Part 1: Rick Johnson
Rick’s cry of horror choked in his throat when he came upon Ferny’s body neatly displayed on the man’s doorstep. The stench of dried blood and stale rum filled his nostril causing his stomach to church unsettlingly. He stumbled to the house, bent over and regurgitated the contents of his breakfast. With each heave the scent of corpse entered him and with every gag it refused to be dislodged. He gave another choked scream and fought his way back up the gentle slope and into the village. He didn’t quite remember how he wound up at the Mayor’s office but he did recall leaning heavily against the doorframe while men surged around him asking wordless questions.
“Ferny’s dead,” he managed to say before crumpling to the floor and bursting into tears. The men surged outside and all he wanted to do was to stay there on the floor and forget the fact that his longtime friend was dead. But he pushed himself up and followed the others back down the slope feeling as if he was participating in a dream. He kept telling himself that soon he would wake up, walk down to find Ferny in his house with a bottle in his hand and smelling to high heaven of stale alcohol. There were screams from the front of the crowd followed by swearing, loud muttering of prayers and his hopes were shattered. The world seemed to stretch out for a long instant then a hand rested on his shoulder and the sensation was broken. He turned to see Henry looking at him with his jaw clenched so tight that his muscles were taunt. He fought back the tears that wanted to spill out.
“She got him,” he whispered. Henry’s Adam’s apple bobbed sporadically as the man swallowed hard. He closed his eyes briefly and then with aparting squeeze on the shoulder, made his way down the slope towards Ferny’s house. Rick watched him go unable to make another step. Men were making their way back, faces pale and sweating. Some of them cast glances his way but most were too busy living in the horror of what they had seen and busy on their way to spread it, to spare him a look. The village doctor passed him by with an ominous black bag, stopping to pat him on the shoulder and give him a sad smile before moving on.
Henry came back after a few minutes, his face now pale and drawn tight. He looked as if he had aged many year within those few minutes. He stood next to Rick with his shoulder curved in wards and his hands in his pockets. Rick could see the tremor that was running along his arms and the way his neck muscles twitched with effort of keeping his body under control.
“It’s worst that it was with Phillip,” Henry said dully, “She’s…It’s…doesn’t want to just kill us. It wants to make us suffer. Oh God…” the last words were a sob and Henry buried his face in his shaking hands.
“All I wanted to do was survive to see my wife and child,” the words were broken and muffled, “Was that so wrong? Was I supposed to let myself die out there?”
Rick felt his pain. He had been thinking along the same lines and he didn’t have an answer. He put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder and tugged him into a loose embrace. They stood there, feeling cold and numb under the burning sun. Rick shook Henry a bit when he saw the doctor coming back up the slope. The black bag was now bulging but it was just a shapeless mass. It didn’t look like there was a person enclosed in there. That their friend was now held formless, reduced to not even looking like a human being in his death. Rick felt his heart ache so badly that he could not even breathe while they passed them. This time no one looked at them and Rick did not follow the procession.
Henry left him some time later still looking like a defeated man rather than the strong young man that had single handedly saved their lives not a few days ago. Rick felt sick at the sight but there was no words of strength or comfort he could think of to give to him. He made his way back to his own small sea shore home and immediately went to his garden. He began to absentmindedly pluck at the weeds that were growing, his vision blurring by the tears until he could no longer see what he was doing but he refused to stop. He didn’t want to think of Ferny in pieces, didn’t want to see Henry slumped and shuffling away in defeat, didn’t want to think of his own possible death that could come at any time.
“Rick Johnson, what do you think you are doing?” A horrified voice broke into the dull, fearful haze that had enveloped him. He blinked rapidly to clear his eyes and saw that he had been systematically rooting up his tomato seedlings. He choked back a sob and dropped the plant in his hands. Hands grabbed a hold of his at the shoulder and at his hip and guided him gently away from the ruined beds. He kept trying to look back at the garden unable to truly accept what he had done until the hands led him into the cool interior of his house. The hands deposited him into a sturdy chair and placed a glass of water in front of him on a clean floral table cloth. Everything was so unlike Ferny’s house that was just nine houses away from here. He reached out and touched the glass gently as if to make sure that it was real then he lifted it a took a tentative sip. The water felt too cool as if slipped down his throat.
“Now,” the voice said as he set down the glass, “DO you mind telling me why you decided that those seedling needed to be uprooted?” He looked up into the face of his sister, Margie and saw her own face morph into one of shock and concern.
“Ricky darling,” she asked, slipping into calling him by his childhood nickname the way she always did when she was worried, “Whatever is the matter?” He swallowed hard as his eyes filmed over with tears again.
“It’s Ferny,” he gulped, “He’s been killed.” Her face drained of color and she sat heavily down in the chair opposite to his. She let out a long breath of air and closed her eyes.
“Was it…the thing you were telling me about?” Margie asked, softly. Rick nodded and sipped some more water for his suddenly dry throat. She let out another long breath of air. She got up and went outside for a few minutes and then came back inside.
“Do you know where they took him?” she asked. Rick shook his head.
“We should be there,” she said solidly, “He has no one Rick. Someone needs to be there to take care of the arrangements for his burial.”
Rick shook his head, his throat tight. She came and sat next to him, placing her hand on his own.
“Look at me,” she said gently. He refused for a few seconds then sighed and looked into her clear light brown eyes.
“We are the closest thing he has to family,” Margie said, “If you were the one in his place, you know that he would have done the same thing yes?” Rick sighed and with a groan he nodded.
“Come one then,” he said, “most likely they would be at the doctor’s office. I don’t want to take you with me but I think I will have to. I can’t…face up to this without help.” She smiled up at him.
“Of course little brother,” she teased trying to make light of the situation to make him feel better. He tried to smile back at her but the muscles in his face seemed to have frozen. She grimaced back at him and took his hand. Together they walked out of the house and headed towards his nightmare.
They arrived just as the doctor and the mayor were talking about what they should do about the body. Rick gripped his sister’s hand tightly as he strode up through the crowd. The mayor looked up as he approached and when he caught sight of Margie, moved quickly to cover up the body. But it was too late. Rick felt his sister tighten her grip on his hand. He looked to see her briefly close her eyes tight and then opened them with a look of renewed strength. He felt a surge of pride and envy at his older sibling for that source of inner strength she always seemed to possess.
“I think we should bury him as soon as possible,” Rick said without preamble, “He’s been out there for goodness knows how long. I don’t want to keep him unburied and uncommitted for anytime longer.” The mayor and the doctor shared a look and then nodded to him.
“I’ll call up the parson,” The Mayor said.
It took them the better part of an hour to make the arrangements. Rick went down with Margie to talk to Henry and Phillip’s family. Henry was still looking as bad he did when he left Rick. He acknowledged their message with a nod but made to move to get up and start moving. Rick shared a worried look with Henry’s wife, Anne before leaving. Phillip’s family refused to see them.
They dug his grave next to Phillip since it seemed fitting and Phillip’s family was not there to protest. It was really just a hole since there was no proper body to send to the dirt. Rick stood there watching his friend being lowered into nothing but a dark pit and the only thing he could think of was that he was going to be next. He just hoped that his death would not be as painful as Ferny’s but he highly doubted it. Margie’s arm were curled around his own but he could barely feel her there. The little service was all but over when Henry finally arrived. He stood there with Anne and his son, head bowed and refusing to look anyone in the eye. Rick felt his stomach churn at the sight but again words failed him.
The crowd dissipated like a fine mist under the touch of a hot sun when the last of the dirt had been thrown. He touched Henry on the shoulder, ignoring the way the man flinched under the gesture and went home. He spent the rest of the day in his garden trying to repair what damage he had done. Margie thankfully left him alone. Every now and then he would turn and mark the sun’s descent into the ocean. He felt more than ever that tonight the Siren would come for him. He tried to muster up some fight, some feeling of defiance but really all he felt was tried. And by the time night fell, he had entered a sort of depressing resignation and he could not find the courage to pull himself out of it. He knew that his demeanor was rubbing off on Margie, so he sent himself to bed early in order to spare her. He brushed off her worried looks, hugged her long and hard and set himself down with his face to the ceiling and waited for death to come singing.
The death Song reached his ears after what felt like a lifetime. When he heard it he felt a wave of relief. He slipped out of the room and made his way silently out the house and began heading towards the pale figure that stood waiting for him in the black waters of the sea. The song was loud and beautiful now, luring him to come and be killed. Suddenly he was hit from behind and he felt someone grab his arms.
“Don’t go!” Margie panted, tugging him back, “You can’t take him!” Those words were screamed at the Siren. He heard the Siren laugh, a pure, lovely trickle of notes before the Song came to him louder than before and even more compelling. He pushed Margie off him and surged to his feet, running now towards the Siren. Once again, Margie grabbed him trying to hold him back from going to his death. He shook her of and managed to make it to the surf. The Siren stood not far from him with her arms open and her eyes pure black in her face. He knew he was terrified but the Song push back the terror and made him want to go to her. Margie screamed at him and grabbed a hold of his arm once again. This time he spun and hit her in the face. She grunted and fell back into shallow surf. He tried to go to the Siren but Margie grabbed a hold of his leg, pleading with him but he could not make out the words she was saying. The power of the Song was shutting out everything else. He dragged her along for a few steps until she was beginning to hinder him too much. He grabbed her up by her dress collar and struck her in the face as hard as he could. It took three tries before she slumped in his grip, hands loosening from around his leg. He left her slide back into the sea, her head falling below the water. Something tickled at the back of his mind; a warning of some sort. He frowned down at her, trying to remember what it was but then the Siren called to him and nothing else mattered.