Read part 1 The pair sat in a coffee shop in the centre of town discussing Clifton’s next move. Conversation soon moved to the Fishmen, as they figured their game of snakes and ladders was distracting them from the task at hand. Finding the Fishmen would be difficult. There were several versions of the Fishmen story, each placing the monsters at a different site. Some claimed the Fishmen stole unattended towels at the waterslide, others believed they haunted the tuna aisle of the supermarket and one story told of the Fishmen having a summer job at Sea World. But the most commonly recounted legend placed them at the Lonely Pier. It was called the Lonely Pier because it lay 1 km from the shore, was decrepit and had abandonment issues. The original designers had not taken into account the sheer futility of a pier that wasn’t reachable. The neglected jetty was wonky and weather beaten; the wood was a dying grey, its rusted flagpole rattled in the wind and the ice cream stand and its kindly operator Mr. Gribbon had been overrun by barnacles.
Pip suggested the pair venture across town to the library to research the legend. As the pair left, Clifton noticed a magazine on the adjacent table. It was a copy of Fortune Magazine and on its cover was the maid. She had followed Clifton and Pip and perched on the magazine for comfort. Discovered, she leapt from the table and vanished into an indoor fern. Clifton studied the cover to find a picture of the maid. He concluded the maid must have been a former executive, lured into service after attending one of Jessup's corporate retreats.
Getting across town proved difficult as it was market day and each street was lined with stalls selling fruits, vegetables, seafood and scented candles. On the ride across town, Clifton had a feeling the townspeople were watching him. It was quite likely word of his quest had gotten out. It was also equally as likely that he looked like the type of person who would be fond of scented candles, given their driver's penchant for rancid tuna attire.
The library also functioned as a bicycle chop shop, forcing Clifton and Pip had to step over a pile of sprockets and sawn bike locks to enter the building. As Clifton pushed through the doors a feeling of unease came over him. The usually busy learning centre was completely empty.
As he edged further inside his anxiety intensified. Every book on every shelf was exactly the same: The Legend of the Fishmen. Hundreds of pristine copies lined the walls and there were even The Legend of the Fishmen audio books narrated by Kenneth Branagh and a slug. Clifton quickly turned to catch Pip’s reaction, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Pip? Pip! Greg?” shouted Clifton.
But there was no reply and no sign of Pip. Clifton flicked through a copy of The Legend of the Fishmen, but all the pages were empty except the very middle page, which bore the words “Lonely Pier” and of course there was a full bibliography, index and forward by the slug. Clifton frantically riffled through each of the books, throwing them to the floor when he saw each was the same as the last. He calmed himself and moved slowly away from the pile of books.
Clifton emerged from the library/bike chop shop to find the streets completely empty. Every market stall was unattended, disheveled fruit stands lay over turned and there was a dense smell of fish in the air, unrelated to his driver, who too had disappeared. The town was dark even though it was the middle of the day and the fire hydrants had turned a deep shade of aqua blue; they were usually turquoise.
The library had communicated a clear message and had explained why the instances of bicycle theft in the town were so unusually high.
Clifton climbed aboard the carriage, sitting in the driver's chair. But before he could take the reins, the horses trotted forward.
The horses took Clifton to the town's rocky beach, driving him to the water's edge. Pip was there waiting. She looked shaken and had masking tape stuck across her mouth. On the tape was written “I’m out of soup.” Pip threw a terrified look out to sea. Waves crashed against the Lonely Pier. Clifton, climbed down from the carriage and moved toward Pip, but she raised her hand and stopped him.
Clifton stood before the water fraught with fear. "Gangplank, shot across the bows, all hands on deck," he said.
Clifton heard a loud moo. Beside him stood a nonchalant cow chewing on a bucket. He stared into the cow’s eyes. A sense of calm came over him.
“Ich bin eine kuh,” said the cow.
Clifton nodded and marched into the sea.
It was a long swim to the Lonely Pier and at about the 800 metre mark Clifton questioned why he hadn’t simply taken a boat. As he paused to catch his breath, Clifton heard the distant song of a pan pipe.
"I've never swam to a ghostly and appropriate sound track before," he said to himself.
Clifton reached the pier. The sea was choppy and the pier was even more foreboding than he’d imagined. He’d also imagined it to have an amusement arcade, but this assumption too was incorrect. Around the pier floated eleven oxygen tanks. This, Clifton had anticipated. Year 12 students had placed them there in 1988 as an end of year muck-up-day prank that that most assumed was a failed art installation. Clifton chose a tank that looked the least likely to call him childish names and put the breathing apparatus in his mouth. He heard a distant cackle coming from the shore. On the beach, Clifton swore he could see the outline of a naked man in an akubra hat. It could have also been a tarp. Gathering his composure and the marbles he’d just dropped, Clifton took a deep calming breath from the tank and sank under the water.
Down and down, went Clifton; deeper and deeper. The water was dark, cold and murky. He closed his eyes, fearing what he might see. This didn’t help, as Jessup had drawn pictures of ghosts on the insides of his eyelids. Clifton felt himself stop sinking. He mustered all his courage and slowly opened his eyes.
There they were waiting. Suspended in a giant six-pack holder attached to the wooden pylons of the pier were the Fishmen. The collection of half-dead-half-alive sailors, swimmers, fishermen and lifeguards were grotesque to behold. Their skin was pale green, their eyes white and their shirts un-ironed. Fish swam in and around their decaying flesh, nibbling at every exposed piece. The Fishmen’s hair was long and floated eerily. They squirmed, trapped in each ring of the six-pack holder. In unison they wailed Clifton’s name.
“We can hear your thoughts,” said one.
“I find your contention on photocopiers in a globalised market frightening,” said another.
“Who are you?” thought Clifton.
“We’re the Fishmen, you idiot!” answered the Fishman in the bottom left ring.
The largest of the Fishmen, who was in the top centre ring, introduced himself.
“My name is Rick.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” said Clifton.
“We are beautiful, yes?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“Ah, but beauty is only skin deep.”
“Well, you haven’t got much skin left, have you?”
“Ha ha! You jest like Bertie here used to, before a marlin ate his tongue.”
“We intrigue you,” they whispered together.
Pan pipe music washed over Clifton.
“Tim!” snapped Rick. “Put that bloody pan pipe down!”
“I was just trying to create a bit of atmosphere,” said Tim.
“Well, it’s bloody annoying,” signed Bertie.
“Its beautiful music is like a spell. It lures sailors and swimmers down here.”
“It does not,” said Rick
“It lured him here.”
“Actually, I was coming here anyway,” corrected Clifton.
“You see! Why can’t you play something different once in a while?”
“I don’t know, a bassoon?”
“A bassoon? Where am I gonna get a bassoon?”
“Well, where did you get the panpipe?”
“I fashioned it from wood from the Lonely Pier.”
“No wonder the bloody thing is falling down, you keep whittling away at the supporting beam!”
“Gentlemen!” interrupted Clifton. “I’ve come here for a reason.”
“Oh, yes,” remembered Rick, “we are prepared to reveal our true nature to you.”
“Alright,” urged Clifton.
“Placid,” stated Rick.
“Yep, placid,” agreed Tim.
“Very placid, I’d say,” said another.
“Would you say placid, everybody?” confirmed Rick.
“Yep, yep,” they all agreed.
“Oh,” began Clifton, taken aback, “well… eh. Thanks for that. Nature noted. Guess I’ll just be heading back to the surface.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” said Rick.
“You’re going to become happy, like us,” said Tim, gleefully.
“We have plenty of room for you to join us!” cackled Rick.
“Eh, no thanks,” declined Clifton.
“You have no choice!”
The Fishmen threw out their arms. Reels and reels of fishing line erupted from the six-pack holder. The line entangled Clifton. He struggled and wriggled but was unable to break free. The Fishmen pulled at the line, dragging Clifton toward them.
“No!” cried Clifton.
“You are going to be happy like us!”
“You have seen our nature and now you shall live it,” the Fishmen chanted.
Clifton was drawn closer and closer, futilely struggling in desperation.
From the coral below came a flash! A pair of pruning shears torpedoed toward him. As the shears cleared the coral, a woman materialised. It was maid/Fortune 500 top earner. She drew apart the blades and cut through the fishing line.
“No!” cried the Fishmen.
The maid grabbed Clifton and pulled him away from the outstretched arms of the underwater ghouls. As she dragged him to the surface, the maid launched the shears at the Lonely Pier, striking what was left of the supporting beam.
“Oh, drat.” said Rick.
“Who the hell says ‘drat’?” asked Tim.
“I used to,” signed Bertie.
The pier crumbled and sunk slowly to the bottom, taking the Fishmen with it.
On the surface, Clifton pulled the remaining pieces of fishing line from his clothes.
"Thank you," said Clifton. "What's your name?"
"Carla," she said, coyly.
"You were a CEO, why did you give it all up to clean Jessup's farm?"
"I don't know; it was a hell of a corporate retreat. Three trust exercises in and I'd signed up to join him."
Clifton leaned in to kiss her, but she turned her face away.
"Sorry," she said. "Your beard is way too patchy for me."
The awkwardness of the moment became unbearable and Carla quickly paddled away into some kelp and disappeared.
On the shore, Clifton found Pip lying in a daze covered in Campbell’s soup cans.
“Put those in the bin,” said Clifton.
Pip laughed as though she’d been guillotined and picked herself up.
“What’s next? Should we discover the temperament of the Horsepeople?”
“Go away,” said Clifton, bluntly. "It's time."
Clifton stared pensively out to sea. He smiled and in one swift motion flattened two cardboard boxes, strapped them to his arms and ran. Clifton flapped his arms and when he reached the edge of the water, launched himself into the sea.
"This is nowhere near as fun as it looks on television!" he cried.
Clifton and Pip's folkloric adventures with monsters & ghosts will continue wiith a new entry every week. Unless, of course, the stories blow and in that case I'll abandon ship. If nothing else we've all learned a few nautical idioms. Use them wisely.
Next story: The Shadow Imp
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