Welcome back, Everyone!
We find ourselves on a Tuesday morning, and behold- we have the conclusion of The Drowners! I’d like to thank Everyone for joining me in yet another tale. If you’ve missed the first three parts of the story, worry not; as usual you can read the entire story on my Short Fiction page.
You guys have been terrific! I didn’t even notice when I hit post number 50! Thank you all for dropping by and hanging out with all my wild ideas, strange stories, and odd poems. This blog would be a boring place without you. Thanks again, and I hope you’ll all stick around for the next 50 posts!
Feel free to let me know what you think of the story, your comments are important to me and appreciated. Thanks for reading along. Have a great day, Everyone!
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The Drowners (conclusion)
Al slowly turned, despite the pain in his chest; dragging his knees through the coarse sand. There was a figure leaning against one of the abandoned cars. He wore a cheap polyester suit, fraying sleeves and trouser cuffs matching the missing button on the coat. The man’s hair was slicked back and held a greasy sheen. Though all of this was shadowed and forgotten with the polished black horns sprouting from his hairline and the glossy black hooves he stood upon. Even in the dim light of the early morning, the man’s red skin was clearly visible.
Al almost laughed. This was a trick of whiskey, lack of sleep, and what felt certain to be a heart attack. Nothing more.
“It would be so much easier for you if this were a mere hallucination. I can’t help you with that I’m afraid, Mr. Todd. This is unavoidable.” The horned man appeared to show genuine concern, his eyes softening and his voice tender. “I am sorry for the losses you have suffered in these past few days.”
“Who- what are you? I don’t believe this.”
“I think you know, Mr. Todd. Or do you prefer Sheriff Todd? No, I am exactly who you think I am. You wouldn’t be so disturbed if I had a better publicist, I assure you.”
Al clutched at his chest and dropped into the rough sand along the shoreline of Aedin Lake. The crunch of stone beneath those hooves drew closer and a gentle hand rolled him onto his back, the red smiling face coming into view.
“It’s been said to be rude to perish mid conversation, Mr. Todd. It was never said by me, but non-the-less it has been said.” The horned man touched Al’s chest with a single finger; the pain vanished.
“How did you do that?” Al asked as he tried to scramble away from the man. “You can’t do that. Only God has the power over life. Leave here, vile Devil.”
“Please, call me Luse. The Great Father of Lies is more of a business title. Have a cigar, we have much to talk about, you and I.”
Al’s attention was fixed on the Devil; as much as he wanted to turn away he couldn’t bear the thought of looking at the hundred or more bodies floating in the lake. The smell of sulfur had dissipated and was replaced by the penny-saver scent of generic brand cologne.
“Why should I call you anything? I don’t believe in you, you have no power here.” Al tried his best to put a brave face forward and add as much bravado as he could to his words.
“I believe in you, Al. And I do have power here. I have the power to make this all go away. All your friends alive and living the life they’ve lost. Isn’t that something you want? A way to take it all back and fix your small town, return it to the peaceful hamlet it was just days before?”
Al took hold of his cruiser and pulled himself to his feet. As he did, he could feel the small cross around his neck press against his chest. Al felt empowered and ripped his gun from its holster in a well-practiced motion. Five quick shots emptied his revolver.
Luse looked down at his ruined suit coat. “Really? I’ve had this jacket since 1974. It’s vintage, Al. You could have at least let me take it off before you destroyed it.” Luse pulled the coat off and dropped it to the ground. “If you’re quite finished?”
Al slid down the side of his car; all the exhaustion, all the hopelessness filling him again. “Why? Why would you do this? Why leave them alive in a drowned body?”
“It was a handful of my naughty children that enacted this event. Not me. I left them alive for one very pure reason, an act of love. If they were dead, you would have no hope. You see, Al, hope is the greatest achievement of mankind. What type of monster would I be, what kind of example would I set, if I were to take away hope?”
Al wiped away the tears that had begun rolling down his cheeks again. Luse knelt down in front of him, offering a handkerchief.
“Please, Al. Shed no more tears. My kids will be punished. But you, you Al, can still save your town. Wouldn’t that be a grand act? To be remembered, to save all these lives? I can make that happen. You just have to say yes. Can you do that, Al, can you say one little word to save them all?”
Al exhaled loudly and looked up into the star filled sky. It really was a lovely night.
“They’ll have no memory of drowning? Aedin’s Bluff, my town, will be as it was?” Al could see the truth in the Devil’s eyes as his horned head nodded solemnly. “I think I’ll have that cigar now.”
“I can promise this will be the finest cigar you’ve ever smoked, Al. It’s decades old, but just as fresh as the day the box was opened. A real Cuban cigar; given to me directly from the hands of Castro himself. True story.”
Al accepted and puffed gingerly as Luse struck a lighter that appeared from nowhere and was gone just as quickly.
“The books are right,” said Al. “You’re a real son of a bitch.” Al laughed as he drew a large mouthful of smooth yet peppery smoke. “Yes. You have my answer, yes. Save them.”
* * * * *
Outside, the wind screamed against the mountains. It roared through the pine trees. It howled as it threw rain against the windows of the small house set against the foothills. The music of the storm was sporadic; jumping, spinning, and wailing.
Inside, a man in the living room stirred. Mike kicked his legs off the couch, stretching as he stood. He sluggishly scratched his belly as he walked into the kitchen and flipped on the light and coffee maker. As he took a seat at the worn table against the wall, it creaked quietly.
As the coffee maker finished its only job in the world, another of the three men staggered into the small kitchen. Dale knuckled his eyes and pulled three mugs from the cupboard, splashing hot coffee into them. He carried two carefully to the table, leaving the third by the machine.
Outside it was still dark. The clock on the wall above the stove read a few minutes past two in the morning. The last man found his way into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
“Jesus, it’s loud out there,” said Jake. He poured a bit of milk into the mug on the counter. “I don’t know how you guys slept, but that wind had me up half the night.”
Jake put away the milk and shut the fridge. He dropped into the wooden chair at the table with his brothers and stared out the rain streaked window. Mike coughed loudly and popped his knuckles, leaning back in the chair with a sigh.
“Rain like this is going to make work miserable today. This much moisture makes the wood a pain in the ass to cut.” Dale said as he rose and set his mug by the sink.
“Money is money, man,” said Mike.
They all dressed and slowly walked into the garage, climbing into a faded black Lincoln Town Car. The garage door groaned open as the car slowly rolled out into the storm. They took a slow drive down the winding road and through town.
When the storm broke later that morning, the sun beating the clouds from the sky as it climbed over the mountains, a lone car sat idling with an open door and lights on. Sheriff Al Todd lay on the sandy shore, face down beside his cruiser with a half smoked cigar near his hand. It had come all the way from Cuba, the label said so.