Sometimes his eyes forgot the land. Not always, no, and perhaps not even often, but there would be days when hours of gazing at the sea stirred within him an undeniable loneliness, and his pupils shrank to suggestions of darkness in a sea of washed grey iris and his feet twitched as if wondering what this solid weight beneath them could possibly be. On occasion, a memory.
These days it was one of hands: strong, muscled hands that must have once been his... he blinked, rheumy eyes rejecting the paralysis of being, looked down at his own wrinkled examples. The strength there was of no virile boisterousness. It was lean, wiry, still completely serviceable. So the longing he felt made no sense, did it?
He felt suddenly very, very angry.
What did he have to long for, then? What was there, beyond his home, beyond the sea, beyond the strength now, the duty now, what he must do was being done, and yet...
This was a face. Familiar, yet utterly strange, and the hand that held hers was strong and young and not (any longer, whispered that traitorously wistful voice) his. The face was a stranger, cleverly disguised as... as... what had been the word? What was it? For a moment he faltered, and then it began to come to him, like light slowly emerging from heavy clouds, and he saw -
He saw the log, drifting silently to the rocky shore. By some miracle it had sidestepped the dagger rocks, slipped past the brackish reef. Slowly, it drifted to the shore, and upon it, the man noted, was a ghost.
They were sad things, these ghosts. Few things on this crag gave him the least bit of satisfaction, but it was the release of the ghosts, he realized, that kept him sane. There was holiness in the act, though that was not the word he used. The cross around his neck was nothing now but a curiosity and a symbol of hope, in a life where even that word had gone twisted and dark.
Slowly, he rose from his perch, the iron bones of his lower body creaking like closet doors behind which a child may see monsters. The rain had bleached and paled his skin, his nails stretched like the claws of a nature god, yellowed and caked with offal and flecks of bone. His calloused heels smashed down on the broken remains of fish which littered the rock as he slowly descended, slowly and surely descended as the Olympians to their kingdom.
"What have we here..." the voice was not raspy in the traditional sense; the sea had blasted it as it did the jagged rocks of the reef. Its vulnerability held an edge, a wheedling danger, and disuse had hardened the tone.
But he liked the words - with no voice here save his own he had learned to love even that, and so he repeated the sentence, prodding the ghost with his disgusting foot. "What have we what have we what have we here..."
What a pitiful thing! Surely he must set it free posthaste. Sometimes the ghosts seemed to know what they were, and came in varying degrees of decay and mutilated horror. He had seen gaping skull and empty rib-cages where the entrails had baked and dried at sea and the liver had been taken by sharks. But then there were these... these other wretches.
It had once been a girl, this thing, and the long hair was a gold that reminded the man of waving things in happy fields and a light in the sky. Sometimes he imagined a blue sky and found the prospect funny. The grayness had ceased to be oppressive the day he had accepted its tyranny. A rattling sound came from the ghost, which he had slung over his back on his way around the island. At length these became hearty, wet coughs, and the sound of gentle water splashing to the stones made complement to the crashing of waves close by. "Easy now," he murmured. "Easy now easy now easy now... you know not what you do." It was so very sad to him, that these things would never understand their fate. That it was up to him to give them the peace they so rightly deserved. He came to a small hill of sharp rock, and with practiced dexterity leaped across on the disjointed path worn gentle by bleeding feet. Halfway up, the ghost began to squirm in his grip, and try as he might he realized that soon he would soon drop it. Scowling, yelling in annoyance, he found a ledge on which to stop, and laid the thing gently down.
It looked at him with eyes disconnected from their reality. The voice was too sweet and too light, and even after the exposures of sea and death it was enough to make the man cringe. "Where am I? Are... is... this is England? My ship, good sir you don't understand, you must help me, my name"-
But the man shouted in anger, to the fearful surprise of the woman. "No. No no no. You have not name. You have died. You have died you are dead you are false. You are dead. Now stop so squirming." He reached for her, and she tried to move away, but his were hands that had caught the slippery fish as they jumped in the pools, his were the arms that had beaten down the very strongest of ghosts, brawny sailors with dark temperament insisting the most palpably ridiculous things. He had beaten them with stones, with fists, with the very island itself and their ghost-blood had flowed red on the rocks and he had given them their peace. Soon the ghost was slung over his shoulders again, and he was over the hill, and in the distance the brine-mists vaguely offered the shape of the Resting Spot.
"You can't do this!"
"You are dead," he mumbled, and with all his might ignored the further complaints. Sometimes they pained him, these wails. They seeded in him horrible doubts - doubts of his duty and the purpose for which he had been sent here. He must not be allowed to doubt.
"My father is the Lord Brensing, he will hear of this!"
Now this gave him pause. Why did it give him pause? Men had threatened him with kings, with armies, with gods of snake arms and terrible tiger heads. Nothing deterred him. So why...?
"Yes, that's right." The ghost assumed it had gained power over him, and now a measure of pride entered the panicked falsetto. "He is a powerful man and if you do not release me now he will have you hung on the tower by nightfall. Let me go. Let me go. LET ME GO!" For he had started moving again, and as he had not graced her with response her fists began beating on his back and the tears came trickling down the withered flesh. "Please..."
"''Tis for your own good, yes. 'Tis for good, understand. You are dead."
"I am not DEAD! I'm not, do you hear? God, please..." They walked a while further, the screams now fading, now rising in intensity, but now they had reached the Resting Spot. With relief he let the ghost slip once more, and it thudded heavily into the coarse sand of the Resting Spot. He untied the rope round his waist, tying the knots around her wrists and ankles with smooth, clean movements, pulling her bound form to one of the open pits. The ghost's eyes darted from mound to mound to open pit, all the former bearing large sticks lashed into crosses at their head. Her voice a whisper now, as reality set in.
"It's a graveyard."
And the man was smiling, happy that the moment at come, that at last it understood the freedom it was about to be granted. It was not often that they were still conscious here. Either he had smashed open their brains to still their struggles or they had become limp from shock or terror. Which was unfortunate.
He lowered the ghost into the pit, this specter of the sea made reposed within a prison of sand, and its posture was limp and hopeless. Its cheeks were wet with rivulets of tears, but it was no matter.
He tuned out the fading whimpers, threw mound after mound of sand upon the ghost, careful, though, to only narrow the pit, not yet closing the walls upon it.
"You're a madman."
"En't up to you, that," the man grunted, and this time a bit of sand struck its eyes in a way not entirely accidental. "En't up to ME, that," he added, after a bit of thought.
The laugh was so out of place that it caught him off guard. Interspersed with sobs and hysteria though it was, he had not heard laughter in so very long, and his hands stilled in the sound despite themselves. "What a ridiculous thing to say," it giggled. "That... that such a thing is beyond your control. Well of course it isn't." He felt the eyes raking him - those blue, blue eyes that seemed to drive deep into his weathered flesh and bite down upon his entrails. The gaze was tired, fearful, yet it chilled his blood cold. An expression was budding on the ghost's face, now. In consternation - inexplicable fear - he turned quickly away, to lash together the sticks he had brought with him using some of the rope. It called after him, though, and this time the voice pierced him through and through.
"Wait... wait! Those pants of yours... you're a sailor, aren't you. That canvas... I know that canvas. My father's captains use it for their merchant voyages. He ordered it from the Orient, because the regular cloth chafed the men on long voyages. You're a sailor for Lord Brensing!"
Again, the name! Such pain it brought! The knot fumbles, a harsh gull's cry splits the ocean air, watch the leg of the cross go askance in the loose tie! A face, so strange, arms, so lithe and foreign, great blankets coat great planks of wood that catch the wind and carry a man to places of wild wonder and hushed dreams!
A moment, of agony. A moment, of rare sanity. The gh- the girl - Sarah! He knew that face! He knew those eyes, such pretty eyes, and yet she'd been so small, in those days, and brought tulips from her garden for all the men going out to sea, said the beauty would stay with them on long voyages and fill their dreams with thoughts of home and wives and hot chocolates by the fire when the nights were cold and wet. And Lord Brensing...
This is a scream. It humbles the weak mewing of the gulls. It is loud, and wild, a wolf without his pack starving in the rolling dunes. A man whose mind has broken long ago, for whom the only life in this world is his own and the water is the land which drags him down and the sea brings ghosts and phantoms of lost memories and shards of dream. And oh, how he hates to dream...
This is a moment. This is wind hurtling through the clouds, and if they are angels they watch impassive, uncaring, and the man he falls alone, unseen by his hostage, and the rare tears fall to join their brethren in the sea. The arms go up in wild-eyed wild-haired prayer, and the cross is clutched between them and the cross goes up and the cross goes down and blood and screams drench with finality into the sand. Gray sand, the color of London nights. Gray skies, the color of his eyes. He looks up from the carnage, above the cross now emerging from the pit, soon a mound, once a beach of quiet innocence, and he looks upon the rolling waves against the reefs, and his pupils shrink back into the great whirlwind irises, and imagine a great plain bereft of land...
His knees tingle beneath him. They wonder what it is, this world upon which they kneel.