Part of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge stuff! This is the photo:
It’s a bit longer than it should be, but I just went along with where the story took me.
The Drowned Wait
In the evening, the boats start disappearing. During the day the town’s waterways are filled with boats and the streets are filled with buyers and merchants. Now, as Dall walked with his cane and stood on the bluebrick road near the church looking over the pier, the boats were sloppily parked, their owners calling it a day. The boats swayed back and forth. Some tied to a post with rope or chain and some were anchored. The sky was a fire red, the Sun slowly going down into the sea. Dall smelled the salt in the air, his heart pounding. Leaning over the railings, he looked at his boat near the end of the line of boats. A cheap, small one that cost a few silver coins. This will do, he thought. He looked back at the church, about ten minutes in boating distance.
The church bell started singing, as it always did in the evening. He had lost too many nights doing nothing but listening to the church bell. Just lying there… Thinking about how his wife had left him and taken their two children with her. He had lost his left foot in an accident handling crates at the old docks. A few days back, he had been laid off of his job, as well. He could find one easily in the bustling town, but he was tired of it all. Of living. It was why he perked up one night, suddenly remembering something he had heard a few months ago.
“Near the waterway by th’ church, aye…” Bristle had been saying to a group of drinking men gathered around a table, a middle aged man who worked with him on the docks, “They say you hafta listen to what’s gonna happen’ to ya… It never says pretty stuff, they say… Some don’ even come out, y’see? Some have heard they’ll receive endless gold and all that worthy shit, y’see? Never know if it comes true or not, but they say it does… They say it does…” He took a long gulp from his beer. The men around him muttered.
“Bunch of bullshit is what I think…” scoffed Jeer, a skinny man who Dall had had to help countless times lifting crates due to his weak build, “The way you say it you sound like you actually believe that bullshit, old man. You know how many stuff gets spread around that is complete and utter horseshit?”
Bristle finished his gulp and put his cup down on the table. “Tell that to the missin’ people, mm? Those who never come out? You think yer tough, go into the alleyway yerself, see if we can get rid of ya…” The men listening to the story laughed and so did Dall. Jeer scowled and turned red.
“I will, pops. Prove what a senile sack of shit you are, I will.” Jeer said in his scratchy voice as he took a swig of beer. He found that he had already finished it. “Gimme some more, sweetie!” He yelled over at the serving girl. Dall took some more for himself, as well.
Nothing came of Bristle’s japes. Jeer had been pissdrunk by the time they had left the tavern that night and Dall knew that even if Jeer had been sober he wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. Dall reached his boat near the end of the pier, placed his cane aside and undid the knot in the rope. He got into the boat awkwardly and pushed the boat away.
Dall was inclined to believe that the story was not true, but the legend was apparently a lot more well-known than he had thought. A lot of people went missing supposedly from going into that alleyway, but those claims were groundless. There were a lot of people who had also said that their fortune had come true, but those claims proved groundless, too. Another group of people claimed that it was “complete and utter horseshit” altogether. It was a matter of looking for yourself and finding out, probably finding a dead end in the waterway. He was going in, anyways. What did Dall have to lose? He had lost a lot already. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling at the absurdity.
He was now reaching the alleyway. There was still a bit of light from the setting sun, but the waterway was still very dark. In front of the alleyway was a bridge that arced over, creating the sense that he was entering a tunnel. To his left, Dall saw the church up close. It had its candles lit from the inside giving it a ghostly feeling. He rowed his boat into the pseudo-tunnel.
When he got under the bridge, he realized that the bridge had hidden the dimly lit candles that were near the end of the alley. The candles reflected solemnly against the black water. The smell of salt was much more prominent here, but something else. Dall couldn’t tell, but he wrinkled his nose slightly.
He had been rowing down the alleyway for some time and looked back. He saw the silhouette of the bridge. It was almost night. The smell was stronger now, Dall noticed, like the smell of… not fish, exactly. Something stronger. Where had he smelt that before? The hairs of his arms began to stand up. He kept rowing nonetheless. He realized that the candles ended abruptly.
The alleyway appeared to keep going but it was dark. Dall wasn’t planning on going in without any sort of light to guide him so he decided he’d turn back. Complete utter horseshit sounded about right at that moment. He chuckled.
As he began to row backwards, he heard a low thump on the back of his boat. Now the smell was so strong Dall grimaced. He covered his nose and then quickly realized why the smell had been so familiar. When he had worked as a butcher, a cow had been left to rot in the back room along with other products due to preservation issues. Rotting flesh. Dall leaned over the back of his boat and saw something that would’ve made him scream had his breath not being taken away. He stumbled backwards only able to utter a choked gasp.
“Why do you hide?” said a voice that sounded as if it were gurgling water. It speaks? Dall thought, still unable to scream. He heard light splashes all around his boat, the sound when something underwater breaks into the surface. Steeling himself, he stood up and looked around the boat.
Floating from the water were dismembered heads. Some men, some women, some looked like children, but it didn’t matter. They were dead. Yet they were looking at him. He felt it. Some had their eyes closed, others had them open and others were eyeless altogether. Dall’s shock was soon turning into panic. He looked over to the original speaker, where the first head had bumped into the boat. The eyes regarded him, his white skin glowing from the flickers of the dim candles. He had long black hair that stuck to his face and deep scars that were as black as his hair. The smell of rotting fleshed filled Dall’s nose.
“Who—” Dall could still not speak. He suppressed the urge to vomit and stood his ground. Finally, he said, “Who are you?”
“The better question is…” Dall noticed with horror that some heads to his back were talking in unison to the one in front of him. Some voice from a woman, another from a child. “Who are you?”
“Why did you come?” The head floated up and down from the water, his voice gurgling. Dall felt dizzy.
“Did you expect a fortune?” A head to Dall’s right spoke. He saw it was a woman without an eye and an eternal grin.
“Did you perhaps want gold?
“You can have me, if you’d like.”
There was a horrible gurgling and gasping sound all around Dall, and he quickly realized they were laughing.
“I was told… I’d be told my… Future.” Dall stuttered.
“And why would you want that?” the original head sneered. “What if you lose your woman in a terrible accident or lose your foot?” Dall’s body tightened.
“The truth is… our fortunes always come true.” To his left Dall saw a child’s head, but its voice was a drowned man’s. That made him sicker than the rotting smell. His words were little comfort, though. Above all else, he wanted to get out of this place.
“So… Will you tell me?” Dall asked in a shaky voice.
Silence. For a while the only thing Dall heard was the sound of the water as the heads bobbed up and down around him. Finally, they spoke.
“Yes.” And they all said in unison:
The church teaches us death is the end
In this cursed place
They are all wrong, my good friend
Tell us, the Floating Face
Different; to the ones who’ve drowned
You came to seek vision
We came to seek the cold, soft ground
To revive us is your mission
Suddenly, the boat rocked unsteadily. Dall’s boat began swerving to the left and then to the right. Dall saw that the heads were attempting to mount the boat. Some were biting their way up and others were biting through the wood. The face that had first spoken kept floating. It was watching, but it wasn’t moving. Suddenly, the boat gave an uneasy lurch and Dall fell on his rear. Suddenly snapping back into reality, he took one of his oars and started smacking any head that he could see. He began to hear crunching and realized one of the heads had made an awful hole on the right side of his boat, gushing water in. Dall began to row desperately, to leave, but his oar was jerked so hard away from him his shoulder almost popped out of place. He still had his cane. He fought and fought, until a head bit into his cane, trying to grab him under water.
“It’s time to teach some of those outsiders a lesson…” Dall heard a gurgling voice say, but he couldn’t say where it came from. Before he knew it, he was screaming, but nobody heard him. He was sure. As he struggled to keep his cane, a head bit into his back and one jumped from the water to bite his arm. The boat was already filled with water and he fell face-first into the bottom of the boat. The heads started to jump on top of his back and before he knew it the boat had swerved over and was sinking. The heads fed. He screamed underwater, but he was sure nobody heard him there, either.
The moon glistened over the water under the bridge. A lonely wet figure walked across the bridge, dripping water around him as it walked. It looked up at the church. The moon shined on its face, revealing milk white skin with scars and long black hair. Its body had pieces of flesh bitten off of it. Its face made a grotesque mismatch of color that started at a flesh wound around his neck and down to his body. It regarded the church solemnly. The candles flickered feebly inside of the church. As it dragged itself across the bluebrick road, it pushed the doors of the church open, where he went inside and waited. Waited for all of those empty promises.