Friday, March 06, 2009

On the Shores of the Great Lake

The Roberts family pushed their way through the forest undergrowth, their movements showing the mark of long practice at that task. The father, his face scarred, led the way; the two sons followed, in turn followed by the three daughters, with the mother taking up the rear. Their clothes were ragged and soiled; their faces grimy and lean with hunger; and in their hands, each , from oldest to youngest, bore a loaded gun.

Suddenly, as an unfamiliar scent entered the air, the father came to a halt. The others quickly gathered around him, looking at what had caused his sudden stop. They cried out in delight at what they beheld: a town, and the great blue curve of their destination, Lake Michigan, just beyond.

"Do you think they will have supplieth?" the youngest of the girl lisped eagerly. "Mayhapth we will we able to trade for a boat, Papa!"

"Look," he said grimly, pointing above the town. "No smoke."

The sky above the town was an unbroken blue expanse; neither smoke nor the slightest sound came forth from the town.

"They've been here," the older boy muttered. "Just like every other place we've visited."

"Aye, it's true," the father said, "But Boston's not to be compared to these tiny little towns; they may be bigger than Conringdale, but they're nothing compared to a city."

The mother affirmed, "They shan't have overrun Boston - they may be strong, but they can be killed. Just wait 'till we get there - there'll be proper redcoats waiting to take us to safety, just you see."

"We gotta get there first," the youngest boy said sullenly. "How're we gonna do that without a boat? I'm real sick of walking."

"We'll get a boat," the father said, casting the younger boy a sharp look for his whinging tone. "We'll hug the shoreline and see what we can find - hopefully, they'll have taken the town so swiftly that the locals' didn't have time to take their boats when they fled."

"That's awful!" the middle girl exclaimed.

"It's our best hope," the father said. "Now come on - we've spent enough time lollygagging. Don't want them to catch our scent while we're standing around here."

The docks were deserted; ropes and crates lay abandoned and rotting on the piers. But one boat remained, a small sloop lying low in the water. The family approached it slowly, casting fearful glances back at the town over their shoulder. Silence reigned, save for the soft sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

Then the eldest boy jumped back. "There - in the boat!" he whispered urgently. "It's one of - them! Sleeping, I, I think! What'ddo we do?"

"We kill it," the father said, putting his flintlock to his shoulder and advancing on the boat.

The thing inside was typical of its kind - a crystal pyramid, roughly five feet tall, filled internally with strange fractures and discolourations. It was utterly inert - immoving, unchanging - and appeared rather like some strange mineral formation, moved entirely out of place, quite harmless. But bones were scattered about its base (the remains of whatever poor fellow had attempted, too late, to escape in this vessel), and the faces of the father and his two sons, as they approached it, were white with terror."

"Ten yards," the father whispered, stopping at the specified distance; his sons stood on either side of him, the womenfolk following somewhat further behind, watching the town nervously. "Ready."

The boys brought their flintlocks to their shoulders, readying the hammer. "Aim."

"Fire - " and with three sharp cracks, the thing in the boat was struck. A strange keening noise arose from it, and for a moment it seemed almost, impossibly, as though the shots had gone cleanly through without damage; but then the noise failed, and the crystal pyramid collapsed at once into a pile of broken shards. But as its sound faltered, a greater noise arose to replace it, this time coming from the town.

"They noticed!" the middle girl cried out, her voice high-pitched with terror. "They're coming!"

"It doesn't matter - we're leaving!" the father shouted in reply. "Get in the boat -"

The younger boy interrupted, his voice wobbling. "Papa - look - the boat - it's beached!"

"What?" the father said, looking down in startlement and, increasingly, disgust. "Oh - it's low tide! Of all the things - well. Girls - keep watch on the town, try to slow them down - we'll have this moving in no time." He suited words to action, dropping his discharged flintlock, jumping into the water (it came thigh-high to his breeches) and putting his shoulder to the sloop's hull. His sons followed likewise.

"They're coming," the middle girl said, rocking back and forth nervously. "They're coming, they're coming, they're coming..."

Her mother slapped her, and she stopped; but at that moment another crystal thing emerged from a small building near the docks. It was of much the same size as the last; but this moved, and hummed, and floated a half-foot above the ground. A red glow came from the four points of its body, bespeaking an unholy, inhuman malevolence.

"Kill it! Kill it!" the middle girl cried, and discharged her pistol immediately, the shot flying far of the mark; the mother and younger girl fired with equal abandon, the younger girl's shot coming closer, but not close enough. But the older girl bit her lip, readied her pistol, and waited long moments as the crystal thing drew closer and closer. The mother and middle girl fumbled for the powder-horns at their waists, seeking desperately to reload their weapons; the younger girl latched on to the older and wailed, "Just fire, fire, fire, make it stop!" The older girl threw her off as the thing approached within fifteen yards' distance, the red glow on its points intensifying; and only then did she fire, striking it solidly about the top. With a thud it fell to the ground, and while its keening only quieted, and the dreadful glow about it only somewhat faded, for the moment it ceased to move.

But the father and sons were together unable to move the sloop. "What could be making it so heavy?" the older son gasped, his breath coming unevenly. "It won't budge an inch!"

With a start, the younger son called out - "It's the shattered bits of thing still in there - it looks like crystal, but we know it's not, so stands to reason it's heavier too! Mother, sisters, quick - clear it off the deck! Or else we'll all perish here!"

Looking over their shoulders as yet more of the crystal things began to emerge from the buildings of the town, the girls rushed to the boat, gathering up the boys' flintlocks as they went. With some effort, the mother and older girl picked up the larger chunks of crystal - for they were indeed heavier than they looked! - and hurled them over the sides, while the middle and younger girl swept out the smaller pieces. The boat rose higher and higher in the water; and when the mother, seeing that enough had been done, hurriedly urged the girls (and herself) off the sloop once more, it shot upwards, and at last (with one final heave from the father and his sons) began to float outwards.

"Quickly!" cried the father, "Back on - they're not fifty yards away, and if we emptied a dozen vollies into them we'd not have halved their numbers!" The girls ran along the pier, leaping onto the sloop just as they ran out of dock to run along; the boys paddled swiftly towards it, catching on to the rear and pulling themselves aboard."

"We made it," the mother gasped, dabbing at her brow with her sleeve. "We made it."

The crystal pyramids approached the water's edge.

"...can they float on water?" the younger boy asked nervously, his left leg kicking out accidentally and sending a thighbone flying.

The pyramids stopped.

"No," the father concluded, and everyone onboard the sloop shared a sigh of relief.

A long moment passed. Then the father spoke again.

"This is what we will do," he told the others. "We will learn to fish - so that we may feed ourselves. We will learn to sail - so that we may pilot this ship to its destination. When we get there, we will give this poor unfortunate - " whose skull had just given the younger boy a nasty bruise on his little toe - "a Christian burial. And then we will walk the rest of the way to Boston."

"Do we have any fishing poles or lines or anything?" the older boy asked, looking around. "I don't see any..."

"My son, I hope that I have taught you well in all things," the father told him. "But I know I have not yet taught you everything I know - and here is one example. We have just escaped a gruesome death at the mutilating points of the crystal things. We are now on a sloop, utterly immune to further prosecution until we should choose to leave its confines. And you ask: do we have any fishing poles?"

"We will have to find out."

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