Retribution

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

The dead sometimes will not rest without retribution.

The misshapen figure paused from the task at hand, her gnarled hand releasing the length of deadwood to fall back to the barren earth beneath the twisted tree. The old woman’s hand pressed into the small of her aching back, and she winced as she straightened from her bent position. For a moment the bundle of deadwood was forgotten, as she took a few arthritic shuffling steps to the brow of the hill. Below her, the small settlement made up of tightly packed hovels, seemed to cower against the grey cliff face towering above it. The dilapidated houses were arranged in a half-moon shape around the small patch of dark calm water, a crudely made stone pier jutted a hundred yards into the quiet cove, while a hundred yards further out the wild North Atlantic hammered against the two fingers of rocky land that gave shelter to the small cove. A string of old and dilapidated small craft was tethered to the crude pier.

The tiny community was named after this cove, Dark Cove did not even warrant a place on any map. It was dark by name and dark by nature, sometimes the old woman would find her mind drifting back to that time long ago when she had first set eyes on that place. She was no more than a child, but even back then she felt the wrongness of the place. There was something about this bleak place that spread darkness through its inhabitants, an unseen malevolence existed here, and it tainted most anyone that abided here. There had been so many times the old woman had been determined to leave here, turn her back on this place and never look back. But Dark Cove had a hold over people, a history of malevolent secrets and unholy deeds tethered the locals to this barren shoreline. Over the years some had tried to lead the community away from the darkness, and they had paid for it with their lives including her father.

Cora’s father had been sent here by the authorities to bring some vestige of order to this wild place. But the residents of Dark Cove lived by their laws, outsiders were not welcome here. Outsiders with ideas of law and order were especially unwelcome, the laws of the land were not recognized here, and the laws of God that applied were not the same as in other places. The people of Dark Cove worshiped a different god, a dark and sinister force that was old when these ragged cliffs first appeared out of the wild ocean. Her father was slow to recognize the ways of this place; he took the sullen silence of its people as nothing more than social awkwardness. But the more he tried to bring order here the more he was disliked, until three score and ten years ago the darkness came for him. Cora a young child was left to cater for herself, the old woman that lived in the cottage Cora now inhabited took pity on her. She too was an outcast in this place, but she knew the old ways and the people feared her. Cora learned of the old ways from the spinster, she learned of herbs and healing and she learned of the darkness said to dwell among the caves of the rugged cliffs.

The old woman had imparted knowledge to Cora, of things less known. She had taught her about the dark entity that controlled generations of the people that lived here. But most importantly she had taught Cora Kirby how to protect herself from the darkness in this place. So by and large the locals left Cora to her devices, the only real interaction would come when local girls experienced difficult births. Or if a child had fallen ill and their parents came to her for herbs to treat the illness, the visits from the locals would invariably be under the cover of darkness. On the odd occasion, she would descend to the settlement to get supplies from the one local shop; the very people that sought her help would shun her in the street or stare straight through her as if she was not there. But sooner or later they would return to her cottage high on the clifftop overlooking the cove, and they would pay her with plunder.

The local economy was based on ships lured onto the rocks to be plundered, and contraband smuggled ashore from passing ships. The dark entity they worshipped always ensured that there were enough shipwrecks and contraband brought ashore to keep the people tied to this place. Cora moved nearer to the cliff edge and stared far out to sea, the clouds gathering had the color of a purple bruise. The old woman sniffed the freshening air and winced at the scent that lingered on the breeze, it was the scent of corruption, and somewhere in the bowels of the cliffs, something stirred. Something bad was coming and she shivered, the malevolence that was ever-present in the atmosphere seemed to grow and the very air felt oppressive. Cora left the cliff edge and gathered the firewood, by the time she reached the cottage gate the first band of rain arrived. By the time her fire was ablaze, the small cottage groaned in protest at the onslaught of an Atlantic storm, outside her small windows daylight faded and it became dark as night. The sun was banished from the sky as the land was swallowed by the storm clouds.

The old woman sat in the fireside chair in a troubled sleep, in her mind’s eye images she had long tried to suppress now ran free. Outside the sound of the raging storm was deafening, yet in her dreams, she could hear the young man’s cries for mercy. The dream unfolded and she whimpered in her sleep, at the part where he had escaped from the rabble and knocked at her door begging for help she cried aloud. He was just a young priest that tried to bring god’s word to Dark Cove, but the darkness would not allow such blasphemy. They dragged him from her door on another stormy night like this, and his screams could be heard above the howling of the wind. The young priest was dragged to the deepest cave in the cliff and cast into its depths; there in the darkness, his screams reached an ear-splitting level before he fell silent forever. He had been sacrificed to an older god, and Dark Cove once more settled under its protection. The sound of pitiful crying awoken the old woman and it took her a while to realize that it was she who wept.

 The fire had reduced to glowing embers and the room had grown cold, outside the storm raged and the room was lit intermittently by the lightning flashes. The feeling of regret and shame weighed heavily on her old bones, it had been years since they murdered the young priest and she had worked hard to wipe the memory of him from her mind. This was her dark secret that kept her tethered to this place. Cora rose stiffly from her chair and went to the gable end window; from here she could just make out the shapes of the crude headstones in the small cemetery when it was light. It was there she had laid some of his bones to rest, parts of him that had been dragged to the surface by hungry predators. A skeletal hand that still had a rosary entwined in the bony fingers, a rib, and part of a leg bone was all she found. She had laid them to rest beneath the stunted tree in the corner of the graveyard, and to her shame, she had put him from her mind.

 A flash of lightning lit up the land as if it were daytime, and her rheumy old eyes found the stunted tree. Cora drew a sharp intake of breath as for the briefest moment she saw the figure standing beneath that tree, tall and slim it was and staring at her cottage. The lightning winked out and darkness returned to the land when next it came, the tree stood alone in the graveyard. Cora stood for a long time in the hope of catching another glimpse of the figure, but if it had ever been there it was now gone. She left her vantage point in the small hours of the morning for her bed, sleep was slow to come to her, and when it did come it brought the dream back with it. The raging storm outside her small cottage filled the earth with the sound of fury, while in her tiny bedroom Cora cried and whimpered in her sleep. When she did awaken the following morning the storm had abated, and the weariness of her years lay heavy on her.  Outside it was eerily calm and the light had a strange quality to it. It was as if the earth held its breath in anticipation of something that was yet to come.

 The old woman ate her meager breakfast, and pulling her black shawl tight around her skeletal frame she stepped outside. The ever-present soughing of the wind and the screeches of the seagulls that had been her constant companion, were conspicuous by their absence. An unearthly silence had rushed over the land, filling the vacuum left by the passing storm. Yet far out to sea yet another storm front was building as if hiding behind the silence. Cora made her way as quickly as she could to the place where she collected her firewood; she had left yesterday with little. The old woman worked as fast as her aching body would allow until she had gathered enough to last for a few days. She tied the firewood in a tight bundle and hefted it onto her stooped back; she paused by the edge of the cliff overlooking Dark Cove. A strange gloomy pall hung over the village far below, and the feeling that something bad was coming grew inside her.

Cora spent the morning preparing for the coming storm; she locked her hens in the small shed at the rear of the cottage. Before securing anything that might be carried away by the storm, something other than the inclement weather was heading for Dark cove, and the old woman intended to wait it out behind the locked door of her cottage.  Before the first patter of raindrops on the roof, she had closed and secured the shutters on the window and the front door was locked and bolted. Sitting by the fireside Cora allowed her mind to wander to that faithful time, a place and time she had avoided thinking about for nigh on two decades. The images came easily to her mind as if they were only yesterday; things she had buried at the back of her mind suddenly came rushing to the fore. Malcolm Grace was the young man’s name; he had an easy smile and a kind nature. He knew little of the world and almost nothing of the darkness that dwelt within it. An image sprang to mind of the small figure appearing over the brow of the hill, a figure that proved to be tall and slim as it grew nearer.

Cora had been working in the garden preparing the ground for the potato crop; she had lifted to ease the ache in her back when she spotted the approaching figure.  When the priest finally came into view the first thing she noticed was his smile, and that depth of innocence in his light blue eyes. He was a beacon of light that found himself in darkness he could never understand, even in the first moments he stood in her company she felt it. A cursory glance at the clerical collar told her he had come to the wrong place, and that the journey that brought him here could well be his last. He was so full of enthusiasm with great plans; he would turn Dark Cove into a community to be envied. He drew a mental picture of a towering steeple, a building worthy of celebrating the word of god. He foresaw schools and libraries, a shining jewel of Christendom that would illuminate these dark shores. But all the time the young priest regaled her with his vision of the future, the malevolence of Dark Cove circled him like a predator would circle a wounded prey.

In her mind’s eye, she could see him shirtless as he bent to his task, beside the canvas shelter that was his home he had begun to build a small dry stone building. His bare torso coated with grime and rivulets of sweat, the building was to be a temporary place of worship. It will do until we build our great church, he would tell her. But there was no we, the people of Dark Cove ignored him and his toil, Malcolm's great church was destined to be nothing more than a dream. In the beginning, she had tried to dissuade him from his path, she told him that there were more deserving communities for his toils. But he was not for turning; in the morning he would stand alone and preach, and for the remainder of the day he would build stone upon stone for his church. Slowly some of the younger people began to gather and listen to him preach, and in his innocence, he mistook their curiosity for interest. Malcolm began to follow them down to the cove, where he would preach on the street.

 The young priest believed he was making progress, until that faithful night when another ship was lured onto the rocks. He had rushed down the hill to help with the rescue. But there was no rescue taking place, and Malcolm witnessed first-hand the darkness that held sway over this place. The survivors were dragged ashore and butchered, their possessions pilfered and their corpses piled high on the shoreline. When all the plunder was ashore, he watched in horror as the bodies were transported to the caves. The corpses were dumped inside those caves, and the people of Dark Cove chanted in a language the likes of which he had never heard. The dark entity had provided well for the people and in turn, they had brought him offerings of flesh, it was sheer madness but he thought he felt something move beneath the earth. Malcolm's mind was overcome by the horror he had witnessed and mercifully it shut down, he awoke the following morning alone on the beach. He spent the next two days inside his canvas shelter, and Cora had hoped he was preparing to leave.

On the night of the second day she watched him walk purposefully towards the village, she wanted to call him back but she knew it was too late. She had known from the beginning that the man’s destiny was written from the moment he set foot here. Malcolm stood in the center of the village, he begged them to come out and pray for forgiveness. He screamed at the top of his lungs how God would forgive them if only they would repent and ask for that forgiveness. Even when the storm came he stood there pleading with them, but the doors only opened when he threatened to bring the authorities to Dark Cove. There were ten in all, the leaders of that accursed village. They beat him unmercifully before marching him past her door, she could still hear his screams and pleading in her head. He had come to her door and pleaded for help and to her everlasting shame, she had ignored him. Cora stared into the dancing flames and tried to make sense of her melancholic reflections, why now was the dead priest so prevalent in her thoughts and dreams.

It was not the first time in recent years that she had felt the level of malevolence heighten in this place, so why this time did it resurrect the memories of the priest. Her old mentor had told her that the darkness here was more active at certain times as if a pulse beneath the very ground grew stronger. But yet Cora could not dissuade herself from the idea that the image glimpsed in the graveyard was him, she was convinced that Malcolm or some version of him had returned to seek revenge. This thought chilled her to the bone, and she wondered whether she too would pay a terrible price. As if to confirm her fears the storm outside reached another level of ferocity, the beams of the roof groaned in protest as the wind threatened to take the roof from the cottage. The front door creaked and bowed inwards as if a great weight was thrown against it, and the wooden shutters rattled alarmingly on the hinges.

 Cora cowered by the fireside trying to console herself that it was just a storm, just like the many she had lived through in the past. Eventually, the protesting sounds from the small cottage began to subside, and the intensity of the storm gradually reduced. The howling of the wind slowly settled to a mournful keening sound and she began to relax, the worst of the storm had passes she convinced herself. She wrapped a blanket about her and her heavy eyelids fell, sleep finally overtook her, her last conscious thought was that tomorrow would bring a better day. But her respite was short-lived, less than an hour later she awoke to a different and more disturbing sound. The sounds at first registered in her mind as the soft keening of the wind, but as they grew closer she recognized them for what they were. The terrifying sounds of humans in distress grew in intensity as they approached along the pathway that led from the village. Against her will and better judgment, a compulsion came over her, she rose from the chair and went to the window.

Cora’s hand trembled but she could not prevent herself from opening back the shutter, outside the group of men paused and stared pleadingly through her window. She immediately recognized the men; it was the same people who had driven the young priest past her door on that night. The bearded man nearest her held his hands out to her in a pleading gesture, his eyes wide with terror. The sharp sound that echoed in the night sounded like the crack of a whip, the flesh of his cheek opened like an overripe fruit and he screamed. The sound repeated over and over, and flesh was torn from bone by the invisible whip. How long it lasted she could not tell, but eventually, the screaming men were driven towards the cliff like lambs to the slaughter. She could still hear their unnatural cries as they were driven one by one into the deep cave, when the last cries fell silent she could hear her heart beating in her chest.

An hour later the pounding came at her door, slow methodical banging of a fist that demanded she open up. “Do not open the door,” a voice screamed in her head, but as the death of the young priest, Cora knew it was her destiny. She slowly opened the door and for a moment relief flooded over her, the lane outside was dark and empty. She felt the movement in the air and something light bounced from her chest and fell to the ground, a twig carried on the wind she thought at first. But then the sky was split by a prolonged flash of lightning, she gazed at her feet and saw the rosary beads. Cora slowly dragged her eyes from beads to find him standing watching her, those eyes were no longer light blue but dark as the pits of hell. The easy smile was now a sardonic grin, the priest had returned to Dark Cove but this time he came to preach the word of a darker God. Blackness descended and when the lightning came again she was alone. Cora went inside and made plans for leaving, plans that would never happen; the priest would never allow her to leave.

 

 


Submitted: February 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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