The mist of the ports rolled in as it did every morning, the thick soupy mixture muting the sound of the looming ships blaring their fog horns and the men arguing over where to unload the iron for the shipwrights. The murky swirling pool of fig swirled and churned with a gust of stagnant air that rolled in the scent of the sea with a mixture of oil coming off the dancing lanterns in the distance.
Tommy wasn’t one to worry over the coming and going of his docks, mostly because he was given hefty bribes by the Chinese Zodiac Gang to ignore the large containers coming in from Hawaii. The people of Seattle were grumbling over the growing population of the Chinamen in the city, but Tommy doubted anything would come of it.
After all, they were just Irish potato-eaters and Italian grease balls … hardly men who wanted to create a stir amidst the general populace.
Leaning back in his chair in the small wood and glass shack that served as the port authority for the night shift, Tommy unfurled the Town Pump, the oldest newspaper in all of Seattle and the most popular. It had the hottest stories, works of fiction that sizzled the mind, and a huge help wanted section that every young man would pore their eyes over to try and find an easy meal ticket.
“As if such a thing exists,” Tommy snorted, flipping a page to look for the continuation of the story about the Green Man, a weekly pulp story that made the newspaper worth the nickel a copy. “Dumb kids need to learn how to really earn a fair wage and stop looking for handouts, it’s not like the rich are going to develop a sudden urge to offer handouts.”
Kicking his legs up onto the counter where his finished paperwork sat with his stamp and ink book, Tommy began to hum a tune that he couldn’t remember hearing from anywhere in particular. It was melodic and deep, and as he hummed a low vibrato came from the mist, a steady chord being stretched from the catgut of a fine violin player. Lowering his newspaper, Tommy held a hand up to his head as he began to feel a sudden wave of dizziness come upon him, shaking him to his core.
He lowered his legs to the ground to better ground himself, and shook his head to try and clear his head, but he couldn’t seem to shake off the vertigo overwhelming him. He felt nauseous, as if he’d been running in the summer heat without a water break, laying down tar-laden boards over the hull of a hulking ship ready to leave port in a scant few hours.
The violin continued playing, echoing out from the fog despite the muting nature of the mist. It came through warped, as if through the hollow of a sea conch. The sound seemed to bounce about in his skull, rattling about between his ears as if he couldn’t get the tune out of his head. Holding his hands over his head while clenching his eyes shut, he began crying out in pain before standing up, shaking his head to get the song to tumble out of his skull.
And just as suddenly as it came upon him, the music stopped on a wilting cry like a dying cat, the vibrato warbling until it was a lost whisper in the darkened recesses of the night and mist.
Opening his eyes to feel his head spinning, Tommy felt his eyes rolling in his head, unfocused and bleary from the horrid sense of instability. He focused in front of him, only to realize he was staring at a figure standing at the edge of the lantern light, slumped over like a feral animal with hair hanging in limp clumps around their face, long enough to reach the figures lower back.
Stepping forward to lean on the counter until he regained his stability, he spoke through the holes in the glass. “Hello? Can I help you?”
The figure popped, wood creaking as the head turned and studied him, two glimmering eyes reflecting the lantern light as the pale features of a young girl came into view. Her hair was greasy and wet, black with bits of seaweed and fishing line caught in her locks. Her clothing, patchwork cloth held together by threadbare stitching, seemed to hang off her emaciated frame. Her mouth, impossibly wide, was pulled into a thin-lipped line, neither a smile nor a frown. She gazed at Tommy for a few moments before standing up, her hands revealing themselves to be several sizes too large for her tiny body.
“Are … are you okay? Do you need any help?” Tommy ground out, his vertigo seemingly getting worse as he felt blood seeping from his nostrils. “Oh God, what is wrong with me?”
The girl opened her mouth, wider than any human child should be capable of, revealing a toothless maw, wriggling nerves instead of teeth hanging from her jaws. The sound of the violin began again, this time louder, and Tommy felt the bile in his stomach rise to the point where he was forced to expel the fluids all over his counter, the vomit filled with bloody streaks and chunks of shredded meat.
Tommy could feel his throat bleeding, and his eyes crossing as he toppled within his shack, stumbling back into the far wall. The harsh cries of the violin screeched over and over as Tommy felt his lungs begin to fill with fluid, forcing him to cough up blood as he tried to take a breath. He felt himself struggling for air, the pressure in his chest building as his eyes bugged from the choking sensation, a cold feeling spreading from his chest where the heavy man resting on his sternum pressed down.
The girl closed her mouth, the violin music ceasing as she silenced herself. But for Tommy, who started vomiting up blood and chunky bits of lung, he began to feel himself blacking out.
What in the hell was this? Tommy thought as he wavered on buckling knees, falling forward with a sickening crack of his face against the counter, his nose and front teeth breaking from the impact. He hit the ground and felt himself drifting off as he fought for air, his last few minutes of life spent choking on his own chilled blood, the mist seeping in through the door of his shack that was creaking open, the small girl stepping into the room with the creaking of bones.