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  • Writer's pictureJacob Strunk

The Savior of Battery Island

From where you crouch, the city is a swarm of lights. You hear the horn of the final ferry and know it carries the day’s last tourists. And the handful of locals who work in the city, they’re unlocking their front doors right about now, settling in for supper. The island feels like itself again. Except for the dark rot you smell. 

It drifts up at you, across the swamp and through the trees, riding the harbor mist. The stink of them makes you sick with anger. A simmering rage. To come here. Bring their filth. The audacity to think they’d fit in. Belong. You squeeze your hands into fists, relax, do it again.

Since you first Awakened two days ago, you’ve gotten better at sniffing them out, tracking them. It’s easier at night, when the tourists have gone back to their hotels across the bay and the pizza ovens are cool and the lobster roll carts are locked away in the garage behind the inn. At night, with the cacophonous dream of summer sleeping, there are no distractions. Just the buzz of insects. The wash of the tide. The suck of the earth on your bare feet.

You push your face out and upward, pulled by the moon, and breathe deep. Again. And there it is. A tendril of sickly decay snaking up from somewhere below. To the east. You move along the edge of the ancient battery, all crumbling concrete and fading graffiti. Silently you pause, lift your face again. There it is. You mark cardinal south by the Headlight on the mainland and begin climbing down the backside of the battery. Then it’s sixteen quick paces, a turn to the east, and you’re gliding toward the far side of the island. 

Near the lighthouse you stop. There hasn’t been a keeper for many years, you know, but sometimes the private security guard from The Shorecrest parks his cart there to catch a nap. He’s not there now, nowhere you can see, so you hasten to the lighthouse and quickly ascend, pulling yourself up the thirty-two damp iron rungs. You know it’s close. The stink of it fills your nose, bullies up into your sinuses. Then you catch the fresh edge of it, no more than a hundred yards from you, and you’re down the side of the lighthouse, scrambling across the boulders above the tide pools.

You see him through the window. The disgusting thing sits on a couch that once belonged to Mark Frewer. Mr. Frewer, who always let you sneak a piece of taffy from the bin when your mother wasn’t looking. A kind man. A good man. And now this thing sits on his couch, watching his television, sucking his microwave dinner into its sickening mouth. Its face is a caricature. Its flesh an offense. You feel the rage in you fire up, begin to hum like a diesel generator. Staring at this repulsive approximation of the good man you knew, you are filled with holy fire. You find a window in the kitchen. Let yourself in. 

“Luther!” the thing says, seeing you approach. Your name is a blasphemy on its lips. Repugnant. You push the knife into it there, its revolting mouth. It begins to make noises and thrash. They all betray themselves like this in the end, and you feel vindication. The fire burns clean and white now. You twist the knife, pull it out, push it back. The thing’s repellent hands swipe at you, slap like paddles. You push the knife into what looks like a neck. Once. Three times. A volley of blood parades onto the television. Or what would be blood. Were it human.

You pull the thing onto the floor and open it with the knife. The reek of it is nearly overwhelming. You don’t know where they come from, but it must be a vile and wretched place, a cesspool of abomination. But you learn more each time. And as long as they keep coming, keep encroaching, keep replacing, you’ll be ready. You’ve learned so much already since Awakening. They don’t know who they’re dealing with. What you’re willing to do. To protect your island.

In the flickering light of the television, you begin to take the thing apart.

You’re awakened by the chug of a helicopter. Even down here, in the dank belly of the battery, you feel the pressure shift as the thing goes overhead. You carefully creep to the mouth of the cement throat where you’ve slept. Peek around the corner. The woods are still. You slink across the wet concrete, peer out the other side. The reeds betray nothing. Moments later, you crawl on your belly across the battery’s roof, look out toward the cold Atlantic. The helicopter sits idling in the meadow across from the lighthouse. Near it, the island’s only liveried cruiser flashes blue streaks across its wall. The sun still hides below the sea, but the sky blooms apricot across the horizon.

Muffled voices, crackling and alien, shoot up at you from behind. You scramble across the battery once more, settling down on its western edge, looking across town to where the ferry steams closer from the terminal at Old Port, its deck a fireworks display of pulsing blue and whetted shatters of red. They’ve found the thing at Mr. Frewer’s, you know. And from the crowd you can make out gathering near the inn, they’ve likely found the creature that took Andrew Nielson’s place in the apartment over the bike shop. The horror that came from away and replaced your mother. In your very home. How dare they. 

You watch the ferry draw nearer. You hear the chop of another helicopter and see it now over the water, racing to pass the ship. You thought you’d have more time, but you don’t need it. Let them come. This is your island. Your family’s. For generations. So let them come. They don’t know who they’re dealing with. You’re Awake now.


Jacob Strunk has been short-listed for both a Student Academy Award and the Pushcart Prize in fiction, as well as the Glimmer Train short story award and a New Rivers Press book prize. His genre-bending fiction has appeared in print for over twenty years, most recently in Coffin Bell, The Writing Disorder, and his 2023 collection Screaming in Tongues. He earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and teaches film and media in Los Angeles, where he lives with a few framed movie posters and the ghost of his cat, Stephen.


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