Instead of stripping down, throwing on a crisp set of pajamas and slipping under her cool sheets, Dusty flumped on top of her bed in her dirty overalls. Mesmerised by her totem, she caressed the contours with her fingers in wonder of the secret past such a treasure could behold. Besides Richie's, there were other faces on her prize inlaid within the stone filigree. Below her uncle’s smiling face was an old woman’s face, a hard gaze her expression. And under her stern glare was a young boy, aloof. And beneath his aloof expression was a gaunt old man, with a stern and determined face. There was no signs of any kind of time period that this wonder had come from--she hadn’t seen anything like it in her school books or on TV. The faces were not stylized, which stood in stark contrast against the rest of the effigy. Wrapped around these visages were serpents of some kind--very ornate and simple shapes. It reminded her of the creatures on old world maps she had seen in books. She spun the idol in her hands looking for secrets through dreary eyes; her tranquil examination slowly ebbed to sleep.
Her body twitched and shivered under the pressing cold. Half aware of her frigidness through her sleepy trance, Dusty’s eyes bleared open searching for the cause of her discomfort.
A green pulsing light inches from her nose became apparent as her vision adjusted. A small fish hovered before her; a fringe of yellow light throbbed down its spine creating an emerald smolder around it.
Dusty jammed the heels of her palms into her eyes and rubbed fiercely. Opening them once more she could see the fish was no longer there. She shuddered shaking the remnants of whatever dream she was having away. Taking a deep breath, Dusty felt the dense air pour into her lungs, allowing herself to acclimate to the new state of awareness. That was some dream she must’ve been having she thought. Scanning the room, she could see her window was wide open. The thin curtains flowed gently in the breeze, though she felt no wind on her skin, just the chill of the room.
Swinging her feet to the floor, Dusty exhaled a healthy yawn and gave her arms a good stretch. As she began to plod towards the offending window, darts of light flickered beneath her feet. Startled, she jumped back on her bed from the spectacle and drew her covers up to her eyes. Above, a school of disquieted fish shot this way and that attempting to find refuge among the ceiling fan in her room; all the while pulsing in unison with their verdant glow. She watched the display flit and settle among the wooden blades. Gathering her courage, Dusty stood on her bed to get a closer look and the fish danced away towards the furthest corner of the room, then out into the night. Springing from the bed and stumbling over the rug, she clamored to the window after them.
She clutched the warm idol in her breast pocket with trembling hands; comfort--her eyes locked on the fish through the gloom, twinkling lights sputtered behind as the group winked out of sight. Dusty sighed at the loss of wonder and squinted her eyes to sharpen her vision. Upon scanning the night she could see that those twinkles that chased the fish were now becoming brighter. Bigger. Soon a dazzling wonderland was blossoming before her eyes. An oasis of giant coral blooming with all the colors she could imagine. She gaped at the wondrous sight, then began to choke profusely as the realization set in that she was floating and underwater.
Dusty back-peddled into her room seeking refuge in vain from the fluid that already filled her lungs. A warm charge emanated from the statue in her pocket and a calmness overcame her; she held her breath. A comforting hand patted her shoulder and she could see it was her father’s, he was signaling with body language a breathing motion. Dusty struggled against herself but he remained stern to demonstrate once more.
Against everything that screamed safe in her mind she inhaled the thick fluid, her eyes widened in disbelief as her lungs were nourished. On realising her feat, her father smiled down at her and gestured towards the window. They both swam to the sill with brimming smiles.
Her dad pointed again out into the glowing oasis: go have fun.
Dusty lept from the opening, her strokes unnaturally powerful as she glided above the glittering brilliance. It was as if she was flying. Every single pull of her arms felt like ten. She closed her eyes, enjoying the race of water rippling over her body as she zoomed.
She turned to see her house overgrown with beautiful glowing coral. Dusty motioned to her father to join her, but a figure that was not her father waved back.
A gaunt figure with a stiff brimmed hat silhouetted the window. A muffled yelp escaped her lips and she thrust her limbs jetting back towards her home.
Something snagged the back of her overalls and she screamed, kicking against the strong groping hands and twisting her body beneath their grasp.
Her uncle’s grasp.
Before her was the snarling rotted face of Richie. He was clawing at her pocket that held the statue. As his hands gripped and pulled, bits of his flesh tore away muddying the water around them. She could taste his rancid tissue with every respire. Above, the moon was a giant saucer, spotlighting them through the calm surface as they drifted to the sea floor, its brightness and size diminishing her struggle. The shape of a boat floated center stage; a blotch against its stark face.
She booted and pulled against her uncle’s grasp until his meaty arms were nothing but bone. One last tug and she was free--sinking like a rock regardless of her flailing. Looking up from her descent, Richie drifted in the gentle undercurrent; viridescent eyes peering down at her.
A miasma of green light stirred and swirled as Dusty feet touched the silty seabed. Like leaden weights, her toes pressed deep into its surface. As the shimmer died out, she scanned above to see Rich’s limp body wafting ever closer, eyes flickering, but still aglow.
Shrieking, she began to plod away from her uncle. Every footstep thrusting deeper into the murky floor; each impression spider-webbing the same noxious light as before.
The ground was now charged with a pale shimmer--Dusty its battery. Ahead she could see large sea plants swaying dimly underlit by the luminesce. Refuge; a place to hide from the horror above.
Nearer now, terror jolted through her spine as she realized that these were not plants at all. Before her were ribbons of gore--bloated bodies woven within spiney tombs. Hundreds of them. Dusty wrenched her legs to no avail, the illuminated seabed strobing with every tug.
Struggling, her eyes remained transfixed on the graveyard before her.
One of the pods twirled and twitched within itself, then another. Dusty could barely make out the motion through the light show that she was creating. Seams within the figure opened and curled as willowy tissue crept from within, searching its surroundings. Dusty could hear the boney case cracking as another meaty streamer quested through the flashing murk.
Then all was dark.
Even the laughing moon above seemed to wink from existence. Dusty’s chest pounded like a thousand drums. She could taste the bile of fear in the back of her throat as she flailed in the blackness. Her foot began to budge. Hope. She pulled with all her might and then it was loose; albeit plunging fast again into the mud. Another step. Her legs pumped as the dug into the soft earth--her body was getting lighter.
Dusty could see a rope in the distance centered on a hill just ahead. Tracing it up towards the surface of the water, she could make out the shape of the boat she saw earlier. Why could she see? It didn’t matter. Lightweight now, Dusty was making strides.
With each racing step, pockets of dirt ebbed away into nothingness. A skeleton of rock remained after each footstep. Giant holes to get lost in forever. As the ground sunk away the choking murk remained. She coughed through her panic--almost there. Whatever was trailing her was getting brighter, but Dusty didn’t dare look behind. The soft amber glow from a giant candle flickering behind lit her way--and that is what she needed right now. Death could wait.
With one last jump she made it to the center of the hillock and began to pull the rope. Yards of slack came and it just kept coming--as was the boat. Every tug yanked the vessel that much further. A broken toy. Another figure burned in the warm light drifting in orbit around the doomed ship--a human shape.
Dusty let the line drop and it continued to fall into tangled mound around her. Her breath palpitated with sobs as she turned towards the fluttering bright light.
Below her in a semicircle around the base of the rise was a mass of tendrils, strings and limpid flesh swaying in the current. It throbbed within itself as it slowly closed the circle, encompassing the mound entirely from which she stood. Resigned and defeated, Dusty gave the display a catatonic stare as she awaited her end.
The mass jittered in an area straight ahead and a figure pushed forward. An amorphous form of reaching arms pulled in and out of the creature as if it were constantly crystallizing new growths to create further movement--all the while other appendages reached and tasted its surroundings. Just feet away it paused. Dusty ground her teeth as she remained stoic, the remnants of human fear bleeding away. With the creature close she could see now, a figure within this figure with steady streams of golden bioluminescence flowing into it.
A snapping sounded as the boat finally hammered itself against some rocks in Dusty’s perepreals. Dusty paid it no mind as she watched faces grow upon faces to complete the remainder of its trek. The final visage flowed before her with the same curious movement as the rest of its body. She was mesmerized.
The last remnants of rope brushed her arm, but she was dimly aware as she watched the globulous shape quest in the current. Another caress, this time more firm. The face and body went rigid as a coiled snake as a sneer of a smile ripped across its gaunt surface--expectant.
Something touched her again.
Turning, she saw her fathers mangled body; the other figure that was adrift with the sunken boat. His corpse lurched as amber tendrils from the ground burrowed into him, calcifying into husks along the way. She screamed and the form threw back its head and mocked her with silent laughter.
It reared again as new arms shot from its body and throttled her neck.
A thousand tiny needles numbed her as she screamed in silence, the creature mocking her as it continued to squeeze.
Her body thrashed through the water.
Wake up Dusty.
“Wake up Dusty” her father screamed.
Her face tingled and stung.
Gary slapped her again. “Holy Christ wake up!”
She opened her eyes to see her father above her, hand cocked to slap her again. Dusty sobbed and Gary embraced her with the best kind of hug a little girl could get from her daddy.
“Swea’ Pea you’ve been screaming in terror for the past five minutes or more. It’s just a nightmare.” She hugged him tighter. “You’re okay...you’re okay.”
“Come on now”, he hoisted her up and cradled her in his arms.
“Can I sleep with you tonight dad?”
“That’s where we’re going Pea, that’s where we’re goin’.” He shushed her and caressed her hair.
To be continued.
If you like what you’ve read, I’d love to know about it. I would eventually like to make an illustrated book with my story. You letting me know you are interested helps fuel the fire to finish Tworoger. Any comments or criticisms are welcome below. Thanks for reading!