FATA MORGANA – A Frost Harrow Story

October 28, 2016 No Comments »
FATA MORGANA – A Frost Harrow Story

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FATA MORGANA

A Frost Harrow™ story

for H.P. Lovecraft

“Are you still looking for that city you saw floating above the waves?”

Grant Winslow, leaning on the rail of the Rainbow Warrior, turned at the sound of Colleen Ng’s smoky voice.  “No,” he lied.

“Bullshit,” she said, joining him at the rail.

The night was an indigo tapestry of constellations, and the deep blue surface of the North Atlantic glittered silver and white, reflecting the stars and the new moon just kissing the horizon.

“It wasn’t real, you know,” Colleen said.  “Just Fata Morgana—a trick of the light… a mirage.  Sailors see them all the time, especially in cold latitudes.”

“So you’ve seen one before?” he asked.

“No.  But I’ve read about this kind of shit.  Back in the eighteenth century, when they were looking for the Northwest Passage, sailors dreamed up a whole mountainous landscape rising from the sea, but they were just seeing things.”

“But not cities.”

“No.”  Her green eyes sparkled in the moonlight.  “But other people have seen mirage cities.  Sure, it’s rare, but it happens.” She took a deep breath.  “Grant, you’re working with Greenpeace.  We’re a science-based organization.  You know that your floating city can’t be real, right?”

“Right.”

“And you’ve noticed that you’re not seeing it after dark.  So… mirage.  Right?”

Grant sighed.  “Okay.  You’ve made your point.” He chuckled.  “It was a fun fantasy, though.”

Colleen shook her head.  “Heir to a fortune and you’re dreaming about cities in the clouds!  Like you don’t have enough going for you right down here on earth!”

“Not all millionaire kids had ideal lives, you know.”

“What’s the matter?  Choke on your silver spoon?”

Grant ignored the jibe.  “Besides,” he continued, “when I sailed off with Greenpeace, my inheritance probably sailed off as well.  Uncle Abner doesn’t much like ‘hippies.’”

Colleen reached over and tousled Grant’s long blond hair affectionately.  “And your folks are wicked and cruel.  I know.  Poor Cinderella!”  Even in the dim light, her eyes flashed playfully at him.

He shook his head.  “My folks don’t mean to be—not intentionally.  They’re just a little… spineless when it comes to dealing with Uncle; they like his money far too much.”

“More than they like you,” she said sympathetically.

Grant frowned.  “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“But you do hope they’ll see the light one day.”

“Yeah.”

“Like you did.  Think they’ll join Greenpeace at that point, too?”

As usual, like a spaniel shaking its favorite toy, Colleen didn’t know when to quit.  He shot her a reproving look.  “Cut it out, Cole.”

She laughed.  “Poor little rich boy!  I don’t know what I see in you!”

“Well, it can’t be my money,” Grant noted.  “’Cause if it’s inheritance you’re after, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”

“Like I need money!” she said with a laugh.  “Are you coming in to the party?”  The crew was celebrating a birthday—and after the difficulty and danger of their day-to-day work, the ship’s parties tended to be outlets for blowing off steam.  Not that Colleen needed any excuse.

“In a bit.”

“So I should start without you?”

He flashed her a wry grin.  “You usually do.”

She turned and sauntered toward the door, deliberately showing off her buff figure and perfect ass.  “Don’t look for your cloud city too long, or I may find someone else to continue the after-party with.”

She blew him a kiss and then entered the ship’s mess hall.  The sounds of loud music and laughter spilled out into the night.

Grant shook his head and turned back to the ocean.  No matter how long he stayed at sea, he never tired of the view—constant, yet ever-changing… sometimes stormy on the surface and calm underneath… sometimes the other way around.

The ocean had as many moods as most people, even Colleen Ng.  And, like Grant’s off-and-on lover, the sea was beautiful and mysterious.  Also like people, the endless expanse of blue sometimes contained surprises.

The Floating City was one such surprise.  Grant had spotted it just before sunset, golden towers gleaming atop the white cloud bank hovering just above the horizon.

He’d admired it for a few moments, and then run to fetch Colleen and some of their other, more experienced crewmates.  But by the time they all got a look, the city had gone, and the rest—including Cole—had gotten a good laugh at Grant’s expense.  Even in famously liberal Greenpeace, rookie seamen still took a considerable amount of ribbing.

Grant had spent his spare moments since then scanning the horizon, hoping to catch another glimpse of what he’d seen.  So far, he’d had no luck.

He knew that Colleen was right, that it had only been some kind of mirage, but, at nineteen, he was still young enough to gaze over the rail and wonder:

What if it was real?

Where did such a city come from and where did it go?  Why could you only see—or perhaps even visit—it during certain atmospheric and daylight conditions?  What kind of people lived there?  Were they ordinary folk, like Grant and Colleen and their friends, or were they angels or spirits of some kind?  And whether the former or latter, why did they visit or allow this world to glimpse them occasionally?

Or maybe they’re sitting up there, seeing a Greenpeace ship appear suddenly on an empty ocean, Grant mused, and wondering the same thing about us.

As he stood concentrating on the blue horizon, the music and laughter of the party so nearby seemed to fade away.

A stiff, breeze sprang up from the west, raising goosebumps on Grant’s skin, as the top point of the crescent moon dipped below the horizon.

Just then, he saw it—though only for an instant.

The towers gleamed silver now, glinting in the last rays of moonlight.

The tallest pinnacle of the silver city caught a single, final ghost-white beam and flashed it across the waves, like the beacon of a lighthouse, straight into Grant’s face.

He blinked and, for a long moment, saw only flashing sparks.

When his vision cleared, he beheld the starlit sea once more—and something else, too:

A blue-white form, dancing across the wave tops… coming toward the ship.

But his sight was still blurry, so he couldn’t make out exactly what it might be.

Grant squeezed his eyes shut and then blinked rapidly several times, trying to bring the world back into focus.

Was this something real or an after-effect of that dazzling instant?

Opening his eyes, he still saw it, more clearly now; it was a figure in the waves—a person.

A woman!

A woman in the water!

Grant was about to call out “Man overboard!” and raise the alarm, when he realized two things:

The woman was moving toward the ship incredibly fast—faster than humanly possible—and she seemed to be walking atop the waves!

Grant closed his eyes and rubbed them.

I must be seeing things!

But when he opened them again, the woman was still there, even closer now, barely thirty meters away.

She was tall and gracefully proportioned, with pale blue skin and hair the color of seafoam under a midnight moon.  The garment draping her slender form seemed woven of mist and starlight; it barely concealed her considerable feminine charms.  Her cheekbones were high, regal, and her eyes sparkled like diamonds.   Even Colleen, whose body Grant had once called “perfect,” seemed drab and ordinary by comparison.

The woman opened her pale lips, and out of them came a sound the likes of which Grant had never heard before.  It wasn’t exactly speech, nor singing, though the sound filled his brain with images of the sea, and tides, and endless waves washing against a placid shore.  It told of timeless love and fathomless longing, a longing that only he might fill.

Grant couldn’t take his eyes off of her.  He couldn’t even think of taking his eyes off of her.

As he stood entranced, the woman rose up on the waves—exactly how, he couldn’t say, as he remained transfixed by her lovely face—and came eye to eye with him.  She drifted forward, right up to the rail.

Her gaze held the sea and starlight and promises of so much more.

She stopped her song, and her pale tongue darted across the tops of her pearl white teeth.

Grant’s breath caught in his throat.  He leaned forward and kissed her.

She kissed back.

His skin tingled from head to toe as their tongues danced together.  He put his arms around her, and she returned the embrace.  Her caress held mingled fire and ice, like a brisk, burning wind that blows from the Arctic Circle.  Her body felt soft as silk and her nipples hard and anxious.

Grant wanted her more than he’d wanted any woman in his life.

He crushed the pale figure to him, closing his eyes and concentrating all his being on her touch, her body, becoming one with her.

And then he was falling, and the ocean was roaring in his ears.

Falling…

“Grant!”

The sea rushing up to embrace him…

He welcomed it!

“GRANT!”

He jerked to a sudden stop.

What?!

Grant shook his head and opened his eyes.  The blue-white mist enveloping him faded.

“Grant, Jesus!  Are you all right?”

“Wh-what happened?” was all he could manage as the world swam back into focus.

Colleen Ng gazed at him, concern written on her pretty face.  She had one strong hand wrapped around his belt, keeping him from tottering over the rail.  “You almost fell overboard!  That’s what happened!  What were you trying to do, kill yourself?”

“What?  No!  Of course not!  I just…”  Grant looked around, but no sign of the pale woman remained.  Where had she gone?

“You weren’t still looking for that fool city, were you?”

“Yes… I… And then I got dizzy.  I guess.”

She laughed.  “Dizzy is right!  You’ve been dizzy ever since you saw that damn thing.  You’re lucky I came out to check on you.  If I hadn’t…!”  She mimed him sailing overboard and splashing into the drink.

“Thanks, Cole,” he said.

“You’re welcome.  I wouldn’t want my favorite squeeze becoming a victim of Fata Morgana, like in the old sea tales.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sailors used to think that Fata Morgana were enchanted lands created by the sorceress Morgan le Fay to lure them to their deaths.  You know, like the sirens in Greek myth, but a place, not some half-naked chick.”

“A place,” Grant muttered.

“Yeah.”

“Not some half-naked chick.”

Colleen shook her head, and her long black hair fell over her shoulders in perfect waves.  Her eyes glittered green in the light leaking out of the mess hall.

She pulled him close and pressed her body into his.  She felt warm and soft and smelled of whiskey.

“If any chick is going to lure you to your death, Grant Winslow,” she said, “it’s gonna be me.”  She smiled slyly at him.  “Though, right at the moment, I have other plans.”

Grant took a deep breath.  His brain still felt like it was filled with clouds—or maybe sea foam.  His lips tasted of salt spray.

“Am I really your favorite squeeze?” he asked.

“Why don’t we discuss it over a drink.  In my berth.”

He grinned.  “Lure away, Ms. Morgana!”

FIN

Happy Halloween 2016, Everyone!

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 Read the previous Frost Harrow stories:
The Weeping Ghost,” “A Trace of Violet,”  “Lunchroom Zombies,” and “Omens & Visitations.”

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