Story by: Krystalyn Drown
Friday, January 10, 2014
The distress call woke me at the painful side of five am. A chorus of screams interrupted by the rattling death. My brother coined that phrase – rattling death. He described it as the moment when life was most clear, when you could hear the chains of your afterlife calling for you. I ain't never heard a better description of what my short wave played for me this morning.
“Help me,” came the call. “My name is Harlon. Is there anyone out there who can help me?”
“Help us, you mean,” cried another voice.
“Oh.” Harlon sounded surprised as if if never occurred to him that others had joined him on his journey. But oh, they were all in it. Once their boat passed over the devil's line, they were all in it.
I remember how I got this job, but I don't remember why I ever said yes. Family, I guess. My brother did it before me, and when he was gone, it fell to me. To lie in wait for the screams of the damned. To greet those fools who think they can beat the legends. They don't know that the legends are real and will eat you alive.
I'll say it again. They will eat you alive.
Them crackly voices that came through the short wave this morning, they're my proof.
“Please. Please,” the men pleaded. Pitiful. Harsh. Wretched.
Their nails clawed the walls. Their screams filled my ears. I was safe in my little house by the ocean, but I wouldn't be for long. Not when their boat came in.
My hands trembled as I reached for the microphone. I didn't want to touch it. I didn't want to do this job at all, but someone needed to wait.
Not me, I thought. I could shut off the short wave. I could walk away. I could –
Harlon cried out, “Eric, what are you …” Crash! Maybe it was a table. Maybe it was Harlon's bones. “What are you doing? Eric. Nooooo!!!!”
“Yes,” said the thing that was no longer Eric. “Yessss.”
I could picture the scene clear as day. A ransacked cabin. Blood smearing the walls. Former humans, flesh dripping from their faces, spreading their disease with a touch.
The sailors don't believe. They don't understand that the disease rises out of the water at that devil's line. They don't see it, so they don't believe. They're stupid. Then again, maybe I was too.
I swiped the sweat off my forehead and spoke. “I'm here. Waiting.”
“Waiting,” said Former Eric.
“Waiiiiting,” said Harlon. “For you.”
Moans filled the background like white noise on an empty television channel. They were congregating in that cabin, searching for the one human voice among them. Mine. It was impossible to tell how many I would face when the boat came in. Sometimes it was two. Sometimes it was twenty. My brother faced down a crew of twenty seven once, but it was the crew of five that he didn't walk away from. That's the thing about this job. Those things kill you. Maybe not the tenth or fiftieth time, but eventually it happens. Hopefully, you have the chance to train your replacement first.
I told my brother I didn't want the job. I didn't want the burden. My hands shake too much. But what was he gonna do? I was the only family he had. But dangit all, I didn't want this!
I threw the microphone to the ground and looked out the window. The boat approached far more quickly than it should have. They were eager. Ravenous. Once they landed, they could go anywhere. Spread their plague to the whole blasted world.
That's why I was here. That's why I had accepted the job. Because I was the only line of defense against the devil's line. Just me.
I grabbed my shotgun from where it rested against the wall and made my way down to the beach to wait. And hope my hands didn't shake too much.
Story by: Krystalyn Drown