The Girl in the Glass Coffin
An extract from I.A. Watson’s story in the anthology
Gideon Cain – Demon Hunter
The girl pelted down the muddy cobbled path towards the harbour. Her bare feet splashed through cold puddles and her white shift billowed out behind her as she fled. She ran blindly past the low stone houses, between the carts and upturned fishing boats, too intent on escape to watch where she was going. She hurtled straight towards Cain.
Gideon Cain had just enough time to fix her image in his mind: bright green eyes wide with fear, lustrous unbound Mediterranean hair tousled over a pale narrow face that would have been beautiful if not distorted by terror.
Cain held out his hands to catch her, or to fend her off.
The fleeing girl passed straight through his outstretched arms and dissolved like a morning mist.
Gideon Cain stifled an oath. He glanced around the darkened harbour-front, seeking any trace of the missing woman, preferring to believe that she had somehow dodged around him than what his senses told him had happened. The rain-soaked stone wharves were entirely deserted.
A prickling down Cain’s spine focussed his attention again. The girl had disappeared, but what of that from which she had been fleeing? The shadows of the waterfront suddenly seemed much more menacing. Cain’s hand slid down to the mortuary sword at his side. The cold steel felt good in the puritan’s palm.
Cain had an inexplicable sense that he was being watched, evaluated. Unseen eyes were appraising him, deciding if he should live or die.
“Approach then,” he called out into the darkness. “Here you’ll find a man!”
His challenge echoed back across the old Roman forum. Behind him the boats creaked in their moorings as the rising wind pressed waves against the sea wall. The North wind brought unseasonal icy rain that was close to sleet.
Cain turned again, casting about for something that might harm him.
The sense of danger dwindled then passed.
Cain stood alone in the gathering gloom of the wet Adriatic night and reflected on the nature of ghosts.
The wharfside tavern was old, with a low roof of timber and thatch that caught the smoke from the fire in the central hearth. At this time of night the common room was crowded with sailors and merchants, more than usual because of the number of ships harboured from the expected storm.
Cain recoiled as he entered. Sour smells of spilled ale and seldom-cleaned straw assailed him. The noise, a raucous cacophony of lewd sea-shanties and drunken boasting, offended him. A pair of thin painted women in thinner rags eyed him speculatively for a moment but were warned off by his dour puritan garb and dourer piercing gaze.
Cain’s eyes ranged over the noisy crowd until he identified the man he was looking for. He shouldered his way through the drunken patrons until he reached the table in the corner where Captain Morgensen sprawled with a tankard in one hand and a bar-wench in the other.
Morgensen looked up at his looming passenger and tried to focus. “I’ve already told you,” the seaman slurred, “We keep harbour until the storm’s past. Weather like this is rare in these waters, but when the Bora’s set it’s a fool who brings his ship past the hidden coastal reefs. I’ll not risk the Scarborough till this is blown out, and every other captain who’s sheltered here in Poreč will agree with me.” He gave the fat wench beside him a hearty squeeze and grinned. “Why not relax for once and take some comfort in the pleasures of shore, Mister Cain?”
The puritan leaned forward over the table, his gaunt face shadowed by his broad-brimmed hat. “I take no pleasure in sin, Captain Morgensen. And I do not come here to ask about our journey. I’m seeking someone with local knowledge who can explain something strange that I’ve just witnessed.”
“The landlord, perhaps?” the girl beside the sailor suggested in broken English. “Tadic has lived here all his life and he speaks your tongue.”
Cain managed to give her a civil nod. “I’ll expect us to be ready to leave as soon as the wind falls,” he told the Captain. “My adversary uses even the elements to his advantage, but God compels me.”
He left the Captain to his sins and pressed his way to the table by the beer barrels, where a sweaty fat man in a stained tunic was berating a pot boy over a broken mug.
“You are Tadic?” Cain asked, regarding the grubby innkeeper with reserved caution. “I’m told you know Poreč well.”
“Why yes, sir.” Tadic took in the stranger’s apparel and was not misled by its simplicity. When a man wore two flintlocks and a sword that was plain but of good quality he had money and power. “I can get you whatever it is you desire.”
“Information is all I desire,” Cain replied, ignoring any insinuation. “Information about Poreč.”
“What you see is Poreč,” the landlord replied. “Good harbour from the time of the ancients. A walled Venetian town. A good place to trade.” A new thought occurred to him. “Many travellers pass through Poreč. Perhaps like them you would be interested in seeing the buildings that still remain from the days of Ancient Rome? Or the church of the Franciscans?”
Cain had no interest in Popish temples or pagan ruins. “I want to know about a girl – no, still your tongue, quell your filthy mind and listen well. I have just seen a girl of perhaps eighteen summers fleeing through the streets towards the harbour. And then she vanished as I reached for her.”
Tadic’s smile was a little thin now. “Sir, usually a man needs to take a cup or two before he sees wenches that melt away like that. Often the wenches melt away with his purse at the same time.”
“A girl,” Cain insisted, “with long dark hair and green eyes, fleeing for her life from some unseen horror.”
“Green eyes?” Tadic swallowed. His expression became fixed. “Green eyes are unusual in Poreč. I know of only one girl who could match the description that you give.”
Cain glowered at the man. “And?”
The innkeeper shuddered and reached for a mug of his own brew. “And sir, that girl is dead.”
Continued in “Gideon Cain – Demon Hunter”
ISBN 13: 978- 1-934935-74-3
Produced by Airship 27
Published by Cornerstone Book Publishers
Release date: 08/13/2010
Retail Price: $21.95
Also available online at http://www.gopulp.info/