The lady’s voice had a command quality that Josiah’s soul couldn’t deny. He made for the heavy lid of the trunk.
The monster stroke.
Josiah didn’t see it move, but a sudden rush of wind raised him and sent him overboard, making him land on his haunches in the shallow water. Something hard jabbed at his back, and he remembered he had his knife with him. Josiah didn’t feel comforted by it.
As he looked, the lady took another step towards the shore, and to josiah it looked like she started shining, as if the moonlight reflected strongly on her pale countenance. Perhaps Josiah’s eyes were getting accustomed to the night light, for he appreciated the monster’s appearance fully for the first time.
It wasn’t floating: the beast was as tall as a tree. It looked gaunt, so much so that the skin on its face had retreated, leaving its white, pupil-less eyes protruding on what amounted to little less than an animal-like skull, and row after row of teeth showing beneath its lips. Those teeth reminded Josiah of deckhand Paul Costa. Costa had fallen in the sea months before while working on the sails. Josiah had been the first one to run aft towards the point where Costa had fallen, but the cry of “man overboard” had died in his throat when he had stooped to look for him. For weeks, he had awoken every night, a vision of shark’s teeth searing his mind.
Josiah was petrified. He stared at the thing’s teeth and all he could think of was Paul Costa. He could not move.
“The trunk, Josiah!” the voice said.
The voice. It had power. It gave him strength. It brought him out of his stupor, and in a sudden movement, Josiah threw himself over the lid of the large wooden trunk, just as he felt the monster attacking again. A chilly wind scratched his back, leaving huge gashes there, but he screamed and tore at the lid.
It couldn’t be.
The trunk was empty. Nothing. But it wasn’t possible. It was so heavy!
Josiah saw it then. Darkness, a darkness so complete he thought it was almost alive.
“Move out, you fool!” the lady said.
Josiah obeyed and stumbled back, his boots making splashing sounds. The darkness in the trunk oozed out, hungry tendrils of black mist stretching out above the shore towards the beast. Impossibly, Josiah thought he saw a flicker of understanding flash in the monster’s eyes.
Could it be fear?
The wind increased.
“He’s recognized me,” the lady was saying. Josiah felt she wasn’t really talking to him. “You know who I am, you beast of the cold! I’ve come to banish you to the frozen North you belong to!”
Josiah noticed then that the lady was moving her arms and hands, as if she was doing a slow dance that pointed towards the beast, and the black mist was obeying her. It slithered towards the monster. It screeched, an inhuman wail that raised in volume and tone until he had no option but to cover his ears with his hands.
The wind carried droplets now. Josiah noticed that he was getting cold. The gale swirled around the monster, trying to protect it, but the black mist kept its own steady approach. The lady’s dress danced around her, but she didn’t seem to notice.
Josiah had sailed through everything but a full hurricane, but he had never felt something like this. Rain drops hit his face with such a strength that he reeled under every impact, He tried to cover his face with his hands.
And right there, in a patch of clear air, stood the lady, her arms outstretched, her lips moving as if she was singing a song, a full blizzard raging around her. Mist versus wind, as the black smoke twirled round and round…
Until it touched the monster.
There was a flash of light, and a roar went up in the sky while the wind rushed outwards in an explosion that once again flattered Josiah. As he looked up again, he could see the lady standing, waving her arms again, and the black mist drifted slowly back. There was no trace of the monster.
Something was wrong. Josiah could see the lady was struggling. It looked like she was standing out of sheer free will, and the mist advanced ever so slowly…
“The trunk, Josiah,” she said. “It has to go back in.”
The wind must have closed the lid, so Josiah opened it and stared.
The smoke had stopped. For all that was holy, Josiah felt as if that cloud of black smoke had a mind, and that mind was directed to the lady, full of rage and malice.
The smoke moved.
Towards the lady.
Josiah would later explain that he didn’t know why he had done what he did, but he charged at the smoke, his knife in his hand, and stabbed it several times. Impossibly, it felt like actually stabbing something almost solid.
The mist retreated within the trunk, and Josiah closed the lid and secured it.
The lady was on her knees, her dress painting a flower on the surface around her. She was panting with exhaustion.
“Miss!” Josiah took her arm and helped her stand. She offered him a weak smile.
“What was that, Josiah? What did you do to the mist?”
“Stabbed it with my knife, miss,” Josiah said. It felt ridiculous when he said it out loud.
“Ah, good old iron,” she said.
“Steel, miss. Iron rusts.”
“Steel works as well,” she said.
Josiah looked around. There was no trace of the monster. The one that hadn’t been in the trunk at least. And somehow he was sure that going back to the Trinity was no longer an option.
“What was… that beast?” he asked.
“Wendigo,” she said.
Josiah fought with the unfamiliar syllables.
“What now, miss?” he finally said.
“We go on, Josiah. You don’t think that was the only one, do you? Get my trunk, please.”
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Finish That Scary Story. We had to write 1000 words of a scary story, as a follow-up of the first and second parts of a story written by somebody else.
This is Part One, by Nate F: https://linemeetsand.com/2016/10/13/flash-fiction-challenge/
And Part Two, by Pavowski: https://accidentallyinspired.com/2016/10/15/ashore-flash-fiction-horror-pt-2/
As I said before, I’m not really comfortable with horror, but in the end it was a great experience.