Desperation

Desperation by Chris Barraclough, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, 27,000 words

An isolated island, a community that thinks it's alone in the world...

Until a stranger appears, bringing tragedy and violence.

The tale is told by three very different characters, revealing the mystery a piece at a time as a terrible storm brews and the tension escalates...

Read the full novella right here on Movellas.com. For more ebooks and stories, check out www.chrisbarraclough.co.uk

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2. Kerisan - II

 

The trail began at the edge of the beach and ran through the jungle like a network of veins. Kerisan led the fishers into the heart of the trees, where they jogged alongside a fast-flowing stream that led straight to the inner cliffs.

            The waterfall gushed just up ahead, but the gurgling sound barely registered to his ears. He’d slipped back to that moment. The eel that lay hidden, somehow undetected as he stalked by. He saw the bulging mass curled around Richos’ leg, its teeth sunken into the fisher’s flesh. Silent screams. Then the eel burst away, cutting towards him, but his limbs hung useless in the water, lifeless packages of skin and bone. He could only watch until the beast was on him, its cold, brawny body embracing him, and a wave of froth engulfed him and his lips parted and the boiling liquid rushed down his throat and scorched his innards.

            White foam sprayed onto his skin, and he shook his head and swept his palm across his brow. He realised with a jolt that they had already entered the oval-shaped lagoon, and were stood before the mighty waterfall.

            “I’ll go first,” Kerisan said, his voice strained against the rushing water. He peered up the tumbling body which stretched thirty feet above them, surrounded by thick creepers that delved in and out of the froth. A fine mist rose from the surface, a refreshing veil that protected the fishers from the piercing rays of the sun.

            “Kerisan, you don’t look well,” said Pon. She lifted his chin and peered at him, her expression stiff. “You’re sure the eel didn’t catch you? Not even a graze of its tooth, mind?” He nodded, his eyes gaze turned down.

            “Stay here, eh,” said Richos. “We’ll deal with the kid.”

            “No, really, I can do this. I’ll lead.” Kerisan broke away and strode to the creepers. The sinewy vine he chose was coated with milky drops, and he made sure he had a solid grip before he planted his feet on the wall either side. His arms still ached but he pushed the pain from his mind, focused on the edge high above.

            The climb was quickly dispatched, and he stood poised at the top until the others joined him. Up here, the vegetation was much thicker. No clear trail existed through the long grass, brambles and sliver-straight trees that shot miles high, their leaves spread in worship.

            “Do we split up?” asked Fenn, his knife already clutched in his fist. Pon raised an eyebrow.

            “Come on, you know that’s not a smart move.”

            “Kid could be anywhere up here!” Fenn pouted and tapped the blade against his shoulder. “How we ‘spected to find him if we don’t split up?”

            “The same way we track pigs. If you can’t even find a stray kid, there’s no hope for you, Fenn.”

            They sifted through the thick vegetation, led by patches of trampled grass and snapped branches. Kerisan balked at the slippery touch of the ferns which snatched at his arms and legs, and almost slammed sideways into a tree trunk when a beetle blared its mating call overhead.

            “Loud enough to burst your ears,” Richos said, one hand on Kerisan’s shoulder. “First time up here in a while, aye?” Kerisan nodded and composed himself.

            “Leave the hunting to the hunters. No other reason to come up to this sweatbox.” Ideally it would have been the hunters searching for the boy, but they were sleeping off their night shift, the best time to catch wild pigs.

            The group pressed on, just a few more yards until Kerisan shuddered to a standstill and raised a hand, his fingers spread wide.

            “What is it?” Pon asked, her eyes narrowed to slits. Kerisan pointed straight ahead, through a sentry line of trees, to a spot where a cluster of leaves and branches appeared to have been tied together with creepers.

            “It looks like some kind of shelter,” Kerisan whispered and Pon nodded.

            “Surely Sammus couldn’t have built that?”

            “Maybe was the hunters,” Fenn said, his face pushed over Kerisan’s shoulder.

            “Why would they need a shelter? Besides, they don’t head into the jungle this way, they pass along the cliff edge to the marshland.” Pon grimaced. “No, this is strange. We should circle around, see it from all angles.”

            Kerisan and Richos stalked to the right, while Pon led Fenn in the opposite direction. The two pairs kept a steady distance between themselves and the shelter, taking care not to make any noise as they pushed through the natural cover. Kerisan’s eyes flashed back to the structure between every step, in case something or someone emerged. The shelter was sloped with a domed roof and just a single exit as far as he could tell, a slit-like opening that led into darkness. Kerisan peered into the blackness beyond and his tongue rolled over his lips.

            “If this weren’t the hunters,” Richos said, his voice hushed, “then who was it? Bloody tree fairies or something? You reckon that kid could have made such a thing? Maybe this wasn‘t his first trip up here, aye?”

            “I’m impressed if he did,” Kerisan said. “It must be twice as big as him. There’s no sense in it, though. He knows this land’s off limits, and there’s always a chance the hunters might stumble across it.”

            Besides, this shelter looks like it was made for living in, not for play.

            Kerisan froze, detecting movement just beyond the shelter - a face that appeared for an instant between the brush. He watched, his breath poised on his lips until the face appeared again, then he exhaled and gave a nod. Pon returned the gesture.

            “Let’s head in,” Kerisan whispered. He crept towards the shelter, Richos in position alongside him. They only made it five steps before Richos gasped and his hand slapped across Kerisan’s chest. The sudden movement almost knocked him off-balance. “What is it?” he hissed, but Richos was silent. The fisher’s eyes were stretched wide, his lips parted in horror, and Kerisan only had to follow his gaze to understand why.

            Just a few feet from the shelter, a human foot poked out from beneath an enormous palm leaf.

            Kerisan waved at Pon and Fenn, who had followed their lead and were also closing in on the shelter. Pon noticed and stopped, jerking as Fenn shunted into her back. She gave a confused, wary look but Kerisan motioned for her to keep her distance.

            “That’s the boy,” Richos said, and Kerisan nodded, his stomach clenched. The foot was too squat to belong to an adult. A wooden sandal dangled loose from the edge of the toes.

            “Follow behind me, two steps away, and keep your eyes on the shelter. Speak if you see anything.”

            Kerisan started forward again, every footstep carefully considered. His legs felt numb like dead lumps of meat, and the back of his throat burned at the sight before him. He was almost within reaching distance when a decayed branch, hidden under a carpet of moss, snapped beneath his foot. The crack rang out, unbearably loud against the chirp of invisible birds and the distant hiss of the sea. Kerisan halted, teeth clenched. His hand pressed against his sternum to calm his frantically beating heart, and his gaze slid across to the shelter. No sound came from within.

            Keep going.

            He crouched and eased himself forwards, until his fingers clenched the edge of the leaf. With a deep breath, he pulled it aside. A leg came into view, the skin hairless and coated in tiny scratches. He pulled further until a torso appeared, and then finally the head. Kerisan almost fell backwards, and only Richos’ hands on his shoulders kept him steady.

            “Heaven save us,” Richos said, his voice drained. “What happened to the lad? He looks so…”

             So inhuman.

             Another noise shot through the jungle, the sound of something heavy crashing through the brush. The sound echoed back off the thick trunks that surrounded them, but Kerisan was sure it had come from his right. Straight ahead, Pon and Fenn had instinctively dipped into cover. Kerisan covered Sammus’ body with the leaf again, then grabbed Richos and crouched behind the nearest tree.

            When Pon glanced over, Kerisan jabbed a finger at them, then towards the shelter. She nodded in response. Pon and Fenn stole towards the shelter’s entrance, while Kerisan and Richos made in the direction of the sound. Sweat poured into Kerisan’s eyes, a sting that he swiped away with clammy fingers. His entire body itched. He tried to focus on the shapes before him, the lines of the trees, the jagged edges of the bracken, but all he could see was Sammus’ hideously distorted face. He brushed his knuckles against the hilt of his knife, to check it was still at his side.

            “Looks like the shelter’s empty,” Richos whispered. Kerisan kept his eyes straight ahead. He was sure he’d seen something move, just beyond a curtain of creepers. He forced himself onwards, his palm now pressed to his weapon, fingertips dancing over the pigskin grip. He reached for the creepers with his free hand and tugged them aside, and that was when he heard the sound of breathing across to his left.

            Kerisan swung to his side and his blade came free of its sheath, the tip poised and aimed at the figure stood just five feet away. A man, his face half hidden behind a thick black beard. The small patches of visible skin were milky white, as pale as the thin patterned shawl that was draped around his muscular body. He held a defensive stance, legs spread wide and his body hunched, and in one hand he clutched a curved dagger with a silver serrated blade.

            Kerisan ignored the dagger and focused on the eyes. A blue so clear that his pupils were almost transparent.

            “Who are you,” Kerisan demanded. “Where did you come from?” His voice trembled as the stranger bared his teeth.

            “Nasdja darma, havana gom ju vallis!” His voice was powerful, and when he spoke it sounded as if the words came not from his mouth, but instead boomed forth from the jungle itself. The stranger shook his knife, then made a fist and pumped it before his chest. Kerisan was suddenly aware of Richos stood beside him, his knife also unsheathed. Richos jabbed the blade and hissed.

            “It was him, he killed the boy. What is he, where did he come from?” Kerisan lifted an arm and held it before Richos, a warning to hold off.

            “You built the shelter?” he asked the stranger. The man’s eyes shot between Kerisan and Richos, and when he spoke again the same senseless words poured out.

            “What we waiting for,” Richos hissed. “He’s a devil! He should die for what he did.” Before Kerisan could stop him, the fisher swatted his hand away and advanced on the stranger. Richos swung his arm, the knife a blur of brilliant light, but the stranger caught it with his own blade and lunged, and Richos yelped and staggered back, a crimson line carved above his right nipple. Tears of blood slithered down to his navel. The fisher dabbed at them with a bewildered expression.

            “Keep away,” Kerisan said, snatching Richos’ arm and hauling him back. Kerisan stepped forwards, his blade ready. “Why did you do it?” he barked at the stranger. “Why did you kill the boy?”

            “Hasham! Hasham!” The stranger matched his step, the dagger raised so Kerisan could see the blood on the teeth. The sight of that stain tore at his innards. Kerisan braced himself and rushed, his blade lofted high and a cry on his lips.

            Before the weapon crashed down, the man’s eyes bulged and his legs crumpled beneath him, and he collapsed at Kerisan’s feet. Kerisan grunted and dug his heels into the dirt as Pon dropped a fist-sized rock and hovered over the unconscious form.

            “What’s going on,” she muttered.

            “Why didn’t you use your knife?” Kerisan asked, slipping his own blade back into his waistband and stooping to snatch up the stranger’s weapon. Pon raised an eyebrow.

            “Strange way of saying ‘thank you’. I thought we might need him to answer some questions. For a start, how he got here, and are there more where he came from.”

            “Good luck getting anything sensible out the bastard,” Richos said, and he spat on the stranger’s shawl. “Talks nothing but nonsense.”

            “We found Sammus,” Kerisan told Pon. “We were too late.” Her expression was sharp, and Kerisan bowed his head as if he were to blame.

            “I know, I saw his body. The shelter’s empty, nothing much in there, just some strange materials and a couple of tools.” Richos snorted and nudged the unconscious man with his foot.

            “Well, we should make sure this pig doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

            Kerisan braced himself, expecting Richos to stoop over the stranger and bury the knife in his back, but instead the fisher grabbed the man’s arm and hauled him up. Kerisan moved to help, but hesitated before he grabbed the stranger’s loose arm. Pon had turned and was headed back to the shelter. Kerisan met Richos’ gaze, the slate blade cold against the skin of his hip. He reached out and gripped the thick tangle of hair and wrenched back the stranger’s head, so his throat was bared. The muscle there bulged as shallow breaths forced their way into his lungs, and his artery jutted like a miniature pipe beneath the growth of his beard.

            “Do it, if ya will,” Richos muttered. Kerisan swallowed and stared at the moist flesh, and his fingers trembled.

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