Short Story
                                           Anna Katherine
                                                                   By Samuel Kennedy


   The Anna Katherine drifted quietly into the harbor, with no trace of crew or passengers.

   Once the harbor master had brought her safely to one of the more isolated docks, the port authorities
went aboard, hoping to discern what events had brought the derelict brigantine to the quiet harbor town of
Gannisville.  No sign of either disease or violence was evident aboard the vessel, and no ship’s papers,
captain’s log, or personal journals could be found to shed light on the subject.  The crew, and also the
passengers – if there ever were any – were simply gone, and the hull was empty save for ballast.

   Over the next several months, correspondence with the prominent shipping houses abroad eventually
uncovered that the Anna Katherine was originally built in the Netherlands for a British merchant in Dover.  
In the span of five years, it had made two voyages to the Caribbean and back before disappearing without
a trace.  In the three years since its disappearance, the merchant had gone bankrupt and retired to
Cornwall in some ill repute.  Attempts to contact this merchant revealed that he had met his death after a
fall from his horse less than a month before the derelict reappeared.

   With no one to claim her, the Anna Katherine sat in the harbor for another full year before the city
decided to put the brigantine up for public auction.  Bidding was sluggish, as was to be expected.  Only a
handful of businessmen were even interested in the vessel, in part due to the strange circumstances
surrounding her and in part due to the amount of time she had spent in port without maintenance.  The
larger merchants abstained from bidding altogether.  Eventually the Anna Katherine was sold to Mr. Isaac
Brown, a hard-working but struggling merchant and Gannisville local.

   Though Mr. Brown paid only a fraction of what the brigantine would have cost new, he nearly bankrupted
himself repairing the Anna Katherine and stocking her for a trading voyage to Barbados.  A veteran of the
Caribbean waters himself, Mr. Brown decided to act as captain, and recruited a crew from among his
contacts in the city harbor.  On the morning the ship set sail, Mr. Brown stood on the deck, smiling and
waving at family and friends as the Anna Katherine slipped into open waters for the first time in almost
three years.

   No one but Mr. Brown and his creditors knew the truth: if this voyage was a failure, Isaac Brown was
ruined.

                                                                                   . . .

   As it turned out, that first voyage was not a failure.  But it couldn’t be called a success either.  Although a
profit was made on the goods transported, it was minimal, and certainly not enough to recoup what Mr.
Brown had put into repairs for the Anna Katherine.  Desperate for cash flow, Mr. Brown quickly made
plans for another voyage.  It too yielded only minimal profits, and the creditors began losing patience.  
Three years after purchasing the Anna Katherine, Isaac Brown was no closer to prosperity than he was the
day he bought the brigantine.  In fact, his entire business was teetering closer to the brink of ruin than ever
before.

   Seeing no other way out of his financial dilemma, Mr. Brown begged and borrowed every penny he
could from friends and family.  He went so far as to put his home and personal belongings up as collateral,
a decision which alarmed his wife considerably.  With the money that brought him, he prepared for one
more voyage, confessing to his wife that he feared this would be his last venture on the sea.  When the
Anna Katherine set off this time for the Caribbean, his wife and their two small children were the only ones
who came to see him off.

   As they sailed south, he sensed a difference in the crew as well.  Many of them were surly at their pay,
which was lower than on previous voyages.  But with little other trade going in or out of Gannisville in those
days, there was little they could do but accept whatever work they could find.  Still, before many days had
passed, their ill humor convinced Mr. Brown to spend the better part of his time in his cabin.  Here he sat,
burning his candle through the night, pouring over ledgers and accounts, trying to find a way to rectify his
fortunes.  On one such night, just as they crossed the 31st parallel, a sudden feeling of drowsiness came
over him.  He tried to resist, focusing on the papers strewn across the desk in front of him.

   His eyelids grew heavier and heavier, and the candlelight seemed to flicker.  The words and numbers
turned to undecipherable scribbles on the parchment.  Then, as his head lowered to the desk, the
parchment changed.  The ink faded away, and the texture changed to some type of plant fiber.  Papyrus,
maybe.  New symbols appeared on the page, burned in as if by a hot iron.  Bizarre scrawls and sigils
etched – no, branded – into the fibers.  Symbols and words Isaac Brown had never seen before.

   As the words formed in front of him, a feeling of unknown yet altogether familiar terror crept over Isaac
Brown.  Strange and unknowable as the symbols appeared, he still had a feeling as if he recognized them,
and knew from some subconscious part of his mind that their origin was both incalculably ancient and
indescribably horrific.  As his brow finally collapsed to meet the parchment and his eyes closed, the unholy
words seemed to crawl from the page and into his mind, where they slowly took shape.

                                                                                     . . .

   He jerked awake suddenly, spilling his inkwell to the floor.  The candle had burned low, almost
extinguished, but in its dull light he saw a figure sitting across the desk from him.  Man or woman, he could
not say – nor was he entirely certain the being was even human.  It certainly sat up as a human being, and
its features were anthropoid in a general sense, and yet somehow it was unlike any human Isaac Brown
had ever seen before.

   Perhaps it was the forehead (just a little too tall) or the dark-colored eyes, which protruded slightly in an
almost fishlike manner.  Or it may have been the way the long, spine-like fingers rested on the edge of the
desk, or even the odd greenish pallor of the being’s skin.  Looking into its eyes, Isaac Brown saw nothing,
but his own reflection.  In the darkness of the creature’s pupils, he seemed to be falling endlessly down
some horrible black hole.

   He found himself unable to speak.  The creature looked at him for a moment more, running a hand
through its unkempt black hair.  And then it leaned forward, looking directly into his eyes.  And then it
spoke.

   “The world will continue without you, Isaac.”

   Mr. Brown found his voice, faint and hoarse as it was.  “What?’ he asked.

   “The world will continue,” the being repeated.  “The good will still suffer, the evil will still prosper, and the
earth will continue to groan under the weight of it all.”

   “Who are you?” Brown gasped.  “Where did you come in here from?”

   A trace of a smile appeared on the ashen lips.  “From the womb of nature herself – and perhaps from
her grave.  I came from the deep to answer the prayer you dared not utter.”

   Brown steadied himself against the desk.  As he struggled to even form a coherent thought, the being
merely watched him, the faint smile still resting on its face.  From the womb of nature – what did that even
mean?  This man – this woman – this thing had appeared from nowhere.  From the deep, it said. What
deep? And what prayer had it come to answer?

   “All is not lost, Isaac,” the being said. “After all, you still have your strength of will.  Hatred and courage
and desire are all immortal.  You just have to realize what it is you really want.”

   “What do you think I want?”

   “You’re a good man, Isaac.  You want what’s best for your family.  You want to make them proud.  Isn’t
that right?”

   Isaac had to agree.  It was all he wanted.

   “I can give it all to you. There’s just a small sacrifice, one I know a man of your convictions can make.”

   Isaac’s eyes narrowed.  “What sacrifice?” he asked.

   It leaned back, folding its fingers in front of the gray sea-coat it wore.  Isaac noticed for the first time the
hilt of a curiously-shaped dagger protruding from within the coat.

   “If you want to save your family from the poorhouse,” it said, “you can never see them again.”

   “No,” Isaac exclaimed.  “I’ll never agree to that.”  He stood up from the desk, furious at the creature’s
demands.

                                                                                   . . .

   The scene changed abruptly.  Isaac saw his family starving, his wife working herself to death to pay off
his creditors.  His sons – when they came of age – would inherit the failing business.  His heart ached at
the thought.  Then the vision faded, and he was standing at his desk, looking at the creature.

   He sat down again as a heavy sigh escaped him.  “What… what would I have to do?”

   It nodded, the smile gone now.  A look of sadness crept over its face, but Isaac had to wonder if it was
genuine.  “The Anna Katherine must go down with all hands.  Your debts will be absolved, the insurance
will take care of your family.”

   “Do you really think I would do that to my family?  To every other sailor on this ship?!”

   “You saw the alternative,” the being said.  “Well, part of it at least.”

   “What do you mean?” Isaac asked, his concerns rising again.

   The being leaned forward again.  “You saw what happens to your family, but not what happens to you.  
Mutiny, Isaac.  You see, you’ll be food for the sharks either way.  But if the cargo reaches Gannisville, your
business will continue, and your family will suffer on.  If the ship and cargo are lost, your company will go
bankrupt, with you alone bearing the responsibility.  Are you up to that?”

   Isaac sighed, his head in his hands.  “You’re talking about my death.  And murder besides.”

   “Like I said, Isaac: the world will go on.  And this horror you feel will ease soon enough, and this
darkness will soon feel like light.  You can do it, Isaac; I know you can.”

   When Isaac looked up, the being had disappeared.  The candle was burning brightly again, and the chill
that had seemed so oppressive moments before had vanished.  Looking out the cabin windows, he saw
dawn just beginning to break.  Shaking off the terror his strange dream had left him with, he tidied up his
papers. His inkwell was on the floor, so he picked it up and set it back on the desk.  He reached for a cloth
with which to clean up the spilled ink; his hand closed around the hilt of a dagger.

   He stood up, holding the weapon to the light and looking at it in surprise. It wasn’t his, but he thought it
looked familiar somehow.  Its strange shape was like something out of a dream.  Leaving the ink on the
floor, he stepped out onto the deck, still holding the otherworldly dagger.

   Just over a month later, the Anna Katherine drifted quietly into the harbor, with no trace of crew or
passengers.  No sign of either disease or violence was evident aboard the vessel, and no ship’s papers,
captain’s log, or personal journals could be found to shed light on the subject.  The crew, and also the
passengers – if there ever were any – were simply gone, and the hull was empty save for ballast.


                                                                           The End
About Samuel Kennedy

Samuel Kennedy is a blogger and an author of
Westerns, fantasy, and action/adventure stories,
many of which end up somewhere on the macabre
scale. So far, he has written mostly short stories, but
is currently deep in writing a full-length fantasy novel.
Samuel Kennedy can be found online at:
https://samuelkennedywritesstuff.home.blog/
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.