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Vignette #10 - The Waves Beneath My Feet

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avatar Chiaroscuro
Level 50 : Grandmaster Ladybug
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This story is rather special for me because last November, Vignette #1 came out for the Mystery in the Mansion blog contest. Nine stories later, and now I submit for the Deep Below contest, not as a competitor but as a judge. It's been a wild ride, folks. Here's to even more short stories!




July 30, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
July 30, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  I have but a few minutes and so I improve upon this opportunity to write to you at the end of my long voyage to the faraway city of New Portsmouth on the Illyrian coast. Please pardon my sudden and unplanned departure of a fortnight prior⸺ it was with utmost urgency that I took the fastest ship to Illyria to reach it in time for the Remembrance Day event. It is my dearest hope that the note that I left behind has been sufficient to explain my absence until this point.

  You will readily understand that it is impossible for me to continue writing on a consistent basis on account of the difficulty of mailing from this foreign land. Just this morning, I was forced to haggle with a local stationery clerk about the price of a single ink-pot. The dreadful hornswoggler—pardon my coarse language, but you must understand that my interactions with this man have upset me greatly—tried to charge me almost double to what I could find back home! If that is not telling of the sorry state of postal affairs in this country, then I cannot think of a better example that would.

  Despite that incident, apart from the occasional uncivilized cur, the people here are genuinely fantastic. Just yester-day as my ship arrived in the port, a throng of people had gathered to see us in! The kind servant who unloaded my luggage from the boat even suggested a nice restaurant for my supper that day. I think that I should find helpful souls for my research and archaeological digs a-plenty.

  In the hope that I should once again write to you soon, I beg to sincerely thank you for your patience with myself and my travels, and remain,

Affectionately yours,  

William Hamilton


August 4, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 4, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  How long it has been since I have last set my eyes upon your fair visage! I have much to tell you, yet my lamp burns on its last dregs of oil. Do imagine my consternation and surprise when I discovered that the locals forbid the use of oil of salmon and other fishes to fuel their lights, yet their bays and market stalls teem with them! I have not the skills to produce my own fish oils, so I must partake in the almond oils that the locals are so fond of. They produce a pungent aroma to my nose, though I pray I may become accustomed to it over time.

  Alas, I take my pen in hand to-day to write to you about the progress I have made in my research. I have spoken with the locals extensively, on recommendation of my kind landlord. Many have had nothing of importance to say of the ruins in the ocean outside of acknowledging their existence, which I had no doubts about myself. However, an infrequent few, mainly fisher-men and pearl divers, seem to know more about how they came to be, yet they refuse to divulge the information upon me. I shall see perhaps to-morrow if monetary compensation shall loosen their tongues further.

  I have also as of late met another man by the name of Dr. Josef Kieber that seems as interested as I in these ruins. It must have been some good angel that conspired to bring the two of us—Oh! Please pardon the suddenness of my closure of this favour, but my lamp has just run dry and I have not the means to procure a suitable fuel now. The moon is dim to-night—alas, I cannot even hope to finish my writing.

  Surely, I shall be able to send another letter to-morrow so I may finish my tale. Until then, I miss you and I pray for you, and remain,

Affectionately yours,  

William Hamilton


August 5, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 5, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  Please pardon my inelegant language, but I have not the time currently to be so particular in my writing. I must quickly compose this correspondence because Dr. Kieber and I are scheduled to go out by fishing-boat in one-half hour to search for the ruins, and I fear I have not the time afterward to concentrate on such a task. I promised the finish to my tale in my last favour, and so I shall keep to that promise.

  I have known Dr. Kieber for all of two days, yet on the second day he graciously provided me with a copy of his journal, which I suspect I may be referencing long after this expedition is over. From just what few drawings I have seen contained within, Dr. Kieber has had more success than I at prying information from the locals. I suspect it may be his forth-right attitude, which may seem rude to some but has been instrumental in collecting his notes. I must be truly grateful for his casting of such a gleam of sunlight upon my research in my own brain, and I implore you to be grateful to him for the shipment of gold and treasures that I suspect shall soon be coming homeward.

  However, I fear that my association with Dr. Kieber has earned me somewhat of a reputation among the locals. I was walking along the wharf at the fish-market just yester-day and I could not help myself but to notice that the locals cast a devilish eye upon me as I wandered about. I can hardly impute the incivility of their gazes to the single cause of my natural disposition—I must discuss it with the man shortly.

  Nonetheless, my hands tremble with my uncontained excitement for this expedition that I shall embark upon presently. I hope I shall be able to regale you with stories of my adventure when I shall return, and that we should enjoy the riches from my excavation soon.

Your loving husband,  

William Hamilton


August 9, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 9, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  I write this favour to you to-day whilst I am convalescing from some mysterious malady that has recently struck me down. It is my sincerest hope that I have not caught the consumption, for that would spell the end for me—Dr. Kieber suggests that it may be pneumonia, for which I have been treated with plenty of time in the fresh sea breeze to recover. Perhaps when we are better-to-do, I shall take up the easel and the paint-brush, and we may remain in Illyria until our dying days together.

  Please humor me as I attempt to retell the tale of mine and Dr. Kieber’s excursion last week, for my memory is hazy and incomplete. Our initial venture seemed that it would be successful—the sky held a brilliant shade of blue, as blue as your kind eyes, and the waves lapped gently on the sides of our meager vessel, the loveliest tints of azure you could ever imagine. There was nary a cloud in the sky, only the hot sun illuminating the beauty of God’s earth.

  But just as we approached the vicinity of the ruins, as told to us by our boat-captain, ominous, thunderous clouds rolled over our modest boat, dark like smoke and just as devilishly beautiful. Consider our place in all this; do you not, as I did, tremble with fear, realizing our insular fortress of solitude is encompassed by the appalling horrors of the sea’s worst. But if it were not for our brave captain, certainly I would have met an early and watery end. Then just as fast as it came, the dreadful storm seemed to have passed, swept away by some unseen hand, leaving us stupefied and bobbing gently a mere five miles from the coast when we were to be some thirty-two away.

  How we came to be dashed so far off course, cast off like a drift-wood from a ship-wreck, is where my recollections cease. Neither Dr. Kieber nor our kind captain could explain it further than I. I heard mutterings from a few crew-men of some ancient curse, but I find that postulate unwise to lend credence to. Nonetheless, I am returned to gentle land, so insofar as my wellbeing is concerned, you need not worry.

Your loving husband,  

William Hamilton


August 16, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 16, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  I take my pen in hand to-day to bring joyous news! Dr. Kieber and I have managed, by the skin of our teeth, to successfully reach the site of the ruins by ship. The captain of the fishing-boat we took last, a man of infinite generosity and civility, directed us toward ships of higher calibre and greater fortitude. It was with these sturdier ships, clad with iron and driven by fiery boilers and wispy steam, that we could venture further through those tempestuous waves and hellish gales toward those esoteric ruins.

  Both Dr. Kieber and I were able to procure diving-suits from the local university, and together we descended into the yet churning sea to meet face-to-face the object of such our consternation and inkshed. Oh Mary, I cannot help but to describe the ruins as being so grand and regal, that it might be fit for our Queen! They stand so silently under the water, guardians of many an untold secret, holding station against the untamed sea’s interminable assault on their proud columns and empty foundations—desperately they combat the encroaching beckoning of nature in its purest form with their man-made resolve. Though they crawl with sea-weeds and barnacles, their former glory is yet discernible.

  From these grandiose ruins we dredged up onto the deck of the steam-ship an ancient stele, a rocky tablet bearing mysterious inscriptions in some long-forgotten language. I know not the words nor the letters, but Dr. Kieber has made connexions in the university where they shall labour upon the translation anon. It is my sincerest hope that the story contained within the tablet shall shed light upon whence these ruins became, or else give paltry information regarding the peoples inhabiting this area before.

  ‘Tis time for me to retire to-night, and so by the fading light of my lamp, I must bid well wishes for you. I hope I shall return soon, and remain,

Affectionately yours,  

William Hamilton


August 26, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 26, 1853.

My dearest Wife,

  To-day I must regrettably be the bearer of bad news: this may be the last you hear from me. My health wanes, and Dr. Kieber suggests that I should get my affairs in order as to prepare for the inevitable. I fear that perhaps what the crew-men said about the curse was true, for what afflicts me is certainly not pneumonia any longer. Oh my dearest Mary, I am not ready to die! We were on the cusp of greatness, about to unravel the mystery like a fierce tide breaches a levee, but I cannot help but regret that I fell short.

  I must tell you the story of the ruins, for I suspect that mine and Dr. Kieber’s notes shall both be destroyed after our passing by the superstitious locals. The chronicler of the tablet tells a tale of a grand city, clad in marble and shimmering with light, thriving and bustling perhaps not unlike Londres is to-day. The troubles had accumulated for centuries, as the sea churned higher and higher against the rocky shores of their island. The peoples who inhabited this city built walls to protect against the raging sea, massive barricades of iron and stone that could withstand the cruelest tempest for one-million years. Yet their folly, made perhaps out of necessity, was to keep building the walls taller and taller, constantly fighting against the rising water. One fateful day, with a particularly forceful gale, the walls came crashing down, and with them, a civilization entire, the ruins of which yet stand proud on the ocean-floor.

  As for myself, I fear that I may never return home, well or unwell. The locals lend me a wide berth in public, and I feel their fiery glares upon my back as I pass. I had attempted to arrange for my body to be sent home-ward to rest in peace, but to no avail. Thus, I compose my final words before I take one last walk out-doors. I must feel the waves beneath my feet for one more time—I have developed a deep appreciation of the sea, and I wish to see it again. Farewell, my dear, and may we meet again in Heaven.

Affectionately yours for ever,  

William Hamilton


August 29, 1853
New Portsmouth, Illyria
August 29, 1853.

Mrs. Mary Hamilton,
  Dear Madam,

  It is with a trembling hand and an aching heart that I address you with a silent pen. I have lost a colleague and a friend. Though I did not know him for long, the passion and dedication he showed to-ward the noble pursuit of knowledge was second to none. You may rest assured that he did not pass in pain—he was at peace, surrounded as requested by his life’s work. One hopes that he should finally get the answers to his questions from God himself.

  In the words of the honourable author Mr. Melville, “there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.” In much the selfsame way, your husband, though perpetually flying onward through the gorge of endless curiosity, was leagues above those about him, soaring in bliss of their monotonous lives, their daily hum-drum. He was a noble man of pure and innocent character seldom found any-where, and though I shall soon join him in Heaven, his memory shall ever remain as a brilliant jewel at the bottom of my heart.

  I shall endeavour to send what personal effects I can back to you, so you may cherish your loving husband’s memory. You need not sign any receipt—it is the least I can do for such a dear friend. He confided to me the night before he passed that his only regret regarding his death is to have not been able to see you for one last time. As I can write nothing more which can bring you consolation (and as there is but one that can give consolation in such cases), you will of course look to that source for the same.

Respectfully,  

Josef F. Kieber



Not including the introduction and this section, the story totals 2,449 words. Want to see how I envisioned the story from the start? Check out these images below. Just try to read them and then you'll see why I ended up going with what I did!

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  • billoxiiboy
  • Level 44
  • Master Mlem Mlem Bat
  • August 4, 2018, 5:05 am
Really interesting concept and different approach. A new style to add to your writing skills. Good Luck!
  • Chiaroscuro
  • Level 50
  • Grandmaster Ladybug
  • August 4, 2018, 5:15 am
Thanks! I'm judging the competition so I can't actually win, but I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless!
  • billoxiiboy
  • Level 44
  • Master Mlem Mlem Bat
  • August 4, 2018, 5:24 am
What...? Is Nepotism Dead? Hahahah xD
Good Luck with the judging then....not gonna be an easy process :P

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