The Sea

You didn’t have to kill the priest.”

“He would have rung the alarm bell. Or killed you. Maybe both. I think they’re gaining on us.”

Arcus didn’t need to look back. He knew the warship following them was closing distance with every wave their small boat struggled over. They must have been on their way to the shrine already, bell or no bell. No way they could have tracked them this fast.

“It’ll be dark soon. Maybe we can lose them and go ashore.We’re past the great wall now, they won’t follow us on that land, especially not at night.”

The last statement was more hope than prediction. It wasn’t the first shrine they’d robbed. Holy towers lined the coast, and there was always gold to be had in them. The caretaker priests were usually asleep when they broke in. If they weren’t, a quick knock on the head was all it took to quiet their protestations. They weren’t soldiers. Thievery didn’t require them to kill anyone, and no one ever really came looking for them. Sure, there were wanted posters in the local taverns, but grizzled men with beards and piercings aren’t in short supply on the coast. The order had enough gold, they could spare it.

Now they had a ship following them. A ship full of holy warriors waiting to run them through with pikes. Something was wrong.

“Show me what you took again, Egril.” Arcus said to his companion without looking back.

Egril held it up: an ornate golden sun with curling flames jutting out from a glass center. Within the glass was an ancient looking small bone, black…like it had been charred.

“You’re sure that’s what he asked for?”

“Yes. It’s exactly as he described. We take the relic, meet him at the mountain pass, and we have enough gold to last us a lifetime. Was supposed to be easy.”

“But it wasn’t, was it?”

“I didn’t think he’d be armed. When have they ever been armed.”

Arcus grunted.

Egril was right. Arcus had been just as surprised to see the pike in the caretaker’s hand as Egril was. The pike had extended right past his ear into the wall before Egril slid his dagger between the priest’s ribs. His comrade had saved his life, but he despised him. They should never have taken the job. They’d never have killed the priest. They wouldn’t be racing through the twilight towards cursed land.

Arcus considered for a moment throwing Egril overboard with the relic, but manning a two person vessel alone was a wager he was unwilling to take. Killing his stupid friend would have to wait.The light of the day was almost spent and they had to reach the shore. Their boat had no wards, and the daughters of the deep would soon be at play.

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Summer #3

***

He was alone in the overgrown grass, leaning against the rusted pole where they used to dry their laundry. The dilapidated houses that lined the hill in the old mining town looked just like they did on that day. His grandfather was inside breathing his final breaths. He didn’t want to see the strong hands grow weak, the eyes full of life and warmth grow dim.

He sat outside in the grass with the mosquitos and the heat, watching the fireflies come alive with the night. In the distance he saw an ocean of pitch black slowly rising up the hill where he sat, devouring everything. Didn’t remember this part.

A young woman stood not far from him near the fence that separated the small rectangular yard from the next. She had braids in her hair, and wore a long summer dress with colorful flowers printed on it. She stared off at the horizon and watched the ocean of black approach. It was close now, almost to the next street over. She looked over at him and he recognized her immediately. It was his grandmother, but much younger than he had ever seen her in life. She smiled and walked over to him. She extended her arm with hand closed and bent down to his level. She opened her hand and he saw his grandfather’s’ knife there on her palm.

“It’s yours now. Do not forget.” She said.

He took the knife. She smiled again, then turned and walked back toward the house.

The ocean of black was in the yard. It roses to his ankles, then his knees. He retreated to the back of the inclined yard and climbed the dying tree that hung over the rear fence. He watched as the dark liquid continued to rise. He saw the face of his grandmother disappear, then the first floor of the house, then the second.  He climbed higher up in the tree, but the branches were thinner up there. He reached for one and it broke off in his hand.

Falling in a dream is different than in the waking world. The evening stars looked like leaves in the husk of the tree as he fell. They grew smaller and smaller as he fell farther and farther until they were but a point of light in the distance. Then they were gone.

Summer #2

Part 1

The house was dark when Simon walked through the front door. The kitchen light was on, and he could hear voices from a the old black and white TV his mother kept in the kitchen to watch while she cooked.

“Welcome home honey” his mother called out to him. Simon walked to the back of the house. She was there bent over, eyes fixated on the small screen and the long dead actors that performed for her there.

“Hey Mom. Is Dad home?”

“He’ll be working late today. I didn’t want to cook for just the two of us. We have some microwave burritos in the freezer and lots of lunchmeat. You can make yourself a sandwich. It’s ok if you want to watch TV until your dad gets home.” She said, without looking up.

“OK Mom. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Simon microwaved two of the burritos on an old tupperware plate covered in white scratches and brought them to the TV room. He pulled out the metal Ghostbusters TV tray and dropped the plate on it. Time to see what’s on.  

Looney Tunes or an episode of MacGyver he’d already seen before…Looney Tunes.

A pudgy looking middle aged man on screen had just found a box in a construction site when the phone rang in the Kitchen. His mom answered.

Hi Linda. I’m fine. You? No I’m not busy at all.

The frog in the box dances and sings.

Sure I know them. Well I know of them I should say. They live in the large house on Magnolia right? I always wave at his wife. She has a sad look about her.

The middle aged has now taken  the singing frog to a talent agent, but the frog won’t sing for the agent. He only croaks.

Oh my God. What happened? When did this happen?

The man sells all of his belongings to invest in the singing frog.

She’d been in there like that for week? How did no one notice she was missing? God I can only imagine the smell.

Te frog is performing behind the curtain, but he stops when the curtain raises. Everyone sees only a frog.

I’m so glad they picked him up in front of her house, and that he wasn’t able to get inside. Imagine if he’d tried something at the school. Ms. Laurel is a sweet lady. She helped Simon when he was having some math problems. Feel so bad for her.

The man is homeless now sitting on a park bench with the singing frog.

I don’t know…I really don’t know. This was always such a safe neighborhood. Things like that don’t happen here. Well, they didn’t. Did you hear about kids disappearing over in Lafayette?

Believing in a singing frog has landed the man in a psychiatric hospital now.

I think two have gone missing so far, around Simon’s age. I can only imagine.

The frog goes back in the box. The box goes back to the construction site.

It is a shame. OK, well thanks for calling Linda. I’ll see you tomorrow a the race? Great. Bye!

She hung up the phone and went back to watching her movie.

Simon switched the channel to MacGyver and laid down on the carpet. He looked over at the faded bloodstain near the side door. His father had cut his hand on the circular saw. A lot of blood from a cut only an inch long. He remembered Dad’s face had been so pale, his eyes wide. He remembered the perfect little droplets of crimson reflecting the light of the screen. There are some things you don’t forget, even if you try. Simon traced the outline of the stain with his finger, then fell asleep.

Summer #1

“I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

“You promise?”

“I swear.”

“Caitlynn.”

“Caitlynn? From Mrs. Holland’s class?”

“Yeah.”

Max laughed as the face of his friend sitting on a massive Magnolia branch a few feet away from his own turned red. It was the perfect tree for two 10 year old boys: branches that were easy to climb, shade from the oppressive late Spring heat, and plenty of seed pods to throw at any villains that might cross their path.

“You know Sean likes her too, right? They go to the same pool. He’s going to beat you up if he finds out, Simon.”

“Yeah I know. Can’t help it. I like her.”

Simon pulled out the pocket knife he always carried and began to stab at the bark of the tree.

“Maybe she’ll be at the brickfield run tomorrow, you could talk to her.”

Simon looked up.

“I don’t know…what would I say? What if she doesn’t like me?”

“You talk to girls all the time in class, just be normal.”

“It’s different.”

“How?”

“Just is.”

“Alright.”

They sat in silence for a moment, suspended in air. Max threw a seed pod at the street sign on the corner. He missed. Simon snapped his knife closed.

“It’s getting late, my mom will be pissed if I don’t get home before dark.”

Max shrugged, and the two boys climbed down from the tree and began their walk home. Gnats swarmed around random patches of grass in the yards of the ancient victorian houses they passed by. They waved at a few of the old folks sitting on their porches. Too hot to say anything other than a quick “hello”. They passed Mr. Patterson, mowing his lawn barefoot in a full business suit. He stopped the boys to inquire about Ms. Laurel, the resource teacher.

“Y’all make sure to tell her I said hello if you see her, ok?” he said, sweat dripping down his face into his beard. The cuffs of his suit were stained green from the grass. He smelled like alcohol, heat, and something unfamiliar.

“We would, but the last day of school was today. Sorry Mr. Patterson.”

“Oh. That’s too bad. I’ll have to tell her myself then.”

Mr. Patterson smiled and went back to his mowing.

The boys walked on until they came to the corner where their paths parted.

“Hey you want to come to dinner? Don’t think my mom would mind.”

“I don’t think I can tonight, my Grandma is over.”

“Alright. See you tomorrow Max.”

“See ya.”

Simon hated to walk home alone, hated to walk past the witch house. The older boys on the street always talked of the wolf’s eye that sat in the basement there, glowing in the dark. If you looked upon it you died. This had happened to a boy that lived on the street several years ago when they were little kids. No one could remember his name, but it happened. They swore.

The sun was below the trees now, the streets covered in shadow. Time to run.