kick his shins.
“Both of you stop before I lose my mind.” Doug massages the bridge of his nose. He really does look stressed. Of course, when does Doug not look stressed?
Gabe darts his eyes down and sweeps them back and forth. He opens and closes his mouth as if he wants to speak to us, but doesn’t know what to say. It’s got to be weird, not being able to see us.
Doug rescues him. “It’s not your fault the ship ran aground,” he says, clearly not for the first time. “I’m the captain. I charted the course, and everything that happens on board this ship is my responsibility. But also, it shouldn’t be possible for us to run aground—not here. We’re in the middle of the ocean.”
“And yet,” Ted says.
“And, um, what happened to time.” I point at the sky. “It was just the—”
“Sir, I remember a story about that centaur,” Gabe says, talking quickly and talking over me. “In the writings of Walter Theseus, right before he died.”
Doug does a quick look back and forth between us, and I pull my chin back, indignant. But, that’s right, Gabe can’t hear me, so he’s not being rude. He doesn’t realize.
But, he does. A little. Something about Doug’s expression must tip him off, because he pinkens and says, “Oh, sorry. Did I . . . was someone else talking? Sunny, is that you? I’m—I’m sorry. Go ahead.” And he folds his arms and bites his lip and waits. Still staring at the wrong spot.
“I . . .” I glance at Doug. “That’s okay. He can talk.”
Doug says, “She says you can talk.”
“Wow, she’s really here?”
“Her and Ted.”
“My brother. It’s all part of that long story I was telling you about.”
“Right. So . . . boy, this is weird. I feel like I should introduce myself.” Gabe waves into the empty space beyond Ted. “Hi, I’m Gabe.”
Ted rubs his face with both hands.
“He knows who you are,” Doug says. “Why don’t you just tell us about what you read?”
“Right. Sure.” Gabe flips his hair out of his face and raises his hands like he’s giving a presentation. “So in some of Theseus’s last writings before he died, he wrote about how the centaur used to give him nightmares.”
“Well, if it was enchanted with the soul of the pirate he’d murdered, it would, wouldn’t it?” Ted mutters.
“Shhh,” I say, leaning closer to Gabe.
“He said he eventually tried to throw the thing into the ocean, but that whenever he did, it always came back. Like, just appeared in his house, dripping wet. Creepy, huh? So he locked it away in that museum, but it still gave him nightmares.”
“What does that have to do with what’s happening right now?” Doug gestures at the still ship.
“Theseus remembered his nightmares, right? And he wrote them down. But now I think maybe they weren’t nightmares at all. Because he said that in some of his nightmares, he dreamed Black Alice turned time on end. Day became night and night became day. So what if . . .” Gabe gestures wildly, looking for words.
“What if Theseus wasn’t dreaming at all, but Black Alice was making him hallucinate. What if she was trying to make him go mad as vengeance for her murder?” Doug says grimly.
“Hallucination?” Ted says. He looks around. “We’re all experiencing the same thing, though. Collective hallucination? Dougie . . . Is this normal wrathful, pissed-off pirate magic?”
I press my hands to my stomach. “Is anything about this normal?”
Doug hurries to the edge of the ship and looks over. “Have we run aground?” he says in a quiet voice. “What’s holding us in place?” He glances skyward into the pale sun, at the limp sails.
“Where are the other ghosts?” I say. “I mean, they can’t leave the ship, can they?”
“No. They can’t.” Doug turns back to Gabe. “Did Theseus seem like he lost his mind before he died? What do you think?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. All I do know is”—he gulps—“I’m not feeling so well.”
Project CoNarrative is an ongoing multimedia experiment in collaborative storytelling from two award-winning authors. We're taking turns writing chapters and building on each other's work, improv-style. You can read them for free, here on the internet, as we write them.
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