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Lament of the Cursed


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I'll preface this with a content warning.  This story does not start a happy one.  It has dark themes and works through tough times in the characters' lives.  That said, presuming I ever get around to finishing it, it should get a lot happier by the end.

Lament of the Cursed, Chapter 1:


“She came back again today.  I saw her from the bridge as she sailed by.  Got a nice long view… Well I suppose ‘nice’ isn’t exactly right.”

“What’d she look like?”

“What she always looks like.  Her top half was a wooden mockup.  Looks good from a ways away, but as she passed under me I saw the metal.  It’s like her structure got sheared off by a blunt cleaver.”

“She’s gonna be mothballed again.  What is this, the fifth time in two years?  She’s in dry dock longer than she’s at sea.”

“What I’m wondering is how they get sailors to sign up for that death trap.”

“I heard they don’t.  They either pretend prisoners are navy guys and force ‘em on board, or they get guys who don’t speak the language to sign up before they tell ‘em what they’re gettin’ into.”

“I heard they pulled one of those Japanese guys from the camps.  Didn’t speak a lick of English.  Before he signed the paper he got to see the thing out the window.  His face went whiter than a christmas ghost, started mumblin’ to himself.  You know what the translator said?  He said ‘Cursed Ship.  Only Death!’ I’d say it’s the ramblings of a paranoid guy… but I’ve seen her myself.”

“At least she came back.” The jaded woman in the corner of the tavern piped up, her voice clearly heard among the rumoring patrons.  Before any of them could respond, she put money on her table and left, seeming more in a rush to avoid the conversation she’d joined than anything.

She heard the whispered scuttlebutt continuing as she left.  Bar patrons wondering what that was all about, who she was.  She shook it off once more as she stepped out into the lazy chill of San Francisco’s evening air.  A short gust of wind made her wish she’d brought a thicker coat, but it wasn’t anything she hadn’t dealt with on the sea.  Plus it wouldn’t matter for much longer anyways.

She spent about half an hour trekking through the frigid night.  This Friday seemed colder than usual, but it could have been her imagination.  She pressed forward on to the bridge.  As she walked up the bridge,  she could see lights flashing in the north.  A lone searchlight cut through the night on the south end of Mare Island.  She couldn’t see much at all from Carquinez, but as she walked along the length of the bridge, it became apparent there was a commotion.

Whatever it was, it was overridden by her gut.  Navy things wouldn’t be her problem anymore.  The deep ache she felt in her chest, like her heart was suffocating, overtook everything else.  It got worse every time she looked at the waves.  Every time she reminded herself that she came out of them twice before.  Their sound echoed in her hollow stomach, accompanied by the gasps and gurgles of everyone who never made their way to the surface.

She took off her coat, exposing herself to the biting chill of the Bay winds.  They weren’t strong, but they dropped the temperature enough that it reminded her of that night on the North Atlantic.  That was the first night she should have died.

She could easily feel the explosion from the conning tower.  She knew instantly the ship was lost.  Is that why she didn’t even try to call damage control?  Is that why she abandoned ship, even while her crew remained?  She remembered the swells were low for the North Atlantic.  Could Amsterdam have been saved?

Suddenly a ship’s foghorn cut sharply through the night, blaring into her mind and pulling her back to the present.  It was coming from mare island in the northwest, and by the sound, getting closer.  She wanted to be mad that it had so rudely interrupted her, but she couldn’t find the strength.  Finally the horn ended after what felt like hours to her mind.

Picking up her hair’s one long braid, she brought the end close to her lips, and gently kissed the wampum beaded band that tied it off.  She did her best to keep herself from breaking down crying, but she knew there was no stopping it.  As the first tears came, she gave in to the flood.

“For you, my first and only love, I shall soon embrace you once more.  T Gugeyu’i.”

She stepped on to the railing, her colorful cloth shirt softly waving in the icy winds.  She gave another bittersweet kiss to the armband of glass beads and tiny mirrors that adorned her left wrist.

“And for you, who I never should have met.  Your fate was so much brighter than my own.  I’m so sorry.”

She stood on the edge, letting the tears roll out and fall more than one hundred feet to the water below.  A few minutes of silence passed, only broken once more by the same foghorn, much closer this time.  She ignored it.  She had wanted to stop crying, but it seemed that would not happen.

So without taking a breath, she gave in to her heavy heart.  One step sealed her fate.  She felt the rush of cold air, and her arms were immediately pulled above her head.  It seemed odd to compare the two, but the wind she experienced as she fell nearly fifteen stories was far stronger than that cold breeze of the night leading up to this.

She was able to keep her legs straight as she fell, cutting feet first to the dark depths below.  She calmly released the last breath from her lungs, and although it was probably the air blowing all the tears away, it finally felt like she’d stopped crying.  She couldn’t hope for a smile in these last moments, but at the very least she wasn’t bawling anymore.

She stared forward across the beautiful bay in the final eternity before impact, and the last thing she saw was a familiar dark shape, looming over her inevitable resting place.

There was more of a sharp crack than a splash as she hit the water.  Her legs instantly buckled and both her arms splayed out, hitting the water flat as she went in.  She didn’t know if it was the broken bones or the glacial cold of the water that had spiked her entire body with pain, but she couldn’t swim even if she wanted to. She opened her mouth to scream silently as she sank, filling her lungs with icy water.

Her eyes were drawn towards the moonlight streaming in from the surface as she sank slowly.  A second splash in almost the exact same location as her own broke the silvery streams.  A figure was getting closer as her vision became hazy.  The numbing cool finally took its toll, and she blacked out.

Seconds, minutes, maybe hours later she woke up in a familiar steel room.  She was surprisingly mostly dry, but she could feel her hair, heavy with water, keeping her head on the uncomfortable bed.  She wasn’t sure if the discomfort was from the bed, actually.  It could have been her position.  She tried to shift her legs, and found she couldn’t.

Then the pain hit.  All across her body at once, pain screamed into existence.  She didn’t have time to tell what was actually injured, and what was an echo of some broken bone nearby.  Honestly, she didn’t want to know.  Darkness started creeping into the edge of her vision.  She tried to cry out, and realized she was having a hard time breathing.  Her lungs were on fire, and she could only gasp for portions of the air she needed.

As the last of her vision was fading, she saw a beautiful face leaning over her.  The figure was beautiful, and she seemed to glow with a kind, but strong light.  From atop its head of wavy brown hair, the character removed a horseshoe shaped wreath.  They placed it atop her head, and the broken woman faded once more out of consciousness.

“...lo?  Hello?  Can you hear me?”

The deep gentle voice pulled her from her slumber.  She opened her eyes once more.  At this point the pain seemed more of a writhing ache in her entire body than a sharp aggression.  She saw an authoritative man with glasses leaning over her.  He was unfortunately balding, but had a very welcoming face and a kind, if pitying, smile.

“Ah, I’m sorry to see that you’re awake.  You must be feeling terrible.  I’m afraid I have more bad news.”  He said, sounding very sympathetic.  “Two pieces, actually.  First, your attempt on your own life failed.  I consider this a good thing, but I thought to frame it to you as you would see it.”

He waited for that to sink in.  She could at least feel the tears rolling down her face.  The physical pain didn’t give her much room for emotion, but that information hit her harder than any of that pain.  When she woke up, it was obvious she’d failed, but it really sank in when she heard it from the corpsman.

She had failed to save anyone else’s life, and now she couldn’t even join them in death.  For once in her long life, she was at a loss at what to do.  She couldn’t even manage to talk, to scream her failure away.

The corpsman continued.  “The other bad news is that your death is assured.  Congratulations.  You’ve been chosen as the newest Captain of USS Olympia.”  He sounded almost morbidly apologetic as he said it.  She could tell that, to him at least, this was far worse news to deliver.  

At this moment the figure from earlier stepped into the room.  “Welcome aboard, Halona Brant.”  

For the first time, Halona felt the rocking of the ship beneath her.  It was relatively soft compared to what she was used to on the open ocean, so she hadn’t noticed it through the pain.  She wanted to take a second to look around, but she couldn’t move her head without searing pain in her collar.

The heavenly woman standing over her let Halona cry for a couple minutes then attempted to reassure her.  “Both of us have at least a month in port to get to know each other...”  Olympia looked to the doctor next to her.  “Maybe more?”  She amended as his expression shot down her inadequate estimation.  If the pain didn’t tell Halona how badly she was injured, that did.

“For now, it’s better if you get some rest.  It will provide you some solace from what I can only imagine is incredible pain.” The corpsman said, shooing the belle out of the room before leaving it himself.  Halona agreed, but she found the suggestion impossible.  As they pulled into Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Halona Brant lay wide awake, cursing herself for her own rotten luck.


Halona winced as she settled into the wheelchair.  Nearly a month had passed since her attempt on her own life, and the repairs on USS Olympia were almost complete.  Despite being moved to a facility onshore, once her condition had improved even a little, she was taken back to a makeshift medical room dockside.  She didn’t know if it was orders from higher up, or just the will of the Belle she was next to.

Either way, she still didn’t want to be here.  “There you go. Nice and easy!”  Olympia said, pushing her along the deck.  Construction workers were finishing up repairs on the superstructure, and the bright lights of welding metal flashed down on them from above.  

“Why do you keep trying?” Halona asked, tired of trying to reason with the belle. “What makes you think that after every time I’ve said no, I’m suddenly going to change my mind and take you out to sea?”

“I’m sorry, but I heard you calling me.  You asked for my help.”

“I didn’t ask you to ‘save’ me.  I didn’t ask anyone.  I’d be better off sinking to the bottom of the bay.”

“You didn’t hear it, but I heard you.  Not here,” The belle pointed to her ears for emphasis, then came around to the front of the wheelchair, and pointed to her captain’s chest, “There.  There you called out for someone to help you.  To me that night, you shone brighter than any star in the night sky.  I had to stop you.”

“Stop me?  You got there too late for that.  You just fished me out of the water.”  Halona retorted angrily.

“No.  I talked to you long enough that I could get there.  And I’ll not apologize for interrupting you.  I need you as much as you need me.”

“I don’t need another ship!  I don’t need to see another one of you girls-” Halona choked on her words briefly as pain shot through her two broken ribs.  She had gotten too worked up.  She took a second to calm herself down before continuing.  “I don’t need to see another one of you sent to the bottom...”

 Olympia looked like she was actually starting to get angry with Halona.  Good.  If she got angry enough, Halona might be sent away, where she’d never have to see the damn ship again.

“How many?”  Olympia asked, a mixture of a scowl and pity crossing her face as tears welled in her golden eyes.

“Excuse me?”

“How many have you lost?  How many of us have you seen sink beneath the waves?”

“That’s not something I’m ready to-” Halona started to object.

“Answer me!” Olympia ordered.  Halona was stunned.  She had expected anger, but this wasn’t the outburst she had been looking for.  She didn’t want to have to dredge up her mistakes for the Belle.

“Two…  I’ve captained two belles, doomed by my horrid fate.”  Halona finally answered after a long pause.

“Four.”  Olympia responded, a scowl of contempt on her face.  “The timbers on this deck have drunk the blood of four Captains.  Not a single one of them would forgive me if I didn’t return to port with my head held high each time.”

“Even,” Olympia waved up to the superstructure “If my head has been blasted clean off.  And there’s not a belle I know in this world that would forgive herself if her captain went down with her.  Naval tradition be damned.”

“So get off your high damn horse.  My crew has replaced itself three times, not from losses suffered in combat, but from requests for transfer, followed by forced assignments.  I’ve never heard of a ‘Cursed Captain’ but every day I hear rumors of the Cursed ship, whispered among my own crew, who think the bulkheads can’t hear them.  Every man who can wants off, and I don’t blame them.  There are exactly three people on this ship who remember my first Captain and-”

“It’s about time for your next physical, Ms. Brant.” A deep voice from behind the pair enunciated, interrupting the two.  “I’m sure we will have plenty of time in the future to recant tales of Wallace’s escapades to her.” The familiar corpsman took the wheelchair and began to gently move Halona towards the gangplank.

“Yes, of course Al.  Some other time.”  Olympia looked almost broken for a second, her eyes glazed over with memory.  Finally, the brilliant hopeful smile she usually showed found its way back on to her face, and she waved the pair off the ship.

“I’m sorry about that.  She gets emotional sometimes.”  Al contributed as he took her on to the pier where her makeshift medical room was set up.

“No, no… It’s alright.” Halona said.  She had a lot to think about now.  She knew exactly what kind of mine she’d sailed into, and it had blown up in her face.

“You shouldn’t worry about her,”  Al cautioned.  “She’s stronger than she looks.  Mind you she looks pretty tough with nine eight-inch guns.”  He said, taking the opportunity to attempt to lighten the mood.

He quickly got to the business at hand.  “Now, you still shouldn’t stand on your own for another week, and even then you’ll probably need rehabilitation therapy to walk.”  Her legs felt a lot better than they did the first two weeks, but she still had doubts she’d be able to walk on them.  “How are the two ribs doing?”  He said as he took a look into each ear.  

“They still hurt, but not even close to as badly.” She answered, then returned a question of her own,  “Was Wallace her first Captain?”

“He was, but I don’t think it’s my job to talk about it.  With any luck, you two will grow close enough that she’ll tell you herself.” He confirmed.  

“Your collarbone seems to have healed nicely.”  He commented, carefully looking into her eyes.  “Open your mouth,”  He instructed next, and she complied.  He took a quick look inside then asked,  “Do you mind if I touch the arm?”

“No, go ahead.”  She said, and he began to gently pick up her casted right arm.  

“This will have to be changed soon,”  He said as he inspected the cast.

“So you’re one of the crewmen who’s stuck around this long?”  Halona continued to inquire.

The doctor responded with a tired sigh and a gentle smile.  “I’m a plank holder alright.  You won’t believe it, but I had a full head of hair when I joined that ship,”  He joked, running a hand through the thinning ring of hair remaining around the sides of his head.  His face then turned to a frame of melancholy reminiscence.

“It wasn’t just the captains, you know.  I’ve patched the fatal wounds of hundreds of men.  That girl has a real knack for getting her crew compartments blown up.  She feels just as bad about it as you’d think.”

Halona took a second to absorb his words as he gently looked over her injuries.  She had seen dozens of men die in her care, but that was the way of war.  It hurt, but she could push on through it.  To have such an intricate connection with someone as a belle and captain do, and to lose them, that’s what hurt her the most.

She wondered if losing men was worse for Olympia… She’d heard that belles can sense their crew in one way or another, something Halona didn’t have a hope of understanding.  The thought was pushed out of her mind by the interruption of a young officer into the tent.  He wore the INPF uniform that so commonly replaced national attire these days.

“For Captain Halona Brant and the USS Olympia.  Orders.”  He quickly announced.  After a second, he actually looked over the woman in front of him, most of her limbs bandaged and casted in a wheelchair, and he looked overcome with confusion.

Halona gave him a mean scowl, still cross that she once more bore the title ‘Captain.’  “Yes, you have the right person, Lieutenant.  You can hand the orders to the doctor here.”  

“I was told to-”

“You can give it to the doctor or throw it on my lap, but if those orders aren’t out of your hands in 30 seconds I’ll get out of this chair and take them by force.”  Halona knew she was out of line, but her annoyance had been building for some time.  The poor Lieutenant was unfortunate enough to be her outlet.

Al walked forward and extended his hand, which the young officer dropped the orders in before about-facing and marching out of the room with a little of his dignity intact.  Halona nodded, and Al opened the orders, reading through them.  His eyes grew wide and in a rare occurrence as she’d come to know him, he looked rather annoyed.

“What are they?”  Halona inquired

“It seems they don’t realize what kind of a state you’re in.  As the major repairs on Olympia are nearly complete, they want her to sail to Pearl Harbor the second the last weld is done.  She'll get refit at pearl, and you and her are to join the pacific fleet.”

Halona had been dreading this moment.  For weeks she wondered if she could stop them from sending her out with another ship.  Finally she had her answer.  All she could do now was count the days until one or both of them were dead.



As always, comments and critique are much appreciated.  Any responses are welcome.  Chapter 2 is in the works, but no promises on when it might come out.

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