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Monthly Short Story Winner: The Deep

In this month’s short story contest, participants wrote us stories about ‘the deep’. There were a lot of great entries, but before we look at the winner, here is the write up for the contest.

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Sophia Cave by nakedpastor

In our world there are few places left that humans have not conquered and few things that truly remain a mystery. But the places and things that still elude us are usually somewhere deep. Deep in the rainforest, the desert, the ocean, in the pits and caves of the Earth, or in the space beyond our planet’s borders. In real life these places can be intimidating and deadly, but we usually understand the dangers and can plan accordingly. In fantasy these same places can hold the things that no amount of preparation can ready us for: fortresses of pure evil, treasure beyond imagination, curses and blessings of ancient magic, or creatures from forgotten legends. Whether good or evil, in fantasy you can never tell what lies in the darkness of the deep.

This month, your challenge is to write a fantasy story or scene that takes place in or involving “the deep”. The deep could be a forest, a cave, a dungeon, a lake or ocean, any place that is dark and foreboding or mysterious. (No fan fiction please.) Once again, we are opening the contest to both prose and poetry.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem. Be creative.
2. “The deep” must be a core element in your piece.
3. Prose must be 500-2000 words long. Poetry must be 100-500 words long. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits by any more than 10%.

You can see all the contest entries here. And our winner this month is 137minutes! Congratulations!

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“The Island”
by 137minutes

I eased the skiff up to the dock. The waves were wound up, making angry appearances over the lip of the boat and soaking my shoes. The unruly wind kept blowing my damp orange hair across my line of sight. In my haste, I had forgotten to pull my hair back before leaving. If I came across a pair of scissors before a rubber band, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them.

I fumbled with the rope as I pulled myself onto the dock, slipping in my wet shoes. My hands were equally uncooperative as I tried to secure the rope. I could slice through a vena cava with the precision of a laser, but somehow this was giving me trouble.

It was that time of day when everything becomes a shadow of itself; difficult to distinguish a rock from a shell from a crab. The sun was leaving and taking with it all the color of things. This place was foreign to me. I was at home under the florescent lights of the lab; secure walking through the tight knit buildings of the city.

Here was too open. Too natural.

Tonight, the dark was creeping faster than usual. I took one last look out over the ocean, shoving my glasses up my nose. The infernal humidity of this place kept them constantly down near my nostrils. Storm clouds were closing in and the line between the darkening sky and the grey ocean was rubbed out, making them one roiling mass.

This better be quick, I thought as I squelched up the sagging dock.

Further around the west edge of St. Lucerne was where the large fishing fleet docked. This was the south edge, a small jutting of the hilly island dotted with dilapidated shanties and faded bungalows. Old tires, rusted back ends of pickups and clotheslines were typical lawn art. Only one dusty road led here from town. So it was either that or small motor craft to get here.

Of course, tonight, the truck had decided to heave its last breath.

I was still trying to work out how I was going to get the body from the house to the boat by myself. For sure Captain Lapierre would be no help. He would love to see me sweat it out. The tension between him and Mack, my grandfather, was a living thing that lurked around the edges of their polite, clipped conversations. That and he held outsiders in strict disdain.

And I was an outsider.

I thought of how his nostrils would flare and the corners of his mouth would curl down like a stink had crawled up his nose and coated his tongue whenever we had the pleasure. I tried not to take it personally, because it really could just be the formaldehyde.

This was my first run alone. The last body, since Mack got sick, had been brought in. It wasn’t like we had a freezer full of bodies. St. Lucerne was a vacation island. The sick, infirm, and extremely wealthy came in droves during the sunny season to reap the benefits of its medicinal herbs, hot springs, and salty ocean. Most made it back to the mainland for the better.

Time had just caught up with Mr. Hodges. He was eighty-seven.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

I turned the corner, the dock giving way to a sandy path leading into bending palms, normally swishing a shady welcome. But tonight they looked predatory; all dark claws and patience. The wind, somehow, hadn’t reached them yet.

The island felt like it was holding its breath.

And I felt watched.

I shook my head. This was St. Lucerne, exclusive and hot and island-y. It was just sand, palms, pines and locals. If I walked in any one direction it would be ocean, sand, forest, town, and then more forest, more sand, and then back to the ocean. All Mack’s stories of the rainy season didn’t make this place any more than just an island with deep steeped traditions and colorful local tales.

Very colorful.

I arrived at the squat bungalow. A rusted coupe, a police cruiser, and a shiny black 4×4 with sparkling chrome were parked haphazardly over the dusty front yard. I could make out soft voices coming from the house.

And crying.

I raised my hand to knock on the flimsy screen when a shadow loomed from around the corner of the house. I turned quickly, my heart pin-balling around my ribs. I stumbled backwards, my shoes letting out an exasperated squelch.

The talking inside paused. Standing and looking at me with daggers, was Bartholomew Orlando Martine.

Boone.

His usual impeccable white button-down was slightly askew because he had a body slung over his shoulder. It was wrapped in a sheet printed with little flowers. Such a dainty sheet for such a huge body. Whoever had died was large, their legs hung down to Boone’s knees, which spoke to Boone’s strength because he didn’t seem to be struggling at all. His long strides reached me without so much as a stagger.

Well, this helped my transportation problem.

He stood over me, and the malice was gone from his eyes, replaced with something else.

Once, I had come across Boone Martine sitting on a shady dock. His white oxford, wrinkled, rolled and half undone to reveal a leather cord that hung low into his shirt. The Martines didn’t wear anything as mundane as leather, especially not around their necks. Leather was for shoes and saddles. It was gold rings, platinum watches, and shirts with embroidered initials for St. Lucerne’s most prominent family, so the cord made me glance twice. His nose was buried in a well worn copy of Robert Frost’s A Witness Tree. Boone Martine’s nose was more likely to be buried in the tanned, perfumed neck of a mainland debutante than a book. The look he gave me then was the same as now.

It said: Don’t Tell.

“Where’s your truck?” he asked in a hushed voice. I wondered why he was whispering?

“Where’s yours?” I asked in my normal voice. I was annoyed all over again by the fact that the truck was uselessly sitting in my grandfather’s driveway.

He pursed his lips, which was an accomplishment. They were quite a pair of lips. To purse them would take real effort. Boone Martine’s lips were a source of fascination for me since my own were nothing more than a thin slash across my pale face.

“I came with my father.” He jerked his head in the direction of the shiny 4×4.

“Mine’s dead.”

His bee-stung lips turned into a complete O. He stared at me. I stared at his lips.

The island around us waited.

Then, like a broken spell, the voices inside the house continued and I realized my mistake.

“The truck. The truck is dead.” Of course my father was dead. Everyone knew that. It was the reason I was on this island. This time I did whisper, “I brought the boat.”

“C’mon.” He grabbed me by the arm and turned me back toward the dock. I had to trot to keep up with his long legs. I wanted to ask what the hell was going on, but he seemed…intent. That and he was carrying the body, so I decided best to let him.

****

Back on the dock, the day was still on its way out, but it was brighter here than under the trees. The storm on the horizon now looked like a wall of blackness rolling in on white capped waves. The wind whipped across the dock, knocking my small boat into the rail because of my pathetic docking job. The look on Boone’s face when he saw it, said he agreed.

He laid the body gently on the dock and went to untie the boat. My hair was alive from the wind so I yanked at it and shoved my glasses. I noticed the threadbare sheet had been blown back, revealing the entire torso and head of the body.

It was Ruby J.

Ruby J worked on The Martine fishing fleet.

Ruby J was Boone’s best friend.

Ruby J was dead.

“Robin?” It was Boone, leaning over me, but his eyes looked furtively back the way we came.

“It’s Wren.”

“Right. Wren, sorry. Listen. We need to get this body back to your place for an autopsy now.”

“Boone, Captain Lapierre didn’t mention an autopsy.”

“Lapierre didn’t call you,” he was whispering again, but somehow I heard him over the wind, like I knew he was going to say that.

He muttered to himself.,“We don’t have time for this.”

“Boone, where is Captain Lapierre?”

“He’s inside with my father and Ruby J’s mother.” Now he was intently looking at me, as if trying to tell me something with his eyes.

I tried to keep my voice calm. “We can’t just cut open a body. There needs to be paperwork and family consent and cause.

“How many nineteen year olds just drop dead?” Boone’s voice was rising over the wind, pleading. Boone Martine didn’t plead.

“A lot. It’s called drugs.”

“Ruby J didn’t do drugs.” Boone dropped to his knees on the other side of his friend’s body. I looked down at Ruby J. He was a huge specimen, all pectorals and no neck. I reached out and slowly traced my hand from his clavicle down his abs and on to his kidneys and then back, letting it rest on his heart. No beating. No movement, and there wasn’t a mark on him.

I had been around many dead bodies in my seventeen years. More dead than alive, really. It had been my father’s business and his father’s. This body was still pliable and slightly warm? I pinched the skin to see if it pinked-up.

Boone reached out to stop me. “What are you doing?”

Most bodies went into rigor a mere few hours after dying. Ruby J should have been stiff and blue, or at least slightly grey.

“When did he die?” I asked.

“Two days ago.”

“What?” This was not a two day old body. “Did they put him on ice?” That could account for his…preservative-ness.

“Maybe, I don’t know.” Boone was impatient.

I reached out and opened his jaw and both Boone and I leaned over, our foreheads almost touching.

The smell. Both pungent and sweet, with an underlying aroma of rot. I squeezed my eyes shut trying to block out the image of Mr. Hodges flayed open on the autopsy table. His organs black, as if burned. But, instead of turning to ash, they had melted into a tarry ooze.

The smell was the same.

Fat drops of rain began to fall around us.

“What is that?” Boone’s voice had risen over the wind. I thought he meant the smell, but he was pointing at the charm necklace Mack had given me when I arrived here six months ago. It had come loose from my collar and was now hanging over Ruby J’s chest and Boone’s eyes were locked on it. “Where’d you get that?” He accused.

“I…” But at that moment, I felt him grab the gold chain and yank.

“We’re too late,” he said.

I looked down, confused. It was Ruby J who clung to my chain. His eyes were wide open and a fathomless black, like I knew his insides were. He yanked again, and my chain gave way, and I fell back. In a move that was both lightning fast and most certainly not dead, he was on his feet. His pretty sheet blowing on me.

Boone made a grab for him as I struggled out of the sheet. Ruby J. ran up the dock through the pouring rain and disappeared into the waiting forest.

Boone pulled me to my feet, his eyes following his friend. “Go home, Wren.” And then he took off after him.

I stood, staring after them, but seeing little through the rain and dark and my splattered glasses. I jumped as lightening cracked, and for a heartbeat it looked like the whole island lit up. There was Boone, his bare chest glistening and rain soaked, standing at the edge of the trees. He turned to me, his eyes impossibly reflected in the flash. And then he was gone.

I took off, sliding my way up the dock and stumbling through the swampy sand to stand where I thought I saw Boone disappear. Lightning streaked again, and something glinted. I reached out to the broken branch. It was a necklace. Not mine, but similar, its charms tied on a long leather cord.

I peered into the black trees, and for the first time, I wasn’t sure what was on the other side.

How deep were the secrets of this island?

I clutched the leather cord in my hand, and stepped into the waiting trees.

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Congratulations again to our winner 137minutes! If you would like to enter this month’s contest or vote for August’s winner, check out the Monthly Writing Contest board in our forum. 🙂

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