Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Duel

Mist slackened over the dockside and a foghorn blurted from the unseen distance. Night had turned the illuminations of the gaslights to smoggy grey blurs which served only to accentuate the shadows that lay beyond their reach.

Marcus paced the deformed wooden planks, his hands clasped behind his back and his head bowed. He was deep in contemplation. Fine spray had soaked his clothes until his body was as damp and uncomfortable as his mind.

Next to the edge of the dock stood Marcus’ second. Daniel stood motionless, gazing out towards the unseen sounds of the harbour - the sloshing of the waves as they broke on the wooden supports below their feet, the throb of boats cutting through the treacherous tidal currents, the warped shouts of men’s voices calling out instructions or pleas.

Daniel sniffed, his first movement for many a minute, and then turned to his companion.

‘They are not coming.’

Marcus paused in his relentless pacing, looking up into his friend’s face with a mixed expression of hope and denial. He shook his head. ‘They will be here.’

‘And how long are we supposed to wait for them?’

‘Until they come. I fear it will not be long.’

Daniel huffed and turned away again, cross at his friend for not taking this opportunity to flee. His eyes would have seen nothing even if the scene had been clear for they were full of cold and salty tears.

Marcus resumed his fevered walk. The movement made him feel somehow better, somehow more in control. Daniel was right to fret, he thought, if I stay here, if I face them, then I will die. I know it. He tried not to think about the circumstances that had led him to this place, this godforsaken pit of stench and depravity. If only… but he stopped himself before he could go too far. Choices had been made with reason and with purpose; it was not up to him to judge the consequences. No, he thought bitterly, it was up to him to wait and then to die. A vision of Samantha flooded his consciousness suddenly, wiping out his resolve and threatening to dissolve him in despair; her face, her golden hair, her sweetest of honeyed smiles, her small alabaster hands and her rosy lips. Oh she had fooled him alright, taken him in and led him so far astray that he had no hope now of returning to the life he had once led.

Why did they not come?

A slithering noise stopped him in his tracks, the stretched noise of a damaged leg being dragged along the wooden walkway. The men moved to stand together, the mist swirling around them in rough vaporous wisps as if it was meaningfully forming ropes to bind them together, and both felt shivers of mingled disgust and bitter cold shaking their body.

A single man emerged into the patch of grey light. At least, he might once have been recognisable as a man. Now he appeared to be a ramshackle conglomeration of body parts badly assembled by a partially sighted creator. His face was patched with half healed scars that gave him a highly irregular appearance. This face was framed by locks which were as patchy as the face they surrounded, with clumps of colourless lifeless hair apparently placed at random across the high dome of the man’s head. A slash created a mouth, a dark gap from which issued strange gurgling noises, a tiny stalactite of drool hanging down from one lopsided corner.

The newcomer carried a hessian sack over one shoulder. It weighed him down so much that as he swung it out and down onto the planks he visibly grew, standing taller almost as if he had some pride. Still saying nothing coherent he reached down and started to untie the cord that wrapped together the neck of the sack.

‘Stop. Wait.’ Marcus could hold himself back no longer.

The human scarecrow looked up in surprise, grunting an impenetrable question and letting go of the cord, allowing the ends of the knot to trail reluctantly through his gnarled fingers.

‘I.. I do not know if this is what I.. what I want after all.’ Marcus stammered.

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