Rough Waters

A Fantasy Short Story by Zack Mercurio

Rough Waters

by Zachary Mercurio

Email: zackjmerc@gmail.com  –  Twitter

 

 

Two days had gone by since the boys went missing. On the first day, the seaside village was really up in arms about the whole ordeal. Ultimately, Sheriff Gwen called it an “unexplained disappearance.” The sheriff was young and beautiful. Her heavy boots clacked against the cobblestone streets wherever she went, hailing her arrival. Her sleek, silver hair was pulled into a tight ponytail whenever she patrolled. But disregarding her beauty, August Lakemoor thought she might be the most difficult person in the whole village.

Starting immediately, a handful of the sheriff’s sentries had combed the village. They wore the leather armor of the council and were armed with short, gray swords. Each carried a scroll of parchment and a small stick of charcoal for any helpful notations. One of the sentries came to knock on August’s door the day after the disappearance. He carefully set down his mug, the amber liquid inside sloshing around in response. The armchair creaked and groaned as he lifted himself out of the tattered seat to answer the visitor’s knock.

“Hello, sir. What can I do for you?”

“Good evening. Might I ask a few questions regarding the missing boys?”

“Of course,” August beckoned for the sentry to enter his home. In reality, he was surprised that the sheriff hadn’t sent for him to be questioned sooner. The sentry lifted his helm, exposing a sweat-covered brow. He combed his hair with his fingers. “Can I offer you a drink?”

“I’d appreciate that.”

August retrieved a mug of beer for the guest. “Cheers.”

The sentry nodded his approval and brought the ceramic to his lips. August observed him as he slowly drained the liquid down his throat.

“We’ve been searching all damn day.”

“I can imagine. Terrible, the whole thing.”

The sentry reached for his parchment. “So, Sir August Lakemoor. Can you tell me where you were on the morning of their disappearance?”

“Well, I had woken up early for a morning haul.”

“You’re a fisherman?”

“That’s right. I only have the small boat, but I make a decent living. Fish are easiest to catch just before sunrise.” August smiled as the sentry scribbled something down on the unrolled parchment.

“And what time did you dock again?”

“An hour or so until midday.” The sentry stopped and glanced up at August.

“Did you see them?”

“No, unfortunately.” The sentry sat back in his seat. “If I may ask,” August spoke up, “what are people thinking?”

“Some think abduction. Others think their bodies are at the bottom of the bay.”

“How terrible…” A silence set in between the men as a salty breeze fluttered the white silk curtains.

“There is one other theory,” the sentry pierced through the pensive atmosphere. August met his eyes. “It sounds crazy, but there are a few that think they swam out to the coves.”

The coves were out very far from the shore; you could barely see them on the horizon. “Their mother wasn’t home. The little bastards just slipped out I guess. Seems like an awfully far way to swim for two young boys, though…”

August was processing the idea when the sentry stood up, his armor rustling. He pursed his lips and walked through the parlor toward the front door. “I’d better keep making my rounds. Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Wait,” August called out, “will anyone investigate?”

The sentry turned. “Are you suggesting that someone travel out there?” He shook his head. “Those waters are as choppy as they come. And with the sharp rocks, it wouldn’t be a safe journey. If the boys really did swim out there, I figure they’re as good as dead.” The sentry walked out the door. “Have a good evening, Sir Lakemoor.”

August’s sense of justice and compassion drove him to wake up the next morning and pay the sheriff a visit.

“Absolutely not.” Her words were icicles. “It’s insane. I won’t have anyone risking their lives. And we don’t even know if they’re out there. It’s just rumors.”

“Come now, Gwen. I’m a fisherman. I know the water like I know how to breathe. At least it’s a lead.”

She leaned forward; the scent of her perfume graced August’s nostrils.

“You don’t think I want to follow any scrap of a clue I can get? But you’re a local fisherman, Gus. You don’t know those waters.

“I don’t suppose any sentries are willing?”

The sheriff scoffed. “No way, not this bunch of half-wits. They’re strong and loyal, but don’t have an ounce of courage.”

“Then let me go. I’ve got a boat, and no family.”

“That’s not true.” The sheriff’s icy blue eyes shot up to meet August’s gaze.

“Not anymore, at least.” The pain between their comments was almost tangible.

“I know why you want to go, Gus. You don’t have to. We will figure it out so everyone can be safe.” She reached forward and gently grabbed his hand. “I still care about you.”

August pulled his hand away. “Are you sure you aren’t confusing me for my brother?” He scoffed.

She blinked, taken aback by his abrasiveness. “Speaking of, what about Lance?”

August huffed. “Don’t kid yourself. My brother wouldn’t waste a second missing me.”

“That’s not true…you don’t give him enough credit.”

“Oh really, Gwen? You want to talk about giving Lance credit? How much more can I give him? Was my wife not enough?”

Gwen lowered her eyes in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Gus…”

Suddenly, a sentry clambered into the doorway. “Sheriff, excuse my interruption, but there’s a disturbance in the alleys.” She snapped out of their conversation and pulled her hair into a ponytail.

“I mean it Gus. As your sheriff, I’m ordering you not to go. But as your wife…” she paused for a moment. It had been some time since she had referred to herself as such. “Just know that you don’t have to prove anything.”

“You’re not my wife anymore.” At this, the sheriff followed the sentry out of the lodge without another word.

August welcomed the sunlight as he sauntered to the town square. As if fate was playing a cruel game, the fisherman saw Lance, examining his silver pocket watch. Once he looked up, he hurried over. “By the gods, if it isn’t my brother!” He shoved the sleek watch into his breast pocket and clapped his back.
“How are you?”

“The King’s been extra kind of late. You won’t find me complaining!”
“Perks of an ambassador.”
“Aye, but how are the fish biting?”
August shrugged. “Fine I suppose.”
Lance looked quizzical. “Come now. If you were bringing them in by the boatful, you’d be the richest man this side of the mountains!”
“I’m doing fine.”
“Bah, you’re as stubborn as an ox. Meranda and I will have to make a donation.”
“I don’t want your money. Honestly, I’m fine.” August’s temper was a balloon, slipping slowly from his hand, begging to break free and soar to the sky.
He smacked his back again with a strong hand. Suddenly, Lance’s face pulled into a thoughtful frown. “What are you doing coming from the council lodge?”
“Just a query with the sheriff. Nothing of importance.”
“A personal query?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Alright then, out with it.”
“I’m not sure, but…there might be a chance the boys are still alive.”
Lance’s face went white. He looked around, assuring privacy. “That can’t be true. It’s been days. I’ve even looked into the matter myself…due to the circumstances.”
“I know. But a rumor’s going around that they swam to the coves.”
“Gods above…the coves? That’s madness!” The men paused. “You’re thinking of rowing out there, aren’t you?”
August met his eyes. His brother was richer, more attractive, and more personable. In many ways, Lance Lakemoor was the desirable brother. Surely this led to the affair that destroyed Gus’s marriage. August still harbored a searing hatred for his brother because of it; he had simply learned to keep the feeling buried deep inside.
“Gwen isn’t fond of the idea.”

“Well what did you expect? That’s quite the venture.”

“I don’t need to hear this from you, too.” August turned to leave.

“Wait just a minute!” He grabbed August’s shoulder. “We’ll go together. You know how important this is to me. If there’s a chance the boys are alive, they need to be found.”

“I meant that Gwen isn’t on board as the sheriff.”

“The hell with sheriffs and sentries. We should take matters into our own hands!”

Much to August’s surprise, he found himself agreeing with his younger brother. “You think Meranda will be okay with it?”

“I doubt it, but no matter. She’s visiting her cousin right now, readying for the baby.

“Are you certain?”

Lance’s face was as still as stone. “It’s more my responsibility than yours, I should think.”

The contempt he had for his brother swelled inside him. “Just meet me at the docks before dawn.”

“I’ll be there, brother.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The early morning air caused August’s hair to stand on end. He had estimated a departure time that was far too early for any villager. He untied the docking ropes.

Soon enough, his brother joined him. His boat had just enough room, sparing no excessive space. August took the oars in the back while Lance sat in front, guiding their direction. Within minutes, they pushed away from the docks, the oars flickering them with the cold water of the harbor.

As August rowed them out of the shallow waters, he noticed the accumulation of gray, overcast clouds. The first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon.

“So what if the boys aren’t there?”

“I suppose we just go home.”

“I can guess why you feel compelled to search for them, brother. You really needn’t feel accountable.”

“Gwen tried to tell me that too.”

Lance stared off into the distance. He knew he wouldn’t be able to change August’s perception. He pulled up his coat collar to shield himself from the cold morning air.

The next time August turned around, the village had grown quite small. Up ahead was the first inlet of the rocky coves, and the sea water had become agitated. August felt the first drops of rain on his arms. By the time the men reached shore, the rain picked up, soaking their clothing and slowly accumulating in the boat. August rowed alongside the shallows. Lance eagerly hopped out, sinking to his ankles.

“Where should we start?” August’s brother raised his voice to be heard over the storm.

“You search this inlet, and I’ll row around to the next!”

Lance nodded. He used the boulders as leverage to climb ashore. “Hello!” he called out, “Boys!” August used the oar to push off into the open sea.

The next inlet wasn’t far, but the choppy waves made it feel like miles. August pushed

with all his strength to round the corner. After battling with the stormy water, the next shoreline was just ahead, waiting for him to investigate.

He jumped out of the rowboat, tying it crudely to a rock. He yelled for the boys, but his words were swallowed by a crack of thunder, followed by a flash that lit up the sky with a menacing glow. He carefully traversed the rocky cove, looking for any kind of clue as to their whereabouts. The rain made it hard to see, but it couldn’t be helped. With Lance searching the first inlet of the coves and he covering the second, they had their best odds of finding the boys. That is, if they truly were still alive.

After searching for several minutes, the first seeds of doubt crept into his mind. The fisherman quickly willed the thoughts away as he found something exciting…and disturbing. Caught against an outcrop of stone was a scrap of cloth with a single silver button. He quickly took the soaked fabric into his hands. Surely it belonged to one of the boys! Before August could search further, a deep rumble made his heart skip a beat. It was a deep, terrible sound that made the rough waters shake even more violently.

Just outside the rocky barrier, an enormous, snake-like body arched up from the water. Its ridge was covered in horrible, pointed spikes that almost seemed metallic. August was abruptly pulled from his terrified trance – whatever the silvery thing was, it was headed for the first inlet. He tucked the piece of clothing away and jumped into his boat. The boat was carried up by a large, cascading wall of water. It fell down again, spraying the already-doused fisherman with a blast of icy ocean. He shoved both oars into the water, commanding the small wooden vessel to obey his directions.

As he finally rounded the corner again, he saw the monster as the sky lit up from another flash of lighting. It was taller than a building, with a head that was flanked by sharp, wide fins on both sides. It opened its mouth in a sickening roar, hidden by another crack of thunder. August caught a glimpse of its sharp, murderous fangs. The enormous, gray creature was facing the shore; looking up at the thing in bewilderment was Lance.

The monster lurched forward, snapping its jaws. Lance rolled away, causing the monster to bite the rocky sand of the shoreline. August rowed desperately forward.

Lance dodged again, narrowly escaping another bite. Suddenly, August’s boat crashed into the shore. Lance met his brother’s eyes; he sprinted for the boat. The monster lurched a final time, and this time, his bite met Lance’s waist. The creature flung him up into the sky. August could do nothing to stop it; the creature snapped at his prey, devouring Lance in a sinister crunch.

“Lance!”

The monster swiftly turned to find the source of the sound. August closed his eyes, awaiting the same fate as his brother.

Thunder split the sky once more, followed by another water-shaking rumble. August opened his eyes to see the monster diving under the surface. Once the tail slipped under, the downpour reduced to a sprinkle, and rays of sunlight broke through the clouds. Lance was gone.

August clung to the scrap of clothing as evidence, as if his brother’s death wouldn’t be enough to convince the people of the silvery horror that swam under the waters of the coves. As the village appeared in the distance, August found himself wondering what had drawn the creature away. He tried to remember all of the details to describe the monster to Gwen. Surely it would be enough to explain the boys’ disappearance.

Up ahead, the sheriff was standing on the docks with her hands on her hips, eager to greet him. He expected her to be waiting for him. She stood right above him as he climbed out of the boat.

“August Lakemoor, how dare you.” Her voice boomed like a cannon, but the next voice made his blood run cold; it was Meranda.

“Where is Lance?” Her eyes scanned the boat. In a shock of realization, her hand flew to her mouth.

“Meranda, I -”

“You monster! You killed him!”

August’s face went white. “What are you talking about?”

Meranda turned to the sheriff with frantic tears in her eyes. “Lance went with him!”

“August…tell me she’s lying.”

“Lance…well, he didn’t make it…but I -”

“Don’t lie, you scum! You’ve always been jealous of him!” Meranda was furious, her crying eyes red with anger.

The sheriff spoke up. “August, we both know this is a serious accusation. I have to take you to the lodge, we have to detain you.” Gwen was solely acting as sheriff; all personal feelings were set aside.

“It was a monster! A massive thing, from deep in the ocean!”

“Just come with us.” Some sentries moved forward, silently encouraging him to not resist. A chilled wind swept over the land as August was led by the swaying silver hair of the sheriff to the council lodge.

The window facing the harbor was open. August sat across from the sheriff’s sturdy desk. She leaned forward, folding her hands on top of the dark wood. “August Lakemoor. Accused of the murder of Lance Lakemoor.”

“I told you, it was some kind of sea monster!”

The sheriff looked at him with a pained expression. “Okay. Tell me more.”

“The thing was bigger than any structure I’ve ever seen…it rose like a snake from the water. You’ve got to trust me!”

“Honestly, Meranda’s story carries more weight. You and I both know that jealousy would be a motive for you.” Her business-like facade was faltering. She searched his eyes, but found no remorse. “Besides, no one else was around to validate the appearance of this strange creature.”

“By the gods, Gwen. We were looking for the boys!”

The sheriff’s expression darkened. “But that’s just it, Gus. Their bodies were found while you two were out there.”

August sat back in his chair in disbelief. “What…what happened?”

“It was a terrible, terrible accident.” Gwen took a deep breath, collecting herself before the inevitable tears came.

“What do you mean?”

“They must have swam too close to the rapids by the cliffside and got pulled in the undertow…” Her voice faltered. “I can’t believe I didn’t find their bodies sooner.” August felt the color drain from his face. “Gus, what’s the matter?”

“I…I was so sure…”

The sheriff’s eyes filled with tears. She reached out again for his hand; this time, he held it. “You tried, Gus. That’s what matters to me.” They weren’t the words of the sheriff; these words came from his wife.

A sentry stepped into the room with a cord of thick twine. August reeled around to look at the sheriff. “What the hell is going on?! Gwen, don’t do this!”

She wiped the tears that were forming away. The sheriff had returned. “You’ve been accused of murder, Gus. I have to.” She nodded at the sentry, who pulled August’s arms behind his back and tied them together with the twine; he struggled.

“Where are you taking me?!”

“To the dungeon until a trial has been set.”

“Gwen, I swear…I didn’t do it!”

“We’ll see, Gus. We’ll see.”

The dungeon was a cold, damp place nested in an underground mine. Prisoners in the village sat in the dungeon to rot. The sentry led August to a cell, locking him in behind a set of cold, steel bars. He sat on the floor, leaning against a rough wall. By now, Meranda was no doubt divulging some fake, nonsense information to the sheriff.

His hatred for Lance wasn’t a secret. His affair with Gwen had decimated their chances of ever being on good terms. Admittedly, August knew the circumstances didn’t look good for him.

That evening, a sentry came to give him some water. He handed him the cold glass through the bars, and August drank it readily. Eventually, his body came to rest on the hard ground, where his consciousness drifted.

August woke abruptly the next morning, bolting upright. His heart was racing as small beads of sweat formed on his brow. He had had another vision of the silver monster, a nightmare of the thing coming for Gwen next. The cell had warmed considerably; he could tell that the sun had risen. From around the corner of the dungeon, he could see sunlight. In a few moments, the sheriff stood before his cell.

“You look terrible.” She hadn’t slept well. He maintained his silence. “The council met last night for your trial. I even stepped in as your advocate. I fought for you…I truly did. Even though your story is absolutely insane, I tried. You’ve been declared guilty. They originally called for life in the dungeon.”

“Gwen, I’m telling you the truth. I didn’t murder him!”

The sheriff shook her head, a stray tear falling to the ground. Her face was flushed as she continued. “But then, one of my sentries revealed that they found this on you.” She held up the scrap of clothing with the silver button – it matched her messy hair. “How is it, exactly, that you had a piece of the boy’s shirt?” Her voice was slowly giving way to anger.

“I found it out at the coves…I figured it was left behind from the monster devouring them!”

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Here we go again.” She grabbed the steel bars, looking at August with new-found rage. “Enough of your ridiculous story. You didn’t just kill Lance…you killed the boys too, didn’t you?”

August stared at her incredulously. “Gwen, I wouldn’t…”

My boys!” She screamed at him. “You just couldn’t stand the sight of them, could you?”

August swelled with defensiveness. “Those boys were the product of your lust! You made the decision…don’t you dare place that guilt on me! I didn’t murder anyone, let alone my brother’s boys!”

Gwen chuckled through her angry tears. “And to think, all this time I’ve been trying to rectify my mistakes.” She shook her head solemnly. “I guess none of it matters now. After the council saw the clothing scrap, they called for your execution. You’ll be hanged at midday tomorrow, Gus.”

August felt frozen. He stared at the sheriff in a stupor and sunk to the cold ground slowly. He knew what he saw out at the coves, but no one would believe him. There was no way out. Gwen looked at him with disgust, and disconnected him from the man she once loved.

At noon the next day, the gallows were prepared. In the middle of the village, they loomed over the people below like a reaper preparing to gather a harvest. A small crowd was present, but the fisherman paid them no mind. All he could feel was a strange numbness all over his body.

He felt the rough, twiny material of the rope around his neck, much like the rope that tied his boat to the docks. Faintly, he could hear some muddled scrap of conversation. “I said, do you have any last words?” August looked out toward the ocean, the beautiful sunshine glimmering off the harbor. He turned to look at the sheriff, her hair matching the shimmer of the reflection.

“I love you, Gwen.”

In anger, she stepped in front of the executioner and pulled the lever herself. Yet just before the platform opened, releasing his feet from their position, he saw something appear above the waters on the horizon. The silver creature slid gracefully back under the surface, disappearing from sight as the fisherman’s soul drifted off on the slow and steady waves of the sea.

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