He crouched down, and took a few steps to the left before proceeding forward. There wasn’t much light filtering in through the door, but it was enough that he didn’t want to be silhouetted against it as he moved forward into the church.
Slowly, painfully so, his eyes began to adjust to the darkness. Even then, he couldn’t see much – but he thought he could just make out a figure standing on the church’s stage. He inched forward, crouched as low as he could manage, hands outstretched to feel his way through the dark. The figure onstage wasn’t moving, much. Every so often he thought he could see it shift. Tobias’ voice boomed out again, and it was much louder. In the stone hall of the church, it sounded as if he was everywhere.
Marcus froze. His skin turned to gooseflesh. He reached into a pants pocket, withdrew a pocket knife, and flicked out the blade. As he did so, he kept a careful eye on the figure on the small stage. It didn’t move. It was a black blob, and he couldn’t tell what direction it was facing. Carefully, so as to not make a sound, he moved forward. Tobias continued.
“How quickly you tried to take over. I don’t know whether to be flattered by how flagrantly you crave my position, or insulted by how little you obviously think of it. You really think that being Fisher Man is something you can simply take over with a few parroted phrases and a stern gaze?”
Marcus was pressed up against the church wall, feeling his way along it with his empty hand. The stone brick was cool against his back. Still the figure on stage hadn’t moved. He was mere metres from it. He shifted his grip on his knife, and ducked his head low as he stepped forward. Tobias’ voice thundered through the hall of the church.
“Being Fisher Man is a duty, and a burden. One that I have trained for my whole life. You do not comprehend it. You have never understood any of what we have done, what I have tried to teach you. You think you are my equal? A leader? You’re a dog, Marcus, and an untrained one at that. Your desires are base. You’re interested only in blood. You have no idea what I am trying to do here. You’re a rabid animal.”
Marcus had reached the foot of the stage now, and at these last words he roared and jumped forward, vaulting onto the stage. The figure stumbled backwards in surprise, falling onto its back, and he charged at it, knife forward. As he got up close, he saw the figure’s red hair, and he grabbed it, and held the knife up to its face. He made a triumphant noise, which he almost immediately swallowed in shock. He was holding Joseph by his hair, and the boy was crying. He released the boy, just as an enormous figure tackled him from the side. He was slammed into the wall of the church, back-first, and all the wind came out of him in a single, painful expulsion. His grip on the knife loosened, and he lost it completely when the figure bearing down on him grabbed his wrist and slammed it into the wall. He felt the pressure of a forearm pressing on his throat, cutting off his air, and he scrabbled ineffectually at the figure with his free hand. The whole sequence took mere seconds, and the only sound the whole time was his own laboured breathing, and Joseph’s crying. His vision blurred, but he was able to make out the face of his attacker. It was Tobias. The larger man hissed at him, and he felt angry spittle land on his face.
“You could have waited for me, Marcus. Instead you tried to take my place. Even then, I gave you a choice. And you choice to step into a house of God bearing a weapon, and attempted to take my life.”
Marcus clenched his free hand into a fist, and brought it down onto Tobias’ head with as much force as he could muster. Tobias barely flinched, and he released Marcus’ wrist only to launch his own fist into Marcus’ stomach. Fire blossomed throughout Marcus’ gut, and his body tried to retch, but couldn’t get enough air through the pinhole that his throat had become with Tobias’ weight bearing down on it. He slumped, managing to stay upright only because Tobias had him pinned against the wall.
“This was more than a test, Marcus. Much more. It was a temptation. The bait was laid out, and you snatched it up without a second thought. You simpleton. You sinner.”
Marcus was grabbing at Tobias’ arm now, trying desperately to remove it. His lungs burned, his stomach burned. He watched helplessly as Tobias drew back his fist and launched it again into his stomach. For a split-second, he blacked out, and he panicked, kicking ineffectually at Tobias, who seemed unfazed. He gurgled and wheezed. Abruptly, Tobias removed his arm from Marcus’ throat, and the latter dropped to the floor, clawing madly at his neck, taking in raspy, shuddering breaths. He coughed and wheezed, and watched as Tobias stepped over and helped his son up from where he still lay, sobbing.
Tobias placed his hands on his son’s shoulders, and spoke directly to him.
“Joseph, my boy. It is time you learned. This is the duty of the Fisher Man. We set the bait, and when the sinner succumbs to the temptation, it is our duty to ensure they are caught.”
Suddenly, Tobias turned, and grabbed Marcus’ head with both hands. Before Marcus could react, Tobias heaved him up, and smashed his head against the stone wall of the church. Bright spots danced in Marcus’ vision, and blackness painted the edges. It was all he could do to stay conscious. He was dimly aware of a hot, wet feeling running down his neck. Tobias brought his head forward, then back, and Marcus heard a loud cracking sound and felt pain like he had never felt before. His vision was reduced to a tiny spot, as if he was peering through a keyhole. He felt his body shudder and jolt as Tobias picked him up and threw him over his shoulders. He vaguely heard Tobias call to Joseph as he was carried from the church, and down to the creek side. The men there watched as with a single great heave, Tobias threw Marcus into the creek. Marcus panicked and flailed, the sudden immersion in water shocking some sense back into him, and he tried to swim back to the surface. But he was disoriented, and weak, and he was unable to fight against the weight of his soaking clothing, which pulled him down. As he hit the bottom, he looked around, but could see nothing in the darkness. He had only barely regained his breath from having the wind knocked out of him earlier, and his lungs were already screaming. Slowly, the blackness closed on him. The last thing Marcus saw before passing out was a vague shape in the water, moving slowly but inexorably toward him. He screamed, and water rushed into his mouth and down his throat, filling his lungs with searing pain. Finally, the world went black for Marcus.
The men stood by the creek and watched Tobias watched the bubbles on the surface of the water. Finally, they slowed, then stopped appearing completely. Satisfied, Tobias turned back to his son, who was crying silently.
“Joseph, I want you to know, I took no pleasure in what I just did. I cannot. To take pleasure in the death of a man, even a necessary death, would be a grave sin, and as the Fisher Man we already stand perilously close to the jaws of the Fisher. To slip even for an instant would mean damnation. This is why we hunt animals – to purge our bloodlust.”
Tobias hugged Joseph tight. No man in the circle dared move, or even make a sound. Tobias’ hands were stained red with blood, and as he pulled away from his son he left matching red stains on the boy’s shirt and face. Tobias spoke to the group now, but still didn’t take his eyes off of his son.
“When Carter first stepped into our town and involved himself in our affairs – raised a hand against one of our own, even – I cautioned patience. That was the Fisher’s will. Even when he took upon himself the duties of a Fisher Man and took responsibility for the safety of my son, still I did not go after him, despite my deep personal desire to do so. It was too soon. But now the end of harvest season draws near. The Fisher must be appeased, to ensure our prosperity. And Carter, the sinner, must be punished. Him, and those who have aided him in his poisonous infiltration.”
Tobias stood, slowly, and wiped his hands on his shirt, leaving twin streaks of blood from his chest to his waist.
“No longer do I advise patience, and I certainly do not advise mercy. This is a holy undertaking, and if you stand with me, you will be rewarded. Stand against me…”
Behind him, the creek bubbled and flowed.
The people of Fisherman’s Creek slept restlessly.
Carter awoke multiple times in the night, sweating profusely sure that he would look over to his window and see Tobias’ face pressed against it, his eyes manic and a huge knife in one hand. The other would be beckoning. Finally, at around four in the morning, Carter gave up on sleep entirely, and lay staring at the roof until sunrise came.
In his own bed, Henry tossed and turned as well. Finally, he stood, and reached into the bottommost drawer in his bedside table. He dug around behind the detritus within and retrieved a half-empty packet of cigarettes and a lighter. He lit one and took a deep drag, letting the smoke coil slowly out of his mouth like a serpent, winding its way up to his ceiling.