I was fifteen years old when the first one drowned. “Don’t worry about it,” Lana said quietly, as if we were in an audience’s presence. “It happens to all of us after a while.” We sat poking holes in the spongy marsh for what seemed like hours as the limp puppy finally sank out of sight into the blue abyss. Weak air pockets popped against the surface of the water, resembling ants flowing out of their nest; at first there was a surge of bubbles, until the final two or three slowly surfaced minutes later.
My girlfriend nudged my arm. “Hey, Joe.” She pecked my cheek. “It’ll be alright, okay?” I believed her. After all, I wasn’t such a terrible person. So my sister’s new puppy died – so what? It’s the circle of life; things die every day. All I did was speed up the process.
That night, we took the long way home like usual. Lana insisted we stop at Keppy’s for a smoothie. Despite my telling her I was feeling just fine, she didn’t buy any of it. “You can never stay sad with a cup of ice cream, Joe,” she chirped. “Things will pick up for us,” she promised.
Four months later, we were back at the bayou.
“I don’t know what happened!” I collapsed in her arms. Shutting my eyes hard enough wasn’t enough to wash away the sight of the strangled tomcat at the water’s edge. My hands burned from where I held the kitten, a cold reminder of my rampant fury. “You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course, Joe.” She rubbed my back and stroked my hair. “Just another accident. Whose was it?”
“Kerry’s from across the street.”
This one was different than the first. For some reason, Lana didn’t seem so sympathetic. The night was still, making her rapid heartbeat that much more audible. She was an over-analytical human being, always over-thinking and anxious. “Do you still love me?”
“Forever and always,” was the last thing she said. As she looked in my eyes, I saw the demon. It possessed her small body, the orchestrator of these little evils. It was her fault I did those awful things. We took the short route back home, never saying goodbye when we reached her house.
The next day, Lana didn’t show up at school. She screened all my calls, wouldn’t answer any of my texts. So after school I found her crocheting in her room and we went to the swamp together.
A burning chain around her neck, I pressed her deceitful face into the soggy sludge. Lana tried breaking free, but that only made me tighten the chain. “I just love you so much, Lana; I’m doing this to save you.” Her cries were muffled under my muddy palm. I sat on her writhing body in the slush until the dark clouds passed, and I could see the reflection in her pale eyes. The obsidian demon stared back at me smirking, its eyes two colliding hurricanes.
“You won’t do it,” it hissed. “You’re too weak.”
“I’m doing this to save you, Lana,” I whispered, lacing my fingers around her neck. My thumbs press into her windpipe, the blood draining from her beautiful face. With each squeeze, the demon roared. Ravens gathered around us, taunting me. They were shouting their obscenities, but I kept strong. I had to save her — had to save us all.
At last she fell limp in my grasp, her cries frozen forever on her tongue. But the demon remained. It followed me to the water, displayed in my reflection. The devil in her eyes was me.
I was seventeen when the rest of them drowned, a king reborn.
A tall man sporting a long gray coat, navy breeches, and an overly large top hat struts across Lady Catherine’s main deck and gulps the ocean-licked breeze. “It won’t be long now boys!” he calls over the roaring waves crashing from below. Laughing heartily, he claps the back of his first mate. “Can you believe it, Nora?”
“Of course, Borris. I never had any doubt we would be unsuccessful.” Nora snarls, only worsening her already avian appearance. There was talk amongst the crew that she was the reason Captain Borris never carried a compass, that it was Nora’s abnormally long nose directing the ship. “The question is are you prepared for what’s to come?”
Captain Borris peers out into the open sea, engrossed in its mesmerizing glimmer. He tightens his grip on the wooden railing. “They’ve brought this upon themselves. There was once a time that I’d stand by their side no matter the situation.” He turns around to meet Nora’s sympathetic glare. “How else would they expect me to react, anyway?”
“Why don’t you collect yourself in your chamber; I’ll let you know when it’s been done.”
The captain shakes his head. “Absolutely not – I’ll be watching every second of the attack. It’s not every day you witness your hometown and family blown to smithereens, Nora.” He spits a wad of tobacco overboard, channeling his apparent rage into the thick banister.
“Alright, I can respect that. It’ll be on your orders then, Captain.”
Captain Borris waves a dismissive hand at his first mate, turning back to the welcoming, cobalt horizon. “Oh, and Nora?” he calls, “Fire the first shot away from the house with the bright-yellow roof; it’s right off the dock so you can’t miss it. I’ve got something different in mind for Ma and Pa.”