Lovers' Dice: A Ghost Story
He lays chase to her, as he always has and as he always will.
That his methods have become less passive is merely a product of the changing times, of the advancing years. Patience, once an unwavering virtue, has been stretched and worn until it is as thin and transparent as the rags he is clothed in. Put to the sea, he rides it as though at his back is the devil, himself.
When he hears the shout from the main truck that the Vingança is again in sight, he feels relief such that he wishes he could still weep for it. Just the knowledge that they draw near is enough to lighten his burden. It has been too long since he last laid eyes on her sails -- blood-red in colour and mottled dark with age and the continuous, destructive labor of the sea. His own sloop is none so impressive, its ragged sails giving poor chase. But with the wind pushing hard and his luck holding strong, he can catch her, just.
The pirate captain of the Vingança waits for him on deck. She is still beautiful, he thinks, though reduced beyond boyish thinness and marred by the tarnished hook where her left hand once was. She wears knee breeches and a man's shirt, near entirely undone, and her feet are bare and filthy. There are beads knotted into her overgrown hair, new since their last meeting; he wonders who strung them there and what their significance might be.
He does not ask, even when he hears an echo of laughter that, though it belongs not to her, is familiar.
"I have found you, again," he says, gravely, "and, again, I challenge you."
"Name your wager," says she.
"Your freedom," he says, as he always does, "from my presence on this vessel. The freedom to run again. The freedom to go where you will."
Her lips thin at this and, when she smiles, the skull-like recession of her gums reminds him that they are nothing more than ossein, and that the gravamen of the sea has turned them into this.
"And you?" he asks.
"My hand," she states, as she always does, pulling the pouch which holds the shrunken and shriveled artifact from around her neck, "which I promised to you, long ago, and which you tried to take for your own when I broke that trust."
The wager is set. The game has begun.
When they shake their cups and slam them down, the noise seems to echo around him, though how he is not sure. Like so many things, when at sea, sound does not return to its sender.
He tips the cup so only he can see the dice beneath; there are three ones and two fives.
He does not look up at her when he says, "One five."
"Two fives," she returns.
"Three ones." He looks at her, then; her cup is untouched; she has not looked at the way the dice have fallen beneath it.
"Four ones," she says, her voice keening, soft with longing. She stares at a point in the distance to her left. It is away from him, which he knows is the only place she wishes to be.
"Five ones," he returns, and it is bitter.
She brings her gaze back to him then. "Six ones."
"Seven ones." He hardly recognizes the face that is tilted toward him.
Her eyes turned black as the darkest depths of the sea, she says, "Eight ones."
"Liar," he hisses. "Liar!"
There is a moment when he is sure he has finally won, that he will finally have what he wants more than anything else. More than life. More than death. More than laughter or comfort or the sweet reprieve of oblivion. For that moment he is sure that he will possess her. But it is just a moment, and the moment passes.
With lips stretched tight against too prominent teeth, her smile is of triumph, vindication and, as always, superiority. She lifts her cup to show five dice, all sides flipped to the one.
Eight ones. The pirate captain of the Vingança is no liar.
"Give up," she whispers, as she always does. "Don't keep on. It's hopeless for you. It always has been."
Her words are well-meaning, for, in the moment of his defeat, she pities him. But it is that there is a part of her that still frets when the inevitability of the chase torments him, which keeps him on. That will keep him on forever and always.
He returns to his sloop, defeated again, defeated as always. The ships, no longer connected, pull away from each other.
He watches the Vingança as it flees.
When it has disappeared into the mist, he opens his compass again. It whirls and clacks and spins before landing upon a new heading – directionless and, indeed, nameless, save for Want.