Thank you to everyone who participated in the April Short Story Contest! The assignment was simple. Write a short story (1500 to 3000 words) based on this image: Selected entries receive a feature here on heidislowinski.com. The next contest will be posted on May 12th! The Featured Story Is: The Unexpected Vacation By John Scott […]
October Short Story Feature: Rough Waters by J. Trevor Robinson
This month, I’m featuring a second work from the submissions in the September short story contest. The second feature is:
By: J. Trevor Robinson
When J Trevor was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his Immortal Works debut THE MUMMY OF MONTE CRISTO.
He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel THE GOOD FIGHT, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology SECRET STAIRS as the sole romance story in the collection.
“Watch out, ma’am,” the ferry employee said. “We’ve had some more flood warnings on the Island lately.”
“Thank you,” Vivian replied with a smile, tucking her windswept brown hair behind one ear. The aroma of the lake, of fresh air and muddy water and green shore plants, hit her like a comfortable memory.
Clouds were rolling in as she stepped onto the Ward’s Island ferry dock. The island – actually a group of islands in Lake Ontario, collectively called Toronto Island – was a popular tourist destination and also the site of progressively worse flooding over the past several summers. Naturally, that made an overcast August day the perfect time for Vivian to visit and take notes for her next story.
While the Island had popular attractions and beaches for tourists, the eastern end of Ward’s Island was primarily residential. Walls of sandbags stood near the water’s edge and surrounded the few houses Vivian could see from the main road. Even in the open grassy areas, water pooled in low patches and fostered clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Still, the threat of flooding didn’t prevent others from following Vivian’s lead and visiting the island. A group of laughing women in a four-seat pedal cab passed on her left.
It took her just over half an hour to reach the Centre Island pier on the southernmost tip of the island as she took photos and spoke to people on the road. The trees looming to either side opened up to make way for manicured gardens, fast-food stands, and finally a sandy beach to either side of the pier. More sandbags were piled at the high-tide line, but some people were brave or foolish enough to put on their swimsuits and climb the wall to enjoy the water.
A film crew at the pier was preparing to interview a man who looked to be in his sixties. Vivian immediately recognized the tall, broad-shouldered man setting up a boxy grey camera, even with his back to her. Smiling to herself, she stepped quickly up behind him and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow.
“Ah! What was that?” the man said, in a voice Vivian certainly did not recognize.
Mortified, Vivian realized he wasn’t who she thought he had been. The two men would have looked a lot alike if they had been standing next to each other, and had the exact same green eyes, but this man’s jaw was narrower and his hair was much lighter. Meanwhile, the man she’d intended to hit approached them both, shaking his head and laughing.
“Thatch, I see you’ve met Vivian Bacall,” he said. Mason Shaw put his arm around her shoulders. “Viv is Toronto’s leading freelance holistic reporter. If it’s weird, she’ll write about it.”
“You’re Vivian? It’s about time I met you, my brother talks about you often enough. Thatcher Shaw, pleased to meet you,” the fair-haired man said, extending a hand. “I’ve read some of your pieces, actually. The article about the stairs in the woods, I got chills. Don’t let Mason rag you too much, he’s always been too hard-headed for his own good.”
“What, this old softie?” Vivian said, grinning as she patted Mason’s chest. “Look at you, telling your family about me. If you’re not careful, people will think we’re serious.”
“Shut up,” Mason said, leaning down to give her a kiss.
“I’m surprised to find you here, don’t you have a big story to scoop?” Vivian asked. Mason was a celebrated reporter for the Cross-Canada Observer, one of the largest independent news outlets in the country. Two years earlier he had exposed a major scandal of bribery and kickbacks in the West Coast public school boards.
“My little brother is making a movie, so I’m lending him my technical expertise as a favour,” Mason said. “Be careful with that camera by the way, that level of waterproofing isn’t cheap.”
“It’s not just a movie, it’s a documentary about the past few years of extreme flooding,” Thatcher said. “I want to show people how this is affecting the community who live here. Vivian, hang around if you can. We’re about to continue Mr McTavish’s interview, but the three of us can get something to eat later.”
Thatcher called orders to the crew while Mason took up position behind the camera, and Vivian found a place out of the way to stand. The interviewer sat down opposite the elderly Mr McTavish to resume a conversation they must have begun earlier.
“In all my many years living on this island,” McTavish said, his Irish accent giving a musical tone to the words, “I’ve never seen flooding this bad. Even when Mayor Lastman called in the army for that snowstorm in ‘99, it wasn’t as bad here on the island as with the floods these past few years.”
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Vivian listened with interest to McTavish’s account of how island life’s challenges, like getting groceries when a trip to the nearest store requires boarding the hourly ferry, became even more complicated by the inclement weather and high water levels. As McTavish’s interview continued, she noticed a thin woman smoking a cigarette and jittering her foot nearby. It was difficult to guess her age, but she had certainly had work done, and her grey hair was cut in a pixie cut which did nothing to flatter the shape of her face. Vivian recognized her as Susan Beaucaire, a long-serving city councillor from the 1990s.
“Taking forever with that old geezer,” Beaucaire muttered just loud enough for Vivian to hear. “I’m liable to drop dead of old age before they get to my interview. And perfect, now it’s raining. Why did I even bother putting my face on?”
The documentary crew scrambled to cover their equipment with bags and tarps, with Vivian pitching in. Only Mason continued filming with his waterproof camera.
“Y’see, this is what I meant,” McTavish said. “No rain in the forecast, but here we are. The weather on this island makes no sense anymore.”
Waves on the lake surged past the rocky breakwater and up to the sandbags, scattering the beachgoers. One man lost his footing as he tried to get over the sandbags and fell back into the tide. For just a moment Vivian thought she saw the water clinging to his foot like a fist, but before she could shout he was pulled into the breakwater. His head rebounded against the rocks and then hung limp as his body floated there. Meanwhile the rain intensified and the waves continued to roll in, the crests rising two and three metres and getting higher with each swell.
“Everybody run! Get away from the shore!” Vivian shouted. She’d written a piece on surfing enthusiasts, and knew from her research that waves that size shouldn’t be possible in Lake Ontario, certainly not without far more wind.
The massive waves soon overwhelmed the sandbags and began to toss them around with the tide. The water caught up to a group of tourists and pulled them off their feet, only to rear back and hurl them through the air at the covered food court. Vivian saw one of the floating sandbags picked up by a wall of water moving in ways that defied nature, and thrown like a catapult to knock over a clump of trees. It was impossible to tell through the tangle of sodden branches if anyone had been caught underneath.
Vivian looked around for Mason, who had his camera hanging on a shoulder strap and was helping McTavish to get away from the waves. The film crew were on the run already, and she saw Thatcher help a woman to her feet to run further inland.
“Viv, the cart!” Mason shouted, pointing at a motorized four-seat golf cart. Tripods and camera bags were piled on the back.
“You can’t leave me here!” Beaucaire yelled, grabbing Vivian’s arm.
“Nobody said we would!” Vivian yelled back. “But we need to move, now!”
Mason helped McTavish into the front seat of the cart and started the engine, leaving the rear-facing back seats for Vivian and Beaucaire. The little vehicle wasn’t meant for off-roading, but it handled the wet grass well enough.
“We had to get a permit for this to haul the camera gear, but now I’m glad we’ve got it,” Mason said as he dodged a knot of people running in panic.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” McTavish asked, holding on to the cart with one hand and his flat cap with the other.
“Believe it or not, this is not our first time running for our lives,” Mason said. “We need high ground. You live here. What’s the safest place on the island?”
“This whole island used to be safe!” McTavish said. “But I guess the highest point would be the lighthouse, go left here and then straight on.”
The beach behind them was in shambles. The waves continued to creep higher onto shore and chase people down, dragging them into the lake or throwing them against trees and buildings. Another sandbag flew past their cart, forcing Mason to swerve again. Briefly, Vivian thought she saw a shape in the waves turn and look their direction.
“Mason, I need your camera!” she shouted, wrestling the strap from him and triggering the zoom lens.
Buried drain pipes burst around them as their cart crossed the picnic grounds. Fountains of water arced through the air towards them, chasing the cart. Beaucaire shrieked.
“Water shouldn’t do that!” she said. “Driver, go faster!”
“Lady, I’m not exactly dawdling!” Mason growled back.
“You’re not helping matters, you old -” McTavish began to say as he turned in his seat, but cut himself short when he saw what had caught Vivian’s attention.
A woman had crawled out of one of the drainpipes to float in a water spout. Tall and shapely with long hair that drifted in the flow, her skin was the blue-green of a deep, calm lake. Her face was entirely featureless aside from two glowing motes in place of her eyes. She moved her arm as if dancing, and the water followed the motion to surge towards them as Vivian yelled for Mason to swerve again.
“Right, turn right here!” McTavish said, sending the cart down a short dirt road.
The Gibraltar Point lighthouse loomed ahead of them, a tall hexagonal spire of grey limestone with a single red door in the base and a balcony around the light. Mason leaped out of the cart to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. He took a step back and braced his left foot before driving his right into the door just next to the lock plate as the water crept up behind them. It took three solid kicks to get the door open, by which time Vivian had caught up with McTavish and Beaucaire. The space within was cramped, but a welcome respite from the rain.
“This is your fault Susan, I know it is!” McTavish said to Beaucaire as they climbed the winding steps inside. “You’re as rotten a neighbour as you ever were a councillor!”
“Why are you yelling at me?” Beaucaire asked. “I nearly died back there!”
“That thing, that woman, it looked an awful lot like your old water feature,” McTavish said. “The pretty one that you had in the front yard, it had a wee moving figure in a glass ball just like her.”
Vivian paused on the steps with Beaucaire behind her and McTavish in the rear. She heard Mason trying to barricade the door with bags and tripods from the cart.
“Ms Beaucaire, do you know anything about what’s happening?” she asked.
“No! Of course I don’t! I’m insulted that you would even ask, after all I’ve done for this city!” Beaucaire said, looking for a way to get past Vivian on the narrow steps.
“I did what I could with the door, but we’ve got water trickling in!” Mason called from the bottom. “We’ve got to move!”
“Ms Beaucaire?” Vivian said again, locking eyes with her.
“Well, I mean, yes I did have a similar water feature in my garden,” Beaucaire said. “And yes, it looked a lot like that thing that was chasing us. But I don’t see how they could be connected, my morgen could never do anything like that.”
“Your what? Did you say a morgen?” McTavish asked, his lined face turning pale.
“I did so much for supporting the arts when I was on Council, it was only right that I have a beautiful garden when I retired to the Island,” Beaucaire explained. “So I reached out to a gentleman who was known for procuring unusual things, and not long after he sold me the morgen. It was tiny at first, a little blue thing in a glass globe, and it made the most remarkable effects in my little rock pool.”
“And you never thought to ask what a morgen was, you daft cow?” McTavish said. “It’s a Celtic water spirit, you madwoman! They’re infamous for flooding villages and taking young men away to drown, and you stuck one in your bloody garden because she was pretty!”
“I would hardly expect a brute like you to understand art,” Beaucaire sniffed. “Besides, I got rid of my morgen a couple of years ago just before the flooding began. It got too big and broke out of the globe, so I chased it into the lake with a broom. But surely it can’t be the same one.”
McTavish took off his hat and threw it onto the steps. “That’s it, she’s killed us. We’re doomed,” he said.
“This thing’s name is Morgan, you said?” Mason asked, typing search terms into his phone. “I’ll look up how to kill it.”
“Morgen, with an E. And you don’t kill a morgen, lad,” McTavish said. “You just hope she doesn’t kill you. The only way I’ve ever heard to even calm one down is an old folk song, Fill Iu O, but it only soothes her for as long as the song’s playing.”
“It’s the only shot we have,” Vivian said. “Mason, can you find a recording of it?”
“I can try, but you’re definitely going to have to spell that one,” Mason said.
The four of them emerged onto the roof platform, where the rain had grown to a deluge. Water coursed up the path they’d driven on like a river and crashed around the lighthouse in waves, defying gravity to creep higher along the walls each time.
Vivian took McTavish’s hat, recovered from the stairs, and held it over Mason’s phone to block it from the rain. With the volume as high as it would go, she hit play on the video Mason had found while he continued filming with his waterproof camera.
“Fill-iu o ro hu o, bu tu mo chruinneag bhóidheach, fill-u oro hu o…” came out of the tinny speaker, accompanied by a strumming guitar, barely audible over the roar of the water. Vivian couldn’t make sense of even the few words she could hear.
Nevertheless, the waves assaulting the lighthouse stopped and held still in positions that should by all rights have collapsed. The only movement came from the new river below, where the graceful blue form of the morgen reared up and rose on a pillar of water to be level with the platform. She stood rigid among her enchanted surf as it circled them like a predator, combing through her lustrous hair with her fingers. Something about the morgen’s glowing eyes suggested to Vivian that she was staring at Beaucaire with a hatred as deep as the lake itself. “I know you’ve been hurt!” Vivian said, not having a clear plan of what to say but trusting the right words to come. “You were treated like furniture, and then chased away like some kind of pest. Now I can’t tell you I know what that’s like, but I’ve
been mistreated before, and I know how it feels to want to lash out.”
When the morgen circled around in front of her again, Vivian looked to gauge if she was getting through, but it was like trying to read an ice sculpture.
“Viv, that song won’t play forever,” Mason muttered.
“Look around at what you’ve done!” Vivian continued. Her and the others followed the morgen around the lighthouse railing while the song continued to lilt from the phone speaker. “You’ve hurt so many people, but you’re only angry with one! I’m sure if we all just take a moment and talk this out, we can think of a better way to resolve this. Nobody else has to die. Do you really want to attack people who never did anything to you?”
To Vivian’s surprise, the morgen shook her head. Vivian smiled.
“Thank God, that’s good,” she said. “Can you speak? Can we talk this over?”
The driving rain eased, and the waves clinging to the side of the lighthouse drained away. Only a narrow river on the dirt road remained, connected to the column of water in which the morgen sat. Even that stopped circling, and the light in the morgen’s eyes seemed to soften as she continued combing her hair and listening to the music. Relieved that the ordeal was over, Vivian took a deep breath. The last verse of the song rose to a crescendo and stopped.
The moment that the song ended, the morgen’s eyes flared. She surged forward, soaking everybody on the platform with the fish and mineral smell of a jet of cold lake water. The spray knocked Vivian off her feet.
“Mason!” she shouted as soon as she had coughed up enough water to speak. “Mason, are you okay?”
“I’m alright!” he replied, closer to the light’s housing. “Whacked my head, but I’m alright. McTavish?”
“Still here, lad,” McTavish said. “Beaucaire?”
There was no answer. The three of them rushed to the railing to see if the morgen had knocked Beaucaire off the platform, but there was no sign of her on the ground either. It wasn’t until Vivian looked to the southwest that they found her.
A wave carried the morgen back out across the grass and beaches, and her blue fingers were locked into Susan Beaucaire’s hair. Beaucaire screamed and struggled to get free and swim away, but she was helpless against the forces dragging her out into the lake. When the morgen had pulled her further out than anyone could see, the rain on the island stopped entirely.
Their golf cart had been overturned in the flooding, forcing them to walk back to the pier in hopes of finding the rest of the film crew. They found Thatcher there administering first aid to a small child with a cut on her head, and as soon as he finished he ran over to pound Mason on the back with an exuberant hug.
“You made it! Man, what a relief,” Thatcher said. “That was insane, I’ve never seen waves like that before. I thought I was dead for sure, and then it all just stopped.”
“You know I’m too stubborn to die,” Mason said. He held up the camera. “You’re not going to believe the footage I got. Your movie is going to be a smash.”
While the Shaw brothers reviewed Mason’s recording of the unnatural waterspouts and the morgen’s haunting movements, Vivian recalled what she’d said to the morgen on top of the lighthouse. She hadn’t meant to push the morgen into killing Beaucaire, she had been trying to resolve the situation without anyone else getting hurt. She thought she could still hear Beaucaire’s screams faintly in the distance.
“Miss Bacall, I suspect she didn’t take the meaning you hoped for from your pep talk,” McTavish said, seeing the dark look on Vivian’s face and patting her on the shoulder. “But if there’s one common theme in those old monster folk tales, it’s that they’re not exactly keen on forgiveness. That might be the best we could have hoped for.”
“I’ll be fine, it’s just… It’s a lot to take in,” Vivian said, trying a smile. “Do you think she’ll be satisfied, now that she’s got Beaucaire?”
“Who can say? She’s not exactly like you or me,” McTavish replied. “But if I had to guess, I’d say that there morgen has as much capacity to feel embarrassed as she does to feel hurt and angry. I think once you pointed out that she was harming people who had nothing to do with her troubles, she was proper ashamed of how she acted. So in my limited opinion, no, I don’t think we’ll be seeing her again.”
Vivian squeezed McTavish’s hand for a moment, got Mason’s attention, and together the two of them headed for the ferry dock to go back to the mainland. Vivian had had quite enough of the smell of the lake for one day.
Enter the October Short Story Feature:
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Previous Story Features:
Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the June Short Story Feature Contest. The featured entry is: Riptide By: Rylee Alexander Rylee is a thirty-something-year-old author from Central New York with big dreams to travel. She has a husband, two boys, and a dog, and spend what little free time she has reading, and […]
Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the July Short Story Feature Contest. The featured entry is: The Cathedral Bell By: Violetta Toth About herself, Violetta says, “I consider myself a book enthusiast and budding author. i have written many short stories and other works throughout my life and career, but I have been […]
Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the August Short Story Feature Contest. The featured entry is: Becoming Italian…Or Trying To By: Kyra Robinov A native New Yorker, Kyra is an author and lyricist. Her first novel Red Winter was inspired by the true story of her family and their escape from Red partisans […]