Prompt: The cries could be heard across the moors. The villagers listened as they ate their dinner, content that it wasn’t them who had to suffer… (An image of a partly-flooded castle was also provided)
They were called to dinner a little early, as it was best if everyone was seated before the guests arrived. The Castle of Airholt was a truly old building, but it was as clean as the day it was built. The air was sharp, free of dust, as Lysinia clicked her way through a corridor in tiny fancy shoes.
She stopped in front of the door to her brother’s room, but didn’t look at it. She stared straight ahead, towards the stairs, towards the dinner table and its nine empty seats. Lysinia felt a cold lump slide down her throat. The lump argued with her all the way down, telling her to cough over and over again. Coughing was life. It was aggressive breathing, a challenge to her brother from beyond his door. It would challenge him to cough back, but she knew he couldn’t. She heard nothing from the room, as if there was just a massive block of stone past the door.
She kept moving, eventually making it downstairs to the foyer, where the owners of the castle had moved the dining table for the evening. Lysinia didn’t own her room or much of anything really. She was allowed to stay in Airholt because she was one of the few people left. Every survivor of the deepening waters had been granted a home there.
All she had to do was obey the actual owners: a married couple in their ninth decade. She pulled out her chair and sat just as they instructed her, though she felt the urge to object to her placement. She was right next to one of their guests’ chairs. She would have to sit next to one of them for a whole meal without grimacing or gasping. That was a titanic task these days. Their guests would have the manners of rowdy catfish.
They all wore their finest clothes, and most were in silver or white to match the colors of the castle. It wasn’t out of pride; it was simply to enhance the presentation. Their guests always had something to say if dinner went wrong, so the humans of Airholt denied them as many mistakes as possible. They didn’t eat yet. They sat in absolute silence, with the front doors flung wide open.
From those doors they could see the waters outside. They had claimed most of the castle’s stairs and surrounded the survivors. There was no leaving anymore. It was made clear that they did not own the water, and thus were not allowed to travel across it. Boats of any size or make would be immediately sunk.
The waters had surrounded the castle, but they were allowed to keep it, at least in part. Their guests had a little pity and curiosity regarding the last humans and the ridiculousness of their noble architecture, etiquette, and dress. They let them keep their last stone home, the highest point in their now-flooded civilization, so they could stop by every once in a while for a meal and a laugh.
Lysinia stared straight ahead, at one of her fellow castle-villagers. She heard the first sounds of their guests arriving through the front doors. There were nine of them. Their flat rubbery feet squelched across the swirling marble floor.
They came closer. She heard them breathing out of the pale pink gills across their ribs, a sound like wet laundry flapping in a stormy wind. They had never given a name, so the denizens of the castle called them Gillygests. Lysinia didn’t know if they were responsible for the rising of Earth’s waters and the darkening of its sky, but they certainly had some power. The water bent to their will. The moon shined for them whenever they needed it.
The Gillygests noisily took their seats and threw some spoils from the bottom of the endless lake onto the table, splattering it across the polished silver dishes and glass chalices. They didn’t come just to satisfy their curiosity; they also enjoyed humiliating the remaining humans by forcing them to eat as they did.
The butlers came and quietly cut and distributed the bottomfeeders’ feast. Lysiana went from looking up to looking down at her plate. She didn’t need to see the Gillygests when she could hear their every slimy move, every smack of their giant fleshy lips. She heard more than that during her first dinners at the castle. She heard the cries of drowners through the open doors back then, drifting across the moors. She took solace in the fact that she had survived before the waters took the tops of the trees she’d grown up with.
Something dropped onto her plate, making it rattle. At first she had difficulty identifying the ‘food’. It was green, gray, and necrotic black in color. It was somewhat sausage shaped, but with a clear head. The Gillygests had done her the favor of slicing off the fins and tail, but they left the head and its small milky eyes. She couldn’t poke it. That was impolite. The guests might claim more of the castle if any of them were rude, if anybody even coughed while chewing.
Lysinia dutifully took up the appropriate fork and knife. She cut through what she guessed was some sort of juvenile lungfish. She might’ve been wrong, as the coming of the dark waters had spawned a new host of horrific animals; they were creatures usually without eyes or hope, that gasped long after death. Lysinia skewered a cube of dripping green meat, its texture somewhere between fish and pond scum, and placed it in her mouth.
Her chewing was joined by that of the others. She looked to them, to see if their struggle was as great as hers. The lord and lady of the house were best at pretending to like the offerings; the girl wondered if age had already turned their taste buds to dust or if it was simply the result of a life where appearances were always kept up.
The man across from her puffed his cheeks out. He snatched a napkin off the table and held it against his lips. The squirming segmented things crawling between the cattails on his plate certainly didn’t look appetizing. Lysinia watched a small green stain leech into the napkin. The Gillygests all stopped their own voracious splashing feasting and looked over at him.
Lysinia silently begged the man not to spit it out. He was already being rude; they would already claim at least one more room of the castle for it, but if he spit something out they might immediately flood the foyer in response. His eyes rolled tot he back of his head as he swallowed. The Gillygests stuck their heads back in their bowls.
Dessert, the purple squishy eggs of… something… over a mound of icy muddy cream, came and went. Lysinia still wouldn’t look at them as they stood and waddled back to the front doors. On their way out they dealt their punishment for the single green stain on her neighbor’s napkin, for his daring to suggest their food wasn’t the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.
A tentacle of water, swirling and dark, came through the front doors, passed under Lysinia’s nose, and went up the stairs. It undoubtedly filled the man’s room. He would have to sleep somewhere else, perhaps on a couch somewhere. They were out of bedrooms, and it seemed like they lost some of the castle every week now.
The Gillygests tortured them. Humanity was still drowning, just slower. Lysinia, along with the others, slowly made her way back to her room. She stopped again in front of her brother’s. All of a sudden she wanted to see him, so she turned the silver knob, designed like a clam shell, and pulled it open.
The room was flooded, but it would not spill out into the hallway. They were still allowed to have that hall, to breathe there. Lysinia stared, weeping at the wall of water. Her brother’s corpse was suspended inside. He had drowned in there as it filled the room, for the sin of not coming to dinner, of not giving the Gillygests the satisfaction.
She reached out. Her hand pierced the cold water and approached his. To touch his bloated white hand was to be rude as well. He was not a boy of etiquette, so he couldn’t be counted among the people anymore. The water moved up her wrist. Was it better to go when they weren’t in the room, making their horrible noises, trying to force their wrong watery breathing onto a different species? Lysinia’s finger touched his and she was sucked into the flooded room.
She felt like coughing. She felt like coughing a miasma of death onto every living face of this dark world, to both save and doom them.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by EricaDrayton during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!