BY HEATHER FLOWERS-FORHAN
Heather Flowers-Forhan is a New England native. Copyright is held by the author.
I AM TELLING YOU this story as a warning, as I have told many before. I am leaving this forsaken island to seek my destiny out west, where they say there is enough gold in the hills for every man to become rich. I only wish to travel away from the Atlantic as far as divine providence will allow me. I have never taken the smell of seawater for granted, but I want to escape this dreaded geography, where the somber pall of a family’s curse hangs heavily in the air like the dampness that emanates from a damp sea fog. Aye, it is even evident in the pallor of the young mothers who sense it in the restless cries of their newborns at night.
This tale is passed down from generation to generation in hushed whispers from one fisherman to the next to explain their lack of a catch. They claim a widow had put a curse on them for being unable to find the body of her long lost husband and her infant daughter to fetal possession before she jumped to her death, unable to bear mortality alone. I know this to be untrue, since no fish had been caught in the village long before her and the infant’s passing. Before the incidents that I am about to share with you happened, our province was a bustling port on the eastern seaboard, but now it has been forgotten. Our buildings lie in ruins, the tunnels dug underground for the workings of travel now subterranean ghost towns, the fishing vessels now memorials to rusting hunks of metal. Once a year we had feasts to observe the prosperity of our people, but it has turned into a melancholy celebration. Many cannot afford regular meals and now quietly denote its passing with a calm bow of their heads.
Tomorrow I look to the future but my memory is as keen as it once was, and so I shall relive this unforgettable turn of events to you as I have many times before.
At the turn of the century on an island in the Gulf of Maine, there was a newlywed immigrant couple named Isabel and Pierre Bolinveau. They were ecstatic to be welcoming their first child into the world when a violent thunderstorm unexpectedly engulfed the vessel from whence Pierre was fishing, taking him down with the ship. He was the only one who ventured out that day, as it was foretold that we were to have a lunar eclipse that evening and it was considered a bad omen. Not being from this area, Pierre dismissed our superstition with his trademark smile, blessed with bilateral dimples on his suntanned cheeks. Five months later, on a cold November evening, Isabel consulted with me: “You are the only one I can trust.” She said.
It was an understatement. Since Pierre’s death she had been deemed incompetent and wholly insane. “If it were not for my daughter I would have succumbed to death long ago,” she explained.
“Every night since his passing this sequence of events is narrated to me from my husband, as if I were there and experiencing it myself” she whispered.
I sense that there is an urgency to his words, as if to save me; but the misery he has inflicted upon me is too much to bear, and I can no longer hold my head up knowing what has befallen him was much to his own doing as it was the storm that buried him in the sea.”
I did not think her deranged with grief or with the fever that sometimes accompanies childbirth; she seemed well enough to me. I had heard many tales from fisherman who had more than their fill of drink, their tongues loose and twisted. I urged her to continue with the telling, if it would appease her troubles at all.
“Tell me exactly what you hear, without exaggeration and do not leave any details out.”
She stared ahead for what seemed an eternity before she stammered,
“As god is my witness what I am about to tell you comes from my husband’s mouth to my own ears without mirage. I believe that a supernatural power has taken him hostage.”
I nodded and she began with her incredible telling, and I shuddered as she began, as it did indeed sound as if it was from Pierre’s point of view:
“I remember thinking the moon was exceptionally bright, its luster reflected on the dark waves like the rare pearls we harvested from the sea sometimes in the gaping mouth of an oyster, the wide surrendering yawn of this dead mollusk yielding more than an entire year’s worth of fishing. I valiantly and steadily steered the ship toward the shore, only for it to be tossed upon the waves further and further away as the storm grew in strength. I had experienced storms at sea before and strengthened my inner fortitude, knowing of the anxious desperation Isabel must have struggled with while she awaited my return.
During the tempest I heard a voice in the darkness, and thought it was my imagination before the wayward woman appeared before me in the waves.
I pulled her into the ship and asked her from whence she had came when she replied she was traveling up the coast when the ship she had boarded for the new world sank, dragging its inhabitants to the depths. When I inquired as to how she was the lone survivor, she dissembled she had been taught from an early age how to swim and did not fear the sea, although she had kept this skill a secret until the very end for fear that she would be deemed a witch.
Lured by the sensual calm as she spoke, I was spellbound by her magic. She held a strangling stronghold over me, and I found her mysteries incapable of resisting.
I wish I had listened with greater intent to this story, or questioned her claims, for if I had grasped at the foreshadowing I would have left her there. Already exhausted from my battle with the elements, my resistance was down when I was confronted with her gaze. Her eyes were an ambiguous hazel, blending from one color to the next, the iris changing from sapphire with golden flecks to forest green.
She wore her dark rippling beauty as a shroud around her, a menagerie of complex thoughts that swirled, evading me with every admission. She held a terrifying power over me that chilled my bones. I was inexorably drawn to her.
An atomless fog developed around us. She displayed an inhuman strength pulling me into her arms, engaging me in an intoxicating mist. It seemed a great sweeping change had taken place in the guise of this beguiling stranger. I stared transfixed into her eyes, harbringers of the demise I would soon endure.
My end was nearer and nearer – my sense of reality was tragically altered as tingling ripples of ecstasy jostled my flesh with goosebumps.
Suddenly she was a great distance from me and I fought, struggling to cling to this chamber of life that drifted further away with each second. Her skin had begun to glow with an eerie blue sapphire gleam, and I found myself surrounded by human arms that writhed in the waves and lunged toward me as if they were perpetually drowning.
Wails of misery and terror echoed from the impossible depths as I toppled from the vessel wishing that I had not known this succubus of satan and the bittersweet struggle of death that it brought.
My last thought was for my wife, who would be a widow, and the child that she carried, that I would make an orphan. My last gasping breath of air punctured the wet world I was to become a prisoner of. I screamed, “never again,” and from what I gather, the nets have been void of fish since my passing.”
She couldn’t continue on, too visibly shaken to vocalize what her husband had told her about the circumstances of his demise. It was approaching the nine o’ clock hour and I sent her home with her infant, though now I wish I had found a way to keep both of them safe. I had consulted the apothecary a few months prior in order to obtain a medical solution to insomnia, and now pressed it into her clammy hands.
“You will surely sleep well tonight” I assured her, and she closed her eyes for a moment, pressing them tight before swallowing the medicine.
The wind blew menacingly as she slept restfully, not knowing her baby sailed through the air, carried away by a malevolent spirit. Her baby’s cries echoed further and further away and were said to have combined with the roaring sound of the surf as it pounded the shore. Just before she hit the water, her white nightdress was eclipsed by the outline of the blackness that swept her to her doom. In the darkness, evil peals of laughter erupted, piercing the night and jolting Isabel wide awake from her peaceful slumber. It was the sound of the spirit that had crept into her dreams and daylight wakefulness, the succubus that had stolen her husband and now dropped her baby into the sea. Taunted by the moon’s reflection in the chilly waves, the baby had been claimed by death, swallowing the salty water like a sweet poison of bitter injustice that burned and crushed her lungs, asphyxiating her. Concerned for her infant’s safety, Isabel rushed to her cradle, but the babe was not there. Thinking that she had crawled to the window’s edge, she rushed to the side of the tower to see if she could spot her on the ground below. I heard Isabel’s screams as she fell from the massive height, wringing her hands in agony as she catapulted to the ground.
I have been haunted by this family’s tragedy as if it were my own and carry a personal guilt as if I were responsible for what has befallen them. It is with a heavy heart that I leave, but I fear for my own welfare. I believe Isabel rests in peace now that she is reunited with her loved ones.