He stumbled in the water to grasp it harder, and it pulled against him, trying to break free from his hands, and he pulled back even more. There was a loud, terrible shrieking, and then it grew quiet again. Then the net came loose from the water, and he looked down at the way at hung from his hands. There was a single large fish caught in the web of the ropes, but in another part of it there was a gaping hole, several of the fibers severed.
“What happened here?” He stared out at the water, looking for some sort explanation.
Of course, there were no clues. Just the rippling ocean and the waves lapping at the shore. Nothing unusual, no other evidence of life aside from the fish that wriggled in his net.
“At least I have plenty of dinner,” he said to himself.
He began to walk back to where he had left his pack, knowing that it would soon be sunset, and not wanting to be caught in the dark by himself. The sky was pink and orange by the time he got back to the rubble of the old house, and he set the fish down on a tarp that he pulled of his pack using one hand. His next task was to build a fire, knowing that he would need light as well as heat to get him through the night. Just outside the rubble walls, where it had once been a road, seemed like the right place to put it not that it mattered, since there was no underbrush at risk of creating a wild blaze. He had brought a parcel of wood with him on the small boat, and he arranged some of the pieces just right before pulling some smaller fire-starting materials out of his pack.
It did not take him long to get his fire burning high, and after a short break to snack on bread and cheese, Gelfrey went about the work of setting up his tent for the night. The sun was hardly more than a dim glow on the horizon, and even that was fast fading.
“Stay,” he thought he heard at one point, but he supposed it was merely the sound of the tent fabric as he pulled it across the poles.
He took a drink from the bucket of water and finished setting the stakes unto place. It was the last of it, and he had to make a torch to carry with him so that he could go back to the village well.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat. The sound, like the footsteps of a soaking-wet figure, seemed to be following him. Was it simply because the wind had picked up again?
At the well, he pushed the torch a little ways into the ground so that it would stand up while he hooked the bucket back onto the rope and lowered it down.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat.
Gelfrey spun around as quickly as he could. He could see nothing. There was not a single movement in the shadows. He could feel his heart beating faster.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat. The sound got closer.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat. Then it faded away again. In another minute, there was only the sound of the torch and the water in the well. He let out a sigh and finished drawing the water.
“Just the wind,” he said to himself. “Don’t be such a fool.”
The trip back to where he had set up camp was faster than the one he had made earlier. Gelfrey told himself that it was not because of the strange sounds he’d heard. He had been alone in nature many times before; he was prepared, he had nothing to fear. But could he call it nature when he was on such a desolate island? Perhaps that was why he heard so many strange sounds; he was used to sounds, not the dead silence in which he was now cloaked.
He couldn’t dwell on it. He grabbed his knife and began preparing the fish for cooking. There was far more than he would be able to eat, but he could smoke the extra parts and eat them over the next few days.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat, he heard as he scaled the fish.
Gelfrey did stop. He looked up, looked around himself. The wind was getting stronger. He could see the flames flickering, but that was all. He went back to preparing his dinner.
It was quiet the rest of the evening. Night set in, and Gelfrey enjoyed his dinner of fish, apples, bread, and water. The well water was wonderful; perhaps all those years of being undistributed had helped it. He was very soon too tired to do anything else, so he moved to pack up his before retiring for the night. That was when he noticed that his pack was knocked over. He clearly remembered leaving it straight up, steady in the way that it leaned against the wall. It was a heavy pack to knock over, and he became worried about how it had happened.
He shook the curious thoughts from his mind and pulled his pack around to the other side of the wall, paused to open his tent, and lifted it inside. With one last glance up at the star-filled sky, Gelfrey stepped into his tent and fastened the ties shut. The exhaustion made it hard for him to get his boots off, but in the end he managed. His head hit his pillow, small though it was, as the wind picked up.
Shhhhhk, plat. Shhhhhk, plat.
Gelfrey was asleep before his mind even had a chance to wander.
He was awakened again– not knowing whether it had been minutes or hours– by the sound of the earth crunching beneath countless footsteps. Shhhhhk, shhhhhk, shhhhhk, plat, some of them wet, shhhhhk, shhhhhk, shhhhhk, some of them not. The the words, too many of them to be ignored.
“Elf,” one said.
“He bled on our soil,” said another.
“Drank our water,” a third hissed.
“Elf,” he heard again.
Then they talked about the fish he had eaten, how terrible it was that he had killed it. There were shadows moving around his tent. He called out to them, but they would not reply.
“I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong,” he told them as his tent shook. “I am sorry!”
The campfire was doused, and darkness consumed everything. The shadows were gone, the voices lowered, hard to hear through the wind, but he would have let them be if only he could have kept the light.
What he felt next terrified him. It was like a snake at first, a slithering tail, smooth and wet. After that, something grasped his left arm. He gasped, and something grabbed his right. He cried out, begging to be let go, apologizing for anything that he might have done wrong, but all that he got in return was more hands grasping him.
The salt of the sea overtook his sense of smell. Whatever was grasping him, it smelled of the ocean. He could feel his body being lifted off the ground, heard the tent opening, felt the cool night air surrounding him.
Gelfrey’s last memory of that night was the smell of the ocean, the waves lapping at the shore like soothing whispers. He could not share the feeling of that last moment with anyone, though he would have liked to. The blanket of sea-foam that he was wrapped in was so soothing, so warm. If only everyone else would not remember him merely as ‘never heard from again’…