Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 4.2

Posted by harmony0stars on May 10, 2009

It was a good thing that rough weather didn’t bother her, or the trip over on the ferry would have been hellacious. The boat was little more than a slab with a little shack for the captain and fencing along the sides to keep anyone from falling off. If there had been any other passengers, she was sure they would have been either huddled near the shack for warmth or hanging over the sides, puking their guts out. She wondered idly if she could drown. She didn’t need food or sleep… did she need air?

She’d caught the captain watching her several times as she stood near the center of the ship. It seemed like the safest place as the ship rose and fell on the waves. The choppy waves and the falling rain were virtually indistinguishable a few yards from the boat, and the island was little more than a dark blur which slowly revealed itself as they came closer. Though there were several natural islands in the bay, so many more, like the old canals of Sybar City, were man-made. Some built up from reefs by the wealthy, covered over in top soil and foliage, until they were indistinguishable from a real island, some built up by the city and the poor with nothing but garbage and cement until they too were indistinguishable from the real thing. Many of the islands had once housed criminals or the criminally insane, keeping them far away for the good of the public, but these were little more than potter’s fields now. No one visited them but the ferryman who was paid by the city to visit any island on his roster if he had a passenger, though weather was also a factor. He’d already warned her that if the weather got much worse, he wouldn’t be back for her until the next day, and not even then if the water continued to be rough. She’d had to slip him an extra hundred just to bring her out today.

There was no way of knowing if time was on her side or not, or even if she would find what she was looking for here. Considering Jess had been missing for almost three months, she didn’t want to waste any more time than she had to by waiting out the storm. Of course, the other side of the coin was, if she ended up on the bottom of the bay, the missing woman would be someone else’s problem.

The ship slowed as the island came closer, but Glory still stumbled several steps when it struck the dock. The captain was quick to trot out from his little shack and jump onto the weathered boards, tying the ferry to the landing. He moved quickly for such a grizzled old grouch. Glory felt a little disoriented as she set foot on solid ground once more, or at least on the uneven boards of the dock. She’d gotten used to the rocking of the ferryboat.

“Yer sure yeh want me to leave yeh here?” He called out in his thick Maine accent, dropping his Rs and blurring his vowels. He looked up at the sky pointedly, then out at the bay behind his ship. “Ah’ll not come back today no more. Storm’s only goin’ta get worse. Not goin’ta risk it.”

“I’m sure.” Glory answered adamantly, straining to see any sign of buildings through the dense forest that seemed to cover the island. Lovely, another impenetrable woodland to explore. Hopefully there were no giant furry amphibians.

“None of mah business what yeh want with the auld lady, but yer not the first ah’ve brought to this isle. Not the last neither ah‘d guess. Ah’ll be back tomorrow ‘bout ten iff’n the storm‘s nawt too bad, day after that too. Iff‘n yer not heah after that, guess ah’ll figure yer for stayin‘ like the rest. Won‘t be back after that t‘all, less‘n someone else pays to be ferried out.”

Glory blinked, trying to decipher what he was talking about. In his way, she supposed he was trying to warn her that there was something not quite right going on. She opened her mouth to ask about the others he’d brought out, but then closed it with a shake of her head. If he was planning on volunteering more information, he would have done so before bringing her out to the island. Pressing him for details would only make him clam up. In her research, she’d dealt with plenty of people like him… people who only insinuated things, and that only out of guilt. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to wait on his alacrity to catch up to his conscience.

She paused beside the ferry captain who still stood holding one of his ship’s mooring ropes. Fishing out a wad of bills, she thrust it into his hand though he looked as if he’d just as soon give it back, and in a hurry. “Come back everyday for a week, and we’ll be square. If you don‘t see me after that, contact an officer Hart in little Eire. I don‘t care how you do it, a note or whatever, just tell him I came out here and I didn‘t come back.”

Without another word, she hiked her backpack and walked across the rickety boards to the sucking mud that constituted “dry” land. Whatever guilt the ferryboat captain might feel over the others he had brought out here, and whatever guilt he might feel if she didn’t come back, surely it was enough coupled with a couple hundred bucks to make him do the right thing… so long as it didn’t incriminate him in any way.

Not pausing to watch his progress as he swiftly unmoored from the dock and started back to the mainland, Glory began walking along the tarry black beach, looking for some road into the trees. Aside from the dock, there was really no sign of habitation, no sound but the steady fall of rain and dripping trees. So she walked along the shore, seeking a clear route while her shoes made squelching noises in the foul bay mud.

The bay hadn’t been fit for life since the early 1900s when the oyster beds that fed the wealthy had finally succumbed to industrial pollution. In the heat of summer, the bay shores often stank worse than some of the canals in Sybar City. Dead things had a habit of washing up and rotting, making all but the government protected beaches little more than open sewers. There was some life in the waters, sea birds and some mollusks, but she would never have eaten anything that came from the bay waters… even if she wasn’t almost positive that nothing she ate would have the least bit of an affect on her.

Which is why she was so surprised to see a child digging through the mud and dumping her wriggling finds into a large battered red toy bucket. The little girl stooped in her shabby tunic, the hem splattered black from her hunt. Her legs were filmed with the slimy bay mud all the way up to her knees, and as Glory got closer, she saw that the girl’s bare feet were also tarry black and winced. The cold didn’t bother her, but she knew it was bitter in the spring rain and wind. The girl was soaked to the skin and barefoot. Where the heck were her parents?

The girl didn’t look up until Glory was almost upon her, then she stood, bucket in hand, as if waiting for her to arrive. Her hands were also grimy from digging in the filth and mud, but she waited patiently, staring at Glory with dark, unblinking eyes.

“Hello,” Glory said, crouching down on her haunches so that the little girl would not have to look up at her. “My name’s Glory. What’s yours?”

The girl continued to stare at her expressionlessly, though she did finally blink. Glory couldn’t tell if it was because she finally needed to or a gust of wind had forced her to momentarily close her eyes. “Dilys,” she finally said after several more seconds of emotionless staring.

“Aren‘t you cold Dilys?” The girl just shrugged, as if neither the question nor the answer were at all important. “I’ve just come by ferry. Is there a house around here? I‘m looking for someone.”

Dilys blinked again and seemed to consider before replying in a flat, strangely accented voice. “You should go back on the ferry, lady. This ‘int a good place.” Without another word, she turned and stomped off towards the trees. Glory wasn’t sure if she was being led or allowed to make up her own mind about following, but she quickly caught up.

“Would you like me to carry that for you? It looks heavy.” The girl paused, wiggling her toes in the grass and pine needles as if to wipe away some of the gooey filth. Then she shrugged and thrust the bucket at Glory. Almost immediately she started walking through the trees again and Glory followed, staring down at the muddy gunk that slithered and clacked at the bucket’s rim. It was filled with black slimy mud, worms, muscles, and other organic things, and Glory sincerely hoped Dilys didn’t intend to eat the stuff. But she also didn’t think it was for fishing.

to Book 4, page 3

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