The fourth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
Coils of trailing flora grasped at flecks of soil drifting in the press of current. They tasted the mottled light, turned in on themselves and were flung wide again in a slow dance. Shattered mud daubs released dark stains like the swirl of tea leaves in a stained cup. The ocean breathed and waves broke where it coughed. Dark foam caught the cusp of waves and was spat onto the shore where it dried in patches like flaky skin.
The fisherman whacked his hand against his skiff’s motor. It hacked, choking, and the fisherman again hit it as if performing the Heimlich. Something vital dislodged and the motor rattled painfully at him.
He clattered in a small bag of tools for a moment and straightened, weighing a screwdriver in his hand. A glimmer of indecision flicked across his face, lighting up the otherwise settled-in look of contented confusion, and he drove the tool into the motor’s side. The motor squealed and loosed a dribble of oil in the water in fear.
The screwdriver skidded sideways and sliced the meat of the fisherman’s palm. He hissed, shaking out his hand so flecks of blood were sent off the boat side and into the surrounding foam bed. The flecks sunk, their own heat sealing them in round globules like rubies imbedded in off-white silk.
The fisherman sighed, cradling his hand in the crook of his arm. He muttered something, frowned and gave a last, desperate kick at the motor, which awoke again with a growl. The skiff cut away across the water and the sun warmed across the rumpled foam, like candlelight illuminating the smiles in the creases of bed sheets.
The house was a squat, round building. The southern windows leaned out, leaving a gap for the wet and the cold. The fisherman had tried lashing the frames back with a length of rope affixed to the gutter, but the ropes hung ineffectively, slackened by the damp and the teeth of tiny jaws. A lean-to afforded a roost for three bedraggled chickens and a fence rounding the property sunk into the soil like tiny, stricken sailboats. The door was crooked and locked with a bent nail.
It was here, on a grey, sticky morning, that the fisherman’s dog snorted angrily at the crack beneath the door. It pawed at a wet spot on the floor. The fisherman gently scooped the dog under the stomach with the toe of his boot and opened the door.
The fisherman shut the door. He closed his eyes for a moment, leaning against the wood. He could half-hear a plaintive, “Hello?” from outside.
He turned the nail back to the hold the door and set about to cracking an egg for breakfast. The fisherman poked at the yellow lump in the skillet as his guest knocked quizzically on the door.
“Father? Please open the door?”
He glanced over, pityingly, and poked again at his egg. His dog whimpered, pawed at the steadily growing puddle by the door, and looked back at his master. The fisherman sighed and opened the door once more.
“I am Venus,” his daughter said.
She shrugged her hood, gripping the cusp of it in a twiggy fist. The fingers were thin, fine along the lengths but knobbled at the knuckles like arthritic crabs’ legs. Her face was sinewy, run with lengths of vein visible through her thin flesh. Her eyes were round, wet: red rimmed with reflective green. When she smiled, the fisherman eyed her crooked teeth.
The fisherman sniffed and returned to slide the skillet off the heat. His daughter watched him with some fascination at this first movement.
“Pay no mind to the hallucinations,” he said, apparently to the dog snuffling at Venus’ feet. “You’ll just encourage them.”
The wet woman strode forward, her cloak leaving a streak of green-black film across the floor, and leaned over the fisherman’s breakfast. She reached forward and dabbled her finger in the skillet. She stared at the yolk congealing on her finger and sucked the yellow ooze from under her thick nails. Her cloak had fallen back, revealing the gritty shape of her skull and jutting peaks of her shoulders. Where her hairline might have been was instead a line of iridescent scales flowing from her crown down to the neck. Blood-choked slits on her neck, stiff with oxygen, quivered with her breath.
The fisherman coughed and Venus’ head spun to look at him, as if expecting a grand oration or gesture from the man gripping the egg-smeared dinner fork. He tried a smile and the woman mimicked it, elated.
He quickly stabbed her in the back.