Bait

The air smells like rotting fish and dead men saturated with too much grog. The clamor is squealing seagulls and wood banging on wood, the scrap of rusting metal and sailors. So many salty blokes singing and yelling and fighting and walking with their bow-legged strut like the earth was heaving underneath them.

Christian is happy for the dark shadows between the buildings that lean on crap foundations into the street. He puts his shoulder to the wind-roughened wood and smokes a paper of tobacco and watches the crowds moving off the docks. He is not a sailor. He is afraid of drowning. He doesn’t like men either and their stink. He prefers softer company at night and not occasionally either, between months at sea, but every night.

He draws the cherry bright hot and inhales the smoke leaving it a moment in his lungs then lets it loose through his nose.

Through a haze of nicotine, he watches and waits.

He waits for the seaman who is beyond drunk and alone and wearing the brine striped clothing of one that’s not in a navy.  Ethnicity does not matter, but size does, the smaller the better.

Then he sees the perfect target. A boy in the midst of his teen years. Tall and skinny, barefoot with clothes that are a tad bit snug as if he has grown since purchasing them. His sandy hair floats in the bay breeze. He sways. Christian can imagine the stink of rum on him.

He signals the girl. She is a young and plump in the all the right places. Rosy cheeks and big blue puppy dog eyes. She dresses the part of an innocent, showing just enough skin to be fashionable, but not overtly sexual. How she gets them is the way she moves her body. It sways and jiggles in all the right ways.

She does her skit. She smiles and the youth falls in love.

It’s so perfect that when the girl takes his hand and guides him toward the dark alley he follows as if his pants were already around his ankles.

Christian grips the iron knuckles in his pocket and pulls them free. The metal is warm and his fingers slide perfectly into its rings.

The girl walks by and the youth follows and he lifts his arm to crack the youth in the back of the head, but before he can swing he feels the back of his own head explode with pain and the ground come up fast to meet his face.

As his vision fuzzes and fades he hears his girl scream. The scream echoes in his head as blackness surrounds.

***

When he wakes his head throbs and his stomach churns with the waves as the ocean lifts the huge galleon up and drops it down again. A man with a face filled with a red braided beard and tiny little seafoam colored eyes reaches for him. He wears the colors of a British sailor.

Each of his fingers are tattooed with a different naked woman.

He lifts Christian easily to his feet and beyond. As he dangles with just his toes touching the deck the bearded brut shakes him and demands, “work or sink. Choose!” then drops Christian and tosses a mop toward him.

Christian picks it up hoping he can escape at the next port.

 

 

The Witch

In the early weeks of April, Mary Trembles walks a muddy path. Each step punctuated with her cane placed gingerly on the wet ground. A cane as crooked as her back. Her steps are dainty on leather-wrapped, wooden-soled shoes.
She wears a black wool dress and a shawl over her wispy white hair. She sniffs the air smiles a near-toothless grin.
“After a rain is the best time to forage, Suzy.”  The hand not resting on the cane grips her young companion’s shoulder. “Sniff deep. Do you smell that sweet pepperiness?”
“Yes, Mary,” Suzy says because that’s what Suzy always says, because Suzy is a bit simple. Her eyes are dull. She walks with heavy feet. Her mouth is a serene smirk, never exposing the rotten teeth beneath.
Mary reaches out with her cane and taps at an ancient oak tree. “Chanterelles, around this tree. Gather the ones with yellow funnels.
***
“An old woman deserves to make a living, don’t she?” the constable says to the shopkeep,
Thomas Eastchurch, a skinny man in the custom of wearing long purple robes and avoiding his wife’s mouth.
They watch Mary Trembles, her white eyes staring off into the ether of wherever the blind stare off to. Her companion sets up their blanket. Mary corrects her every mistake.
“Gave my wife the fits, is typhlotic as a bat and yet still knows the basil isn’t where she wants it, hows all that work?.
The constable eyes the wooden bowl filled with yellow chanterelles. Coupled with some of those bright green herbs, his mouth begins watering for a stew.
“Perhaps God?”
“God provides, constable, but look, she plies black magic also,” Eastchurch says pointing to the Arabian-style astrology cards Mary pulls out of her pocket and hands to Suzy.
The cards would have been enough, but coupled with the other rumors and her obvious magick over the simple Suzy, he has no choice.
***
Arresting Mary Tremble is like arresting a brittle twig. Every hand the constable places on her flesh seems to do damage. He can hear tendons creaking and bones feebly protesting as he strips her.
Naked she is a pitiful thing.
With a satchel filled with mushrooms and herbs, the constable feels little remorse as he shoves her in front of a magistrate the same day.
“Your honor, Mary Trembles uses black magic!” The tarot cards are placed in front of the judge as proof.
“She’s also in control of the girl!” The constable orders Suzy removed from Mary’s side.
Suzy screams and thrashes to return.
To cap it all off, three women watching the trial collapse in epileptic fits.
“Burn her,” the judge declares.
***
Water drips. The cell smells of mold and a shallow privy hole. Mary sits on the freezing, cold, slimy stone floor, Suzy sits close. Her warmth is comforting.
Mary sees only black fuzz until death, then gets to see whatever she wants and finds herself young, walking midsommer in a field of wheat.

 


witch_by_suzumeyu-d97tq9l
Art by Suzume Yu
“Witch”

Carnevale di Venezia

The Medico della peste mask is made of old white leather ripped from someone pure long ago, a body still bleeding, still screaming, left to hum with pain and agony.

The thing buried under shadows in the mask crooks his finger.

He crooks his finger at the belladonna with long brown hair that bounces in the moonlight. He crooks his finger at the belladonna with the seafoam eyes that make men love her, with the hips that sway, with the jealous husband who kills, and she comes and she dances on him close and loves on him with her simple peasant skirt between her tan legs and rubs on his shiny frock and the red boa like they were alone and not in the center of the Piazza San Marco with the full moon competing with the lit street lamps dancing in the summer breeze.

He turns his back on her and she screams, spurned, and dances all the harder as he crooks his finger at another in the piazza.

A bystander, an old fat baker, bald, flour-dusted and on his way home to his wife and ten children, he merely stopped to watch, wondering when the Doge’s guard was going to stop this display of lust, then finds himself dancing to enthrall the masked man himself.

His belly jiggles as he reaches out to him.

But each step closer he finds his desire that much farther away.

He and the curly-haired temptress compete sweating and fuming and demanding his attention.

But the masked thing shrugs off their advances, crooking his finger time and time again amassing men and women, each wanting him so badly that they break themselves against each other to get at him.

By midnight, he stands in the center of a riot soaking in violence, feeding off hate.