When someone sets a trap for Jolly's ship, she alone escapes. Washed up on a tiny island, she meets Munk, who has been raised in hiding. Munk longs to go to sea, but his parents are afraid of pirates. They have forbidden Munk to reveal his true identity he, too, is a polliwog.
But pirates are not the only threat in the Caribbean. Evil forces are stirring, and a demon from the sea attacks and murders Munk's parents. Was the demon really after Munk? And Jolly, too? Why are the polliwogs so valuable, and who's willing to kill to possess them?
Jolly and Munk must sail with a strange crew of outcasts, led by the mysterious Ghost Trader, to avenge their loved ones and try to stop an ancient, malevolent force known as the Maelstrom. What it will cost both teens, no one can tell in this thrilling fantasy from the extraordinary Kai Meyer.
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Jolly was racing across the ocean in long strides, her bare feet sinking a finger's breadth below the surface of the water. Beneath her yawned the inky blue abyss of the sea, with perhaps several hundred fathoms to the bottom.
Jolly had been able to walk on the water since she was born. Over the years she'd learned to move easily over the rocking surface it felt like running through a puddle to her. She leaped nimbly from one wave to the next, avoiding the foamy crowns of the waves, which could sometimes turn into treacherous stumbling traps.
Around her, a sea fight was raging.
Cannonballs whistled past her ears, but one rarely came close enough for her to feel the draft of it. Acrid smoke drifted over the water between the two sailing ships and obscured Jolly's sight. The creaking of the boards and the flapping of the great sails mixed with the thundering of the guns. The smoke from ignited black powder made her eyes burn. She'd never liked that smell, unlike the other pirates. Her friends from the Skinny Maddy said nothing smelled as good as the fragrance of fired cannon. And then, if the sides of enemy ships shattered in the distance and their opponents' screams wafted over the sea, it was better than any binge on rum and gin.
Jolly liked rum as little as she did the smoke of the cannons. But no matter how her nose responded, she knew her duty, and she'd carry it out.
It was about fifty yards to the enemy ship, a Spanish three-master with two cannon decks and three times as many guns as the Skinny Maddy. The galleon was ornamented with striking carvings all around faces that now and again peered through the smoke like inquisitive fabulous creatures, some looking so real, even at a distance, that it seemed they might come to life any minute. The Spaniard's dinghies were lashed to the side of the hull. One had been grazed by a ball from the Maddy; part of the suspension line was shredded, and now the little boat banged against the mighty hull with each shock, producing a deep, hollow sound.
The current favored Jolly and was carrying her even faster on her run toward the galleon. Jolly need merely place one foot on the water and she could feel the direction of the sea's movement, sometimes even if bad weather was brewing or storms were raging beyond the horizon. Never in her life had she been able to imagine passing a long time on land. She needed the familiarity of the ocean, the feeling of the infinite depths under her feet. The way other people were seized with dizziness at great heights, Jolly was seized with panic if she went too far from the sea and its roaring surf.
Now she ran a little stooped, even if no one on the Spaniard's deck had noticed her yet. Oddly, she saw not a solitary human soul behind the turned posts of the railing. A galleon like this carried at least two hundred men aboard, and all had to expect that the pirates from the Skinny Maddy would try to board the Spanish ship. So why wasn't there anyone on deck?
Normally Captain Bannon, the captain of the freebooter and Jolly's best friend, would keep away from a ship like this: too big, too strong, and too heavily armed. Not to mention that there were only seventy pirates on the Skinny Maddy, and in a man-to-man fight with the Spaniards, they'd be far outnumbered.
But despite all that, when the ship had appeared on the horizon, some had favored the idea that it could be a rewarding catch. Captain Bannon had personally climbed up to the Maddy's crow's nest and studied the silhouette of the galleon with the telescope for a long time. "She's reefed her sails," he'd called down to his crew. "Looks as if they're in trouble."
The ocean was too deep at this point to anchor. That meant that in spite of good wind conditions, the Spaniard was drifting which simply made no sense. But Bannon wouldn't have been one of the wiliest pirates in the Caribbean Sea if he hadn't let his nose and his curiosity lead him in a case like this.
"I have a funny feeling about it," he'd said before he ordered his men to the guns, "but maybe we'll all have more out of this thing than it looks right now." Captain Bannon often said such things, so no one was surprised. His crew trusted him especially Jolly, for whom Bannon had been something like a father and mother at the same time, ever since he'd bought her as a small child in the slave market of Tortuga and made her a member of his crew.
The thunder of guns, louder than before, made Jolly leap to one side. She felt the drag of the heavy iron cannonball and thought she saw it whistling past her, hardly an arm's length away. When she looked back, her worst fears were confirmed.
The Skinny Maddy took the hit.
A cloud of water and splintered wood rose from the stern of the racy xebec, a type of ship not much seen in this region. The Maddy's railing consisted not of decorative spindles, like that of the galleon, but of a smooth, hip-high wooden wall, in which openings had been left for the gun barrels. The ship was painted blood red, and on the prow, Bannon had had white fangs painted along the red edge, so that the bow looked like a predator's open jaws.
Furious shouting came across to Jolly, scraps of voices that drifted through the gray wall of smoke between the two ships.
Jolly half turned and hesitated. From this far away, she couldn't tell whether the Maddy had suffered any serious damage. Please let nothing happen to her! Jolly begged in her thoughts.
But then she remembered Bannon's order, her duty to him and the others, and she faced forward again. In a few steps she reached the hull of the Spanish galleon and ran along it until she was standing beneath one of the rear gun ports. The lower gun deck was about nine feet above the surface of the water. Jolly wasn't even five feet tall, but it would be easy for her to toss one of the missiles from her shoulder bag through the opening.
She pulled back the flap of her leather bag and took out one of the bottles, which had clinked together dangerously at every step. They were filled with a bronze-colored fluid, the necks sealed with wax.
Jolly pulled back her arm, took a deep breath and flung the bottle through the first gun port, just past the mouth of the cannon barrel. Someone cried out an alarm, loud enough for her to hear it outside. Then, out of the port shot a cloud of green smoke, so thick and stinking that Jolly quickly ran to the next opening. There she pulled out a second bottle and threw it. She worked from opening to opening until green vapor was billowing from most of the ports. None of the lower guns was firing anymore. The gunners behind the weapons must have been blinded by the smoke, and from experience Jolly knew that the smell hit even the most hard-boiled sailor in the stomach.
For variety, she tried to throw the next bottle into the second gun deck, which was higher up. Here, too, she made a direct hit into one of the ports. If it kept on like this, her mission would be a complete success. With some luck, she'd disable the crew of the galleon single-handed. Bannon and his pirates would only have to board the ship and meet their coughing, half-blind opponents on deck. They no longer had to expect serious resistance.
But Jolly's next toss to the upper gun deck was less successful. The bottle flew through the port just as the men on the inside were shoving the cannon outside to fire the next ball. The glass shattered on the steel of the gun barrel, and the fluid sprayed against the hull and immediately evaporated into a biting vapor. Jolly dove forward and threw herself flat on the surface of the water to escape the gas. At the same time, the cannon over her fired. A heartbeat later, a second hit resounded from the direction of the pirate ship. Wood shattered, followed by an explosion the ball had gone through the Skinny Maddy's hull and hit the munitions store.
Tears filled Jolly's eyes as she saw the flames flickering from the gaping opening. She knew what a hit like that meant she'd experienced it often enough. But it had been the opposing ships who'd suffered such a fate. Now there could be no more doubt. The Maddy would sink. Damn it, how could Bannon have made such a mistake! Jolly had lived on three ships in her time as the captain's pupil, but of all of them, the Maddy had been her favorite. To see her sink was like losing her home and a good friend at one blow.
There was only a single hope for the pirates: They had to succeed in capturing the Spanish galleon in the little time that was left to them. Otherwise they'd sink to the bottom of the sea along with the Maddy.
Desperate determination got Jolly moving again. She pulled out another bottle, and this time she hit her target. The same with the next, and the next. Still no shooters were bending over the railing to place her under fire. But then someone shoved his head out of one of the gun ports, saw Jolly, and bellowed, "They have a polliwog! They have a goddamn polliwog with them!"
A second head appeared. "There aren't any more polliwogs. They're all " Then he caught sight of Jolly. His soot-rimmed eyes widened. "Oh, goddamn, they actually do have a polliwog!"
Jolly gave the men a grim smile. She took aim and threw a bottle inside the galleon, just missing their faces. Swirling green shot out behind their heads; a moment later they'd vanished.
Jolly ran on. Threw. Ran. And threw again. The thought of her friends drove her forward. She paid no more attention to possible opponents, to her cover, or to the outlines of the sharks that had appeared under the surface of the water a few minutes before. Here and there she saw silver-gray tail fins cutting through the waves like saber blades, but she wasted no thoughts on them. Instead, she flung one bottle after another until her shoulder bag was empty.
She'd now almost reached the bow of the galleon. Poison-green smoke was billowing from all the upper gun ports. No more shots were fired. The Spaniard's deck was befogged with dense fumes that made any more fighting impossible. Even the carved faces around the railing appeared to be grimacing with all the smoke.
Now if Bannon could just bring the Maddy
A creaking made Jolly whirl around. She shouted with relief. Under full sail, the sinking pirate ship was heading toward the stern of the Spanish galleon. It looked as if the painted mouth on the bow of the Maddy was opening its jaws to derisively show its fangs one last time. Jolly jumped to safety with a few bounds. Shortly afterward, stern crashed against stern. Grappling hooks and heaving lines flew over to the Spaniard's deck. A wild horde of pirates, with cloths tied over their noses and mouths against the green smoke, climbed up onto the bigger ship. Jolly knew every single one of them, some she'd known all her life, some for just a few months. The pirates wore the clothing of every country in the world: Oriental wide trousers, cotton shirts from the colonies, vests from Italy, and often a patchwork of remains of Spanish uniforms. Some had broad sashes around them, and one even wore a discarded skull-and-crossbones flag as a cape. Like multicolored ants they swarmed up onto the ship, hand over hand on ropes or swinging over from the spars of the Skinny Maddy onto their opponent's rigging.
Very shortly Jolly caught a glimpse of Captain Bannon, straw blond and furious as a dervish, who whisked over to the galleon on a rope. Their eyes met in that brief moment and she felt that he was smiling at her, despite the cloth over his face. His eyes could radiate such friendliness that sometimes Jolly wondered why his victims didn't willingly hand over their ships to him, just on the basis of the warmth in that look, which didn't fit at all with his wild determination and lack of scruples.
Jolly raised her arm triumphantly and gave a jubilant shout; then she also came alongside the bow of the galleon, grabbed a dangling line, and climbed nimbly up it like a cat.
The green smoke on the deck had dispersed quickly. Even as Jolly was climbing the rope, she could hear that the battle was already over before it had really begun. The coughing, spitting Spaniards surrendered with tearing eyes and running noses. Hardly any of them lifted a weapon against the pirates, and if he did, it was only a tired reflex, not a real will to fight.
Jolly swung herself over the railing. Bannon saw her and hurried over to her. "Well done," he said, thumping her shoulder so hard that she almost went to her knees. He turned to his men, who were driving the captured Spaniards to the middle of the deck.
"Cut all lines to the Maddy so she doesn't take us down with her," he ordered, pointing to several crewmen. "The rest of you disarm our friends. From now on, this is our new ship!" With a grin in the direction of the girl at his side, he called even more loudly, "I guess the tub needs a new name. From now on she'll be called Jumping Jolly!"
Jolly grew dizzy with pride, while all around her the pirates broke into shouts of acclamation.
But at the same time a creaking and groaning sounded from the Maddy. The painted predator's mouth clenched its teeth in death.
Ten minutes later the Skinny Maddy was still not entirely sunk. She rose slantingly out of the sea like a cliff, a memorial in front of the setting sun. The superstructure on the stern had almost reached the water, but the toothed bow was sticking way up. The figurehead on the prow a dark Neptune with a trident was raised toward the deep blue sky, as if it wanted to blare a last, proud cry against the world.
Yet even as the pirates were still gathering the prisoners into a group on the deck, it appeared that something was not right. The captain acted victorious and satisfied, but Jolly saw the uneasiness in his eyes.
There were too few Spaniards.
There were just forty sailors aboard. Not enough men to serve all battle stations, not to mention occupy the necessary positions on a ship like this. Even Bannon, with his crew of seventy, wouldn't have an easy time handling the galleon under sail. But forty Spaniards? Absolutely impossible.
And there was another thing that was strange.
"Those aren't Spaniards at all," said Cristobal, Bannon's steersman. "Most of them speak Spanish, and a few of them even look it, but I'd hazard a guess they were born here in the colonies."
"And so?" Jolly burst out, earning a frown from the steersman before he turned to the captain again.
"Most of them seem to be ordinary cutthroats. Look at the scars. And the boozy faces." He grinned, revealing a blackened incisor. "Basically, they look just like us."
Bannon didn't return the grin. He looked over the deck worriedly, briefly examined the prisoners, and then looked at the empty horizon. "What's going on here?" he whispered tonelessly and so softly that only Jolly and Cristobal heard him.
A shiver ran down Jolly's back. A trap?
"Our people have looked through everything," the steersman said. "No other men aboard, also no explosives or other booby traps. Furthermore, no cargo, either."
"We're getting out of here," Bannon decided. "Fast."
With uncustomary haste he gave his orders to the first mate. Soon afterward the shout came down the deck, "Make ready to set sail!"
"What's going to happen with them?" Jolly asked, pointing to the chained prisoners. Cristobal had walked over to one of them, grabbed him by the neck, and was talking to him.
"We'll set them down on land somewhere," said Bannon thoughtfully, as he walked to the railing. No enemy ships in sight anywhere.
Jolly looked over at the sinking Maddy. She still lay slanting out of the water. The current had driven the galleon thirty or forty yards away from the wreck, and the distance was increasing every minute.
Cristobal came back to the captain.
"And?" Bannon asked. "What did he say?"
"That they were prisoners. All sentenced to death. They were promised their freedom if they came aboard this ship and did everything possible to defend it."
"Only forty men? A ship like this? That's laughable."
"Whoever hatched this business must have figured that none of these fellows would survive. They obviously have only one thing in common: They were all cannoneers at some time or other. They weren't chosen to fight hand to hand they were supposed to polish us off from a distance." The steersman rubbed his stubbly chin. "And there's something else. Obviously another ship towed them here. They were never under full sail "
A loud flapping drowned out his words as the pirates unfurled the sails in the rigging. The mighty bundles of cloth unrolled within seconds.
"No!" Bannon gasped.
Jolly saw what he meant, and at the same moment she heard it, too.
Out of the sails fell jugs large, brown jugs, which shattered into thousands of pieces as they hit the deck. There must have been two or three dozen, breaking all over the deck with a hollow popping sound. Some fell into the middle of the screaming group of prisoners; another hit Trevino, the cook, on the head and knocked him out.
The broken jugs held something that at first glance looked like dark wool, a tangle of thick yarn until the tangle unraveled on its own and divided into hundreds of smaller balls, which swarmed in all directions on scraggly legs.
"Spiders!" someone screeched; then another took up the cry: "Spiders...the jugs are full of spiders!"
Bannon bellowed orders, but no one heard them in the panic that had broken out on the ship. The prisoners screamed at the top of their lungs as a true eruption of spider bodies shot up among them. The pirates jumped around on deck, some trying to stamp on the creatures, but they quickly gave up when they saw how hopeless a task it was. Ten, then twenty were crawling all over the body of the senseless cook; others sought their way up boots and trousers, along the rigging and the railing. The creatures might be just as panicked and confused as the men aboard, but they were faster and above all irritated.
Jolly pulled herself up into the shrouds. Her hands were wet with sweat and her breath was coming in gasps. Everywhere the pirates were bellowing and stamping and shaking themselves. Cristobal knocked several animals off his body at once, but he overlooked an especially fat spider that crouched on his neck. He screamed when she bit him.
At first Bannon struck at the spiders with his saber, then with his bare hands. He was trying to follow Jolly aloft, but then he was bitten too, several times at once, and the pain made him let go of the rope. With a curse he crashed back down onto the deck.
"Those dogs!" he bellowed. His voice faded as the spider venom numbed him. "Jolly...the figurehead...remember the...figure "
He collapsed. Jolly stared at the lifeless figure beneath her, and her eyes filled with tears.
Damn it she had to do something, had to help Bannon and the others somehow. Desperately, she looked around for a weapon and knew at once that nothing would help. No one could master the overwhelming odds of the spiders.
Jolly knew exactly what Bannon had intended to say to her.
From her elevated position she had a good view of the wreck of the Maddy. The figurehead was sticking up like an outstretched finger, pointing the way.
Jolly brushed off the nearest spiders and jumped over to the railing, where she came to a wavering stand. Spiders were now everywhere, a seething black carpet that covered the deck and all the men aboard. Most men were no longer moving; some had vanished almost completely under the hairy, scrambling bodies. A few still up on the masts were calling for help, but a whole crowd of the eight-legged creatures was already nearing them.
Jolly looked around at Bannon one last time, then she jumped overboard. It was more a fall than a jump. She might just as well have fallen onto a stone floor when she hit the surface of the water without sinking into it. Lucky not to have broken all her bones, she rolled over, was wildly tossed around by a few waves, and finally got onto her feet.
Silvery triangles slid toward her, encircled her. Jolly had had to deal with sharks more than once and knew that they only saw the outlines of the soles of her feet on the surface and didn't recognize them as worthwhile prey. Jolly forced herself not to think of the men who'd leaped overboard in fear of the spiders. They'd certainly not had as much luck as she. Hurriedly she ran over the water toward the Maddy in great leaps. This time she was running against the current, her breathing wild, her heart hammering in her chest, but finally she saw the pirate ship in front of her or rather, what remained of it.
Behind Jolly the Spanish galleon rose against the darkening sky. From afar it looked as if the wood itself had come alive. The dark surface moved, covered with swarming life, which cast shifting shadows.
The water was bubbling around the Maddy. Jolly had trouble avoiding the white crests. Sea foam wasn't to be trusted; sometimes the surface beneath it receded a little and sucked at your feet like quicksand, and then you had to be careful to pull them right out again before the water consolidated around you and held you fast.
She was able to grab the edge of the red railing and pull herself up with it. As soon as the superstructure at the stern and the inner spaces of the xebec were filled with water, the Skinny Maddy would go under like a stone. Not even a polliwog like Jolly would manage to escape from the deadly vortex in time.
Jolly had to be faster. Even faster.
With a gasp she swung herself over the railing onto the deck, lost her footing on the wet incline for a moment, and slipped back a few yards. She felt wildly around her and got hold of a rope, intending to support herself but the rope gave and fell beside her on the deck. Jolly slipped farther, feetfirst, and now she came dangerously near the bubbling, swirling water. At the last moment she slithered across one of the grating-covered hatches to the hold and hooked her hands and feet into it. From here it was still fifteen feet to the thundering water, but the ship was sinking inexorably farther. In less than a minute, the grating would be under water. By then, Jolly had to be away from here, had to have reached the figurehead, the only place that now offered any safety.
Of course, she could have tried to flee across the open sea. But the walk over the rocking, wavy ocean was ten times as exhausting as the same stretch on land, and Jolly hadn't seen any island on the horizon. At some point she would collapse in the middle of the ocean from exhaustion and then she would look just as appetizing to the sharks as any swimmer or large fish. And even if the sharks had no appetite, which was unlikely, she'd die of thirst out there anyway.
She had to get to the figurehead. It was her only hope.
A powerful shuddering went through the ship; then, with a groan from its very innards, it settled more steeply. With every degree of angle the Maddy upended, it became more difficult to climb up the deck.
Now Jolly became aware of something else. At first she saw it only at the edge of her field of vision and then, when she looked more carefully, with merciless certainty.
Among the bubbling and fountains of foam at the foot of the deck, there was a silhouette moving in the water. A form, approaching human, but with long, skinny limbs, skin that shimmered with rainbow colors like oil, and an ugly face that consisted only of a maw and half a dozen razor-sharp rows of teeth. Jolly saw the jaws of the creature snapping open and shut angrily, threatening to bite in the foam and the waves.
A kobalin! A living kobalin! It had been a long time since Jolly had seen one, maybe two or three years, and then it had been a young one, which the pirates had killed in the water with a few well-placed shots.
But this kobalin was fully grown, and he was rampaging down there in expectation of his catch as if he hadn't had anything between his teeth for months. The sounds of the battle must have lured him. Kobalins loved carrion, especially human carrion, and there were stories of shipwrecked crews that had been torn up and eaten within minutes by a handful of kobalins.
Jolly felt as though her entire body were numb. It wasn't enough that she'd lost the captain and all her friends, that she was about to be dragged to the bottom by a shipwreck, that her strength was gradually disappearing no, of course one of those monsters had to turn up.
She began to climb up again, more carefully this time. First up to the hatch cover, then up to a rope, and then from there finally! back to the railing. The sound of the kobalin's jaws snapping at her back overwhelmed even the groaning of the wreck and the booming of the sea. The beast was lurking down there, its teeth bared, hardly able to wait for Jolly to finally lose her grip.
Kobalins were afraid to leave the water. Only the bravest among them sometimes stretched a head or a claw above the surface; most preferred to look for their food underwater. That the one down there was extending his arms toward Jolly even if he couldn't reach her was unusual. That he once even raised his torso above the raging waters was extraordinary.
Jolly climbed farther and reached the figurehead. Bannon had explained the mechanism to her more than once, on quiet nights when she and he were the only ones awake. At that time he'd let her in on the best-kept secret on the Maddy.
The figurehead with its grim Titan face was hollow and had room for one adult human being. Watertight packets inside it contained provisions for several days. By means of two bolts, the figurehead could be loosened from the hull of the ship and would become a perfect lifeboat for its occupant. Concealed weights ensured that it would always turn face upward; there one could open a hatch to let in fresh air.
The kobalin let out a gruesome cry as one of the masts broke and crashed down on him with its full weight. Out of the corner of her eye, Jolly saw the mast plunge straight into the monster's gaping mouth and ram the creature down into the deep with it.
She snorted grimly, but she had no strength left to exult. With a last effort of will, she opened the hidden hatch cover at the back of the figurehead, laboriously made her way inside hand over hand, and pulled the hatch closed behind her. Leather upholstery covered the crack. For a fraction of a second, she felt as if she'd been enclosed in a coffin alive. Panic cut off her air. She'd rather go down with the Maddy than be trapped inside here. But then reason got the upper hand.
The wreck settled steeper and steeper; the final plunge to the bottom of the sea might begin at any moment.
Jolly pulled the two bolts out of their fastenings. They slid out easily, as if Bannon had recently oiled them. There was a shattering noise, and for a long moment Jolly believed that the Maddy was breaking up. But no the figurehead had loosened from the hull. She didn't even notice the free fall into the water, just the landing, which struck the wooden outer shell like a hundred hammer blows. There was a roaring in Jolly's ears, and she was on the verge of fainting. Then the figurehead was seized by the waves. A deafening screeching sounded out of the depths, perhaps the dying kobalin or perhaps the sinking Maddy. Jolly could only hope that she was already far enough away from the wreck that the suction of the sinking ship wouldn't take her to the bottom with it.
It was pitch-black inside the figurehead. The air smelled musty. Jolly didn't dare open the little air hatch for fear the boiling sea would enter and fill the cavity with water.
A dull thud sounded as something banged against the figurehead from underneath. Sharks! They took the drifting shape for an especially fat catch. Jolly wasn't sure the wood would withstand the heavy pressure of teeth if one of them really bit into it.
Something stroked her face in the darkness.
She cried out. In the first moment she thought it was a finger. But that was foolishness. The distance between the tip of her nose and the wooden wall of the cavity wasn't more than twelve inches. She was alone, of course.
Or maybe...not entirely alone.
A spider was enclosed in the figurehead with her! It must have crawled inside Jolly's shoulder bag on board the galleon.
Now it was crawling freely around her body.
Jolly began to kick in the narrow tube, hammering against the wood with her hands and feet, before she got her panic enough under control to be able to form some clear thoughts.
Lie utterly still. Be utterly quiet.
Jolly held her breath. Goose bumps spread over her entire body like armor, but that still wasn't any protection from the venomous bite of the spider. She listened to her own heart beating, not faintly, not softly, but so loudly that she thought it must burst her chest at any moment.
Still, there was a sound. Barely audible. Like fingertips drumming gently on a hollow surface.
The spider was scrambling over the wood somewhere underneath her.
Jolly bit her lower lip to keep from making a sound. If she could only see something! A tiny shimmer of light would be enough, perhaps. But she didn't dare lift a hand to open the air vent over her face for fear of really irritating the spider.
Somehow she had to get rid of the thing.
She breathed in and out very slowly, then held her breath again, grew as stiff as if she were a piece of wood herself. She had to lure the spider into a sense of security; she mustn't under any circumstances induce it to attack.
And then, when she knew exactly where the thing was
Something pinched her on the back of her right hand.
Jolly let out a wild cry and smashed her hand against the inner wall with all her might. The spider's body was harder than she expected, the bristles stabbed like needles, but Jolly struck again, and again, and again. The twitching legs clutched around her hand like fingers; she felt their pressure, then their slackening.
Sickened, she shook her arm until the lifeless spider slid off.
It no longer mattered. Too late.
The spider had bitten her.
Jolly felt her consciousness fading. The blackness inside the drifting figurehead grew in solidity, robbed her of breath, seemed to flow oily and cold into her nose, into her eyes, into her mouth.
I'm going to die, she thought with astonished matter-of-factness.
Once more she raised her hand. Her fingers found the sliding cover above her face and pulled it aside with her last strength.
The blue of the sky over her stabbed her pupils like steel blades. Salty air flowed into the hollow cavity.
Breathe, her mind said.
Now breathe, damn it!
The sky paled, then the light, then the entire world. The spider venom pulsed through her veins and pressed every thought out through her pores.
Jolly's consciousness drifted away like flotsam on a night-dark ocean.
English language translation copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth D. Crawford
Die Wellenläufer text copyright © 2003 by Kai Meyer
Original German edition © 2003 Loewe Verlag GmbH, Bindlach