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A Tiding of Magpies
Excerpt

The hunter was closing in. It had pursued them relentlessly, silently stalking them as they ran, splashing water all around them in their panic. Now it was here; a menacing grey curtain, hovering over the surface of the water, ready to take her. To add her to the victory it had already claimed.
She didn’t know how long she had been standing out here, hunched against the dampness and the cold. She had stopped moving when Monte left, just as he told her she should. I’ll check ahead. Better you wait here. Now, she was frozen in this place. She couldn’t go back, she knew that. But her mind wouldn’t allow her to take even one step forward. The hunter was waiting. The hunter that had taken Monte.
The inexorable approach of the fog had gradually shut down her senses. First, the horizon had dimmed to nothingness, then the waters around her had faded from her sight. Now, even the air itself seemed to have gone. Only this deep, impenetrable greyness remained, surrounding her, filling her world. The sounds had disappeared, too, sucked up into this void until there was nothing. No foghorns, no bird calls, not even the soft lapping of the waves around her feet. It was as if all the voices of the world had ceased. Only the echo of silence surrounded her now. And the terror that came with it.
She felt the life slowly ebbing from her body. She could sense the wet patches on her skin where the thin dress was sticking to it; feel the dampness in her hair and on her bare arms and legs. There were water droplets beneath her eyes, too, and on her cheeks. But those were different. Those had been for Monte, when she could still weep. Now she couldn’t even raise a single sob for him. She had no tears left.
The waves washed over her shoes. The water was deeper than before, cold and cruel. Tide’s coming in fast. We got to keep moving. But she couldn’t. She could only stand here, with the fog and the sea all around her.
It was time. She would sit down and let the rising sea gather her in. It would be a relief, from the terror, the sorrow, the uncertainty. She wondered where she would be found when the fog lifted and the light returned to this place. Perhaps someone would discover her on the distant shore, lying peacefully on her side, looking like she was only sleeping. Perhaps she would drift with the tide and be found miles away, days from now. Perhaps her body would never be found at all. Her poor parents; they would never know what had happened to the daughter they loved so much and who had never really loved them enough in return. The thought pierced her heart with sadness. And it made her stay standing. Not to fight — there was no longer any point — but just to stave off the inevitable, to hold back the insidious creeping advance of death for a few moments more.
The water was at her ankles now. Her feet were aching and the dampness seemed to be seeping inside her. The air was getting colder, but she had stopped shivering. Her body had nothing more to give. Now it was just a matter of time. I’m sorry, Monte. I can’t do this anymore. For it to end like this, after all she had gone through, all they had both gone through, in the past few days. Once, she had believed it would all end well. Monte’s notes had said so. Hold on. Be brave. We’ll make it.
But they hadn’t. You didn’t make it, Monte. And you left me out here alone, far from the shore, with the sea all around me, coming in to claim me, while the fog hides its sins.
Perhaps it would have been better to end it the way Monte had, pushing on into the unknown, the unknowable. But she knew she didn’t possess that kind of courage. So she would wait. It would be over soon. Like him, she would simply disappear into the fog. Or the water. She had heard splashing once, before the swirling grey blanket had stolen the sounds from her. But there had been no calls. Monte had gone without crying out. It was his way. Be brave.
She didn’t know why she looked up. For so long her eyes had been cast down, toward the water she could only feel, toward her feet that had gone numb inside her shoes. But when she stared ahead, a shape coalesced in the fog, slightly darker than the surrounding greyness, almost human in form. And then she saw the arm, extended in her direction as the shape advanced toward her, through the fog, across the water. Sounds were coming from the form, but she couldn’t make them out. She was frightened, confused. It seemed so lifelike, this apparition, she wanted to believe it. The cruelty of her hope stung her. The arm had almost reached her now. It looked real; flesh and blood she could grasp onto. The sounds, too, started to distill into meaning, penetrating the awful silence of the fog.
“Are you alone?”
She nodded, still unsure if this spectre was real.
“There’s no one we should wait for?”
She shook her head dumbly. It was a real voice. She knew that now. But it sounded strange, the words odd and distorted. “We have to start moving. We don’t have much time.”
And then she realized what it was about the voice, and tears started to roll down her cheeks. “It’s you. Monte said you would come for us. He knew you would.”
“Take my hand,” said the voice. “I’m here to take you home.”
She reached to take the outstretched hand.

 

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