Dead Weight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
More of a creepy story than a horror story, but if you are horrified, great :)

Submitted: November 16, 2015

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Submitted: November 16, 2015

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The city celebrated the construction and subsequent completion of the factory, as it loomed over the other buildings around it like a giant amongst men. A child of architectural wonders, it created the identical black cars that patrolled the narrow, dirty streets outside. In those days, people still argued that these machines were better than carriages drawn by horses, as they did not defecate anywhere they wanted like their living counterparts. This, in turn, usually ended up being the sides of a road so that cars had to not only dodge pedestrians, but also these pestilent mines.

Such were the dangers of driving, including the relative lack of any traffic regulations, that many a times an accident involved only one car, its victims being anything from telephone poles to grubby little boys who did not look both ways before crossing the road.

The majority, therefore, still preferred the method of transportation they had grown up alongside; Carriages offered a symbol of class to those who could afford them, but even that was gradually changing as more and more people viewed owning a car as a symbol of the latest fashion.

Most of those against horses owned a car, which meant they had enough money to put food on the table and clothes on their children. Not many people could fill this criterion, so a good portion of men were agents of the car companies relying on the existence of the newly built factories to scrape a living for themselves.

Mr. Thomas was just one of many whose job was to correctly assemble the cars - that is, fasten them enough that normal wear and tear would only loosen them a little, in the hope that they would break after about a year when the company could not be sued for fraud. It was an ingenious business ploy - designed so the unsuspecting owner, if he was lucky enough to be out of the car when it happened, had to come back and buy a new one every year.

Knowing this did not bother Mr. Thomas, who never actually owned a car, or even a horse, because he was too poor to rely on anything other than his two legs for commute. Knowing this fact made him fret and threw him in occasional drunken rages, but now his mind was occupied with his leisure plans after the work bell rang and the horribly repetitive day ended. It seemed to him as if the entire factory held its breath as it watched the minute hand struggle, ever so slowly, to upright itself in the position that signaled the end of their workday.

The big clock on the south-facing wall finally rang, and Mr. Thomas held his breath again as he mentally counted with each resounding strike. One. Two. Three. Four - here the world seemed to slow, and he asked himself, a bit disappointed, whether he had misread the position of the hour hand before - but the thought was swiftly dispelled as the final bell grandly proclaimed its arrival. It was immediately echoed by the fading whines of machinery and sharp clangs of metal as Mr. Thomas and his colleagues threw down their tools and powered down the smoke-belching equipment. He quickly joined the haphazardly formed lines filing quickly towards the exit, like dead leaves borne on a dirty stream, while looking over the dusty blue caps of the men in front for his good friend Alex.

“Ho! Henry!” Came a cry to his right as Alex Marchek hurried towards him, waving his left hand in the air just in case Henry Thomas missed his booming voice. He carried a pack slung over his shoulder; his right hand clutched two fishing rods and the handle of an empty aluminum bucket.

Mr. Thomas wiped the sweat from his brow and greeted his friend with a smile. “I’ve got snacks and beer in my bag - the bait too. If we’re lucky, we can catch us a nice dinner!” he replied enthusiastically, raising the bag he carried for emphasis.

Alex fell in besides him. For a while neither spoke, and it was not before they were outside on their way to the river that he said, in an inquiring tone, “Dusk doesn’t come ‘til an hour later, and since that’s when they actually bite, I figure we could go searchin’ for a new spot?”

Mr. Thomas squinted and scrutinized the sky before answering. “That would be a good idea. The weather seems like it could take a turn for the worse, though.”

“We needn’t go far - just a bit downstream of the bridge where we usually are - I know a place the other guys 'sbeen talking ‘bout.”

“Sure, why not? But do you think they’ll bite, the weather being colder than usual?” They passed by Macie’s Produce and Alex bought two shiny red apples for five cents each.

“Well,” he said, throwing an apple at Mr. Thomas, “There ain't no fault in tryin'.” Henry caught the apple with his free hand and vigorously polished it against his shirt. He frowned at the stubborn brown dots on the apple before deciding that it wasn’t worth the worry and took a bite. On his right, Alex mimicked his actions, crunching down with enthusiasm.

Presently they came upon the dirt road that pointed the way to Bessemer's Bridge. In truth, it was little more than a very long dock connected to both sides of the river - it lied so close to the water that, in the event of a bad rain, the bridge would submerge completely and cause great consternation for the boats floating downstream the next few days. 

The wooden pier lay next to the decayed remnants of a derelict cabin. The evidence pointed to the possibility of someone who once owned both dock and cabin, but they had long since gone so that fishermen and little boys who reenacted mythical Greek battles often frequented the ruins. The empty bait containers and sharpened wooden sticks scattered along the well-trodden path could attest to that.

As such, seasoned fishermen like Mr. Thomas and Alex Marchek turned onto the path without breaking either stride or conversation. They crested a hill and came into view of the Bryson River. Their next few steps took them down the winding path to the dock, where the two men paused to look around. Today, there were no other voices present; none of the usual jokes and laughter greeted them.

"It's this way." Alex gently placed the fishing rods and bucket down before climbing onto the muddy river bank. Mr. Thomas waited until Alex had his feet planted firmly in the wet mud before handing him all their items, including the backpack that contained the beer. It took a bit longer for Henry to follow suit.

With Alex walking in front, the two men walked the length of the riverbank downstream of the bridge. “Whoa, look what I found!” Alex exclaimed as he bent down and tugged an object out of the mud. It came free with a sucking sound and he washed it in the river. Both men examined what appeared to be a steering wheel. After a pause, Alex mused, “It’s just like the ones at work.”

Mr. Thomas was doubtful. “I don’t know...  a bit hard to tell, bent like that and all.”

Alex shook his head. “Betcha three month’s salary on it… it’s one of ours. ‘sides, there ain’t any other types o’ cars here. You know that.”

Mr. Thomas leaned in for a better view, and then took the wheel from Alex. “Why’s it here though, of all places?”

“Look how chewed up it is - maybe they threw it in the river ‘cause it’s a dud? Ain’t uncommon to find trash layin’ on the bank.” With that they continued walking. Mr. Thomas took aim and threw the wheel back into the water where it landed with a loud splash.

Alex pointed at an abrupt widening of the river and Mr. Thomas followed his finger. "See that? All the food and debris from upriver wash down and gets caught around that bend there. Them fish like to stay there too. Plus, it offers them a place outta the current.” He paused and then added, “That's where we're going." 

The two men gradually settled down. By this time the sky was a pale gray, completely blanketed by low-hanging clouds. A biting wind charged across the river, trampling the water underneath and causing rippling waves to throw themselves, unrelentingly, against the bank beneath their feet. The men instinctively pulled their caps down, scrunching up their shoulders in an effort to protect their numb ears against the wind. Flimsy jackets nestled closer to their owners.

Mr. Thomas inspected his fishing rod as he waited for the wind to stop. It was old but well made, its cork handle worn down with constant use. Beside him, Alex casted and re-casted his lure. A sudden urge made him look up at the tip of the rod, and it gave off two quick twitches. Years of experience allowed him to grab the rod in his hand by the time the second twitch stopped. He gave it a yank upwards, setting the hook so that any fish who was debating whether or not it should really swallow the bait would now find itself doomed without any chance of freedom.

He fought with its erratic tugging, commenting on how big the fish must be to bend the rod so far as Alex ran over, knocking over the bucket Mr. Thomas was sitting on. Alex kept up a continuous stream of advice, which Mr. Thomas promptly disregarded, as both men knew the other was perfectly schooled in the art of fishing. He adjusted the brake on the reel tighter after it issued a series of rapid clicks in protest and let out line. 

Suddenly the line went slack, and Mr. Thomas, disappointed, reeled it in the whole way. He swore. The hook was gone, the end of the line containing nothing but the frayed and twisted remains of a knot. As he got his newly tied tackle in the water, Alex, who had already returned to his old spot a bit downstream, cried that he too got a bite. Mr. Thomas looked over and a few seconds later Alex let out an exasperated huff. 

"He broke my lure! Look! Snapped the hook clean in half! I've never seen this ‘efore!" Alex called. He sounded angry, and Mr. Thomas couldn't help but feel a pang of regret as the shiny orange lure was handmade and costed almost three days' salary.

Alex walked over. “Hey, can you watch my stuff - I’m gunna take a piss.” Henry grunted in acknowledgement, still a bit moody, and casted his bait of bread with an overhead swing that propelled it into the only relatively calm area on the water, directly where Alex had pointed earlier. 

“Don’t piss in the river - I’m still fishing here!”

Alex looked back over his shoulder as he walked deeper into the woods. “Don’t peek!” was his only response.

Mr. Thomas settled back onto his makeshift stool. A strong tug almost resulted in the fishing rod flying out of his hand, but quick reflexes and a finger hooked over the crosspiece connecting the reel to the rod saved him from calamity.

He began the process of bringing back the fish, this time deciding not to shout for his friend until he was sure he had it in his hand. It gave off strong tugs, not the usual quick jerks, but much slower and more powerful. Mr. Thomas thought it must have been a really big fish, or a log, but then again logs did not drag line out and try to swim against the will of the angler.

When the point where the line submerged below the water got to about twenty feet away from the bank, the struggling suddenly stopped. He could still, however, feel a dead weight on his line. He was not sure if he had lost the fish or that it had somehow tangled the hook in a cluster of weeds. The latter seemed more likely, as he began to see a faint shape under water.

As it got closer, he could make out the gently swaying shadows of the dark weeds stuck to the hook. He cursed again, but was glad he did not call Alex over for this disappointment. The wind still flew into his face, making his eyes tear up and forcing him to look out through squinted eyes. Not being in a hurry, he relaxed and walked a few paces back from the high ledge where he stood, determined to pull the heavy tangle of weeds back in a relatively sheltered, comfortable position.

What he saw when he walked over again froze him in terror. The long, clumped hair, what he had earlier mistaken for water weeds, partially obscured the other features of its face, but the body was clothed and from that Mr. Thomas deduced it was a woman. Her head lolled to one side, and as he tugged with an unconscious effort, she looked up, straight at him with empty black sockets half-covered by the remnants of defunct eyelids, etching terror into the back of his brain, forever in his memory.

It reached up with its left hand and uttered a low, guttural moan, pulling at the line and in turn, tugging her body out of the water. The fish rod mirrored her action, leaning down in exactly the same way - slow but erratic - as the fish he had almost caught earlier. This produced a rather ironic scene: because the brake on the reel was fastened so tightly, it had to effect of hauling the horrified fisherman down towards the bank, almost as if the body instead was reeling in the line. Her jaw dropped opened, inhumanly wide, and he could see yet another hook embedded inside her tongue along with a glint of orange. She was unnaturally pale, the color of plaster, bloated by the water.

The hook had caught in her mouth, going in and coming out the right cheek, and as she tugged, it pulled the flesh up and cut a long gash across her cheekbone, moving a strand of curly black hair that partially covered her face. Lying face-up, she arched her back and bent her neck in an impossibly wide angle, screaming her frustration at the sky. The noise was deep and grating, a herald of some dark void that no man alive has seen, and as Mr. Thomas stood, petrified in fear, the cry began to morph into a cackle of glee.  Her flailing right hand contained the steering wheel Henry threw earlier; half-rotten fingers clutched it tightly.

The body was now half out of the water and the waves that continuously lapped along the shore pushed it sideways, closer to the terrified fisherman. With a trembling hand, Mr. Thomas cut the line, as close to the tip of the rod as possible, and grabbed their bags and tackle. An unseen power forced him to steal glances back every few seconds. He tried not to think about how she had floated downriver to take Alex’s lure from his line, and then swam against the current back towards him.

He hurried towards the path, seeing Alex walking back towards him. His friend stopped upon noticing that he had already taken all their equipment and asked in a puzzled voice, “Wha’s goin’ on? What happen’d?”

Mr. Thomas thought fast. “I saw a water snake and decided it wasn’t... uh, safe enough where we were. It c-crawled towards me as I was placing my r-rod down on the ground.”

Marchek still seemed troubled. “Henry, you’re all pale and shakin'… I’m glad ya noticed it when ya did, but it gone now so you can calm down.” In the distance behind him, Mr. Thomas heard a soft splash, like a snake slithering into the water. Horror squeezed his heart, and he suddenly felt very small inside his jacket. He looked at Alex, searching for a similar reaction, but there was no sign that he heard anything out of the ordinary.

“I’ve just got to go home and lie down. That’s all.” He finally said. Alex offered to carry the equipment, and Mr. Thomas gave him everything save his rod, as there was still no hook on the line and Alex would have been suspicious. Only later, when the sky grew dark and they had to navigate by touch did Mr. Thomas walk behind him and tie a new hook to the line using the pale moonlight that intermittently cascaded through the partially cleared sky.

Throughout this Alex was blissfully unaware, choosing instead to remark on the fish he almost caught that afternoon. “It must have been something special, I tell you.” He kept repeating. They bade each other farewell at Mr. Thomas’ door, and Alex was soon consumed by the darkness of the night.

Three days later, Richardson called an employee into his office. The Boss did not immediately speak as the worker walked in, preferring to greet, with downcast eyes, the man he called. He finally looked up and met the agitated look of the standing employee, who obviously thought he was in for a crime. Richardson gave him a calculating look, designed to further intimidate, and asked him for his name.

“Alex Marchek, sir. I swear, I did nuthin’ wrong. Honest, it weren’t me.” He played with his sleeves, tugging them up and down. Both men knew just how replaceable a factory worker was.

“Relax Mr. Marchek, you aren’t in trouble.” He took a deep breath and forced himself to look Mr. Marchek in the eye before continuing. “You have a friend, Henry Thomas, correct?” With each passing second he saw a procession of emotions, from recognition to fear to ill-disguised suspicion, and finally, steely determination flit across Alex’s face.

“I know the man, but only ‘cause he work’d in the room left of mine. Other than that, we don’t talk.” Richardson took this as a man who already knew the lies the other would say before he even opened his mouth. As such, he was not surprised.

“Well, his body was found by the Bryson River yesterday afternoon. It didn’t look like an accident… I don’t remember what they said though. If you have any information that can help the police, boy, visit their office down the street as soon as you can.” Alex maintained a stony face, but his blue eyes widened a fraction in shock.

The Boss dismissed the coward with a wave of his hand. As he walked out the door, Richardson called after him. “Marchek, wait!” Alex turned around, silent and impassive. “I remembered what it was. They found three fishhooks inside his mouth - no wait, it was two and a half, one of them was broken… does this mean anything to you?”

Alex shook his head. “Cruel joke, maybe?” he finally said. The door clicked shut as he exited, leaving the Boss alone in his office.

Richardson thus turned his attention to the sheriff’s letter lying on his desk. During the police’s investigation of Mr. Thomas’s death scene, they had found, completely submerged in water, evidence of an automobile made by his factory. At first it was speculated that Mr. Thomas had driven it off the pier, but the wreck was far too old to have been related. That made three accidents just this month alone. If he wasn’t careful, the blame would start to lie on his head, not on driver error.

He crumpled the letter in frustration and hurled it into the trash can. It bounced on the rim and fell in next to the bent steering wheel that had appeared on his desk that morning. He resolved to lecture his employees again on the correct way to dispose of industrial waste. Protocols had to be followed; he was not the garbage collector, and idiots who could not handle things as trivial as ruined parts were not fit to work in his factory.

As Mr. Marchek walked back, the clock rang five o’clock. Alex shuffled along with his whispering coworkers, who were no doubt wondering what he had stolen to warrant a one-on-one meeting with the overseer. He paid them no attention, knowing that no matter what he said now, the information would get twisted quick enough that many people would stop talking to him either way.

Outside, the sky was a brilliant sapphire blue, and a calm wind blew gently through the streets. It carried with it the weird mixture of scents - horse manure, warm pastries, daisies, and gasoline - expected of a busy, industrial city. A woman crossed paths with Alex, and he thought he rather fancied her until he caught a glimpse of a nasty scar, barely concealed by powder, on her cheek. He figured her husband must have beaten her, which would have explained why she covered her eyes in what he took to be shame as she passed him. Alex took a deep breath, cursed at whatever bastard had hurt her so violently, and, his conscience cleared, headed for the comfort of home.


© Copyright 2019 Golden Ponyboy. All rights reserved.

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