The captain—who has led such voyages before (though none with the same rash thirst for the unknown)–leads her old three-masted ship and loyal 28-man crew into uncharted territory.
Fairly quickly the map proves useless. Craggy landmasses, strange atolls, mud banks (not to mention giant circles etched into the tundra that look vaguely extraterrestrial) appear out of nowhere.
The climate is unforeseen. Temperatures fall well below previously recorded averages. A young crewmember contracts severe frostbite and loses a nose.
The captain experiences a vivid dream in which the ship enters a clammy bog and her crew is transformed into a family of newts. She prays this is not the infamous Seaman’s Nightmare, which heralds a journey of great adversity, horror, and no survivors.
The ship moves southwards, entering a sea teeming with what appears to be giant squid. Various crewmembers voice concern.
Due to unstable ice conditions, the ship’s progress slows to a crawl. There is a dearth of coal, a rat colony in the kitchen, black mold in the steerage, signs of a vengeful paranormal presence in the midshipman’s berth, lice, fleas, and a kleptomaniac. The crew asks the captain to turn back, but she insists on forging on.
There is an outbreak of scurvy.
After breakfast, three crewmembers with low morale (and perhaps a strain of madness) throw themselves overboard and are swiftly consumed by sharks.
During a violent midnight storm, the ship smashes into an undersea mountain, prompting immediate evacuation into lifeboats. Twenty crewmembers drown. The captain and remaining crew spend five harrowing days at sea.
They beach on a remote island with marked signs of native inhabitants, likely cannibalistic.
After a midnight siege, alone and blood-soaked, the Captain lapses into a self-pitying torpor, wishing she’d just taken a simple excursion to Turks and Caicos.
The captain builds a rickety life raft out of palm leaves, chewing gum, bark, and paste from a kumquat. She leaves the island, sailing due northwest by the stars.
The captain lands on a mysterious continent. She realizes by calculating the average distance between clouds and dividing that by time of sunset, she has traveled to a land even more remote and bewitching than she’d imagined.
Hearing a strange high-pitched cry at dawn, the captain paints her face with mud and enters the jungle with no care as to when she’ll return.
Years later, the captain arrives home, unrecognizable, exhausted, a far-off look in her eyes, and a mild case of small pox.
The captain regales others with her tale of high adventure.
And yet, a week doesn’t go by before she finds herself planning her next charter—new ship, new crew, new route around the world. Because life is voyage, always starting out, heading for a glimpse of the horizon never before seen at a certain light in a certain sea, then coming home to tell others of that moment which will live on, and on, in the telling.
The grand expedition—Untitled Marisha Pessl 3rd Novel—sails into port with great excitement and fanfare next year.