She picked at the fingernails on one hand with the other nervously.
“All I know is that there are plenty of people in Fisherman’s Creek who earnestly believe that there’s a… a monster living in the creek. Which would be the danger that woman mentioned.”
Carter sat in rapt silence. His mind buzzed with a million questions. What did the Fisher supposedly look like? Where did the name come from? Was it based on real life – maybe a large fish or something that actually lived in the creek all those decades ago? He drummed his fingers restlessly on the table.
“How do you know all this stuff?”
Gwen looked over at Henry, who had turned away and was now moving the last of Carter’s gifts. He didn’t appear to be listening. Gwen leaned in, reaching her hands across the table to grasp Carter’s own. She spoke softly, and Carter noticed she kept glancing over at Henry.
“You shouldn’t be here. I know you’re not going to leave, because that’s not who you are, but I wish you weren’t. I wish you would leave. Steal a car or something and go.”
Tears were filling her eyes now, and Carter squeezed her hands in what he hoped was a comforting way. She managed a small smile.
“Just… say no. No to us, no to this town.”
She leaned back, and quickly wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. She spoke again, louder this time, clearly more for Henry’s benefit than her own.
“The Fisher is a popular story for parents to tell their kids in Fisherman’s Creek. Kind of like our very own bogeyman. You know, eat all your vegetables or the Fisher will catch you, that sort of thing.”
Gwen’s eyes were still fixed on his. She went on.
“And I have a lot of history books about the area, too, if you’d like to borrow some.”
Carter’s eyes flicked over to Henry. He was watching them now. Carter’s nerves were singing, taught and tense. He had the feeling that he couldn’t trust anyone anymore – and he didn’t even know why. Did Gwen think he was in danger? For God’s sake, how much did he even really know about these people?
He met Gwen’s gaze again, and nodded.
“That would be nice. I always like to learn new things.”
Gwen stood up, and called over to Henry.
“Dinner service starts soon. We wanted to cut it off early, right? For the Parker’s thing?”
Henry finished what he was doing.
“Yeah. We’re only doing dinner service until eight tonight, Carter. Then we’re going to head over to the Parker’s and give our condolences.”
Henry pointedly checked the time on his phone.
“Better start getting ready. Have something to eat then start preparing anything that doesn’t have to be made to order. I’ve already stuck up tonight’s specials. Nothing fancy, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
Carter nodded, and retreated into the kitchen. When the door was shut and he was out of the line of sight provided by the kitchen’s service window, hidden from Henry and Gwen’s view, he let out an exasperated breath.
He didn’t know how to process what Gwen had just told him, or her obvious fear and sorrow as she did so. He stood with his back firmly against the door for a moment, just focusing on his breathing. Finally, he composed himself, retrieved the specials recipe list from where Henry had pinned it on the line of wire usually reserved for order sheets, and set about preparing everything he had to have prepared before patrons started arriving looking for dinner.
The specials were nothing too complicated, and he was able to prepare everything he needed to while operating practically on autopilot. Behind a blank face, his mind was whirring. Since arriving in Fisherman’s Creek – and specifically, since meeting Tobias and his followers, especially Marcus – Carter had had a sense in the back of his mind that he was not entirely safe. What Gwen had just told him seemed to confirm that. He wasn’t concerned about creek monsters – even if he believed in them, hell, he had swum in the creek just this morning and nothing had happened. He was, however, worried that if there really was a devoted religious sect in town, as Gwen suggested, then it would be all too easy to commit a faux pas and be evicted from town. Or worse, he reminded himself, remembering Marcus’ violent attitude on that first day.
He chopped vegetables mindlessly, his mind playing a slideshow of the morning’s events. He had been trying to avoid it all day, but now he couldn’t help but think about the child – Gavin – lying still and lifeless at the bottom of the creek.
How had he come to be in the water in the first place?
A question that had been lurking in a shadowed corner of Carter’s mind suddenly thrust itself into the light. If the Fisher was a popular children’s story used to scare them, and it supposedly lived in the creek, surely a young child would avoid the creek at all costs. Gavin was older, but not that much older. And anyway, according to Gwen, even adults believed in the existence of the Fisher, so a child believing in it wasn’t a stretch at all.
And even if the child had gone to the creek – to drink, perhaps – and fallen in, he thought that in this day and age, even somewhere as secluded as Fisherman’s Creek, it was unlikely a child would get to Gavin’s age without learning to swim.
Finally, there was Joseph’s fear. The boy hadn’t, as far as he knew, tried to help his friend. When he found them, Joseph was hidden in his shelter, and Gavin was at the bottom of the creek, already drowned. So why had the boy abandoned his friend? It was possible that it was just trauma from the boy’s drowning, of course. Carter couldn’t say for sure. He didn’t even know why he cared so much.
But something about the whole event still gnawed at him.
He dwelt on it all the way through the dinner service, and was still mulling it over when Henry called for him to finish up so they could head to the Parker’s. There was something suspicious about the boy’s death.
Even he, as an adult and a total stranger, had received the warning. Surely Gavin had known, too. But he had ended up in the water anyway, and it had killed him. How?
Don’t swim in the creek.
When they pulled up to the Parker’s – Carter with one hand over his eyes and another tightly gripping the door handle of Henry’s car – the entire street was filled with parked cars. People streamed into what Carter assumed was the Parker’s house, a rather large two-story building, well-maintained and with a birdbath in the center of a well-manicured front lawn. There were lights on all through the house, he could see. Many people entering the house were carrying gifts of food. It made sense; Carter supposed the Parkers were unlikely to be capable of looking after themselves for a while. They walked solemnly up the driveway and stepped inside. It seemed like everyone in town was there, or at least everyone Carter had met, but the house was very close to silent. The only sounds were the clink of glassware and food trays, and the occasional sob or wail. It was truly a community in morning, and Carter was filled with hot red guilt for feeling so unsafe and insecure around these people.
He stayed close to Henry, who was stepping through the crowd with a surprising light-footed ease. Gwen and Carter stayed close behind, travelling in his wake. Finally they emerged in a sitting room, where a large number of people were gathered around two central figures seated on a couch, a man and a woman, embracing each other and weeping openly. Carter felt a strange and unpleasant tingling on the back of his neck, and his stomach rolled and contracted. They drew near, and Henry gently got the Parkers’ attention, placing a gentle and comforting hand on Mrs. Parker’s shoulder. They looked up at Henry dully – they seemed horribly drained. Carter didn’t blame them. Apart from anything else they must have received hundreds of reassuring touches and ‘I’m so sorry’-s today. While Mr. Parker was still talking to Henry, Mrs. Parker’s gaze was slowly shifting, first from Henry to Gwen, then from Gwen to Carter. Her eyes rested softly on Carter’s face, then grew steely cold as the information they received penetrated the fog of grief in her mind. She stood, and slowly – and unsteadily – stepped towards Carter. Her face was a picture of anguish.
Even in the near-silence of the Parker family home, the single word from Mrs. Parker’s mouth was barely audible, scarcely above a whisper in volume. Still, Carter felt like he had been punched in the gut. She continued her advance.
“Why?” Mrs. Parker was louder now, and people were starting to look at them. It took all of Carter’s willpower to meet her gaze, and form a sentence.
“I’m so sorry. I tried to save him-“
Mrs. Carter was on him now, and she took hold of his shirt, clutching it with both hands. She was barely shorter than Carter himself, but to Carter in that moment she looked so small.
“You only brought one boy back. Why couldn’t it have been Gavin? Why not our boy?”
Gwen was trying to pull Mrs. Parker off of him, but her grip was tight, and she wouldn’t budge. Carter could feel dozens of eyes on him now.
“I don’t know.”
Finally, mercifully, Gwen and a kind stranger were able to guide Mrs. Parker away from him and back to the couch with her husband. Carter stood frozen in the centre of the room, until Henry came and led him out to the backyard. There was a patio there, with outdoor furniture. It was empty, and the air was still and warm. Henry clapped him on the back.
“You can stay out here if you want, mate. I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that would happen. You gonna be alright?”
Carter nodded and waved him away, and Henry departed, promising him they would leave in ten minutes. Carter sat in one of the patio chairs and stared at the Parkers’ backyard. Like their front lawn, it was neatly mowed, with a vegetable garden down one side of a three-sided white fence enclosing the yard. Over the back fence, Carter could see trees and bushes, and hear the hum and whine of mosquitoes – and the crackle as they hit the bug zapper that hung from the gutter on the back of the house.