Canto II: Revelation, Part 7

When Nate returned to the apartment, Gillings was passed out on the kitchen floor. He dragged the man into the hall stairway, and by the time he showered, gathered his gear, and headed back out, the vagrant had vanished.

The vision in the tavern’s basement was enough to make him wonder at his own sanity, and despite knowing better, he considered buying a bottle of whisky, seeking out Gillings in his shack, and trading all responsibility for the chance to ride a wave of oblivion as long as it lasted.

It never lasted long enough, though, and whatever the origin of what he’d seen, it was his dragon to slay, to the benefit of all Littleneck’s residents, including the heinous old oxygen fiends from the church. He wondered if they’d say thank you next time they haunted his dreams.

With the echo of the old man’s derisive chant of Yuh bum! Yuh goddamn bum! ringing in his head, he made sure he had an extra magazine for the .44, then hopped in the car and rolled into the fog. Driving around to the back cove, he unchained the Boston Whaler from where he’d locked it to the pier.

Before transferring his gear to the boat, he texted his new so-called deputy that everything was a go for the yacht. To his surprise, the deputy confirmed, feeding a shred of confidence as dropped into the thirteen footer and took a final inventory. He double checked the gas feed was ready and the craft’s very specific armaments loaded. He’d borrowed them from a tuna fisherman friend, and hoped the makeshift mount would be stable on his small craft. If that detail held, it awaited merely to be ignitioned and throttled.

* * * * *

A heavy wind kicked up that evening as Nate boarded the Star Garnet along with the other guests. The steel gangplank smacked against the water taxi’s hull. The man who offered to help up local journalist Macy Delrayne had a hand covered in a caste. Nate pretended not to recognize him, and was happy when the journalist made the small talk.

“I’m told you’ve a very unusual work of art aboard,” said Delrayne. “May I see it?”

“It’s in the Captain’s Lounge,” said the man. “Through the back, then follow the length of the bar around front.” He indicated the yacht’s rear deck, where a U-shaped bar was taking heavy splashes of sea-foam. Its strings of white lights flickered with the crashing waves. The barkeep, dressed in a nauseating combination of caterer-meets-deckhand vest and shirt, was doing all he could to keep his bottles upright.

Most of the guests looked like tourists from some inland hotels and resorts. A frigid scene on a colder than usual summer night, and many glanced at the skiff like they wished they could catch a lift back to shore.

But another thug the first called ‘Big D’ materialized from the pilot house, pulled up the ladder, and waved the water taxi off.

“Not to worry, please, there’s naught to worry,” said Groves, who emerged from behind the second bodyguard. “Although we’ve a bit of a gale blowing, I’m sure we can find something to keep you warm. Wade, Dennis, could you please escort our guests to the bar?”

Nate clambered along with the other guests behind the guards who led them back to the U-shaped bar. Once the group of them were either leaning against it or holding on to one of the stools riveted to the deck, they closed a metal gate that had previously been left open.

“Don’t want nobody overboard, know what I mean?” said Big D in a thick Brooklyn accent. It was a flimsy cover, but he clearly didn’t care in the first place. He chuckled over some private joke with Wade, who leered at Nate as he made his way up the deck, as if to say he’d be back.

By then nobody was bothering to order anything from the man who himself looked like he was about to tether himself to the steel vent-pipe he was already holding onto. One guest, a gentleman with patches on his sport-jacket who’d been staying at one of the upscale health spas, was retching over the side of the boat, while others seemed to be trying to get their cell phones to work.

Nate scanned the length of the yacht, stern to bow, and picked out the “Captain’s Lounge” as being a large, glassed-in chamber that extended from the right front of the pilot house. It looked to be the size of a lengthy dining room, with white-gold track lighting along the edges of door-sized glass panels.

At the far end stood a steel object made of a girder, pulley, and arm cross-hatched with iron bars. It was a crane with a giant hook on the end. The base protruded from a raised dais, and faced a set of double glass doors that opened directly onto the horizon so that whoever stepped out would drop into the sea.

Macy Delrayne, who’d been mingling despite the deck’s queasy tilt, slid up beside Nate, tablet and stylus in hand. “What do you think that is?” she asked. “Some type of fishing equipment?”

“Of a sort,” said Nate. He turned to her with finality in his smile. “Note the locations of the life jackets,” he said, pointing out where a pair hung from a cord beside a fire extinguisher case.

He glimpsed the woman’s face turn pale as he turned away and moved up the deck to meet Groves.

 * * * * *

“I call it Lure’s Allure,” said Groves with a smirk.

The guests assembled in the Captain’s Lounge were soaked and pale. The seasick man wrapped himself in a wool blanket and crouched like an old clairvoyant crone, rocking back and forth in anticipation of witnessing an unfortunate vision come to pass.

“Are you sure that thing’s safe?” called the local assessor. He looked like he was beginning to sweat his bribe money, making a calculation of risk-versus-reward.

“But of course it will,” said Groves.

“Hooks through my harness,” said the girl beside him. It was Diana Fields, standing among Groves and his men like a magician’s assistant. She wore a silver sequined dress that cut in a low V in the front and back. Her figure could fool the unknowing that its dimpled muscles came from the art of a dancer rather than a life of amphetamines and alcohol. Just above her hips, a thin leather belt followed the shape of her pelvis. Twisting around, she thumbed a pair of steel rings stitched just above it, anchored in the taut flesh on either side of her spine. “All about balance,” she said.

Canto II: Revelation, Part 6

Jeb waited at the bottom. Nate saw him standing in a cone of light cast from a single coiled bulb. He was Jeb, the tavernkeeper, but he was also something else—naked to the waist, his arms looked elongated. He held his left hand thrust forward, its fingers stiff with spines on which Tiny had landed.

The tavernkeeper threw out a right hook and further impaled the fisherman’s chest. Though pale and scaly, Jeb’s torso had taken on a musculature unequal to his age, and his bones looked overlong and deformed. Carrying Tiny’s shocked, quivering body like a half-gutted fish on a spit, he turned and walked deeper into the cavernous workshop.

Harpswell lit more bulbs with a switch on the wall. Nate had to keep back in the shadows, though here the stairs turned away from the concrete wall into an open room, giving him a view from a high vantage.

A trough ran the length of the floor, the type used at the seafood processing plant to feed shellfish along the assembly line. Except this one looked thrice the usual width, and instead of being fed by hoses, appeared to run directly into the harbor. The dark, foaming water surged with each wave of the incoming tide. Nate could see a large shadow emerging from the opening in the wall. Jeb was walking toward it, dragging his freshly killed quarry.

Van Garing had fallen in behind him, dress hanging half off her shoulders, mucked with brine, while the ax dangled by her thigh.

When they reached the mouth of the trough, Jeb climbed up and straddled it. The muscles on his crusty naked body went taut as he hefted Tiny’s corpse and hung it in the trough.

The shadow that slithered through the opening reached the light and Nate shuddered, nearly giving way to vertigo and tumbling from the top of the stairs: a great, shell-encrusted tail, nearly fifty feet long, was quivering its way in with the tide. Where a crustacean would have had spidery legs, the thing had human arms, half swimming, half pulling it along. Its end, where a head would have been, showed a great, gaping circle of a maw. Rows of teeth wound inward in a spiral, disappearing into a cavity of pitted and scabrous cartilage.

Just as the thing reached Jeb’s position, Van Garing hacked off Tiny’s arms. She pulled them from the trough, and Jeb lifted the remainder of the corpse high over his head. The creature’s maw rose up with a third of its length like a gigantic cobra. Foam glistened on its mottled shell and the stink of submarine decay and rancid blood filled the room.

“Cold skin to cold stone, Malgro-Malgron, Lord of Death and Depths, accept our sacrifice!” Van Garing was crying out as Jeb shoved the corpse into the creature’s gullet. The serpent shook its length, exoskeleton clanging against the trough’s steel walls as it swallowed down the fisherman’s body.

As soon as the last of Tiny’s flesh had been devoured, Jeb turned and began himself to climb into the beast’s mouth. Dizzy with what he had seen, Nate at first mistook it for another offering in the frenzy of their ritual. Twisting inward, as if his body fit the corkscrew weaves of the beast’s teeth, Jeb cried out with pain until he was inside the mouth up to his waist.

At that moment the beast clamped down. One more gasp as the thing’s outer jaw bit into the tavernkeep’s midsection like a belt made of teeth. Then his eyes milked over and his own mouth grew fangs. His claws grew longer and the entire serpent began to dance its mutated length in the salty stream, arms fluttering over its fins and bony plates, preening and rolling with the swelling tide as Van Garing cried out: “We live, we live and hunger, and we shall hunt the Star Garnet tonight!”