Tar (Warning: mature unpleasant content)

June 20, 2009 at 4:49 am (Free story, speculative fiction) (, , )

Welcome to another free story. This has been made all pretty by the people at Drollerie Press as a tease for their ebook, Needles and Bones, which features another story “At Sea”, which takes place after this one. This character appears in a LOT of my stories. “Tar” is chronologically her beginning.

 Needles & Bones is now available in the Drollerie Press bookshop (buy page: http://drolleriepress.com/bookshop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=11&products_id=85  description page: http://drolleriepress.com/needles-bones/)


I woke up sticky. My eyes were glued shut, and I smelled that coppery smell. Not again. I remembered the night before, when my rescuer came into my room and smiled, and grabbed at my hair. He licked me on the face and pulled me across the room. I struggled a bit, but I let him throw me down on the bed. That’s where I kept my knife. That’s where I killed him.

Not my first. Not my last, either, the way things are going.

His blood smelled off already, like meat hung on hooks in a drying room. I was tangled up with the sheets on the floor, and my legs ached from kicking his dead body. He was a lot bigger than me, and it took a lot of effort to kick him thoroughly. I pushed the bloody sheets away, and was glad I wasn’t like other girls. Other girls can’t make objects move like I can. A knife, for example, diving into a man’s chest and wriggling around inside.

Time to run away again. Another solo voyage, another deserted beach, and most likely another rescuer. Hopefully a better one.

I rubbed my eyes hard and cracked them open. My mouth tasted rank with blood. I stretched out my sore fingers and chose not to look too long at my rescuer still lying on the bed, frozen with his mouth gaping in stupid surprise. Sleep hadn’t made it better.

I smell awful. I smell of blood.

Tidy up, or you’ll never get away. I went to the door and leant my head against it. My body was sluggish. I wanted to go back to sleep.

‘Shut your face,’ I said to the wood, and it smoothed itself across the lock. No-one would open the door without an axe. That bought me some time. The usual headache came a few moments later, but I ignored it. My stomach rumbled. Wash first, then eat. And don’t wash in the house, or you’ll be seen.

The sea outside my window reached for the shore again and again, but never caught hold of it. I slid out over the sill, banging my elbows, and walked to meet it.

The water caressed my ankles, warm against my tired skin. It would be a hot day. I went deeper, until my feet couldn’t keep hold of the sand. The water filled my ears and nose, and made me clean. I walked back to the house and strode in by the front door, still dripping. My hair fell rough against my shoulders. Good. Pretty ringlets don’t suit me, and shouldn’t belong to me. All they’ve ever done for me is cause trouble.

The kitchen buzzed with sleepy servant girls. I wondered which of them were playthings of the master, and how they’d feel when they found his body. The food smelled off to me, but I ate it anyway; ate til I felt sick. I drank until I thought my stomach would burst. Remember how thirsty you were, when your little boat finally reached the sand. Don’t ever get that weak again.

Still I smelled that coppery smell. No. I definitely washed all the blood off. . . didn’t I? First my father, now my rescuer. What’s wrong with me?

A hand clamped on my shoulder. ‘Oi,’ said the head cook. Her thick face was wrinkled up in concentration. ‘Why are you eating here, instead of at table with the master?’

My mind left me, and I twisted out of her grasp and fled. Every step sloshed in my stomach, and I swallowed hard to keep from losing my precious breakfast. I heard the cook lifting her voice after me, but I didn’t hear the words.

No-one chased me. They don’t see pretty little me as a threat. Not the little ringletted girl who washed up on the master’s beach. I slowed down and looked back. Smoke from the cooking fires leaked from the doorway, dirtying the sky. The air still smelled of blood to me, and my stomach twisted in revulsion. Still I gazed at the kitchen, where I could find everything I needed. With no supplies I’ll die of thirst in days. No-one knows thirst better than me.

I went back, and made myself apologize to the cook. All I need is five minutes alone to grab supplies. ‘He’s in my room.’

Her face softened. She knows what he wanted from me. But she doesn’t know me. Not yet.

She whistled for the butter boy, and he jumped up from his churning stool. ‘Give the girl whatever she needs, Ulandin. She’s had a rough night.’

He nodded his head, and looked at me. I glared back.

His golden eyes widened, and he glanced guiltily at the cook. ‘You need a boat,’ he whispered as she left. ‘Don’t you?’

He knows. But he knows not to tell. Smarter than he looks, then. ‘I have a boat already, remember? Fetch me water, and quickly, and I’ll be gone before she gets back.’

He nodded. ‘I want to come.’

‘What?’ Not so smart.

‘Take me with you. I can keep us moving when you need to sleep. We’ll get farther together.’

He’s no older than I am. I looked at him more carefully. Pale yellow eyes, tight black hair. Good arms – too good. I won’t want to fall asleep near him.

‘Please,’ he said. ‘Take me with you. Kill me later if you have to.’

Now there’s a generous offer! He’s definitely serious, too. I held back a smile. ‘If you so much as look at me like the master did –’

‘I know better.’ He saw me wavering, and relaxed. ‘Master keeps – kept – water in his pleasure boat. It will be enough.’

‘I told you I have a boat.’

‘This one has a sail.’


He grabbed a near-empty flour sack and filled it with fresh bread. I helped. Even the bread smelled of blood to me. Bile rose in my throat, and I forced it down. Ulandin and I ran to the water; him with bread, and me with more water. There can never be enough. Though I suppose if he bothers me I’ll end up with twice as much.

The boat shed was locked – I told the door to move out of my way, and it did. Ulandin ran his fingers through his hair, but he didn’t speak.

A new smell hit me: tar. Thick and rich and sour as blood, but sharper. My stomach curled inside me, which was good. No blood smell. Not with that around.

There was a barrel of it on the jetty, shadowed by the shed. I made Ulandin lift it with me, and put it in the boat with our bread. It was too big for me to carry alone, and I’d need all my magic to shift the boat itself; an unsteady task when it was sitting on the sea. The only other boat was mine; a little toy of a thing. I left it there.

Ulandin was right; there was more water on board than I could have brought if I’d worked all day. Maybe he is smart after all. Maybe he’s just smart enough to live, without being smart enough to die for it. We’ll see.

I heard shouting as we sailed out of the open sea-doors, pushing ourselves away with long oars like poles. By the time the people reached the beach my magic had gotten our vessel past the breakers. The sail clapped against the mast as it gorged on sea air.

My head screamed at me. I collapsed onto the deck and half-closed my eyes to shut out the glaring sun. The smell of blood tore at my mind. It’s in my head. It will never stop.

     Ulandin jumped over me and did something to the sail above my head. He was careful not to touch me. Good boy. I’ll give you a biscuit later.

How can I still smell blood? There’s no death here. Just me.

     I sat up carefully. My arms were black with bruising where the master’s body had pressed against mine. I shuffled over to the barrel of tar. The stink of it shimmered the air. I reached in and buried both my hands in the muck. It was warm already from the sun. I took up handfuls of it and smeared it into my hair, pushing it in hard and sweeping back my black curls. No more girly hair. No more blood smell.

     The tar sunk in and stuck to me; hot against my scalp. I scooped out more and filled my hair with it until my curls vanished into a solid mass. The smell of it overwhelmed me. I almost fainted. But I didn’t.

I stood to my feet, and turned my back to the shore. The ocean stretched out before me, ready to be beaten.

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