AMBERGRIS IV

I began carving scrimshaw again.


It was the scratching, that damnable scratching. It never went away. Things are rarely quiet aboard a whaling ship, but in the smallest, closest hours of the morning I could hear it, painstaking and irregular and incessant, as though the scrimshander were working the awl directly beside my ear.


I started carving again to cover that noise with my own. When I was not on watch, alone at mealtimes, even when I should have been sleeping, I carved. I could feel my cheeks hollowing out. But I could not get the scratching out of my head.


Pour it into the bone, Hamish had told me, and I tried. My God, I tried, but it was like pouring the ocean through the neck of a bottle. The man who was not Malcolm Madigan slept in the hammock across from mine as I carved, and as long as he was there I could not focus, could not sleep, could do nothing but hunch and tremble over the bone.


He had been dead.


Pour it into the bone.


And now he was alive.


Pour it into the bone.


But he was not the same.


Pour it into the same.


And Jacob Hurley was lost to the sea.


Pour it into the sea.


On deck there was a sudden cry that wrenched me from a state of timeless repose. The others in the forecastle all sat up in their hammocks at the sound, which was not the call of a watch or even an alert to a whale, but a drawn out scream. So soon after Hurley’s death, we were all on edge.


I looked down at the piece I had been carving, knowing already what I would see.


Into the sea.


The criss-crossed, tangled knots of branches and twigs, the Carolina woods I longed for. I could not carve anything else. I had never carved anything else. When I tried, my hand twisted and forced the lines to scratch into the bones the shape it wanted most, the shape of the woods.


Into the woods.


I threw it across the cabin and scrambled from the forecastle behind the rest of the crew, hurrying up to the aft deck where Martin Dawson hung over the railing until his scream dwindled into a gasping sob. His brother Jasper pulled him back, and as the crew gathered around him we saw with horror that his eyes had turned white. Even as we watched they were curdling in their sockets, blackening and bubbling and then running out along his cheeks as he convulsed in confusion and pain.


“What happened?” Hamish demanded, over and over, to no response. A moment later Captain Cambridge arrived and repeated the question more forcefully. It was to no avail.


Jasper Dawson asked a different question, and something about the way he asked it told me he could feel some of his brother’s pain, some of his terror.


“What did you see?”


What sight could make a man’s eyes boil in his head? What visage, what creature? I think it is a testament to the hopeless foolishness of humanity that all of us ran up to the railing and peered over the side.


But there was nothing. Only dark water, sliding past.


“What did you see?” Jasper asked again.


It was only at that moment I realized the scratching had stopped. It had left quietly, like a nameless intruder. I was certain Martin had seen something he shouldn’t have seen. Something he couldn’t have seen. Something that hunched and scratched and waited and yearned.


At last, Martin Dawson, laying with his head on his brother’s chest, breathed out an answer.


“Trees,” he said. “Trees under the sea! A forest submerged. The woods in the sea, and what moved between them.”


“And what was that?” demanded Cambridge. “Dawson! What are you talking about?”


No matter how the captain and crew begged and cajoled, Martin Dawson would not say. He spoke only once more, grinning fiercely, his skin searing with fever, just before morning.


“It wants out,” he whispered. “I will not give it the satisfaction.”


He was dead by sunrise. When I went back to the cabin I found the scrimshaw I had carved, and, transfixed by the possibility that I was responsible for Dawson’s death, that somehow this piece of bone had undone him, I went up on deck and hurled it into the sea. Afterward I sank to the deck and wept, because I knew deep in my chest that it had not been my fault, that even if I had endured the scratching, Dawson would have died just the same.


~


I don’t understand why you want me to read this.



You keep picking it up and putting it back down. Why?



I just don’t see the point of wasting energy on it. This entry is barely coherent. It doesn’t have anything to do with the estate, it’s dated before the manor was even built, and the author was probably off his rocker.



He saw his double, too.



There’s just a lot in it and I don’t see the point



Weren’t you complaining to me of boredom? Weren’t you hounding me for answers? If you truly think this is a waste of time, then turn to the last page of the journal to see how it ends and be finished with it.



That’s stupid.



Is it? Why?


There is a reason you have not abandoned me to follow your double into the woods, though it waits for you at the edge of the grounds. You know there is more to uncover here, and that any new piece of knowledge may be the piece that allows you to return to your old life.


Spare me an inch of trust, Farrow. Try. Turn to the last page.





You can’t, can you?



         I don’t

What’s wrong with me?



Aside from the branches growing inside you? Nothing, I think.


There are two possibilities. Perhaps in Jackdaw’s journal you have stumbled upon the true answer to all of this, and, if there is truly a monster at the heart of it, it is keeping you from delving further because it does not want its weakness exposed. This is, I think, what you should hope for.



Oh, OK, so I should hope for a monster that can control my mind.



Yes.


Because it would mean that we have an enemy.



I can feel your silence. Farrow, I have told you that I am trapped here, too. The death of my body did not even free me from this place. I think I have told you, as well, that my knowledge of myself, of my life, is scattered. When I reach too far into my own memories, I feel them breaking apart like a reflection on a pond. 

Truthfully, I do not want to reach too far.


Like you, I fear what I may find.



So the other possibility is



You are defending yourself. A part of you knows the answer already, and cannot bear to have it confirmed. Yes.



Fuck that. I’m reading the rest of this. Nobody tells me what to do, not even me.



And afterward? Will you follow your double into the woods?



That depends on what our mutual friend Jackdaw has to say about all this.