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The Singing Waters

Sweet is the Sound of Temptation

By S. A. CrawfordPublished 2 years ago Updated 5 months ago 18 min read
18

The mist hung low and heavy. Sticky cold and slimy, it smeared across the roads obscuring all until that the car's headlights seemed like will o' wisps. Insubstantial. John wiped a hand over his face and looked at Cora sleeping in the passenger seat, belly full and bulging. It heaved and roiled as the baby moved inside - a wondrous thing. It made him feel sick. Like a tiny alien, an interloper, had snuck into his wife and bloated her beyond recognition, pushing and demanding until she had no time for him at all. That's why he had needed-

He wiped the thought away, literally, with a flap of his hand and refocused on the road. A new house, new jobs, in an old place; a fresh start in the arse end of nowhere with no neighbours, and no social life. No temptation.

The Dalgleish House wasn't called that in any official sense, but the locals called it that on account of the family who had lived there for thirty years. The men had gone missing one by one until only the mother and daughter were left. No one wanted to live there, the locals were superstitious backwoods Scots, after all, but John was a Londoner; he knew a bargain when he saw one. Like the singing brothers had said, he had walked, well driven, five hundred miles for his wife. If that didn't ease her mind, however, he wouldn’t be driving five hundred more. There was an end to penance. There had to be, and this bleak strip of coast seemed like the end of everything.

For all its grandeur, it was a miserable kind of place; a big, toothy, stone-built house perched on the edge of a peninsula, surrounded by slate-grey sea and brackish ponds. At the edge of the garden, a set of steps swirled into the sea mist, the harr, as the locals called it. Cora stirred as he drew up to the house, pulling the handbrake up savagely,

"Are we here?" She asked, voice soft and thick with sleep, belly heaving as she moved,

"Yes," John said with a sigh, "why don't you go inside and make a cuppa while I unpack? The box with the-"

"I know, John, I packed it," she said with the air of defeated disdain that seemed to coat her like poison these days. She heaved her blubbery bulk from the passenger seat, rocking the car, and slammed the door, leaving him alone with his disgust and, finally, the shame and guilt that always followed. When she bumbled into the house leaving the front door open, he slid from the car and surveyed the filled back seat. When he turned his eyes to the perilously packed trailer, weariness washed over him,

"I sold my Astin Martin for this." It was the last straw, the fevered scab that he couldn't stop picking at. The rickety, khaki green Land Rover looked at home here - as at home as he was out of place. A giggle echoed around the misty garden, making the hair on his neck prickle, "Hello?"

"Silly man," the voice was soft and sweet, laughing at him without malice. It almost sounded familiar, "Cora?" He whipped around, looking for her with a smile on his face, as if the woman he married would step out of the house, free from the frumpy, fatty shell that had engulfed her. Sleek and smooth. The empty door leered at him; a susurrus of movement at the corner of his vision drew his eyes to the distant stairway. He stepped forward once, twice, three times-

"John?" Cora's voice, somehow shrill and deep at the same time, called him back,

"What?" He snapped, feeling that familiar stab of shame as her face buckled,

"I just wanted to know if you wanted a cake with your coffee? I got one of the muffins you like from the bakery before we left London." Her lower lip trembled; it was always shaking now.

"I... yes, please darling." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry, you know what driving does to me."

"Yes," she smiled, soothed, and shuffled away. His eyes slid back to the stairway, but the mist there was unbroken. It was almost as if it was exempt from the wind that wracked the rest of the land, protected by an accident of geography maybe. Whatever was down there, if there was anything, it was obscured from view entirely. John sighed and moved to unhitch the trailer, preparing to unpack what was left of his old life.

The night fell like a guillotine blade, cutting away the last remnants of the day without hesitation. The movers were late, lost in the fog perhaps, and so they crept into the ancient, dusty bed that had been left in the master bedroom, grateful for any place to rest despite the musty sheets. John woke shivering in the pitch black. The room was alien; shadows gathered in unnatural places. He listened for any sound but the wind and the damn water. The traffic of the city would have been a welcome interruption. He prayed for a passing lorry and then shuffled into his socks and boots, wrapping a spare blanket from the ancient wardrobe around him like a robe. He checked his watch. 4.30 am. Winter was coming, and up here it was hard... or so he had heard. The sun wouldn't rise until nearly nine in the heart of it, and would begin to set near four. No sun, no entertainment. No neighbours. What had he gotten himself into? Cora snored, stretched like a cat and then curled inward once more, taking the blankets with her.

"Fuck," he muttered and rubbed his face. The house was filled with creaking, groaning, cracking… and no doubt spiders, mice, and all the other beasties of the wilds. John huffed, watching his breath steam in the greyish light before he crept slowly to the kitchen to make a cup of volcanically hot coffee. The ceramic mug seemed to scald his hands, even as it sent waves of soothing heat through him. As he made his way to the study, or what would be the study, the wind seemed to find a fever pitch – its shrieks were almost musical. He cocked his head to the sound, feeling a wave of lightheaded exhaustion overtake him. The room looked as if it had been heaped with rubbish; all the contents of his office were in there. The problem was that it was devoid of the furnishings that should have held them in order. The rugged garden below looked miserable in the silver moonlight - the heaving sea beyond was no better. It roiled under the moon, frothing like a rabid beast. He perched in the bay window and rummaged for the lone desk lamp that had made the trip with them in the car.

Clumsily, he struggled to plug it in, jostling the coffee as he did, making it slop steaming liquid onto the sill. The light that flooded the room was golden, and it spilt like syrup onto the garden below, illuminating the pale figure of a woman.

"Shit," John staggered back, a thrill of fear being replaced by uneasy amusement as he realised she wasn't some kind of malevolent spirit. Just a woman. A naked woman with fiery red curls and blue tattoos running from her hips to her feet, but she looked human enough. She met his eyes through the window and smiled, waving a slim hand as if to beckon him, and stepped back. He turned to descend the stairs before thinking, then froze. A thrill of fear hissed through him, making his mouth dry,

"She might be in trouble," he whispered. But why was she smiling? "It's so cold."

He looked back at the coffee, steam curling from it like so many snakes, and beyond. She was still there - unmoved. Unmoving. He pulled the blanket from his own shoulders and took the stairs two at a time until he reached the side door. Skidding to a halt, he licked his lips and felt the creeping unease again, frozen by it until the musical laugh sounded. It was the same one he had heard before, it had to be. He opened the door and poked his head out, expecting nothing but air, but she was there. Pale and still, skin almost glowing. As if she had soaked up all the light from the moon. The light from the study caught in her red curls, both sets, and made him shiver,

"Miss, are you alright?" He asked, and she smiled, a wide, flashing smile with broad white teeth and red lips that seemed like a gash in her face. The world was melting, slowly draining away,

"I am now." It was like milk and honey, cream and strawberries. Sweet and smooth and so warm - she beckoned and he stepped from the doorway in a trance.

"John, close the fucking door - you'll die of cold!" Cora's voice was like a hammer blow, cracking open his skull. He whirled, blinking stupidly. She crossed her strangely thin arms over her swollen belly and shivered, "what is it?"

"There's a woman out here," he said, "she needs help." Her face clouded, and he cursed his stupidity,

"Trust you to find a damsel in distress wherever you go,” she said with a terse smile and stepped past him, out into the garden with narrow eyes, “how can we..." She blinked, faltered and turned back to him with her brows drawn up, "is this a joke?"

"What? No of course not," John snarled and turned back, pointing with the blanket in hand at the empty garden. No-one. Nothing. The grass by the cliff stairs swayed, "I saw..."

"You were dreaming," Cora sighed and patted his arm, turning away without hesitation. She didn't believe him. Why should she? He took two steps further and stared, wide-eyed at the rapidly filling footprints in the marshy grass. Small. Quickly disappearing. But definitely human, definitely female. John backed into the house, gripped with sudden gut-wrenching dread, locking the door and engaging the chain before he hurried up to the bedroom, coffee long forgotten. It had been wrong, all of it. He wrapped himself around Cora in a way he hadn't for months and shivered,

"There was no steam," he said,

"What?" Cora mumbled and took his hand,

"When she breathed, it didn't show in the air." His tongue felt thick and numb. He wasn’t even sure that she had been breathing,

"Hmm?" She was fading,

"It's minus four, Cora, her breath should have been like fog."

"That's nice," Cora mumbled and stretched. He stared at the mirrored door of the wardrobe and swallowed a lump of fear. The coffee was there in the morning, stone-cold and accusing, but there was no sign of the woman. No sign at all for two weeks, until the harr rolled in again and muffled the landscape. Only the sea seemed unrestrained by the heavy blanket of mist. It roared and sucked and rumbled. And in the middle of the nights, it sang. He dreamt of the stone stairs that led down into the mist. The singing was so loud it hurt, but his rigor mortis grin wouldn't shift. In the mornings he woke covered in sweat, filled with fear and lust, and looked at Cora as if she were alien to him. She was plump and healthy and beautiful, but when he looked in the mirror his own face was greyish and somehow slack. His bones ached.

John stood at the top of the stairs in his thin pyjamas. As usual he was unsure how he had come to be there. He could no longer tell if he dreamed these moments. He kept the woman's cool gaze while the hairs on his neck prickled. The stairs beyond her led down, down, down the cliff face to the sea,

"What do you want?" He croaked, but she only smiled and crooked her finger, hair blowing in the breeze. Despite himself, he followed her, night after night, further and further, until he stood at the very last step, crumbling into the sand, and watched her footsteps disappear into the rock pools. Only the fear kept him back – a primal voice, at the back of his mind, that whispered danger even as his body tried to move all on its own.

"Where do you go," Cora asked at breakfast one morning on the second week. Or perhaps the third. He couldn’t tell anymore – the days were too bright, and at night the wind and waves sang. They never stopped singing. His boss was beginning to lose patience with him. His new life teetered on the edge. She sipped her coffee, scrutinizing the dark shadows under his eyes, "at night? You weren't in your study last night. Or the bathroom. This isn’t the first time I haven’t been able to find you."

"I went down to the beach," he whispered, "I can't sleep in this house."

"New houses always need some adjustment, especially when they're old," she said, and then laughed as if it was the funniest thing in the world. He wanted to split her fucking head open like a melon. His knuckles were white around the knife handle.

"Yes," he croaked, "I think I'll take a nap."

"Alright," she said, brown eyes worried and wet. She was nothing like the Woman. He couldn't tell why that made him want to weep - was it relief or hatred? He slept through the sunlight, weak and watery though it was, and woke when Cora slipped into bed. There was no point in pretending - he got up and sighed,

"Don't go down there," she said, suddenly, voice thick with fear, "it's not safe. She's not safe"

He looked at her as if for the first time. The terror on her face was muted because, he realized, it wasn't for herself. It was for him. The face of the woman he had loved peeked out from those eyes. The creature in her belly squirmed, pushing its tiny feet until the imprint was visible under her nightdress.

"I know," he said, taking a breath, "I'm going to the study." And he did, he picked away at his workload and blinked at the screen, eyes itching, itching, itching until he opened the window and the cold night air soothed them. His breath started to mist in the air, and then the singing started. Melodious, enchanting, piercing; it promised bliss, pure enchantment, and pleasure, but it was a complex voice and in the depths, there was a shard of something nasty. Like a sliver of glass in ice cream. Like the flash of something huge in deep, black waters. Still, it pulled him to the window. To the front door, and out to the steps. The early snow bit into his bare feet. This was not a dream; a sharp pebbled bit into the flesh of his foot and drew blood. She was at the foot of the stairs, a pale beacon in the moonlight. She waited until he was within arm’s length and lunged, pulling him by the wrist to touch her. She was warm... no, she wasn't he realized. His hand told him she was warm and soft, but under that there was a seed of truth; she was cold and firm. Slick like a seal. Like a beast from the deep. Her breast felt like blubber, or like living flesh... it changed from moment to moment.

She gripped him hard enough to make his eyes water before turning on her heel to run over the rocks.

"Wait," he called, "it's not safe!"

He followed recklessly, sharp rocks and limpets cutting his feet as he did. Bloody footprints showed the erratic trail he took. He tumbled on a wet rock and cracked his head on the sharp edge, groaning.

"Wait." He croaked, his tongue thick and throbbing. He was cold, so cold. The singing struck up again. The damn singing – when did it stop? His head was thick and foggy - like it had been stuffed with cotton wool. He crawled over the rocks, gasping and whimpering until his hands met water. He looked up at a wide, black expanse of water so smooth it could have been a pane of glass. Around it, the sea raged, but a fine, high lip of stone carved out a sheltered space, perfectly circular, that caught the moon just so. The salt wind stung his eyes; the cold seeped into his bones and in the depths, something moved. It was pale as milk, a flash of silver and white with edges of red and gold – like winter fire.

She faded into view, pale face inches from the surface of the water, and smiled, her eyes were grey. Like watery porridge. The pupil grew and grew until there was only a sickly ring around. Her teeth seemed... sharp somehow. He smiled back, tears welling and plopping into the water. The ripples went on forever. Cora was safe at home; warm and sleeping, hopefully. Dreaming, maybe, about that silly little slut he'd let come between them. The Woman laughed, body convulsing, but the surface of the water stayed smooth and still. There were no bubbles. No ripples. She crooked her finger and her smile grew – those broad, white teeth seemed like razors, now, or tombstones. John shook his head,

"Please." It was a plea to no one in particular. His fingers tightened on the rock until the nails, pressed against the stone, ripped from their beds. She nodded and whispered,

"Come away." And the surface remained smooth and still – there were no bubbles.

"Please, we're having a baby." The little alien - it would swallow Cora whole. Who would she be without him? Would she remember to be a woman? Or would she shrivel up and become just a mother.

"Come." The warmth was gone. A hand, slim and elegant and cold as death, slipped from the water and closed around his wrist. Her flesh burned like fire against his; they said the deepest circles of hell were cold. Terribly cold. The singing stopped. The wind stopped – in fact, the world seemed to stop. All but the waves – their heaving, sucking restlessness was the rhythm of his heart. Her smile grew and grew until the skin peeled back and the endless teeth bristled around the black, gaping maw in her face.

The waves crashed on the stone, washing a bloody fingernail back into the cup of a tiny rock pool behind the lip. The last echo of a scream hissed out to sea.

The mist hung low and heavy, smothering all sight and sound but that which was before her eyes. Cora watched the dull blue lights approach and gripped the oversized woollen jumper. It didn't smell of him because he'd never worn it; he didn't want to look like a bumpkin. But she pretended that it did, and told people all about her husband. She made a better man of John than he had ever been, and it was some comfort. She clutched her bulging stomach as another wave of pain hit her, and prayed for a girl. She had heard the singing in the night, too, and saw the woman in the bushes. Corpse flesh coloured and boney, teeth like razors, blue-grey lips cut and bloody with fingers like meat hooks and gashes in her neck that pulses and gaped at the air like dying animals.

Their eyes had met, briefly, though Cora had looked away out of necessity. The eyes, oh the eyes were like shining black tar pits, reeking of madness and glittering with intent. They had a woman's understanding, the kind that marked out clear lines of ownership. Clear boundaries around what was and was not a trespass. The singing, shrill and pained, and cracked, like a vixen screaming in a trap, howled louder than the approaching sirens,

"Shut the fuck up!" Her scream echoed through the fog, strangely dull. The singing stopped, "not now," she whispered and held her stomach and prayed for a girl. They should have checked the gender. Why didn't John want to know? It would be alright if she only had a girl. The sirens stopped, too, but the lights flashed and strobed, illuminating the grass and the rocks, and the wet glistening brambles. And the eyes in the far gloom. The women that hopped out of the ambulance looked flustered,

"You alright, love? Sorry about your wait…” the younger paramedic, blonde and pretty and rosy, hesitated. Her accent was round and soft, she was so painfully young that Cora wanted to weep. She seemed uneasy. Her colleague did not,

“The men wouldn't come out here, useless beggars," the older of the two, a brunette with sharp brows and thin lips, said with a snort, "they think it’s bad luck, can you believe that nonsense?"

"Absolutely," Cora said and heaved herself up from the cold step, "I can believe that." They helped her into the ambulance with warm hands and kind words and pulled back out onto the misty road. The lights only served to illuminate the harr. Every bend came as a surprise, and over the hum of the engine and the squeal of the siren, she heard the singing waters as clearly as if they were in her very mind.

fiction
18

About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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  • Call Me Les5 months ago

    I love the deliberate way you choose words to match the tone of the sentence. The adjectives really make this come to life. Never too few or too little and always very carefully crafted and without repeating them. The vocabulary in this is truly stunning. Well done!

  • Donna Renee5 months ago

    🤯🤯 this was such an emotional rollercoaster, I couldn’t decide if I wanted him to die horribly or be redeemed!

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