The increasing uncertainty about life in all its aspects had a firm grip on the Ship. Not just on them, James knew. Every ship around the world felt this same fear and suffered its debilitating grip. His own crew were no exception: Ben had been alternating between fatalistic fear and defiant anger for over a week now. A lifetime, by a Deckhand’s standards.
However, it was Billy who worried James most.
The passionate light that normally burned in their First Mate had all but gone out, depleting their drive and energy. Now the sails hung limply from the yards, barely stirring in the breeze.
They had been in this doldrum before, James realized. As Captain, he remembered more than his crew – and he clearly remembered the darkness of depression, brought on by intense and prolonged fear. Much like now…
That fathomless misery would envelop them all over again, unless he found a way to protect his boys. Only he had no idea how.
Absentmindedly he strummed the scars on the inside of his wrist. By chance, he recalled the creature that had caused them. The Black Dragon. He hesitated. It would be dangerous to call on her, but knowing her true nature, what choice did he have?
With a thought he summoned her.
She appeared at once. A dark cloud unfolded on deck, leaving the masts untouched despite the large shape of a magnificent dragon, as black as death, manifesting before him.
“You seek my numbing embrace, Captain?” the Dragon asked in her sweet, lulling voice. A large wing stretched around him like a shield.
“No, Dragon. Depression isn’t the answer to the fears we face.”
Her scaly lips curled. “Then why do you call on me?”
“I seek only your guidance. In the past, you appeared whenever I needed protection from the fear that consumed our Ship at the time. You dulled our senses, made us numb.” He stroked her massive snout. “Your protection almost destroyed us, but if ever there was anyone who understood fear and how to ward it off, it is you, my Dragon.”
The Black Dragon purred into James’s touch. “It is not you who needs my help,” she said, and her yellow eyes darted to the tall man standing a few feet away. “You, First Mate. What is your question?”
Billy gulped when the Dragon’s muzzle came within inches of his nose. Her hot breath scalded his face, but he sensed James’s encouragement. In answer to her question, he held up his hands. In his cupped palms flickered a small flame.
“This is what’s left of my light. Our hope, our drive. What keeps our Ship going. If I lose it, I could reignite it, but that’s hard. I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want the darkness and the fear to eat it.”
As he spoke, the tiny flame shrank still further. The Dragon huffed. Billy tensed. To his astonishment the flame struggled but didn’t go out.
“Darkness, fear…” the Dragon drawled. “They cannot devour the light. Look at it. See that flame. Your hope, your drive, your pleasure. See it, and only it.”
Billy obeyed. He had a hard time imagining such a little light could survive, but… he wanted it to. He desired it grew stronger. It was a beautiful light, after all. He loved it. He loved what he could do when it burned bright and strong!
In his hands, the light flared beyond what he could hold. He laughed with delight. “James, look!”
“Now pay attention,” said the Dragon. She exhaled black fumes that doused the brightness of the flame. Billy tried to shield it, cup it, but the smoke streamed between his fingers to choke his light.
“It isn’t the fear that eats your flame, First Mate. It is you who makes her smaller as the darkness closes in. Do not fight the smoke. That is a fight you will lose. Focus on your light instead. On your hope and happiness. See it and only it.”
Billy didn’t dare to open his hands, but he felt the tiniest touch of warmth against his skin. So he focused on that. Within moments, the warmth became heat, and light pierced through the seams between his fingers. He opened his hand to let it shine – but then the smoke returned.
Darkness rolled over the Ship like a blanket. Billy sensed James and the Dragon, but the only thing he saw was his dwindling light. “Please! Don’t hurt it, don’t hurt me!”
“Don’t fight,” James reminded Billy. “Forget the darkness, forget the fear. Just the light. It doesn’t matter how small or big it is. See only your light.”
In blind faith, Billy heeded his Captain’s words. And saw what the Dragon had promised him…
The darkness that had consumed their world could not touch the light! The flame in his hand flickered and danced at his will, completely untouched by the black smoke of fear. For a fraction of a second, his attention flitted outwards, into the dark. The flame shrank as it had before, until he turned his attention back at it. The flame stabilized for a moment. Then it began to grow.
Grow! Despite the stifling darkness, his light grew!
Hidden in the smoke, the Black Dragon snorted. “Fear cannot snuff out your light. There is no need to fight the darkness, because the darkness cannot even come close, however small the light may be. The only one who influences your light’s strength and size, is you. Not your Captain, not your Deckhand. Only you.”
Billy’s light danced in the absolute darkness, making it a fraction less absolute. He smiled at it, then grinned widely when his smile made the light grow.
“Thank you for your wisdom, Dragon,” he heard James say. Moments later, the darkness had lifted and Billy saw the Ship and his Captain clearly. In his hand, his light shone steadily.