When We Troubled The Water – Part Five
“Juliet Renee Andrews, don’t you even dare!” Nanny stormed her way over to the hospital bed, glaring at Mrs. Dubose, still glued to her chair in shock. “And shame on you Carol for making her think that way!”
“She didn’t, Nanny,” Juliet soothed. “I’ve been thinking about this since he started showing up again. My family line still holds the contract, it can end with me.”
“You sure about this, Baby Girl?” Janie asked, one lean arm wrapped tight around Julie’s shoulders. There was a deep sadness to her eyes as she asked, but also acceptance, as if she already knew the answer.
“Yes.” Julie nodded, punctuating the word. Tears started welling up in Janie’s eyes but she didn’t let them fall. The other women in the room studied their shoes.
“Hold it,” Charlie burst. “You’re just gonna let her die?” He glared at the assembly, many of whom glared back. “What the hell? Is that how you do things here?”
“Ladies, could you give me a moment with Charlie?” At Julie’s request, all the women shuffled out, reluctantly on Janie and Nanny’s parts. When the door finally clicked shut, silence reigned in the too-small room.
“It’s the only way,” Julie said, sinking back into her pillows.
“The hell it is. Aren’t you angry about this, like, at all?” He spread his arms, trying to express the enormity of the entire messed up situation. Julie coughed a bit then moaned and clutched her ribs. Charlie hadn’t thought to ask if they were injured at all.
“Course, I’m mad,” she grit out. “Yeah, I’m upset. Honestly, though, I can’t bring myself to care anymore. I’ll die either way.”
Shock had him dropping into the chair by her bed and holding his head in his hands. “What do you mean?”
“My ring’s gone; he can take me anytime he wants. Even if I got a new one, he’ll keep coming after me and the people I care about.” Her eyes were steady on his as she kept talking. “The original deal was a sacrifice so that he didn’t eat anyone in the town. In return we got protection. If he doesn’t get a bride, we aren’t holding up our end, and he’s free to eat whoever he likes. I can’t have my family’s town go down like this. He’ll kill everyone and leave nothing.”
“So you think dying is the answer?”
“It’s a solution with the least casualties,” Julie agreed.
Charlie didn’t know what to say to that. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that there was someone in this world who was willing to give up so much for a place. It was the heroic thing to do, he supposed. His gut was still telling him that it was incredibly stupid.
“There has to be something else,” he insisted. “This just mean’s he’ll eat other people. You’re gonna set him loose on the world.”
Julie’s gaze was frosty as she regarded him. “We give him what he wants, and he’s free. All I care is that he leaves here and stops systematically killing my people. I know the consequences, Charlie, and I’ll face them in the afterlife. You aren’t changing my mind.”
The sigh Charlie let out emptied his lungs, taking the last of the fight with it. He was tired, the soul-deep kind of tired. This town, Julie’s determination, the monster and the pain it caused, they all made him feel older than he was. He sank into the chair, the vinyl covering creaking with his weight. His head fell into his hands and stayed there. It wasn’t until Julie was raising his face and rubbing her thumbs under his eyes that he realized tears had been slipping out against his will.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” she whispered.
A warm, comforting kiss was placed on his forehead. The softness of the action just made him cry harder. He clutched her hands to his face. She was too young to die, too full of life. She didn’t deserve this. He may not have known her long, but he knew she deserved better. When he told her as much single tear tracked its way down her cheek, and Charlie watched it dangle on the curve of her chin before falling onto the white sheets.
“My affairs are in order,” she began. “I’ve had my will written out for a while.”
She hesitated before opening her mouth to speak, letting go of his face and threading her fingers into her hospital gown. The lack of a ring finger seemed to annoy her since she was clumsily gripping the thin material. “Will you stay with me? Until I go tonight?”
Charlie nodded mutely. More tears tracked their way down Julie’s face. He held her until they finished.
They spent the rest of the day watching hospital tv, curled up together on Julie’s bed. Charlie showed her photos of all the countries he’d been to. Her favorite was one from the Giant’s Causeway. Nanny and Janie snuck in an Italian Sub for Julie, made with extra banana peppers, the way she liked it. Nanny’s raspberry scones finished it off. As last meals went, it was pitiful, but there were happy tears rolling down her cheeks when she ate. Charlie managed to retrieve his laptop from the B&B and showed her a few movies. In essence, they did everything except talk about what was coming.
When visiting hours were over, Charlie left to stand outside with Nanny and Janie. At ten, Julie walked out of the front door in an outfit Nanny had brought her. Together they made their way to the river. Charlie held Julie’s hand the entire time Janie’s Beetle rumbled over the asphalt until it turned onto a dirt road that ran right up to the water’s edge.
“It’s here,” Julie whispered, gripping his arm with her uninjured hand. “This is where the original deal was struck.”
They clambered out of the car and to the river bank. Janie handed Julie a knife before leaving Julie alone at the water’s edge. Charlie hissed as Julie pressed the knife into her fingertip until blood welled up around the blade. They all stayed silent as the dark drops rained into the water. Charlie felt cold, even in the humid air. Nothing was moving, just wind that was sending ripples over the dark surface. Not to sound cliché, but the quiet gave him the creeps. He was used to noise. Even the crickets that had kept him up the first night in town had vanished.
He hated the silence. It made the waiting that much harder. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was on the tip of his tongue, ready to burst past his teeth and fill the night air with something other than painful stillness. One look at Julie’s stiff stance though kept him quiet.
After about fifteen minutes, the water began to shift violently. Like a demon rising from hell, a horse, larger than average and blacker than pitch, stomped onto the ground. The legs were long, forcing it to tower over their group. The water, still trapped in its glossy coat, made it look like seal skin, slick and glinting blue in the night. Charlie noticed with a lurch in his gut that the hooves were backwards on its ankles. He’d done his research. Apparently that was common for Kelpies, but nothing prepared him for the wrongness of it.
Fangs glittered in the moonlight, alongside the chartreuse eyes that burned through dirty and tangled forelocks dripping with weeds and branches. He noted with some satisfaction that there was a burn around the horse’s mouth. A star shaped area of skin was bubbled up, peeling and bleeding, curling around the snout and splitting the skin of one of the delicate nostrils.
Charlie bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile at the blistered skin. He hoped the bastard was still feeling it, that he’d be feeling it for an eternity. With the popping of bones, and the hissing sound of hair receding into the skin, the demon became man-shaped. He looked much like he had in the alley, just less sickly as he regarded them with a smirk.
Janie’s soft voice trailed up to his ears. “Don’t speak to it. Don’t tell it anything,” she whispered to him. “You must bear witness, and tell the story if need be.” He wasn’t sure why she was telling him this but he agreed with a soft nod.
It was a very civil affair, for a deal with a monster. Charlie clenched his fists so hard his nails cut into his palms. The kelpie kept tracing his eyes over Julie, her torn up hands and tense shoulder. She never wavered, though, and eventually the Kelpie’s greed won over his persuasive nature. He agreed to Julie’s terms. He left and never came back, and in return he got Julie for however long he wanted her.
“Kiss on it then?” the Kelpie asked mockingly.
Charlie really wanted to punch him. His voice sounded soft and cool, like river water, but there was a smugness to it that was only matched by the cold calculation in his eyes. Charlie hated him. The same way he hated rapists and stalkers.
“Let me say goodbye,” Julie demanded. The Kelpie nodded.
It was a quick goodbye. There was a long hug for Nanny, tears and ‘thank you’s’ accompanied by a kiss on the forehead for Janie, then Julie stopped at Charlie.
“Keep yourself safe, City Boy,” she whispered in his ear, wrapping her arms around his neck in a fierce hug.
“I will.” He didn’t bother wishing her the same.
“Don’t ever take the amulet off,” she said, even more softly. “And remember, salt and iron.” Charlie nodded, too choked up to say anything else.
Julie stomped her way back over to the Kelpie, who was now frowning at their display of affection. “Alright, Freak,” she grunted. “Let’s make it official.”
The Kelpie grinned savagely, the hollow cheeks making him look like a skull. Possessively, he gripped Julie’s face and yanked her towards him. The kiss was fierce, painful almost. Charlie wanted to puke at the clashing of lips and biting teeth. It was like watching a fist fight in a 7-11 parking lot. Charlie lurched forward when the Kelpie began falling back, pulling Julie with him. Janie gripped him with a claw-like hand and stopped him from reaching her before they fell in the water. The splash was as final as an executioner’s ax hitting the block. Julie was gone, and the sounds of the night started again. Janie and Nanny’s sobs echoed with the songs of frogs and crickets. This was Julie’s funeral dirge, and it rang in Charlie’s ears for weeks.
“Did it work?” you ask. Charlie nods.
“Like a charm,” he grunts. “Not a peep out of Andrew’s Hollow since.” It’s almost closing time, and the bartender is eyeing your table with impatience. He wants to close up shop as quickly as possible you guess.
“So what happened after?”
“What usually happens, I guess.” He taps his fingers on the table top in an off beat tattoo. “I sent in my story, then was so sick at myself, I published what really happened on my personal blog and website.” He smirks at himself in a self-deprecating way.
“I meant, like, the next day. After all…” You wave your hands to his form, draped over the chair, as if it would clarify what your morbid curiosity demanded you ask.
Charlie frowns at a spot on the wall. “They found her bones the next morning. I didn’t stay for the funeral. Just got my stuff and left after the coroners report and the dentals came back. Janie and Nanny vouched for me, so I wasn’t a suspect. They eventually had to hand the case over. It was ruled a serial killing. FBI got called in.”
You nod, you’d read the case file. You know they found nothing and decided that it was a short spree that wasn’t worth following up on. “I didn’t realize until later that he’d deliberately made those last bodies as obvious as possible.”
“How do you mean?”
Charlie leans forward. “The first bodies were hidden, the last two were left in plain sight. I haven’t heard anything since, but I know he’s still at it somewhere. He wanted Julie from the get go. That’s what I think.”
You suck in a breath. “You think he’s still taking people.” It’s not a question.
Charlie stands to go. “All I’m saying is that I have salt embedded in my windows and iron on my door.” He leaves you at the table, tossing a few dollars in the tip jar at the door.
“Thank you for meeting with me,” you call. You pull on your coat and follow him into the chill night air. He stops for a minute and you can swear that the streetlight makes his eyes look red. Like he’s about to cry.
“Kid, I mean this in the nicest way possible. Don’t ever contact me again.” The dismissal stings, but you can understand. His story is told, his part is finished. Saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t feel right, so you let him walk off into the night lit with neon letters and glowing cigarette tips. Then you go in the opposite direction. You go for a few blocks, mulling over the story you’d spent your night learning.
“Hey, Cutie…” A slim figure wanders out of the ally near your apartment. He’s handsome in a sharp way, with a defined jaw and thin nose. His hair curled around his face in a wild cloud that looked deliberately styled to fall over his cheekbones appealingly. The biker jacket and leathers give him a dangerous look, tempered by a disarmingly soft smile. The wide star shaped scar that curls around the corner of his mouth doesn’t detract from his appearance, quite the opposite, but it unsettles you somehow. Before you can put a finger on it, he’s smiling again, and you forget.
It’s his eyes that catch you completely. They’re too bright, gold and green warring in the irises. They pull you in, and the world becomes dull. The street becomes quiet and fades. Pointed teeth grin at you.
“Wanna come home with me?” he asks charmingly. Like a hypnotist’s victim, you nod.
And the story begins again…