…and people lived out here? Gale pinched her nose, defending herself against the cloying scent of sea muck highlighted with a rotten overture of dead or dying things. The stranded boat in front of her was a vision of determination. Wooden strips were weathered and warped, creaking a high-pitched hello with every gust of wind that swept down from across the waters.
Gale stepped from the sand dunes onto the deck. It screamed from the weight, sagging, but didn’t betray her. Yet.
Not only did people live out here, but their arguments were turning into feuds, which was never good for any innocents caught in the crossfire. She and Bear had needed supplies though, their food and water were running low, do they had discussed it. Uncertain death by accident was better than surefire death by starvation and thirst. Bear was even now back in town, calming them down and explaining that Gale was the best equipped to figure out the mystery of the boat.
The stairs were simultaneously better than and worse than the deck; some of the crawling darkness was less a lack of light and more missing steps, but when they were there they didn’t threaten to snap. She let out a soft curse as a splinter from the handrail bit into her skin.
Both sides laid clam to it, and to the treasure inside. Differing details put aside, the main gist was easy to understand. Two brothers had been traveling down the river when war exploded. They’d puttered into the first port they could to find that the world had started playing ping-pong with illnesses, disease, and weapons of nuclear destruction. Countries became small, independent nations founded by individuals who banded together, then fought like hell against anyone else. The brothers had each started their own group, becoming traders who had evolved into enemies.
The floor was dry; a surprise since Gale had been expecting a carpet of water. It was also completely open to the elements from the back, which meant she hadn’t needed to take the stairs. On the plus side, it also meant that the decaying threads of the picture were easy to spot in the moonlight. A few more steps, and she was removing the frame to reveal a safe.
“Why didn’t they do this?” muttered Gale, raising her hand to enter the combination she clutched. If they didn’t trust each other, then both groups could have traveled here. Watched each other like hawks. Her hand trembled. Fell. She turned to leave, to go back to the village and, most likely, rescue Bear and take back their meager supplies.
The stars weren’t the only clear things tonight.