Below is Part 14 of 18 monthly installments for Visitant.
Lana was bored and briefly chilly. Her boots were thin, and the laces restricted her ankles. Still, she had been able to escape the house in a wrap coat with a fur collar. No doubt her father would threaten to beat her when they returned, but he would not lay hands on her. Not now.
She ran her fingers through the thick pile coiling around her neck and shoulders and down over her stomach. It was luxurious, with tendrils of silky-smooth possum. Much too luxurious for this errand, like butter upon bacon, but then, everything was apparently too luxurious for her father’s house.
The last time she had worn such a finely-tailored coat in his presence, she had been twelve years old. Lana had spirited one of the coats her mother had stopped wearing after marriage out of a dusty trunk in the attic. It was lined in rabbit fur and trimmed with black braid. Much finer than anything Lana or Lotte had ever owned.
Their father’s inelegant tastes in home decor extended to his lack of carpentry skills. The shoddy breakfast nook remained only half-built for her mother. Her father, her stupid sister Lotte, and the dark-spectacled visage of her grandfather were jammed together at the tiny breakfast table, staring dumbly at a corner of the room. Lana sashayed proudly before them. She demanded to know what everyone thought.
Her father slammed the table and snorted in a jovial way she had never heard before. Tableware clattered to the floor. Her cousin’s dim-witted wife rushed in from the other room to gather them up, but was quite distracted by the long coat Lana loosely cinched about her waist with an age-spotted scarf.
Momentarily, the room was lost in physical convulsions and fierce chuckles. It lasted until her grandfather made a clacking noise at the back of his throat. He unceremoniously deposited a large quantity of eggs just short of his plate. The package tumbled down his swaddled chin, over the thickly woven scarf that obscured his neck and shoulders, and out of sight.
No one laughed at her, now. She clasped her fingers over her stomach, enjoying the firm, growing mound after the irregular bloating of the last few months.
Lotte was fumbling through a family introduction and explanation of duty to a disowned farm girl she had procured. Years ago, the girl’s father had helped the Uxor men transport a surplus of fish into Arkham, but from the looks of her tattered blouse and the whipstitched skirt she wore, the girl had not seen her father’s graces in a long while.
They stood on the road outside the Uxor farmhouse, an upright trio stabbing upwards from the flat fields of the surrounding countryside. They were mostly untilled, but here and there around them there was a plot that had been plowed in the recent past. Very little was growing. Lana looked up into the gray sky and wondered if it would rain.
Lotte was trying to be subtle and it was utterly boring. It was plain that the girl had understood her meaning the first time, though Lana agreed it did not hurt to confirm.
“Allie,” she snapped, interrupting her sister, “We’re going to pay you a good deal of money to pretend to marry in Innsmouth while taking that clodpole brother off your hands. Understand?”
She did. That was that, end of story.
“Of course, there is some degree of discretion that—” Lotte tried.
“Yes, yes, she gets it. You have an appointment on Tuesday? Tuesday at twelve. Can you remember that? Good. Well, that will be all, best of luck,” Lana turned on her heel and began walking down the road toward the house.
Under her breath, Lotte bid farewell behind her. Lana imagined her picking up her skirt and running to catch up with her quick pace and smiled. Lotte was always several steps behind her.
Now, she was behind in yet another way: Lotte had refused to carry on the family, but Lana had taken on the task, and was now on her way to fulfilling her duty. Nothing would be refused her now.
Lana imagined the look on Lotte’s face when she told the family over dinner. Some days, Lotte’s predictable reactions were a comfort to her—other moments, it was pure entertainment. Today, they would be a reassurance.
“It’s time to go, Lana.” Someone barked gruffly at her, accompanied by shuffling feet and blinding light. She blinked a few times before training her sleep-drenched vision on her father in rough work clothes: flannel shirt, worn trousers, and stretched suspenders with frayed leather tabs. The four men surrounding him wore much the same.
Her cousins refused her gaze, furtively looking at the treasure trove of lady things that encompassed her room. She peeled back the blankets and sat up, swinging her sore legs around the side of the bed. The plush carpet was a welcome surface for her cold feet.
Her father snatched the hanging, feather-lined confection of spun silk off the corner of a standing mirror so hard that the looking glass swung forward into the shoulder of the cousin behind him. He awkwardly set it to rights as her father whipped the dress at Lana, sailing like a frightened bird into her chest.
She picked it up in one hand. Cradling her swollen belly with her other hand, and shot him an injured look.
“What’s the big idea?” she asked him angrily. He looked away from her, and around the room.
“This place is ridiculous. What do you use all these things for?” He turned his gaze back to his daughter, as if encountering her for the first time. She leveled him with a childish glare.
“It’s time to go.” He spat.
She stood, slipping her arms through the sleeves of the robe. “Where are we going?” Her voice was smaller, now. Chastised and juvenile.
Her father gripped her roughly by an arm and motioned for one of her bigger cousins to do the same. Together, with the three other men trailing them, they dragged her down the hall. Her feet scraped against the peeling boards and ankles bumped painfully into every threshold. She howled like an animal, balling and unclenching sharp-nailed fingers, clawing at her captors.
She was lifted over and down the rocks lining their strip of shore. They maneuvered her like a wooden cross over small chasms, sharp ridges, and past a few whale bones that had washed down the shingle from Northern Innsmouth.
They arrived finally to a thin strip of sand that existed only in the morning hours. Wet and slurping hungrily at their boots, it was a warm welcome compared to the icy water they baptized her lower half in as they dragged her out to sea.
The fully clothed men seemed to ignore the extreme temperature, or they did not feel it. They were immune also to the stinging shards of frozen water pelting Lana’s naked skin. She wailed like a coming storm on the bright horizon.
Waist deep, they stopped and turned to face the house, averting their eyes from Devil Reef. Lana looked up at the house, no longer asking why or how or what could be done. She searched in vain for some salvation.
A light appeared in a window of the otherwise dark house, and a figure in white. Her father was speaking—asking something, demanding something, accusing her of something. She ignored the shrinking “Warum,” and “do you know what you have done?” The recriminating monologue washed over her.
Her mind was reeling, transporting her up the rocks, over the hill, and toward the house. Her father had gone silent, time collapsed in on her and she knew that she must speak.
Lana wrestled futilely against their clutches, opened her mouth wide, and screamed her sister’s name. It was the only thing that occurred.
She shrieked as they forced her head underwater. They held her down and drowned her last words. She sputtered as water forced its way into her lungs, but still she yowled. The sea vibrated with the efforts of the men of her family, her thrashing, and her screaming.
“Lotte!” She squalled as her head surfaced halfway. She pinched her face shut as they thrust her beneath the water again, then something touched her leg and her eyes and mouth snapped open, saltwater pouring into every black maw. Something tugged at her legs, a powerful undertow hauling her downward. From the house, she appeared to jerk below the surface. There was the feeling of being ripped from her father’s arms, the whiplash of briny air on her face and the sound of men screaming, then the warming waters again, then nothing.
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