His eyes were two gunshot wounds. Puffy, red and expressing a pain seldom felt by others. The pain of having your love ripped away, right in front of you, out of your very arms. His tormented eyes stared through a cold, small, double-pane plate of glass and watched three figures approach his wharf-cabin. Although the approaching figures’ visages were obscured by the fog of trapped moisture between the panes and darting rivulets of melting runoff, he could recognize the uniforms belonging to the Haines, Alaska Sheriff’s Department, and knew the two folks that belonged to those uniforms. The third figure, the one in front, walking with some trepidation down his slippery driveway, the suit, that one was a stranger. Strangers were never welcome, even before the incident.
He watched the stranger, the Sheriff and the Deputy (he had no doubt of their identity, any local worth his salt could recognize Deputy Laurie's rotund outline and Sheriff Robert's walrus mustache, their tell-tale uniforms besides) make their way onto his pier. The suit appeared to be relieved to be on stable ground once again, leaving behind the canyon-like ruts of a driveway, unkempt, unplowed and driven through during daytime thaws and nighttime freezes.
The man behind the wounded eyes made no attempt to move or call out. He watched the trio shuffle down his pier, wet with today's drizzle, yet free of the snow that still clung tenaciously to the land. He watched with as much disinterest as one possibly could, not even tracking them with his pained gaze when they moved off the pier proper and onto the deck that wrapped around his cabin.
Even the knocks, when they came, did not alarm him. But he did turn his head, as slow as the snow melted in Alaska's spring, to the audial intrusion.
“Tom! Tom, we know you're in there. Look, we need to talk. Open the door, Tom.”
Tom did not rise, but his chest did as he inhaled deeply and sighed.
It was Sheriff Robert Wall speaking. Figures. Tom had grown up with Bob, even gone to school with him. His cohort, Deputy Laurie Jones, was a transplant, but no cheechako. She had transferred into Haines from Fairbanks or some such place about nine or ten years ago. She wasn't local local, yet she was local.
“Come on, Tom. We got a man here from Juneau. He needs to ask you some questions. Let’s just do this the easy way, OK, bud?” The Sheriff sounded like he was trying to convince a toddler to stop throwing his food, more exhausted and depleted than angry. A year ago, hearing Robert sound so awkward would have made Tom smile. Not now. Not ever again. Another volley of knocks. No doubt Robert's meaty, hairy fist doing the dirty work. “Tom! Come on, Tom!”
Tom slowly stood up and grunted, loud enough for the trio to hear, went to the door and unlatched its brass chain.
He opened the door and squinted at the diffused grey light of a melting morning. The three visitors stood under his wrap-around deck’s covered awning, their coats still dripping from the drizzle. Tom saw Sheriff Robert exhale a sigh of pained relief, but his eyes were fixed on the stranger. The one dumb enough to wear a suit in the slush and go without a hat. The man in the suit's ears were as crimson as the spider-webbed broken blood vessels in Tom's eyes and he shifted his weight back and forth, from one foot to the other, while vigorously rubbing his hands together. The overall result made him look like he had to use the little boys’ room badly and yet appeared to be washing his hands as if he had already finished his business.
‘T ain't cold anymore. This city slicker would've died a few months back. Tom held the door between most of his body and the visitors, saying nothing.
“Tom, we need to talk.” Sheriff Robert broke the uncomfortable silence. His voice was full of heartbreak, his eyes, sympathetic. He looked like a man who needed to put down a beloved dog. “Mind if we come in?”
Tom made no move to widen the passage.
“Who’s the fucking suit?” His voice croaked.
Laurie Jones’ (deputy by day, mom by night) eyes widened at the brazen display of hostility. Sheriff Robert however, turned his face down slightly and closed his eyes, as if the question pained him. Robert raised his head and opened his mouth, along with his eyes, and was about to answer when-
“My name, Mr. Moore,” The ‘suit’ spoke up, matching Tom's piercing gaze with his own bright blue eyes, “is George Brister. Detective George Brister.”
Tom saw in the detective's blue eyes a fierceness, a specific passion, often only seen in youth and true believers. He had no respect for such zealots, especially ones so young and ignorant, but he knew enough to know what lengths this slicker would go to get his answers. Tom scowled and stepped back, disappearing into the shadowy hallows of his cabin and let the door slowly drift open behind him.
The officers stepped in, following Tom, their eyes adjusting to the dark.
The room they stood in nearly matched the outside footprint of the building. Only two small sections were cordoned off, presumably the bed and bath. The rest was open floor, living, dining, cooking, and storage all in one. Whereas the architecture of the square home was Spartan at best, the clutter inside the square would have put Tom in the semi-finals for a hoarding contest. Piles of papers avalanched off one side of the dining table, while small hand tools and fishing lures in various stages of assembly and disassembly covered the other half. One entire corner of the cabin was filled with a Gordian knot of fishing lines and nets, small floaty ovals interspersed throughout, like chunks of meat in a cheap, mostly rice stir-fry.
The kitchen, if it was in fact there, looked like a pile of wreckage from some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Tom's cooking and cleaning habits made even freshmen college boys look like OCD museum curators. The smell of stagnant water and old food mixed with the ever present brine of the sea, creating a miasma that made Detective Brister dizzy and caused Laurie to stifle a gasp, covering her mouth and nose simultaneously.
"You want a drink?" Tom offered, wading out of the kitchen/dining area, weaving around piles of rubbish and boat supplies. He approached his visitors with a bottle of cheap rye, a quarter filled, no glasses.
“It's 10 am, Tom.” Sheriff Robert said.
“And we are on duty, so it doesn't matter.” Detective Brister frowned.
“Suit yourself.” Tom gestured to two chairs and a small couch. All but one were unusable, buried in what looked like dirty laundry. Tom uncapped the bottle of rye and said, “Just push that shit on the floor.”
Detective Brister did just that, Sheriff Robert followed likewise, while Laurie hesitated, flustered.
“I'm sure worried about you, Tom.” She said, holding her body awkwardly, looking around at the mess.
Say it, Tom thought, taking his first swig of the day. That it's gotten bad since Brenda died. I know. I don't care.
Once the chair was clear of laundry, Detective Brister scooted it across the floor, accidentally bunching up the carpet rug that helped to warm the wharf-cabin’s old wooden planks. Ignoring the wrinkled rug, Detective Brister sat down in the chair, directly across from Tom and stared at him.
Sheriff Robert, now seated on the small couch, leaned forward, his hands clasped, in a sort of Buddhist Warrior-Monk prayer fashion, and spoke.
“Tom, I know we've been through this, but it has become far bigger than just you and me, OK? Detective Brister here has been sent by the big dogs in Juneau. I can't help you anymore unless you help us, OK? What I would like to see happen is-”
“Thank you, Sheriff, but I can handle it from here.” The young Detective held up a hand. His eyes never left Tom and a slight grin was threatening to form on the edges of his thin mouth, like the first hints of a storm at sea, far off on the horizon.
“The Sheriff is right about one thing, Tom, can I call you Tom? Good. This situation has become ‘big.’ You see, we in the Field Office do not agree with Sheriff Wall's report of what happened the night of March 3rd. I have it on good authority, experts in the field from UAA all the way down the coast to San Francisco, that there are no giant squids in this part of the Pacific. None. No sightings ever. Ever.”
Tom listened and took another sip of whiskey.
“So what does that tell you, Tom?” Detective Brister's threat of a grin had matured and was now showing. The winds had picked up, it was raining lightly.
Tom said nothing, only took another sip from the bottle. Laurie shifted uncomfortably.
“It tells me,” The Detective continued, “that your story of the giant squid is just that, a story.”
“Bullshit.” Tom frowned, a dribble of booze ran down his chin in perfect imitation of the snow melt outside.
“Bullshit?” Detective Brister raised an eyebrow.
“What about all the sightings in Japan?”
“We're not in Japan, are we Tom?”
A heavy silence filled the room. They could hear their own hearts beating in rhythm with the lapping waves and the dripping snow outside.
“So why don't you tell me what really happened that night?” The young Detective leaned back in the chair, his grin triumphant, the storm now a squall, in full force and upon them.
Tom was still looking in the direction of the Detective, but his eyes were unfocused, adrift on the open sea of his wretched memories. He saw in his mind's eye his wife, his beautiful, beautiful wife. Her curly red hair being whipped by the wind, tangled. Her ruddy, burnt cheeks, dotted with as many freckles as there were waves upon the ocean. His boat bobbed up and down, yet stayed its course. She asked him to take her to their favorite harbor.
What a silly girl. As if we weren't out on the water enough during the fishing season, she wanted me to take her out for fun. She loved it out there.
She did in fact love it out there, more than most anything. And every time, without fail, being upon the waves would make her green eyes shine with a brilliant delight. But that night, her emeralds had dimmed. She had said that she wanted to talk, that she needed to talk.
Nothing good ever followed that statement. Ever. That night there was a sadness in her eyes. What was it dear? What was it you wanted to say?
“I...I shouldn't have let her talk me into going out at night. I'll give you that much. So if you want to charge me with something, charge me for being a damn fool.”
“No one is talking about charging you with anything,” Sheriff Robert tried to comfort him, his voice soft.
“Actually, that is not true. I am very much looking to bring charges on Mr. Moore here.” Detective Brister studied Tom. “And I will, as soon as I have the proof. I will get the proof. And you will get what is coming. Now you can make it easier on yourself and confess, tell us where you dumped the body so we can send divers and give your poor wife a proper Christian burial, or-”
“You son of a bitch! Get the fuck out of my house!” Tom spat whiskey flecked saliva into the air. “If you had anything, I'd already be in jail! But you don't! And you won't! 'Cause I am telling the truth! That goddamned squid killed and ate my wife!” Tom's chin trembled like the Great Alaska Quake of '64. Tears formed in the deep wells of his gunshot eyes and rolled out, bleeding down his wrinkled face and disappearing into his salt beard like streams into the sea.
In the silence that followed, the sound of the waves took center stage once again; this time sounding off beat, for everyone’s hearts were pumping as fast as a marathon runner’s.
Detective Brister stood, his smirk only fading slightly.
“Tom, you don't know me, but let me tell you right now. I am very good at what I do. I will find the proof. Here,” he paused and reached into the folds of his khaki long-coat and produced an envelope. He wiggled it back and forth for a moment and then dropped it into Tom's lap unceremoniously. “You didn't think I'd come unprepared now, did you?”
Tom ignored the envelope. Other than his still trembling chin, he made no move at all. Although far from weeping, hot streams of saltwater continued to bleed from his wounded eyes as he stared through the young Detective's legs. A frown tattooed his face.
“It's a warrant, Tom.” Sheriff Robert stood up too, and lay his giant paw of a hand on Tom's slouched shoulder. “I'm sorry. He wants to look at your boat, your shed, everything. You best just stay out of the way and let the man work.”
“Can I... can I at least go get a drink?” He held up the bottle, showing them it was now empty.
“Sure pal. Go ahead.” Robert nodded.
“Oh, Tom?” Detective Brister added, as he systematically began to put on a pair of blue nitrile gloves, “Don't leave town.”
Tom pulled his old Chevy into the only open spot, in between where the plow had pushed the year’s accumulation of snow and a newer model Dodge pickup with a bumper sticker that read “Haines, AK: A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem.” Yuk Yuk.
He shoved the rusty door of his truck open and stepped out into the dark early evening and immediately discovered why this parking spot was empty.
“God dammit all.” He cursed under his breath as he hustled and hopped to get his left boot out of the cold, ankle-deep slush it had found itself in and spare his right boot the same fate. A moment later and Tom was on high ground, teetering on the ridge of compacted snow and ice that had formed and grown over the long winter as sheets of fresh powder had fallen off the pubs slanted metal roof. Already a veritable mountain range, complete with peaks and saddles, the ridge now came with an added hazard; a layer of slick ice encased the berm, formed nightly from the dropping temps that caressed the days melt back to sleep.
Tom haphazardly made his way across the ridge of ice, reaching out and balancing himself on the hoods of the trucks that filled the lot of ‘Pete’s Watering Hole: Best place in town to get a burger and a drink.’
Unless it was tourist season... It would be several more months before the ferries and cruise ships arrived, bringing the double edged blade of tourism with them. The influx of strangers brought a much needed supplement to the otherwise poor fishing and logging community, but the tourists were often rude and messy, and they clogged up the place. Turning my salty acre of paradise into the goddamned Vegas strip.
A moment later, Tom was sliding down (still on his feet) the ice berm and pushing open the heavy wooden door, leaving his curmudgeonly reflections outside in the growing dark, and heading into warmth, familiarity, and sweet, blissful liquid painkillers. Tom had been coming to Pete's since before it was called Pete's, since before Pete was even born. This was his Cheers, and yes, everyone did know his name. Up until now, that had always been a good thing.
The ambient noise in the establishment dropped decibels as quickly and wholly as the metal roof above shed its slabs of snow. Tom felt the eyes of his neighbors, fellow fishermen and even a few of the loggers who lived down the road a ways, on him as he stood in the warm glow of the entrance. The music was still playing and now everyone could hear just how incongruous it was that a Taylor Swift song would be playing in a place like this. Anger boiled up inside him like acid reflux, but Tom just twisted his mouth as if it were a wet rag he were attempting to wring out and turned his back to them, making a bee-line straight to the bar and Pete, the man behind it.
Tom sloshed through the sawdust and peanut shells and pulled up a stool when he got to the counter. Pete watched him approach, drying a mason jar (that’s all they served beer in) with a small towel.
“Whatcha doing in here Tom?” Pete asked as he reached up and placed the jar out of sight.
Tom was stunned. He had always been welcome here.
“Et tu, Brute?” Tom said the words like venom falling from exposed fangs to the sawdust floor.
“What?” Pete squinted at Tom.
“You too? You believe I killed her?” Tom felt his nostrils flare out.
“Now Tom, I didn't-”
“How the hell can you even think that? Huh? About me? About Brenda?”
The Watering Holes’ patrons again paused in their buzz when Tom raised his voice to Pete. Tom could feel their suspicious gazes, stabbing him in the back.
That's what they are! All of 'em! Backstabbers!
“I don't, Tom.” Pete swallowed hard and shifted his eyes. “It's just… It's just that having you in here right now isn't good for business. There's a lot of people talking right now. You know? Seeing you will just make them upset. Brenda was well loved-” Pete cut himself off and just stood there, as frozen as the berm outside, his mouth hanging open.
“I get it.” Tom's shoulders dropped two inches. “Just let me at least get a goddamned bottle to take home with me.”
The ruts cut by the day’s traffic through the melt had completed their nightly re-freeze and now violently grabbed and pulled Tom's Chevy back and forth as it crept down his driveway. The beams of light bounced along with the truck, jostling all over the woods, the pier, the wharf-cabin and the dark granite colored sea beyond. It was chaotic, but it proved to be enough for Tom to see that the cops had all left. Just for the night? Or for good?
He grabbed his brown bag and the elixir of forgetfulness inside it and got out, making his way down the bank. He was just about to step inside when he paused. The wind was warm tonight and it ruffled his beard, like Brenda's fingers often had not long ago. He closed his eyes and listened to the night, to the wind, to the waves, not too choppy, lapping at the shore behind him and against the wharf-cabin and pier’s foundation posts. Something called him.
Tom had always felt a connection to the sea. He grew up on it, working his father’s boat since he could walk and talk. It wasn't so much a call to adventure, no, he had after all lived his entire life in little Haines, never leaving anywhere but the open waters, and had been happy.
Oh, so happy. Brenda… No, it was more a connection type of call. A sense of belonging. Like having one's other half in the same room. She called to you with her presence alone. Asking nothing, offering everything.
But tonight's call was different. He wasn't quite sure how so, just that he knew it was. Without knowing or asking why, he turned from his front door and walked along the wrap-around deck.
He stopped when the kitchen window was at his back, and Chilkoot Inlet's narrow channel was at his face. The moon was only just past full, still offering enough light to see the rippled surface of the now black water and the dark navy hues of the partially snow-clad mountains beyond.
“Tom… Tom, come to me. Come to me my love.”
The sea pulled him as strongly as the moon ever pulled the sea. He felt ethereal strings reach from every wave that traveled across the obsidian surface attach themselves to his very heart and yank at it, ceaselessly, tirelessly, like the tide.
Tom stood there for what seemed like an hour, till his feet were as sore as his heart. Then,
“Fuck you, and fuck the sea. I want my wife back.” Tom spat out into the water, frowned and turned to go inside and drink himself into oblivion.
Tom shut the door behind him, trying to put some distance between him and the sea, but his demons followed him inside anyway. Everything he saw, everything he looked at, reminded him of her, of it. He scowled at the pile of fishing nets and buoys in the corner, the ship in a bottle on the shelf above the fireplace, the slick orange overalls hanging on the peg behind the door and the rubber boots halfway hidden under them. There was no escape, save one.
He brushed past all his things, shrugging off the ghosts and crashed into his kitchen, flinging the dirty dishes around, breaking more than a few before finding what he was looking for. At last he held in his hand the prize, an over-sized, square tumbler made of thick glass.
A brush of his tumbler clutching fist and another haphazard pile of clutter was swept off the counter. He nearly slammed the tumbler down in the freshly made clear spot, such was his frenzy. He had reached emotional muscle fatigue and his spiritual legs were shaking, about to give out.
One quick twist and the top of the bottle was ripped free from its mooring and the sweet amber nectar inside was cascading down into its receptacle until it overflowed.
“Tom… Tom, come to me. Come to me my love…”
He grunted with effort as he set the bottle down and clutched the tumbler once more, lifting it as if it were as heavy as his heart. His lips parted, and he drank deep. He stopped only to catch his breath after the tumbler had been emptied. He gasped, less for air and more to coat the burn in his throat. A familiar warmth spread through his chest and into his limbs and he closed his eyes in relief. His breathing slowed, his shaking settled. He calmly opened his eyes and went to repeat the ritual. He got as far as finishing the pour and raising the glass, this time with ease rather than effort, and saw her. He saw her and stopped dead in his destructive tracks.
There, in the burnt honey waters of the whiskey he saw the sea; in the sea he saw his wife, calling to him.
“No!” He screamed and flung the glass and its contents against the nearest wall. Surprisingly, the tumbler did not break, though the whiskey covered the wooden panels like arterial spray at a murder scene. Tom flew into a rage.
Tables (both kitchen and coffee) were overturned, objects were kicked and thrown, a tool of some kind was used in baseball bat club fashion and Tom proceeded to attack and destroy two of the kitchen cabinets entirely before turning his blows against the mantle and the bottled ship upon it. His berserker rampage finally ended when he tried to wrestle the pile of net and buoys out the door and became tangled in it, tiring himself out, just like a suffocating fish for which it was originally intended to hold.
He lay on the floor, wrapped in tangled mono-filament, gasping for breath, strong vapors rolling off his mouth like the night's fog outside, creeping over the waters of the inlet, until after a spell, he succumbed to exhaustion and passed out.
In his dream, he was with her. With Brenda. In his dream, he was at peace. For a while.
They were together. They were on his boat. They were on the sea. Everything was perfect. Fifty some odd years together and everything was still perfect.
In his dream, he was at peace.
For a while.
Then he noticed it, at first it was just on the edges, the outskirts, but it was there. Anxiety. Worry.
Something was wrong.
They were on the boat, and they were at sea, but it was night.
Why are we out at night? He wondered. Brenda… Brenda wanted to and I said yes.
Something was wrong.
Brenda's eyes were normally so bright, but tonight they hid a sadness, a regret.
“I need to tell you something.” She had said.
What was it my love? What did you need to tell me?
Something was wrong.
This was the night Brenda died. Must I relive it again? Every goddamned night?
He slowed the boat and set about setting the anchor. They had at last come to Brenda's favorite spot. A small harbor, deep up the inlet, hidden away from the men of Haines. Tom watched his oblivious self work like he were Scrooge, visiting the past.
Pay attention you old fool! Something is wrong! Can't you see?
“They're going to arrest you, Tom.” Brenda smiled at him as he returned from the cabin with a lamp.
“That's great, hun.” Tom smiled back and sat down across from her near the bow of the boat, placing the lamp next to him on the raised lip of the deck’s walkway. He wondered where the wine was.
It was cold. Really cold.
“Why are we doing this Brenda? It's freezing out. Let’s take this inside the cabin, huh?”
“You're dreaming love.”
“Uh huh. That's great.” Tom smiled.
You old fool! This isn't right! This is not how it happened!
Something was wrong.
“They are going to arrest you, unless you come to me. I'm waiting for you. Please.”
What did you want to tell me, baby? What was it?
The world shifted, but they stayed the same, only different.
“I have something to tell (show) you.” Tom heard her say 'tell' and 'show' at the same time.
The dream was wrong.
He stared into her sad (oh, why were they sad?) green eyes. He returned her warm smile with his own, masking his confusion.
“What is it sweetheart?” He asked.
That's when it happened.
That's when Tom's world was ripped from him.
The boat lurched. The lamp fell.
Something was wrong.
Water splashed. It was dark.
I can barely see!
It was cold. He was wet. He heard something sliding over the deck.
Brenda! Where is Brenda? Tom moved over the rocking and heaving boat to find the lamp.
“Tom!” Brenda's voice called out. More splashing, more heaving.
He caught his balance and turned, raising the lamp.
Brenda's green eyes. Water, black water everywhere, coming in, or was she going out?
Oh my God! She's going overboard! But-
Something was wrong.
His face was white, stricken with horror.
In one horrific glimpse, delivered to him by the light of a pale lamp in the dark, he beheld his world's end. He beheld that which broke his mind and his soul.
Brenda's green eyes, her beautiful, sad green eyes. Water, cold, black water. Flowing red hair, wet and tangled. Her outstretched hand, reaching to him. Her legs.
Her legs were gone, underwater perhaps, or… Tentacles. He saw the tentacles.
Oh my god! No!
“Tom!” Brenda called to him. She reached for him, wanting him, needing him.
Frozen, like the winter world around them, Tom stood petrified in disbelief and watched his wife disappear into the sea.
Images of the giant squid still seared his vision like a retinal burn. Tom slowly opened his eyes. He was panting, exhausted, dehydrated and lying on the floor of his cabin, tangled in fishing nets.
Brenda. Oh God, Brenda.
He forced his heart rate down, and then slowly began to free himself from the webbing.
What time is it? He wondered to himself, and strained to see the clock on the wall from his prone position.
Midnight. Not that it matters anyway.
Once free, Tom stood and examined the damage.
“They are going to arrest you.” The voice of his dream wife echoed in his mind.
His eyes spied the bottle of whiskey, still half full. He strode to it, stepping over the mess of broken things and picked it up. He lifted it to his face and examined it like he had never seen a bottle before.
“Hmpfh.” He grunted and proceeded to pour the rest of the bottle into the sink, filled with plates and bowls.
They won’t stop until I prove it to them. Everyone in this whole goddamned town. And- He scanned the mess of his house once again and stopped when he caught the bitter, broken reflection of his leather face in a bronze platter Brenda had mounted on the wall. -And I will never have peace till I kill the beast that took you from me.
A pair of eyes hiding behind binoculars watched Tom untie the rope from the pier, throttle up his boat and begin to sail off into to the moon-lit ocean. Glasses lowered, hands fished a cell-phone out from a pocket.
“Detective? Yes, I'm sorry, I know what time it is. Just thought you should know. Mr. Moore has left his home again. Yes. No sir. No, he left in his boat. Yes, yes sir. He is headed up the inlet, away from the mouth, yes. Yes, I think so too sir. Sir? He is armed. I saw him take a rifle with him. Yes. Yes. OK. Yes, I'll stand by. See you in a few. Yes, you're welcome. Thank you Sir.”
The midnight winds of March cut through Tom just as his boat cut through the icy waters and caused his eyes to water; each involuntary tear ran sideways to his temples, but never made it to their destination before freezing solid. Tom made no move to brush them away; his only focus was what lie ahead, and what he needed to do.
He maneuvered his boat up the inlet in blackout, with no running lights on. The light from the slightly waning moon was enough for him to see the coastlines on either side and besides, he knew the spot well.
With all the determined acceptance of a dead man walking, Tom steered the boat on through the night, till only the softest hint of deep purplish-blue began to appear from behind the Eastern Mountains overlooking the water. Arriving at the secret harbor, snuggly tucked away under the bosom of the same mountains now glowing faintly with proto-dawn, Tom cut the throttle and drifted silently.
“Tom… Tom come to me… Come to me my love.”
“No!” He shouted, forcing the voice from his mind. The pull was strong, incessant. “I can't take it! Come on out you spawn of hell!” Tears formed again, this time not from wind, but from grief and rage.
“Tom… Sweetheart. I'm here. Come to me…”
“Come on god dammit!” Tom shrieked, shaking his fist at the wind over the waves. He turned from the wheel and dropped the anchor off the side, just as he did the other night three weeks ago.
“Show yourself you son of a bitch! Come on!” He pulled his rifle out from under the bench and made his way to the bow of the ship and waited, trembling.
The surface of the water was a mirror that had been painted black, smooth as liquid marble. Like the proverbial abyss, Tom stared into it and it did indeed, stare back. He felt he was losing his mind, what was left of it. It called to him. It called to him the way the spike calls to the junkie, the way the wind calls to the caged bird. Both the lure, the sweet song of the deep and the rippling obsidian surface of it hypnotized him; hypnotized his active mind, his drive for revenge and release, and for a moment, hidden things inside ruled him. They ran through the dusty corridors of his mind, opening every door they could find, letting bedlam out to play.
I could just jump in. I should just jump in. It won't hurt. I will be with my Brenda again that way. My sweet, sweet Brenda.
His grip on the rifle slacked and the weapon slid down his lap, coming to rest between his leg and the wall of the bow. Unknown minutes passed with Tom contemplating suicide, held fast in the grip of the sea's hypnosis. Suddenly new, different ripples appeared in the water, the black mirror reflection of the water’s surface shattered into a million pieces and something appeared from behind it.
“Tom, my love… Come to me…”
So entranced was he that Tom failed to register even a hint of anger or rage at the sight before him once it appeared. Where a second before there was a cold sheet of rippling black satin, there was now a writhing mass of sucker-dotted tentacles. In the center of this nest appeared a beak, the size of Tom's head, opening and closing slowly.
I could just jump in. Let the beast take me and be with my wife.
“Yes, Tom. That's it. Come to me.”
Somewhere in the periphery of his thoughts, Tom registered the wet thump of one of the giant squid’s massive club tipped feeding tentacles come over the bow of the ship and land inside. Yet, he did not snap out of his haunted reverie until the appendage made contact with him, wrapping itself around his thigh like the urgent caress from a lover in need.
The spell was broken and Tom issued a heaving gasp. The squid seemed not to notice Tom's change in demeanor, and continued to writhe seductively and reach out to him with its other tentacles. Tom jerked his head down and saw that the creature had a grip on his leg. In a white flash, Tom lurched forward and picked up the nearly forgotten rifle. The tentacle around his thigh relaxed and began to remove itself.
“Tom, my love!”
“No! No! Noooo!” Tom cried and chambered a round in his old bolt-action.
“Die you fucker!” Tom leapt to his feet and pointed the rifle into the open mouth of the giant squid.
“My love! Please!”
A squeeze of the trigger. The crack of a gunshot echoed out over the icy dawn waters and mountains beyond.
Its longest tentacle still draped over the bow of the boat, the squid lulled and turned, floating on the surface of the water.
The beast rolled over, its beak and the river of black blood issuing from it disappeared under the waves, while the oblong shape of the squid’s body came up.
A single beautiful emerald eye, with sadness deep inside it stared up from the water into Tom's bleeding gunshots.
The call stopped. The voice stopped. But there was no peace to be found.
Like a deflated inner-tube, the strength went out of Tom's arms and the rifle lowered under its own weight and dropped to the deck, spilling out of Tom's limp hands.
“No. Oh no. Oh god.” His body trembled, his poor mind crumbling, Tom watched in disbelief as the squid shifted and blurred. A wave washed over its carcass and when it had passed, only the pale, naked, and bleeding body of his wife remained.
“Oh my god! No!” Tom willed his arms, now nothing more than sacks of ice water, to reach over and pluck her from the sea before she sank. He struggled, grunting, whimpering and crying, racking sobs, as he pulled her into the boat and then collapsed. He held her dripping, limp and lolling head to his chest and squeezed her tightly.
His mind rebelled. Everything broke. And while he lay there, cradling his dead wife, free at last from the prison of illusion his mind had conjured, he remembered.
“Tom, my love. Take me to the secret harbor.”
“Why? It's dark already, and cold.”
“I have something I need to show you. Please. Let’s hurry.” Uncharacteristic sadness in those emeralds. Where did that come from?
“Hmmph. You're a funny girl. OK.” A wry smile. The soft shake of a head.
“I love it when you call me a girl. Makes me feel… young again.”
The slip of a boat through the water. She stared out over the bow the whole time.
“Here. Here is good. Now, come.” A sad, apprehensive smile, the pat of small hands on her lap.
“I have to show you something… My time is up.” Confusion.
“I want you to come with me. Come with me, my love. Please.” Confusion turning to fear. She stood, she jumped overboard.
Oh god. I see now. I couldn't see before! Faithless! You old fool! Grief. Grief unimaginable.
Her legs disappeared. Like a mermaid. No! Like a siren! Her legs were gone, in their place, a web of tentacles.
“Come with me, my love. Just jump in. We can be together, forever.”
I couldn't see it! I just couldn't see it! Oh god.
The sound of an approaching boat pulled him from the past.
Tom opened his bleeding eyes and saw the light of a boat approaching. A spotlight was waving back and forth, bobbing in time with the coming boat. The light cast from the mighty lamp connected with Tom's boat and halted its scan.
“There he is!” Tom heard a voice call out.
It was the voice of Detective Brister.
Tom looked down at his poor wife’s dead body in his lap.
“They're coming for me baby. No way out of this one.” He looked up and watched the boat slow as it got nearer. He could see the multiple silhouettes moving about on its deck.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wasn't strong enough to believe it. I screwed up, babe. Please forgive me.”
“That's him! He has the body! Holy shit!” Brister was shouting, the boat was close.
“Tom! Tom! Put your hands up where I can see them! Tom, Goddammit!” Sheriff Robert added to the shouting.
Tom rolled his wife's body off him as gently as possible and reached out a hand to brush the tangles of wet red hair from her face. He then leaned down and kissed her forehead one last time.
“I'm sorry. I wasn't strong enough to join you in life. But we can still be together in death. I'm sorry, my love.”
“Tom! Hands up. Now!” The police boat pulled up alongside Tom's and he heard the engine revving as whoever drove her slammed the engine in reverse to bring about a quick stop.
Never taking his eyes off his wife, Tom reached down to the deck and grabbed what lay there. The rifle needed to be re-chambered before it could be fired again, but they don't know that.
“Hands up! Now, Goddammit!”
“Sorry, Bob.” And with that last whispered statement, Tom stood up and raised the bolt-action towards the blinding light.
Multiple echoes of gunshots rang out over the icy harbor. They could be heard as far away as Haines, which was just then waking up. Tom didn't even feel pain as the half dozen bullets ripped through his chest. He smiled, relieved, and collapsed on the deck. Although the sun was rising behind the nearby mountains, his vision was fading to black. He managed to crawl the foot or so necessary to lay next to his wife, side by side, with his arm over her, as they had so many times before. All the pain, the anguish and the questions faded with his last breath. He had at last, found a small peaceful harbor in which to anchor his boat.
I'll see you soon, love.