Hesperia Blink wanted desperately to believe in miracles. Perhaps nothing on the scale of a plague or a parting of the sea, mind you, but it was going to take a considerable force of nature to reverse the unfortunate path upon which her life was set.
Hesperia had been spoken for, you see. Spoken for by the most odious toad of a man ever to darken the threshold of her small, seaside town. An overture had been made, furious haggling ensued, a handshake, the purse strings drawn, and the poor girl was essentially bought and sold like a wooly headed lamb at the market.
And whose sweaty eyeball had rolled in its socket upon the unsuspecting Miss Blink?
Why, none other than Blotis Smelbad, the tyrannical owner of the town's largest (and only) sardine factory. The factory was located in a series of dark, moldy warehouses clustered like mourning widows along an otherwise deserted length of the pier. On a windy day the stench of rotting fish, congealed blood, and rusted tin cans could permeate the nostrils of an innocent pedestrian from five counties away.
But none of this could compare to Smelbad himself. Bitter, foul, degenerate. He looked like something that had been dragged from the depths of the sea: a fishy stare, clammy skin pocked with barnacle-like sores, thinning hair worn plastered against his face, and sedimentary filth beneath his fingernails which could be carbon dated back to birth.
And then there was his mouth.
Oh, how I shrink from the task of describing his mouth!
The lower lip was enormous. It looked as if a giant tubeworm had been attached to Smelbad's face, drooping from his jaw in bloated folds of flesh. Little cesspools of spittle collected in these folds, washing in and out like the tide, bearing bits of sardine gristle, rotting carrion, and murkier fare from the depths of his gut.
What the lower lip lacked for in control was made up in spades by the upper. Thin, pale, and puckered, it worked independently of the other facial muscles in a rigid, sphincteral fashion, creating a sort of vaccum to prevent the lower lip from falling off his face altogether.
When Hesperia was told of the arrangement she paled, staring at the needlework that lay in her lap. Finally she looked up at her father as if seeing him for the first time: a mere husk of a man whose life of useless elegance had brought the family to ruin. And her mother: pinched and powdered, a formidable lioness whose death grip on the throat of high society had driven the deal to this ultimate conclusion.
"I think," said she, "I should like to take a little stroll right about now."
"Hesperia," warned her mother, "It is 10 o'clock in the evening."
"Be that as it may, Mother dear, I intend to go outside." With a little curtsy, Hesperia moved past her parents and swept out of the drawing room.
There was not a moment to lose.
With a look of singular determination, Hesperia ran upstairs and groped beneath her bed for the getaway bag she had packed for just such an occasion. One never knew when one's parents would succumb to the temptation of an advantageous marriage, even if it should entail the offering of their daughter to an absolute troll.
Flinging a cloak about her shoulders, Hesperia rushed off into the night. Though she had yet to formulate a plan, she instinctively made her way to the sea.
The docks were deserted. An eerie light glowed from a flickering lantern. A low, ominous fog pressed itself against the girl like an unwanted suitor.
"Going somewhere, are we?"
Hesperia gasped and spun around. Emerging from the shadows was Smelbad himself, face pocked and contorted, masticated fishguts dribbling from his flaccid lip.
"Stand back, sir, I warn you," she said, reaching inside her bag for a long, silver crochet hook which could, if necessary, be put to an utterly new and unexpected use.
At that moment--the miracle!
"Ahoy, there!," cried a voice filled with energy and enthusiasm, "Charles Purcell at your service, captain of the good ship Cabot."
"Captain Purcell," called Hesperia, brandishing the crochet hook as the leering Smelbad advanced, "Sir, are you in need of crew for your journey?"
"As it so happens, I am looking for a first mate," retorted the voice in the darkness.
"That's all I needed to hear," said Miss Blink, whirling about and sprinting to the end of the dock, Smelbad in hot pursuit. She hesitated a moment, then reached for the captain's outstretched hand, embarking on a new life of high times and adventure, yet one that also offered the girl the loveliest feeling of finally being at home.
Dear reader, hasn't this been a long time coming? I can't remember when I last wrote a story for my Hundred Dresses Project, but even though life has been a bit full lately for the luxury of such creativity, it has often been at the back of my mind.
I honestly wonder if I will make it to one hundred...
At any rate, shall we add a little giveaway to celebrate the occasion? A print of Hesperia to the winner and all you must to do be considered is leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
I will return to announce the winner on Monday and may take a little break from blogging until then.