First place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2021.
This story will also be published in our 2021 Summer Newsletter.
"Good Company" By Sky Church
Rosa sat near the window, watching as the nighttime fog crept in from over the dark sea. The rain and tides had washed way much of the sand and rocks on the beach, leaving it looking oddly empty and low. Dry sea moss formed at the edges of the glass, just as the black mold grew between the floorboards of her home: slowly, but with intent.
The machine sat in the back of the room, humming to itself. It was a cobbled together mismatch of pieces from beached ships, that she had assembled in an attempt to create a means of communication. With whom she would speak to, she wasn’t sure, but there must be someone out there. The hush of waves and the soft whirr of the machine filled the air with a calm sort of life.
Snert stood up from his place of rest on a pile of old rags, and stretched, before trotting over to Rosa’s side. Tearing her eyes away from the sea, she reached over to pet his back. He gave a few small snorts of satisfaction, and leaned his body against her leg.
Snert was an unusual cat. In most ways he was indistinguishable from an average, black short hair, but there were some features that were unique to Snert. He never meowed, or purred. He only softly grunted from time to time. The most notable thing about his appearance was that Snert didn’t have a face. He possessed only a very large crater shaped mouth, lined with rows of small sharp teeth, centered on his face.
She wasn’t entirely aware of where he came from. He just showed up one day in her shed, curled up on some rags like he had always lived there. She just presumed he had just materialized out of thin air, or rose from the sea.
She knew very little about where she herself came from. All she had was the island, and those fragmentary, foggy memories. They were the sorts of thoughts that the harder you tried to remember, the farther they slipped away. All they ever gave her was glimpses. They were useless in the long run she had decided.
Outside Rosa’s shack, the fog had settled onto the land, like a thick cold blanket. Just beyond the shore break, something smooth and dark surfaced from the water, catching moonlight on its wet surface. It was soon accompanied by three more, then five, and so it went. Then they began to rise. The smooth tops gave way to large feature-less heads, balanced on slim necks, supported by lanky bodies.
The figures strode out of the sea and onto the shore, as more and more rose from just beyond the lapping waves. They gathered on the beach, and began to wander. Noticing their arrival, Rosa stood up, and raced to the door. Under her arm, she held an old, ratty, box of checkers. She unfastened the homemade locks quietly before opening the front door, allowing the moonlight to spill inside.
She stepped out into the open air and ran down the sand dunes towards the figures on the beach. Arriving in front of a congregation, she stopped to catch her breath before she spoke. The creatures of the sea regarded her with curiosity. She stood up to face them, smiling.
“Nice to see you all back so soon,” she said softly.
A few started to hum faintly, and, although she wasn’t entirely sure, Rosa got the vague sense that they were agreeing with her.
“I brought you something.” She held the cardboard box above her head for them to see. “Take a look.”
The figures gathered around her until she stood in the center of a large cluster. They tilted their heads like birds inspecting the strange artifact. One of them cautiously reached forward and took the box in its hands. They huddled closely around it, pulling at its lid, and prodding at its sides. The one holding the box, in an act of curiosity, shook it. Its contents rattled about, startling the figure holding it, to the point where it lost its grip and dropped the box.
The checkers set landed with a soft fwump and sunk into the sand. She picked it up, before sitting down and removing its contents and setting up the board. The figures loomed around her. Some sat, mimicking her position.
“Here, it works like this.”
She placed the box to the side for Snert to play with, before explaining how the game worked. Unfortunately, the game she had intended to play ended up being just her moving pieces as the figures watched or poked at them questioningly. At least Snert was having fun.
One of the sea creatures slowly picked up all the red pieces from the board and dropped them into the sand. It then leaned down and gathered them up again, repeating the procedure. Some of the others grew bold, and attempted to steal some of the first’s pieces.
A bubbling lightness rose within her as Rosa watched them. How had she ever been so afraid of them. She remembered how much she used to dread the fog because as it crept toward the shoreline, so did they. She would hide under her sheets and wait for the sun to burn its way through.
That had all changed during the storm. She was out scavenging for parts in the beached ships, when it began to rain. At the roll of thunder, Rosa jumped, tightness coiling within her. Too far from her shed, Rosa took cover under an overturned lifeboat half sunken in the sand. At the next stroke of lightning she realized she wasn’t alone. Huddled under the boat with her was one of the figures. The thunder snapped like a whip, and both she and the figure flinched. Through the darkness, she could see it shiver, clutching its head. They waited out the storm together. Once the sky had cleared, they wordlessly acknowledged each other and parted ways.
On the beach, Rosa watched the figures, as they attempted to take the checkers box from Snert. However, the more they moved the box, the more invested Snert was at getting it back.
A few rays of sunlight pierced through the eastern fog. The figures shifted nervously and began to retreat into the cold depths. Rosa stood up and followed them into the shorebreak, wading as far as she was willing, and waving them goodbye as they descended.
The last head disappeared beneath the water and Rosa was once again alone. A cold hazy memory drifted into her mind. A smiling face, of another person. She tried to focus, but that was all it would give. Perhaps if she waded far enough out into the cold depths, until the water engulfed her head, her memories would flood back. Perhaps then, she would finally understand why she was here.
A creeping smallness overtook her. Her feet sank further into their places in the sand. The island remained empty.
Sunlight warmed her face as it broke through the clouds.
How could she really be alone?
Sky Church is a part-time sci fi and new weird writer, a lover of unusual creatures, and an anxious opabinia disguised as a second year college student. When not writing they can be found spending time with their cats, and longing for the simpler times, filtering for nutrients in the early cambrian sea.