Glimpsing Creatures… and Giving It Away…

For me, it’s probably the most difficult part of writing horror. In the movies, it’s all visual–you catch glimpses of creatures, hints of portentous things, smatterings of conversations. It’s not easy to do that on the printed page, so I always wonder…. at what point do you “give it away?” Not early-on, of course, because it becomes nearly impossible to build any dramatic tension if the reader knows what’s out there and what’s coming. Not in the middle of the story, because then you might find that your ending is trite or, worse, Disney-esque. But, you can’t wait TOO long, or your reader will simply throw up his or her hands and say something like, “What EVER!” and move on to the next story. It’s a balancing act. I found that letting my characters actually TELL the story of The Fishing Widow became the best course of action… not even I knew what was happening at some points in the story, and not even I knew that characters that seemed benign or minor had much larger roles in the telling….

But….

Glimpsing characters … glimpsing creatures …. The creature that haunts Southeast Alaska in The Fishing Widow is bizarre in the extreme. Bizarre, but not unknown. I went to a talk given by a Forest Service archaeologist who was detailing some of the numerous pictographs around the Misty Fjords area — well within the boundaries of The Case in Point’s fishing range. I sat in the back, smiling at the slides as they flipped by, when, quite suddenly, I was faced with a picture, digitally enhanced through Photoshop, of a skeletal creature, a sightless skull, a twisted grimace, and raised, bloodied claws. I was startled. I was stunned. It fit. It was disquieting, but not nearly as disquieting as things that have happened since–including chance meetings, and the irony of becoming the librarian of my small Alaskan fishing town…. But, I digress (again). Readers need glimpses. They need teasing. They need images to flash through their brains–the more sudden and startling, the better–to keep them turning pages.

So …. when Colin and Ethan and the boys have finished with their record-breaking 1,500 ton herring set in the first opening of the 2010 Sitka Herring Sac Roe Fishery, it’s business as usual–it’s fishing, and it’s finishing up, for Ethan, a nearly 30-hour day. It’s dropping and rolling in a seine net. It’s something the crew has done before. It’s normal. Well. That’s the best time to throw in a glimpse…. Enjoy!

GLIMPSING THE CREATURE…

Tommy watched the lights at The Case in Point’s masthead sway in the swells as the net began to slacken. He paid out the stay line until an all clear signal from Ethan on the deck. “I can’t believe that guy hasn’t slept in nearly thirty hours,” Tommy muttered as he let go the stay and sighed, exhausted, as he felt around for the tender skiff’s painter.

“That’s the thing about adrenalin, though, Tommy,” Brett said as he throttled the tender to life and swung around to approach The Case in Point’s stern. “When he goes down, he’ll go down hard.”

Tommy wearily swung the painter around as Josh, Mike, and Danny continued to wrestle the last of the net aboard. “Anyone feel like catchin’?” he asked.

Josh turned from the lines and grinned at Tommy. “I’ve got you,” he said as he set his feet and gestured for the throw with a wave of his arm.

“Josh!” Ethan barked as he walked out onto the weather deck. “Watch that line!” Ethan slid down the ladder and moved quickly to the starboard stern as Josh caught the painter from Tommy.

“Sorry, boss,” Josh said, startled, as he cleated off the painter quickly.

Ethan easily leapt up onto the net deck and put an orange-gloved hand on the line, pulling at it gingerly to ensure it was not fouled on any part of the boat. “This is where it gets really dicey,” Ethan tried to keep a measure of civility in his voice as Josh joined him at the rail.

“Sorry, boss, I was just catchin’–”

“The boys can wait, Josh. This is too important,” Ethan snapped. He hesitated, his eyes trained down into the dark water off the edge of the boat. “Sorry,” he muttered with a shake of his head. “Long day.”

Josh nodded quietly and did not answer.

“Slow it down, Mike!” Ethan called over his shoulder as his hand met some resistance with the line. He could hear Mike slow the progress of the winch. Ethan leaned precariously over the side of the boat, his hands wrapped around the line. “Shit,” he muttered as he began to rock the line back and forth. He sighed and tried to temper his voice. “This is what I meant.” He pulled back and shot an angry look at Josh. “I’ll apologize tomorrow, but right now, I want to kick your ass six ways to Sunday, Josh.” Ethan’s voice was a growl.

“Sorry, boss,” Josh’s voice took on more of a timid tone at the look on Ethan’s face.

Ethan struggled wearily to his feet and kicked at the line. “Som’bitch!” he swore and punched at the mic on his vest. “She’s fouled, Col! This is gonna take awhile.” He turned to Mike. “Run ‘er back a bit. We gotta get ‘er free.”

“I’ll help,” Josh offered quickly.

Ethan shook his head roughly and started to speak.

“He’ll help,” said a voice behind Ethan, and Ethan turned to see Colin standing behind him.

Ethan hesitated for moment and set his teeth. His eyes darkened as he turned them back to Josh. “Fine,” he grumbled. “He’ll help.” Ethan tossed his head toward the bulkhead. “Grab a gaff and bring it over here.” Josh hesitated and watched as Ethan turned his attention back to the line, trying to move it. “Sometime tonight,” he added lowly.

“Right, boss,” Josh said quickly and scrambled away from Ethan, past Colin and back toward the bulkhead.

Colin sighed and moved beside Ethan. “What’ve ya got?” he started quietly.

Ethan pitched his body a little further over the gunwale to get a better grip on the line. He moved the line out and back, trying to free it. “Sore feet, double vision, a pounding headache, and a backache,” Ethan growled as he reached further out. “What about you?”

“Asshole,” Colin grinned and Ethan laughed in spite of himself. Colin picked up the pair of orange gloves that Josh had laid down across the bulkhead and put them on. “Shove over, ya dog,” Colin started as he pushed at Ethan. “I’ve got you.” Colin’s hands closed on the line and he tugged with Ethan. “Som’bitch,” Colin groaned as he gritted his teeth and pulled harder. “That’s one stuck line.”

“Just tell me she’s not fouled in the prop,” Ethan muttered as he pitched over the gunwale again to adjust his grip.

“Mike! A little more slack!” Colin called over his shoulder before he pitched over the gunwale to help Ethan.

“Yeah, well, that helps,” Ethan said ruefully as he played at the line. “Where the hell is Josh with that gaff?”

Both Ethan and Colin loosened their grip on the line as they turned back to the deck to see what had happened to Josh. Josh had taken the gaff from the bulkhead wall and made his way back across the deck to where Ethan and Colin struggled with the line. He had stopped by the net deck bulkhead and frozen.

“Let go the line!” he yelled suddenly, his eyes wide as he looked past Colin and Ethan.

“What–” Ethan’s voice faltered as his and Colin’s hands were caught by surprise by a sudden violent tug on the line. Both men were pitched off balance and swayed, alarmingly, over the side.

“Boss!” Mike yelled and scrambled toward them.

Another tug on the line whipped Colin and Ethan around. Ethan could hear Josh yelling at him to let go of the line, but his brain could not process the words quickly enough. Before they knew what was happening, Colin and Ethan were over the side.

“Gotcha!” Mike yelled as his hand closed on Ethan’s ankle and he gripped it tightly.

“Hang on, boss!” Josh yelled as his hand closed on Colin’s ankle and he braced his feet.

Ethan flailed, instinctively trying to right himself, his face within a foot of the water. Colin did the same beside him. Ethan slapped his hands against the side of The Case in Point to steady himself.

“Col!” Ethan yelled.

“Som’bitch!” Colin replied as he tried to get his hands set against the side of his boat for support.

Ethan’s heart raced. He stared down into the dark water. Something was climbing the net. “Col,” Ethan’s voice was weak.

“What the hell, Ethan,” Colin’s voice was equally breathless.

The moonlight broke through the clouds and shone down on the water and Ethan could see the thing, still mostly shrouded in darkness. It moved smoothly, easily, climbing the net toward them. It was shimmering white; skeletal, fleshless fingers weaving effortlessly through the net as it moved higher.

Colin felt his heart twist inside him. “Pull us up!” Colin yelled.

Ethan stared down at the thing, unable to speak.

“Pull us up!” Colin yelled again, more desperately.

Ethan felt Mike’s hand on his ankle slip. He dropped a little closer to the water.

“Ethan!” Colin screamed.

Ethan slammed his hands more firmly against the side of The Case in Point to stop his slide. Colin’s voice was only an echo in his ears as he watched it climb the net. It moved so gracefully, so hypnotically. Ethan felt himself stop breathing.

“Ethan!” Colin screamed again, and Ethan realized Colin was screaming from the deck. They had managed to haul him up.

Mike’s grip on his ankle slipped again as Ethan began to crawl on his hands toward the water.

“Boss! Wrong way!” Mike yelled and Ethan felt distantly that more hands were grabbing at his legs.

Colin had gotten to his feet and pitched over the side, seizing the webbing of Ethan’s life vest. He froze.

It looked up suddenly at the two men who stared down into the water. Sightless eyes set in a luminous white skull, it stopped its climbing and stared, unseeing, at Colin and Ethan.

“Ethan! No!” Colin yelled as Ethan slowly released the side of The Case in Point and reached his hand toward the water. “Pull!” Colin’s voice was wilder, more desperate as the creature on the net began to climb more quickly toward the surface.

“Ethan!” Colin yelled as Ethan hit the deck amid his crew.

Colin grabbed up the gaff and raised it like a weapon as he moved back to the side of the boat and peered over. In the moonlight, he could see nothing on the net. Colin’s hand shook as he gingerly took hold of the lead line and tugged gently. It came up easily in his hand. Colin’s breathing was ragged as he turned back to Mike.

“Raise it, Mike.”

Ethan followed Colin quickly up the ladder to the weather deck and then into the wheelhouse, leaving the stunned crew on the deck below to haul in the freed net. “Col,” Ethan started as he followed Colin into the wheelhouse. He watched as Colin punched at the anchor hoist control and the winch began to raise the anchor.

“Josh,” Colin’s voice sounded scared over the intercom. “Make sure that painter’s secure. I don’t want any problems with the tender.”

“Got it, boss,” came Josh’s reply on the intercom.

“What the hell are you doing, Col?” Ethan asked as he watched Colin pull the ship’s log from beneath the con and toss it onto the seat beside him.

“We’re getting out of here,” Colin said flatly as he finally turned and met Ethan’s eyes. He gestured astern with a nod of his head. “You saw that–”

Ethan hesitated. “You saw that,” he said quietly. Ethan walked to the other seat in the wheelhouse and sat down silently, watching as the deck winch rolled up the anchor. “You’ve seen other shit, too.”

“False Island,” Colin said as he brought The Case in Point’s engine off idle. “We’re gonna make for False Island tonight.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ethan persisted, even though Colin was trying everything in his power to ignore the conversation.

“You boys got that net up and stowed?” Colin asked into the intercom as he slammed the log onto the instrument panel and flipped it open. Ethan jumped.

“She’s good to go, boss,” Mike said. He hesitated. “We outta here?”

“We’re heading to False Island,” Colin said shortly. He glanced at Ethan for a moment. “You guys rocked today. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Go down and get some shut eye, okay?”

Mike hesitated with his hand near the bulkhead intercom. “Boss?” he ventured.

“Um, Mike. I’d appreciate it if you could take the two to seven watch. You know, since our watches are all screwed up,” Colin said quietly.

“Sure, boss. I can do that.”

“Thanks, Mike.”

“Why, Col?” Ethan asked again, his voice quieter.

“Go down and get some sleep, Ethan,” Colin said not unkindly.

“Not until–”

“Now,” Colin cut across him as he throttled the boat up and they began to move.

“But–”

“That’s an order,” Colin said coldly as he met Ethan’s eyes.

Ethan drew back, visibly stung. “Yeah, boss,” he said quietly as he slipped from the chair and moved back toward the bulkhead door. Ethan hesitated. “You’re not alone, Col,” he whispered as his hand closed on the door handle. Colin did not turn, nor did he reply. “And neither am I,” Ethan muttered and left the wheelhouse.