His father’s grave had been excavated as if by a subterranean explosion. The coffin lay in ragged pieces, and the corpse itself now resembled a mangled amalgamation of meat and bone dressed in the remnants of a pinstripe suit. The desecration hurt Sam Mason more than he could bear, but it was nothing compared to the pain of realisation: his father had been telling the truth.
“My life is coming to an end,” Harry Mason would often say. “I know it, you know it, and the thing growing inside me knows it.”
Sam always assumed his father was talking about the cancer that’d ravaged his lungs, and then spread to the rest of his body. He never gave it too much thought even when Harry started talking about his ‘birthright’ and somewhere called ‘Devil’s Reef’. When Sam asked if he meant the one in Jamaica or Tenerife, Harry would shake his head and say it was off the coast of New England in America, where he’d been born. “There isn’t one,” Sam told him once. “I checked online and there’s no Devil’s Reef off the coast of America anywhere.”
“They took it off the maps,” his father said. “Took the town off, too. The President knew about the gold, but said he didn’t. Lying bastard.”
But he often said such things; his dementia ‘helped’ in this regard. As his health failed he made less and less sense.
“I want to be buried at sea,” he’d say. “That’s where I belong.”
“It’s too expensive,” Sam often argued, but in truth he didn’t like the thought of dumping his father in the ocean, either his actual body or scattering his ashes. The idea that something might ingest part of Harry Mason and end up in the food chain…
Now, with the grave an open wound in the dry earth, Sam couldn’t help feel a cold terror creep through his veins mixed with something a lot like guilt. If he’d listened to his father’s dying wish, found the money from somewhere for the ceremony…
‘Gravlax’ Harry called it. “Gravlax is inside me. They moved us all away from the Reef to dilute its power. But when I die, my hold on it – my body’s hold on it – will be released, and it will be born.”
Sam had researched this name, too, in case his father’s mental illness was trying to piece together lateral clues to some greater truth. But instead all he found were recipes for seafood. Thinking about it now, it did make a weird kind of sense.
Harsh laughter, unbidden and unchecked, erupted from his mouth, but he quickly sobered up when he thought about the thing unleashed upon the world from his father’s mutilated body. On the rare occasions Sam had the patience to humour his father about what this ‘Gravlax’ looked like, Harry always retorted: “Indescribable,” usually followed by throaty laughter and a shake of his bald head. “They always said it was, and I always thought ‘how can something be literally impossible to describe?’. Well, I got my answer when I saw it. Its form is beyond human comprehension, son. There’s something aquatic about it, but other than that…” He’d end with a shrug of his hunched shoulders and wringing of liver-spotted hands.
Sam never found out how Gravlax got inside his father, simply because he didn’t care; he’d wasted enough time fuelling the delusions of a dying brain without digging deeper into an imaginary past.
Except it hadn’t been, had it?
So much finally made sense: why he’d never met, or even heard much about the relatives on his father’s side; why his mother’s parents refused to talk to Harry; why his father became so distressed when a scan didn’t show anything inside him other than his disease. “But I know it’s there!” he’d cried. And of course the whole world would soon discover his dementia only obfuscated so much.
What did the thing want now it was free? To reach the ocean? Or had his father intended to ‘imprison’ it in the ocean’s depths, to keep it from ravaging the world as the cancer had ravaged his body?
Harry’s voice drifted once more through Sam’s memories, “You killed your mother when you came out of her.” One of the more hurtful things his father came out with towards the end. “But I killed her when I married her.”
Sam often puzzled about this remark, when the nights were long and empty, his only companion a bottle of his father’s beloved bourbon. And all along, the answer had been sat dying in a hospice, if he’d only thought to ask the question.
He laughed bitterly at his own stubbornness, something he’d inherited from his father. As Sam turned away from the freshly-ruptured grave and took his first steps in an attempt to trace the passage of Gravlax, he wondered what else he might have inherited.
© Wayne Goodchild
Wayne Goodchild has stories in anthologies from Severed Press, Pill Hill Press, Library of the Living Dead/Library of Horror Press, and in serialized form on newbedlam.com When not pretending to be a pirate at kids’ parties he edits books featuring supervillains, time travel, giant monsters and the apocalypse. Studies have shown that your life can drastically improve if you check out his website at theycallmepotato.blogspot.com. You should probably go do that now. After all, science never lies.
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