Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Getting Fictional: "The Kiss" , A Short Story For Beth

Back in March, I drew the result of a Tuckerization competition, which is where a reader gives their name to a character in a short story or a book.

The winner was Beth /Pegasus 358 and I promised the story would be featured right here on the Supernatural Underground.

So without further ado, today I give you The Kiss, a short story that features a "Beth" as the main character.



The Kiss

by Helen Lowe

Fairy lights rippled across the darkened harbor, illuminating the crowded faces on the boathouse deck. Someone yelled from the adjoining carpark, and a few moments later Beth heard the cough of a car engine. More yells followed, and laughter mingled with the smash of breaking glass.

The place would be a mess in the morning. Beth leaned against the edge of the pier, enjoying the breath of cooler air off the sea, her eyes fixed on the darker water beyond the dance of lights. Phosphorescence touched a wave edge, further out, and a light winked from the far side of the bay. Someone floundering, Beth thought, or maybe lighting a lamp in a one of the old baches that had no electricity …

Not like the new, flash houses that dotted the Point above the boathouse. “New people,” Marg at the store had said, and sniffed—just as if Beth wasn’t a summer visitor herself, working on an archaeological dig the next bay over.

“Found anything interesting yet?” That was Dave, taking advantage of a gap in the crowd to finally reach her side. He was as local as you could get, even if he was working a summer job, too, researching the harbour’s water quality and correlations to various shellfish populations. Beth took the beer he held out, chinking her bottle against his before taking a long swig.

“Here?” she asked innocently, then laughed at his grimace. “No, I knew you meant the dig.” She drank again. “Not yet, unless you count a couple of nails I found today. But they’re not even old enough to catalogue, let alone coming from the mission station. If it was ever here,” she added, momentarily gloomy.

Dave shrugged. “There’re a hundred bays to this harbor and records from those days are erratic at best. Just because the last survivor was picked up from the Point doesn’t mean the station was here, although I suppose it makes somewhere nearby more likely.” He grinned at her. “Look on the bright side, though: they’re paying you to grub in the dirt.”

“They are.” The band inside the hall was picking up pace and Beth studied her beer, avoiding Dave’s gaze. She told herself it was because she didn’t want to plunge into the noise and heat and lose-packed bodies inside, but really, she didn’t want to dance with Dave. But if she made eye contact, she knew he would ask her …

“Hey Dave, dance with me!” Jess, Marg’s daughter, broke away from her friends and seized Dave’s arm, dragging him into the thick of the dancing. Beth smiled and shook her head as he glanced back, before the crowd closed between them. She could see the trail of Jess’s friends, though, weaving their way into the heart of the dancing. If she stayed put, Dave would come back—or they all would—and drag her into the dancing, too. Although Beth suspected that Jess would delay that as long as possible …

Grinning, she downed the last of her beer and headed toward the steps that led directly to the beach, negotiating knots of revellers until she stood on the smooth half-moon curve of sand. The Point cast a long shadow across its far end, the silhouette of a solitary tree marking where the land ended and the harbour began.

The patupaiarehe*, the faerie people, were supposed to have come out of the sea there once, and the last survivor of the failed mission had been found beneath the tree, starving and delirious, by a whaling ship’s crew. And a young woman from the Point had drowned herself beneath its shadow when the lover who sailed away to fight in the First World War had never come sailing back again.

The tree was ancient and gnarled enough to spark as many stories as it had roots, the long cables twisting down the Point’s rocky face. Beth strolled toward it, and although the music and laughter spilled after her, the waves were a soft, accompanying swish. The path up to the tree was a steep twisting scramble, but the rising moon was bright enough to see by. Once Beth reached the top she saw the moon track, a silver-gilt path across the night harbour.

Another narrow beach lay on the headland’s far side, almost immediately below her, and she saw there was a boat beached just above the surf line. The man beside it was standing in the creaming foam, drawing in what looked like a net. He was wearing ragged, cut-off jeans, his bare back a play of moonlight and shadow in the uncertain light. But he must have sensed her presence, because he turned, holding the net in one hand while the other gestured in equal parts greeting and salute.

Beth’s hand rose in answer, aware of the tree’s darkness at her back as he began, unhurriedly, to gather in the net. As far she could see there were no fish in it, and he folded the empty strands across the boat before coming to stand beneath her promontory, is hands on his hips as he stared up. “You’re new,” he said. The lilt of the waves was in his voice. “One of the summer people.”

His hair was wet, she thought, and the stray glimmer across his shoulders and chest could be either water or sweat. The sounds of the party had grown distant and the lap of the waves filled the space between them. “The fact you say that,” she said finally, “means that you must be local.”

He laughed. “I am.” He gestured invitation. “Come down, summer girl.”

Summer girl… Beth felt as though a thread spun of moonshine and phosphorescence was drawing her down to the dark figure below. He was smiling, she could sense as much as see that, and when he extended a hand to help her down the last zigzag slither, his fingers were unexpectedly warm. But he did not relinquish his clasp once she reached the beach, and now the thread between them was electric, its current leaping between their joined fingertips. Still smiling, he leaned in close and kissed her.

His lips were silk and salt and the moon’s cool fire, as Beth was on fire, kissing him back. His hands were on her hips now; her palms exploring the play of muscle across his back as his lips drew her in deep, deep… The rush of memories that came with the taste of the sea on his lips, and the depth of the kiss, was like being caught beneath a wave and swirled violently about, first one way, and then another. A part of Beth was still herself, kissing the stranger on the moon-dark beach; the other was the procession of women who had been drawn to the exact same tryst, time after time.

“Sometimes I save them.” The whisper was quicksilver in her mind, the flash of a fish leaping between water and air. In that moment Beth was the last survivor from the lost mission, delirious with thirst and hunger as the voice of the sea lured her here, here, here to this headland with its solitary tree. But she would not have lived to be rescued if the young man who came out of the sea at dusk had not breathed in life with his kiss and left a gourd of fresh water at her side.

“And sometimes I do not.” Now Beth was the young woman who had gone to the Point to mourn her lost lover and been drawn into deep water with the night—only to float back in on another dawn, wrapped in the seaweed shroud of her hair. Lured by a kiss and drowned, as Beth was being drawn in, her mouth and body melded to the young man from the sea while the waves broke in a welter of foam around both their knees.

No! The part of Beth that was still herself tried to pull away, but the arms about her tightened and the man whose lips still held hers took another step back, so the next wave was a slap against their hips.

“But I love them well before I drown them deep.”

Now the quicksilver thread was laughter, and despite the part of her that was panicked, terrified, Beth was still in thrall to his dark allure. Folklore eddied through the swirl of memories: tales of patupaiarehe and selkies, of water horses and the Old Man of the Sea: faerie folk in all their guises. Now the waves were breaking about their waists—but as the swell rocked them both, Beth managed to slide a hand free and into her pocket, groping for the two disdained nails from today’s dig. She had thrust them into her pocket and forgotten them, but now her hand closed convulsively around their cold iron.

The young man’s hands dropped away from her and his head arched back, freeing Beth’s lips as he hissed like a cat, his shape fraying into something ancient and wild, shaped out of bone and sea kelp. Her fingers still clutched about the nails, Beth staggered backward, out of the water and past where the boat lay beached—only now it was no longer a boat but a log, draped about with seaweed. She circled well clear of it, her eyes still on the figure in the surf. His eyes glowed, luminous as mother-of-pearl, but the rest was dissipating into spindrift and the night’s shadow.

“And sometimes,” she told him silently, because her teeth were chattering too hard to speak aloud, “they spoil sport and save themselves.”

“Presumption…” The cat’s hiss was in her mind, but the eerie eyes were fading now, too. By the time Beth reached the tree again the harbour was as she had first seen it: the moon tracking its path across dark water, with only a log beached above the high tide line. Shuddering, she drew in deep steading gulps of air and balled her fists to stop them shaking—but she made sure she held onto the nails.

“Beth! Hey, Beth!” Dave’s voice called up to her, but there were others with him, Jess and the whole crowd of dancers laughing and strung out across boathouse beach. At least one of them had a torch, spinning its beam around like a spotlight.

“We’re going to have a bonfire here on the beach. Come on down!” Jess called out, although she sounded grudging.

They would never believe the explanation for her dripping jeans, so she would just have to say she slipped—which in a way, Beth supposed, she had done. She shivered as she started the descent to the far safer side of the Point, reliving the wash of memories and the young woman who had been saved, as randomly as another had been drowned. Far more drowned than saved, though, if the memories had told true…

“Still,” she said to Dave later, when the bonfire’s initial blaze had burned down into a friendly glow and her jeans were drying, stiff with salt, “I think I may try looking further afield for the mission station site. Maybe over toward Last Bay, since Marg says there’s a sizeable area of flat land there.”

“But no reliable water supply.” Dave grimaced. “What makes you think it’s a more likely site than around here, though?”

Beth shrugged, fingering the nails in her pocket. “Oh, call it a hunch. But it can’t hurt to look.” She shivered as the wind off the harbour picked up, huddling deeper into her jacket. “I think I’ll go by road, though, even if it is the long way round.”

* Patupaiarehe, fairy race who (primarily) dwell in the sea, according to the folklore of New Zealand's Maori  people 

© Helen Lowe, 2015: All Rights Reserved



Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is forthcoming on January 26, 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.


pegasus358 said...

Thank you so much, Helen! You captured my brief yet passionate interlude with the patupaiarehe perfectly.

Oh wait, it didn't happen in real life, did it? Sigh. He sounded pretty sexy, at least until the part where he wanted to drown me...

Thanks so much for including my name in your story! And now, I'm off to the beach! :)

-Pegasus358 (Beth)

Helen Lowe said...

Hi Beth,

I am so glad you liked the story, despite the darker elements. :)

But you take care at the beach, you hear!