by Yamile Mendez
2010 copyright; author retains all the rights to the story. Please do not use the story without author's permission.
October 2nd, 1493
We have been many days sailing in the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. I am making my way to the New World on the Buena Fortuna, a ship built expressly following her Majesty Doña Isabel’s desire to send good Christians to spread the good tidings of salvation to the hordes of savages. In spite of my widowed mother’s pleading tears, I embarked to seek my fortune, to see the world. At night, I stand on starboard, gazing towards the land of my fathers, and all I see is the bright cross of stars reflected on the black water, blessing our voyage—few Spaniards have seen this new constellation. The life of a sailor has turned me into a thinker.
October 8th, 1493
The skies are perilously overcast today. The old Portuguese man doesn’t allow the men’s telling stories of sea tempests and wrecks. He says they bring bad luck. I saw him cross himself while he gazed heavenward, and chills ran through my body. I don’t want to witness Poseidon’s temper so far from land.
October 10th, 1493
Two days ago the rain started, at first like a spring shower, now like a torrent. The furies unleashed the elements during the first watch of the night. One young boy is missing; he must have fallen overboard and no one heard him during the uproar.
The men move in ominous silence. When the barrels of drinking water fall to the abyss, even the most seasoned sea wolves cower with the foreboding of doom. I wish we were at the Hispaniola already.
October 11th, 1493
Two more men have been lost, and the circumstances of their deaths are so otherworldly my hand shakes as I relate the portents of the night. In the deepest hour of the vigil, I saw a light in the water. There are no torches aboard. All the wood is wet; after the storm our only means of illumination are the moon and the stars, but that night was as dark as a nightmare. The fiendish light was akin to that of a candle, a golden flame. The more the ship tossed, the brighter the light on the water became.
The crew cried in naked terror while I clutched the rosary beads my mother gave me when she bid me farewell at the port. I prayed to be delivered from the infernal fire, but the gale swallowed my pleading. The line that marked the end of the world in the maps I pored over before I set foot on the ship was behind us. The eternal fire licked the sides of the ship with greedy hunger.
Anguish overcame me, made me wish for the death. When the first notes of preternatural beauty reached my ears, I thought an angel was coming to save us. And then I saw her—she was no angel. A lady of such beauty to rival even the Lady of the Angels. May my mother forgive my blasphemous thoughts. Her dark, long hair trailed behind her like a bridal veil; her eyes, alive with enticement, reflected the flames in the water. The nacre white of her skin extended until her waist. To my horror, I realized the lower portion of her body was covered in scales. I clapped my hands to my ears to shut out the siren song. Two of my companions weren’t as fast, and they jumped to their death, a willing sacrifice for the firewater nymph. The long fingered hand of the ocean brushed over the ship, like the warm touch of a matronly nurse. The Lady plunged in the water. The light of her halo dimmer and dimmer as she swam away.
October 12th, 1493
For days, she followed our ship, her eerie light illuminating the night. She must have felt my gaze on her, and she beckoned me to her side. Covering my ears, I obeyed her irresistible summons. Face to face, she was more glorious than a vision. I was at the very edge of the ship when she touched my arm with cold, marble fingers. The light dripped from her hair and her limbs. When she removed her hand from my arm the light was on me. I noticed the golden glow emanating from minute creatures; delicate water-fire fairies, each dancing in a drop of salt water. Longing for a word, a whisper of her siren voice, I let my hands fall from my ears. Her lips smiled knowingly; I had no strength to withstand her allure. She shook her head, rejecting my offering. Her graceful arm lifted from the water and pointed me to a looming shadow in the horizon. "San Juan," she said.
And she slid down in the water, her refulgence delineating her every curve.
The cry of “Tierra!” broke my reverie. The lights on my arm vanished, and I looked up for the first time into the New World: America.
Authors Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of marine bioluminescence. I wonder what the early Spanish adventurers thought of it. To them, it must been a miracle.
Check out the images: http://www.elenas-vieques.com/biobay.html