Right, so this is merely another creative outlet for me, since I'm a little tired writing sci-fi right now and simply don't have the energy of continuing my other stories. This is a horror story.
"Quite frankly, I think it's a stupid idea."
"Well, that doesn't surprise me, Frank; you've never really been supportive of my ideas anyway."
"Maybe not, but this one is a particularly bad one. I won't have any part in it."
"It's your loss, mate, your loss."
"Eli, don't be like that."
"Be like what? Dead-sure that this is the real deal? That this might actually give some gratification? I…listen Frank, I don't care whether you come with me or not, I'm going, and I'm taking people with me."
"None from the agency. They'll most likely alert the authorities when we find it."
"Nobodies, people no one knows about…or cares about. There's also a certain writer I need…"
"…I can't stop you, can I?"
"You could try, but you'll most likely end up hurt."
"Then I see no other way than to bar you from our funds."
"Actually, you'll do no such thing."
"And why is that?"
"Because if you do…I'll kill you."
"You have some guts—"
"And I'll cut yours out if you try to impede my progress in any way. I've made my decision, Frank, I suggest you make yours…and it better be the right one. For both our sakes, of course."
"…you'll pay for this, Eli. Sooner or later, you will pay for this."
"Probably, but not today, daddy-o. We will speak again when I return. Until then, I bid you a gracious adieu."
"Fuck you too."
"Don't die on me, you sick bastard…"
"I'm glad we could come to an agreement, Mr. Shanks. It would be a pleasure to have you on board." The sentence was said with a smile, and the grin that was gradually, slowly spreading on Eli's face could be called frightening, or in the very worst case, sickening. Pearly white teeth were framed by luscious red lips on a pale face. His hair, black and long, framed the face. High cheekbones were clearly visible, and a strong chin gave him a very attractive presence. Eyes blacker than coal peered out from under long eyelashes at the man in front of him. The only thing that marred the perfection of Eli's face was a long scar that stretched from the middle of his forehead all the way down to his upper lip, and then continued further down.
Shanks grunted. "I'm only doing this for the money, yeah? No heeber-jibbies of any kind. I'll just come along, do the job and take the money." The man was burly, a scraggly beard catching the many crumbs and other things that fell from his mouth. A lumberjack-type shirt adorned his upper body and very tight jeans his lower. "So how much are we talking about here?"
Eli shifted in his chair, wishing he'd taken off his coat before sitting down. "Well, I'm not completely sure about the exact sum as of yet, Mr. Shanks, but I can promise it is a big one. We'll split it in four, one for each of us." No point in taking any more. Too many already know about this. Maybe I should have killed Frank…oh well, guess I'll do it when I come back, or rather…if I come back.
"Four? Who?" he barked.
"Well, there's you and me, that's two, and then there's Mr. David West, a very pleasant individual and genius writer, and Ms. Lisa Holmes, an archaeologist."
"What do you need an archaeologist for?" asked Shanks, dark eyes glittering from underneath extremely bushy eyebrows.
"Well, it may be that what we're looking for might be a tad ancient, which means we'll need a professional to handle it. I certainly don't know how to do that, especially with these hands," Eli answered, flexing his silk-covered hands. They made a crackling sound, not quite unlike sandpaper scraping against bare skin. "They are a tad useless, I'm afraid." Have been for years.
Shanks looked disgusted by the sound, much to Eli's amusement. Gets them every time. "Well," Shanks grunted, "I guess you've got yourself another pair of hands to stuff for ya then. I'll do it."
Eli's grin widened, which seemed to be borderline psychotic by now. "Excellent. I will call you later when I have worked out all the details. It will be quite a long trip, so if you have any houseplants that need watering, I suggest you leave them with your neighbour or something." He walked to the door, Shanks remaining sitting. "I hope you will have a pleasant evening and be prepared to work like a dog come next week. Farewell." Shanks grunted while Eli, with great pain, pulled down the door handle and stepped out into the cold mountain air. Neighbours…ha, I'm so funny sometimes. If Shanks had any neighbours, then they would be miles away. The helicopter pilot stood shivering next to his whirlie-bird. Eli gave him a signal with his thumb and the pilot quickly climbed into his helicopter and started the engine as Eli slowly limped his way over. Damn this cold…
A dial tone could be heard.
"Hello, I'm looking to speak with Mr. David West."
"Who is this?"
"I'm his publisher. Mr. West has stepped way over his deadline and I wanted to inform him that I need his book by Thursday if he wants to keep his contract. Who am I speaking to?"
"I'm his brother. David's not here. He hasn't been for a couple of days now, not sure where he is."
"Well, if you see him by Thursday, please inform him of my request. If you don't see him before Thursday…tell him that he's fired and needs to find a new publisher. Good day."
The dial tone was back.
Say one thing for David West, say he can't keep his stomach. Eli was watching the poor writer heave the contents of his stomach into the turbulent ocean. How one man can vomit so much and yet remain standing…it's impressive, I'll give him that. The others were watching him as well, Shanks bellowing with laughter. Lisa had an amused look on her face, but there were moments where just a trickle of sympathy for the writer was there.
Lightning flashed overhead and thunder clapped, throwing the little boat around on the waves. Darkness enveloped the sea, the only source of light being the small lights on the fishing boat they had hired to take them to their destination. Eli had wanted a plane, but as turned out, the final destination had no known airports or runways, but there was a dock, and so he had decided a boat would be better. The man driving the boat looked like he was in some kind of Zen mood, calm like he was sitting at home in front of a roaring fireplace, reading a good book of some kind, most likely one of David's. He too was taking small looks at David and laughing at him. Eli almost felt sorry for him, almost. I've been through worse. He looked down at his hands in their silken cocoons. Much worse…
The boat hit a particularly large wave and Eli was almost thrown off his feet. Shit. He had stepped into a bucket filled with some rather nasty brown water. He thought he could spy a fish head in there as well. A roaring laugh met his ears and he lifted his head to see Shanks laughing at him now. Eli gritted his teeth and strode as dignified he could into the driver's compartment…not a very easy thing to do when the moist sea air is wreaking havoc on one's joints. Eli was by no means an old man, he was barely approaching his fifties, but he had been through so much. Too much, some would say…
"How much longer till we're there?" he shouted to the old seaman.
"See how the waves get larger ahead of us?" he shouted back, his voice grating as gravel, the salt had destroyed his throat pretty heavily.
Eli looked ahead, and indeed, the waves did seem to get larger ahead of them. "Yes!"
"That means we're getting close. The sea around that island has always been kind of fishy, so we've always been avoiding it."
Until I arrived with a large suitcase filled with cash, that is.
"If I'm not much mistaken, we should be able to see it within ten minutes. It's gonna take me a while to navigate around it though, there are some real devilish reefs in this part o' the ocean."
"That still doesn't answer my question. How much longer until I have solid ground under my feet?"
"Half an hour, maybe less. I'm not sure."
"Thank you," said Eli and walked to the back of the compartment and sat down. No use getting wet. He looked at his soaked clothes. Not that it's very likely I will,, but it's the principle of the thing, really.
The others soon huddled in the compartment with him, all of them soaked to the bone…and complaining.
"If you didn't want to get bloody wet then why the hell did you stand on deck in this bloody weather?" he asked.
David just gurgled. At least you had a good reason…you two on the other hand. He looked at Shanks and Lisa. Shanks shrugged. Lisa shivered, her teeth clacking together. If you think I'm going to offer you my coat, think again.
"We'll be there soon. I hope none of you were stupid enough to get sick or anything. It's not going to excuse you from working." None of them complained about that. I guess the money I offered were too good.
The driver was pricking him on the shoulder. He turned his so fast that it made a very uncomfortable clicking sound. "What?" he snarled, annoyed at being interrupted.
The sailor looked unaffected by his rudeness, probably used to it from years on the sea. "You can see the island now. Look," he pointed out the window.
Eli was about to turn his head away. I can't see the damn thing. Suddenly, lighting flashed once again followed by a roaring thunder clap and Eli could see the island, lit against the black backdrop. Not very tall, the island looked as if it could be dwarfed by the large waves crashing around them. What stood out though, was a large building of some kind, teetering on the edge of a cliff, looking close to falling and crashing into a thousand pieces. The waves seemed to grow a few meters taller and several items inside the cabin fell from their cabinets. The driver took hold of the rudder and steeled himself to hold it steady. He turned his head to Eli. "Are you sure about this? We're past the reefs, but the waves here are bigger than I've ever seen 'em before."
Well, what a dilemma. Go home and allow millions of dollars to fall into oblivion while in the care of these buffoons, or go ahead and learn the secrets of millennia? Dear, oh dear, what ever shall I choose? "Continue ahead, we're too far to turn back now."
David whimpered and curled up in a corner, a bucket cradled in his arms. Lisa sat beside him and rubbed circles on his back, used to taking care of sea-sick members of an expedition. Shanks stood beside Eli, staring at the island. "That the place?" he asked and pointed to the building.
Eli nodded. "That the place. I hope you're ready for some walking. The dock is on the other side of the island."
"Hey, these feet," Shanks said and pointed to his Dr. Martin boots, "were made for walking." He grinned, several teeth missing among the pointy yellow crags he had in his mouth.
What an unpleasant individual.
Strangely enough, the high waves seemed to shrink the closer they got to the island, and by the time they reached the small dock they seemed to have vanished completely. The rain, lightning and thunder was still there, and if they peered closely enough out to sea, they could still see the monster waves out there, but they never approached the island. The largest waves that actually came to the dock were hardly half a meter tall.
Eli hobbled onto the rotting planks of the dock, followed by Shanks, then Lisa and finally David, who had finally perked a bit up when he saw dry land. Dry and dry…
"Well, my friends," Eli said loudly and turned around to look at his companions, "we've braved the sea which seemed to want to swallow us up never to see land again, but look at us now. We're here, and we're going to make the scientific discovery of the century." The others didn't look as enthusiastic as he'd hoped, but as long as they did their job, he couldn't care less about how they felt. "Let's unload the boat and make for shelter, what do you say?"
"Need any help?" asked the sailor, standing on deck. "I'll stay here for a few hours and then I'll head on back."
"Excellent," said Eli. "I trust you remember the arrangement?"
He nodded. "Wait for two days and then come back. You will be waiting at the docks. If you aren't, I am to try to radio you. If that fails, I call the coastguard, but do not step onto the island."
David looked confused as he carried his large backpack off the boat and onto the planks. "Why shouldn't he take a step on land?"
Eli smiled. "A good question indeed, Mr. West, but also one you should know the answer to."
"What do you mean?" Lisa came up behind David.
"Well, as all of you know, with perhaps Mr. Shanks being an exception is that this place has an extensive folklore. Vanishing people, mysterious lights, strange creatures roaming the night. If we disappear here or loses contact with each other, it could very well be that we have been murdered or kidnapped by smugglers and murderers. Not much a tale, of course, but still…well, perhaps I should start the explanation again. If something were to happen to us, I wouldn't want the same thing to happen to the only person who knows where we are." Not that anything's likely to happen, but nonetheless… "Who knows what kind of people may have settled on this humble island of Clauster.
Shanks spluttered. "This is Clauster? The Clauster? Why didn't you tell me? I would have said no immediately."
Eli was surprised. This mountain brute knows of this place? "Well, Mr. Shanks, I would have told you had you but asked."
"I did ask, I asked about it a hundred times!"
"You asked where we were going. I said we were going to an island. You were satisfied with that. Besides, you never inquired about the name. You are more than welcome to stay here with our friend here—"he pointed to the sailor—"but I'm afraid that means you're forfeiting the money, and we both know that it's too big a price, right?"
Shanks looked angry, but settled down anyway. "Fine, I'll come with, but don't expect to protect your sorry ass."
I wouldn't have it any other way. "Of course, I'll protect my own sorry ass if it comes to that." Another clap of thunder roared overhead and the rain seemed to pour harder. "Well, it seems that we must be on our way unless we want to swept out to sea. Farewell, Captain Jones, we will see you in a couple of days."
The sailor mock-saluted. "Call me Davy, eh? See you soon again. Good luck with your expedition." He walked inside the cabin.
"Well," said Eli, rubbing his hands together, "I think that's all our luggage. Let's go." He only carried a small briefcase, but the others had heavy backpacks and suitcases. Shanks had a very large sack which looked very heavy in addition to a gigantic backpack.
"Why do you have so little luggage, Mr. Salir?" asked Lisa. She was hefting a bag over her shoulder and a small briefcase herself.
"Oh, I don't need much. After all, I'm only here to direct your workload."
"I see…" she trailed off.
Damn, here comes a steep incline…They shuffled their way up the trail leading away from the docks. It seemed that Jones had gotten tired of waiting already; his boat was heading out to sea. That bloody coward. It was a long climb, but they eventually came to the top of the hill. From there, they could see most of the island, being the next tallest point. They could see long trail that lead up to the building, which they by now could see was actually a large manor of some kind. A small collection of buildings lay a little before it, like a small kingdom. Before they could reach them, however, they would have to go through a large forest that loomed ahead. I hate dark forests. The rain had stopped, but the howling wind grated on their nerves, and made Eli nervous. I hate howling wind. He took a step down the small hill that would lead them to the forest trail. And I most definitely hate muddy ground. "I hope you all remembered to bring flashlights, this is going to get even darker now."
The silence was oppressive as they walked through the forest. Not a sound was heard apart from the clattering of the party's luggage and other things. Eli's hobbling steps echoed. The foliage was dead, the trees all grey and looked ready to crumble into dust any minute. There was no sound of crickets or birds, not one natural sound. This is rather…unnerving. Eli coughed, mostly to fight down his nerves that were rather frayed by now, but also to get the attention of the others. "Why don't you, West, tell us a little about this place? You did a lot of research on it for your last novel, didn't you?"
David nodded. "I did." He slid his glasses a little higher on his nose. He was tall and thin, almost to the point where he looked anorexic. "But I think most of it is bullshit, though."
Eli couldn't care less. "So? Tell us anyway."
"Well," he began and took a deep breath. "This island used to be a place for pilgrims to populate some hundred years ago. It was a prime place to farm, and remote enough for religion to run rampant, turning the usual protestant faith into something different. I didn't find much about that particular thing, but what I've read was quite disturbing. Annual sacrifices and such. I have no idea how Christianity could possibly evolve in that way, but anyway. After some decades, one family seemed to rise higher and higher in the power structure there. This family was large, and many of them were scientists, and eventually they managed to convert the population onto the ways of science."
Lisa grunted. "A good thing."
"Well, as the years went by, the family grew richer and richer. And suddenly, everyone disappeared. Poof, into the air, zit, nada. No one knew what happened to the population, or the family. The island was forgotten for a time until the early nineteen-hundreds when it was discovered again and repopulated. The new population installed electricity, sewage. Everything was modern, at the time. This continued until a supposedly forgotten strain of the same family from the pilgrims' time moved here. This strain had grown fantastically rich on several industries and the like, so the mother, father and three sons had that mansion built. At the time, this island was still very much alive, so it was a very attractive place to have a summer home. The developments continued all the way into the thirties when suddenly, the same thing happened, again." David had to take a deep breath. "After that…no one moved back, and the island became a ghost. It was removed from the maps and people were advised to stay away, blaming it on strange and random storm surges that could quite possibly kill tourists." David took another breath. The silence still encompassed them. "Until today, that is."
Eli nodded, satisfied with the regalement. "Very good, Mr. West."
Shanks looked nervously around. "What do you think happened?"
"Well," said Eli. "As far as I know, the family, in addition to being filthy rich, had quite a few brilliant minds. They apparently worked on a few weapons for the US Army, but they never came into fruition. What stands out, though, is the fact that they claimed to have built a fully functional atomic bomb, which means that everyone could have been killed by radiation poisoning from the lack of proper shielding, or found out about it and committed suicide by throwing themselves off the cliffs rather than to die by painful tumours. I don't know, and I don't care."
"Then what do you care about?" asked David.
"Science," answered Eli with shining eyes.
They had decided to take a break by an old crumbling stone wall. They sat on the grey, dead ground and peered out into the darkness that surrounded them, the pale lights from their flashlights the only thing protecting them from the shadows.
"I don't like this," said Shanks while he fiddled with his large hunting knife. "I don't like this at all. Forests shouldn't be this quiet. Never."
Lisa scooted a bit closer to David.
Eli sat on a rock, his back to the forest and watched his companions. Are they afraid? I don't blame them of course. I think the only thing preventing me from shitting myself is the fact that I have to act all dignified. Maybe it's time I upped the ante a bit. "Well, Mr. West, I must point out that you've forgotten some things in your tale."
David looked confused. "I did?"
"Indeed. You said that you couldn't find anything about the religion that dominated this place. I beg to differ. In fact, in the conversation we had a couple of days ago, you mentioned that you've always been fascinated by this place and probably know more about it than anyone. You also mentioned several things about shadows…care to elaborate?"
David shook his head slowly. "No, I'd rather not."
"Because I think I'm going to give myself a heart attack if I keep going on about it."
"Well, I just happen to have access to certain…historical archives about strange happenings, and the religion that stood out here was very interesting. Instead of God, these people worshipped the very thing that existed before light ever graced this universe of ours: shadows and darkness. The people worshipped it, and it's said that they did something to upset it. I will not go into details, at least not here. Maybe later, but now I really think we should get moving. The trees seem to be moving."
"About time," said Shanks, relief apparent in his voice.
It appears I've made a slight miscalculation. They had walked for two hours before they could even start seeing signs of human civilization.
Another hour passed before they finally found the main road leading into the "town". They were finally out of the forest and were now walking among some fields, thunder flashing overhead with distant thunderclaps, but no rain. Seems the storm has moved on.
"How much further?" asked Shanks.
"How the hell should I know? I haven't been here before!" Eli found himself getting more and more impatient with the burly man, but that could very well be attributed to the fact that his stiff joints ached horribly and sweat was pouring down his face.
Shanks, thankfully, didn't retaliate. Eli didn't know whether he could manage an argument at the moment.
They walked past a small part of the field surrounded by a thick stone fence, with several smaller clumps of stone in the middle looking like they had been worn down. Graves…really old graves…
Without warning, Lisa dropped her pack and vaulted over the thick, but low fence and ran over to one of the withered stones. She was mumbling under her breath excitedly and running her fingers over the long-faded writing on it.
Eli was annoyed. They had no time to lose. "Ms. Holmes," he began in his pleasant voice, "we really don't have time for this if we are to reach the manor before we all collapse of exhaustion." When she didn't answer, his eyebrows jerked up and down over his eyes. Impudent little girl. "Ms. Holmes, get out from there right now and pick up your backpack so we can be on our way!" he snarled.
Shanks went over the fence, picked up Lisa, who seemed little more than a small girl in his arms, and dumped her over the side and followed right after. Lisa was glaring at Eli. "Why did you do that?"
"We don't have time for you to go see if anyone here shares your last name. We must off, right now."
Lisa ran after him. "You don't understand. There's writing on the stones."
Eli stared at her. "Well, graves usually have that."
"Not like this," she said. "The writing's not in English."
"Well, not every settler and such that came here were British, you know. They could be French, Norwegian, Belgian—"
"It's not in any of those languages either. I've never seen anything like it before."
"Well, pardon me for not getting all wet down there. We don't have time for this now, maybe when we leave. I'm paying you to accompany me to the manor, not to get all horny over old, maggot-infested graves. Let's go."
Lisa looked offended, but did as Eli said anyway, grumbling all the while. Understandable, of course, but still…
Walking through the town was, if possible, even worse than walking through the forest. The old buildings looked close to collapsing any minute, and every corner was filled frightening shadows. They found a small sheltered area and took a break there.
"The mansion…it looks brand new," said David, looking up at the imposing house higher up on the hill. There seemed to be quite a garden to navigate before they would reach the front doors. What stuck out, though, was that while everything else on the island looked dead and soulless, the mansion and the surrounding area never seemed to have been touched or even looked at.
"Yes…I wonder why." Obviously, someone has been and messed with the place. If I find them, I swear I'll…
Shanks stood up suddenly, his eyes darting back and forth in the street they had a view to. "Something's out there, watching us," he said.
At first, Eli wanted to tell him how stupid he was for even thinking it, but when he got a feeling that they were being watched as well, he clamped his mouth shut. What could it be?
Shanks turned to David. "Let's check it out."
David didn't look too enthusiastic about the idea. "Why me?"
Shanks sighed exasperatedly. "The girl's too weak to fight if it turns out to be someone or something"—Lisa cried out indignantly—"and the cripple would just slow us down. At least you've got some muscle on ya."
David, seeing no option, sighed and stood up and walked with Shanks cautiously out in the street.
Eli didn't feel offended by Shanks' wording. No argument here, he thought and looked at his hands again. He hadn't seen what they looked like in a while, perhaps they were better now. Not likely. He pulled one of the gloves a bit, but immediately put it back. Nope, no improvement. Lisa had seen the weird ritual and was looking at him curiously. What now? He voiced the question.
"What's wrong with your hands?" she asked.
"Had an accident with an industrial burner, can't use my hands properly anymore. Horrible scarring too, nauseating, in fact." A quick lie has never hurt anyone, right?
Damn. "I used to work at a company that shared a building with a construction company. Long story short, a whole lot of misunderstandings led to this."
Lisa looked satisfied. "Ah."
"Do you see anything?"
"No…I don't think so…"
"Over there, in the building, top floor, left window. Is that a face?"
"No, that's a curtain."
"Huh, that's strange…"
"The fact that an over sixty-year old curtain is still here. I thought it'd have rotted by now."
"Maybe it's made of an extremely durable material."
"Come on, in the thirties? Great depression? Hardly."
"Whatever you say."
"You're damn right, whatever I say."
They searched through the entire collection of houses, finding nothing. Not a living soul. The buildings had creaked rather threateningly as they walked up and down the stairs in their search for spies. Defeated, they slowly trudged back to the others. They weren't talking. Shanks rarely had anything of importance to say, and David still felt a bit ill from the boat trip. They rounded a corner when another flash of lighting, directly above them, illuminated the house in front of them. Dozens of humanoid shapes were standing in the windows, in the doorways, on the roof. They only had a split-second to process what they had seen before the shapes were gone again.
They stood there, neither believing what they had just seen. Shanks rubbed his eyes and David cleaned his glasses.
"We saw nothing." Shanks' voice left no room for argument.
"Nope," replied David.
They continued. Rounding the last corner before reaching Eli and Lisa, David looked up at a building that was slightly larger than the others. Something was watching them from the window, he was sure of it. The darkness seemed to crush in around them, leaving David out of breath. Shanks didn't seem to notice as he continued to walk ahead. Slowly inching his hand higher, he directed the beam from the flashlight slowly upward and at the window. What he saw almost made him cry out, but he was too afraid. Two eyes, dark as night, were peering right at him, right into his own. He opened his mouth, but before he could even start pressing air through his vocal chords, they were gone.
"Shanks," he whispered, unable to tear his eyes away from the window, "Shanks, I saw something." Receiving no answer, he looked in the direction he had been in. Shanks was gone, he had rounded the corner. Panic overtook David's system and he ran, dropping his flashlight as he scrambled to where the others were waiting for him.
Shanks didn't notice that David was lagging behind, so he kept his pace until he finally reached the bend that led to the small enclosed area where Eli and Lisa were resting. Seeing the puzzled expressions on their faces, he gave one back. "What?"
"Where's David?" asked Lisa.
Shanks turned around, expecting to see David right behind him. But he wasn't. Cursing loudly in his mind he quickly walked around the corner again, preparing to yell at the writer, but crashed into him instead as he came racing back, his breath ragged, his eyes wild.
"There's something out there, Shanks," he whispered, voice constricted by the air rushing in and out of his lungs at rapid speed. "There was something in the window, eyes, black ones, watching me."
Shanks, now more than a little scared himself lifted himself off the ground and then offered a hand to David, who took it graciously. Shanks now had no choice but to believe all the stories he'd been told about the island. He'd always thought it was mostly stories, but had also kept an open mind about it. He noticed something missing from David's person. "Where's your flashlight?"
David's eyes widened. "I left it…back there…" his breath was calming now.
Shanks walked to the stone wall and peered around it. Sure enough, a beam of light was illuminating one of the buildings' wall, but Shanks be damned if he was going to walk back there alone. "Well, go get it, you fool. We're gonna need that light!"
David looked close to having a seizure. "Can you come with me?"
Shanks had had enough of that particular street. "Hell no. You lost it, you get it."
"Fuck you," shouted David and ran back to his fallen light, grabbed it and ran full speed back. His eyes were closed. He ran past Shanks and right into the enclosure. Shanks stood there for a moment longer, suspicious eyes raking back and forth in the street. His ears picked up a sound…heavy breathing. Far away and coming closer, fast. He turned around briskly and walked in the same direction David had disappeared, back to the others.
To Be Continued…
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