A sapphire blue sky sparkled up above, a near identical reflection of the salty waters below. The distant horizon cried streaks of black in the form of storm clouds. Edgar let the sails of his ship loose as he prepared for the voyage to come. Looking back at the small white cottage behind him filled his heart with joy. His father built that cottage decades ago, before Edgar was born. It was his now, as his parents moved elsewhere and he met the love of his life. They settled there, bringing a son into the world who would someday have the cottage for himself. It was the first house from the water, just several dozen feet from the shore. The worst storms would reach the door of the cottage, but never far enough to do any damage. It was built in the perfect spot.
The summer was highlighted by rain and wind, a poor combination for a small town that relied on fishing as it’s primary source of food. Supplies grew scarcer and scarcer, leaving Edgar no choice but to set sail to feed his family. His wife warned him, pleading for him not to leave, but he knew it was because she loved him. They needed food, and he was too stubborn to heed such a warning. Up above, the sky showed hints of the coming danger. Clouds began to form, growing larger with every passing moment. The waters grew choppier, occasionally shaking the boat and spraying Edgar with a cool mist. Overhead, a murder of crows passed by as they too searched for land.
Thrashing waters lashed at the sides of the boat, climbing ever so higher with each attempt. Perhaps his wife was right, but if he turned around now there would be no food, and he’d be stuck in a storm. Knowing the area well, he veered sharply to the left. A nearby island could bring refuge to him as the storm passed. Minutes later, it came into sight. A small dense forest covered nearly the entirety of the island with sandy beaches surrounding it on all sides. A quick sail around the entire area would take just several minutes. Checking his map, he saw the familiar island shape transcribed on the paper. It eerily resembled a sickle, as if it were ready to reap any passing seafarers. Light rain stole it’s way out of the heavens, an opening ceremony for what was to come.
The thud of the anchor sent a small plume of sand and water spiraling into the air. Edgar grabbed a lantern and leaped over the side of the boat, hoping to find shelter before the true storm arrived. A thick tree line stood guard in front of him. Though the sun was still out, no light breached the wall of trunks and foliage. He entered the forest and the sound of the ocean ceased to exist. It was as if Edgar had entered another world. Somewhere nearby a crow pierced the silence with a startling caw. Almost simultaneously, several more crows broke from their roosts, flying forward and entering a cave just several dozen feet ahead of Edgar. Igniting his lantern, he marched ahead and followed the birds into the cave.
The light in his lantern filled the area around Edgar, the cavern ceiling resting barely above his head. As he moved on, more and more of the cave revealed itself to Edgar. A stale stench permeated the entire area, but it would keep him safe from the storm. The ceiling grew taller as he entered what appeared to be a large chamber. The tunnel seemed to come to an end here as Edgar slowed down. Holding the lantern high he examined the walls. Small drawings were scattered everywhere. Sketches of birds, sickles, and humans with no faces. One drawing stuck out in particular. A very thin arrow, starting at the ceiling and pointing down to Edgar’s feet. Right below the head of the arrow was a bottle with a message inside. Chuckling, he picked up the bottle and broke it open, expecting a seafarer’s love letter, or even a treasure map. Unrolling it, he took in a completely different image with absolute dread. In his hands was a brief warning. Family first, Edgar. Below it, a crude drawing of a mother and son standing in the window of a house on fire, slowly burning. Abruptly, he heard movement coming off to the side. Moving his lantern, he found out why the crows were flying into the cave. In front of him was a man covered with birds, all picking away at his body. No skin remained and the muscles and tendons could be seen being slowly torn from the bone. His face remained untouched, minus both eyes missing from their sockets, yet he could feel the man staring. He smiled at Edgar and began to laugh.
Edgar’s stomach immediately emptied the remaining food in it as the snapping sound of biting flesh pierced his ears. He turned and raced for the exit as cold laughter echoed off the walls around him. He had no idea what he just saw but he knew he had to get home to his family. He reached the exit and barreled through the trees towards his boat. The rain was picking up and the full storm was preparing to kick in. Reeling in the anchor, he quickly reset his course towards home. Glancing back at the island, he saw the skinless man watching as his boat gained distance from the shore.
The black sky above exploded into fiery flashes as lightning illuminated the lone boat below. Like clockwork, thunder erupted, causing Edgar’s bones to shake with the same intensity as his boat. He moved onward through the dark, determined to make it home. As always, he knew his wife was right. He should of waited out the storm. Torrents of rain pounded into him as a second round of lightning began. Crashes echoed from every direction, growing closer and closer with each resounding bang. Suddenly he realized it wasn’t rain biting at his legs. A bright flash lit up the sky once more, revealing Edgar’s surroundings. The deck of his boat was full of broken bottles, and more continued to pour from the sky. Scattered amongst the broken glass were slips of paper bearing the same warning he read back in the cave. Family first, Edgar.
Panic laced the blood rushing through Edgar’s body. The wind began to howl, resonating off the broken glass around him, creating a song of taunting laughter identical to the skinless man’s back on the island. The sky was blacker than night; the sun replaced with periodic lightning flashes and their reflections amongst the shattered bottles around Edgar. Just as hope had all but evaporated, a tiny glimmer of light in the distance made its mark upon the absolute darkness. A sliver of hope warmed Edgar’s frigid heart. The town lighthouse shone just bright enough, letting him know he was nearing home. A crooked smile painted itself on his face. His ship gained speed as the shore grew closer. None of that mattered to him as he yearned for solid ground and the comfort of his home. Mysteriously, the approaching light began to flicker.
Edgar had never seen the lighthouse lights flicker before, but he payed it no attention as the promise of home steered him full speed ahead. The light appeared larger and the flickering more frequent the closer Edgar got. A vaguely familiar shape began to construct itself around the light. Blue shutters bordered the glow; encircling the same white stone he’d known since childhood. The same white stone his father used to build the cottage his family now lived in. Inside the window of his cottage, he saw the light he’d been speeding towards. A warm, bright fire started by his wife to give their son comfort. He made eye contact with them just long enough to register the sheer terror painted on their faces. Barely a second later, the boat that helped to sustain their lives obliterated them all in an instant. Up above, a murder of crows filled the stormy sky with laughter.