The stars hung in the black sky like fireflies and the sea was glowing white. The crew of the Wild Goose crowded the rail, staring at a sea as flat and pale as a vast sheet of ice.
‘Battersea’ Bill Dawes shouldered his way between the sailors. “What is it?”
“Singleton, he says he knows what it is,” said Tom Fry. “But you know how it is with him. There’s been too much saltwater in his grog these many years.”
Singleton leaned over the rail, his long beard wagging at its reflection in the white sea. “Joe,” said Bill. “What is it?”
“A milk sea,” whispered Singleton. “Bill, it’s — they call it a milk sea. Back in the earlies, when I was a boy, they used to say when a ship sailed through a milk sea, it had left the world of men.” Singleton pointed at the phosphorescent water. “Tonight’s the twenty-third — there’s a full moon tonight. But where is it? It’s under there now. We’re on the other side of the looking-glass.”
“This entire latitude is bewitched it seems.” Bill handed Singleton a chart and pointed at the island breaching the horizon off their port side. “Joe, that island is not supposed to be there.”
Singleton glanced at the chart. He looked at the island. “It’s not supposed to be there either.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s coming straight towards us. That island is moving, like a ship riding before the wind.” Singleton’s face was white. “Bill! You don’t think it’s…”
“Joe, look!” Bill pointed at the island. A man stood on the beach, waving his hat over his head.
The keening of a fiddle drifted in on the breeze. The sounds of men’s voices and women’s laughter echoed across the water. Bill smelled wood smoke and roasting meat.
Tom Fry laughed and waved his hat at the man on the beach.
“It’s Fiddler’s Green,” said Singleton.
“No, that’s just a myth,” said Bill, “an old song…”
Tom Fry cried out, “We’ve sailed to Paradise, boys, or Paradise has found us!” The men raised a cheer, “Fiddler’s Green, huzzah!” and tossed up their hats.
“Fiddler’s Green is the place where sailors go when they die,” said Singleton.
The current swirled, slapping white foam against the ship.
Bill tossed his cigar in the sea. “Joe, we can expect a land breeze as that island approaches — we’ll need men in the top yards ready to trim the sheets if the winds change.
“Joe,” said Bill. “Your watch is on duty. Order your men aloft.”
The wind shifted. “Singleton!” said Bill. The sails cracked and the ship’s nose turned three points to the east. The island scudded by their port side.
Tom Fry unlatched the nearest boat and swung her out to launch. “C’mon boys! Our work here is done. We’re going to Paradise!”
Singleton grabbed Tom’s arm. “Look!”
The man on the island ran across the beach and dove into the surf.
“If I were in paradise,” said Singleton, “I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to leave.”
The sea in the island’s wake had become violent. Bill wrestled with the wheel, turning the ship’s nose into the wind.
Tom Fry twisted from Singleton’s grasp and dove into the sea. His body clove a black divot in the water, splattering black dots on the glowing waves.
“Tom! Singleton, do something!”
Singleton shook his head. “No, Bill. Let him go.”
The man from the island was now just a pair of arms and a hat floating between the waves. Tom Fry swam toward the drowning man, a black wake splitting the milk sea behind him.
“He’s gone, Bill,” said Singleton, “and if we’re lucky, he’ll be the only one.”
The drowning man and his hat disappeared. Tom Fry dove into the front edge of a white wave and he too vanished.
Only one man came up.
The swimmer treaded water for a moment, as if getting his bearings. He turned towards the island and began a strong breaststroke in that direction. The black wake followed him, an inverted black V tearing a jagged rent in the glowing sea.
The milk sea shimmered and broke. A thousand white flames edged a thousand black waves, and then the sea was dark.
The swimmer made the beach, staggering through the surf. He turned and waved his hat at the Wild Goose.
“Tom!” cried Bill. “We’ll send a boat. We’ll come for you!”
The man on the beach returned his hat to his head and walked off under the trees. Bill heard a cheer, as if a body of men were welcoming a long-lost friend. The unearthly fiddle began playing again, this time the bawdy song, ‘The Keyhole in the Door.’ No one aboard the Wild Goose could deny that it was Tom Fry’s voice singing the lyrics.
“Bill, Tom’s dead,” said Singleton. “We’re still alive.”
The island drifted to the south, disappearing into the night. The whine of the fiddle faded. The Wild Goose bobbed in an empty, black sea.
Nick Logan lives and works in Woodstock, Illinois.