Even though he had made it many times before, the walk back from the dock always made him nervous. Even in days like these, you had no idea who might stop you.
He only had to go down once a month. On the day after the full moon. That’s when they came out, in a swarm, to breed.
He felt the bag slosh around. He hated that. The thick rubbery material, slick with rain, cool to the touch. Like carrying an organ under his arm, a spleen. Worse was how it squirmed.
The day seemed grayer than usual, he thought, then felt stupid for thinking. Maybe it was the way the light pushed from behind the veil of clouds. He thought maybe that was lucky. Maybe the moisture clung to the air would stop anyone from asking him for a coin or a smoke. Around here, that could be your death.
He often spent this walk day dreaming. That wasn’t really the right word. Maybe just thoughtless. He didn’t need to pay attention to directions, so he didn’t. His employer had made sure he could walk this route blind, in case that became necessary.
Nasty really, just brutal, what someone would do to you if they knew what sort of cargo you carried. If you were lucky, you’d get jumped and they’d shoot first. He didn’t like to think about the alternative. He rounded the corner quickly, careful to check left to right for possible threats.
He didn’t remember how the master found him. He might’ve been sitting on a box, having a smoke. Or maybe he was misremembering. He’d started to get old, he thought. Either way, the Doctor had been adamant. Someone with his skills was absolutely the only way to get the materials he needed for his research. Maybe he could take a look at his bum leg.
No whales to hunt anymore, so he was quick to say yes. As long as he had a place to sleep and enough money for a drink by the end of the day, he didn’t have much to complain about. He curved sharp into the street to avoid a man carrying fish, not paying attention.
Tell you the truth, the doctor spooked him. And yet, he was drawn to him. Everyone knew Dr. Turner. Every once and a while a whisper swept a pub David found himself in, and he could only laugh at the rumors. The truth was hardly more comforting, but they spoke of far more severe sins. If anyone knew the scale of the operation, the cost…
He’d only seen it once. Glimpsed it from an ajar door. The smell hit him first. Only later was he able to reconcile the senses into one complete memory.
He hadn’t come down the steps before. He knew better than that, or so he thought. Still, he found himself facing the monolithic oaken door. It moved slowly and silently. The doctor stepped out, but through the gap, he saw it.
Steel tables, with rows upon rows of horseshoe crabs. All their spikes faced in the air, forming rows of primordial teeth, a huge maw ready to snap shut. Needles protruded from their hard shells. Jars filled with blood, the color of cornflowers, sat underneath. At the surface, a thin foam formed.
It was only a moment, but it was enough. Since that day, he’d had a sharp pain, in the left side of his stomach.
He was going to take his money after this one, board a shipping liner, and sail it to wherever it was going. He’d already lined one up, some freighter set for Tahiti or Haiti or something. He felt the wind rush through his arms, and held the bag tightly.
His foot rolled from a cobblestone, spinning him in the air. The slick stones must have taken him. He was drifting, his mind racing. He was scared, instinctively reached out for something to hold, but found only the bag. His head hit the ground, hard, and all was dark.
Just an accident, they said. His blood, black and thick, found its way through the narrow grooves, congealing as it ran. There was no one to come collect the body, so he was back into the sea. He was 37. No money to his name, no will left behind. Curiously, when the police found him, he had nothing on him.