North Atlantic, 25° N, -71° E, Summer, 1718
Captain Kit Beauregard picked up her spyglass and looked in the direction the lookout was pointing off the port bow.
The sea was calm and the wind light and the Señorita made steady, if slow, progress leeward, the Jolly Roger fluttering lightly at the stern. She glanced at it idly, noting that it was looking tatty and perhaps a new one would be in order.
They hadn’t raided a ship for several days and Kit had decided to sail out into the Atlantic in search of new prey. Now after several days alone in the expanse, they had encountered a solitary ship in the open ocean.
“Here, what do you think?”
She handed the spyglass to Jean Lefèvre. He looked at the ship.
“Spanish. She seems to be drifting.”
“That’s what I thought.”
She turned to the helmsman. “Steer to port. Aloft, unfurl the topsails.”
Men scrambled up the rigging and unfurled the topsails. The ship picked up speed and the helmsman steered her closer to the Spaniard.
“A galleon,” Jean said. “But something about her isn’t right.” He frowned and put the spyglass to his eye again.
“She is certainly adrift,” Kit said. “We need to get closer to look properly.”
She beckoned the quartermaster, Joseph O’Connor over. The big black man crossed the deck and peered through his spyglass. He didn’t say anything at first, just looked at her, then crossed himself.
“I think we should get away from here, girl,” he said.
“Why Joseph? What do you know?”
“There’s evil here,” he said. “I can feel it. We need to turn back head into the Caribbean. This is a bad place.”
“Captain,” the helmsman said. “Look at this.”
He pointed at the compass and Kit went over. She frowned. “Jean, what does this mean?”
Jean likewise looked at the compass. The needle was moving back and forth as if trying to settle but never quite could. Joseph’s eyes widened and he crossed himself again.
“We must leave this place. This is a sign.”
“Steady, Joseph,” Kit said. “We need to take a look at that ship. She’s drifting. We need to find out why.” She paused. “I know we are looking for booty, but… But, if those people are in trouble, we have a duty to help if we can.”
“And rob them,” the helmsman said.
She grinned. “Well, that too. She’s Spanish, so gold is a possibility.”
While they were talking the gap between the two ships closed and by now, they were in hailing distance.
“I understand now,” Jean said. “What is strange about her. This ship is obsolete. See the high fo’c’sle, quarterdeck and steep, rounded hull?”
“Aye, I did think it strange. I’ve not seen anything quite like it before.”
“They haven’t built ships like that for around a hundred years. What is an old ship like that doing drifting here?”
“Only one way to find out, Jean.”
“No!” Joseph said. His voice rose and his eyes widened as he crossed himself again. “You must not go there. There are evil spirits in these waters.”
Kit placed a hand on Joseph’s arm. “You know me, Joseph. I’ll be careful enough. But we have to find out what’s going on here.”
He said nothing, but patted her hand, then went forward and below decks.
“What is up with him?” she said.
“He’s a superstitious fellow,” the helmsman said. “Probably thinks there are evil spirits on board the ship, too.” He laughed and returned his attention to the compass. “Still jumping around,” he said, thumping the instrument with his fist. “Can’t get a bearing like this.”
“Hail them,” Kit said.
“Ahoy, there, Spanish galleon, prepared to be boarded.”
Nothing. The ship continued to drift aimlessly. No one responded to the hail.
Kit lifted the spyglass again and now that they were close enough, she could see the vessel’s name on the stern. “San Miguel.” She said.
Jean stood looking at the ship a hundred yards off their port bow. “Well, I never. We may have solved a maritime mystery.”
“What? Tell me. What do you know?”
“The San Miguel vanished without trace in 1575. She was travelling from the Spanish colonies in South America to Spain. Loaded with Aztec gold so the story goes. No one knew what had happened to her. Now here she is… Perhaps Joseph has a point.”
Kit turned her attention to the San Miguel. The sails flapped lazily, the rudder swung loosely without control from the helm and seabirds swooped overhead. Still there was no sign of life, despite repeated hails. For a few moments she said nothing.
“We go,” she said.
“You are sure about his?” Jean replied.
“Aye. ‘Tis the only way this mystery will be solved. But just you and I, Jean.”
Joseph returned from below decks.
“As you are determined to go, then I insist that you take this.” He held out an amulet on a gold chain. Around his neck was an identical one.
“What is it, Joseph?”
“It be a magic talisman, Kit. It links our souls. If ’n you are in danger, I can pull you back from the evil spirits that lurk yonder.” Again, he crossed himself. He reached forward and fastened the chain around her neck and patted the amulet.
Kit looked at him, then at Jean who said nothing but raised an eyebrow and placed a hand on his. “Thank you, Joseph, but I am sure we will be in no danger.”
She turned to the helmsman.
“Take us in,”
The man steered to port and the ships closed together. Kit and Jean swung across on ropes, landing on the deck of the San Miguel. They let go of the ropes and drew their cutlasses as they looked about.
“Let us see if there is anyone aft,” she said, walking to the cabins below the quarterdeck.
“I’ll look for’ard,” Jean replied.
She opened the doors and went inside. She found the captain’s cabin, where she also found the captain, or more accurately what was left of him. In the chair at the captain’s desk was a skeleton fallen forward over the desk where the charts were still laid out. Kit walked over and studied the chart. She put her cutlass back in its scabbard. The captain was no threat.
Jean joined her a few moments later. “I found other remains down in the crew quarters. All like this man.”
“The charts are all of this area, although, as you say, out of date by about a century. There are islands missing that we now know about. I wonder what happened to this poor fellow and his crew?”
She looked up. Jean was looking about with a frown.
“Notice anything?” he said.
Kit stood back from the desk. “Aye, we aren’t moving.”
The normal undulation of the vessel beneath their feet had stopped and the gentle flapping of the sails had fallen silent. Even the keening of seabirds had ceased. Kit went to the aft windows and looked out.
“Come and look.”
Jean joined her and looked outside. They could see nothing due to a thick fog so dense, it seemed as if they were alone on the ocean with all sound drowned out by this eerie blanket. The Señorita was nowhere to be seen.
“Let’s go outside,” Jean said.
They drew their cutlasses again and made their way, treading softly, out onto the main deck. Even so, their feet sounded loud on the wooden deck with no other noises like the creaking of the masts or the flapping of the sails or the gentle lapping of the waves against the hull. The claustrophobic blanket of fog bounced the sound back at them.
Tendrils of fog drifted across the ship, covering the sea. Every so often, a gap would appear and they could see a little further afield.
“Look!” Kit pointed to something on the starboard bow. Jean’s gaze followed her pointed finger.
“What is it?”
Kit let the cutlass dangle down beside her leg, in awe of what she was staring at. “Metal birds. Huge metal birds. What witchcraft is this? Where is the Señorita?”
Jean followed her gaze and stood, likewise awestruck by the sight of several Curtiss Tomahawk aircraft sitting in a line on the surface of the still water.
“Ahoy there,” a voice rang out from the fog. Jolted from their reverie, they looked over the edge of the ship. Below, a rowing boat nudged against the hull.
“Be mightily obliged if you folks could cast down a boarding net.”
“Just a moment, sir.”
Jean grabbed a net and lowered it down to the man in the boat and he clambered aboard, landing on the deck where he stood, chomping on a fat cigar, a peaked cap worn jauntily on his head and khaki fatigues topped off with a leather flying jacket. He lifted a finger to the peak of his cap.
“Howdy, ma’am, sir, Captain Guy McKenzie, US Army Air Force at your service.”
Kit and Jean stared at the strangely dressed man and his peculiar speech, which, had they known it, was from somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line. He carried on.
“If I am right, you will be Cutthroat Kate Beauregard and you, sir, would be the Frenchman, Jean Lefèvre.” He stood, resting one hand on the pistol holster on his belt and the other holding his cigar as he looked at them with that smile playing across his lips. As if, somehow, this was a moment that he had been waiting a lifetime for.
For a moment, Kit said nothing. Then, “How do ye know of us? What strange tongue you speak and where do ye come from?”
McKenzie chuckled. “Perhaps if we retire to the captain’s cabin? I believe he kept a fine port…”
He led the way to the captain’s cabin and they followed, slowly, exchanging glances with each other. McKenzie rummaged around in the drinks cabinet and poured three glasses, placing them on the table, gesturing them to take one. He then sat, sprawled in the bench seat under the window. He looked out at the fog.
“Still ain’t cleared. Be like that for a while, I guess. Forever, maybe.”
“I think, sir, you owe us an explanation,” Kit said.
“Take a seat, ma’am and drink up. All in good time.”
He looked at her, a smile playing across his face.
“I must say, this is an honour to meet you. Ain’t many folks get to meet people from the long distant past.”
“What do you mean?”
“What year is it for you,” McKenzie said.
“1718,” she replied.
McKenzie took a sip of the port. “Damn fine vintage that,” he said. “Damn fine indeed. Me, I’m a pilot. Those birds out there, one of ’em’s my Tomahawk. The year for me is 1942. We were on a training flight when we came into this fog. Been here ever since.”
“A flight? You fly? How is that. What is this magic that men can fly?”
“Those birds you saw through the fog, they are airplanes. They fly right enough. Men have been flying in the skies for around forty years now. There’s a great European war on as well as a Pacific one with the Japanese. You would know about that, wouldn’t you, Kate? You fought in a European war.”
She sipped her port and looked across at Jean who returned her puzzled frown with one of his own.
“We both did.”
“On different sides,” McKenzie said.
“Yes… How do ye know all of this, good sir?”
“Oh, your exploits are the stuff of legend, ma’am.” He drained his glass and stood. “Come, let me show you my kite.”
They followed him outside and clambered down the net into his rowing boat. They sat as he rowed the short distance on sea that was like glass and made no ripples, nor wake, as the small boat moved silently across it. There, sitting on the surface was a Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk. McKenzie stopped rowing and stepped out onto the water.
“What is this?” Kit said. What witchcraft goes on here?”
McKenzie shrugged. “I really don’t know, ma’am. But get out and come on over, you will be fine. Carefully, she stepped out of the boat and walked across to where he stood beside the aircraft. Jean followed her.
“This,” McKenzie said, patting the undercarriage, “Is my airplane. Ain’t she a beaut?”
Kit looked up at the aircraft, never having seen the like of it before. The sleek lines and long nose containing the engine at the end of which was the propeller. On the nose cover was painted a Jolly Roger.
“And you fly in air in this, this… metal bird machine? How is that possible?”
“Yes ma’am. She’ll do two-hundred and ninety knots and fly way up there.” He pointed to where the sky would have been had it not been blocked out by the dense fog.
Kit stared at the machine. “I cannot imagine that men can fly.”
“One day, Kate, men will fly to the moon, the boffins are sure of it.”
She laughed then. “Now you are jesting with us.”
“No ma’am, not at all. They reckon in my lifetime, a man will walk on the surface of the moon. Quite a thing, ain’t it?”
She shook her head. “This I cannot believe. But tell me how did you end up trapped here? We boarded this vessel and it brought us here. But you?”
“Like I said, I was on a training flight when I flew into the fog. Unlike you, I was expecting it.”
“Because, ma’am, you told me.”
“You know a fellow called Henry McKenzie.”
“Henry. He went back to England after leaving the army following his injury. I believe that is where he is now.”
The man smiled and looked across at Jean, noting the dawning realisation on the Frenchman’s face. “Frenchie here gets it.”
“This is one of Henry’s descendants, Kate.”
“Oh. Oh, my.”
“Not just Henry’s, ma’am.” He waited for the matter to sink in. “It ain’t too often a fella gets to meet his ancestor.” He lifted his cap and grinned. “I’m not sure how many greats there are, but you are my great, great, great, great grandmother or some such and I am honoured to make your acquaintance, ma’am.”
She looked at the young man, noting the eyes and the curve of the mouth. Now that she knew, she could see Henry reflected in the lines around his eyes, the slightly lop-sided smile and the eyes themselves. And his hair had a reddish tinge. Not quite the copper colour of her own, but still enough.
“But, how will we escape this fog? We must get back to our own time. For if we do not…” She frowned as the thoughts took shape in her mind. “If we do not, you will never exist…”
“Aye, ma’am, you are right about that.”
“Then what must we do to get away from here?”
“Wait here.” He clambered onto the wing of the tomahawk and reached into the cockpit. He returned clutching an amulet on a chain.
“Oh,” she said, I have one just like it.”
“I know. It’s the same one. Been passed down my family for two hundred years.”
“Well, ma’am, now I follow the instructions you passed on down through the family and I find out if it really works.”
She arched her eyebrows. Jean looked at her, then to McKenzie and shrugged.
McKenzie held the amulet up and spun it on its chain. As he did so, Kit could feel her own, dangling around her neck, start to pulsate. She looked at the young pilot and his smile became all that she could see as the rest of the world about her started to dissolve into the blanket of fog that wrapped its embrace around them, closing out all light from the distant sun.
She reached out to Jean and grasped his hand as the vibrations from the amulet grew and she could feel a pulling sensation as the pilot grew fainter and vanished from her sight. Eventually, she could see nothing but felt as if the world was spinning about her.
She landed on the wooden deck of the Señorita with a thud that knocked the breath out of her lungs. A fraction of a second later, Jean landed beside her. She lay there for a moment, catching her breath and groaning with each intake.
Joseph looked down at the two of them, his own amulet dangling from the chain in his hand.
“You alright there, girl?”
“Yes… Yes, I am alright.” She stood awkwardly and looked across to the port side of the ship. There was no sign of the San Miguel. Oddly, she didn’t really expect to see it.
“I’m not too sure what happened there. How long were we gone?”
Joseph shook his head. “You ain’t been gone at all. The two of you just collapsed after I gave you the talisman.”
“And the San Miguel?”
Joseph looked from them to the helmsman and back. He shrugged. “I have no idea where it went. It just vanished like it was never there. This is a bad place, Kate, which is why I was sayin’ we should head west back to the Caribbean for booty.”
“Aye.” She got to her feet and patted him on the back. “Let’s head back to more familiar waters.”
“Aye, aye.” The helmsman spun the wheel and the Señorita caught the wind and turned towards the Caribbean.
Captain Guy McKenzie led the squadron of Tomahawks in a vee formation as they flew out over the Atlantic. Something caught his eye. “A bank of fog up ahead, slightly off to starboard,” he said into the radio.
The radio crackled in response. “I see it skipper. Should we gain altitude and fly over it?”
“Roger that. Increase altitude to twenty thousand feet.”
As they flew over the fog bank, Guy looked down and noted a gap opening up below where he could see the surface of the ocean, bright blue as it reflected the sun shining through the gap. He spoke again.
“Did you see that, boys?”
“A gap in the fog. I’m sure I just saw an old-fashioned sailing ship…”
“No, skipper, you must be imagining it. Must be something to do with those pirates in your family history come back to haunt you.”
He could hear the chuckles as the others laughed. He smiled and looked down at the joystick. The amulet hung from its gold chain and he was sure it was glowing slightly.