Ashore

Ashore

Rick Allden

The man had lain upon the shore for two days before he was discovered.  Two schoolchildren, gathering driftwood, pierced the still Sunday air with shrieks as a torn hand grabbed at them from beneath the detritus.  At the sound the Village arrived at speed, and upon seeing the man, sent immediately for the doctor.

By the water in his lungs, the man should’ve drowned. As it was he was listless, non-responsive but, apparently, in fine health.  The man was in his mid-thirties, ashen-faced and he stared at the doctor for minutes at a time without blinking.  His skin seemed slick with what appeared to be hard grease.  If it weren’t impossible, the doctor would say the substance was adipocere; a wax borne from decomposing, submerged tissue.  Adhering to scientific, medical knowledge rather than what was before him, the doctor suggested that the man should be immediately hospitalised for testing and study.  There was no response.  It was his choice of course, indicated the doctor, but it was certainly advisable.  The man slowly rose to his feet and left the office without a word.  That was fine by the doctor, the man’s slow eyes were beginning to disturb him, and besides, the little Franklin boy who discovered the man was outside suffering from shock.

Several locals, middle-aged and female, waited outside the surgery for the man.  He would need help, a home perhaps, and certainly caring attention.  Hours passed; so too, they realised, had the man.  He must’ve met his family, a wife overjoyed, and walked past them, unrecognisable from the half-naked man that had washed up that morning.  They headed home and returned to their separate routines.

The Village tended to begin Mondays with the fishermen at three in the morning.  Five of them wearily pushed their boat towards the sea when the eldest saw a corpse at the water’s edge.  Running over, a struggle on the sand in his large boots, he saw that the corpse was, in fact, sleeping.  It was the man who’d been washed ashore the previous day.  The fisherman had been working the sea for forty years.  He would later say that a sixth sense derived from his work, moved him out of reach of the clawing hand as the man awakened with shrieking violence.

The doctor had worked through the night.  The Franklin boy was not faring well, and he was unsure why.  He had exhibited the tell-tale signs of shock, but they had lasted and seemed, if anything, to be increasingly severe.  When monitoring his pulse, he noticed that the boy’s left wrist had started to blacken.  It seemed visibly smaller than the right.  The patient showed no signs of sharp pain when the wrist was touched, but emitted a low, prolonged moan.  The blackness had spread, and was continuing to do so.

The Village had learned not to approach the man. People, kind people trying to help, had asked the man if he knew who he was, or where he was going.  He was sullen, rude; he wouldn’t give a word to anyone.  He had attacked a group of fishermen that morning, and the day’s fishing had been particularly bad.  The Village had called in at the doctor’s for information, to see how unstable the man was, but the doctor was unavailable, tending to a dangerously sick patient.

The boy was in and out of consciousness, his right arm now all but withered.  The doctor knew him to be experiencing necrosis of the subcutaneous tissues.  His skin was dying.  Sweat dropped from the doctor’s face onto the blade.  A message had been sent to the boy’s mother, but he had to act quickly.  Slivers of darkness were stroking the boy’s shoulder, jet black against alabaster.   He applied the cloth to the boy’s mouth, muttered the first prayer of his adult life, and began to saw.

The fishermen saw the man at the corner of the high street, violently lurching between lampposts and brick walls. If he had seemed unstable before, he was now frenzied, his clothes torn to rags.  His back to them, the man was contorting with rage or pain.  The fishermen had been drinking too, driving each other to higher, sustained levels of anger with each retelling of the morning’s events and what may have filled them with disquiet earlier now served as further encouragement.  The most drunken of the group approached the man and grabbed his arm.  The skin was smooth, cold and parted like strings of putty.  The fisherman stumbled bewildered as thick, black ash billowed from the man.  Edging backwards towards his friends, the fisherman watched with horror as the man’s neck twisted unnaturally before him.  The man’s lips seemed to have stuck together, and the mouth tore raggedly as he silently screamed.  More ash now billowed from his mouth and white, unseeing eyes as the man staggered towards the sea.  The driving wind clawed at the ash heaps, scattering the dust and cinders across the horrified onlookers.  The man faded into the sea.

The boy, a serrated blade lodged painfully in his blackened bicep, pushed away the doctor’s cold, dead hand.  Leaving the surgery he saw that the fishermen lay lifeless upon the High Street.  Windows and doors had blackened, the inhabitants within long dead.  The Village was decay. He looked down at himself.  His fingernails were long and yellowing.  Soundless; the air had died with the Village.  Then he heard it.  The distant sound of crashing waves. He began to slowly walk.

***

Rick Allden is a writer resident in the valleys of South Wales.  Having graduated with a MA in creative and media writing in 2006, he has been writing and plays and stories since then. If you’d like to get in touch, please visit his website at http://www.rickallden.com.

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