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Forgotten Bones


Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

Hungry black waves lapped at the sides of the jetty, regurgitating froth that spilled over the craggy rocks like cheap beer roiling in a sailor’s belly. It made the rocks more treacherous and slicker than they already were. Even on his hands and knees, Kennedy navigated them carefully — knowing well that one misplaced hand and too much weight could send him tumbling into the water.

     They would never find him, then. The jumbled bones in his pocket were testimony to that. Fingers, toes, and whatever else of his fallen comrades’ that had washed up to shore like oyster shells. Picked clean as if the flesh had been neatly shaved off with a razor. The teeth marks on some of them were viciously deep. He told himself, for days, that it was the work of sharks that had scavenged the shipwreck.

     Now, staring at the luminous green orb that had appeared underneath the water’s surface, he was less certain.

     The waves made it difficult to judge, but the light looked close enough to touch. He felt as though he could easily reach down and scoop it up, and he knew that if he did it would be cool in his hands. What a relief that would be on his burning palms, which the jetty had mercilessly sliced up once he had decided to crawl. The saltwater would sting, without a doubt, but only for a moment. If he could just hold the light, the beautiful light. It made the surface of the water bubble and ripple, creating wide pale rings of such an eerie and alluring color. It seemed like the light was getting bigger, bent on consuming the entirety of his vision.

     If he could only get close enough…

     Something broke the surface of the water and raked against the side of his face. Kennedy cried out and reeled back, the stinging pain enough to break him out of his trance. He touched the side of his cheek tenderly, expecting to find blood. There was none, but the top layer of skin was broken, and a little bit of clear oil oozed out.

     The bright green light was now blood red. Kennedy saw what looked like a pale, gnarled hand vanish underneath a churning wave.

     All around him, he could hear wailing, a cacophony of tortured cries that were so in harmony with one another they almost sounded like a song.

     Kennedy closed his eyes and rubbed at them with his dirty fingers. He had to block out the light. Somehow, he had to turn around and get back to shore.

     But the water was rising high over the jetty as the moon pulled in the tide. His chances were looking slimmer with every passing second, and he was not sure that the beach would be any safer.

     On his hands and knees, still, Kennedy turned around. He put himself lower until he was practically dragging his belly against the rocks. His ragged shirt offered little protection against their needle-sharp points, and he winced whenever they bumped against his bruised ribs. Even so, he kept his chin up as high as it would go and he fixed his eyes on the shore.

     He had to make it, or else their families would never know.

     The Red Maiden would be just another ship lost at sea. The names of his comrades would all be forgotten. He had seen mass graves before, where each one was marked with a salt-worn stone but half, if not all, were missing names.

     Their bodies would never be found, but he had the bones. The bones were something.

     The screams were getting louder. They melded together into one haunting melody. They drifted over the water with the coastal fog, creeping up toward the shoreline. Kennedy’s arms started to shake from fatigue. He felt it through his entire body to the point where all he wanted to do was crumple and let the ocean take him away. He kept dragging himself forward until the water hit his chest. It lapped at his throat and tickled his earlobes, and it was colder than a banker’s heart.

     The cold made it difficult to breathe.

     From the edges of his vision, Kennedy thought that he could see the light following him. He blinked to be sure, shaking his head instead of rubbing his eyes to try and keep the salt water out of his tear ducts. It was still blood red, and the water around it churned as if boiling. A sudden, paralyzing fear seized his chest and made his breath stick in his throat. Kennedy coughed hard enough to rack his whole body. The light continued to drift closer, narrowing the distance between them with unnatural speed.

     Kennedy closed his eyes, muttering a prayer under his breath as he continued to crawl. His palm glanced off a sharp rock and his prayer was cut off by a curse before he slipped, falling face-first into the water. His world became entirely eclipsed by brine, and for one blessed moment, it was silent. The only sound he could perceive was that of his racing heartbeat.

     He scrambled to regain his hold on the jetty. Blood was streaming from the gash in his palm, although he could not feel it. It seemed like an eternity before he found the jetty again. He gripped its side, using his hold as leverage to pull himself up and break the surface of the water, gasping for breath.

     The screams were even louder than before. He heaved a jagged breath, vomiting salt water as he gasped for air. His eyes burned and no amount of blinking could clear them. It was almost impossible to see.

     The only thing he could still make out, decently, was the light. It was blue now, and it had stopped right beside the jetty. It waited, perfectly still, the water around it undisturbed by its presence, where that had not been the case only moments prior.

     Kennedy swallowed hard again. His whole mouth tasted like brine and there were grains of sand caught in his cheeks.

     The shore was close, only a few more steps. If the tide was lower, and if he were any stronger, he would not have to move far. He could have covered it standing upright – but he did not want to slip and fall off the jetty again.

     Despite the fear making his heart race, Kennedy took a moment to compose himself before dragging his hands and knees along the jetty again.

     Along the dark line of rock, he caught a glimpse of something else. It was as long as an oarfish and flashed tarnished silver, with rust-red fins like fallen sails dragging the surface of the water. The fish, or the tail of it, broke the surface of the water – making an arch before sinking back down. He felt something slide over his bare feet — as slippery and smooth as a moray eel.

     Terror put his heart in his throat. He froze again, unable to move forward, despite having his eyes locked onto the moon-drenched shore. It was so close, and yet he felt like he was being pulled away by a rip current. He had no footing anymore, and he was losing his grip.

     If it was a rip current, Kennedy knew better than to fight it. He could do nothing about the creature that appeared to be circling him — only visible now in the barest flashes of metallic skin underneath the water.

     Kennedy stuck his hands in his pockets and felt for the bones that were still there. He gripped them tightly in his fists and held them, finishing the prayer he had started.

Dead, but not forgotten. He would remember, he would remember.

     Another splash. This one sounded like the flat side of a tail smacking against the water. Kennedy turned his face upward towards heaven, and his hopeless gaze met with a blanket of stars.

     Wet, clammy hands dove into his pockets. He let out a horrified sound as nails, sharp like nettles, dug and scrabbled at his fingers until he pulled them free. The creature — whatever it was — did the rest of the work by snatching the bones from his hands. He saw the spotted silver tail again as it curled around his body. Impossibly long from the way it seemed to form a perfect circle and still had no sign of ending.

     Kennedy had run out of prayers. Still, there was the distant wailing — getting fainter, but still present enough that it rang through his ears like a shot.

     He caught sight of long, red hair. It spread across the surface of the water like weeds, tangling in his fingers and clinging to his clothes. Revulsion nearly made him retch as he tried to get it off, untangling himself as hopelessly as if he were thrashing inside a net.

     Inside the mass of tangled crimson hair was a face. It was like no face he had ever seen on any animal. It looked as though it could have been human, or at least like it wanted to be. It had eyes that were as large and round as saucers and as dark as plum jelly. Wide and unblinking, they observed him, set above a too-wide jaw and a gaping mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. Each one gleamed like steel, and they jutted from the top and the bottom alike, sticking out in all directions.

     The creature watched him, and he found himself staring back. The tail that wrapped around his body coiled up a little tighter, and he could feel it closing in on him.

The creature opened its mouth and let out a heartbreaking wail. Kennedy felt it as a physical blow to his chest – a beautiful song of such agonizing sorrow that it made him want to sink into the water and never resurface. It continued to sing, never tearing those preternatural dark eyes away from him.

     And he could have sworn, in the very heart of the mournful wail, that he heard it say his name.


     His heart felt like it was going to break out of his chest.


     He was so overcome that he wanted to cry. He wanted to weep for his lost shipmates. He wanted to weep for their families who would never see them again. He wanted to weep for himself.

     ‘Kennedy, come here, come to me, come here!’

     He smashed his hands against his face. Kennedy ground his knuckles into the corners of his eyes, weeping around them, heartbroken sobs bubbling out of his throat.

     “I cannot,” he cried, “I cannot!”

     He brought his head back up. His eyes still burned, and his vision was getting hazier. If the shore was still nearby, he could not see it any longer.

     A cool hand touched his face and slid over the warm, swollen cut. Kennedy blinked again, swearing under his breath, and tried to wipe more salt from his eyes.

     "Kennedy," the voice that spoke to him sounded far more human. “It is all right. Shh, there. Quiet, we found you. It is going to be alright.”

     He could see eyes – what looked like normal ones. They were soft, gray, and narrow — and they sparkled in the center of a pale, glistening face.

     “You found me?” he echoed, unable to stop froth from gurgling up his throat and spilling from his lips. “You found me. Thank God. Thank God.” More tears ran down his cheeks, although he could not tell if they were from him, or if the water was getting warmer. “I did not forget them.”

     “No, you did not,” the voice said. “Come join them. They are all here, waiting for you.”

     “Thank God,” were the last words he spoke before water swallowed up his throat.

     The silver tail wrapped around his middle and tightened its hold, twisting around to drag him deeper into the water.

     He looked for the light. It was nowhere to be found.

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