The Strange Death of Annabel Lee

Part 2 of The Strange Voyage of Annabel Lee
(a spoondrift, a flickering filmstrip, even a dream)

A recap of part one:

Edgar is searching for Annabel and, after stumbling into a theater, has met the Well-planned Man (a demon, the devil?) who has promised to lead him to Annabel. Edgar is about to sign the contract. Annabel’s shadow waits for Edgar in the camera obscura.

The Cruel Captain had beheaded Annabel and placed her head on his bowsprit figurehead. She’s become the personification of his ship. A fierce storm has nearly sunk her, but Annabel’s found her equilibrium and is dancing with the Storm King.

A sailor who had been comforting Annabel has been tied to the mast by the Cruel Captain.

The Well-planned Man leads Edgar to Annabel’s shadow, which will lead them to Annabel, as the contract specifies.

Edgar, making sense of shadows.
A well-planned man, tiny hourglass on his lapel.
A storm king, riding a thundering horse of rain.
A ship rolling sideways in the roaring waves.
A sailor, singing in the face of the storm, tied tight to a mast.
The cruel captain, cursing, hanging on with both hands.
Annabel, letting loose her sails, turning her face to the storm.

A short discussion in the theater. Proof of ability. The well-planned man turns to Edgar: “A notary?” Outside, Edgar hears the pounding of hoofs, a thundering stampede of horses, or just the hard rain on cobblestones.

Annabel, her mouth open to the streaming downpour, turns her face to the blasting wind. She rises, spins, and rocks. She grins. Cavorts. In her ears, thunder of hooves on the moving sheets of the sea. Come to dance, the storm king?

Perhaps, muses the well-planned man, breath wasn’t wasted, after all. Post office, yellow tile counter. Carbon copy, raised seal. Elderly woman, behind the counter, can’t stop looking at this well-planned man. Trembling hands, liver spots, are holding out a silver ballpoint pen. She did not ask him to produce identification. Of course, he’s prepared to. He watches Edgar, who puts a photo license in his wallet. This has all been done before. This shall all be done again. Edgar does it for Annabel. A spot of blood. A contract is signed.

The tongue of the storm is deep in her mouth. She swallows it. Strong waves caress her bow, move down her sides, gently stroke her decks, cover her face, bright with rain, with salty kisses. She whirls, rocked backward above the deep troughs, held, captured but not surrendering; she’s racing fast, hand in hand with the storm.

In the rain, the two rush on, Edgar and the well-planned man, past the canal bridge, the stone angels, the towpath, the sepulcher, the café, and the spinning neon wheel which tells the world to remember, to prophesize. The acropolis casts a quick lightning-shadow down the hill. As they descend, the town rises, stone by stone, to the tiles of its roofs. The angels whisper, look at this man, the well-planned man. See him. Use your stereopticon. Look, Edgar. You haven’t looked.

Riding fast, she’s skimming wave crests. The storm king’s hands just barely hold her now. His thighs squeeze her sides and she rises up gracefully, her head bent back and screaming ecstatic nonsense. His power overflows her, gushes into her—sweet, salty seawater sluicing through her scuppers. She spins up and over the sea, skipping like a small flat stone, but even dancing far away, she’s in his arms.

A high keening cry, “For you!” as soaked ropes tighten and nearly crush the thin sailor tied to the mast. A sharp gasp as the ropes snap.

Metal point of a folded umbrella taps the sidewalk, sparking small yellow flames. Black trench coat billows out. The night storm has ended. Edgar follows a man, who has a plan, up a hill to the camera obscura—a wall curving, curving, to meet itself—and its small blue door.

The storm slowly recedes to the distant horizon. Everything in the world seems distant now. Nothing can touch her. Dark clouds slip below a line of indigo sky. The sun is rising. The air is warm. Time has slowed. Sea has calmed. Annabel rolls content in the bed the waves have made for her. And she hears gulls—Caw!—and knows what is coming.

One die falls to three. The other falls to three. Time quickens. Minutes, seconds matter again. A whip cracks: One shocks. Two draws blood. Three leaves a deep gash. Four slices her shoulder. Five leaves her arm numb. She’s ready for six, the last, almost a relief, and it stings. Number seven takes her left eye. The pain is a sharp reminder of who she really is: strange property.

A penny for admission, but Edgar has no money. The well-planned man has a penny, of course. He says nothing. Edgar goes in alone.

Darkness. Edgar sees nothing. He raises the stereopticon, sees his own shadow, motionless. Time ceases, piles in layers like an onion. Time’s quiescence draws out tears. Now he sees, now he moves. Time starts with a sharp spasm. In the darkness inside the camera obscura, Edgar smiles as he sees Annabel’s shadow, but even in the lenses of the stereopticon, he can’t see Annabel. The shadow motions to follow.

Pain, for hours on end. The sunlight, so warm, her only solace, now a branding iron that sears her damaged eye. Property. The captain’s property. The sun’s property. The sea’s property. Be wary of me, all my masters.

Long shadows in the rising sun. Two shadows cast before Edgar: her shadow and his own. The shadows stretch down rusty stairs, drift down steep slopes to the sea. Her shadow’s intention falls like gravity. The fact that her shadow exists without her gives him vertigo. His shadow follows her shadow. Her shadow follows a trail of birdseed. The well-planned man follows Edgar, the man with two shadows, a woman’s shadow and a man’s shadow.

A shadow never looks behind. A shadow never turns back. A shadow never turns to look at you. A shadow in front of you assumes you will follow.

A scarf, suddenly, across her forehead, diagonal, a soft dark cloth over her hurt eye. A greasy pad shoved under, and exhalation, relief in an instant. “For you,” her comforter sings, “For you.”

A whole world of shadows. Her shadow enters and leaves shadow buildings, descends shadow stairs, passes the shadow of an old fisherman stitching a shadowy net of dark rope, to cast herself onto a shadow motorboat. Edgar stops on the firm wet wood of a dock. The old fisherman ignores them. Silver coins, a bit of gold, flash in sunlight. The well-planned man boards the motorboat that is creating the shadow motorboat. Edgar follows.

The hours pass. Caw! the whip insists. Turn! This way! Now! He doesn’t care the stinging snap flakes the pretty paint off her back. Now and then whispers cross the air, the constantly moving air around her, words she just can’t quite make out. Another language? Or just muffled by secrecy and fear? But sometimes, deep in the well of pain, someone comes to soothe Annabel’s wooden shoulders. And she suddenly realizes she could speak to them. Not just scream, but speak. It hadn’t occurred to her.

Cool wind. Stinging salt. Little motorboat rising and falling, hour after hour. Falling and rising. Loud motor; behind it, a wake of spirals across the surface of the sea. Her shadow stretches across the deck a foot above the shadow of the cabin. Edgar’s stereopticon reveals only sea and more sea. The well-planned man sits. He saves his breath.

A cacophony behind her, on the deck: sailors running, shouting. Divided blue horizon, moving, sliding right and left. Now she can see it: a small rust-red rectangle in the division, in her far vision. No, not bobbing like she is, on the sea; it’s moving like a solid island; the sea is parting for it, moving around it.

Closer now, closer, a vast iron casket floating on the sea. A casket for a biblical giant. An ark of ancient life distilled to its energetic essence. And the cruel captain has her tacking alongside this monster oil tanker.

An ancient rope trick: tiny people rising like snakes, of their own accord, along a vast black wall, the side of the giant ship. She sees the crew now, for the first time, as they leave her, as they shimmy and sneak up the ropes. They are not tiny insects, but they are small. Such skinny people. Tight-muscled men. One woman, and Annabel can see the scars on her back. Fresh scars. Thin sunburned people. Her crew.

Annabel’s shadow is the color of smoke, smoke on the sea. Edgar’s shadow is blue. It is purple in the sun. It is black where he sits on the motorboat’s small forward deck. The well-planned man has no shadow; Edgar doesn’t look, doesn’t see.

Tiny silhouettes of hands against the sky. Everyone knows how to surrender. Brief pop-pop-pop. Gunshots. Then no sound at all. The sound of the sea, the wind. New smell of smoke against the salt.

An arc of blue, of nothing but vacant sea. The stereopticon gives Edgar nothing but an arc of solid blue. Behind, a well-planned hand points. In front, her shadow stretches over the water, a rippling black fog shaped like Annabel. Edgar marvels. It seems the wind doesn’t exist for her. The motorboat’s forward motion doesn’t exist for her. But without her shadow, where could Annabel be?

A tiny brown speck diving from the edge of the tanker. Closer to the water, a human. A very small splash. A loud siren. Pop-popping guns.

An arc of blue. But there! Right there! A red rectangle on the solid blue sea. Motorboat tilts, turns, pitches Edgar sideways. He almost loses the stereopticon to the waves.

A thick black mist falls toward the sea down the side of the huge red ship, then rises, forming a column. Sharp stench of burning rubber strong against the salt air, oily smoke drifts lazy, down, up, spreading sideways. Now ghostly shadows slide quick down ropes, dangling, jumping, swooping through the smoke, and she has the sudden sense something has gone wrong.

Red rectangle, slightly larger, a thing of significance. The motorboat is heading toward the red rectangle and the growing smudge in the sky above.

Loud sounds, as her crew reach her, a whistling staccato: tremor of automatic weapons. Her people shoot as they drop. They run to her hatches to get belowdecks, to get away from someone shooting down from the tanker.

Red rectangle, now much larger, impossibly large, impossibly far away. Edgar sees smoke hazing the sky above a vast ship.

Annabel can’t see the cruel captain, but she can feel him, his swift feet pounding madly on her deck. Before he reaches the hatch, she closes it, simple as flicking a finger then ignoring his clawing nails. His body bounces with the sting of bullets, bullets moving through him into her.

She decides to move away to a more peaceful part of the sea. Isn’t this her ship, now?

A tiny gray dot: the stereopticon reveals a tiny gray dot. Near the red rectangle that is like a smoking island, a tiny gray dot is moving fast away. The motorboat tilts. Edgar’s legs adjust. The boat levels. The big rectangle shifts to the right. Annabel’s shadow follows the tiny dot.

The dead captain’s pockets release: a coin of small value, marked by the point of a carving knife; a pair of dice; a rope that is all knot; a handful of birdseed.

Two ships. He sees a small ship and a huge ship, smoke in the sky. Where is Annabel? Her shadow lays quiet on the moving water in front of the motorboat. The small ship sails so quickly away.

A high wailing melody over drums, a celebration. A score, a robbery, a pile of money. The sun nears the horizon, torches are lit. There is dancing on her decks. The cruel captain is dead! Guns shoot the air. Bullets land in the sea.

The well-planned man, the hourglass on his lapel. His umbrella taps the floor of the motorboat. He is fulfilling his part of the contract. It is almost done.

A pretty face, laughing, shifts in front of her. Annabel sees a shoulder laced with scars. Thighs lock under her painted breasts, thin sweaty legs wrap around her wooden body and strong smooth arms around her neck. A long, lingering kiss tempts her tender chapped lips. “For you.”

Edgar suddenly raises his head. No one has been steering the motorboat. There is no pilot, there is only her shadow. It stretches out, longer and longer, in front of the boat.

Hands reach up to untangle her wet hair. A sunburned face smiles in Annabel’s face and deft hands braid, then draw Annabel’s salty strands forward to her forehead. She bends her neck to the weight of a twisted plait, a horn of hair curled to a point, a unicorn horn. And now the thin woman makes love to the wooden bowsprit, to Annabel.

A strange little sailing ship on a smoky black sea. Her shadow follows it. Edgar’s stereopticon follows it. The well-planned man follows it. Now they are getting closer.

Annabel wishes she had hands, fingers to play on her lover. And other body parts. She hears bumblebees, buzzing bumblebees. She worries about splinters.

The sun nearly disappears. It stretches across the horizon behind the motorboat. Her shadow stretches farther and farther in front. Her impossible shadow is a mile long. In the very last of the sunlight, it nearly reaches its own Annabel Lee.

Bumblebees? A low noise, thrumthrumthrumthrum. Bumblebees? There are no bumblebees on the sea. A bright pinpoint of light starboard. Thrumthrumthrumthrum. Starboard and above. Thrumthrumthrumthrum. Closer. Lower. Suddenly right here: a big pool of light in the sky. Something in the sky! Her decks begin to vibrate.

The stereopticon. Two worlds snap into focus. Annabel with a unicorn horn. Annabel with painted wooden breasts. Annabel’s shadow reaching toward the little sailing ship. A bright light in the darkening sky?

Thrumthrumthrum. The thrumming grabs her ship and shakes it. Her teeth begin to chatter. She can’t help it. The air shimmers, maddeningly, with sound.


A bright red beam from the bright white light. Splinters fly from her deck. Splinters fly from her sides. Splinters dance in the thrumming air. Her crew dance in the red light, a fine red spray that fills her eyes. Holes, big holes, are everywhere. The helicopter crosses above her. Its guns fall silent. It flies away.

All is suddenly strange and quiet. She is sliding sideways into the sea. A river of blood pours through her scuppers. She is tilting starboard. Sinking. Filling with water.

The stereopticon. Her shadow moves over the water. Moves above where Annabel had been. Her shadow searches the sea. Annabel is taken from Edgar once again.

Tears, redundant at the bottom of the sea, salt salting salt. She cries for herself, for Edgar, and she cries for her crew. She settles on a rock, slides, turns, slips, then sinks in mud, half buried.

Above her, the motorboat moves in a circle until the motor dies, then floats silently over a sea of drifting debris, a sea of splinters.

Annabel is deep underwater, dead; herself, and not herself.

Edgar throws her medicine into the sea. He turns to the well-planned man: “There is a contract.”

A black sea full of stars. Stars underwater. Stars above her. Stars below her. They wink out, one by one. They die.

The well-planned man: his plans in disarray, as usual.

Smooth thin thighs, shivering, so cold, wrap again around Annabel. She sees dead eyes in an anguished face, small ragged holes through a scarred shoulder, and a shaky hand. Blood-spattered fingers hold a small coin, marked by the point of a knife. “For you. For your mouth. For us. Ferry us.”

She had once been a woman in love with Edgar. Edgar is gone. She had once been a woman in love. The woman is gone. She had once been in love. Her heart is long gone. But she had once made love with a storm.

Sound of hooves on cobblestones, under the sea. Black rose on a red banner. A man on horseback: the storm king. He lifts her, she leaps, and the ship follows.

A contract. No riders. And no insurance. This contract is signed and notarized, and Edgar now demands it must be fulfilled.

But there is only one way to fulfill this contract. This is how: Memory. μνήμη. Edgar remembers the past. Omen. οιωνός. Edgar remembers the future. The well-planned man has removed Edgar from the present and sent him to Annabel.

A vast black river, a Nile of sluggish night. An oil slick a mile wide and vastly deep, the banks on either side fat with writhing cadavers, ghostly people, one upon another upon another upon another, like maggots on rotted black bread. People turning to worms. Food for worms. She can’t stop herself from seeing. Millions. Billions. Moving, shifting, some standing at the edge, waiting.

Hoofbeats fade to nothing on the cobblestones. She understands. Not an afterlife. But, after.

Sea of night is now a sea of faces. She sails through a billion faces. Her bow breaks against a billion faces. She leaves a wake of faces.

A broken old pier; Annabel releases her crew; the far bank welcomes them. They leave footprints in the mud, one or two, and then they walk on. From there, all footprints disappear.

The well-planned man has completed his task. A contract has been fulfilled. Somewhat. The contract specified Edgar must go to Annabel, and after death, Edgar’s soul must go to the well-planned man. Annabel is dead. For Edgar to go to Annabel, dead, Edgar must die, but then Edgar must go to the well-planned man, but then Edgar cannot go to Annabel. It is a strange conundrum, an impossible paradox. It is all too confusing. The well-planned man reflects that he has absolutely nothing to show for his efforts. He has become resigned to this. He might as well go see a movie.

One face. Hollow eyes. One familiar haggard face. Her Edgar. His face floats alongside her, bumps along her bow. She pulls him up, pulls him aboard.

Her heart leaps in her mouth. Her shadow trails her—her own shadow. And the shadow of the whole world is now visible to her. She walks again in her own body. She walks again with her Edgar. They walk in the shadow of the world, a shadow no beating heart ever sees.

She and Edgar. Time doesn’t exist. She no longer exists. They don’t exist. Above all, nothing exists, above all. Nothing tilts left and right as the ship moves absolutely level and straight above the stars—so far above, the stars can’t be seen. The shiny flat black plane of space, empty and still, wrinkles like crushed fabric across the bow.

These bodies. These bodies, she thinks, are just pretty good portable containers. Portable and portals. Portable portals. Portholes. As she walks, she looks through portholes. And where she is now?  As she walks, what does she see?

What once was, now is. Grains of sand, implacably finite. Edgar brings her medicine. A ripe fig. A magnet. She sits down in a white plastic chair and leans back. Now I know, she thinks, that what once was, and now is, forever is. So, she is still she, no? Distant cities may or may not exist, and small offended rodents scurry, but that ship that waits at the end of the wharf? She owns it, and it can take her anywhere.

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