It Follows

by Emily Harrison

Over tea, Ma asks,“You know the history of our island, don’t you, Ino?”—as if we’ve never spoke of it before.

I set down my fork and reel out facts, counting them on my fingers. One, the island was discovered during a voyage through the South Atlantic in 1703. Two, the island appeared to be abandoned by humans with no written records as to why. Three, only the grotesques remained—strange faces in stone walls, ophidian-like carvings and peculiar cement statues. Four, their origins are unknown—their name was given to them by navigator of the ship. Five, our ancestors populated the island after the discovery. Six, we have lived with the grotesques ever since, preserving the buildings they were originally cast on. Seven, you believe that they—

“That’s enough, Ino”, she interrupts. I go back to eating.

*

It’s the height of summer and Ma is chatting to Ismene, the woman who supplies our fruits, about the dead man in the cemetery. He was found with his body impaled on the singular horn atop the head of the grotesque that once guarded the white-washed chapel. It’s the first sighting of a grotesque since the vote. It’s the first sighting of a grotesque becoming cognizant too.

“It killed him quicker than any of us could blink.”

I keep sweeping the floor around them.

“I knew it when we voted to have them removed, Ismene. I knew they were cursed.”

The vote was taken in the spring of last year. Ma and Ismene voted yes, reasoning, through hearsay, that the grotesques were “cursed eyesores”. I voted no, reasoning they were here before us, that the island is as much theirs as it is ours, despite the suspicion.

On the day of the vote, Ma applauded as the head of a grotesque was severed from its body, joined in as limbs were broken and faces smashed until each one was gutted from the island. I leave them to gossip on their own.

*

The scream from the girl is a sickle through the air and Ma jumps at the sound, hurrying out of our shop. I set down a box of passion fruit underneath the counter and follow closely behind. The girl is laid out on the cobbles, and the locals have already gathered.

Below the screaming girl is a stone face, ugly and uneven, woven into the path. In its wide mouth lies her foot, ankle, lower shin. The girl screams again and someone sprints to the hospital. By the time the two barely-trained paramedics show up it’s as though the entire island has amassed, trying to catch a glimpse.

She loses her leg in the end—cut hematic from her body.

*

Stone claws have materialised, reaching out from the brick. They grasp at limbs, gouge out eyes, cinch the throats of those in close proximity. They move too quickly for us to defend.

Ma’s cousin Sol is struck by a claw, the point puncturing his windpipe bloody. He has yet to die, but it’s only a matter of time—the hospital is overrun with injuries and those on the mainland are too scared to sail to us, people here too scared to leave in case the grotesques follow.

Ma holds a vigil at his bedside. Sol defaced several statues during the week of the vote. Hammered flat blade chisels into their eyes and mouths. I don’t tell Ma that perhaps it’s an eye for an eye. Perhaps he deserves it.

*

Ismene is attacked in the autumn. A statue appears in her home, taking form as though it can switch from translucent to opaque. The harm done to her isn’t physical— the grotesque stands static but ominous.

Two days later she accedes to whatever silent demand it’s giving her. The port is teeming with unmoored boats belonging to dead or injured men. She steals a wooden vessel with an outboard motor on the back.

Though it is unconfirmed, Ma believes Ismene has died at sea, for the boat floats back empty hours later.

*

Letters start arriving from the mainland, scattered via aeroplane, informing us to leave for our own safety, as though we hadn’t thought of that before. A rescue mission is underway too, apparently—Mayor Andrei wielding whatever minimal power he has left to save what remains of his people. The bloodshed has slowed; there’s not many of us left to maim or kill.

*

We succumb in the mid-winter, leaving the shop, our home, to them. Only a few refuse to evacuate, positive the curse of the grotesques will follow.

Word reaches us back on the mainland a few weeks after we depart that the island has been fully culled of human life. Ma says it’s heinous, what they’ve done—“those evil grotesques.” I don’t tell her that you reap what you sow. We’ve stopped speaking about the things that divide us.

Emily can regularly be found roaming the Valley of Mowbray—a curious place that lies between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. She loves writing, but only when it’s going really well, and particularly enjoys spaghetti hoops.
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