It lingered, the question; precious as it was to him, the answer clogged my throat.
“And no one else will get hurt, right?”
I sat back in my chair, taking in my little cousin’s wet, snotty face. His chest rose and fell with the hushing sobs. He was terrified, looking at me in a way I had never seen him do, like he wanted a parent to shelter him right now and that parent was me. His tough bravado had gone to waste, and I had watched him shift from the stern man he put an impression to be, to the child I knew he was, beaten and scarred, stuck in Dorley with the drunks and the monsters, making his living gutting dead fish. Not a life for an eighteen year old, I know.
I rose from my seat and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
“Not a soul, I promise. Let’s go.”
It was drizzling lightly from a pasty sky that stretched above Dorley, a dome over the whole of the town. It was, I figured staring at it, in mourn with the folk.
“Smells like a storm.”
Eli brushed away the raindrops like they were his own tears.
“Come on it’s this way.”
He led me near the place where I first met Paulie, down at the ol’ harbor where the smallest of the boats were tied.
There were three red shacks all the way at the end of the dock, narrow buildings with scraped out tinted windows, breathing through finger wide cracks. I spotted Salpa, my uncles’ old green and yellow boat floating by herself, pulling on the rope when the water pushed at her.
Eli waved at me to come shelter him from passerby if there were any at all. He picked up an iron rod from the junk piling around a barrel turned trash can, a mass of empty beer bottles, metal shards and what not.
“It’s this one.”, he pointed at the shack in the middle, “They keep most of the fuel here. I don’t bother asking for none.”
“Yeah? Where do you get yours from?”, I asked shielding him while he slid the rod behind the rusty chain holding a fist sized padlock. He pulled at it.
“Kieran buys it cheaper from some guys in Salem. Shit, this won’t budge!”
He struggled with the resisting chain.
Eli stepped aside and I griped tight the rod with both hands. I gave it a couple of good nudges and it broke the ring, the chain along with the padlock hanging loose now.
“Ain’t too bad huh?”
I pivoted in time to catch a figure leaping at Eli. It caught Eli in the chest and sent him flying through the shack’s doors. Holding the rod I swung, but the hand grabbed it and returned it with force towards my face.
I slumped back tripping over my own feet.
Paulie stepped over me, rod in hand.
“Thinkin’ about goin’ down in a blaze eh, Jackson? Ain’t goin’ to happen son.”
I came to myself in time to see the rod flying down. I rolled over and when Paulie tried the same thing again I was quicker and kicked him in the crotch. He bent over in a short wail of pain dropping the rod. On knees and elbows I managed to pull myself to a standing position. He raged at me. I ran along the dock, but slipped on the wet stains while trying to evade him. Paulie caught me by the jacket and threw me back.
I realized, slowly and painfully his inhuman strength. I dropped down, head first and rolled, lying there on my side, spitting out blood. My hand hurt and when I shifted so as to be on my back it snapped in an odd way the flushed me with nasty nail biting pain. I saw my wrist was broken along with two of my fingers, already purple and swollen.
Paulie’s boot kicked me in the chin. He straddled me, throwing down punches; his where short and fast, but they hit like bags of concrete.
“How does it feel, losin’?”
I spat my answer in his face. His weight on my body was impossible. Then he looked at me, that deep green of his murky and washed, distant, like I was staring up at the monster not the man. He opened his mouth, showing me his poisonous limb. I did something that surprised me. Suddenly his arms were inches from my face. I used my free, unbroken hand to grab at them and pull, trying to yank the monster out of Paulie. He panicked and pulled back, gagging, unable to take them back in or close his mouth. I felt them wriggle in my grasp, desperate to free themselves. Paulie gasped for breath.
Eli’s weak scream came from within the shack. I screamed back.
“Load the boat!”
I dug my nails into the slime, before letting go of the limbs, unable to hold any longer. They snapped back. He slurped them in, rocking back and forth in pain, rambling.
“What did you do? What did you do?”
I crawled along the dock searching for something to defend myself with. There was a sharp piece from a beer bottle and I grasped it in my palm.
Paulie’s arms grabbed me tight around the neck. He had me for the choking idea in seconds, tilting my head, hushing into my ear while pulling me to a kneeling position. I arched my back responding to his pressure, giving way for him to kill me faster. I saw the sky, grey cloudy whirlpools colliding with one another, creating a monster, consuming the vastness. Breathing became so hard, the day unclear as my eyes shot back. I didn’t have the strength to fight free.
Then I remembered; the shard slicing into my own palm from me squeezing it tight. I swung my free hand with it, connecting with something. The tip, I felt, sunk in, deep in. I let go of the shard. Paulie’s grip instantly loosened and I inhaled, thirsty for air. His body left mine.