Carter scrabbled backwards, getting awkwardly to his feet as he did so. He held both hands up, fingers outstretched on his empty hand, gesturing for calm.
“Please. I’m not here to hurt anyone, if I can help it. I just need to get to Tobias –“
Lee suddenly charged forward, sprinting at Carter, hands outstretched to grab him. Carter turned and ran, plunging forward into the darkness, eyes straining to see the trees and roots in the blackness ahead. They ran on like that, Carter horrifyingly aware of Lee’s pounding footsteps, mere metres behind him. Another sound joined the cacophony of snapping sticks and crackling leaves, growing louder as Carter moved forward. It was the sound of running water. Squinting, Carter could just make out the ridge that indicated the small valley that the creek ran through. He pressed on, and as he approached the ridge he took a gamble, vaulting it in single leap, barely breaking his stride. The ground on the other side was soft and damp, and angled sharply downwards. It was all Carter could do to keep his balance as he slid quickly downhill. The occasional sparkle of reflected moonlight and the splash and gurgle of rapidly flowing water was all that gave away the presence of the creek, and when he reached the bottom of the hill Carter took two quick steps and jumped. He planted his feet together on the other side of the water, stumbling slightly, then turned to face his attacker.
Lee had paused halfway down the hill, and although Carter could barely see the man’s face he could tell that he was hesitant to follow him. Carter recalled Gwen’s words about the belief that some Fisherman’s Creek residents had about a monster in the creek, the Fisher. Understanding dawned, and he called across the water.
“Please, just listen. I need to talk to Tobias. I know about the harvest. There has to be another way. You don’t have to kill people!”
Lee stepped carefully down the hill, and stopped at the bottom, still two metres from the edge of the water. He called back, his voice rich with an unpleasant, pleading tone.
“Just come back, Carter. This is going to happen. It has to happen. Please. Just come back. We’ll make sure it’s quick.”
Carter couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Come back so you can kill me? Are you kidding me?”
Lee suddenly sounded very, very tired.
“A sinner needs to be harvested, and caught by the Fisher. That’s all that’s keeping Fisherman’s Creek going – the Fisher’s good grace.”
Carter gingerly touched a finger to his nose. It responded with a hot flash of pain which brought tears to his eyes.
“And if I leave right now, and there’s no one to sacrifice to the Fisher?”
Lee’s reply was short, factual in tone. It contrasted strongly with his deep, gravelly voice – a voice that sounded custom-made for shouting and roaring.
“Then our town will die. But you aren’t going to run away.”
“How do you know that?”
Lee pressed a hand to his shoulder again. The blood was still flowing strongly, dripping to the ground next to Lee’s feet.
“Because if you were going to, you would have. You came to find us. And even now, you know I’m not gonna follow you. But you’re not running away. So come back. I’ll bring you to Tobias.”
There was silence. Lee peered into the dark. He couldn’t see very far at all. He thought he could just make out Carter, standing on the other side of the creek, but he wasn’t sure. He could barely even see the water. He called out again.
Someone pushed him in the back, hard, right between the shoulder blades, and he stumbled forward. Before he could turn around, whoever was behind him knocked him off his feet, and he fell forward, his upper body landing in the water. Lee panicked, trying to pick himself up and get out of the water as quickly as possible, but Carter pressed a knee in his back and yanked his arm backwards. Lee yelled, and stopped moving, craning his neck backwards to keep his face out of the creek water. His heart felt like it was going to pop, and he pleaded with Carter.
“Please get me out of the water, Carter, please let me go, let me go, let me out of the water please-“
Carter pulled on Lee’s arm, sending a wave of pain through the larger man’s shoulder
Lee trailed off, whimpering occasionally. His neck was starting to ache.
“I already know where Tobias is. I don’t need you. I had hoped to just leave you tied up. But maybe I should leave you for the Fisher instead-“
Lee shook and struggled, terrified.
“No, no no no no no-“
Carter placed a hand roughly on the back of Lee’s head, and pushed it forward into the water. Lee strained, but was unable to lift his face up. Finally, Carter released his head, and Lee arched his back, lifting himself as far out of the creek as he could, gasping and sobbing. Carter spoke, his voice cold.
“I’m going to let you go now. And you’re going to leave. You’re going to go home. Because I let you go – and I don’t think Tobias would have. Am I right?”
Lee just sobbed and spluttered. He was watching the creek carefully, scanning it up and down, looking for any sign of movement. Suddenly, his arm was released, and he felt the pressure of Carter’s knee lift off of his back. He quickly pushed himself off the ground, tripping over himself as he tried to move away from the creek as quickly as possible. He looked around, but Carter was already gone.
The only sound was the flowing water of the creek.
Tobias stood calmly in the middle of his hunting ground. Joseph sat at his feet, and he idly stroked the boy’s hair with one hand. His other was curled around the grip of his rifle, index finger resting lightly on the trigger. The harvest was generally conducted with knives and clubs – apart from anything else, it alleviated guilt in the participants by making the act of harvesting the volunteer a group effort – but he wanted an insurance policy, in case Carter tried to run.
A harsh voice cut across the silence.
“He is coming for you, Tobias.”
Tobias glanced around at his followers. No one had moved. He looked down at Joseph, who was still staring into the distance.
The voice spoke again.
“Carter is coming for you.”
Tobias whispered, and he felt Joseph stir.
“I know. And soon he will be yours. We’ll send him to you for judgement.”
The voice spoke again, and it sounded like it was standing right behind him, leaning forward, speaking into his ear.
“He’s coming to kill you.”
Tobias whipped around. There was no one behind him. He looked down, and saw the skeleton of a kookaburra a few metres away. It had been picked clean by scavengers. He stepped over to it, and crushed it beneath his boot heel. He spoke evenly as he did so.
“He won’t kill me. He is coming to be harvested. The Fisher Man will kill him.”
There was shouting in the distance, but he barely heard it. The voice was speaking louder now, and the harsh sound of it echoed around his skull.
“Maybe. But you must kill him quickly. He will try to speak to you, but you mustn’t listen. He is a sinner, a pawn of devils, a trickster. He will lie to you Tobias, and then he will kill you.”
The shouting grew louder, and Tobias was dimly aware that people around him were rushing off somewhere. Joseph shifted, and stood. Tobias paid him barely any attention. The voice was piercingly loud now, and he pressed his hands to his ears, trying to shut it out.
“Kill him, Tobias! Kill him! Kill Carter! He must be caught! He must be judged! Slit his throat! Shoot him in the gut! Break him bash him dash his head against the stones burn him drown him stab him bleed him like a pig gut him like a fish KILL HIM”
Tobias yelled wordlessly and spun around, putting his rifle to his shoulder and looking down the sights. There was nothing there, no sound except for the shouting in the distance. His head was pounding, and he could feel a vein in his temple twitching. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Joseph, looking concerned.
Suddenly there was noise, and movement, and the group returned. The two men in the leader were carrying Carter, holding him by the arms and lifting him so his feet barely dragged along the ground. There was a cut above Carter’s left eye, which was pouring blood, and the two men holding him looked as if they had been beaten. Tobias lowered his rifle, and stepped over to Carter. He indicated for the men to drop Carter to his knees and they did so, placing heavy hands on both his shoulders so he couldn’t run. Carter began to talk.
“Tobias, please, listen to me-“
Tobias struck Carter with the back of a fist, hitting him in the side of the head. Carter slumped, and shook his head. He looked up at Tobias.
SNAP HIM BREAK HIM IN TWO
“Tobias, you don’t have to do this.”
Tobias brought his leg back and launched a foot into Carter’s stomach, causing Carter to crumple. The men holding him lifted him up. Carter heaved, and brought up a thin, watery stream of vomit. Tobias leaned in, grabbing Carter by the hair.
“You have no idea what’s going on here, sinner. The burden I am under. The Fisher must be appeased, Carter.”
Tobias retrieved a large knife from a belt loop, and showed it to Carter.
“Save us, Carter. Save our town. Will you help us?”
Carter spat, and shook his head.
“I expected this.”
He stood up, and flipped the knife around in his hand, so that the blade was pointed at the ground.
“Joseph, come here.”
Joseph stepped forward, and Tobias held out the knife, handle towards Joseph.
“Take the knife.”
Mechanically, Joseph reached out and took the knife from his father. Tobias stepped back, and looked at Carter.
“If you are not given to the Fisher by your own will, Carter, then our town is dead. I cannot allow this. It would mean the death of me, my son, and the end of the line of Fisher Men.”