Something You'll Have To Live With (2)
By sean mcnulty
By early afternoon, the whole town had learned of the significant turn events with their monumental beach egg had taken. The mayor gathered everyone at the steps of the town hall and speaking through a microphone, he said: It is imperative we find...whatever it is...wherever it is...however we can.
However we can, repeated the sneaky political aide beside him, nodding sycophantically.
--So we have determined we should track down whatever it is wherever it is ourselves. In groups. To be safe. Our good Dr. Ryle here has advised we take precautionary measures so if you have anything sharp at home bring it along and use it to defend yourself – but only if something nasty gets a hold of you. Please act responsibly. I know there are many of you that have held grudges against one another for god knows how long but this is not the time for settling old scores. Also: if you do see something, do not attack unless you are attacked. Dr. Ryle is adamant that whatever it is it will be of great interest to the scientific world so if we can capture it alive that would be most preferable. If you see something, please give Peter Halloway a ring and he’ll be along with his fishing nets. Isn’t that right, Peter?
Peter Halloway, a council member and respected fisherman, was standing nearby. He was a big man with a bronzy lustre, untypical of the region. He stepped out in front of the crowd for a moment and said: Yep. Just give me a bell. If you don’t have my number already, it’s in the phone book under Halloway, P.P. Not Halloway, Peter. That’s a different fella who lives in the next town over. Halloway, P.P.
--What’s the other P stand for? someone shouted.
--Presley, answered Halloway.
There were gasps from the crowd.
--Anyway, continued the mayor. Just give Peter there a ring and he’ll come along and hopefully sort things out. Thank you, Peter.
--Not a bother.
--How are fishing nets going to stop it? said Lana Garrison. I’m only saying this in light of the sort of creature we were speculating about in the meeting.
The mayor shot Ms. Garrison a disapproving look, and shook his head in miniature in an attempt to hide this disagreement from the crowd.
--Mr. Halloway can handle it, Ms. Garrison.
--I can, agreed Mr. Halloway.
The sneaky political aide scoffed at Lana Garrison from the mayor’s side, shaking his head, rolling his eyes. –It’s all doom and gloom with you, isn’t it?
--I beg your pardon, said Ms. Garrison.
The sneaky political aide twitched impudently and looked out at the crowd to see if they were on his side. As it was, most of them were. It was disheartening to see how easily the public could stoop to siding with a sneaky political aide, perhaps the sneakiest in the county, if anyone had bothered to leave the town to measure him against the others.
--Well, I will have no part of this foolhardy enterprise, said Ms. Garrison. You might all get yourselves killed...or worse.
--What could be worse?
--I won’t be here to find out. I’ll be tucked away safely in my home completing my Taj Mahal jigsaw.
--That sounds just revelatory.
With that, Lana Garrison walked off to scattered hoots from the collective. Dr. Ryle was standing next to Sally Kneale in front of the mayor and he nodded slowly as Lana Garrison left. Sally noticed him nodding, and seeing that the nod appeared to be in favour of the infamous spinster’s decision, she began to question the doctor’s general knowledge of events. Did he know more than he was letting on?
The town began to break up into groups, as the mayor had suggested; most stuck with the people they knew, so search parties included teams of married couples, double-dating teenage sweethearts, even full nuclear families.
--As you’ve probably guessed by now, began Sally. I am single. So I think I might team up with you, Doctor, if that is okay with you.
--I won’t be staying for too long, replied Dr. Ryle. But I can help for a bit, sure. A team from Wildlife Services will arrive shortly to follow up on my analysis. Now the egg has hatched, they will be here sooner rather than later, I’m certain.
--Wildlife Services? Is that who you work for? I thought you were from the college in the next town over.
--I am. My field is marine biology. They’ll often ask me to investigate these things before they send in...the big boys.
They walked quite a way into town, past the chapel, the old swimming pool which now housed bats and the homeless from another town over, and towards the bridge on the outskirts which would bring them to purview’s end. Along the way, Sally took a photo of every abnormal thing she saw, of which there were only a few: scratches on road signs; worsened (since the last pictures) potholes: a full unopened bottle of Buckfast which she would have grabbed if it wasn’t for Dr. Ryle being next to her.
As they went over the small bridge that led into town, they spotted John Thornton coming in the other direction, walking with his beloved brown mongrel Boo on the other side of the road. He called over to them.
--Nothing at all, John, answered Sally. How about you?
--Nah, I’m not at that search lark. I’ll let the rest of you be at that. I’m just walking Boo.
--Good for you.
Sally admired John Thornton for his ability to cope. Twenty years widowed, he managed loneliness like a trooper, marching Boo through the town and along the beach twice daily. Sure, he would always arrive at day’s end to an empty house filled with memories, and dog food, and dog hair, and a lot of dog smell, but...he managed. Perhaps she too would manage her own solitude soon. She’d taken a fancy to Dr. Ryle, saw yearning in his eyes that was either the natural curiosity of a scientific mind or the pines of a lonely heart – she would take a chance on the latter, for Ryle braised the very loins of her, like no man in this vicinity had before. He was tall and swarthy, eloquent as all hell. That gabardine trench coat made him look like a character from a Hollywood classic of the 1940s – she liked those. And she often saw him petting his rough beard awkwardly as though it was an uncomfortable thing to wear but she would happily have sunk her face into it and let the bristles pinch. True, he suffered a kind of hip priest syndrome, defiant of age, and itching to please----but in him she found it endearing and could look right past it.
Dr. Ryle was a few yards ahead of Sally at the end of the bridge when he suddenly stopped to observe the sleepy stream flowing beneath them. Getting nearer, she saw that he wasn’t at all interested in that pitiful piss spill which she’d often remarked was proof their seafront was regularly receiving rot injections; he was rather concerned with a commotion on the embankment involving two whole families who were bickering with one another about something down there. They decided to see what was going on, so turned at the bridge, and walked down a little pathway onto the grassy bank. As they walked, Sally warned Dr. Ryle: Be careful, the people in this town never make the headlines unless they’re on the loose with weaponry.
Within better range of the quarrelling clans, they could hear one of the young sons yelling: We found it first!
Two young girls about the ages of seven and nine were on the ground pulling lumps of hair out of each other and the fathers were too engaged in an almighty chest-heaving stand-off to break their daughters up. The mothers were facing one another with blades aimed and funnelling dog’s abuse with exquisite skill. The less violent participants of the row were the sons, though there was still a point of contention between the two of them. They were standing over a large dust-grey carcass with a rusted pole sticking out of it and debating ownership of the murder.
--It was me that stuck it, said one of the boys. So it’s ours.
--I saw it first and told you, said the other boy. You just got here before us. The kill belongs to the Muckian family.
--No, the O’Hares. Up the O’Hares.
--That’s right, son, said one of the mothers, pausing from her personal battle. Up the O’Hares!
Dr. Ryle and Sally ignored the bickering families and went directly to the slain object on the ground. It was a nasty-looking pole the boy had pierced it with, something which had probably been pulled from a skip, and this was likely, as there were plenty of skips around town, and they had been providing the townsfolk with fortification all day long. On the creature’s silver and brown fur, which was wet already, presumably from being in the water, there was rust fallen like infinitesimal orange peel, and still it sprinkled steadily from the pole. Around the entrance wound, a thick gurgling ring of red blood. The creature was enormous enough to qualify as an incongruity, long and slender, yet its scrunched-up face called to mind various animals that were definitely of this world. A rat, for instance – a very big, very long rat – but Sally immediately suggested it wasn’t big or long enough to have hatched from the eight-foot egg they’d been saddled with for the last few weeks. Dr. Ryle agreed.
--It’s a mustelid, he said. But a much larger one than I’ve seen in the waterways of this region.
--I’ve never seen an otter.
Dr. Ryle was shocked.
--You mean you live here beside the sea, surrounded by all these rivers and streams and countless other gifts of nature, and you’ve never once seen an otter?
--No. And what about it? I suppose, Doctor, you’ve seen everything, have you?
--Not at all.
There was a woah-woah there from behind them all and when they turned, there was Peter Halloway bouncing up with a whole load of netting tied to his back and a proper harpoon in hand, certainly a tool that hadn’t originated in one of the town’s many skips. Or if it had, Halloway’d got in there before anyone else, that’s for sure.
--Now now, why are you all shook up over here?