Nine of Swords

Nightmares. Despair. Hopelessness. Torment.

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1. Chapter One

The storm brewed on the edge of the horizon as a swirl of black and gray clouds. It seemed almost still and motionless, aside from the flickers of lightning that zipped through the darkness every minute or so. The day had started just like any other. The news in the morning had given no reports of storms. The day was supposed to be calm and quiet out on the sea.

The island was just a few miles off of the Seattle shore. It was called Fog Island and rightly named. During the colder months, the island was nearly invisible behind a wall of sea mists. The girl would ride the ferry home each day after school, visibly guided by nothing but the flash of the lighthouse. During the summer months, it became a popular destination for Washington locals who wanted the experience of escape without having to travel very far.

The inn had been booked solid with seafaring summer vacationers. The family had been busy all morning with organizing and preparing activities. The inn’s caretakers were an elderly couple by the name of Art and Georgie, who had lived there as long as anyone could remember. Art had gone out to sea early in the morning in the hopes of using the mild weather to his advantage. “We can grill up some fish,” he said as he left that morning. His granddaughter, Jess, watched the storm from the dock as the wind began to pick up, howling against rocks and whistling through the overgrown grass that grew on the edges of the island. The storm appeared motionless, but it was moving fast and seemed to be coming from the wrong direction.

She clutched her grandpa’s radio in her hand. She had been trying to get through to him since she first noticed the storm out over the ocean. Georgie was trying to prepare the old house for the unexpected storm, and within a few minutes, the small island’s old siren system began to blare loudly.

The vacationers were terrified. Jess could see them from where she stood on the docks below. They scrambled around in search of their cars, attempting to get to the ferry and head back to the mainland before the storm could reach them. But it was already almost on them, and the ferry wasn’t moving. It wouldn’t have enough time to escape.

Jess was brought to the island for the first time when she was barely three years old. Her mother Naomi had been raised in the inn, but she managed to get away from the small island town when she graduated high school. She hit the mainland running and didn’t come back for another four years. Art and Georgie never knew where she went. They didn’t even know they had a granddaughter until Naomi appeared on the ferry one afternoon with a toddler on her hip, begging for a place to stay.

A week later Art and Georgie woke to find Jess, Naomi, their boat, and all the money from their safe missing. Naomi packed their belongings in the middle of the night, stole the boat Art used to travel back and forth between the island and the city, and headed for land. But since the docks were closed when they reached Seattle, she slammed the boat into a sandy beach and left it there for the police to find.

Several days later, they got a call that Naomi and Jess had been found. Jess had been living alone in a parked car in Southern Oregon for two whole days. She had eaten nothing but the snacks her mother had packed in her diaper bag, and she hadn’t been changed in days. The keys were left in the ignition, and the battery was dead, which lead the police to believe Naomi had left the heater on to keep Jess warm for what was supposed to be a quick stop.

Only Naomi forgot about Jess. She went into the house to give her drug dealer the money she owed him, the money she had stolen from her parents, and then they got high while Jess was left waiting outside in the car. Naomi didn’t remember Jess was there until the police busted down the front door two days later because a neighbor reported seeing a toddler in the back seat of a locked car.

Art and Georgie got custody of their granddaughter without much of a fight. Naomi served jail time and then never returned. Jess was brought back to the island to live in the inn and only left the place for school and occasional trips into the city.

The island was considered a providence of Seattle, but it was its own town in the same aspect. It had its own post office, inn, restaurants, docks, lighthouse, and elementary school. But it was too small for anything other than that. So every morning since Jess started high school, she had to ride the ferry to Seattle to go to school. The town was home to a lot of fishermen and small business owners. It was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone and full-time residents were considered family. Art and Georgie never had much competition in regards to their business. Even the younger couple who opened up a bed and breakfast on the other side of the island became as close as family.

The only issues the town ever had was, undoubtedly, the ocean itself. And the sea, as they say, is a cruel mistress. There were an average amount of storms that came and went without much of a problem, and then there were super storms. Where the waves seemed to take on a life of their own and threatened to put the entire town under water. They had been evacuated more than once in Jess’s short lifetime, but they usually had more time to prepare and pack before the sirens began to wail.

This storm came unexpectedly. The forecast called for partly cloudy skies with more sunshine and warm weather than cloud cover. Through most of the day, the sea had been calm, and the only clouds that appeared in the sky were the white and fluffy kind that barely blocked out the sun for more than a few minutes at a time. Art thought it was the perfect fishing day, and so he took the boat out onto the water to try and stock up on catches before the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

A few hours later the sky filled with darkness. Lightning glittered across the horizon. Jess was still standing out on the dock looking out for her grandfather’s boat when the hail began to rain down from the sky in large chunks that splintered off pieces of wood from the dock. She raced up the long staircase and made for the safety of the inn, and when she finally made it, she found Georgie huddled on the kitchen floor with a few residents as the hail shattered windows and showered the inside of the inn with broken glass and chunks of ice.

Together, the two of them herded the residents into the safest room in the house. The dining hall was large enough to fit an inn full of people and keep them far away from the windows. Once they had everyone safely huddled away from the showers of glass, they sat there waiting. The house shook whenever thunder rolled, the power went out, and the dining hall was dark except for the bursts of lightning that illuminated the sky as brightly as the sun. Hail pounded on cars, smashing windows and making their sirens blare alongside the storm sirens. The sea hit the side of the island with enough force to bring buckets of water in through the windows.

The storm was over almost as quickly as it appeared. Within an hour the hail had stopped, the lightning existed as nothing but a dull thunder off in the distance, and the sun began to shine down through the broken shards of glass still stuck in the window frames. Georgie ran up to locate the radio for the all clear, and the island went silent.

The inn had multiple broken windows. The patio canvas had been shredded. Giant balls of hail still littered the floors and the sitting room couches. The ground appeared white as snow, and the sea still churned black and dangerous below. The lighthouse was dark.

Jess helped clean up while Georgie checked out the guests who were hoping to get on the first ferry ride back to Seattle. Car alarms still went off every few minutes as Jess swept shattered glass and ice into trash bins and tried to salvage the wet and damaged furniture. Jess had never seen a storm like this. They had storm windows installed that could withstand the worst of winter storms. The house was just old, she reminded herself.

She was outside taking the trash bags out when she spotted a black dot on the southern horizon. She called to Georgie inside the house and then took the radio down to the private dock. The house was built on a hill, and it was the oldest house on the island. It had been constructed to house the original caretakers of the lighthouse. But now the lighthouse was digital and owned by the city, and no one really needed to maintain it. Through all her years and every storm she'd endured on the island, she had never seen the lighthouse look so dark. Most boats relied on technology to avoid the rocky island, but the lighthouse always continued to shine.

A long winding staircase had been built into the side of the rocks. Jess hurried down it, careful not to slip on melting ice and go tumbling into the rocky sea, and she rushed out onto the dock to meet the boat. The radio was silent as she stood on the gently rocking surface. It didn’t take her very long to realize that she didn’t recognize the boat. It was headed for the island anyway, and she stayed where she was, waiting to see if they knew what had happened to her grandfather.

The Nine of Swords is sometimes referred to as the most negative card in the tarot deck. Though it usually represents an internal struggle, it can be seen as a negative omen depending on the context. I got the idea for this story a long time ago. It was originally going to be told in two parts, starting with the Ace of Wands, which is usually the most positive card in the tarot, but when I decided to use the idea for the Apocalyptic Love contest I decided it might be better told in one set.

So, since I’m writing this for a contest, I’m going to be updating it as I go along. That means that updates might be irregular and I might alter things as the story progresses. It is on my top 3 stories to finish asap list, so I’m going to try to get as much of it done before the contest ends. No idea how long it will be. I hope you guys like it anyway.

Also, I don’t think there actually IS a Fog Island off the coast of Seattle. My son brought a book home from the library called Fog Island, and I was like “That’s my island’s name now. Thanks.”

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