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Friday, May 29, 2020

Enjoy Chapter Five of "Port Story"! | Work in progress | Metaphysical Fantasy

Synopsis: The night has come and gone, and Port Hawktried has as well. Sèbastienne, waking, rushes outside to look around, to see what this new reality, which now includes her and everyone in Port Hawktried, looks like. Read on!


Chapter Five
The Village Meets

She didn’t know what to say or do. Mister Behrend was completely beside himself. She had never seen a grown man cry before, let alone one who did so so forcefully and heartrendingly.

   A moment of great shame overwhelmed her. She didn’t know if it was for him, or that she felt ashamed of herself (for some reason), or both. Confused and at a complete loss for words, she hesitatingly reached and placed her hand on his knee.

   The effect was immediate. Mister Behrend, through what appeared to be a monumental struggle to get hold of himself, calmed down. Eventually he gazed up at her, his unshaven face streaked and red. He took her hand, focusing on it. He turned it over to inspect the palm.

   “Let’s get those out of you,” he rasped, and stood, wiping his face. He released her and gazed down at the bottles of whiskey. Before she could ask, he said: “Whenever there is a Shift, the whiskey shows up, right here, in a crate. The same crate. Exact same. Every time. Right here.”

   That struck Sèbastienne as too unbelievable to be true—until she considered that the Shifts themselves were too unbelievable to be true.

   “Do you throw it out?” she asked delicately, knowing that the crate’s contents were kept and consumed.

   “If you look over the edge of the cliff not far from where I fell, you’ll see a pile of them at the bottom. I thought once that if I just got down there and burned them, that that would somehow stop them from appearing with each new Shift. But ...” he sighed heavily “... it’s impossible to get there, even from town. You can’t even row from the north because of subsurface rocks. It’s very dangerous. Even so, I’ve tried many times. The actual border must be somewhere offshore.”

   He stared at the bottles as though he wanted to take one, open its top, and drink its contents right there. He seemed to struggle mightily, then even more as he peered at her.

   “I need help, Sèbastienne,” he said very quietly. “You saved my life today. I ...” He took in a big lungful of air, his eyes again brimming with tears. “... I ... Would you help me get rid of ... of the bottles and the crate? Would you? As soon as we’re done, I’ll get those splinters out of you. Deal?”

   “Yeah, sure,” she answered, still a bit overwhelmed by his display of emotion. “Absolutely.”

   “I can get it by myself,” he said, reaching down and picking the crate up after slamming the top back down on it and making her jump. “I ... I just need you to walk with me. Just ... don’t leave me. Okay?”

   “Yeah. Okay,” she offered, not sure how that would help him in any substantial manner. To that end, she asked, “Do you need help down the stairs?”

   “I should be okay,” he replied, making his way to them, the bottles clinking. Very tentatively, he stepped down to the first stair. “I can’t see them, so we’ll just go slow.”

   By the time he got to the bottom, his forehead was sheened with sweat, even though the sun had set and the air had cooled considerably.

   “I’ve never done this before,” he told her. “I’ve never had the strength.”

   She hurried around him to the door and opened it. He stepped outside, and then carefully down the front stairs. Though bulky and unwieldy, he didn’t seem to have too much trouble walking with the crate, whose contents, she guessed, probably would have been too heavy for her to lift, let alone carry for any distance.

   The evening sky blazed orange and red, the breezes settling, the roar of the surf louder. He approached the ledge she had helped him back onto and stood silent and still. He closed his eyes, mumbled something that sounded like a prayer, and heaved the crate over the edge.

   It smashed down a couple of seconds later, loud enough to silence the sea for a moment. He turned and faced her.

   “Thank you, Sèbastienne” he said. “You have saved my life twice today. Thank you.”

They sat on the couch after he cleared it of the dirty clothes, a needle in his hand, one that he had held over the stove flame to sterilize it. He took her hand and gently eased the fine tip under the skin next to the splinter. Sèbastienne, wincing, struggled not to jerk her hand away.

   “You were incredibly brave today,” he said, glancing up after he retrieved the splinter and began on the next. “I didn’t ask—why did you come here?”

   “Oh, Lord ...” she whispered, her eyes growing wide.

   “What?” he asked, his brow furrowing. “What’s wrong?”

   “What time is it?”

   “I ... don’t know,” he answered, putting the needle down. “It’s after sunset.” He stood. “I’ll be right back.”

   He disappeared down the dark hallway that led from the living room, returning a minute later. In his hand was a fob watch and silver chain. “It’s 7:50,” he said, showing her.

   She sprang to her feet. “I’m so sorry, Mister Behrend!”

   At that moment someone pounded on the door.

   “What’s going on?” he demanded.

   “I was sent to tell you that the sheriff is holding a meeting tonight to discuss ... I ... I’m sorry!”

   Mister Behrend walked to the door. Someone pounded on it again. “Behrend! Open up!” came a man’s angry voice.

   He glanced at her, then opened the door. Lifting his hands in a gesture of startled surrender while backing up, he blurted, “What the hell is this?”

   Sèbastienne came to his side immediately.

   Ivar Strohkirch has leveled a shotgun, one pointed between his eyes.

   Sheriff Leslie and Mayor Tamboli both yelled, “Strohkirch! Put that down immediately!”

   “What have you been doing to this innocent little girl?” Strohkirch bellowed, advancing inside. He hadn’t listened to the sheriff or the mayor.

   Doctor Faust pushed her way to the mob’s front, which numbered around forty. Many were carrying torches or oil lamps. She mounted the stairs and grabbed the barrel of the gun and yanked down. “Are you mad?” she roared. “We told you to leave your manhood back home!”

   Strohkirch growled and tried yanking the weapon back up, but Mayor Tamboli, who was a large, densely muscled man, was instantly there. He snatched the barrel and with a single vicious tug released it from Strohkirch’s grip, who flew across the room into the wall. Tamboli handed it to the sheriff. “Here.”

   Strohkirch was instantly in Tamboli’s face. “You insolent nigger!”

   “ENOUGH!” yelled Doctor Faust. “Ivar, get out of this domicile at once. Now!”

   Sèbastienne had never seen her so enraged. Sheriff Leslie stepped between the mayor and Strohkirch, who appeared ready to go to blows. She turned to Strohkirch. “I will never hear you use that word in this town again, Ivar,” she warned, her voice dangerous and low. “You do, and I’ll demand the mayor have a vote to censure you—permanently. Do you understand me?”

   Mayor Tamboli, who appeared ready to take Strohkirch apart limb from limb (and appeared entirely able to do it), continued his death-stare at Strohkirch, who, after a moment, backed down, then barreled out of the home when it became clear the sheriff wasn’t going to give his shotgun back. “What do I care if that drunk does unspeakable things to that girl? She’s not my daughter!”

   The crowd parted with gasps as he stormed between them back towards the village. They turned to resume staring at Sèbastienne and Mister Behrend, who stepped bravely (Sèbastienne thought) forward to say: “Sèbastienne saved me today. I fell off the cliff. I was there all night. She helped me get to safety. Without her I’d surely be dead now.”

   The crowd gasped again, followed instantly by whispers. Sèbastienne thought she heard the word “drunk” and “stumbling” and “inebriated” get bandied about. It angered her, and so she stepped in front of him, ready to yell if she must, but Dr. Faust grabbed her wrists, her face agog. “You did what? Is that true?

   She hesitated, then nodded.

   “Oh, my sweet child!” cried Dr. Faust to more mumbling and whispers. “You could’ve died yourself!”

   She pulled Sèbastienne into a suffocating hug, then pulled back to appraise her. “You’re a right mess! Are you injured?”

   “A few splinters. I was taking them out when you all showed up,” offered Mr. Behrend.

   “I forgot!” yelled Sèbastienne in his defense, for the mumbling and murmuring had taken a distinctly angry turn. “Please! It’s my fault! I’m sorry I alarmed you!”

   She cast a pleading stare around at the crowd, who seemed to mellow a little in response. She settled it last on Dr. Faust. “Please!”

   “We’re not angry with you, dear!” replied Dr. Faust. “And—speaking for myself, at least—I’m not angry with you, Mister Behrend.”

   “Nor I,” said the sheriff, making her voice loud enough so that the rest could hear.

   “Nor I,” announced Mayor Tamboli. “Now that we’ve established that Sèbastienne is safe, and so is citizen Behrend, can we please decide what we’re going to do with the return of an actual killer?”

   “What ... what’s going on?” said Mister Behrend, looking at them, confused. “A killer? Do you mean Myles—? Raleigh Myles? He’s ... back?

   “I was hoping to have this meeting at City Hall,” grunted Sheriff Leslie. “But ... oh, well. Anybody waiting back there will just have to get the news later.”

   “Half the town is here anyway, Sheriff,” observed Dr. Faust. She glanced at Mr. Behrend. “May we come in?”

   He gave Sèbastienne a quick glance, one that told her immediately what he felt about that.

   “Let’s just meet, if I may suggest, here in his yard,” she said. She knew he was embarrassed by the disheveled state of his home, and had no intentions of hosting half the village.

   “Good idea,” said the mayor, who raised his bass voice: “Everybody—move back! We’ll meet out in the yard. Go on!”

   The crowd pulled back. In another few minutes they were gathered in a lopsided circle in the front yard, the torches and oil lamps casting their shadows indistinctly on the ground. Again, Mister Behrend asked—“Raleigh Myles—is back?”

   “Indeed,” said Dr. Faust grimly. “Indeed he is.”

   “Wasn’t he under your employ at one time?” asked the marketkeeper, Matteus Tormod. The unkempt top of his gray head was just visible from where Sèbastienne was standing. He stepped forward fully into the torchlight.

   “Yes. That’s right,” replied Mister Behrend. “Is that significant somehow?”

   Mr. Tormod shook his head, the torchlight glinting off his round spectacles. “Was just askin’, Gert. Don’t know if he’d come a-lookin’ for ya, is all.”

   “He worked for us, too,” offered Mrs. Gouyen, whose husband was lost in the first Shift, and who, with her, ran the docks and the small Seafarer’s Inn there. “Used to offload cargo. Hard worker.”

   “There is a cove just north of town,” said Sheriff Leslie. “The mouth of a river. I saw him there. So did Sèbastienne.”

   All eyes turned to her. She nodded.

   “Just in case anybody’s forgotten,” said Mister Behrend, “Raleigh Myles’ last employer was Ivar Strohkirch.”

   “Not like he would give us any more information on him than he already has,” grumbled Dr. Faust.

   “I think the question we should be focusing on,” spoke up Anzhelina Jessie, who stepped fully into the torchlight,” is what the hell we should do about it. Have we thoroughly searched the boat for clues?”

   Sheriff Leslie shook her head. “We haven’t had the time. I’ve got Isak and Wayra guarding it.”

   The crowd seemed satisfied with that. Isak and Wayra Olvirsson were brothers and two of the largest men in town (if you didn’t include Mayor Tamboli). They had retired from the navy and were on their way to California when the first Shift came.

   “That may not be enough,” said the mayor, shaking his head. “You get a man desperate enough, and two won’t stop him.”

   “Do you think he’ll try to leave?” asked Sèbastienne. “I mean, much past the border?”

   “That’s actually a very good question,” said Dr. Faust with a confident nod in her direction. “Within the borders all is known—and he surely knows he’s back near the village. He may be hard-put for supplies, and may have already come looting for some, or is planning to. He may be out for more revenge, for all we know!”

   The crowd murmured their agreement.

   “I think what everybody is concerned about is what we need to do about it,” rumbled the mayor, glancing around when everybody murmured again.

   “Maybe we should arm up!” called out Mr. Madeira. “A man’ll think twice breakin’ into another’s home if he knows that man has a firearm!”

   The sheriff shook her head. “We don’t have enough weapons, for one,” she said, “and for another, the fastest way for one of us to get killed isn’t by Mister Myles, but by that idea. With all due respect, Mister Madeira.”

   Mr. Madeira gave a scowl and grunt in reply.

   “So the question comes down to this: What should we do?” commented Dr. Faust, looking around.

   “I like Tacito’s idea,” said Mister Cardoso, gesturing in Mister Madeira’s direction. “But instead of arming everyone up, as he suggests, we arm up a few volunteers and we go and bring Raleigh Myles into custody!”

   That brought an instant round of applause and “Hear! Hear!” from the crowd. Mister Madeira was nodding; he stepped next to Mister Cardoso and clapped his shoulder.

   Sheriff Leslie glanced at both of them, then spoke up over the crowd, which was still talking loudly. “All right, all right! Let’s bring some order here!” She gazed at the two men. “Are you two volunteering?”

   “Damn right I am!” replied Mr. Cardoso. Mr. Madeira, on the other hand, hesitated. But—kudos to him, thought Sèbastienne—he stepped forward. “I’m arthritic, and may not be the best tracker or fighter, but sure. What the hell.”

   “He’s a dangerous man!” yelled Dr. Faust, glancing around at everyone as though they’d lost their minds. “We need to think this through more!”

   “All the more reason to take the fight to him,” said Mister Behrend, surprising everyone. “We can’t wait for miracles to happen.” He looked straight at Sèbastienne for a moment, giving her a hard smile, before gazing at the sheriff. “Count me in with the hunting party.”

   The surprise produced even more murmurs. Mister Behrend had, for all these Shifts, been a drunken, rarely seen recluse.

   “Gert—? Are you sure?” asked Dr. Faust, coming to him and grabbing his arm.

   “I’m sure,” he said. “Very sure. Within the border all is known. There are supplies and food. I don’t think he can resist that—which makes him an immediate danger to all of us.”

   “All right, then,” said Sheriff Leslie. “I need six able-bodied men or women to meet me at the station tomorrow morning, bright and early. Let’s say 7 o’clock. By the will of the people of Port Hawktried, we’re going to apprehend Raleigh Myles.”