Writing prompt: Message in a bottle & “It was a close shave”

I collapsed onto the chair next to the table. My muscles ached and my feet were screaming bloody murder. The severed head that used to belong to my grandmother had insisted on reading for a good long while before announcing it was finished. Even before I was able to replace the book on the table, the head was dozing off, taking a post-feast nap. That left me free to rummage around in Gammie’s storage, trying to make sense of what she wanted from me, something that was made more difficult by the fact that nothing I had found out about Gammie ever since the funeral made any sense whatsoever. I mean, granted, Gammie had never been the most plain-Jane grandmother I knew, but I never imagined her to be so far out.

There was a distinct draft in the storage room and I put on the leather coat I had previously salvaged from the floor. It had a scent of comforting familiarity and it jangled in a distinctly promising way. What I found in its pockets though was far from comforting. There was a set of what looked like lock picks, a Leatherman, some nasty green liquid in a glass vial. Sighing I sat back in the chair and looked around the storage room. Aside from the clutter slung all over the room one wall was completely covered in a humongous world map. On it were the same green skulls that had decorated the small map I had found in the folder at Gammie’s house. The rest of the walls were covered in sectional shelves that were filled with books and boxes filled to the brim with the strangest things. One box had what appeared to be the moulds, presses and ingredients to make bullets. A box that looked like a toolkit held small glass bottles labelled ‘Hemlock’ or ‘Extract of Brugmansia’ and several others besides. The few drawers in the shelving unit held an assortment weaponry including – I shit you not – a katana.

All of this had nothing on the books littering the shelves. There were titles like ‘Mythology of the Ancient Orient’, ‘Tracking the Chupacabra’ and ‘Cryptozoology A-Z’ right next to books of fairy-tales. But the strangest thing by far was the ship in a bottle on the desk. Gammie had always said how much she loathed the damn things so it seemed odd that she would keep one in pride of place in her storage unit. I took the bottle in my hands to look at it more closely. The ship inside had been constructed with intricate detail. It was a big warship with sails. I had no idea of the details but I had to admire the bloody-minded determination of the maker that was obvious from lovingly carved hand-railings, the crow’s nest on top of the billowing sails and the small captain’s helm in the aft.

“You should put some water in that.” The severed head told me.

“You’re awake.” I replied, unable to tear my eyes away from the ship.

“Yes, yes. Put some water in the bottle.”

“I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to take orders from a severed head. I don’t even know what to call you.”

”You may call me Ukko. Now, put some water in the bottle.”

“But won’t that ruin the ship?” I asked while rummaging around in my bag for the water bottle I always carried with me.

“Nonsense. It’s a ship. It’s meant to be on water.”

Digging out my water bottle I pulled the cork stopper from the ship’s bottle and poured roughly half of the water inside and shut the cork on both bottles.

“No!” I shouted when I saw what I had done; the ship was dissolving into the water, turning the water into dark, smoky grey liquid. I tried to open the cork to pour the water out to save at least a part of the ship but when I got the cork to finally open it was all gone.

“I can’t believe you made me do that!”

Ukko rolled his eyes. “There was a point to that. Swill the water around.”

I wanted to argue but saw no point to it so I swilled the water around and nearly dropped the bottle in surprise. Writing started to emerge on the bottle itself. The inside of the bottle clung to the liquid, turning the same colour as the liquid with the writing appearing in white. It was handwritten in loopy handwriting.

I found the start of the letter inside the bottle, found a notebook and started transcribing the letter wondering what would make a person go to such lengths to deliver a message. Somewhere behind me Ukko started snoring.

Here’s what the letter said:

Dear Helmi,
Since we last saw each other things have gone to hell in a hand basket in rather spectacular way. I’m afraid I have to ask for your help again.

Barely a year after you last left the island, They came for us. They must have known particulars about our base because they came in overwhelming numbers. I only just had time to stow away the chemicals I needed to send this letter and I regret to say that the time was bought with a heavy price.

There is a traitor in our midst, I am convinced of it. I know They are reading our mail so forgive me the inane letter accompanying the bottle. They keep us holed away in the southern caves, you remember them? Where we spent that I don’t know how many of them are left, but we are heavily guarded at all times. I know you like to work alone but perhaps you could at least consider bringing the Bear in, if only this once.

I know that you probably would rather stuff me in a meat grinder and push play but you’re our only hope. You know how hard it is for me to beg, but please help. I don’t know who else I can trust.

Yours always,