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The Tillerman

Part Two

A shadow settled on Mitch’s face. He had seen some of his best men enter the Fog and heard the unthinkable screams that followed. Nobody came back from the Fog.

‘Why should I believe you?’

‘You really like repeating yourself, don’t you?’ The Tillerman replied, showing a vague smile for the first time since the conversation started.

‘What’s your price?’

The Tillerman said nothing. She looked around the room, at the people on the dance floor, at those underaged kids doing lines at the bar and spending their parents’ money. She looked at all those too ignorant to know of what terrible things were happening outside their own comfortable bubbles.

When the Fog first came, Inishmore was completely engulfed, and like erased from the map. The Fog ate up everything surrounded by the ocean’s waters. Nobody and nothing who went in it ever came through.

When the Fog first came, The Tillerman was travelling back home for the first time in ten years. She was steering her own boat, like her father had done many times before.

When she reached the island, she found no one. All their belongings were still there, all their lives left behind, untouched, frozen in the moment. All the people were gone. Each one of them, just gone. She never told anyone how she made it out alive, why she was the only one who could traverse it.

‘I want nothing from you now.’ The Tillerman told Mitch Barnsley, back in the bar in the heavily urbanised London. ‘Consider it a favour. But one day, I will claim back on it.’

It had been years since that day, but she remembered it like it happened only hours ago.

Wandering around the island, on her own, terrified, she then saw a figure walking through the Fog, in the distance. It was diffuse at first, blurred lines and shaky contours were slowly moving past Callahan’s run down cottage.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

As she approached, it became clearer. She felt it at first, a presence, an energy. And then she heard it speak, albeit with no physical voice. It was like the wind carried its whispers. They became sharper, and they all said her name, over and over again, an eerie chant. When she finally caught up with the figure, she understood it was a woman clad in a long, grey dress, her head covered and her face absconded. When the woman turned around, The Tillerman saw her own mother.

‘Do you have to be so fucking cryptic about it? Can you not just tell me now?’ Mitch Barnsley commented, bringing The Tillerman back from her memories induced reverie.

‘Mr Barnsley, you can refuse my assistance. But this whole thing really comes down to whether you can get someone else to do the job by Sunday.’ The Tillerman replied, look of boredom plastered all over her face.

Mitch fretted for a few more moments. He knew the Fog took all without discriminating and no questions asked, but he was truly at the end of his rope. He trusted Pol. Pol had vouched for The Tillerman. But Mitch did not feel comfortable making a blind deal with someone he’d never met before. And The Tillerman sent shivers down his spine.

There was something dead in her eyes whenever she looked away. He’d seen people who killed before, but it had always been a death dictated by the job. He’d never done it himself, but he always felt he was justified in ordering it. The game was survival in his business, and he always won.

Unlike him, The Tillerman looked like someone who had to kill her own conscience every time someone died. Maybe in her world she did not have the privilege of associating death with commercial value. Maybe in her world death was something she had to take home with her, live with it, wrestle it in her mind. Mitch had no such dilemmas, but deep down he feared those who kept on doing it despite the mental toll. It made them not only resilient, but also unpredictable.

The Tillerman made a move that indicated she was ready to leave.

‘Ok, ok. Wait. Ok.’ words stumbled out of Mitch’s lips, his mind spinning around all possible ways his next choices could have gotten him into serious trouble in the near future. He decided, however, that no trouble The Tillerman could give him would be worse than losing the shipment The Whale entrusted him with. ‘Ok, it’s a deal’ he extended his open hand. ‘How are you going to do this?’

The Tillerman looked at his outstretched sweaty palm, then at his greasy face. She got up and carefully arranged the chair back under the table.

‘I will be in touch before Sunday, Mr Barnsley. Pol, this makes us even.’

She turned towards the door and walked out into the night.

Her mother told her the day they met on Inishmore that she was the Fog.

She said her husband took her out on his boat one day and threw her overboard because he knew she wanted to leave him. She could not bear a life at his side, and he could not bear to know that she was in love with another man. Just before she drowned, she cursed his name and vouched to return one day, in any form mother nature allowed. She promised to find her daughter and take the child with her.

But The Tillerman refused to be with her mother. She understood that doing that meant she would have had to die by suicide. She got on her boat and steered it away from Inishmore. Her mother could not stop her, because for a soul to join her, it had to go to her willingly. Instead, she took all those who travelled towards her. The sea was vast, and so was her patience.

Nobody came back from the Fog. Except for The Tillerman.

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