by Tim Pratt
I walked back, high up the beach, away from the water. I found Mr. McIntish, ancient as always, carefully lowering a basket of fish into the sagging bed of his pickup. "Can I get a ride home?" I asked. He looked at me oddly, but nodded, and we got in the truck.
"We were all real sorry to hear about your girl," he said, and I murmured thanks. I’d forgotten about this aspect of small towns, everyone knowing everyone’s business. I wondered if he knew about the thing I’d found on the beach, the spear–bearing things that lived in the Bay, or if that was a secret only some men knew.
"Were you down there with her, when it happened?"
"Yes sir," I said. Thinking about Sara wasn’t easier than thinking about the creature from the beach, but it was different. "We were going to see a play, we were only going to ride the train a couple of stops . . ." I shook my head. "People panicked, started running. There was a sporting event or something happening that night, and lots of tourists, so the platform was packed.Sara and I got separated. I made it out. She . . . didn’t." I remembered the panic, running with the crowd, like being something mindless, just part of a larger terrified organism as the mass of people pushed toward the stairs and escalators as shot after shot rang out.
I never even thought of Sara, while I was running.
I was all over bruises afterward — the marks were still fading — but I’d never fallen down, like Sara had. I’d made it out alive.
"Terrible thing," Mr. McIntish said, and I saw him glance at my hand, my green palm, and I turned it over in my lap.
"Son," he began.
"Just let me out here," I said. "I’d rather walk the last mile."
Back home, I avoided Mom, and went into the dusty bedroom I’d vacated a decade before. It was full of boxes, now, just storage space, but my bed remained, and I fell into it and slept. Awake, I grieved; to outrun grief, I’d plotted murder; murder abandoned, I only wanted to sleep. Even mysteries didn’t entice me; they exhausted me.
Another dream, but not a crowded train platform this time. I was swimming in dark waters, currents warm and cold passing around me. I held a spear, and kicked in line with others like me — fast, devoted, faintly glowing. A wave of panicked fish boiled toward us, a wall of flashing terror, but my fellows and I swam against the current. We kicked steadily toward the vast thing that had risen up from the bay floor, as it did nearly every year. The thing of jaws and grasping. The thing that devoured, and worse. The thing all the fish fled from. The thing we had to try, once again, to kill.
I woke and lifted my hand before my face. The algae on my palm had shifted, and now formed a spiral, like the one on the spear–bearer’s back. I traced the pattern, and little surges of sensation and image went through me: blood in the water, titanic blows, drowning in the air.
The next night I went out to a pier a few miles north, and sat on the weathered boards. I had a thermos of coffee, a blanket, and a pillow, but I sat awake and watched the water. I had my shoes off, and I held one in my hands upside–down, looking at the sole.
After the shooting at the train station, when I was above ground and first realizing Sara was gone, I’d looked down to discover I was leaving bloody footprints behind me. I’d stepped on someone down there, someone who’d been shot, maybe, or just knocked down, and in my fear, I hadn’t even felt them underfoot. I vomited on the sidewalk, right onto a bloody smear from my shoes, but no one took any notice, because lots of people were throwing up, and cops were swarming everywhere.
I knew I probably hadn’t stepped on Sara. The crowd had torn us apart. But. But I couldn’t be sure. I’d cleaned my shoes, and gone on wearing them, but now I flung first one shoe, and then the other, into the bay. I started to shiver, though the night wasn’t cold. Sara. She should have been here. The jubilee would have amazed her. My mother, always more comfortable with women than men (even her own, only son) would have liked her, probably. I sat, crying, on the pier, and couldn’t help thinking what Bill would say if he saw me weeping.
I lay back on the cold boards, gazing up at the hard stars and the half–eaten–by–darkness moon. Grief was a dark mass moving inside me, sucking the air out of my body, and I fled before it. I looked at the algae on my hand, the delicate starburst shape it had assumed.
I could leave, and fly home, where my gun waited. I’d never fired it, but it was loaded, for Barrett Wayne Johnston, or maybe for someone else who deserved to die.
Or I could go buy a fishing gig, and get some scuba gear, though I hadn’t gone diving in years. I could take a boat out tomorrow, onto the bay, and dive under the waves. I could look for faint green glows beneath me, and try to find a monster I could actually kill.