Welcome to the October edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.
Because October is a spooky month, what would fit better than a spooky story? And so this month’s free story is The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock, the first story in the Hallowind Cove series about a permanently fog-shrouded seaside town, where strange things happen.
The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock was originally written for a shared world which fell through. About a year later, I pulled out the story again, removed all links to the shared world setting and published it. And because I liked the quaint seaside town Hallowind Cove, also known as the harbour of the weird, I eventually wrote four more stories set there.
The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock introduces Paul MacQuarie, a newcomer to Hallowind Cove who moves to the town, when he inherits the house of a distant uncle. Alas, things are never quite as simple as they seem in Hallowind Cove and so Paul has inherited not just a crumbling mansion, but also a family curse and a vengeful zombie – pardon revenant – who wants to kill him.
So accompany Paul, as he faces…
The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock
Paul pulled up the collar of his coat against the ever-present fog that enveloped the town of Hallowind Cove. His hair was damp, his skin clammy, every bone in his body ached and the cough he’d developed shortly after coming to Hallowind Cove was back, worse than ever.
One day, this town was gonna be the death of him.
He turned onto Wrecker’s Dock in Hallowind Cove harbour or what passed for it, cause these days, the docks were mostly deserted with only the occasional fishing boat moored at the quay.
The fog was even thicker here, rolling in from the sea in waves of white. Walking along the seafront probably wasn’t the best of ideas, considering that the fog was making him sick. But Paul did not care. He was headed for The Croaking Foghorn, a harbourside pub that offered beer and stronger drinks as well as some of the best and freshest seafood dishes Paul had ever seen.
A raven set perched on one of the tar-covered bollards along the quay, fixing Paul with unnerving eyes.
“Wa-atch out,” the raven croaked, “Wa-atch out!”
Or at least that’s what it sounded like. For of course birds couldn’t talk, even though this one gave a pretty good impression of it. Paul had seen the raven before, hanging around town and emitting croaks that sounded uncannily like words.
He’d once asked Ian, landlord of The Croaking Foghorn and the closest thing Paul had to a friend here in Hallowind Cove, about the raven.
“Oh, that’s just Hugo,” Ian had said, “Never mind him. He likes to pretend he’s a harbinger of doom, but he’s really quite harmless.”
“Wa-atch out,” Hugo croaked again, “Wa-atch out.”
“Shut up, Hugo,” Paul said good-naturedly, “I’m no longer a newbie. I won’t fall into the harbour basin.”
“Wa-arned you,” the raven croaked.
Paul shook his head. “I’m really going crazy,” he thought, “Hell, I’m talking to a bird.”
He held on steady towards the lights of The Croaking Foghorn, blurred by the dense fog. A dark figure stumbled towards him, emerging from the mist and gradually coalescing into a solid form. The figure was clad in a seaman’s oilskin jacket and sou’wester.
Probably a fisherman headed out to sea, Paul thought. He shouted a friendly greeting as he passed the stranger, but then his words caught in his throat, as he got a closer look at the dark figure.
For the dark figure’s oilskin jacket and sou’wester were encrusted with molluscs and draped with seaweed. Its skin had a pallid and faintly greenish cast, the sort of look that only the long dead should have. And where its eyes should be, there were only two black holes.
“Murrrderrr,” the figure moaned, its voice sounding as if it came straight from the bottom of the sea, “Deathhh. Deceit.”
The creature reached out for Paul and where its hand should be, there was only a hook, a rusty iron hook.
“The Mary Durban, lost with all hands on board,” the creature said and lurched towards Paul, hook raised. “Vengeance,” it moaned.
Paul screamed and ran along the dock, towards the lights of The Croaking Foghorn and the salvation they promised, the shambling, lurching figure hot in pursuit.
Panicked and panting, he reached the pub and crashed through the door, startling both Ian, the landlord, and Old Hank, a drunk who seemed to be a permanent fixture on the second barstool from the left.
“I… I…” Paul bent over, gasping for air. “I think I just saw a zombie.”
He turned the key in the lock and looked for something, anything, to bar the front door. Finally, he grabbed an old oar from the wall and placed it across the door. Only that it wouldn’t hold the door, not for long and certainly not without some nails for reinforcement.
Already, he could hear the zombie scratching on the door, looking for a way in.
“A hammer,” Paul blurted out, “I need a hammer. And nails.”
“Sit down and relax,” Ian said, entirely unperturbed. He drew a beer from the tap and put it down on the counter. “And would you kindly refrain from blocking the door. There’s few enough punters about in this weather as it is, so I really don’t need you locking out the few that might stumble in.”
“But there…” Paul was only gradually getting his breath back. “…there’s a zombie out there and it’s after me.”
Ian nodded. “So you said. And now sit down and drink your beer, before it gets warm.”
The beer stood on the counter, bubbling golden and foamy white, beckoning, inviting Paul to just take a sip and forget his panic. So he sat down and took a big gulp, savouring the bitter liquid running down his parched throat.
He could still hear the zombie outside, moaning and scratching at the door, but somehow it didn’t sound quite as bad as before. Or maybe that was just the beer talking.
Paul sat down the glass and narrowed his eyes at Ian. “You don’t seem overly surprised by this. I mean, I was just chased by a zombie, a freaking zombie.”
Ian shrugged. “This is Hallowind Cove. Weird crap happens here on a regular basis.”
“Ah well, zombies are perhaps a bit weirder than usual.” He shrugged. “Still, this is Hallowind Cove.”
Paul turned to Old Hank who was currently nursing his third or fourth beer of the evening. “What about you, Hank? Have you ever seen zombies in Hallowind Cove before?”
“Sure,” Hank slurred, “Back in ’56, when that Haitian freighter came in, the entire crew were zombies. Glassy eyed, creepy, the living dead. Turned out the captain was an evil voodoo priest who’d enslaved them and…”
Paul cut him off. “No, not that kind of zombie.” Though Haitian voodoo zombies would be weird enough for any place that was not Hallowind Cove. “That other kind, the sort of hunts people and eats brains.”
“Oh, that kind.” Old Hank shook his head. “No, we ain’t never had that kind of zombie here.”
“Well, there is one now,” Paul insisted, “Waiting just outside the pub. And he threatened me, said something about murder, death and vengeance.”
It was still out there, too, moaning and wailing and trying to get in.
Ian narrowed his eyes. “And you’re sure you’re not just making it all up?” he asked, “After all, everybody knows that zombies don’t talk.”
“Well, this one did,” Paul said and took another gulp of beer, “He talked about murder and death and vengeance. Oh yes, and something else. Something about a… ship? Yes, I think it was a ship. The Mary… Mary something or other. Lost with all hands on board, at any rate.”
A shimmer of recognition lit up the barkeeper’s face and even Old Hank seemed to wake from his alcohol-induced stupor for a moment. “The Mary Durban?” Ian asked.
“Yes, that’s it. The Mary Durban. That’s exactly what the zombie said.” Paul shot Ian a sceptical glance. “Why? Ring any bells?”
“It does. It sure does,” Ian said, while Hank nodded sagely.
“So what is it?”
“You’d better have another drink…” Ian said and promptly drew a beer from the tap, “…cause it’s a long story.” Ian set the second beer down in front of Paul, though he hadn’t finished his first yet. “And by the way, that thing you saw wasn’t a zombie.”
“So you know what it was?”
Ian nodded. “It was the revenant,” he said, “Though I have no idea why it was bothering you.”
“Revenant, zombie, that’s all the same, isn’t it?”
Ian shook his head. “Oh no. Revenants are the dead risen from their graves to wreck revenge on the living…”
“Like I said, zombies.”
“…while zombies are the dead risen from their graves to eat the living and their brains.”
“So in short, ‘revenant’ is just a fancy word for ‘zombie’,” Paul concluded.
Ian rolled his eyes, while outside the zombie or revenant or whatever it was called was still scratching on the door with his horrible hook.
“So what’s the story of this zom… — err, revenant?” Paul wanted to know.
Ian lowered his voice to the kind of tone that suggested he was about to impart a great secret. “Do you know why this place is called Wrecker’s Dock?” he asked.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well, do you know?”
“Not really,” Paul admitted, “Though I suspect it’s got something to do with shipwrecks off the coast. Or maybe that old ship scrap yard down the road…”
“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Ian said, “Cause Wrecker’s Dock is named for…” He lowered his voice even further. “…the wreckers.”
“You mean people who demolish ships?” Paul said, “I saw a documentary about that once. People in India breaking up decommissioned ships. Horrible working conditions, exploitation, child labour and all that.”
“Well, what used to go on here in Hallowind Cove was a bit like what’s happening in India right now, though without the child labour and bad working conditions. What is more, the people here didn’t always wait until the ships were decommissioned. Instead, they made their own wrecks.”
Paul had no idea what Ian was talking about, so he raised his glass — still his first glass — instead and took another gulp of beer.
Nonetheless, Ian must have sensed his confusion, because he continued, “Well, here’s a bit of history for you, my friend. You know what makes Hallowind Cove famous, do you?”
“Uhm, the fog,” Paul said.
“Exactly, the fog. And what does fog at sea mean?”
“Low visibility, difficult navigation, danger,” Paul rattled off.
“And wrecks, my friend. Lots of shipwrecks. Especially since we’re not just cursed with over three hundred days of fog a year, but also with dangerous cliffs, shoals and treacherous currents. So over time, a lot of ships got wrecked on this coast. And do you know what happens to the cargo, when a ship is wrecked?”
Paul shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s… recovered?”
“Salvaged is the word you’re looking for, my friend. And do you know to whom the cargo that’s salvaged belongs?”
“No idea. Does it matter?”
“It belongs to whoever salvages it. And with so many shipwrecks happening off the coast, the good people of Hallowind Cove were making a good living of the salvaged cargo. So good that some of them decided to create some wrecks of their own to salvage.”
Old Hank nodded emphatically. “Aye, they did,” he announced and raised his glass, while Paul took another gulp of his own.
“So on particularly misty nights…” Ian continued, “…the good people of Hallowind Cove shut down the lighthouse at Foghorn Point and set false lights on the cliff tops instead. And those false lights lured unsuspecting ships to their doom, until they stranded on the shoals or crashed against the cliffside…”
Ian executed a dramatic pause, complete with a theatrical shudder.
“Once a ship had run aground on the shoals or been smashed against the cliffs, the false lights were extinguished and the wreckers took over…”
“Aye, the did,” Hank declared and raised his glass.
“They snatched the cargo and whatever other valuables were to be found on board. And if there were any survivors left on the wrecked ship…”
Old Hank made a throat-slitting gesture, while the revenant emitted a matching wail outside.
“…they killed them, so they couldn’t dispute the wreckers’ claim to the salvaged cargo.”
“Aye, they did.”
Outside, the revenant’s wailing increased in pitch and volume.
“And because the good people of Hallowind Cove only went wrecking once in a while, it took the authorities some time to catch on. Wrecks happen and this coast is treacherous, after all, with the fog and the cliffs and the shoals…” Ian shrugged. “Once in a while, someone did catch on to what the good people of Hallowind Cove were doing and they captured, tried and hanged a few wreckers down on Gallows Square…”
Old Hank made a wrung neck gesture, complete with grisly sound effect. Outside, the revenant screeched.
“Then the wrecking stopped for a few years, but it always started up again. Until the ships became ever bigger and began to pass by our harbour and our coast.”
Hank and Ian both looked at Paul expectantly, awaiting a reaction. Even the monster outside the pub had fallen silent.
“Well, that’s a really cool horror story and all that,” Paul finally said, “But what’s all that got to do with the zombie — pardon, revenant — I just saw outside? The one that’s been scratching on the door these past couple of minutes”
“One of the ships the wreckers tricked with false lights…” Ian intoned, “…was a freighter called the Mary Durban. She ran aground on the shoals on a foggy November night in the year of the Lord 1873…”
“Aye, she did,” Hank confirmed and took another gulp of beer.
“The Mary Durban was carrying a cargo of brand new gold bars. Someone had tipped off the wreckers and so they were after the gold…”
“Aye, they were.”
“That night, a horrible storm raged along the coast and so the Mary Durban was already in trouble, her sails tattered and her mast broken, by the time she reached Hallowind Cove. When her crew spotted the beacon at Foghorn Point, the light must have seemed like salvation. But they were betrayed…”
“Because the Mary Durban was already damaged and battered by the storm, she broke apart as soon as she ran aground. Most of the crew were already drowned by the time the wreckers got there. But the captain was still alive, clinging to the planks of his shattered ship by sheer willpower. When he saw the wreckers approach, he thought he was saved. But then they murdered him…”
“Slit his throat, aye, they did,” Old Hank announced with the respective gesture.
“Actually, the way I know the story, they clubbed him to death,” Ian snapped.
“Does it matter?” Paul wanted to know, “Dead is dead, after all.”
He realised that his throat had gone dry and took a gulp of beer from the second glass Ian had handed him.
“So this zombie — err, revenant — is…?”
“Exactly, the captain of the wrecked Mary Durban,” Ian replied, “They say that in his very last moments on Earth, he vowed revenge on those who had wronged him, who had lured the Mary Durban to her doom and slain him and his crew…”
“Aye, he did.”
“And so on those nights when the fog was at its densest, the revenant rose from his watery grave to terrorise those responsible for the wrecking of the Mary Durban. Over the next few years, several of the former wreckers, now wealthy citizens of Hallowind Cove due to the salvaged gold bars, died under mysterious circumstances. They tumbled into the harbour basin and drowned, even though they’d lived here in Hallowind Cove all their lives. Or they dropped dead in the street right here at Wrecker’s Dock. Their hearts just stopped after they’d been chased down the dock by a nameless horror…”
“Aye, so it was.”
Outside, the revenant emitted a howl of agreement.
“Eventually, all of the original wreckers had died or fled Hallowind Cove in terror. But the revenant, he did not vanish, for his work was not yet done. Instead, he began to terrorise the descendants of the wreckers and then their descendants. Since the revenant only ever attacks people on Wrecker’s Dock and since he only strikes on nights when the fog is particularly dense, he’s easy enough to avoid…”
“Aye, he is.”
“Though the revenant does play hell with my business, because on extremely foggy nights few folks dare come to The Croaking Foghorn.” Ian shrugged. “Lots of people here in Hallowind Cove are descended from the wreckers.”
“But not you and Hank?”
Ian shook his head. “My great-great-grandpa was the sheriff of Hallowind Cove back in the day, so the wreckers kept him out of their schemes. And Hank’s family were carnie folks who got stranded here in the Thirties.”
“Well then, if this z… revenant only targets the descendants of those who murdered him, then why the hell is he bothering me? I’m not from Hallowind Cove, In fact, I’ve never been here before in my life.”
Ian frowned and stroked his beard. “That’s the big question.”
Hank nodded affirmatively. “Aye, it is.”
Outside, the revenant had started scratching and banging on the door again.
“Shut up and get lost,” Ian yelled at the locked and barred door, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
Paul suddenly experienced an almost absurd sense of relief. “So you can hear him, too?”
Ian shrugged. “Sure I can. But in my experience, he tends to go away, when he’s ignored.”
“Aye, he does,” Hank declared.
Ian reached out across the bar and patted Paul on the shoulder. “And don’t worry yourself, he can’t get in here. Something in the rules of revenantism forbids him to enter any houses. All he can do is stalk the dock.”
“Well, that’s very comforting,” Paul said, taking a gulp of beer.
Ian narrowed his eyes. “Say, why did you come to Hallowind Cove again?” he wanted to know, “Some kind of inheritance issue, wasn’t it?”
Paul nodded. “A distant uncle I’d never even heard of suddenly decides to leave his house to me, for reasons best known to himself.”
“May he rest in peace,” Hank said sombrely and raised his glass in memory of a man he likely hadn’t known any better than Paul himself had.
“And that house, where would it be?” Ian asked.
“On — what’s it called again? — Gloomland Street. A ramshackle Victorian dump.”
“Gloomland Street, hmm.” Ian scratched his chin and gave Paul a speculative look. “Is that perchance Old Jim Bob’s place?”
Paul’s face lit up. “Yes, James Robert MacQuarie. That was my uncle’s name.”
“Well, that explains things then,” Ian said, while Hank nodded sagely.
“Aye, it does.”
“The fact that my uncle left me a house on Gloomland Street explains why I was attacked by a zombie?”
“It certainly does, if you know that old Jim Bob MacQuarie was a direct descendant of Jedediah MacQuarie, leader of the wreckers on the night the Mary Durban sank.”
“And besides, it’s no zombie, it’s a revenant,” Old Hank piped in.
“So this zom — errr, revenant — is bothering me, because some distant ancestor of mine was involved in killing him?”
Ian beamed at him. “Now you got it, lad.”
Paul wasn’t nearly so sanguine about the revelation. After all, here was a zombie or revenant or whatever the hell that thing was and it wanted to kill Paul because of something that the ancestor of a distant uncle he’d never even heard of may or may not have done more the a hundred years ago.
“Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”
“Don’t go down to the docks on nights when the fog is particularly dense,” Ian said with a shrug, “Of course, this also means that we’ll have to miss your esteemed company here at The Croaking Foghorn, but then we’re missing half the bloody town here on foggy nights, cause the revenant scares them away…”
“Aye, we do,” Hank announced.
“And you’ve been no fun tonight either,” Ian said, “Barely touched your second beer and didn’t even glance at the lovely fresh mussels I’ve got on the menu tonight.”
“Well, you can hardly expect me to eat mussels, when there’s a zom… — revenant — outside trying to kill me,” Paul replied testily.
Ian just shrugged. “What else are you gonna do? Especially since you can’t go home either.”
“Oh God!” Paul pressed a hand to his forehead. “I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“Lucky for you that I did,” Ian said, “Cause the revenant knows no mercy. And ‘I’m new in town and don’t know nothing’ ain’t an excuse he accepts.”
“Nay, he doesn’t,” Hank piped in.
Now Paul did take a gulp of his second beer, though it did little to calm his agitated nerves.
“So what do I do now?”
In response, Ian picked up a glass and wiped it with a dishcloth, though to Paul’s eyes it didn’t look like it needed cleaning.
“Simple. First of all, you stay here for the night, cause the revenant’s power fades once the day breaks. I’ve got a spare guestroom and we’ll find a toothbrush for you somewhere…”
Paul let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Ian. You’re a true lifesaver.”
“You won’t say so when you see the bill.”
“Given there’s a bloodthirsty zombie after me, I can’t afford to be miserly.”
“Are you sure you don’t want any mussels? I mean, since you’re stuck here and everything…”
Paul sighed and took a draft of beer. “Okay. Might as well eat, since it seems I’ll be spending the night here anyway.”
With a zombie just outside the door, howling for Paul’s blood, oh joy of joys!
“Anyway…” Ian put down the glass he’d been wiping and promptly picked up another. “…that’s just the short-term solution to your immediate problem.”
“Aye, it is,” Hank said and took a gulp of what had to be his umpteenth beer
“Medium term…” Ian continued, “…you keep the hell away from the docks after dark on nights when the fog is particularly dense. Of course, that also means I’ll be missing my favourite customer, but that’s life in Hallowind Cove for you.”
“And long term?” Paul wanted to know.
“Long term…” Ian put down the glass and picked up the next. “…you sell that house on Gloomland Street and get the hell out of Hallowind Cove.”
“Aye, get the hell out,” Hank echoed.
“Sell the house”, Paul said and downed the rest of his beer, “Sure, that would be nice. Now I just need someone stupid enough to buy it.”
“Oh, someone will buy it,” Ian said, brimming with confidence, “A nice young couple. He’s an investment banker or a lawyer, she works in advertising or the media. They’ve got more money than they know what to do with and now they’re tired of city life and want to enjoy the peace and calm of the seaside.”
“Peace and calm?” Paul emitted a bitter laugh. “In Hallowind Cove?”
Ian leant across the bar, until he was eye to eye with Paul. “But our young couple doesn’t know that, do they? And by the time they find out, it’s too late.”
“Aye, it will be,” Hank said forebodingly.
“So this has happened before?”
“Aye, many times.”
Ian nodded in agreement. “You may have noticed that Hallowind Cove can be quite charming when the sun is shining and the fog recedes…”
“Which happens how often? Two weeks a year?”
“That’s beside the point,” Ian said, “It happens.”
Hank nodded emphatically. “Aye, it does.”
“And when the weather’s nice, that’s when the tourists and the daytrippers come. And some of ‘em, god bless them, inevitably fall in love with the town and buy up all the empty real estate.”
“So they do,” Hank added.
“And once they figure out what’s really going on?” Paul wanted to know.
“Most of them last two months, maybe three, then they flee back to wherever they came from,” Ian said, “But that’s not your problem, cause you’ll be long gone by then. With a hefty cheque in your pocket.”
He eyed Paul’s empty glass. “Another drink?”
Paul glanced at his watch and sighed. It was going to be a long night. “Might as well.”
“Same as before?”
Paul shook his head. “I think I need something stronger.”
“Aye, you do,” Hank agreed.
“What you need…” Ian said, “…is a good hot mug of grog.”
“Grog? The cliché pirates’ drink?”
“Nope, grog, the traditional sailors’ drink. Best thing to keep you warm on a cold and foggy night.” Ian poured some water into an electric kettle and pressed the “on” button.
“Aye, it’ll keep you warm and keep the revenant away,” Hank echoed.
As if on cue, the revenant hammered his hook into the wooden door and wailed something about death and deceit and murder and vengeance.
Paul shot Hank a sideways look. “I thought the revenant couldn’t enter this establishment.”
“Nay, he can’t,” Hank said.
“But a good hot grog will make you forget he’s even out there,” Ian added. As if to prove his point, he poured a generous helping of rum into a hula girl tiki mug and added a lump of rock sugar and a dash of lime juice.
“Actually, that’s something I’d rather not forget,” Paul said, “After all, I don’t want to end up like the revenant’s other victims.”
“Oh, don’t worry yourself,” Ian said briskly, “After all, the good people of Hallowind Cove have managed to avoid the revenant just fine these past one hundred and forty years.”
“Somehow that doesn’t fill me with confidence,” Paul said.
“You’re not being fair,” Ian began.
At just this moment, the kettle buzzed. Ian filled up the hula girl mug with hot water and handed it to Paul. He poured himself a shot of rum without the extras and raised his glass.
“To Hallowind Cove, the best little town to live in.”
“Aye,” Hank added, raising his own glass.
Paul raised his drink as well, enjoying the heat of the grog as it radiated through the walls of the hula girl mug.
“To Hallowind Cove, harbour of the weird.”
That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new story will be posted.
Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.