Welcome to Bannville, MS, home of the Banned Library and set right in the middle of the dark piney woods where drugs, violence and dark forces are as abundant as the humidity. Our narrator on this journey is Evan Banned, one time director and current owner of the library now trying to bring it back after it burned to the ground and then, right after it reopened, was closed due to funding. Evan has been a guest of his uncle Ted Banned on the cruise ship Dark Water Crescent, but has found himself mixed up in some trouble with the cultists Felix Minx and Tisha Graham. Will Evan and Uncle Ted escape the ship’s hold? What’s in the mysterious crate that Uncle Ted helped the cultists get aboard? Will the ship’s crew mutiny? Will the bartender Jeff ever get that bottle juggling thing down?
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey” said Jeff.
I opened my eyes and looked into the eyes of the bartender who was holding two plates of food. Beside him on the crate were a two bottles, two glasses of water and a pistol. Jeff smiled at me.
“Hey, fella. Thought you’d sleep all morning. Morning, Mr. Banned,” he said as Uncle Ted rose his head.
We were still tied to the metal posts. The smell of the food made my stomach growl.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“We just pulled away from Cozumel and are headed home. Sorta. Gotta make just one stop first and start the end of the world. Then I guess we’ll go home? I’m not clear on that part,” Jeff said, “Now, first things first. We’re gonna untie you, okay, so you can eat?”
Another man I had not noticed stepped up. His green suit had been fixed, but Felix was still ugly. His scowl was deep.
“We shouldn't be doing this,” Felix said, “What does it matter if they starve?”
“You know who's in charge,” Jeff said, “The sacrifices are supposed to be well. Not harmed. Much, anyway. Might as well make them comfortable. You guys aren't gonna fight, are ya?”
He walked behind me while I kept my eyes on Felix. The handgun in his hand shook a bit as I felt the pressure release from my arms. They fell to my sides and for a moment my head swam with relief. Then I rubbed my wrists and reached for the plate.
“Slowly,” Felix said, keeping his distance.
“Sure,” I said, taking a piece of toast and bacon in each hand, “What’s in the crate?”
Felix looked to the large box, “Simplicity.”
“Heard that before,” I said, “But what does it mean?”
“None of your business,” he said.
“Jeff here just called us sacrifices. If that has to do with the box,” Uncle Ted said, his mouth full of eggs, “I’d like to damn well know.”
Felix turned to Jeff, “Can you watch them?”
“Sure, guy. Said I could, right?”
“Good. I will go help our lady prepare. As soon as they have finished eating, lock them inside and call me,” Felix turned, “Do not think about hurting young Jeff here. He will kill you. There are plenty other sacrifices on board other than you.”
“Yeah, but none of them are Banned’s-” Jeff started, but Felix stared at him.
Felix went to the door and pounded twice. The door opened and two men came in, men I recognized from the ships crew. Damn.
“Help me with the device,” he told them. Felix gathered his bottles and pistol from the crate. The men took the top off the crate and lifted exactly what I thought they would. A long black box, about four feet by three feet by one foot, all cold stone by the look of it. Just like the one buried in front of the library back home. I made a mental note to do some digging when I got home.
“You want the case?” Jeff asked, kicking the remaining suitcase full of guns.
“Everything is on schedule. We shouldn't need more arms, but bring it when you come.”
“Cool. I’ll just practice my bottles,” Jeff said and flipped them in his hands.
Felix and the two men left with the box and Jeff stood staring at us holding his bottles. The bottles had strange stoppers on the end, more like tapered injection nozzles than the curved pouring type found behind bars.
“You not hungry?” Jeff said to me.
“What the hell is going on, Jeff?” Uncle Ted said. I looked over and saw his plate empty. I was not hungry, but drank the glass of water.
“Not sure if I’m supposed to tell you, Mr. Banned. But it’s almost over, right?”
“What’s almost over?” I said.
“The rising of the air!” he said.
“The Dark Air of the Sea. The Lady trapped below in the gulf?”
I shook my head and looked at Uncle Ted. He shrugged his shoulders.
Jeff ran a hand in his hair, “The bound one under the gulf. She and others like her were bound. It is said if their followers release them great bounty will rise!”
“So there’s a bunch of lady bubbles under the ocean that want to rise up and be free?”
“Not bubbles!” Jeff said. He tossed a bottle into the air and it wobbled, “Look there’s no reason talking about it, okay? It can’t be stopped.”
“Okay. Okay,” I said, “You still trying to juggle those bottles?”
He smiled and threw them up and caught them after a half spin, “Yeah. Watch this. Picked up these special bottles in Grand Cayman yesterday.”
He pulled out a lighter and lit the spigot on one of them. The pure alcohol lit and a two inch long flame shot out the end of each bottle.
“Now watch this,” he said. He tossed the bottles up like before and caught them after a half spin. Then he did it again, higher. The two bottles with the flames spun faster and higher over and over and I admit I was impressed.
Then I threw the plate at him.
Jeff yelled as the plate hit him in the face and the bottles arched wide. One hit a wall and smashed, the alcohol igniting and causing the wall to become a curtain of flame that touched the wood of the box. The other bottle hit the pipes overhead and shattered like the first, raining down alcohol on Jeff, the crate and the suitcase full of guns. Jeff screamed as the flames spread on his face and hands. I leaped at him and caught him, pulling him down. I slapped at the flames while at the same time punching him in the face. He screamed with pain as I rained blows on him.
Uncle Ted took me by the shoulder and pulled me back just as the crate blazed. I gripped Jeff and we were both hauled across the floor by my elderly but very large uncle. When we were to safety, Ted dropped me and I put out the remaining fire on Jeff. Uncle Ted pulled a fire extinguisher from the wall and went back to the blaze.
Beyond some red skin and a broken nose, Jeff was fine. I hit again when he started to struggle away from me.
“Where’re they doing all this shit?” I asked.
“I’m not talking,” Jeff said. I hit him again.
From the direction of the door, the fire raged and a strange pop-twang noise was heard. Another pop-twang-twang and I realized what was happening.
“Down,” I said.
The bullets in the suitcase were being heated by the fire and exploding. Not exactly dangerous, as any kid who played around throwing bullets into the campfire will tell you, but I had a bet Jeff didn't know that. I pulled him off his feet and yelled that the bullets were on fire.
“Jesus,” he yelled and dropped as the firework show went off. I heard the hiss of the extinguisher as well and knew I didn't have much time to convince him it was more of a threat.
“What the hell’s going on, Jeff,” I screamed.
“The sky deck. They’re taking everything to the sky deck and blocking it off. Tomorrow at noon.”
I pulled Jeff to his feet, “Great, com’on.”
“What about the bullets?” Jeff said.
“Don’t worry,” Uncle Ted said, “I saved a few.”
He threw me a pistol and kept his and Jeff’s. I shoved Jeff towards the pipes.
“Oh, man,” he said and sat where I had sat for the last day. I tied his hands behind his back and joined Uncle Ted in the hallway beyond the burnt wreckage and we started moving up.
“So what do we do?”
“They said they needed one of us for sacrifice.”
“Yeah, our family’s always been special,” Uncle Ted said, “If only I’d had the strength not to run off with those Cartwrights.”
“What does that mean?” I said.
“You mean nobody ever told you?” he said, “You were head of the library.”
“Legends. It’s nothing. Later. Right now it might be best if we stay hidden.”
“But they said they had others for sacrifice. Do you know who on the crew you can trust, sir?”
Uncle Ted shook his head, “If they’re all like Jeff back there I don’t feel so bad, but who knows?”
“I heard that,” Jeff said from down the corridor.
I turned around, cut the light for the room and closed the door. Jeff’s screams became muffled behind the hum of the engines. Then the engines stopped.
“I guess we got where they’re going early,” Ted said.
We turned and ran down the corridor with Uncle Ted in the lead. He took us up and out onto the main deck. Shots rang out in the night and a woman screamed. Then the boat turned, the force of the sudden action causing chairs to move and people to wobble on their feet.
The moon and the small electric lights overhead lit the way as we ran toward the staircase that would take us up. Uncle Ted’s breathing became ragged and heavy as we went up the four flights of stairs, each one shorter than the last. The old man had not kept up his training schedule.
I stopped him. “Sir, you can’t do this. Go find security.”
He shook his head, “My responsibility.”
“If we get this ship away from here, it may help. And I can get there faster. Go.” I said.
Uncle Ted nodded and we shook hands. He started back down, then, and was gone in a doorway in moments.
I reached the top and found several men and Tisha standing around a body.
“You’re too late,” Tisha said, “I have made the sacrifice without you, Banned. The process is almost complete.” She leaned over and held up a giant cooler full of water and poured it onto the black box. The liquid did not splash, but entered through the stone and vanished.
A light flashed and blue mist poured up and over Tisha’s body. The box activated, the thrumming power of it a rolling noise in my ears. Tisha leaned over and touched the black box. Her face twisted and another person rose in front of me, cold and dark. The features were long and angular and the smile bright as the moonlight above.
“I am born as my other was,” she said, her voice both deep and full of air It rasped and drug across my skin, the sound like sharkskin. “And now she comes,” she said, pointing.
The men let me go and I turned and looked out over the ocean. Instead of the calm sea reflecting the stars, the clouds had gathered and were swirling, a reflection of the ocean’s whirlpool below. The water reflected no light, instead capturing it and holding it. I watched as a shadow rose from below the ship.
Tisha’s voice and the voice of the other were there in my ear and her hands gripped me with a powerful strength, “You are the last named of the Banned men. Die.”
She then lifted me with that awful strength. I lifted my feet against the railing and pushed back, hoping to overbalance her. She screamed and fell with me, back into her men and the box.
I heard a crack behind me and felt her go limp beneath me. I scrambled away as I felt cold energy touch me. Flashes of darkness, of a deep and terrible horror under the pressure of water and time. Of power, inviting and immense and still. A calm and a thrum of sound rushed into me, shaking my spirit. I screamed and the men stepped away from me.
The blue mist engulfed Tisha. I watched as the face twisted, snarled and threw itself at me, but she was caught in something. The energy swirled around her and pulled and she vanished in the smoke.
The sky cleared and the sun came out. I heard footsteps on stairs and metal hitting wood. I fell back, not caring. My mind hurt, not an ache from my body but a spirit wound in my soul. My mind shut down and I fell into myself away from the awful darkness.