Story-A-Day May #7: An Old-fashioned Beau

Back again to finish up the first week of the storyaday.org challenge prompts! So far, it’s been a great experience for me. I’ve hit my main goal of at least 1k words a day, and my less-serious goal of trying a new genre each day.

Today’s prompt is to write a story that’s driven by happiness, rather than unhappiness, without being overly sentimental.

***

An Old-Fashioned Beau

Tessa merrily skipped along the cobblestone street, looking up at an overcast sky and singing sweetly to herself. Soon, she would meet her beloved, and he’d take her away from this gloomy weather, this dour village, and all her tedious chores.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, her lack of attention to what was right in front of her nose sent her careening into a villager exiting the grocer’s. A basket of vegetables tumbled to the stones, fortunately the only damage done.

An old woman shook her cane. “Watch where you’re going, you menace!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Weatherby,” she said, though her continued exuberance caused her apology to lack sincerity. She scooped up the scattered vegetables, polished them on the sleeve of her dress, and returned the basket.

“Hmph. Always with your head in the clouds. Must be thinking about some young man.”

Tessa wore a coy smile. “Oh, I couldn’t say.”

“Poor lad doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Better tie him down before he figures it out.” Mrs. Weatherby teetered off, leaning heavily on her cane, still muttering.

Untroubled, Tessa continued on to the market beside the docks, where she breathed in the fresh seafood. Most ordinary people found the scent unpleasant, but she loved it. She loved everything about the sea — just not this seaside village, where no one knew how to dream.

Gregory waved as she approached his stall. “There’s our ray of sunshine. How do you stay so cheerful, when we haven’t seen the sun in a month?”

She laughed. “I know there’s always good news coming on the next wave.”

“I’ve never seen a trawler dredge that up in its nets. Must be too small to catch. So, what’ll it be today?”

“Six pounds of cod, please.” As he began wrapping the fish up in old newspaper, her voice lowered to an excited whisper. “And did you get the other thing?”

“…I did.” He ducked behind his stall and returned with a small wooden box, which his hand lingered atop. “Wanna tell me what this is for?”

“It’s a gift for a special someone.”

“Uh huh. They must be real special, alright.”

Tessa just grinned, put the goods in her basket — the box hidden at the bottom — and traipsed out of the market. She’d had some doubts that Gregory would come through, but it felt like destiny that everything would go perfectly with her fella tonight. Just like she’d planned for the last year.

Next, she needed to visit Old Man Vane, who lived outside the village. He still complained about all the racket, even though the sounds of local industry reached his cottage as little more than a whisper on the salty breeze. And he claimed more than a hundred acres as his “yard”, hollering at stray wanderers to get off it from the business end of a shotgun. He’d done the same to her a dozen times, but she always called his bluff.

‘Course he wasn’t bluffing with most folks, and more than a few had wound up picking lead pellets from their behinds.

Beneath a tumultuous gray sky, Tessa walked along the rocky shore, just close enough to taste the faint mist of crashing waves without getting soaked to the bone. The far-off lighthouse was nearly enveloped in fog.

She found Old Man Vane in his favorite rocking chair, where he rested between expeditions to defend his yard.

“If’n I’m not mistaken,” he said, “this is the last day of our agreement.”

“Yessir. What shall 

“The same again. There ain’t no other tune in my heart.”

Tessa knelt on a cozy rug beside the fireplace and set her basket down. Her eyes closed. She sang of hardy sailors and sturdy ships. Of rowdy ports between storms, and loves that vanished beneath the waves. Of mermaids and sea serpents, and other things that could never be. Though the songs weren’t as personal to her, she shared in some small portion of his sentiments, deep as the ocean and equally mysterious in its depth.

When she opened her eyes, his were stained with joyful tears. He held out a book, its cover scarred and black as night.

“Thank you,” she said, adding it to her basket.

He squeezed her hand. “I’ll be cheerin’ for ya.”

By the time she returned home, the sky was quickly darkening. There would be no stars tonight.

Soon, she had the cod sizzling on the stove, and her father limped in to set the dining table after a quick hug.

“Grateful as I am for a personal chef,” he said, “when are you gonna get out of here, and find some nice fella? I can more’n take care of myself.”

She smiled. “Maybe sooner than you think, pa. Don’t be surprised.”

“Surprised? I’ll be grateful for some peace and quiet around here. Just hope he won’t be a sailor, that’s no kinda life, always away from home.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

Once he’d cleaned his plate, she salted the remaining cod and hung it to dry, so he’d have something to eat tomorrow. She was too excited and nervous for food herself.

Late that night, she took her basket, with the box and book, and slipped out of the house, careful not to wake her father. Through a darkness that seemed to cling to her dress, she walked down to the deserted waterfront and out onto a lonely pier.

Tessa clutched the knife with which she filleted the cod. She opened the box to reveal a human heart — ethically sourced, she’d been assured. A dog-eared page in the book contained the words she’d been looking for.

“Oh, Ancient One, I beg you to rise. With blood my offering, and this my plea. From deepest sea, and darkest hollow, rise!”

She plunged the knife into the heart.

Great waves sprang from nowhere, crashing around the pier, drenching her hair and dress. Tessa stood, eager, hoping.

A tremendous swell shaped the sea before her, then broke through in the churn of white foam.  The eldritch abomination rose, a disorienting tangle of non-Euclidean geometry that seemed to touch the sky. Wicked spikes and hooked teeth and all that men feared dangled from fearsome appendages.

She waved shyly.

The deafening sound emanating from his mouth could shatter the psyche, cause empires to crumble, and summon horrors from before the birth of the universe. “Glrth’kghan, dur’ehm.”

He said the sweetest things.

The End

***

Thanks for reading!

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