A short work of fiction by Rebekah Devine
It was a calm night; thick and heavy. A maternal mist hovered over the surface of the water and clung to it. From somewhere deep in its chest came the bellow of a fog horn. Now and again, a quick salt breeze would whip through the fog and strike a rock, a window pane or a shed with blue paint peeling off its door.
The moon was full, but no one saw it. Most folks were indoors anyway.
Graham Nickerson held his breath and listened to the sea water lap against the docked fishing boats. His brown eyes saw very little: the short waves caressing the side of the Queen of Hearts, the rough barnacles on the post beside him, the alert figure of his golden retriever, Tennyson. From his vantage point at the edge of the wharf, he could see no land, though he was only a few hundred meters from shore.
Tennyson whimpered softly and Graham ran his hand over the beast’s yellow coat. “No need to whine, old boy,” he said, “you can find your way home as soon as you like.”
The wind bent near and whispered into Graham’s face and he felt the salt spray on his nose, tongue and eyelids. And then silence again. Silence, save for the ripples just beneath him and the wind about him.
Graham drew a hand across his forehead, wiping the beads of fog caught in his eyebrows. He exhaled and watched his warm breath rise and disappear into the mist. He shivered and pulled his coat a little tighter.
In that part of the world, there is a soundlessness that grates harshly on the ears of most city folk and native suburbanites. For those who have not grown up listening to it, its voice is difficult to bear. The hearer grows antsy and fearful. He waits for he knows not what. And then to hear the noise of the mind beating itself in wild contemplation – the sound of the stranger within trying desperately to mask himself again. Is he alone? Then why must he cover himself? Is someone there? Then why the hideous loneliness?
Graham was accustomed to the voices of the sea, yet sometimes he let his mind drift into vivid imaginings that thrust him into momentary uneasiness. He once again put a hand out to pet the dog. “Well, what do you think, Tenn,” he spoke to the animal, “Jonah was sleeping through a storm in the bottom of that ship. Preacher said he was running from God and a sperm whale swallowed him up and spat him out three days later. He said that’s what’ll happen if you’re sleeping instead of out trying to save souls. God’ll get your attention somehow, even if he has to send a great whale out of the sea.”
Tennyson only panted and looked pensive.
Graham looked away from his companion and gazed once again into the water below. He couldn’t keep his eyes from scanning the surface for movement below it, though the water was dark as the center of a Black-eyed Susan and impenetrable as the hull of a skooner. Such thoughts were not unusual for Graham. Somehow, after hearing frightening tales of the sea, he always seemed to find himself out on the wharf once again, bracing himself for the terror he knew would rise from that black abyss.
Yet tonight, as usual, there was nothing there. Graham sighed and rose. “All right, then,” he turned to the dog, “come on.” He turned toward the shore.
Tennyson suddenly emitted a high-pitched yelp and bounded down the dock towards the land. Graham felt the vibrations of the dog’s desperate body plunging over the planks and heard the scuffing of his frightened paws trying to grip the wooden boards. Graham felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle and an involuntary cry rose from his throat which died on his lips.
He did not know what it was, but he sensed it. There was a change in the salt wind, a sweeping nausea, the sound of something vast and terrible and brilliant. All at once, powerful smells conquered his olfactory senses and sent his mind into a flurry of confusion. It was hot and putrid like rotting, leprous flesh and then potent and sweet like honey and cinnamon; then the scent of old fish and garlic and lavender and maple wine.
He realized, to his horror, that he had to turn around. It was lurking in the sea mist, torturing and tantalizing his senses, demanding that he look seaward and meet it face to face.