Chuck Wendig had another prompt that gave me some inspiration. The prompt was ‘There is no exit.’ This is what I came up with. I tried something different and wrote in 2nd person present tense. I think it worked for this piece.
There are three things you know you can count on in your life.
1. The world will always find a way to temper kindness with cruelty, lest you get the wrong idea of its nature.
2. The wind will forever pull you back out to sea, and it has no qualms about stranding you.
3. Blue Alice will always be in the corner of the pub, draining mugs of rum and ale, telling stories of past glory to anyone who will buy another round.
You used to pay her in mugs for her tales. Cheeky little shit you were, attracted to the glory she spoke of like it was precious diamonds. You wanted all she spoke of, adventures and treasure and the sheer unfettered freedom her kind of life could give someone if they only had the courage to pursue it.
Those stories taught you many things, but you learned more when you gave your courage full rein. You’ll never be a quarter of the storyteller Blue Alice is, but you’ve seen your fair share of strangeness, of wonder, and black-hearted vileness.
The latter, perhaps, never so plain as when you catch a glimpse of your reflection.
Blue Alice accepts the rum and takes a deep swallow as if it might quench some long-suffering parch. She licks her lips and sets the mug down, fingers still entwined in the handle.
“What tale may I offer ye today? Something adventurous and daring? Perhaps ye wish to hear about the cursed pearls that won back a war. Or maybe something mysterious, such as the sirens who lurk at shipwrecks so they might pry a bargain from the lips of a desperate sailor in their blackest hour.”
You say nothing, for it occurs to you to look past Blue Alice’s words. You notice her eyes. They must have been striking, long ago, as the clearest blue this side of the Caribbean. Now, yellowed and bloodshot, they’re just sick. Her skin has gone sallow and discolored from drink and ruin. Her facial scars, which once must have struck fear and dread into those who came against her, especially when she flashed a devilish grin containing no trace of mercy, now only paint her a sad and weary creature.
“No, none of those,” you say. You drink your own rum for a moment and try to gather the words that scatter as a school of startled fish.
Blue Alice tilts her head and studies you. You find it uncomfortable for the position to be switched.
“I heard tell you met yourself a genuine sea witch out there. Mayhap you ought should be tellin’ the story this time.”
“I don’t want a story,” you say. You wipe at your mouth and sigh, frustrated. There’s still blood under your nails and on your coat. Would that the last voyage had only been a tale. “I want an ending.”
Blue Alice hums and swirls the run around the bottom of her mug.
“There is no exit,” she says. “You stick around long enough, survive enough, you come to realize a few things. One being that every ending is nothin’ more than another beginnin’ disguised up in magic or faith or solace. Nothin’ truly ends. It just becomes something else.”
“No. There has to be an ending. Otherwise, the concept wouldn’t even exist. There has to be a way of getting out. For good.”
So you tell her.
There’s no fanciful euphemisms or rousing prose. You tell it as it happened. The legend. The voyage. The map. The island. The witch. And how everything you followed left out that the treasure was another kind of hell, one someone else fought and bled and wrecked themselves to contain.
“You lost someone.”
“Lost implies they might be found again,” you say. “She’s not lost. She’s ended, more or less.”
The magic of the hurricane saw to that. It ripped her apart worse than any musket or cannon. It tore at her until she was less than skin and blood, less than soul. Whatever remained, if anything, was finer than strands of corn silk and left drifting in the ocean.
It should have been you.
“So don’t tell me there ain’t a way. There was for her. Now I need another.”
Blue Alice ruminates on that while more rum is poured. You drink yours down, barely tasting the liquid scorch. Time passes. Music plays. Someone starts a fight and someone else ends it. But it’s just noise. After the hurricane took her dying screams nothing sounds quite real.
“Maybe there is something,” Blue Alice says when the sun is down and the tide has come in. She pulls a vial of black liquid from her vest. “Drink this, and it shall give you what you seek.”
You take the vial and turn it over in your hands. It’s dark as pitch with an oily residue.
“Nay. More akin to a wish, if you will. Best to be sure, though. Ye can’t be wishing yourself back.”
There’s never been anything sweeter fall upon your ears. You uncork the vial at the table and down it in a single gulp. You think, let it be a good ending. The bar winks out around you, and then back again.
But you are not in your seat. You’re in Blue Alice’s, looking back at yourself from her eyes, from her body. She smiles using your mouth. It looks stiff. You’ve not smiled in many months.
“What is this?”
“A way to make as many endings as ye need. Make them worthy.”
She leaves you alone with a full mug of rum. You find yourself unable, or maybe unwilling, to follow.
Before long someone else arrives. Young. Impressionable. Eyes too bright, ears too eager. They fill another mug in front of you.
“Give us a tale, then, Alice. Something full of adventure and daring.”
Blue Alice drinks her rum and opens her mouth. Out comes a story with a fitting end.