• Jon Matthews

The Marco Polo: based on a dream.

I write this in haste, for mine is a story that must be told and I wish to issue a warning to any who encounter the derelict cargo ship Marco Polo and a caution against boarding the vessel, despite the treasures it is rumoured to hold. If you are reading this then steer clear of this legendary ship or better yet destroy the cursed vessel – if such a thing is indeed possible. Do not under any circumstances attempt to rescue me, lest you too succumb to the horror that haunts me.

I long dreamt of a solo sailing voyage across the Pacific and trained for it for many years. As an experienced sailor, an exemplary navigator and a survival expert I believed that I was more than capable of completing such a voyage. I knew the legend of the Marco Polo well, though never believed the ghost ship still roamed this great ocean or that I would ever encounter it. A relic of The War, the cargo vessel was part of a convoy that encountered one of those nasty storms that comes out of nowhere and defies all meteorological predictions. With visibility reduced to mere meters, communication between ships became impossible and all navigational instruments rendered useless, the Marco Polo struck a nearby vessel and begun to take on water. The captain ordered the crew to abandon the ship and most were rescued by other members of the convoy. Remarkably and to the shock of those who observed from the decks of the other members of the convoy, the Marco Polo and its precious cargo did not sink. Despite the prevailing winds and currents, the ship drifted away from the rest of the convoy and disappeared into the heart of the storm. Myriad tales have been told ever since by sailors who claim to have caught a glimpse of the derelict whilst crossing the Pacific but no attempts to locate it have ever been successful and no one has ever boarded the lost vessel until I happened upon it several weeks ago.

I was little over half way into my crossing when I encountered an unexpected and unseasonal storm. My little yacht, The Venturer, was tossed and turned by great waves and powerful winds and it took every ounce of my sailing knowledge and experience, as well as more than a little good fortune, for me to keep myself afloat. After many hours, the storm subsided and I collapsed, exhausted, on the deck.

When I opened my eyes again, night had fallen and the stars shone bright above me while the torn mainsail flapped fruitlessly in the breeze. I panicked, worried about how long I’d been asleep and how far I’d drifted off course. As I rushed to check the instruments I froze at the incredible site before me of a great metal ship, lifeless and silent, sitting low in the water and drifting gently alongside my yacht, with patches of rust showing beneath faded and chipped paintwork. The worn letters at the bow revealed this to be the long-lost Marco Polo and I gasped in shock and gathered together grapples and lines and prepared to board.

Once onboard the Marco Polo, I made certain to secure The Venturer in place before I began my exploration. Much of the ship was damaged by decades of fierce weathering and corrosion and the bridge was blackened by fire, seemingly caused by a lightning strike. The crew cabins provided a fascinating insight into maritime history and I spent several torchlit hours examining the scattered clothing and other personal effects of the sailors who once called this ship home.

As dawn approached, I began walking the outer decks which had been made incredibly spacious by the absence of the lifeboats, which must have been used when the ship was abandoned. When I attempted to return to The Venturer for some food, water and spare torch batteries I was greatly dismayed by my discovery that the lines had come loose and my prized yacht was nowhere in sight. I stood in abject shock for a long time, unconvinced that the knots I had tied so carefully could have come loose on their own but knowing there was no other reasonable explanation. I headed below decks in search of food and flares, hoping that if I could attract the attention of some nearby vessel I would be rescued.

Most of the lower decks were submerged, including the galley, engine rooms and many cargo compartments. This puzzled me greatly, it was impossible that the ship could remain afloat with so much of it underwater and yet it did not sink. As I waded waist deep in yet another cargo compartment full of empty containers, I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly uneasy, more so than my situation had already made me. I glanced around the large room furtively, shining my torch in every dark corner and crevice. The black waters stirred and I sensed something moving beneath the surface. I directed the cone of torchlight towards ripples in the centre of the room as two huge bulbous yellow eyes emerged slowly from the depths and penetrated the surface. I almost dropped my torch in horror at the sight before me. The spherical eyes protruded from a smooth black head, only a small portion of which was visible above the water. I turned myself around and attempted to run through the waist deep water in slow motion. It was futile, the creature, seemingly without effort, remained an identical distance behind me. It watched me with its two enormous, unblinking eyes. I made my way through compartment after compartment as it followed me until eventually, I returned to the stairs and climbed to safety.

Exhausted, I slept on the least damaged bunk I could find in one of the crew cabins. It was light outside when I awoke, with a gentle rain tapping rhythmically on the deck. I gathered buckets, pots and basins and placed them outside in order to quench my now substantial first and save as much water as possible for future consumption. I searched everywhere for food but unable to find anything substantial and my hunger becoming increasingly painful I knew that I would have to go back to the lower decks soon and search there for sustenance.

When I returned to the flooded sections of the ship I did so with a duffel bag I found in a crew cabin which I placed atop a small raft I built from two flotation devices and some rope. My hope was that I would find the ship’s galley and fill the bag with the provisions stored there. As I reached the bottom of the stares and waded into the water, I tied one end of a rope to the raft and one end around my waist. Holding my torch in one hand and a meter-long metal pole in the other I began to gingerly make my way through the compartment, checking any open containers for food.

I proceeded cautiously from one section to another without seeing any sign of the monster. I began to consider the possibility that it had been a phantom, a figment of my exhausted, dehydrated and hungry mind. My quest to find sustenance was proving futile and after a long search I was beginning to lose hope when I again felt an uneasiness descend upon me. I shone my torch across the room in a wide arc and caught a glimpse of something dark moving beneath the waters. I backed away slowly until I felt my back touch the raft. Once again two yellow eyes rose from the depths and froze ahead of me, the creatures gaze was clearly fixed on me. Rather than flee I stood rooted to the spot, water up to my waist. The beast did not move. I heard some sort of gurgling sound and tightened my grip on the metal pole in my right hand, ready to defend myself, if necessary. All of a sudden, without warning something flew out of the water close to the creature and hurtled towards me. I jumped backwards to avoid the white blur that seemed to be aiming straight for me and it hit the water in front of me with a slap. It was a fish, I don’t know what kind of fish but it was dead, very clearly just killed. I tentatively picked it up and examined it. As I did so the eyes descended again into the water and disappeared.

I cooked the fish over a fire I built from some wooden furniture which I chopped with an emergency axe and lit with a lighter I found in one of the crew cabins. After two days of living off of rainwater and fish provided by the creature, I found myself being led to a supply of canned fruit, which I quickly loaded into my duffel bag.

Every time I went below decks the animal, whatever it was, seemed to provide me with some new resource to ensure my survival. I attempted communication on several occasions but never received any evidence the unblinking being understood either speech or Morse code. I even attempted to mime the action of a flare, in the hope that it would lead me to some but each time it either flung fish at me or led me to another cache of canned food. The creature was clearly intelligent but seemed either unwilling to or incapable of comprehending me. Though it appeared benevolent, I remained wary.

After four days on the ship, feeling strong and capable I began to collect anything I could find that was flammable and place it in a pile on the very top of the ship, in the hope that the smoke from my bonfire may be seen by a passing ship or plane. In the absence of flares or the ability to transmit radio signals, this seemed my most likely method of finding rescue. I did not venture into the sunken sections of the ship, having already collected plenty of canned goods, but worked throughout the day to gather and chop wood with the intention of keeping the fire burning all through the next day.

A persistent heavy rain prevented me from getting the fire started the next morning and I grew incredibly frustrated. My efforts to keep the majority of the wood dry proved reasonably successful, so I held out hope that when the rain subsided, I would be able to try again. The rain, however, did not subside and grew heavier and heavier as the day wore on.

On the morning of my fifth day aboard the Marco Polo, I was finally able to get the fire started. I fed it persistently to keep a tall plume of smoke rising from the ship throughout the day. I took breaks to eat canned fruit, drink rainwater and gather and chop more wood. I ventured below decks, and used the emergency axe to break apart a wood container, intending to take the wood to my pile armful by armful. As I waded through the cold water, I expected to see the creature’s eyes watching me, as it had every other time I had come below. Instead there was nothing but darkness, interrupted by the cone of light from my torch.

When I returned to the fire, I found, to my horror, that it had been extinguished and my wood pile thoroughly drenched, despite my careful arrangement. What could have caused this? I asked myself, though in my heart of hearts I knew the answer. I thought back to the knots I had used to secure The Venturer to the ship, had they been undone by some monstrous hand intent on keeping me here?

The next day I attempted to build a raft and had made a reasonable start, but when I went searching for ropes, I returned to find it smashed into kindling. From then on, each time I went below decks I would either encounter the creature, which would provide me with food or I would find it absent, in which case upon my return something I had been working on would be gone or destroyed. The creature, though seemingly concerned about my survival, continued to not permit my escape from this wretched vessel. It provided me with food and allows me a small fire to cook fish upon but would not tolerate my attempts to leave.

After several fruitless attempts at building a signal fire or a raft, I became frustrated and decided that my only option to escape would require me to confront and destroy the foul beast that had become both my benefactor and my gaoler. I armed myself with an axe and a flaming torch and headed below.

As I waded through the cold water of the first compartment, I quickly spotted the unmistakable yellow glow of the creature’s eyes rising from the deep. Those bulbous orbs examined me serenely as I launched myself through the water towards it with every ounce of my strength. It did not retreat or respond to my charge. I raised my axe high in the air with my right hand and swung down with as much force as I could muster. The axe bounced harmlessly off the creature’s skull, the shock reverberating up my arm and causing me to release my weapon, which spun through the air and clattered against a metal bulkhead before splashing into the water below. I thrust the torch towards the beast, which had backed away from me, still unblinking. It watched as I moved towards it and swung the torch in a long arc in front of me. Out of the dark water between us a thick tentacle emerged and in one sweeping motion struck me in the chest and flung me backwards into the water. The torch dropped from my hand and into the water, throwing the room into total darkness, except for the unblinking, yellow orbs gazing at me intensely.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my electric torch, flicking the switch and shining its beam towards the monster now rising up out of the water. How such a huge beast was able to slip through waist high water unseen is a mystery to me. At the centre of its enormous round head, beneath the bulbous yellow eyes, was a gaping maw, round and filled with layers and layers of huge, sharp teeth. It had no body to speak of, just hundreds of long, thick tentacles protruding from beneath the head and reaching in all directions. It opened its cavernous mouth and let out an ear-piercing shriek. A foul stench filled the air and I began to retch as I turned and fled up the steps and back into drier portions of the ship.

I ran across the rusty deck and into one of the crew cabins. Though I had never seen the creature above water, I believed it must be capable of it, if it had indeed been responsible untying The Venturer and destroying my raft. I hid beneath a bunk, waiting for the distant shrieking to subside.

I did not venture below deck again until I had exhausted my supply of canned food. When I did return the creature was once again in a passive state and once again provided me with fish and canned goods. I know not what the creature wants from me, all I know is that escape is futile and that every attempt I have made since meets with disaster. It seems that I must dwell aboard this ship for the rest of my days and accept whatever fate this creature has in store for me. All I can do is warn others: Do not approach the Marco Polo! Keep away from this wretched vessel, lest the same fate befall you.

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