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 For more ebooks and stories, check out


3. Kerisan - III


Kerisan and Richos carried the stranger’s limp form between them, while Pon and Fenn stood guard at the shelter. Navigating the waterfall proved tricky but they managed to lower the stranger using vines, which they trussed around his arms, before they finished the trek back to the village.

            When they staggered onto the beach, they were met by a silent huddle. Among them were Sammus’ parents, Lisle and Rorchast, their faces solemn as if they already knew the bad news. The group drew apart as Kerisan and Richos dragged the stranger through them and towards the livestock hut. Rorchast hung back, hesitant, but Lisle met their pace.

            “Where’s Sammus?” she asked, her eyes trained on the back of the man’s head where his hair was matted with blood. “Who’s this? What’s going on, Kerisan?”

            “I’m sorry,” Kerisan said. He knew he should look at her, but his neck was locked in place, his eyes fixed straight ahead. “We found your boy, but his spirit was already gone.”

            “Gone?” Lisle fell silent at his side. He heard her draw breath, stutter and whimper. “What happened to him?”

            “We don’t know, but we found this man by his body.”

            “This person…he’s responsible?”

            “He had a knife,” Richos said, his voice still bitter and broken. “Attacked us up there, thought he was going to do us in.”

            “What are your plans for him?”

            “Find out what happened,” Kerisan replied, and at last he forced himself to look at her. A single tear trail ran from Lisle’s eye, but her expression was firm, her lips tensed, and her gaze stayed with the stranger.

            “No. I want to deal with him.”

            “And how would you deal with him?”

            “I’ll slit his throat and throw him to the crabs.” Kerisan watched her, expecting some trace of emotion to force its way to the surface, but her cheeks didn‘t even tremble.

            They were joined outside the livestock hut by Wren, the village overseer. A look of surprise crossed her face at the sight of the stranger.

            “Mother,” Kerisan said, and he nodded to her. “We found this man in the high land, along with the body of the boy.” Wren closed her eyes and raised a hand to her chest, then she exhaled and licked her lips. When her eyes flickered open again, they were focused on the stranger. She stepped forward and cupped her hand under his chin, then raised his head so she could see his face.

            “Who is he?”

            “Does it matter?” Lisle said, her tone harsh. “He’s a murderer, he should die!”

            “Die? Really? You want to kill him yourself, Lisle?”

            “He took my son!”

            “It’s only right,” Richos said. “If he’s quick to kill a boy, he could happily tear out all our throats. As we slept as well, I’d say.” Lisle nodded.

            “He takes a life, we take his.”

            “Lisle,” Wren said, “if you kill this man then you’re a murderer, just like him. Does that mean we should kill you too?”

            “This is different,” Lisle said, her voice raised now, and at last her lips twisted in fury. “This should be my decision! It has nothing, nothing at all to do with you, any of you!” With those words the stranger let out a low moan, and Kerisan felt the muscles beneath his fingers ripple. His heart raced and he tightened his grip.

            “We need to put him in the pen, before he wakes.”

            “Will it be secure enough?” Wren asked, her brow creased.

            “Strong enough to hold the Big Momma, and she must have twice the weight of him. I’ll tie him up just to be sure, then we can work the truth from him.”

            “Fine, let’s get him in there.”

            The pen was solid wood on three sides with bars across the fourth side and the ceiling, and it held fifteen pigs, all female, which the village used for milk. A constant musk hung in the air which Kerisan found particularly unpleasant, but he barely even registered the stench as he dragged the stranger through the livestock to the far corner. The bulkiest pig in there, nicknamed Big Momma by the scrouts, dragged herself out of his path with a grunt and a kick of her back legs.

            When the man’s hands were firmly trussed behind his back, Kerisan threw a jug of icy water over his torso. Instantly the stranger buckled and thrashed out with his legs across the grass-covered floor. When his screams dispersed and his body finally relented, Wren crouched beside him and stared into those empty eyes. Although the man’s hands were lashed together, Kerisan tensed to see his mother so close. Once again he rested his hand on the hilt of his knife.

            “Can you hear me?” Wren asked. The stranger just stared, his expression vacant as if he were still dreaming. Kerisan watched for a flicker, a twitch of the mouth or some other sign. “Just nod if you can hear me.”

            “I don’t think he understands,” Kerisan said. “He must be mad.”

            “Maybe he just pretends not to understand. This could be a way of covering his origins.”

            “If he doesn’t answer us, what’s the point in even trying?” Kerisan nudged aside a curious pig that had stopped to sniff his feet. His mother sighed and peered at him over her shoulder.

            “You want to leave him to Lisle, don’t you?”

            “You haven’t seen the boy yet. Maybe that’ll convince you.” He checked the anger in his voice and leaned against the wall.

            When Pon and Fenn returned, just short of dusk, they had Sammus laid out on a stretch of wood. The boy was still covered with the palm leaf, which eased Kerisan’s mind a little. Although rumours would inevitably spread, he hoped to keep the state of the body a secret, for now at least.

            Lisle and Rorchast had ventured to the high land to see their son while Kerisan was in the pen, otherwise he would have stopped them. They arrived just behind Pon and Fenn, their pace unsteady. Lisle’s face was drawn and when she passed him by, Kerisan saw her eyes were puffed out and red. Rorchast had the look of an old, sickly creature, his cheeks hollow and drained of colour.

            Almost the entire village had clustered around the pen and the hum of whispered conversation drifted like the lazy call of tree insects across the beach. The gathering fell silent as the jungle party drew past them, headed for Wren’s hut. Pon and Fenn carried the boy inside, followed silently by his parents.

            “Everyone,” Wren called out, her arms raised to attract the attention of the crowd. They all shuffled to face her, loved ones held close. “I can appreciate you may be anxious, but the best thing to do is return to your homes.”

            “Who’s that locked up in the pen?” asked Light, one of the hunters.

            “I wish I knew. Truth is, he hasn’t said a word since he arrived.”

            “Richos said that man killed Sammus,” yelled someone at the back. Kerisan squinted through the rows of faces, but the light was too dim to make out anything but a rack of silhouettes. A murmur rose from the gathering.

            “Speculation, that’s all,” said Wren.

            “If he didn’t kill the boy, then who did?”

            Wren continued to talk them down while Kerisan folded his arms across his chest and dragged his heel against the edge of the pen. His gaze snuck through the wooden bars, to the far corner where the stranger lay, but he was hidden in the shadows behind a blanket of restless pigs.

            “I’m glad he didn’t hurt you.” The words were whispered in his ear, and he jerked around to see Eva stood beside him. She recoiled, eyes wide. “Hohh, you’re a jumpy one.”

            “Can you blame me?” Kerisan nodded towards the darkened corner. “When I looked in his eyes…when he looked into mine…there’s just nothing there, Eva. No pain or regret or feeling of any kind. It’s like he was in a trance.”

            “He’s really in there?” Eva gripped the bars and pressed her forehead between them, but Kerisan caught her wrist and pulled her away. She twisted out of his grasp and wrinkled her nose. “What’s wrong with you?”

            “I just don’t want you hurt, is all. We don’t know what he can do, what he’s capable of.”

            “You know, you’ve been a little overprotective since I started training with you.” She jabbed a finger against his sternum. “Even though I could beat you to a pulp if I wanted.” Kerisan let a grin roll across his lips.

            “You want to wrestle? Right now?”

            “Maybe now isn’t the time.” Eva gestured for him to turn, and he peered over his shoulder to see the crowd had dispersed. His mother beckoned for him to join her. Kerisan grimaced.

            “I have to go help her. She wants to examine the body.”

            “I’ll wait for you to finish.” Eva reached out and stroked his cheek, and he pressed her hand to his flesh and savoured her warmth.

            “No, get some rest. Tomorrow’s your first time in the sea.” He released her, then sucked in a lungful of moist air and headed for Wren’s hut. His mind was a tempest, awash with images he couldn’t shake; the eel, poised to strike; the stranger, his bloodied dagger held aloft; and the boy, Sammus, his face contorted so horrifically, as if he’d stared into the soul of the devil.

            As he hovered by the entrance to the hut, Kerisan felt a gust rush past his body, hot and rancid like the breath of some foul beast. He glanced out to sea and saw a finger of brilliant blue light dance across the horizon for just a moment, before it vanished in the darkness.

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