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|This is the first part of a story based on a myth from where I was born in England. It is a great and dark story and has always grabbed my attention. Please read this story and then tell me off for overcooking the description.||
THICKER THAN WATER
Sat on the riverbank, it was difficult for John to distinguish the whispers of the trees from the muttered prayers of the river. Watching his line, the boy sat immobile resting under the limbs of an old, gnarled oak tree. The river Weir flowed past him and washed away the seconds of his life one by one. The morning sky was overcast, the cloudbank dressed in a funeral shroud. A mile or so away a church bell tolled. Not many days had passed on since those bells had peeled, mourning as he buried his mother.
The trees whispered to each other like the gossiping servants had days ago. The breeze started their feeble-minded tongues a-wagging and filled his ears with their incomprehensible, alien language. John realised he should be at church, that he should be praying for his mother, and a good harvest, and for his immortal soul. The howling beast of his defiance, fat upon the carcass of his faith, would not let him leave his fishing.
Hidden under the great old oak tree John could have been any boy from the village, but he had more in common with the tree that provided him shelter than any child thereabouts. His stout trunk rested on the rough bark. Years past, John and his sister would play in this tree, or she would sit and watch and embroider as he exercised his youthful exuberance, as if she was his mother and not his older sister. The echo of his voice seemed to play between the trees momentarily. Mary, look at me.
The line began a ponderous climb upstream, pushing against the current, a fish dragging it’s own cross – the means of its’ own execution. The boy shook all morbid thoughts from his mind and checked the line. The bubbling frenzy of the fish’s panic would begin soon. Nearby, a crow cawed.
The water’s mumbled mantra was broken by the sound of the line’s catch as it thrashed against its’ enslavement. John began to reel in the fish with an inevitable certainty. He noted the strength of the catch and imagining that it was some size. The line was nearly all in when a black coil erupted momentarily from the water, before being hidden once again by the procession of praying water. He remained deathly silent even as he cursed mentally. An eel! Not the tastiest of catches and certainly not native. He hauled the catch out of the water…
And he gasped. Writhing, seething on the end of his line was some strange eel-like thing. It oozed a phlegm-like mucus from its’ black hide. Corded muscles rippled under the skin. A hissing filled the air and a sulphur-smell assailed John’s senses. A barbed tail lashed. A wave of revulsion and a dose of fear swept through John and he threw the thing, line and all into his basket. The eel-thing squirmed under the cloth that he kept inside and vanished from view.
Slowly the hissing subsidised and stopped, and John’s breathing became regular once more. The blanket moved in obscene ways. The thing popped a head out from under the cloth. It regarded its’ captor with ice-cold, mean little eyes. They were blue, like Johns and like his Mother’s. Its’ mouth was a phalanx of spears eager for blood.
A primordial calm settled on the boy. John bent slowly to pick a gnarled stick that was laid on the ground. With the bleached, severed length he began to tip the basket into the water, hoping somehow that he could undo the act of catching this thing.
A voice like the crushing of autumn leaves stopped him in his tracks. “Putting back that beast, an ill omen.” The basket rocked precariously on the ledge of the bank as John paused. The voice was female although it lacked any feminine quality. It was feminine in the same manner as a donkey could be called a warhorse. Turning about, John could see a figure partially obfuscated by a yew tree. She (for John supposed it was a she) wore a large gray cloak who’s main function seemed to be to hide or disguise any discernable elements of the woman. It was as if she was half-moth, half woman, or that she had been swallowed whole by the moonlight-butterfly and was speaking from inside its’ belly.
“I shouldn’t throw it back?” John’s earlier defiance returned and rattled the cage in which he held it in check.
“For you to do so – badness, Lampton.” Spittle rained from under the hood, much to John’s distaste.
“Really? What would happen?” The boy’s eyes narrowed.
“Such knowings have a price. Too young to pay.” It seemed to him that the woman spoke as if she was unused to using he voice. Was she a hermit perhaps? John regarded her momentarily, and then looked back at the beast. Then it struck him like a hammer.
“How did you know my name was Lampton?”
But the old woman wasn’t there.
Although surprised, John was hardly dismayed at her disappearance. Her words echoed in his ears. But what could he do with it if not throw it back in the water? He could hardly take it home. A voice in his mind laughed at his foolhardiness, of his fear of an old woman’s words… ‘cast it back into the water… nobody would ever know anyway’.
Live by the sword - die by the sword
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