Flash Fiction: Salvage (583 words)

Rhinda knew the cut of The Sacrett better than she knew the slope of the horizon, better than she knew the shape of her shadow, better than she knew the arc of the summer sun. So, coming around the cliff face, she knew instantly that the hull itself had buckled. The ship was still half-hidden in the rocks, the waves hissing and foaming around the twisted deck, and she just tried not to imagine what it must have felt like to feel the beams break underfoot. Glancing at Jeven standing beside her, she could see the memory flick across his features. She forgot to imagine it, and her blood stilled as if she already had.

The breeze pushed their hair into their faces. Jeven took a deep breath. Then he settled the memory back into the past. Rhinda looked down, letting him pass her on the uneven path, and she smiled weakly at Kim coming up behind.

Slowly, the three of them picked their way around the cliff, carefully bringing the ship – flayed and splayed – into view.

Rhinda knew it would cut deep, to trace the broken spars, to mark masts that no longer pointed at the sky, and see the deck twisted at three different angles that it had no right to. The Sacrett had belonged to her mother, a grandmother before her, and a great-grandfather. There was no way for its breaking not to bite.

And there was no way for it to surprise her. This was what happened when a captain tried to bring a ship into port in the dark hours, against the tides. Without the navigator’s assistance or approval. Under full canvas. Drunk.

He’d had the Moon, he told her. He knew the strength of the ship as well as she did. He loved it, too. But this, she told herself, wondering at how sharp her own silence could be, couldn’t be a surprise after her husband stumbled in, shook her awake with a string of defenses before he even bothered to tell her what she might accuse him of.

She was sure he felt the cut too, but she had only seen blood in the mirror.

“We could call the Wright,” Kim said. “I’ve seen some miracles worked before.”

Jeven and Rhinda looked at him, eyebrows raised, stunned at the idiocy of that sort of optimism.

“Better to call the salvage men,” Jeven murmured, kindly framing it as a suggestion. All three of them knew that it was their only option. Or they should have. “I think one of the masts is still whole. The other one can probably be cut for something smaller. At least a third of the struts have to be worth something.”

Rhinda looked down at the wreck. The stones seemed to be gnawing at the broken timbers, gray teeth in a monster that she usually got along with so well. The waves swelled, foaming through the gaps in the ship’s skin. She could feel the spray, tossed up from fifty feet below. It was hard to imagine not paying the rolling ocean the respect it deserved.

“Burn it,” she said. It was hard to tell whether she had made her decision or opened her mouth first.

Jeven and Kim turned to her now, eyebrows higher.

“But…” Jeven said, catching Kim in the middle of the same word. They glanced at each other, suddenly unknowing what was meant to follow.

“To ash, please, gentlemen,” Rhinda said. “Just let him speculate on what was left.”

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