The morning was no longer new but still the black ship was shrouded in dark shadow as it sped along the frozen river. The watery sun finally peeped over the edges of the steep valley sides and shone weakly in the grey winter sky, but it would be hours yet before the deep snow in the valley felt its touch.
The Huntress, as dark as the shadow she sped through, followed the winding course of the river as snow-capped peaks rose far in the distance. The faint notes of a sad music fading in her wake.
It was this music which woke Sally up. She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep but when she sat up one of the forms was stuck to the side of her cheek. She peeled it off and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The adrenaline of the night’s events had carried her through until the morning, but five minutes in the office with a horrendous selection of maths problems had been enough to send Sally into a deep, exhausted sleep.
She looked around, trying to trace the source of the music just as it faded and died.
It was coming from behind the second door, now slightly ajar. Standing up from the desk, Sally took a step towards it and her hand reached out for the brass knob. Almost as if it were waiting for her fingertips to touch the cold metal, the music began again. The simple, beautiful notes of a piano.
As she pulled the door slowly open, a voice began to sing. A voice that Sally was surprised to find that she recognised.
A sad, old-fashioned voice. Old-fashioned in the way that voices in black and white films were. It was the voice of a singer that her father listened to a lot. He would take out his old vinyl albums, dust them off and look sadly out of the window as the beautiful tones weaved through the room. Her name, Sally knew, was Billy Holiday. She knew the song too. The words were beautiful and sad as well, and they reminded her that she was a long way from home:
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
In that small café
That park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees
The wishing well
Then another voice spoke, cutting through the warm familiar music. A commanding voice which made Sally stiffen. “Don’t just stand there, dearie. Come in.” A voice as cold and icy as the winter landscape outside.
Sally hesitated briefly, but the combination of the words and the music seemed to pull her in against her own will. She pushed open the door and entered the large cabin within.
The first thing she noticed was the fur. Animal furs and skins covered every surface in the room.
Just in front of the door, for example, lay what looked like the thick, white coat of a massive polar bear; its large arms and legs stretched out to the sides. Beyond that lay a lion skin and further still what looked like the spotted pelt of a leopard.
There were furs hanging from every wall: tiger, wolf and fox; zebra, squirrel and rabbit; panda, yak, antelope, coyote, moose and beaver. Furs lined the wall seat on the right under the curtained portholes. Furs lay thick on the gigantic iron-framed bed at the back of the room. Fur coats poked out of the wooden wardrobe in the far, right-hand corner. Fur slippers stood next to the bed. Fur hats hung from hooks on the wall. Furs of all kind: black, white, brown, striped, spotted. Beautiful furs.
Although not beautiful in the common sense of the word. To Sally they were sad, tragic. The type of beauty
found in a tear drop or a dying rose or a butterfly pinned to an album.
The haunting music continued to float softly around the room:
I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day;
In every thing that's light and gay.
I'll always think of you that way.
The room was dark but warm flames flickered in the stomach of a black, pot-bellied stove on the left-hand side of the cabin. In front, with its back to the door, stood an old, swivel armchair covered in the thick fur of a snow leopard.
”That’s it. Come closer, deary.” The voice sliced through the air like a razor. Its owner sat deep in the armchair and Sally saw one long, bony hand protruding from the arm of a mink fur coat. Smoke curled from a thin, brown cigarette held in the end of an ebony cigarette holder. Two bony, slippered feet perched on a fur-covered stool, were warming in front of the stove. “Come now, don’t be shy.”
Just as there had been with Jack Douglas, there was a tone of command in the voice; a confidence that knew it would be obeyed. However, whereas Jack’s voice had been warm and charming and had inspired the belief that everything would be alright, this voice was slippery, sickly sweet and cold. It was ice laced with black treacle. It enchanted in the way that a snake’s eyes could hypnotise its prey, and it had to be obeyed. Sally knew instinctively and without a doubt that this was the captain of the Huntress.
The young girl approached the armchair. Next to it stood a small table with an old-fashioned gramophone. The music came from an old record which spun on its turntable. She stopped a few steps away from the chair. The profile of the smoker was dark still in the shadows.
“Tell me your name, girly.” The voice was calm and quiet but dripped with unspoken menace.
“Sally Hargreaves, ma’am.” Sally’s mouth opened and spoke without her volition.
“Mmmm. A pretty name to go with such pretty hair. Now, tell me, dear, did you complete the paperwork?”
Sally knew that any lie would be seen through immediately, “No ma’am.”
“Can’t do your lettering, eh?”
“No…I mean, yes….I can…it’s just…”
“Yes, go on. Tell me the truth girl.”
“Sorry it’s just that I didn’t think that I should be signing anything which meant that I could be drowned, burnt or shot.”
The figure in the chair spun around with such speed that Sally’s heart skipped a beat. The long pointed sword in the other, bony hand sliced through the air and came to a sudden, jolting halt, vibrating while its point lay against the soft flesh under Sally’s chin.
The sad, beautiful song came to an end:
I'll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I'll be looking at the moon,
But I'll be seeing you.
Then only the scratch and hiss of the needle at the end of the record could be heard. The captain of the Huntress leant close to Sally, a cobra’s smile on her face.
“Well done, my dear.” She hissed. “You’ve got the job.”