drunk image by Naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

The Wedding Bond – Part IV

drunk image by Naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

On the day of the wedding Mari’s parents came hand in hand into my room.

“A wee tot of whisky before the ceremony?” asked Mari’s father.

“Steady the nerves,” said Mari’s mother, holding out a little tumbler filled with a dark amber liquid.

Feeling it would be rude to decline I took the tumbler from Mari’s mother and downed its contents in one. It burned at the back of my throat, and then in my chest, and then in the pit of my belly. I felt a potent rush to my head. The room seemed to tilt under my feet. I fell forward into the waiting arms of Mari’s parents.

My next recollection was coming slowly awake. I was laid flat out on a double bed, fully dressed in my wedding attire. I thought that perhaps I’d fainted from the effects of the whisky. There was a dull throbbing in my upper right leg. Had I fallen awkwardly onto it? I turned to see Mari lying beside me, seemingly asleep, resplendent in her white wedding dress and veil.

I looked up and found Mari’s friends and relations hemmed in tightly around the bed. They too were dressed in their wedding finery, flowery dresses, tailored suits and top hats, corsages pinned to buttonholes. Bizarrely every single one of them wore a surgical mask over their mouth and nose. Had there been some sort of accident?

“Lovely ceremony,” said one of the guests.

“The joining always makes me cry,” said another.

My pulse quickened. Was this where the weirdness set in? Was this something sordid? Did they expect a public consummation in full view of the entire family? Had I been drugged to make me more compliant? I couldn’t believe that Mari would go along with such a thing.

But then again she had grown up on the island.

Still groggy and light-headed I attempted to swing my legs around in order to scramble to my feet. Something yanked me back and held me in place. The pain in my upper leg intensified. I groaned in agony. Beside me Mari stirred and let out a small quivering sigh.

“Is it done?” she whispered.

“Yes,” said a voice.

“Is what done?” I yelled.

“You are both joined in holy matrimony.”

I looked for the owner of the voice and found the vicar, identifiable from her dog collar, face tightly wrapped in a surgical mask. She was cleaning silvery instruments with an antiseptic wipe – scissors and clamps and scalpels and such, and handing them to her husband, who was setting them out on a little tray.

I felt like the driver of a vehicle seconds away from an unavoidable head on collision. Only I had still had no real inkling of the horror that was hurtling in my direction.

Heart knots - part 3 - image by Witthaya Phonsawat via freedigitalphotos.net

The Wedding Bond – Part III

Heart knots - part 3 - image by Witthaya Phonsawat via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Witthaya Phonsawat via freedigitalphotos.net

As the big day approached I began to find out more about the manner in which things were run on Skera. Their take on society was certainly not built around anything close to the cult of personality. Once the surgeon who had founded the community passed away the ownership of the island was transferred to a communal trust deed.

There was no chosen successor. Instead, an island Council made major decisions collectively. The Council was non-elected. Three sets of couples held office for a fixed term of two years and then were succeeded by another three sets of couples. Terms of office rotated, so a couple might serve a number of terms of office. Mari’s parents had been council members on four occasions and were due, a few years down the line, for a firth term.

“Do you mind if I go off and explore on my own?” I asked Mari one morning after breakfast.

“Making the most of your freedom before they tie the knot?” she quipped.

Perhaps her use of the term they instead of we should have concerned me more. But at the time I just put it down to a slip of the tongue. “It would be good to get to know the place better,” I said.

Mari smiled.

“There’s loads of things I still have to do with Mum and Dad before the wedding. Off you go and satisfy your wanderlust while you still can.”

Again, maybe I should have read something more into that last remark.

It was around lunchtime when I came across the village cemetery. The first headstone I encountered was that of the surgeon, the founding father, Hamish Grayling. He’d died on the 23rd of October 2001. A second name was also chiselled into the headstone – Annabel Grayling (Loving Wife). She had died on the exact same day as her husband.

There were only six other headstones in the cemetery. That was hardly surprising. It was a small community and it had been established for less than forty years. What was surprising was that each headstone bore the names of both the husband and wife and in each and every case the date of the death was the same for both of them.

“Was it suicide?” I asked Mari when I returned to her parent’s cottage. “Could they not carry on with their partner gone?”

“More of a physical synchronicity,” replied Mari.

When she saw my brow crease, she gave my earlobe a playful pinch.

“Thing will become clear soon enough, Luke.”

Over her shoulder I watched her parents waltzing eerily side-by-side around the kitchen. The familiar shiver turned to a cold sweat that prickled at every pore.

Island Image by Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalphotos.net

The Wedding Bond – Part II

Island Image by Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalphotos.net

My first view of Skera was of a single, verdantly green hill, streaked purple with blooming heather, rolling down to an almost perfect horseshoe cove. Nestling neatly at the foot of the hill, sat a picture postcard village, consisting of neat rows of redbrick cottages.

As the little boat that ferried us across from the mainland pulled in to the jetty I could make out whitewashed doorsteps and cleanly swept cobblestone streets. Gingham curtains hung in windows with brightly painted shutters. Window boxes were filled to the brim with flowering blooms. It seemed a bit fabricated – but at the same time contrastingly welcoming.

As Mari and I passed through the village it became very apparent that the inhabitants had indeed formed extremely close relationships. Couples walking hand in hand along the narrow streets would smile in harmonious unison as they stepped side by side to the pavement to allow us to pass. On one of the doorsteps a couple not much older than Mari and myself sat together sipping wine and enjoying the afternoon sun. Through the windows of a little café I saw more couples, all seated side by side, arms enfolding each other. I found myself beginning to believe that everything Mari had told me might be true.

Mari’s parents turned out to be as close as any of the islanders.

That evening I marvelled as they worked in complete concord, preparing a light meal in the kitchen of their little cottage. They glided around the worktop and the stove in such sensual synchronicity that they appeared akin to a pair of seasoned ballroom dancers, each anticipating and mirroring the other’s moves.

Mari introduced me to her uncles, Hector and Dougal. They stood grinning before me – Hector with his arm around Dougal’s shoulder, Dougal with his arm around Hector’s waist. They were as rotund and red faced as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a dash of gregarious Cheshire cat thrown in for good measure.

“Gay marriage was accepted by the community from the outset,” said Mari, as I shook their proffered hands.

Later, as I strolled down to the seafront with Mari, I found my fears being slowly laid to rest. We watched the young couples seated side by side on the benches that bounded the perimeter of a beachside playground where their kids were racing around from seesaw to swing to roundabout.

“That could be us in a few years time,” said Mari.

As the gulls wheeled in the blue sky above I realised I had been warming to idea settling on Skera. The pace of life was slow and unhurried. Everyone seemed so happy and contented. There was so much unashamed intimacy all around.

I turned to Mari.

“Maybe I could actually see myself laying down roots here,” I said.

Mari smiled and stroked my hair.

“I love you, Luke,” she said. “You won’t regret it.”

And again that unexpected shiver of warning washed over me.

The bond of marriage. Image by nuttakit via freedigitalphotos.net

The Wedding Bond – Part I

The bond of marriage. Image by nuttakit via freedigitalphotos.net

The bond of marriage. Image by nuttakit via freedigitalphotos.net

I write this lying on my back, careful to remain as still as I can in order not to wake Mari. I find it cathartic to write down what happened. But I’ll hide what I’ve written beneath the mattress. I’ve no idea what might happen to me if Mari ever read it.

“If you truly love me,” she said, “you’ll marry me on Skera.”

Of course I loved her. I loved the way her nose wrinkled when she smiled. I loved the sound of her laughter and the feel of her caress. I wanted more than anything to spend every single day of my life by her side.

But it was the notion of Skera that somehow unsettled me.

A wealthy surgeon had bought the two-mile wide island from the Ministry of Defence back in the early seventies. The tight knit community he had established there was apparently intended to be antithesis of the type of free love communes set up by new age hippies in the previous decade, a quiet revolt against the permissive age, a place where both marriage and the sanctity of marriage were intended to be the unfaltering foundations of a new society.

Mari’s grandparents had been amongst the first half a dozen couples to settle there. Both her parents were born there, as was she. After almost forty years the community was apparently still holding fast to its principles. “Couples on the island are inseparable,” she told me. “Divorce is unheard of. Everyone works so hard to ensure that the bond between two people who have chosen to be with each other is genuinely unbreakable.”

It all sounded so conservative, so inflexible. I worried about finding myself exposed to some sort of indoctrination.

“We’re not weird,” Mari assured me. “We just enjoy a lifestyle based on a sincere lifelong commitment between partners.”

I had known Mari for almost eighteen months. Despite her unconventional upbringing there honestly wasn’t a single thing about her that raised any alarm bells. She was as clever as she was beautiful, level headed and tolerant of other people’s views.

“You promised to marry me on the island, Luke,” she reminded me. “I told you I simply couldn’t have my wedding anywhere else.”

She was right, I had promised that.

But from the moment I’d agreed to the idea it seemed to me that Mari wanted a lot more than just a ceremony amongst friends and family. It was clear that her dream was for us to settle on Skera. She said it was the best place in the world for couples to bond.

“Plenty of Skerans come back with outsiders as future spouses. They all settle in fine,” she pointed out.

But still something nagged endlessly at the back of my mind.

Mari’s pale blue eyes searched mine.

“You do love me, Luke?”

“Of course I love you.”

“Then you’ll love Skera,” she said.

I smiled, despite the cold shiver that washed over me.

The Wedding Bond by David Turnbull

David Turnbull is UK based writer who lives in South East London. His short fiction has appeared recently in Salt Publishing’s Best British Fantasy 2014 as well as Girl at the End of the World II (Fox Spirit) and Horror Uncut (Grey Friar Press) and Solstice Shorts (Arachne Press). He is member of the Clockhouse London group of genre writers. His website can be found at http://www.tumsh.co.uk/

Planet/Deepest. Image by Victor Habbick via freedigitalphotos.net

Deeper, Part III

Planet/Deepest. Image by Victor Habbick via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Victor Habbick via freedigitalphotos.net

Her lips brush mine. Her skin is soft, warm as she wraps her arms around me. An explosion of bubbles from my tank push me against her.

She releases me and moves back, sweet lips parted in laughter. I can spend the rest of my life looking at her. She brushes my cheek with her slim fingers and kisses me again. With a flick of her tail, she corkscrews in the water and is gone. Darkness closes in around me.

Suddenly I feel my lungs burning. Heart pounding in fear rather than wonder, I fumble for my regulator. The sound of bubbles released into water stops. The cold lake presses down on me. The last air burst from my lungs in invisible bubbles. A flash in the darkness catches my eye; she is still there! I try to move forward, but this equipment slows me down. I struggle to remove my tank as I inhale ancient, glacial water. The lake embraces me. My BCD rises towards the surface.

I sink deeper.

lake view by tiramisustudio via freedigitalphotos.net

Deeper, Part II

lake view by tiramisustudio via freedigitalphotos.net

Image by tiramisustudio via freedigitalphotos.net

David Sutherland was by no means an impulsive man. He had his ten-year plan all worked out: accept the best of the four jobs he had been offered, work hard and save enough so that in five years he could start his own sporting goods store. Once that was stable, he would fall in love, marry, and have a child or two.

Scuba diving was only a hobby. He loved the triumph of it. No man could hold his breath long enough to skim the ocean floor like he did in his dry suit. It was the ingenuity of man solving the shortcomings nature had thrust upon him that allowed David to touch ancient corals, swim with brilliant multicolored fish and approach the sharks that everybody else fears.

He had heard of Kootenay Lake in passing, but it never caught his interest until one day when his girlfriend showed him the newspaper.

“Some people in Nelson claim they saw a mermaid in Kootenay Lake three weeks ago,” Lucy said. “There’s been over a hundred sightings since.”

“They’re all hippies on crack.”

“She’s been blamed for twelve deaths.”

“Don’t they know mermaids live in the ocean?”

Lucy rolled up the newspaper and swatted his arm. “Don’t you have any imagination?”

David laughed and kissed her. “You’re the artist, I’m the rational one.”

But the idea of a mermaid in a lake was alluring. David found himself researching Kootenay Lake at the oddest times; during breakfast; right after his shower; in the middle of the night.

David had never dived in a lake before.

“And you say I’m crazy,” Lucy said when she saw his travel brochures and packed suitcase. “Who’s your diving buddy?”

“Jack’s meeting me there.”

A lie. Never dive alone. It was like he could hear his diving instructor in his head. Maybe he’d find somebody to dive with once he got to Nelson.

He didn’t believe in the mermaid, and soon found that lake diving was mundane compared to the tropical oceans he was used to. After checking his depth and oxygen levels, he let his mind wander. He watched bubbles float up towards the surface of the lake, listening to the sound of his breath.

Lucy was a great girl. She was nice, funny, smart. His parents liked her. Every time he left the house she would kiss him. When he got home, he would break up with her. She deserved a man who didn’t lie when he said “I love you.”

A flash of light caught his eye. Like sunlight on gold. David angled his body towards it, peering through the darkness. Was it a camera?

There! It came again, closer. Something was coming towards him. Too big for a fish. Too fast for another diver. The figure swam in a wide circle around him, and as it passed over his head he saw two arms stretched wide, a distinct womanly figure outlined by the sun, and a glistening fish-like tail.

The mermaid came close enough for David to see her eyes. His heart swelled with the feelings he never had with Lucy. She dove. David followed. His heart pounded and he swam as hard as he could. He saw sunlight flash on her scales. He had to go deeper, get closer. All other thoughts vanished. The water overhead swallowed the sun. With a shaking hand, David turned on his underwater lights.

There! He caught a glimpse of her before she was gone again. He had to keep going. His ears popped but he hardly noticed.