True Nature (story)

Posted: March 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

Good evening,

So tonight’s fare is going to diverge just a little from our normal tone, but not by much, I promise you. No, this story won’t fall exactly under the heading of horror, but that doesn’t mean I’ve taken to writing about sunshine and happy bunnies and whatnot. I’m still, you know, me.

Initially written as a contest entry for Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, I knew the entry below was doomed considering it isn’t exactly horror. Hell, I started off knowing that, but the contest concept, and my idea, was too good to pass up. Tasked with retelling a classic fairy tale or fable in a contemporary setting, I chose to retell my all time favorite fable, let’s see if you can figure it out.

So get comfy, turn out the lights. There’s a hurricane a’ comin’, and something far deadlier if we don’t make haste. Be quiet, work quickly, and we might just get off of this island alive.

Happy haunting!

True Nature

I’m afraid I don’t have much time left.

In the gloom of this rotted old boathouse, I put my work down for a moment and sneak along one of the walls. I peek through the slats, the old weather-beaten wood is gray and warped in such a way that it is amazing this shelter stands at all.

I see glimpses of green beneath a dangerous charcoal sky. I move from one gap in the wall to the next, daring myself to make it all the way to the old window. I know what I’m looking for, and each time I fail to see it I find myself feeling more afraid, not less.

I’m now only inches from the window. Just below it there is a decent sized hole, and I look through that first. It’s dark, but not so dark that I can’t see the slate gray sand of the beach, the angry ocean slamming the island with wave after wave, or the trees up on the hill, dancing in the wind. I recognize a few palm trees, but the rest… I don’t know the rest. I never learned the names of trees, and this fills me with a stinging regret. I tell myself if I survive this, I’m going to learn all of the trees’ names.

My fingers gingerly touch the bottom of the window sill as sweat rolls down my back, pasting my shirt to my skin. Most of the glass in the simple square hole has been busted out some time ago, but a few jagged shards remain. Slowly I pull myself up, angling my head so that I could see while revealing as little of myself as possible. I can see more of the surrounding island now. The vegetation up the hill is in a frenzy–dark electric green whips back and forth all along the canopy. Below there is little but hungry shadow.

I pay this no mind. I’m not looking for the storm nor the island, but for him.

I’ve done well evading him so far. I’ve seen his twisted sinewy form from the cover of dense foliage as he hunted for me, my heart thumping so loud I thought it would give me away. I can only attribute my continued survival to some divine grace.

But then I found this boathouse, and I knew it was a risk. I knew the moment he discovered its existence this would be the least safe place on the island. But I had to take the chance because…

“…ational Weather Service… orts… urricane Edn… off the coast of… arolina,” the little transistor radio I found squawks at me. “…dents urged… uate.”

I stare at the silvery box, its volume turned up as loud as I dare, hoping it can’t be heard from the outside over the sound of the wind. I couldn’t make out if the reporter said the storm was off the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina. If he said South, I may have a couple of hours. If he said North, I’m probably already dead.

I creep back to the task at hand.

It’s hard reading the instructions in the gloom. I can only hope I am getting the steps mostly right. On the far end of the boathouse, the ocean crashes in, reminding me of the urgency of my task. Outside the boathouse, somewhere on this island, a killer searches for me, and if he fails, the forces of nature are raging up the coastline, ready to finish the job he set out to do.

There is a crash of lightning, and everything in the boathouse is caught in a freeze frame tableau of black and white–the broken window, the withered boards that make up the wall, the pile of oars and water logged life vests tossed in the corner, and the workbench with the transistor radio and the raft I am trying desperately to repair.

I fix one patch onto the raft and move on, looking for another hole. I do this three times before I’m as close to sure as I can get that I’ve got everything plugged up. As I work the radio continues to spurt out information in static laden bursts. Wind speeds are in excess of 130 miles per hour, the eye is moving 12 miles an hour. Current projections have the storm making landfall somewhere on the Southeast coast of Virginia.

None of this makes any difference to me. The storm could be a category 1 or a category 5, it could make landfall or stay off the coast; if it catches me on this island, I’m a dead man.

I find an old bike pump on the workbench, but before I start filling the raft with air, I make one last patrol of the boathouse. Panic fills me as I go through the routine of peeking through the slats of the wall. I’m so close to escape. Please, if there is any kind of God out there, and he cares at all for me, please keep my killer away. Just for a little bit longer.

I don’t know what time it is. I lost my watch earlier this morning, and terror has a way of doing strange things to time. I know it isn’t night as I can still make out shapes and sometimes even colors, but I also know that it is darker now than it was when I last checked the window. I’m not sure if that is the night coming, or the storm.

My eyes continue to sweep over the island. The sky looks angrier, the trees rock and sway even more fiercely, but that horrific silhouette is still nowhere to be seen. It is the first time I feel anything like hope since this whole nightmare started.

I return to the workbench. The radio’s broadcast has devolved into almost pure static now, with faint phantoms of voices burbling imperceptibly underneath in rarer intervals. I decide I don’t need the news anyway and click the thing off. At this point, if the storm is going to get me, it’s going to get me.

The boathouse sounds strange without the constant crackle of the radio. The wind whistles through the boards of the wall as the ocean crashes and roars at the opposite end. It sounds sinister in here, the way you expect an old haunted house to sound.

I push this out of my mind and hook the bike pump up to the raft. It’s slow work at first, the little pump hissing under my effort with no noticeable change. The sounds of the pump and my own frantic gasps die in the sounds of the oncoming tempest.

I’m about ready to give up when the raft moves. It starts to scoot and lurch with each pump, slowly evolving from a limp rubber mass into something that has shape. Encouraged I redouble my efforts, now throwing my whole body into every single pump. I want to laugh. This was a new kind of hope, better, almost like a drug. I feel buzzing in my brain as I watch the yellow lump look more and more like something that might get me off this damn island.

As I get closer and closer to my goal, I take a break every so often. I press against the raft and listen, my ear skimming across the inflatable surfaces, trying to find a rogue leak I missed. This is my last shot to catch something—better now and use another patch than when I’m a hundred yards off the coast.

My luck continues to hold out. The patches I installed are keeping in place, and I can’t find any new leaks. It’s holding air and eventually it seems firm enough to take out on the water.

I do laugh this time. The sound scares me. It’s high pitched and desperate. All of this hope and joy over the privilege of taking a flimsy piece of air-filled rubber onto an ocean that is already starting to show the rage of a hurricane.

I’m still laughing as I pluck an oar from the pile in the corner and sift through the life vests, trying to find one that fits and isn’t overcome with rot and mold. I keep laughing as I grab the handle of the raft and start to push it to the water.

I’m still laughing when I see him standing in front of me, standing in the surf, blocking the exit from the boathouse. The laughter catches in my throat and dies, feeling like a hard cold lump.

He is tall and knotted with wooden muscles. Long, greasy, hair falls to his shoulders in unruly curls. In his left hand he carries what looks like a machete. In the shadow-filled boathouse, this is all I can make out of this man.

The raft slips from my fingers and skids along the ground, not quite yet touching the water.

I am dead.

Relief begins to fill me in a strange way. I even start to accept my fate. In a moment, this shadow will end my life, he will take my raft, and he will paddle himself to the mainland. To safety.

I am nearly at peace with all of this when he speaks. “I’m going with you.”

His voice is low, and gravelly. His words are not a warning, they are not a threat. They are a statement of fact.

For a moment I can’t find my voice. I know what those words mean, but the sentence makes no sense. “Why not just kill me now?” I think, only realizing at the end of the question that I actually say the words out loud.

The man takes a step forward. I can start to see a few more details in the gloom. His tank top was once white, but is now brown and stained with sweat. He wears baggy cargo shorts, and as the chill from my soaked pants sends wave after wave of goose pimples throughout my flesh, I wish I had done the same.

I see his eyes. They are dark eyes, with yellowed whites. Logically I understand that a killer can have any kind of eyes; a person can have crystal blue eyes with the light of the sun in them and still plunge a blade into your heart. But as I stare at those eyes it is difficult to think of those shining pits of black as anything but the eyes of one who not only kills but revels in the act.

I don’t know how much time passes before he answers my question. “Best chance for either of us to live is to go together. Another oar in the water may be the difference between making it to shore or dying at sea.”

“What about the contract?” I ask.

He takes another step towards me, towards the raft. “Maybe you help me get out of this mess, I make it worth your while. Maybe I give you a head start.” He chuckles, and mirth does not look right on his face. His skin cracks too much at the smile, the dark eyes don’t soften. It is an ugly kind of humor that twists and mangles his features. “You’re good at identity. Maybe, if you help me get out of this mess, I give you enough time to make yourself a new identity. I say you’re lost in the storm, get my money, and as long as you stay quiet, stay out of the spotlight, you get to live a nice long life.”

I don’t even bother asking if I can trust him; I already know the answer. But this is my only chance at survival. The wind outside the boathouse gusts, it whips through the slats in the walls and whistles and howls like tortured ghosts. Rain spatters against the roof in sharp cracking pops. The killer sent to end me stares at me, waiting for an answer.

I crouch down at the pile in the corner and reach for a second oar. I toss it along with my oar into the raft and start pushing it towards the water. I never take my eyes off of him.

He lifts his machete and I feel hope slip straight through my stomach to the floor. But then the blade disappears behind his back with a faint whispering sound. After sheathing the weapon, he walks over next to me and helps me push the patched-up craft to the water.

The ocean curls up our legs in white, foamy, tendrils. At first the water swallows our ankles, then our calves, knees, thighs. By the time we get waist deep into the water, we are no longer covered by the shelter of the boathouse.

I see him now more clearly than ever before. His skin is olive in color, and his hair dark, but not black. He looks as though he could have been carved out of wood—aged and scarred by time. Along his bare arms and on his face there are spears of soft, pink, skin—records of a violent past.

But nothing about this man is quite as remarkable as his tattoo. All along the left side of his face in that black tattoo ink that turns a dark bluish green over time, is a scorpion. The creatures claws straddle the killer’s eye, one above and one below. The body curves down over the cheek, with the tail swinging along the jawline, leaving the stinger hooking up and looking as though it is piercing the man’s lips.

The image looks so life like, and I am mesmerized by it. I half expect the thing to start moving, to crawl over his face as he glares at me with those black and yellow eyes.

He looks up from the raft at me, and I flinch. Lightning races across the sky in a latticework of brilliant electric death, and for an instant my killer turned companion is etched in sharp blacks and whites. But that scorpion remains unchanged. I see it move, a twitch of the tail, a trembling of the pincers. Of course this isn’t true; it is just the lightning, and the way the muscles behind the man’s face move. The tattoo is of course just a tattoo, and I am beyond terrified.

That has to be it. It is just fear playing tricks on me.

He climbs into the raft first. The assassin grabs one of the oars and turns to look at me. There is a single second where I think he’s going to leave me behind, that or he is going to start hacking into me with his machete. I can’t stop my imagination from guessing what it might feel like, to feel the blade drawn against the soft flesh of my throat, my windpipe cut open, my life’s blood spilling down the front of my foolishly expensive polo shirt.

The machete remains in its scabbard, and the man barks at me to get in the raft. I climb in, awkwardly throwing one leg in and pulling the other one after. At one point, I feel almost like I’m going to capsize the raft, ending our last chance for safety before it truly even begins. But I feel his hand clamp down on my back and help hoist me up. His grip is strong. Should he turn it against me, I would have no hope of fighting back.

I look around. The hurricane is not yet upon us, but overhead thick and angry clouds race across the sky, harbingers of what is to come. I am heartened to know it is still day time, the sun piercing through the cloud cover occasionally off to the West. I turn my attention to the East, and feel a new, special kind of dread.

You don’t see a hurricane. It’s not like seeing a tornado, the funnel cloud drilling against the ground. To see a hurricane is to stare at a dark wall of death. At a glance, it looks still, almost serene, like a painting. Only when I stare at it do I see the flashes of light and the clouds as large city blocks rolling over each other.

I turn to the scorpion man and see my terror reflected in his face.

We are rowing. I don’t know how far we are from the mainland. I’m not even certain if we are going in the right direction. It seems enough to row towards the sun and hope that is enough to get us to safety.

I’ve never worked this hard in my life. We’ve only been rowing for a few minutes and I already feel my arms burning, like someone coated them in acid. I don’t care. Any time I feel like giving up, I simply look behind us at that impossible wall of deadly black clouds, and I find some new reserve of energy to keep pushing.

Beside me the scorpion man moves like a beast. I can see his muscles rippling beneath his skin—even rowing, running for his life, he looks like a predator, his greasy dark curls draped over machine-like shoulders.

I don’t know how long we’ve been rowing. It feels like my arms are going to fall off, and I’ve got blisters on both hands. The island has all but disappeared behind us, barely a silhouette before the hurricane, when I hear the scorpion man speak for the first time since we started this journey.

“Stop. Stop. Stop,” he pants.

“But,” I begin to protest, even as I find myself secretly grateful for a break.

The scorpion man casts his gaze to the hurricane and I find myself staring again at his tattoo. “We have time,” he says. “Give our arms a chance to rest, or we’ll never make it to shore.”

I nearly collapse from exhaustion, letting the oar rest across my lap. My muscles continue to tic and pop, little spasms skittering up and down my arms like little lightning storms.

Across from me the scorpion man places his oar in the middle of the raft, and reaches for his machete. I feel everything inside me run cold. Now? He’s going to kill me now?

He must see the fear stretched across my face, and he grins. His teeth look so sharp, so big. Smiles aren’t supposed to look that wide—only in stories. But that is what this feels like—trapped in a story. I’m Little Red Riding Hood and the man I’m sharing a raft with is the wolf dressed like grandma.

What big teeth you have grandma.

What a very big, ugly machete you have too. And it is ugly. It isn’t shiny. It doesn’t glisten. It is a dull color somewhere between slate gray and rust brown. I see notches in the blade. And it occurs to me that this is the weapon of a true killer. In movies weapons shine, they cast off lens flares, and they make ringing noises when you pull them out of their scabbards. But in real life, this blade has hacked its way through too much flesh to shine, cut through too much bone to ring dramatically when unsheathed.

And now it is my turn. That is what I think, but then the scorpion man spins around , his back to me. I watch those powerful muscles work in smooth fluid motion. A pointy elbow rises, and then the arm shoots down into the water like a gun.

The scorpion man pulls his machete back out of the water and turns to look at me. There impaled on the end of the blade, is a fish. It wiggles and flaps, its mouth silently opens and closes, gasping for life that it has already lost. I see myself in its cold, lifeless eyes.

The tail flaps about for so long. I want it to stop. But the killer just lets the fish die slowly. He loves it, loves watching the creature struggle against the oncoming darkness. The tail moves slower, and slower, and the scorpion man’s smile hovers over it with those large, sharp teeth. He doesn’t even look human anymore, if ever he did.

The fish’s tail is still swaying, drunkenly, when the scorpion man bites into it. It makes a sick crunching sound that turns into sloppy, wet, slaps as he chews and sucks the pink meat in.

He deftly cuts a large slice off the fish and tosses it to me. “Eat what you can. You’ll need the fuel for the rowing.”

I stare at the slimy, pink flesh. I want to be revolted, I want to feel sick, but all I feel is hunger. I can’t remember the last time I ate. I stuff the meat into my mouth and chomp at it greedily. It is sweet, salty, and cold, and the most delicious thing I can ever remember eating.

We finish off the fish, and the scorpion man throws the head and bones over the side. It’s tough to say if the hurricane has gotten any closer, but it is clear that the sun has dropped significantly lower in the sky. We’ll lose daylight soon, and I’m not sure if I can bare this horror at night.

The two of us start rowing again, although this time not with the same frantic pace as before. My arms are sore, but they seem a little better, and the fish meal does seem to help. Things seem to be looking up except the world appears to grow darker with every passing second. Whether this is from the setting of the sun or the approach of the hurricane I can’t say.

I don’t get to consider this much before the rain starts. This isn’t the on again, off again rain we had on the island. This rain is hard and steady. It roars against the surface of the ocean and stings as it pelts the skin.

The scorpion man and I row harder now. We don’t have to confer with each other, we know; this is the outer cusp of the storm. We row now and we row hard, or we are done.

Despite the terror, or maybe because of it, we push the raft to new speeds. The scorpion man and I work well together, rowing in tandem, digging deep into the water and pushing for everything we have. I realize on a logical level that my muscles are in pure screaming pain, but survival won’t let me register that in any real, tangible sense. All that matters now is the rowing.

The sun is down now. It may still be clinging onto the horizon, I imagine, but here and now, it doesn’t matter. We are bathed in nearly perfect darkness, broken up with the flash pops of lightning at our backs. And still we row.

We can hear the hurricane behind us, a mighty, terrible roar.

I look up towards the horizon ahead.

I scream.

I scream, and yell, and holler.

I see light, a new kind of light. Man-made. Twinkling like stars someone smuggled under the canopy of clouds. The scorpion man looks at me.

“Land!” I cry. I lay my oar in the middle of the raft and scoot towards the front on my knees. “Look! We’re going to make it! We’re going to…”

The words die in my throat as I turn around. The scorpion man hovers over me, his machete raised high above him. Lightning sets the world on white fire behind him, and for a second he turns into a specter, a towering hulking thing with his dull, ugly blade.

And then that powerful arm comes crashing down. I move, kicking out away from the coming death. I am too slow. I feel hot pain sear through my thigh, and I scream.

The pain is horrific. I hear a pop, and at first I think it is thunder, but I realize it is the raft. It is deflating.

There is another fork of lightning. It is white and cuts through the darkness. In its light I see the scorpion man’s face. He is wearing the same smile he wore as he watched the fish die. It isn’t a real smile. It is too wide. The corners of his mouth are too high up on his cheek.

My what big teeth you have grandma.

I start to swim, and immediately am punished for it. My leg. The saltwater has entered the wound and set it on fire. The pain is crippling, and any time I try to even move that leg feels like dying. I paddle anyway, my arms flailing, desperately trying to put some distance between me and the grinning thing behind me.

I gulp down air and mouthfuls of saltwater as my limbs beat the ocean. I can feel him, reaching for me, those stony fingers grabbing for me in the black water that surrounds us. I feel his hand brush against my good leg and I kick, and it retreats, and I think I’m free.

Then I feel the grip wrap around the ankle of my bad leg. I am tugged under water. Black. Everything is black, and I pinwheel my arms just to get another lungful of air. I can feel him pulling me towards him, and yet I still struggle.

The strength that yanks me back towards my murderer is unreal. I fight, but even as I fight I know I will lose. I feel his grip on my collar and I’m yanked upward, into the electric air.

There is just enough light left in the world for me to make out the shadows of his features. His wooden, olive, skin, his dark eyes with the yellowed whites, his greasy hair in curls, the scorpion that crawls along the left side of his face.

“Why?” I gasp. “You’re going to die too.”

He pulls me closer, so that our noses are touching. I don’t just see the impossible grin on his face, I can feel it, smell its rank predator stink in the air, feel the hot death wafting off of it with every breath.

“It’s my nature,” he says, his voice sounding itself like the rumble of thunder.

There is one last crash of lightning, and I see him raise the machete high. It is an ugly thing. A killing thing.

His arm pulls the blade back and then it rockets forward straight at my neck.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s