Tag Archives: monsters

The Thin Black Line

“Fat floats, Eugene! Fat floats!”

With each stroke, Eugene’s head dipped below, drowning out the shrieks and taunts from the bleachers. His stomach hurt, his arms and legs felt like flabby sacks of sand, but it was better down there. Cool. Blue. Nothing to mark his passage but the thin black line along the bottom of the pool.

And then, Eugene would break the surface, and let the swimming carnival come rushing back into his ears and eyes.

“Loooser! Looooser!”

Flailing for a moment, Eugene could see clear across the pool. The rest of the boys in his category had long since finished and were now sitting on the blocks, laughing and pointing, their legs reaching for the water like thirsty gazelles. Even Mr. Merton was smirking at him, sharing a laugh with Miss Gormly.

Stupid school. Stupid swimming carnival. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Eugene’s face dipped back under and the black line swung into view. Through his goggles, misty and leaking water, he could see it. Comforting, dependable. So black as to look infinitely  deep. And as his arms slapped the water above, he almost see movement in the black. Shadowy filaments like distant eels or dorsal fins, rolling playfully about in the abyss. It looked so very calm down there. No taunts. No lessons. No stupid Mr. Merton.

Eugene reached back up and took a great lungful of air. He was only halfway across the pool.

“You can do it, Potts”, yelled Mr. Merton, his laughter barely suppressed, “you’re nearly there”.

He plodded on, arms rotating like broken windmills, legs pumping, body twisting. Below him the thin black line seemed to widen and flex, as the goggle-water leaked into his eyes. Down in the deep calm, his mind could wander, and he could picture the fissure, below him, lined with craggy coral and cliffside caves. Morays and cuttlefish crawling in and out, and other things, darker things, black things, with the tails like monstrous oarfish, and spindly human fingers. Or maybe kind faces like Miss Gormly. And naked torsos like Miss Gormly.

He swore he could see them now, through the wet, plastic blur, reaching out their fingers through the thin black line, twisting up and out through the absurdly narrow crack. Their hair, swirling around their faces in the water, alluding to a mysterious beauty, or perhaps an unbearable cruelty. It didn’t matter. It was the ocean. There was no morality, no intelligence. Just hunger, lust and infinite freedom.

Their arms encircling him, their mouths pressing against his, feeling their cold tongues against his lips, and the jagged enamel prick of rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. He would give them his air, his warmth, the flesh from his ribs and face, anything to be able to swim with them, twist around them with his own oarfish tail, back into the crack of the thin black line and leave the school and its stupid swimming carnival behind forever.

Slowly the taunts died down into a low mutter and shocked silence. Mr. Merton dived heroically into the pool, but all he could find was Eugene’s goggles and an oversized pair of swimming trunks. The boy hadn’t just failed to resurface, he’d completely disappeared, somewhere below the thin black line.

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Janey scratched her head. There should have been fifteen hens in the coop, but today there were only twelve. She couldn’t see any signs of struggle: no blood and feathers or broken wire, no tell-tale tufts of fox fur on the fences. Just a passel of spooked chickens, heads bobbing like corks on water. Even Earl seemed satisfied with that, sniffing around the base of the henhouse for fox urine, and keeping a watchful eye on Black Annie in the corner.

Annie shifted in her patch and gave Earl a reproachful cluck, as Janey felt around the chickens for eggs. Annie was the newest addition to the coop, and Earl didn’t trust her just yet. He treated the rest of the hens like his own pups, patrolling the perimeter and barking off a warning whenever he sensed a predator. But Earl was getting old, his eyes were misting over, and Black Annie was almost bigger than he was: an unusually large Black Sumatra, with glistening dark-blue plumage and a tail that spilled from her back like tendrils of slithering tar. You weren’t supposed to keep Sumatras in a coop, but Janey figured chickens was chickens, and Annie didn’t seem too fussed.

The nests were bare, which was no surprise, given the hens were all scared and stressed. A few were losing feathers and one had developed an itchy bald patch. Janey was just about to pick up Black Annie, when Earl started to whine, pawing at the hay in the middle of the coop.

“What you got there, Earl?” she asked, and crouched down alongside.

It was an egg, malformed and stuck with feathers, all alone in the middle of the coop. And yet, as Janey peered closer, she could see it wasn’t an egg at all. It was a tiny skeleton of a chick, the kind you see in a jar of formaldehyde, curled up into an ovoid, with its skull tucked into its bony wing, as if it were sleeping.

“Would you look at that,” said Janey, sucking air through her teeth and scratching Earl on the head. She turned the egg-thing over in her fingers. Then, to get a better look, took it out into the sunlight.

She closed the coop behind her and held the egg-thing up to the light. It was delicate and hollow. And warm. If she hadn’t found it in the coop, she’d have sworn that it was a bone carving, rendered in exquisite detail, of an incubating fertilised egg; its shell, feathers and meat peeled away in the same fluid motion.

Behind her the hens were clucking, and Earl was barking and scuffling about. No doubt he was getting Black Annie riled up, and if not brought into line, he would worry those hens half to death. “Earl!” she called, fumbling with the henhouse latch, and again, “Earl! Heel!” But the barking and clucking kept building until, with a whine and a yelp, it suddenly faded into silence.

Janey burst into the coop, falling on all fours. There was no sign of Earl, and the chickens were scattered along the ground and pecking at the straw. No, not pecking, grovelling: their heads bent low in submission, eyes jerking fearfully up and sideways, then kowtowing back to the ground. All except Black Annie, who remained in her perch, her neck craned up and wings thrust out like an albatross in flight.

Janey looked up at Annie. Annie looked down at Janey. Then Annie stretched her beak, wider and wider until, with a low, gurgling cough, she sicked up the tiny, skeletal bolus of a curled-up, elderly dog.

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Boxing Day

Oh, okay. One more. It’s a peculiarly positive Christmas this year, so let’s see if I can’t ruin it.

None of the grown-ups seemed to know why it was called Boxing Day, but here was Dani on the day after Christmas at half-past five in the morning. And here, under the tree, was an extra box. It was done up in cream paper with a green ribbon and a small card that simply said “To Dani: for being so nice”.

And Dani had been nice. Dani had been good all year, she was sure of it. She’d kept her room tidy, eaten all her vegetables, and never yelled. Not once. Not even when Old Connie Bryce’s yappy dog made her drop her favourite book in the mud. Or when Old Connie Bryce’s yappy dog picked up that book and shook it in his hateful little teeth until the pages were all torn. She’d gripped that yell in her lips, bent it into a smile, and told Connie Bryce that it was okay. That she wasn’t mad or upset, and that she liked dogs, and that’s just how yappy dogs behaved. Then later that night, Dani stole back across the fence and sliced off his ears with a pizza-cutter. Because that’s how cranky girls behaved when your mean yappy dog rips up their book in the mud.

She’d written out a list and stuck it to the fridge for Santa: one Butterflicious ConformoPet (machine-washable), the latest Angelica Manson mystery, an Autopsy High Real Death Doll (with Real Scream action), and so on, and so on.

But Santa had ignored them all. Well, Mummy and Daddy had ignored them all. All except the ConformoPet. and even then they’d bought the wrong one. Then there were jumpers and socks and other Important Things. And again, Dani hadn’t yelled or sulked or been ungracious. She’d smiled at all the presents and said thank you. She’d even made a big show of wearing that stupid jumper before excusing herself and scaling the laundry cupboard to where mummy kept the medicines.

Mummy and daddy spent all night in bed, sobbing and clutching their tummies and thinking about how naughty they’d been. So this box couldn’t have been from them. And it couldn’t have been from Santa. Could it?

When Dani stroked the ribbon, it was warm and humming, like a sleeping bird, and when she fingered the edges of the lid, her fingertips came away wet.

“To Dani, for being so nice”.

Unable to wait any longer, Dani ripped the ribbon away and prised open the cream paper lid, before the box was ready. It gave a ‘snarf’ of surprise, licking its cream-coloured face with a tinsel tongue. Then, quick as a sugar plum, shot that tinsel tongue around Dani’s neck and dragged her inside.

Ho ho ho.

© 2012 Dave Bloustien

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