I was about to turn to Will and suggest we head down to bed when I heard the first scream.
It came from a few stories above us. It was a man’s scream, but high-pitched and filled with terror. A cigar hit the deck next to us. Instinctively, both Will and I crouched down to the ground, swords up as Eva had taught us, looking up to the balcony overhead. T-Rex just stood there, mouth open and gazing in the direction of the scream, clutching his sandwich to him. I reached out and pulled him to the ground next to us.
The fog descended further and covered the balcony in a thin, wispy haze. Through it, I could still see the dark shapes of the men on the balcony. They ran back and forth as if trapped. The captain cried out, his arms raised as if to attack something. He struggled with some unseen force, then tipped precariously over the railing.
“Watch out!” I cried.
The captain stood for a second, then stumbled as if forced by a strong shove. He fell backward over the railing.
“No!” Will shouted.
But just as the captain was about to hit the deck, a tendril of cloud bolted out from the mist and wrapped around his leg. He jerked to a stop just above the hardwood surface, held tightly by his one leg.
I breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived.
Two other men tumbled down from the balcony, screaming. They were also caught at the last second by long wispy fingers of mist and held upside down off the deck. They struggled and kicked, but they could not free themselves.
The fog churned and swirled, and I thought I saw bodies rolling just under the surface. Every so often an arm or a leg broke out from the cloud before dissolving into the night air.
“What is it?” T-Rex whimpered.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back. “But it can’t be good.”
Without warning, one of the tendrils of fog snapped back and forth like a whip being cracked. The sailor flew through the air, smashed into the wall, and crumpled to the floor.
“Definitely not good,” I said. “Come on.”
We ran, still low to the ground, staying as far from the ceiling of fog as possible. In front of us, the second sailor was tossed through the air, end over end until he smacked into the wall.
I lifted my sword over my head as I neared the captain, still hanging upside down. With a yell, I jumped onto a cargo crate and vaulted into the air, slashing the dense cord of mist just above the captain’s foot.
But my sword went straight through it like there was nothing there.
I landed hard on the deck, rolled forward and ended back up on my feet. In seconds, Will and T-Rex were at my side. Will brandished his spear. T-Rex still had a death grip on his sandwich.
“Impressive,” Will said. “Now what?”
The mist churned and grew thicker directly above us. There was a swirling vortex, like the beginning of a tornado.
“Run!” I yelled.
Just as I did, the vortex above us transformed into wide, gaping jaws lined with horrific teeth.
We sprinted from the deck, T-Rex screaming as we ran.
The jaws descended on us, a thick neck of white fog behind it. Luckily, we were already on the move as the massive jaws chomped down on the deck where we had just been standing. Shards of wood exploded into the air from the impact.
We ran into the hallway connecting the two sides of the ship. It was open at each end so I could see the night sky rise and fall through the gap at the opposite side. I spun around and saw that the fog was still chasing us, its front end crystallized into nasty looking spikes. As we ran down the hall, we suddenly saw a thick white fog engulf our only exit.
“We’re trapped!” Will shouted.
“This way!” I shouted back.
I opened a hatch in the wall and climbed in. Once on the other side, all three of us heaved against the thick metal door until it swung into place. I tried to spin the wheel to lock the door, when something heavy hammered in from outside. The force of the impact pushed the door open a few inches. We threw our shoulders into the door and slammed it back shut.
“Lock it!” Will yelled.
“I’m trying!” I said, lurching the wheel mechanism over, between the violent bouts of hammering on the outer side of the door. “Push harder! Both of you, on three. One…two…THREE!”
Will and T-Rex grunted and heaved against the hatch. It slammed shut just long enough for me to spin the handle and lock it tight.
There were a few more angry poundings against the sturdy metal door, and then silence.
We all rocked back against the wall and tried to catch our breath.
“Well, that was close,” T-Rex laughed.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Something slammed into the metal hatch again. Only this time we heard a voice as well.
“Let me in! It’s going to get me… Please let me in!”
The three of us froze. It was Eva.
“Help me, please!” Eva cried. “I beg you.”
“It’s Eva,” T-Rex shouted. “Open the door. Quick!”
“Come on!” Will yelled.
The door rattled even harder. I grabbed the wheel to spin it open but a hand reached out from behind us and stopped me. I spun around and saw Eva crouched next to me.
“Open the door! Help me,” Eva’s voice cried from the other side of the door. The fog creature was imitating her.
“It’s called an Aquamorph,” Eva whispered. “A powerful creature that can change shapes and shift from solid to mist in a split second. Usually they aren’t this aggressive.”
“Why won’t you help me?” the voice that sounded like Eva cried.
“We almost opened the door for that thing. We would have been goners for sure,” Will said.
“Please, Jack. It’s hurting me,” the voice whimpered.
“It knows who you are,” Eva said to me. “That’s not a good sign.”
Jeff Gunhus is the author of the Middle Grade/YA series The Templar Chronicles. The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. Jeff is also the coCEO of College Works Painting, a national company with over 4,000 employees that has been featured in national media for its unique opportunity for college students to learn entrepreneurial skills. He is the author of the motivational career guides No Parachute Required (Hyperion) and Wake Up Call (Seven Guns Press). After his experience with his son, he is passionate about helping parents reach young reluctant readers and is active in child literacy issues. As a father of five, he leads an active lifestyle in Maryland by trying to constantly keep up with his kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the CIty Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel.
Jack Templar Monster Hunter
The Templar Chronicles, Book 1