Welcome to Beware! Dark Seas Halloween showcase, an annual author & artist showcase that features talented creators. Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Prepare for dark stories, myths & legends, and creepy creations that will make the hair on the nape of your neck stand up straight. May the water have mercy on your soul.
Island of the formless
BY erin austin
A drip of water from the ceiling landed in his throat. It set off a sudden, violent choking; rousing him from sleep’s clutches.
It was unusual that dim lighting hampered his vision but In the few seconds it took for him to be able to see, one thing was obvious; he wasn’t alone. Heavy blotches resolved into the shape of a human. Aside from the faint rasp of metal as it moved, he hadn’t been sure the other was alive.
“Good, you’re awake. Did not want to have to eat you.” Did the hideous squat man – chained? – yes, chained – in the corner say that? Of course he did.
R’aeh tried to move his torso. His head hurt, he was dizzy, and his bottom half refused to obey. He grumbled something unintelligible to the other figure as he braced himself to try again.
“Hey, uh, maybe take it easy,” the nasty lump in the corner spoke again. “You were in the reef. I – uh – found you with my boat. You took a pretty bad hit to the head. I got you out of the water. Man, that took some doing – you made out of rocks or something? Anyway, we’re stuck here for a while.”
R’aeh hadn’t realized that he’d been so close to The Island. The Island explained the mewling fleshbag – and the chains. The Island’s mistress had a sense of humor about that sort of thing. R’aeh glanced, disgusted, at the man – the oaf – who did not seem concerned in the slightest to be a breathing fixture on the wall. In fact – astonishingly – the buffoon had the key to his bondage on a smaller chain draped around his thick neck. R’aeh had no patience for lesser specimens if they served him no purpose. He determined to make use of the cretin immediately. The sneer on his lips could have been taken for a grimace of pain as he faced the unappetizing creature with no instinct for self-preservation. It dared to keep attempting conversation with him.
“They call me D-licious, because the ladies all want a taste.” The anchored flesh bag spoke with pride. R’aeh stared it down. The only female he could imagine getting close enough to masticate this grunting sack of meat would never bother with the formality of learning its given name first.
R’aeh moved around the bed, not taking his eyes off the grotesque horror for a second. Every muscle movement was calculated – predatory. The creature hesitated before it tried again.
“Desmond Aloysius. D,” it gestured at itself trying to impart meaning to the sounds.
“For you,” he sneered again. This time a layer of pointed teeth shown beyond vague lips. He gestured with a slight incline of a massive head. “Where is she?”
D shook his head. She had been gone for so long and the pain of her absence threatened to rip him in half from the inside. But she’d asked him to wait here. Right here. With her stunning golden eyes staring into his heart. She’d left him this key in case he wanted to get away. But he may as well have been a mushroom. He planted himself where she left him, bitter that this muscular predator with the saturnine smile should be gifted the comfort of a bed. He did not hide the contempt in his voice as this monstrosity spoke so casually of the whereabouts of his queen.
“She asked me to stay,” D squealed in self-satisfaction. Clearly, he had something his true heart’s desire wanted. She’d asked him to stay. He would never deny the queen of his affections something so easily given. This burly mound couldn’t possibly give more to her than D could. This – interloper – this – Ray character, was hardly fit to be in her presence, let alone speak with his vicious voice and razored jaws. D was spared further conflict about how much to tell this man about his precious love when an aura of electricity raised the sharp hairs along the back of his neck and along his jowls.
The pounding rain on the roof intensified. Ionized air gusted in with a torrent of water when she entered, dry and put together as though a mere spring zephyr had puffed in with her. Her hips swayed in exaggerated rhythm, demanding; sex, power, sex, power with each rolling step. She wore unreasonably strappy sandals for the miserable damp. The gauzy material of her dress was also questionable for the weather. It too was dry, floating about her with a hint of breeze from nowhere, flicking sensuous earthy scents around the room heedlessly.
Her whole being sang of wanton abandon in charged chords that drifted through the air. She carried a plate of food in hand. It too wafted heady aromas. She placed it quietly on the floor before her willing prisoner. D attacked the food ravenously, his upturned nose practically in the dish as he grunted with pleasure.
“Witch!” R’aeh exclaimed in anger and disgust. D, incensed, lifted his head from gorging, ready to defend his perfect goddess from the massive brute. But she smiled! Her heartbreakingly perfect mouth raised sweetly at the corners. She smiled at the cruel muscle-bound man.
D nearly choked on his meal, though he did notice that she hadn’t brought any for the mountain. He recovered some of his certainty. Food was for him alone. She looked at him momentarily, and he was lost in pure bliss. He no longer heard, or cared for, anything beyond his darling’s thoughtful gift. He didn’t even notice when she smiled a smile that was not wholesome and pleasant. The dark hardness to it had no place on the perfection of her cheeks. Her sand-golden eyes changed to a stormy sea-grey for a flash. But in a blink, all was right.
“You shouldn’t antagonize them,” she purred with a look directly at D, sitting serenely in her presence with chains. She turned gracefully to face R’aeh. “They try to focus. It spoils the effect if they succeed.” Glancing over her shoulder, she acknowledged, “This one will be ready before long.” She turned back to face him. “Join me for dinner tomorrow?” The invitation promised all things, but R’aeh ignored it. He made a hand gesture that read ‘why was I brought here?’ She shook her head, turning to go.
“Witch!” he grabbed her arm. She spun to face him, glaring. Wind and rain lashed the roof as electricity charged the air inside again. His tone softened. “Xirxe. Why?” he insisted.
“The fool hit you with his boat near the reef. You dragged underneath it through part of the barrier.” She paused when his eyes narrowed. “I saw through my glass. I made it to shore just before the boat grounded, still dragging you, I might add. You were breathing, so I had him bring you inside. You’ve been drifting in and out all day.”
D grunted. He’d been grunting while he ate, but this one had a different pitch. Snuffling sounds continued, deepening. He’d shifted from sitting on his rump to leaning in, face-first, with a move that appeared as graceless as falling forward onto his dish. Knees folded, ankles buckling into already thick thighs before melting entirely into his legs. Stubby arms repeated the process. His elbows and knees toughened, hardening and splitting. Grunts became squeals of discomfort as he collapsed onto his side. His face stretched out between the forehead and mouth. The nose lengthened and rounded alarmingly. Sharp fangs jutted suddenly from the reforming lower jaw. As R’aeh watched, D became a swine on the outside – which R’aeh impassively considered an improvement. Xirxe smirked softly. She opened the door into the still howling storm and nudged the plate of food out the door with her toes. The boar that had been D grunted forlornly when his dish exited the building.
“Not to worry pet, you’ll be finished soon.” Her smile was not kind, but the boar couldn’t tell anymore. It didn’t panic when she removed the chain bearing the key from around its neck. Xirxe opened the lock for the chain. The boar, free of its tether, raced outside. It squealed in fright as a bolt of lightning arched across miserable sodden skies. She chuckled grimly, pulling the door shut behind her.
“I expect you for dinner,” she stated.
“I have doubts about the edibility of your main dish.”
“I’ll take care of that. The storm is passing within the hour. The fear of the storm will wash away the rest of its mind. You will be free to leave the coming dawn after.” She, lady of illusions, bore none over the length of his stay. She touched his arm softly, brushing her hand across his muscles like a whisper. “Maybe a swim before you go?”
Pain in his eyes gave him the look of a man on the verge of collapse. Sadness welled up across his face.
“Xirxe,” he began, but her soft fingers shushed him.
“I know,” she said, “I’m not pretending. I just thought it would be nice.”
R’aeh caught Xirxe up in his arms, carrying her out into the deluge. The pouring rain drenched him to the skin. R’aeh sighed as he relaxed into her.
His face contorted when he felt her shudder in hopeless, silent sobs as she buried her face into his shoulder. His expression faltered. Something in his spirit snapped, crumpling into a heap within. Unexpectedly gentle hands tipped her chin up. Tears glistened in the golden sorrow pools of her face. His deep blue eyes, nearly black in the darkness, riveted to her face as he breathed the strange magic of her in ragged bursts. When their lips touched it was tragic. A series of waves swelled to smash themselves bitterly against the cliff’s edge. Melting fire pulsed from within her, singeing him. Even wincing, he did not release. It was already clear that his insides were just as torched as the skin. The ocean pulled back to rage, full-force, at the island’s immovable sides. Foam and salt hurtled angry fists, landing in trickles, lost in the driving rain. He set her carefully down, wiped tears from her still dry face with his drenched thumbs, turned, and stalked back inside. His heart wrenching against his chest conflicted with the beating of the tide’s fury.
As promised, the squall in the sky above the island ended, though the sea still raged. R’aeh paced along the shore line and the edge of the cliffs all day under dreary grey skies. He avoided the scorched earth near the cabin’s door. He moved along the land closest to the water in smooth strides, never tiring, never pausing to observe or to sit. He focused on the waves as the tides shifted calamitously, staring out toward the reef, a prisoner inspecting the fences containing him. The light of the clandestine sun eventually slipped past the horizon. He took his time tracing his way back to the cabin.
The table was prepared. A meal consisting of boar, greens and wine. He ate what she served, only barely tasting it. The meat was softened by a near sedentary life. R’aeh stared at Xirxe – and through her. His mind dried up, hopelessly out of his depth. Pain fought with dejection as the meal ended. He bowed over her hand as she left in silence.
Dawn crept over the island apologetically, not wishing to disturb the residents. R’aeh stalked down to the beach. Determination pounding each step into divots in the sand. He halted because she was there, already in the surf, frolicking with abandon. Her hair cascaded, chestnut, down her shoulders. Everything glistened a little too much, hurting his eyes.
R’aeh dropped his clothes in the sand as the tide reached for his toes. Xirxe stood in the water, walking to him. He took her hand gloomily. Each knew where he belonged, though neither felt any joy in knowing. She pulled him slowly toward the waves. The sting of a nearby smell knocked him off guard. He froze – body stiffening. A drop of blood dripped from her hand into the foam.
“Even when I let you go, you are not free R’aeh. I know all of where your heart lies. And I will feed what of it I can.”
He yanked her to him by the arm, hoisting her off the sand, battling his competing hungers. As the tide rushed in he grew less delicate, pulling her in as though to absorb every aspect everywhere he could find space. R’aeh’s teeth found Xirxe’s shoulder. The bite subdued her wildness for the briefest moment. They crashed together into the brine. The tidal ebb and flow matching their rhythm. He pulled out to sea, not releasing his hold; slackening only enough to maneuver. As the reef neared, he shifted. Mountain man R’aeh slipped back into his own grey skin. A dorsal fin jutted out of his back as his tail retook human legs. By the time he hit the barrier, the man-shape was gone.
Two sharks swam side-by-side in slow glides for over an hour before R’aeh slid away – back to the jealous embrace of his watery mistress – the sea.