This was, I think, the hardest part. I had the amazing Jeni Chappelle looking over my work, and the woman is hard, but fair. I’m still uncertain how to fix a few things (and I’ve had enough time to sit on it…too much time though, so it needs to go up!)
She did notice that I LOVE alliteration <3
(And the few changes I did make are in bold this time around)
…and people lived out here?
Gale pinched her nose, defending against the cloying scent of sea muck highlighted with a rotten overture of dead and dying things. The beached boat in front of her was a vision of determination from generations ago. Wooden strips had weathered and warped, now creaking a high-pitched hello for every gust of wind sweeping across the waters.
Gale stepped from the sand dunes onto the deck. It screamed from her weight, sagging, but didn’t betray her. Not yet. Like the rest of humanity, it was waiting for the best time to screw her over.
Speaking of dregs… not only did people live out here, but old arguments turned into feuds, which was never good for innocents caught in the crossfire. She and Bear had needed supplies though. Food and water were running lower than rain levels in a desert wasteland, so they had discussed it. Uncertain death was better than a parched, surefire death by starvation and thirst. Bear, back in town, would be calming the locals down and explaining that Gale—sole survivor, logical thinker, and knowledge hoarder—was better equipped to figure out the mystery of the boat than Bear, who was the brawn of the duo.
That was the deal. Gale gets whatever treasure is in the safe, and Bear stays behind as collateral. After the treasure is exchanged, they get supplies and can go on their merry way.
The stairs were better and worse than the deck; some of the crawling darkness was less a lack of light and more about missing steps, but when they were there, they were solid. No threats of snapping. A soft, moth of a curse was lost to the night when a splinter from the rail bit her hand.
Both sides of the feud laid claim to the boat, and to whatever treasure lay inside. “Claim,” in some cases, meaning setting fire to the boat, because apparently mutually assured destruction was as pleasurable as getting whatever was hidden here.
The floor was solid, a surprise since Gale had been expecting a carpet of water. It was also completely open to the elements from the back, thanks to the previous match-player, which meant a stairless way to get into the bowels of the boat. On the plus side, it also meant the decaying threads of the picture she had been told to find were easy to spot in the moonlight.
Differing details aside, the main gist of the feud was easy to understand. Two brothers had been traveling down the river when war exploded in the sky. They’d puttered into the first port they could as the world played ping-pong with illnesses, disease, and nukes. Countries collapsed, and small, independent nations founded by individuals flourished, then fought like hell against anyone else for resources. The brothers had each started their own group,evolving over the years from freighters to fighters.
Three more steps, and she was removing the frame to reveal a rusty orange safe.
“Wait. Why haven’t they opened this?” muttered Gale, raising her hand to enter the combination. Even if they didn’t trust each other, both groups could have traveled here and overseen the operation. Watched each other like hawks. Seen the item first and then decided to fight over it. Her hand trembled as she hesitated. Fell as she thought about Bear.
Then she set her jaw and dialed the number. Wrenched it open.
Mold was the first thing that fell out, causing her to choke, gasping for fresher rotten air. After that was a heap of dead silverfish. Finally, there was a book. One of crumbling pages. Of loose photos. Two little boys with smiles wider than the river’s mouth. Worthless.
She turned to leave, to go back to the village and rescue Bear before stealing back their meager supplies.
The stars weren’t the only clear things tonight, and those “innocent” villagers were going to pay if they’d hurt Bear.