Welcome to Ravens Cove, Alaska, a tiny town nestled in a small hollow on the majestic Cook
Ravens Cove (An Alaska Iconoclast Mystery)
The Legend Wakes
Seaman Sweeney Giles lay stock-still in a thicket beneath a stand of leaf-bare birch and willow trees. The full white moon silhouetted the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, spotlighting their open masts. Even at this distance, he heard the familiar sound of the ships' sails snapping and the halyards thumping in an increasing wind. The Resolution bobbed and pulled on its restraining anchors, mimicked seconds later by its consort ship, ready to be gone from this dark place. "They's be looking fo' me fo' sure," he muttered to the twisted stump of a long-dead, rotten-smelling birch. Its offspring, along with several anemic spruces, surrounded the stump. "Mr. Giles," a far-away voice called. Holding his breath, Sweeney, or Tooth, as the rest of the crew had so nastily nicknamed him because of his large, protruding, white tooth, pushed up on both hands to locate the author of the voice. "I'm havin' to move soon."
He inched up to the tree, peeking through late-autumn branches. Branches that moments ago had danced in the calm breeze snapped backward and slapped him as the wind increased. They'd want to be setting sail soon. "Mr. Giles," a different, unidentifiable crewmember's voice echoed through the wraithlike moonlight. Boots cracked the dry leaves and grasses no more than thirty feet to his right. Sweeney shoved, hands slipping as dry leaves gave way to slimy, wet ones. He landed nose first in the decay. He jerked his head up and listened, fearing he would be discovered. No footsteps. He released the breath he had held, relieved he had not been detected. Sweeney peeked through the tree branches. The landscape was dotted with faceless silhouettes that were black against the silver spotlight of the moon. He had to move. The countryside to his right and left consisted of dead grass and marsh. That had done well to hide his tracks as he ran to the thicket but now would only serve to reveal his whereabouts. He jerked his head to the rear. An opaque mist shrouded the landscape behind him.
He didn't know where he was going but he wasn't going to get caught. This was his chance at freedom, freedom he had sought for a lifetime. At 17, Sweeney knew far too much about the fear of pain and death. Guy Tillmooth had seen to that. Every day of Sweeney's young life was a testament. But that had ended with the death of the old man. Sweeney smiled as he remembered the day his father decided to lash him again--this time with the mare's halter. Sweeney didn't remember grabbing the pitchfork that hung inside the broken-down shanty that passed for a barn. Small shafts of light illuminated Guy Tillmooth's hulk. Tooth shivered remembering that face--sweat running into the wild, excited red eyes. All the beatings, all the venomous words spewed at him, all the preaching and drinking and beatings his mum had taken for him and instead of him, crashed through his brain in a vengeful wave. He lunged. The pitchfork caught Guy Till mooth in his gut, pitching the elder Tillmooth backward into
the hay, dirt, and filthy wreckage of the barn.
"Glory that were good," Tooth muttered, remembering the satisfying pop of flesh giving way to the fork. His smile widened as he remembered the smell of blood mixed with dirt, sweat and hay. Winded and shaking, he leaned on the wall, a hand still on the pitchfork in his father's belly. Recovering from the initial shock, Guy Tillmooth howled and made an unsuccessful attempt to pull the implement out of his body. "But I am a vigrus one, Mum always said." In actuality, the fear of his father's rage and pain renewed his strength. Sweeney loosed the fork and drove it in again. Bones cracked and the old screw gurgled a yell and dropped to his knees. Not able to speak, Tillmooth Senior's eyes pleaded with Tooth to spare him. Tooth's smile widened, a white dagger shining from his lips. "I done him off, then."
Tooth kicked the old man's head so hard it cracked. Guy Sweeney fell with a satisfying thud. Tooth sprung off the ground and came down, both feet, on Guy Sweeney's head. "It popped like a melon," Sweeney whispered, reveling in the memory.
All too soon to his taste, the cold reality of survival replaced the headiness of vengeance. Sweeney ran to the old, run-down shack of a house, grabbed the butcher knife, a shirt, a meat pie and never looked back. When night fell, a shaking, tired and disheveled Sweeney slept in the woods. Before sunrise, he bolted upright, hands to his throat and gasping for breath. The dream had been too real for his liking--he could still feel the noose tight on his wiry neck.
"Think, Tillmooth, think." Brow wrinkled in thought, Tooth banged his forehead with the palm of his hand. He stopped pummeling his head. He had a plan. Sweeney Tillmooth had none too much for brains but made up for it in a shrewdness born of the desire to live. He found his mark in a Mr. John Giles at the local pub on the docks. "Couldn't help but overhear," he started the conversation with a smile.
Giles turned his head left to scrutinize this stranger. Repulsed by the razor-toothed grin, he swung around on the bar stool and concentrated on the dark ale in front of him. The disgust in Giles' eyes did not escape Sweeney. The rage ose. Once he had it under control, he continued. "None to 'appy 'bout sailing, huh?" "None. No way 'round though," Giles growled. "Can't find no other job. The family 'as to eat." "Bad way. Leavin' those ya love for so long." Giles grunted. He looked at Sweeney again. "What 'appened to yer teeth?" "Bad luck. Just bad luck." "Mus' be hard." Giles turned a sympathetic look to Sweeney. The rage simmered to a boiling point again. Sweeney hated pity more than he hated a beating. "'deed." Was all he could choke out. They sat in silence, each in his own thoughts. Sweeney glanced sideways at Giles. "Buy you another?" Giles lit up like a candle. "'Deed." Giles was drunk in no time, leaning unsteadily on Sweeney, walking into the night with a newborn murderer who was hungry for this next victim. Late and quiet they rounded a building to "relieve his self," as Sweeney had said.
Giles stood, back to Sweeney. This was his chance. In one fluid movement, he removed the knife he had brought from home and slit Giles' neck. Sweeney watched him go to the ground in a puddle of flesh and blood, thrashing and gurgling in the final throes of death. He felt the power of new life fill him as he watched Giles' eyes glaze in death, a shell where a man once was. Sweeney was reborn as John Sweeney Giles and joined the Resolution crew. The crew had come to call him Sweeney when they weren't demeaning him as Tooth. "Thanks much, Johnny boy." Sweeney smiled, black gums absorbing moonlight as shadows absorb light. He had joined the crew of the HMS Resolution to run as far as he could from the memory of the drunk, horrid man who had brought him into this world. Irony raised its ugly head when he again faced a familiar situation. Captain Cook had become eccentric on this voyage. The crew cleaned the decks so many times a day Sweeney had lost count. No one ate or drank until Cook was satisfied. When they could eat, it was ordered they consume walrus meat, which was revolting and had half the crew fasting or throwing up.
To make matters worse, Cook's obsession with the Northwest Passage endangered everyone. He would not rest. The crew was sent onto storming seas in small boats at all hours of the day or night, at Cook's mind-crazed whim. "Mr. Giles." They were closer; he had to move and fast. Using the palms of his hands, Sweeney pushed and slithered backward, putting distance between him and the voices. Pain seared through Sweeney's left front calf muscle. He stifled the shocked scream that would reveal his location. He rolled to his side and scoured the darkness. Protruding from his left knee was a blood-red arrowhead. The deep cut ran from right below the knee to his ankle. Torn pants gave way to a view of torn skin and muscle. The blood trail would lead the others to him. He yanked the arrowhead from his knee. Must be an initiation to my new land, he thought, examining the cause of his pain in the pale moonlight. It wasn't red at all. It was glowing! "What be you?" He had heard of black magic. Many feared it in England.
As he stared into the rock, it began to pulse. Sweeney was pulled into a brilliant violet light. His head began to spin. He saw himself king of this barren land, all bowing to him. "No one here." He directed his comment to the stone. Sweeney shook his head and looked for something to wrap his wound. He examined the wound to gauge how much of his shirt he'd need for the bandage. There was no wound. "Crazy as Cook," he muttered. He was sure he had seen the wound and it had been severe. Something caught his eye--an enormous purple scar from calf front to knee. It was the color of the pulsing stone. For the first time in a long time, Sweeney felt terror, an emotion he had buried in his subconscious long ago. "Foolishness," he muttered, and continued with his plan. He heard footsteps of the expedition even closer. Scurrying backward yet again, Sweeney found himself in an uncontrollable fall. The ground underneath him gave way. He plummeted toward certain and agonizing death, then stopped with a loud whack. A misshapen hag of a tree had saved him. Its branches vibrated from the impact of Sweeney's weight. The trunk bent toward him. He was sure its bony, barky fingers reached for him.
"Crazier by the minute," he lamented. Sweeney took inventory. He recoiled in pain when he tested his right foot. The left, however, had never been better. It had added strength and stabilized him on the sloping path. He heard his shipmates still calling his name. Relief flooded him when he realized they were much farther away this time. It was as if the chasm was hiding him from the entire world's sight. In fact, this ravine was more silent than midnight in the woods close to his home in England. "I have no 'ome," he reminded himself. "Sweeney Tillmooth no longer exists," he chanted with glee.
Sweeney made a careful turn, so as not to slip again, and looked into the blackness. His right hand pulsed. He unclenched his fingers and smiled to know he still had his newfound treasure. Dark purple, black, and red swirled through the stone. "How can this be?" he whispered in wonder to the enigma.
The rock's colors mesmerized Sweeney. He again saw himself the king of this land; the one who they--whoever they were-- had waited for. He saw others bowing before him, bringing him gifts, bringing him blood gifts, human blood gifts. Sweeney's mouth widened into a sinister smile. A grin made even more menacing by the weapon of a front tooth protruding from his upper lip.
He returned from his glorious vision to see a ball of pulsing light, reflecting the stone's colors, coming toward him. Sweeney swirled around, using his left foot to scuttle back up the ravine. He slid back to the hag tree, an invisible magnet pulling him farther into the gorge. He was trapped. The orb bobbed up and down and in a steady, patient pace advanced toward him, just as his mum said it did when you, "was gettin' ready to die."
"No, the will-o-the-wisp tale is the rambles of a crazy woman, livin' too long with a crazy man." He pushed with his foot again and slid back to the hag tree again. He fell, spread-eagled on the ground, his good foot against the tree. The light came closer; Sweeney gazed deep into it and smiled. It was his friend. Counting his beloved treasure, he had made two friends today. More than he had in his entire life. This one portended that he would be king and the One. He saw it reflected in the purple, red, and black pulsing inside the dirty yellow light. It stopped advancing and hovered over his chest. Its pulse and his were in rhythm. It spoke to him.
"Sweeney Tillmooth, you will have all the power, all the respect you have always known you deserved. You will prey on the weak, destroy the ones that think they are powerful and consume them to make you more powerful." The being dripped yellow light into Sweeney's welcoming heart. He felt cold, all emotion drained from him. The creature pulled its members out of his heart, made a two-fingered hand and pointed him deeper into the ravine. The jaundiced fingers sent ochre light out into the chasm of darkness. He saw it! There was his new home. His new subjects smiled in welcome, exposing sharp, white teeth and flashing red eyes.
Below him was a path, lined by carbon copies of the hag tree. How much time has passed? He did not hear anyone calling his name. He took a hesitant step forward, stopped and looked over his shoulder. A small voice nagged that he not go there; he should go back to his ship and go home.
"This is my 'ome; my futurity," he pronounced. Who cared if they heard? He was safe now and could kill them all. He knew and wanted this. "Come for me, my mates." He beckoned with his finger, realizing it was oozing the yellow bony light. He looked at his own chest and recognized it no longer. It oozed yellow, black, and red. The purple had been eaten by the black. The ooze made its way down his stomach, splitting and flowing down both legs.
A noise behind him made Sweeney spin to face the head of the path. He surveyed the darkness for the source. As clear as if it were day, he could see a snow rabbit, turning white for the coming winter. He seized and devoured it. The satisfying crunch of the bones and the juicy organs refreshed him. To his surprise, he also tasted its fear and it empowered his soul. "Yes, come, my mates. Ye'd taste good 'ndeed." Tooth grinned. He turned back to the downward path. He walked into the gorge, centuries later to be known as Ravens Ravine, the haunted place. One foot poised to step through the arch, he stopped in midstride as a brilliant blue light filled the darkness. So bright he squinted, then covered his eyes with both hands as the glow intensified.
Sweeney howled in pain. His eyes burned. The fire-blue light shot toward him and he fell to his knees. "Sweeney Tillmooth, do not go in." The voice rushed toward him, a cascade of thunder and music flowing over him. "You can still return to the living." "Who are ye. What are ye?" he croaked. The gooey yellow membrane shrank behind him. "Tell it to go! It is not your friend," Yellow hissed as it shrank further from him.
"I am a messenger of the One who was, Who is, and Who is to come! Turn back, Sweeney Tillmooth." Sweeney considered. That small voice inside of him spoke again. "Listen, Sweeney," it pleaded. Sweeney danced, his weight on one foot then the other, "I needs to think." He smacked his forehead with the butt of his hand in a one-two rhythm. "Remember the continual beatings and all because you were given that drunkard as a father," Gambogian hissed through the yellow light. The hatred rose in Sweeney like a buoy flies to the top of the ocean. "Where was this 'un when I was a boy? Where was God then?" he screamed. The yellow membrane pulsed closer to Sweeney, caressing his hatred. The angel spoke. "Always there, Sweeney, watching, loving. He does not will that any should perish! You can still choose life." Sweeney considered. He had murdered his own father, another sailor and a rabbit, if you can murder a rabbit. "You can rule this land or hang. Choose!" Gambogian snarled. "Out of the way," he said, trembling, "I said out of the way!
I have chosen life, to never be abandoned by your God again!" The blue white light dulled and the angel shot to the sky like a rising star in the night. "Good, Sweeney," the light pulsed into his mind, "excellent. Now, go through the doorway to your new kingdom and the power that waits!" Sweeney looked toward the arch of trees that made the doorway to the flat bottom of the ravine. His hands sweated, heart raced. He hesitated. "Go through, now!" "No turnin,'" Sweeney declared and pulled himself up to his full height before walking through the archway. The darkness absorbed all light. Sweeney felt something in front of him. Sulfur and decay penetrated his nostrils. The presence growled, and then laughed. "Who's t-t-there?" "I always answer a dying request," It snarled, "my name is Iconoclast, and I am your destiny." He heard the moist sounds of lips being licked. Sweeney turned and ran, but his night vision was gone. Black engulfed him. Somehow he made it to the doorway, clawing at the hag trees that surrounded it. He screamed for help but his shrieks were silent in the evil one's lair. He continued to yell as he felt the first bite sear through the scar that now pulsed an iridescent purple. His silenced screams continued for hours. When the beast was finished eating Sweeney's soul, flesh, and mind, it burped in satisfaction. The arrowhead lay on the ground where it had dropped. The evil one's fingers curled around it. "Good, good Pet," Iconoclast smiled as the stone throbbed black to black and purred. Gambogian joined them. Together they laughed as Iconoclast threw the shell of Sweeney Tillmooth to the top of the ravine. He fell with a sick thud, a bag of fluid muscle.
Sweeney's shipmates found him there and they ran. They ran as if pursued by the hounds of hell. If you had asked any of these crewmembers, none of them heard the growls and laughter that echoed around them as they galloped to the boats along the shore. And if you'd asked any of the crew, they never found Sweeney that night. He had just vanished. But none who saw him struck the image from their minds of the once man, now seeping jaundiced yellow from his pores, his eyes seeping gooey black and purple liquid, a skeleton's smile on his face, and missing his prized, sharpened tooth. None would speak of it again. Sweeney's final resting place was never the same, either. It never grew a living thing where his body had lain. The earth lay tarred as a testimony and warning for all who came near Ravens Ravine.