Grin, Grimlyn Grim
by Morris Jacks
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“I seen it in the Grotesquerie,” Bob said. I had picked up a copy of Corliss’s Grotesquerie at a dockside market in Palaar and sometimes let the boy look at the pictures of the strange creatures that lived or had lived in the realm.
Toddle came sweeping into the room, the breeze of his entrance carrying the smell of him to my nostrils.
“What is it, Captain?” he asked, his voice quavering.
“Tod...” I started.
“The blower’s almost gotten us so I had the boys start lashing things down. Simple John’s tied in. He’s got the rudder on the night. I let Camlin, Hearting, and the twins know to be ready at their oars if we need them,” Toddle said breathlessly. Toddle was a nervous fool at times but as a first mate he was always on top of the ship.
“Good. Keep your eye out for a hairy creature about a foot tall, on two legs. Let the crew know.”
“What’s that, Captain?” Toddle said with an incredulous smile. His eyes had found the box on the bed. “Captain,” he said again, his pale face going pasty white, and his wide eyes bulging, “the box. Foot tall? Hairy? Two legs? What is it, Captain?”
“It was just a monkey, Toddle. Keep hold of yourself.” There was no need to scare the men. I eyed Bob, willing him with my anger to keep quiet. “Go.”
“Show me in the book, Bob,” I said.
Bob walked over to the shelf, where I kept that book and the three others I owned. My smooth wooden small chest sat there, holding some incense and a pack of coddle cards, next to it a candle was lit and began flickering as the Witch started to feel the swells of the storm. He pulled out the old book and flipped the pages. He turned and handed it to me. The picture was a near replica of what I just saw disappear in a puff of smoke. This is what was written under it:
Grimlyn: extremely rare and very dangerous. A sub-member of the Nargod group. Very curious and capable of deadly mischief. Attracted to all manmade structures. Delights in destruction. Minor teleport ability, no more than visual distance. Very active during a full moon.
Eyewitness account: “No one saw it for more than a bit. Everywhere it had been seen, something went wrong. Tine of a plow would snap off, a horse saddle slip right to the ground. For weeks this went on, drove half the town out and then it just was gone.”
Rumor: It is said that several hundred were created by the God Crimlin. Once he saw the trouble they caused he had as many hunted down and isolated as possible. Some say they were all kept in one place, though no one knows where. Why they weren’t killed is unknown.
I saw nothing about how to catch one, and nothing good for the running of a ship.
“Go about your business, Bob, and keep this to yourself. It’s a monkey we’re looking for Bob. If you see it, grab the damn thing,” I said.
I sat back on the soft mattress and tried to think. We weren’t far from the island where the second waited. The grimlyn couldn’t get off the boat unless it could swim. I doubt it would want to get off, considering what I had just read. But what kind of mischief would it get into? I would get the crew home safe. That’s my job, to make them gold and keep them alive.
I stood and walked down the short hall. The Witch was rolling over the swells now and I could see that a stiff rain was falling just outside the hatch. A lantern twitched with abandon as the wind whipped in.
I climbed out on the deck and what I saw won’t ever leave my sight. The rigging hung like broken spider webs from the mast, and as the boat heeled against the waves, the ropes waved like the hair on a dancing girl’s head.
Toddle and Kimmel were pointing and shouting at each other. The rain pelted me across the forehead. I turned and saw Simple John at the wheel and on his hip the grimlyn was twisting at the ropes around his waist. He didn’t know it was there.
The ropes fell and a small ball of smoke drifted around John as he realized what had happened and reached with one hand to grab the rope. Just then a wave rammed the ship, and John’s other hand slipped from the wheel. The boat careened without the rudder to guide her and I heard a snap. My head came around and I saw a stay swing down and I saw another, smoke drifting from where it should have been tied.
“Clear the deck, you sons of goats. Toddle, clear the deck, damn you,” I yelled as I ran toward the bow. With the blowing wind and the waves beating on the boat like a drum, no one could hear.
Then louder than all was a slow creak, like a little whale calling her mate across the bay, deep and full of sorrow. I ran still yelling at the crew to find cover. I saw Toddle take up my cry, and Cappy and Bob lifting the hatch into the empty hold.
A thunderous crack sent me sprawling across the wet deck in fear, shocked to hear it though I knew it was coming. I watched the crew slipping into the hold, John into the deck house, but I was frozen against the rail.
The foremast leaned over me like a giant hand sinking to lift me into the sky or pound me into the earth. The boat reeled from another swell and the mast shifted to port missing me but crashing over the top of the hatch where most of the crew had gone for cover.
Shadows danced over the boat, half the lanterns had blown dead or been drenched by waves. I saw something move in the bow. It was small. There was the grimlyn not twelve feet from where I was trying to get to my feet. The mast was hanging off the port rail. The grimlyn stood, chest heaving, on the capstan. I started moving toward it but then I saw Bob. He hadn’t gone below with the others.
The capstan was locked, anchor up, as we road out the storm. The silver moon low on the horizon, not yet covered by the clouds, framed Bob and the grimlyn, they moved up and down in the slow heaving of the swells. It was like a shadow play.
I watched the grimlyn gnawing at the loop locking the capstan from turning. I wasn’t concerned until I saw the anchor hanging out over the ocean no longer stowed against the bow. I heard it crack against the wood of the hull as we crested a huge swell. I saw Bob going slow over the wild motion of the ship, getting closer to the distracted monster.
“Bob, get the hell out of there, you son of a serpent-loving-earth-kissing...” I yelled to him, though with the roar of the wind and the ocean and the bellow of the thunder he couldn’t hear me.
I imagined what would happen when that loop went. The capstan would whirl like an angry cyclone as the anchor dropped, and the bar through it, used to turn up the anchor, would be like an axe.
As I scuttled across the deck, it met my step too soon and sent me to my knees. The foremast broke again with a roar, and, totally free, it rolled over my head and off the starboard side.
I saw Bob standing from where he had ducked the rolling mast, and his shadow hand reaching out against the moon inches from the hairy little beast. Then I saw the shadow of the anchor slip downward and the bar flicked around, hitting Bob in the back and I watched the smoke from the now gone grimlyn, twirling over the spinning capstan. I saw Bob slide into the bow still as a bag of dust.
I made myself get up, though I felt I’d been smacked in the mouth with a tree, and I scrambled to the twirling capstan. When the anchor hit the floor of the underside, the boat stuck and I flew against the starboard rail, but closer to the thick rope that held us to the anchor.
I knew if I didn’t separate my ship from that anchor we’d be ripped apart in the storm. A wave rolled over me and the cold cleared my head. I was in reach of the hawser. I pulled my dagger and sawed the rope as more waves pounded the ship. With every creak, I thought it was the end of her. Finally, the rope snapped and slid across the deck and over Bob, who didn’t stir.
I looped a length of hawser off the capstan and dragged it to the bow. I got it around Bob’s still body and then around myself and I tied us to the rail figuring we’d both be dead if this swell kept up. Bob’s eye’s flickered and he was looking at me with shining lighting in his eyes.
“Be easy, boy,” I said. “Be easy.”
“Can’t breathe,” he said. “It was a grimlyn, Captain. How about...” Bob coughed and I saw a trickle of blood drop off his chin.
The night dragged on and all I had to keep me company was a dead shipmate and the flash of lightning. I would fall into a trance only to be woken by the cold splash of the ocean. I wondered where the grimlyn had gone. Then the lightning slowed and stopped, the rumble of the thunder grew quiet and the boat’s rise and fall smoothed.
I looked out over the water and saw the sun had found its way out, just peeking over the horizon. As my eyes began to focus, I saw we had rolled into a bay on the wrong side of what could only be the witch’s island. Protected from the waves, the Willow Witch floated.
The hatch popped open and Toddle poked his head out. “Captain, you out there? Captain?” he said.
“Here. You cowardly whelp,” I said.
“Is it gone?” Toddle said.
“Get out here, you motherless fish-lovers,” I said. “Bob’s been done in, and I haven’t seen it in a good while.”
* * *
The old boat had held up, but with one less mast and no anchor we had no choice but to beach her for repairs. I wondered what else we’d find broken with the damn grimlyn still on her. I gave the orders. There was no way to replace the mast, but we could get to Tipolee in a few days with the oars and one sail, though the boys wouldn’t be happy about it. We still had the gold and more coming. It was a small island and I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find the old witch. I hoped she could get that thing off my boat.
Before I could even get off the beach to search her out, she was there, emerging from the scrub brush. The sun rising behind me struck her, and she seemed almost to glow with the morning light. Her long hair was white summer cloud. Her eyes were dark. No pupils showed; her eyes looked like two black disks. They considered the scene on the beach. Her robes were crimson and a green band held her hair from her face. Serene she seemed, and unearthly.
Then the witch’s lips spread and she had no teeth, like an old whore in an alley, a raunchy, too-knowing grin. I almost ran at her and choked her. For Bob, maybe, for the damn gold she would leave in a chest at my feet, the gold that made me risk my life and the life of my men.
Behind me I heard a shout and I turned. Simple John was pointing and I looked to see the little beast on the rail and in an instant there was only smoke, already breaking in the breeze. I turned back to her and she still smiled. On her shoulder was the grimlyn, its tiny paws tangled in her white hair.
“Thank you, ocean roamer. Your gold is coming. The king thanks you. A grimlyn is no easy cargo.” Her voice was as quiet as a little girl’s might be, hiding behind her daddy’s knee.
As we rowed back out to sea, Toddle at the wheel and Old Jinson singing the sailor’s dirge for poor Bob, I thought again to the two creatures that carried out the chest from the brush at the edge of the sand. Small fellows, black eyes, little claws and mouths full of teeth, and when they turned to walk away only smoke marked their going.
The old witch just turned and walked back into the bush. Not another word to the man who lost a ship boy and a mast to get her the beast on her shoulder.
When Old Jinson was done, I turned to the crew who had gathered and said, “He was a good mate, who loved the sea as much as any sailor could. He was damn curious though, and it brought him to his end. He’ll be missed by us here, but he’ll be dancing a jig with all his brothers, and the mistress of the sea will greet him in her bed. To the other side with you, lad. Your Ma will be waiting.” I sliced the rope holding him to the rail and he fell into the blue milk we all came from.
As the crew went to their tasks, I didn’t think of Bob. He would be happy down there, and we’d meet again. I thought of the witch walking into the trees and of the grimlyn turning to look at me and the smile on it which seemed to keep growing, and the teeth, the countless teeth.
When they disappeared into the forest the sun must have moved to the perfect angle, for all along the forest I saw eyes looking out at me, twinkling dead black eyes. When the sound of her steps began to fade, little puffs of smoke seeped out from between the branches and leaves, hundreds of little trails of white in the wind.
Copyright © 2010 by Morris Jacks