Easterbay

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted any fiction.  I’ve been over on Wattpad, though, discovering what a great community that is.  Writer extraordinaire Jessica Butler (https://www.wattpad.com/user/JessicaBFry) is doing a strictly-for-fun Fantasy writing competition that anyone can join.  Her prompt spoke to me, so I’ve joined the second round.  Can’t spend time in Maine without writing about Maine, right?  I borrowed names and superstitions like CRAZY, but the rest is all fictional.  It was nice to just write something easy for a minute, I’ve been plugging away on hard novel edits for so long.  I thought you might enjoy it, too, so here it is:

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Dear Jimmy,

It is full, old February here in Easterbay. The kind that is icy and brown and horrible. Wherever you are over there in France, it cannot possibly be as miserably damp and cold as it has been here. A nor’easter blew us five feet of snow, and I shoveled for days. You are not here any longer to do it for us, of course, so I am the one with the strong back to take your place. Not that it matters much if the roads are clear. We don’t have nearly enough ration stamps to take the car out anywhere. Mr. Spofford kindly cobbled together a set of wooden tires for your bicycle, and that’s how I get around these days. Everyone else either stays in or goes by boat. The Gut has frozen over, but the bay is still clear.

Why, you ask, am I out on the roads in the depths of winter? You may be pleased to learn that I joined the Coast Guard. I am officially a Spar. Semper Paratus! It is just Rudy Gamage and I in the office, and I am supposed to limit my activities to manning the telegraph machine. Or perhaps we should say womanning the telegraph machine. He gets to go out on the boat, while I am supposed to stay safely at home, say the official regulations.

When I remember how many times you and I ignored mackerel skies and even rumbles of thunder to take the boat out and pull lobster pots, I find it ludicrous that old Rudy Gamage is considered the safer bet. Especially because his love of beer has not waned with the ages. I am often left to my own devices in that office, and have taken the boat out alone a few times. Shh, don’t tell anyone. You will be pleased to know that I have never seen a German U-boat. So far, I have only rescued two sets of summer tourists trapped by the tide, and nothing since August.

I will save all the stories for you, of course. But I feel almost as if you are there with me in spirit when I am out on the ocean. And I am finally doing more for this war effort than saving cans and knitting socks. That feels good too. Stay safe, Jimmy. You have to come back soon, you know. You’re the only brother I have.

With much love,

Addy

Dear Addy,

Since you have access to your own boat now, I will give you the warning that grandpa gave me when the Lookfar became mine. Whatever the weather, whatever the circumstances, you must never take the boat out on the night of a blue moon. The bay does funny things, and it isn’t safe. Promise me you won’t, no matter what the coastguard says.

Jimmy

***

In the silence of the coastguard office, the telephone rang shrill and sharp. Addy startled awake.

It rang again.

Addy rubbed her eyes and picked up the receiver.

“Easterbay Coastguard,” she said, hoping that her voice did not sound too terribly thick.

“Addy, it’s Madge,” said the voice on the other end; Madge from the lighthouse up the road.

“What’s wrong?” said Addy. “I thought it was quiet tonight, has it…?”

“No, no,” said Madge. Her voice was tinny through the receiver. “Ocean still as glass up here, actually. But there was a boat, and a funny green flash right about sunset. I saw it over there by Witch Island.  It was dark, but not too dark yet.  Might just be the Poland boys out doing something they shouldn’t, but you know how superstitious they are. None of the local boys would take the boat out on the blue moon. It might be nothing, but it might also be… I don’t want to be remiss. There’s a war on.”

“Yeah,” said Addy. “Yeah, I’ll let Rudy know. He’ll want to check it out. Thanks, Madge.”

“Oh, anytime,” she said. “I don’t relish going out there in this cold, but like I said… someone should see to it.”

“We’ll head out right away.”

Addy hung the receiver back on the wall and grabbed her coat. She switched on the yellow porch light outside the one-room storefront that served as the coastguard office, locked the door, and put the key in her pocket. Then, she swung her leg over her bicycle and took off down the road to the Lusty Mermaid.

The lights of the bar bloomed yellow through the wide windows. The painted mermaid holding the mirror and comb on the wide sign looked dull in the darkness. Shouts and laughter spilled onto the street. Addy leaned her bicycle against the painted clapboard siding and went inside.

“Hey, hey now!” said one of the men at the bar. “If it isn’t Addy Hanna.” His words slurred together.

“Shut up, Billy,” said Pete from behind the bar. “Rudy ain’t here, Addy. Went home, oh, a couple hours ago. Said he was goin’ back to the office, but obviously… I mean,” he waved at her standing there in the doorway. “Sorry, kid.”

“No sweat, Pete,” said Addy. “It wasn’t anything big anyway. I mean, nothing I can’t handle.”

“Well, see you next time,” he said.

“See you next time,” said Addy.

She hopped back on her bike and drove back to the office, weaving to avoid the snow drifts on the side of the road. It was cold, and the moon shone bright in the sky, casting a pallid silver shadows on everything. When she got to the office again, she pulled a leaf of paper from her desk.

“Out scouting Witch Island,” she scrawled on it, and then notated the time. She closed the piece of paper in the front door so it would flutter to the floor if someone came in looking for her, and then she walked down to the dock.  The weathered gray boards rocked beneath her feet, and the only noise was the quiet slapping of water against the floating expanse of wood before her.

She scanned the bay for the Lookfar as she walked, even though she knew she would not see it  in its mooring in the middle of the bay. The Lookfar’s bright red hull was tucked on blocks of wood in the barn at home, waiting for Jimmy to come back from France. But the large coastguard ship stood floating in the white moon path that danced over the waters in the bay.

She wouldn’t take it, Addy reasoned. It wasn’t an emergency. All she needed to do was find out who was on Witch Island in the middle of the night. And if it was Germans, she would be able to zip away faster in the small, blue rowboat, her muscular arms pulling her fast through the waters she was so familiar with. She would be able to get faster help in the smaller vessel.

The rowboat rocked when she stepped into it, sloshing water toward the dock. She unrolled her scarf with her mittened hands and re-rolled it so it covered everything but her eyes. She buttoned the ends of it inside her wool coat, and then she thrust one of the oars against the dock to push away. When she hit the open water, a breeze picked up, an icy wind that whipped through the knit gloves and scarf, but didn’t quite catch the core of her through the wool coat. She shivered, and rowed on.

The coast receded behind her into a mound of trees on the horizon. She steered around the small islands in the center of the bay; too small for anything but a copse of trees and some sea lions. In the daytime their grumbles and barks filled the bay, but in the darkness it was silent. She rowed around the islands, and then she was in the open, choppy sea.

The wind blew harder, and somewhere to the north the sky turned to green swirls as the Aurora Borealis erupted above her.

Addy stopped rowing to look at it, oscillating green in the night, mimicking the waves beneath the boat as it rippled in the sky. Her smallness assaulted her, a tiny thing on the vast waters beneath the magnificent, magical heavens. She used a mittened hand to push the scarf back from her eyes, and the sky swirled magenta before the colors went blue, then green again.

Gingerly, still half-watching the sky, she picked up the oars and resumed rowing. The lump of dark foliage in the ocean that was Witch Island grew closer, into a heap of boulders dipping their fingers into the sea, a fringe of bare trees on top. Not far in the distance, the bright beam of the lighthouse swung past.

There was not a boat near the only beach on Witch Island. The bay was bare.

Addy kept rowing, pulling her small boat closer to the sandy inlet.

Still no sign of anyone; or anything.

She rowed until the bottom of the small boat grated on the sand, and then tucked the oars into the hull. When she hopped out into the water, she felt the cold of it even through her rubber boots. She leaned back and pulled until the boat slid farther onto the beach, the tiny low-tide waves lapping at the stern.

The beach was bright in the moonlight. It was easy to see that Addy’s boat was the first thing that had disturbed the sand, that her footsteps were the only thing marking the soft white swells of the beach.

She sighed, and shrugged to herself, and then floated the boat back into the water so she could hop aboard. It wasn’t a big island. The thrust of her arms pulling against the water made her biceps ache in the cold, but she could go all around the other side and still make it home again in less than an hour.

When the beam of the lighthouse swung across her again, Addy gave a wave to Madge and Bob. Madge would be able to see nothing but the dark crescent that signified a boat in the ocean from her position, but it made Addy feel less alone to pretend she had someone looking for her.  With the green swirls in the sky above her making everything into an eerie shadow, it was hard not to feel like someone in a horror movie.

On the far side of the island, without the brightness of the lighthouse, the aurora borealis leapt into fullness again. Addy scanned the granite boulders, but it was hard to see anything in the shifting light.

A huge clump of seaweed, ice gathering between the fronds, rolled next to the boat. Addy thrust it aside with her oar. It rolled, and when it tipped Addy could see that it wasn’t just seaweed.

 It was also a woman.

She sucked the breath into her throat and it lodged there. Her eyes went wide.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, and then louder; “Are you alright? Hello?”

The woman didn’t answer. Her eyes were closed, and her red hair was tangled with the brown seaweed. She was lying in the water with her torso bent, her legs disappearing into the murky waters, her arms splayed. In the green light of the sky, her skin looked blue and translucent.

Addy steered the boat closer. Whatever else was happening on that island now, she had to get the woman into the boat, and she had to get back to the coastguard office. Even if the woman was dead…

“if someone found my corpse in the water, I’d want to be pulled out,” Addy whispered again. She pulled off her gloves, steeled herself, and touched the woman’s shoulder.

It was slippery. She made to grab again, determined to gain greater purchase, but instead the woman, the thing in the water, moved. It grabbed Addy, and it’s face was no longer the dead face of a human, but a thing filled with teeth.

It smiled at her, and its red hair rose, writhing like the tentacles of an octopus.

Addy screamed. She picked up an oar and swung it at the thing like a bat. The wood connected with a sickening thwack, and then a splintering. The thing blinked and shook it’s head, and then it’s hairy tentacles grabbed Addy across the shoulders and pulled.

Addy dropped the broken oar and grabbed the side of the boat. She kept screaming, hoping that the water would magnify her sound enough that someone would help. The tentacles gripped into her skin, sucking at them, and her fingers slipped from the wooden sides of the boat, scrabbling.

 The water was cold as it submerged over her head, seeping into her coat and making her feel so heavy.  She could no longer think. All she could do was see: the bubbles rising from her mouth, the murky waters around her, the red that grasped her chest, the green lights fading in the sky.

Everything wavering.

Everything turning black.

***

Easterbay Dispatch, March 4, 1943:

Addy Hanna’s tragic disappearance the night of the blue moon has resulted in an inquiry regarding the operations of the Easterbay coast guard. Rudy Gammage was found to have been a negligent officer, and is stripped of his duties dishonorably. What that means for the current state of coast guard affairs, Easterbay is still waiting to hear. Officials in Portland are considering eliminating the Easterbay coastguard due to the small population of residents in the area, and folding patrols and operations into the larger Rock Pond division.

A coastguard rowboat washed up near the lighthouse rocks Saturday morning. Ms. Hanna’s family is offering a small reward for information resulting in her recovery in the hopes that locals will take up the search for her body in earnest.  The fact that she disappeared on a Friday night during the blue moon should not rule out other concrete factors.  Anyone with any additional information is urged to contact Jude Plummer at the police station – 0534.

 

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