When the dying fireplace spat some final sparks of flame and gave in, the tavern’s silence struck a chord. Everyone sat settled in cold fear, icier than the water past their docks. For a place that had just ten minutes before been full of laughs and relaxed moods, the difference was sharper than a knife. It had started with the mad mother, bursting in with arms raised above her head in panic. Squawks of grief like a dying sparrow that captured all eyes in the room.
Her shadow was outlined by a glow of the porch lamps outside. But the wind snapped the thin door shut, sending dust swirling in the darkened air. Hair trailed down in matted knots to the woman’s bruised shoulders. Gauntness highlighted her cheekbones, she appeared starved of food and sleep. When she carved her sobs into speech it was simple and direct.
“The Fisherman is back, he took right from the cot this time…”
Saying it made her subdued and almost mute. All energy had been bled from her, and she sat on a stool by the fire with carelessness, both eyes glued to the wood plank floor. Planks made from the last few trees. Trees that’d once stretched spindly branches to the stars.
The name she’d spoken was well-known. Everyone was afraid of the Fisherman, it did not matter how surly or scarred the sailors were. A loose killer. Whenever a sighting was reported it varied wildly, except for the eyes. As sickly green as the poisonous water it crawled from. It carried a slick, sharp harpoon. Loosely tied on bones littered its length, hanging right up to the crescent blade.
Some whispered the Fisherman targeted sick people, be it child, woman, and man because a gullet of saltwater paired with a diseased heart was its preferred style of fun.
A brave soul spoke up.
“We could try and kill it?” said by an old man with pockmarks, his inflection framed it as a question rather than a definitive statement so that if it was shot down he wouldn’t have to mope for too long. Silence sounded again, this time it was awkward and scrambled, people searched frantically for a response to the old man. They were saved the effort.
“You can’t kill it, you’ll just die faster.” Said by the mad woman. It was a sobering remark, and the bartender busied himself with pouring more drinks. They’d need them.
The pockmarked sailor plucked up extra courage. “Did it take your baby?...”
The attention of tavern regulars bounced back and forth between the two.
Spite bloomed in her eyes, now colourless in the low light. She snatched up a charred chunk of firewood from the hearth, the noise of burning skin and burst veins muffled by her wild screams. Whatever pain she felt stayed hidden behind rage.
She ran at the old man. The air rushed and dust swirled again in a frenzy. The mad woman bared yellowing teeth and brought the wooden club down on the old man with pockmarked skin and sad eyes. No one moved to stop her, the old man remained still. The wood made contact and split in two. Thick heavy fragments crashed to the floor. Blood splattered the bartender.
Everyone blinked in surprise as they saw the old man shivering with fear. Scared but unharmed. The wood had broken on the bar countertop. Where was the blood from?
That was the last proper word from the grief-sick mother. Her eyes were shrunken to small black dots, pale red lips draining of colour as her jaw fell slack. Hey eyes followed and looked down. So did everyone else.
From her stomach five inches of barbed metal jutted out, carved to the shining shape of a crescent moon. From her back trailed toughened rope.
Blood welled around the wound and poured out. No one had heard the stabbing. Everyone looked to the door.
It was open now, a breeze of sea air made itself known. Smells of rotting meat drafted off the shadowy figure. There was no face to be seen. Just green eyes. Long fingers fiddled with a device that was decorated with bones, and the rope began pulling back. It was strong, and the woman, already weak, collapsed to the floor. She got pulled closer and closer to the door, a blood trail growing ever thicker and darker. She arrived at the doorway. Barely able to make noises, she just cried a dry cry. No tears.
The Fisherman collected her in his arms and disappeared into the night. The door shut afterwards. No one saw it be touched.
For a few minutes the strong night air carried her cries back to the tavern. But when her noises crawled to a stop, everyone turned back to their drinks. Shutting it away with drunken distractions seemed easy until the stumble home. The docks shadowed the town, emerald mist lingered on the horizon. Seeming to creep closer and closer night by night.
Every pair of slurred eyes saw the moon and its crescent shape.
Who would be next?