Academic journal article Hecate

Baptism

Academic journal article Hecate

Baptism

Article excerpt

Brother Tomas drew his habit tightly around himself, a futile gesture against the biting sea wind. He eyed the tiny island in the middle of the bay that would be his new home. He had been in Koreka for less than a half a day, and already he was homesick for the Secoduna Desert. His superiors had decreed that he be sent here, and they took their instruction directly from God, but sometimes he wondered if they might not occasionally be mistaken in their interpretation. Have faith, Brother, he silently chastised himself. Surely, this was no mistake; if anyone could succeed where others had failed, it would be him.

You're the fourth friar I've rowed out there in as many months,' said Mellie, the rawboned young woman who had been assigned as his escort. She gripped the oars with two windchapped, meaty hands and leaned back, sending the little boat surging against the wavelets. 'But I didn't row any of them back, not alive, leastways. What makes you think you'll do better?'

'Greater experience, true devotion to and faith in Our Lord, and a plentiful supply of chasteberry tea.' Tomas smiled and patted his rucksack. His smile faded as he sniffed the air. 'What's that smell?'

Mellie looked over her shoulder. A large log bobbed in the water several feet away. Mellie grinned humourlessly and rowed harder until they grew level with the object. A ripe, overwhelming stench rose from it. The 'log' had a face.

The corpse floated on its back, its eye sockets empty and its mouth open to the sky. It still wore its shirt, cravat and jacket, but was naked from the waist down. Its groin was a ragged mess of tattered, bloodless flesh. Tomas retched and covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve.

'What's the matter, Brother?' said Mellie. 'Haven't you ever seen a dead man before?'

'I've dealt with many bodies, but they were all...'

'Less chewed?'

'I was going to say "drier".'

You'd better get used to it. Most of them wash up on your island/ Mellie picked up a pike, hooked it through the dead man's shirt and dragged it to the side of the boat. With a grunt, she hauled it over the side and dropped it at Tomas's feet, sending up a fresh miasma of decay.

'They all think they can withstand the lure of the mermaids' song. We try to warn them, but ...' She shook her head.

'... but if you tried too hard, it might be bad for business,' Tomas finished. With all the able-bodied menfolk of the town either dead or moved away, their traditional livelihood of fishing was defunct, their nets left to rot on the shore. Perversely, the town thrived, their boats converted from functional fishing vessels to pleasure craft as men flocked from all parts of the country. Most came seeking to satisfy their prurient curiosity, some came to challenge themselves, but save for a few wretched suicides, they all expected to live to tell the tale.

But Tomas was not here for those misguided men. He was here to save the mermaids' immortal souls.

As if in response to his thoughts, a dozen sleek heads broke the surface of the water within arm's length of the boat. Mellie hissed and smacked at the mermaids with her oar. They hissed back and retreated to a safer distance.

'They like to hang around and gloat when we bring in a body, the filthy bitches.' She spat into the sea. Her spittle rested for an instant on the surface before dissipating. 'Pardon my language, Brother.'

Tomas barely heard her. He crossed himself as the mermaids encircled the boat, his eyes never leaving them. He had been told that there were no mermen, and that in the absence of available human partners, mermaids coupled with other sea creatures. Indeed, he could see evidence of this in their features; one had a fat round face that bristled with spikes, suggesting that she had been sired by a puffer fish. Another, with her tiny little black eyes set wide on either side of an elongated face, was undoubtedly the offspring of a shark. …

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