Knock, knock, little girl.
We’re coming for you.
Open your soul, open your door.
The time is here.
Do you hear our whispers?
Can you tell them from the surf? Can you tell them from the wind?
Our Servant is getting ready. You’ll know who he is when he’s there. A big surprise for you, it will be.
He’s pulling his boots on —it’s a long way through the forest to your uncle’s hut and the path is muddy and he doesn’t want to dirty his pants. He’s stuffing his knife in his belt. The big hunter’s knife that he’s used on that other girl. The one who screamed too much even when she’d been alive. Not just when she was dying. The one who danced on the deck and yelled insults at the water when the waves were too big for you two to bathe. The one who didn’t know better. Just like you.
Her blood has fed the old trees. Her flesh has fed the fishies from the deep. Her bones are with us.
That knife, yes. He will need it again.
Tap, tap, flap, flap, squish, squish.
We know you can hear us.
You wonder if you’re getting crazy. But it is truly us. We are here.
How could you think these were the tails of the little fish, all those poor little fish that we’ve herded into your uncle’s nets to reward him? How could they be on your deck, flapping their little dead tails against the old planks? It is us. They’ve been cut, they been sent to the canning plant. They’ll be food for the likes of you.
It is us.
What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?
Nothing? Nothing anymore? Shivering, cowering now? Blaming the cold wind from the sea for your nightmares?
It’s too late.
He’s halfway here our Servant, he is. He’s jumping now over the fallen oak tree that’s blocking the path, his hand on the knife’s handle. He feels he’ll have to use it again, although we haven’t told him yet. Soon. He’s coming. He’s coming.
You shouldn’t have come here, you and your noisy friend. No one from outside comes here. It’s too difficult to reach a place, this tiny fishermen’s hamlet, with no roads, shielded by the forest. Only the boats that buy the fish. And the boatmen are fearful creatures. They know that the sea hides things. Terrible things. They prefer not to know.
You shouldn’t have gone out of your way to visit your poor, old, forgotten uncle that nobody in your family cares to see anymore. He’s doing well. He has plenty of fish.
You shouldn’t have gone fishing with him there, past the northernmost headland, past the rock of the sunken ship. Anywhere but there. You should have listened when he told you to stay home but you didn’t. It had been a sunny day and you’ve glimpsed shadows, down, in the uncanny calm waters. What is there, you kept asking, is it another wreck? Is it a submarine cave? Is that sargassum, so wide, so dark?
You’ve sensed there is something in the deep. Something that should not be disturbed. You’ve heard our whispers then for the first time, haven’t you? We’ve got you worried.
If only you truly knew what lies in the deep.
And when the load of fishies from the net dropped at your feet, you should have looked elsewhere if you were so appalled by their agony. You shouldn’t have noticed their strange little heads, their puny tentacles, their phosphorescent eyes. And, if you did, you should have listened to your old uncle. He’s lived here his whole life. He knows what we give, what we take. He knows not to question us. Not to anger us.
But you… you didn’t.
So what if the fish are a little weird, a little unusual? They are ours. We give them to this village in return for their love, their adoration. Their discretion. In return for being our devoted Servants.
Now you want biologists to come here and study the fishies and ask questions and explore… You’ve blabbered about this to everyone in the village. You’ve made a great fuss of your scientific prowess. You want to bring divers to search for that cave you think you’ve glimpsed.
This cannot be allowed.
Have the villagers’ eyes told you that you’ve said too much?
That you’ve rummaged around too much?
Yes, they knew about the large sculpted stones on the cliff, too, the ones with the strange carvings on them, the ones that look so ancient. No need to point them out to them. They use them all the time. No need to mention your find to the archaeology department. They wouldn’t understand a thing anyway.
Tap, tap, flap, flap, squish, squish.
No use covering your ears now. No use blasting the horrible music that you like so much. (The demons from that music are but meek… carp compared to us.) That music that puts little ripples in the air, into the water, filling us with disgust. The one that disturbs our dreams. The one that infuriates us even more.
You can feel something’s coming.
No use checking your phone again. It has never worked here and it never will.
No use turning all the lights on. Locking the doors. Running from one window to another, peering into the darkening forest, looking out at the dark slate sea, at the cliff shrouded in shadows. Yes, your friend is running late.
You were supposed to leave this place tonight —while your uncle’s away— and she only went back to retrieve the strange stone figurine you’ve discovered together. Up on the cliff above your uncle’s house. But that was hours ago. She should have been back by now and you’re worried for her.
Don’t worry… She’s not coming anymore.
Squish, squish. Squelch, squelch.
No use locking the doors. You will unlock them for him anyway when you see him. You’ll think he’s come to save you. You’ll be hopeful.
Can you hear him now?
You’re staring out the side window and, when you see him, even now, all that you see is a handsome boy. The boy you fell for the moment you met him in the village. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, his face open and trustworthy. You don’t see the knife.
You thought it was a stranger. You are relieved. How silly of you to have felt menaced.
And now you’re rushing to the front door, to open it for him, glad that he’s here to save you. Eager to share your fears with him.
Why did you halt so suddenly? Why are you hesitating? Go on, he’s waiting right behind the door, our Servant. Or did you catch a coldness in his eyes? Did you glimpse a sparkle on his knife’s blade? Has he missed a spot on his clothes?
He’s rattling the door knob. He’s losing his patience. He knows what we want him to do.
Where are you rushing now? Thinking of escaping out the back door, are you? Thinking you can swim to the far side of the bay? Where you glimpsed the lights every night. Where the canning factories are.
That’s right, come to us…
Careful now, the wooden stairs are slippery, the clouds are heavy over the Moon. Stop looking over your shoulder. We don’t want you to break your neck before you reach the water.
Too bad the trees won’t have their blood tonight. But the fishies will feast. And so will we.
Whoosh, whoosh. Squelch, squelch.
Just jump in the waves. We smoothed them to your liking.
We are waiting for you.
Cora Pop lives in Montreal, Canada, with her husband and two young daughters. In art, she loves all things fantastic, the troubling mix of science fiction, horror, and the French le fantastique. She’s been weaving stories ever since she can remember. Her story It Came from Planet Mars has appeared on-line in White Cat Magazine and another story has been selected for the upcoming steampunk anthology Airships & Automatons from White Cat Publications. She shares fiction, poetry and other thoughts at Chick With a Quill.
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Story illustration by Steve Santiago.
Great story. Pacing was excellent, as was the voice. Thank you.
Oh! What a marvelous story! Even though it has icky fish people! Squish squish!
Yes, so well done! Bravo Cora. 🙂
Cora, what a feast for all the senses…and soooo well done and creepy! I loved it!
Talon aka Kim 🙂