The summer Vicki was 12, the figurehead of the Storm Goddess gave up its secrets, the water in the bay vanished in an instant, and a ghost ship appeared in the mudflats left behind.
It all began when an impatient giant of a sea captain wanted a figurehead for his ship the Storm Goddess made in only three days. It had been a lean year for Jacob Adams, and the five gold doubloons that the captain offered to pay him were more than he’d made in the last six months. He couldn’t carve a whole figurehead in three days, but he could carve a head. He cut the head off a figure he’d carved for a customer who went bankrupt, and instead carved the head of the Storm Goddess, with her aquiline nose, thin, unsmiling lips, and her hair blowing back from her face as if she faced a stiff breeze. Then on a whim, he hollowed out her head, carved out her eyeballs, and replaced them with glass eyes, something he’d never done before. He attached the new head to the body, and after several coats of paint, no one could tell that the figurehead had not been carved from one block of wood, and the painted glass eyes were as resolute and lustrous as those of any living creature. Looking at her, Jacob was pleased with his work. “You’ll serve your purpose well,” he said. The truth of his words was to come much later. Two hundred and thirty years later, to be precise.
Vicki enjoyed waiting table at her father’s restaurant with its seashell covered walls, and the head of the Storm Goddess looking down from one end wall, and her last captain glaring down from the other end. Vicki shared a secret with the wooden head that seemed to squint slightly as it looked down into the room. She knew the reason for that squint — a bit of paint had been chipped off one of the eyes, revealing it to be glass, not wood. Those glass eyes were why the Storm Goddess seemed to be able to follow Vicki, looking at her no matter where she was in the room. And to Vicki, it seemed as if those eyes were also hiding secrets, secrets from her past, secrets about why she was only a head, a head that had washed up on the beach during a hurricane in 1772, along with a sealed packet waterproofed with pitch. She belonged to the mayor of the town, because he was a descendant of her last captain, and the town had been her home port.
The Storm Goddess had hung in the restaurant for as long as Vicki could remember, until that summer, when a restorer said she should be taken down and examined for rot and restored. The hollow in the head had been treated with mercury, so there was no rot, but Vicki thought it might have something hidden inside. But it was empty, except for some black, white and gray markings on the wood deep inside that Vicki couldn’t see clearly. Later that night, Vicki snuck up to the attic where the head was being stored, and with the help of a flashlight and a magnifying glass, she saw it was a photograph, and black and white photograph printed on the wood inside the head. It showed sails, the sails of a square-rigged ship, like the Storm Goddess must have been. The lower sails were set and the upper sails reefed, as if a storm were brewing. And something was hanging from the main yardarm, something that didn’t belong there, something that wasn’t part of the rigging. It was a man, a hanged man.
At that moment, silence fell outside. Suddenly the sound of the waves in the bay was gone. Vicki ran to the window — the bay was empty, dry. It was impossible, but it was true. In the same instant that she’d realized she was looking at a hanged man, all the water in the bay had disappeared.
This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart