© 2008 Elise McKenna
Colin stepped into his
hip-waders, tightened the suspender-straps, and pulled on his
jumper. Wood creaked under his boots as he ducked his head and
walked outside onto the bare porch decking. He looked out towards
the sea, rubbing his left ring finger. It felt naked.
Yesterday, the sky had been moody when he'd decided
to get rid of the last remnant of his former life. For the past
two years he'd kept the large gold ring he bought himself after his
first successful prosecution. It was his albatross, at first, a
reminder of what he'd given up, but quickly came to represent the
terrible wrong he believed he'd perpetrated. He knew he'd been
fooling himself by thinking of the gold as emergency money, in case
this new life didn’t prove palatable. This place would never
really be home, if he kept it. However, with the reluctance of a
person who felt he deserved punishment, he'd thrown the gold ring into
the North Sea. He hadn't felt any better afterwards.
The scanty shoreline tapered to the left behind the
mountain. Stars dotted the pre-dawn sky. This would be a
fish-full day, he hoped, breathing in the cool misty air. From a
flock of birds that swept past him, alternating thoughts of hunger
filled Colin’s mind. He was momentarily disoriented among the
barrage of thoughts. He was hungry, too.
He gathered his net from its hooks and tied the line
around his waist. It was still wet from the day before, but Colin
didn’t care. He flipped the net over his right shoulder, grabbed
the bucket with his empty hand, and headed down the sandy path as
usual. Colin’s home stood roughly three stories above on the
cliff. He could see his wooden shack dimly outlined, if he
looked. The shack hadn’t changed much in the two years he'd
occupied it. Small, dilapidated, facing the North Sea, the shanty
slouched westward, towards civilisation.
Colin had spent two months of strenuous days and
long nights thatching, patching, sweeping, and painting. A bird’s
nest embedded in the old thatch roof had caused Colin some anxiety the
first few days. He’d waited for signs that it was still someone’s
home. Late on the second day, a seagull cried and swooped in,
landing on the rickety porch railing where Colin fidgeted in his wooden
rocker. The white bird had a splotch of brown on its right wing
that spread to its back. The birthmark looked as if someone had picked
up a thick ball of mud and pelted the bird as it flew away.
“Is it yours?” Colin had pointed to the straw nest.
The bird regarded him, turning its head to get both
eyes on Colin, but made no movement towards the nest. Colin felt
his face go red. He had to fix the thatching soon for the weather
would not hold. Two days of
back-breaking work, and for what? To have a silly bird stare
silently at me? Why didn't I just sweep the nest away? he'd thought.
“Is it or isn’t it?” Colin repeated.
the thought from the gull. Relieved, Colin proceeded with his
repairs. This was not the first time Colin had understood the
thoughts of animals. It had proved much easier to hear their
thoughts after he’d moved away from the noise of the city—barring any
resistance from the animal, of course.
Today the air did not smell of rain. At least
he wouldn’t catch cold. Pale grey strengthened to blue as
daylight approached. Colin continued trudging across the mud
flats to find fish. He had to get past the flats to the
embankment before he could cast out into the seawater. He sloshed
through the soft mud. Each step left a hole that filled with
The inlet below Colin’s shanty was known as The
Pigman’s Cove. It resembled a cave if viewed from the cliffs. The
Pigman was a nasty creature that lived at the bottom of the sea.
Every mariner knew of the creature that would snatch the souls of
drowned sailors and lock them in rusty cages in its secret cave below
the sea. Although the stories had frightened him as a child,
Colin had managed to keep them out of his old city life. He just
planned on never sailing.
He’d left London proper three years ago. There
was no honest work in a city—only people who tricked and exploited
lived there, and Colin could no longer be one of those people. He
chose to live by the sea because he could not live in the city.
It was quiet here and simple. He filled his belly proportionately
to the fish he caught. If he wanted something, he made it.
Colin liked the that. It felt honest.
Colin nibbled at the dirt under his index
finger. The salty dirt tasted of last night’s fish. Soiled
clothing and dirty fingers were the consequences of honest work, and
those with clean fingers, like the man who’d sold Colin the hovel he
lived in, were not honest. And those who were not honest would
never understand why a man who was a successful barrister would shun
society for hermitage and the seaport of Great Yarmouth. But he
worried less about that and more about the coming winter. His
routine for harvest was to stock for winter. A small vegetable
patch near the shanty gave the basic neaps: carrots, potatoes, and
parsnips. The inlet would allow the needed protein of fish, eel,
and mussels. Dried, the meat would keep for the duration.
He’d found the first year that the icy waters of November divulged few
Today his catch would need to be plentiful if he
were to smoke and dry some for stock. Colin made it to the
embankment in front of the between, the place where the mud flats ended
and the seawater began. He paid close attention to the
between—the water had a soft muddy bottom, which could pull him down.
Stopping at the embankment, he put the bucket down
and gathered the net into both hands. He breathed in the cool sea
air, niffy with fish, and something else, something like wet dog
hair. Puzzled, but not deterred, he twisted to the left and flung
the net forward toward the dark water. It sailed
gracefully. The arcing stone weights pulled the knots taut,
forming a nearly perfect circle. The grey web hissed and
sank. Colin untied the line from his waist, allowing the water to
keep the tension, and as he felt the weights hit bottom, he
pulled. Under the water, the net closed up like a drawstring
purse, ensnaring his dinner.
The weight of the net quadrupled. Hand over
hand, Colin pulled the saturated web and its contents to the
surface. The net, or more likely something caught in the net,
resisted, but Colin had the advantage of strong forearms and
determination. Once caught, no fish would escape his net.
With a final heave, net and contents were pulled out of the water and
onto the dark rich embankment.
Colin pawed over his catch to see what had caused
the resistance. Two whiting, a few mussels, and a large rubber
boot—none of these were what he’d expected. Something bigger or
stronger had fought him. Pulling the net open, he extracted each
fish in turn. Careful not to get finned, he plopped them into his
waiting bucket. He could hear their fear and confusion, but
blocked it out. Fishes were for eating.
“You gonna eat that or marry it, boy?” his grandda
had teased him when they used to fish an area similar to the Pigman's
Cove. Colin chose Great Yarmouth because the town reminded him of
his humbler beginnings, and because he felt closer to his grandda.
The mussels were a rare treat. Usually he had
to spend a full day climbing the jagged rocks, balancing in a squatted
position, and prying the shells from their beds. Last night’s
storm must have loosened them from their rocks. He opened one
with his knife. The inside shimmered, blue and yellow
green. He scraped the meaty parts into the bucket. Good for stew, he thought.
After scraping each, he tossed the shells into the
water and reached over to disentangle the final catch—a black heavy
boot. This was the prize? Colin hoped it contained a fish
or an eel, for if it did, it must be a good size. He would have
food for several days. The creature must have been scared by the
underwater commotion and, unable to break free, sought the safety of
the boot. Colin grasped the foot of the boot and shook it upside
down, spilling the contents.
Two tiny webbed hands slapped the mud, followed by a
head with a thick curly mane and a torso that ended in a fish
tail. Colin shivered as a stupid childhood memory fought to the
surface. The Pigman waits
until the seas grow wild and the boat turns over. When sailors
are in the water, he strikes, his icy little claws stripping the soul
from its body, his grandda had said.
It was the strangest creature Colin had ever pulled
from the sea. The body was no longer than a foot in length.
The creature’s upper torso was vaguely human and very brown, but its
fish-like tail was iridescent green and scaly. The creature lay
still for a moment on the embankment and Colin didn’t know what exactly
to do with it. Then, twisting its head, it looked at him.
Colin thought it must be shocked, from the look it gave him.
“Where in the world did you come from?” Colin asked, staring back at the little mer-creature.
It gibbered at him and pounded its tiny fists on the mud, making silly slapping noises.
“You must be pretty mad.” Colin stifled a
smile. “Eh, little pigman?” The creature stopped and turned
PIGMAN? PIGMAN! SEA. CAVE.
The thoughts screamed through Colin’s mind, causing him take a step
back off the embankment and into the Between. His left foot sank
into the muddy bottom and Colin frantically scrambled, grabbing at the
muddy embankment in an effort to pull himself out of the Between.
Water threatened to pour into his waders. The creature seemed to
take great delight in his predicament, chittering in a high-pitched
Colin managed to pull himself out of the Between on
hands and knees and was at eye level with the Pigman. The
creature flapped and squirmed, but Colin was faster and grabbed its
tail, holding it out and away from himself. The Pigman gibbered
at him angrily and beat its fists in the air as Colin placed it in the
bucket with the two fish and mussel-meat.
Stocking food for winter was his main concern.
He would think about what to do with the Pigman later. Wet, muddy
and a tad annoyed, Colin picked up his bucket and net and headed
further down the embankment. This Pigman was supposedly an evil
thing, but it seemed pretty helpless to Colin. It was ugly, to be
sure, but nothing to fear. His grandda had claimed it was bigger
than a man. Colin chuckled at the exaggeration.
Casting his net out again, he pulled it in.
The sea yielded nothing this time. Colin was sure he could get in
a few fruitful tosses before he had to head home. He moved
further down the shore and tried again unsuccessfully. Several
more times Colin cast his net out into the inlet’s waters yet failed to
catch a single thing. Did the Pigman scare off the fish?
Maybe that was why the net wouldn’t catch anything. It was late
summer and he knew the fish would be leaving for warmer waters
soon. He peered into the bucket and a felt the wet smack of a
mussel. He peeled the slimy meat off his face, further
annoyed. He waited, listening. He heard nothing from the
bucket. No chittering, no movement. He peered in a little
more cautiously this time and was rewarded with a punch to his chin.
Fool me once, shame on you—fool me twice, shame on me,
echoed his grandda’s words. Hadn’t Colin said the same thing to
John Putnam, the cockney thief he’d prosecuted after the second arrest
for pinching a bag of crisps from the Boots at Whitmore Street?
The memory subdued his annoyance somewhat.
He cast out, pulled in the net, and caught nothing
again. This was not funny; this meant he would not eat.
Maybe he should just wait and try again tomorrow. He would have
little to eat tonight, but little was better than nothing.
“I’ve nothing, sir. Never ‘ave missed it,
would they?” Putnam had pleaded. At the time, Colin had
self-righteously spurned the man. How could someone consider
taking something that was rightfully paid for? It wasn't honest.
He gathered his net, still heavy from the excess
water, and reached out for the bucket containing the Pigman. He
resolved not to look directly into the bucket.
“I don’t know what kind of fool you take me for, Mr.
Putnam,” Colin had said three years ago. Putnam was sent to gaol
and while there had caught pneumonia. He died less than six weeks
later. The death was something that Colin could not handle.
His righteousness had robbed Putnam of life. Food was a basic
need; stale legalities did not digest well.
The heat of summer faded from the land as slowly as
the sunset. Colin reached his shanty and put the bucket down next
to his stool and chopping block. He took his net over to the
water trough and soaked it. He glanced at the smokehouse he’d
built. Won’t need it today,
he thought. Instead, he started a fire in the pit to the left of
the trough. He returned to his bucket and took a seat.
Orange light stretched across the blue sky and slowly faded to grey.
Colin turned his head away and blindly reached into
the bucket. He yelped as something pierced the soft meaty skin
between his thumb and index finger. The Pigman had attached
itself to his hand in a vicious grip. The cold webbed hands were
surprisingly strong and held on fiercely while the thing’s mouth bit
Colin over and over in quick nips, breaking the skin. Colin tried
to pull it off by grabbing its torso, but the pigman’s skin was slick
and Colin opted for the bristling hair of its head, pulling the tiny
mouth away from his hand. The mer-creature’s thin arms gave way
and it lost its grip. Colin stared at the hissing, gibbering
LET ME GO. It flipped its tail back and forth in anger, eel-like, trying to escape.
Colin set it down on the block. The Pigman
lifted itself up and grinned at Colin, showing two rows of jagged teeth.
“You’ve killed my husband!” Putnam’s wife had
screamed. “What are we to do? Who will keep us?” Putnam’s wife
and two children had come to his office the day of Putnam’s death.
“No harm,” Colin repeated. He shook his head, “What in the world can I do with a Pigman?”
SEA? came the hopeful thought.
Well, it was a thought. He could put it back
into the sea, but what if it was the Pigman who’d caused his scarce
catch today. If he put it back, wouldn’t the fish stay
away? Maybe if Colin waited, keeping the Pigman in the trough, he
could test his theory. If there were fish tomorrow, he could
assume that it was the Pigman who’d scared them off early—in which
case, he just gained an unwanted dependant.
The Pigman repeated, SEA.
“Tomorrow, little pigman.” But Colin was not
happy about it. He picked the creature up and put it back into
the bucket. He took the net out of the trough and stretched
it over the hooks on the porch. When he returned to his seat and
peered into the bucket, the Pigman just lay there limply. He took
a moment to examine it as he walked over to the trough. The place
where the torso ended and the fish tail began was a subtle blending
from brown to green. He looked at the Pigman’s wrinkled brown
face. Was it sleeping? Its eyes were squeezed tight and its lips
were pursed, which further distorted its already grotesque
features. Colin felt sorry for it. It had probably come to
the inlet to get away from something. He carefully poured it into
the trough. The sea creature swam over to a corner, and curled
its tail around its tiny body.
What could he do with the Pigman? He felt as
helpless as he had that day with Putnam’s widow. He could've
afforded dependants then, especially with his wages. Colin looked
for the two fish and mussel meat. They were gone. The
Pigman must have eaten them. Well, tonight Colin would have to
eat vegetables. He opened the shanty’s door and headed
inside. He removed his dirty jumper, took off hip-waders, and
hung them on a hook near the door.
He lit some fat wood in the modest fireplace and
crawled into his bed. Flame faeries cast dancing shadows on the
walls. Just as Colin drifted into sleep, he heard a terrified
screeching. He jumped out of bed and headed outside to locate the
source. It was coming from the trough. Colin shivered in
the night air, his half-nude body raising goose pimples.
Moonlight danced off the water in the trough and Colin saw the
glistening creature undulating in the water. Its sinewy body
broke the water as it turned, swimming back and forth.
“Pigman,” Colin shouted.
All of a sudden the screeching stopped. Water
continued to slosh back and forth and a grinning Pigman held on to the
edge of the trough, ripping into what appeared to be a fish.
Colin scratched his head. Where on earth did
he get that fish? He must not have noticed it when the Pigman
went into the trough. The thought of food made Colin’s stomach
growl. He needed some sleep, but the screeching had stirred his
adrenaline, and he was sure he wouldn’t sleep tonight. The Pigman
emitted gleeful munching sounds.
Colin walked back into the shanty and stoked the
fire. He really must decide what to do with the Pigman. He
might just have to take it into town. There was that museum on
Quay Street in town, The Odditorium.
Maybe they would be able to take care of the Pigman. He might get
some money for his trouble and then he could purchase his winter stock
from town. If there were enough left over, he might even be able
to get a new net.
But that might not be the end of it. What if
the proprietors thought there were more of these mer-creatures swimming
around in The Pigman’s Cove? What if everyone wanted to see where
he caught the very first mer-thing? Soon, they would invade his
privacy. They would build up the area and hundreds of people
would come in and out daily. He would be forced to show them the
area, wear a suit. And shave. He rubbed his face. He didn't have a mirror. They might even make him enhance the story of the catching….
When the case went to trial, his superiors wanted
Colin to treat Putnam as a non-rehabilitatable criminal. At the
time, Colin agreed. Putnam had had a prior arrest. “My
lord, this man must be taught a lesson or else be the burden of society
with his petty thievery,” Colin had argued. The court sided with
Colin and sentenced Putnam to five years.
Colin smacked his lips. There must be another
way. Maybe he could take the Pigman down a ways from the
Cove. But then it might just swim back. He couldn’t keep
the Pigman caged forever in the trough. That would not be
fair. He would have to go back with the pigman to the cove.
Colin was anxious to get on with it. He spread
the fire to die down, and he dressed. Outside, the moon shone
clear and bright. Colin, fully dressed for fishing, took his
bucket over to the trough. The Pigman squirmed and tried to bite
Colin, but Colin grabbed for it and into the bucket it went. He
gathered his net and headed out to the cove. The moon lit the way.
Colin had never gone to the cove at night. He
could see the light glinting off the waves in the cool clear evening,
hear the sounds of seabirds, taste the salt air. The Pigman
must’ve sensed the nearness of the water as well for it thrashed around
in the bucket howling, HOME! HOME!
Water splashed everywhere, and fully half of it ended up on
Colin. As the chittering of the pigman grew more intense, Colin
realised that he heard nothing else. No birds. No
wind. It was as if nature herself had been frightened away by the
insufferable yammering of the little mer-beastie.
“Perhaps I had better walk you down the coast a
bit. If I put you where I found you I’m liable to go hungry!”
Colin said, more to himself than the creature in the bucket. From
the bucket came a deafening screech, a banshee howl. Colin nearly
dropped the bucket.
NO! CAVE! HERE! demanded the Pigman. THERE DIE!
A terrible silence took hold, and then a sound Colin had never expected
to hear. From the bucket came the sounds of soft sobbing.
This was more than Colin’s heart could bear. He wasn’t the hard
man his grandda had praised after Putnam’s sentence; he could not bear
the sound of a creature mourning its life.
But he really couldn’t understand why it had to be
this cove, and why the little mer-thing thought it would die
elsewhere. There was too much about this Pigman he didn’t
“Why? Why must it be here?”
The Pigman continued its weeping. Colin had to
decide its fate without all the evidence. He couldn’t condemn it,
though it might mean a lean winter.
“All right, little Pigman. It’s home you go,
though it’s sure to cost me.” And with that, the weeping stopped and
the gibbering began.
The little mer-creature splashed around excitedly. Colin reached
into the bucket, and for the final time, pulled out his hand with the
Pigman’s teeth clamped over his index finger. The pain was
somehow reassuring. He ran into the surf as far as he dared and
flung the beastie into the waves.
The moment the Pigman hit the water, the sounds of
nature returned. The first light of dawn was peeking from below
the horizon as the gulls made their morning rounds. Colin nursed
his finger as he waded back to the beach to fetch his net. As
exhausted as he was, Colin was not the sort to forgo his morning
work. The rumbling in his stomach was a powerful incentive.
He took the net and waded back into the surf, which seemed somehow
He hoped that he’d done the right thing this
time. With the pigman so recently chucked back into the cove, he
had his doubts. He gave the net a half-hearted heave and it fell
only yards from his feet. Colin was pulling it in, to have
another go at it, when the net fairly lurched out of his hands.
“Oh no, not again.” he said.
Leaning back with his full weight, he pulled in the
net. It began to thrash and strain against him. Colin
pulled harder, and as the net broke the surface Colin saw the largest
pike he’d ever laid eyes on, pulling against him.
Then the fish went down, pulling Colin
forward. He heaved, but the rope was slipping from him. The
fish broke the water again, and as soon as it did, Colin strained and
pulled with everything he had. He dragged the great fish to the
Colin pulled one final time, and the pike flipped
out of the water and onto his chest, the force of it knocking him
over. He reached the beach and collapsed, exhausted. But he
knew he’d have a wonderful dinner tonight. As he disentangled the
great fish from the net, Colin noticed something shiny in its
maw. He reached down. With great curiosity and no small
amount of wariness, he plucked a gold ring from its mouth. Colin
looked first at the fish, then at the ring. It was his ring, the
one he’d tossed into the cove only two days ago. Colin looked out
to the breaking waves.
“Thank you, Pigman,” Colin said. “Now I can take care of unfinished business.”
He felt better than he had in two years. He'd
send the ring to Putnam's widow. She’d be able to fetch a good
price for it in London. Maybe it would help her and her
children. He put the ring on his finger and began the long trek
home with his morning’s catch.
Back to Tilkal, Issue 3, eJournal of