Content Warning: This work contains Suicidal Ideation.
“My life is better now, my life is better…” The rat-like Verling Ferro mutters a mantra to themselves behind the bar of the Driftwood Inn. It was something they learned during their time in court assigned reintegration therapy. And something they often found themselves repeating during the joyless few months since the trial.
The Driftwood’s welcome chime rang, but Ferro didn't look up. Too lost in their thoughts. Well, the same thought, on repeat, over and over again. “My life is better…”
“Hey Ferro, you in there?” A familiar voice tugs their attention into place for a moment. They looked up to see a face they thought they’d never see again.
“I’m pretty surprised you still remember my name, Beryl.” Ferro eyed the famous paranormal author up and down, trying to find the way they felt about him being back.
“What? That’s crazy Ferro. I’d never forget you. After all, we spent such a lovely night together.” They looked Beryl in the eye. His honeyed words made it sound like they had something more than just meaningless sex. “I think about that night now and again, you’re really quite adorable, Ferro. Especially when you’re trying to impress someone.” Beryl leaned closer in a way that made Ferro feel...
Nothing. They didn’t feel anything other than the fact that someone entered their inn. It was the same when Radium came to visit. Life was simply a collection of actions put into a list, devoid of any experience.
“What do you want, Beryl?”
Beryl seemed worried he had offended Ferro. But he decided the best thing he could do was get to business. He started to explain the current investigation he was doing, and Ferro’s mind began to wander.
Reintegration therapy had been an ordeal of figuring out every single way Ferro didn’t fit, and trying to fix it. It was effective, at the very least. Ferro now kept a consistent sleep schedule. Ate three meals a night. Quit drinking and smoking hashnip too. They were just a regular Innkeeper; they rented rooms to those who came, served drinks, even pointed passing adventurers to places where they could help. Their parents, as rocky as their relationship has been. Would probably be proud that they were finally normal. Profits even improved marginally from their efforts. It was these small joys that made Ferro feel…
Nothing. Ferro lost their train of thought. They looked around themselves, realising they were walking to a beach, with Beryl at their side. In a small panic, they check the pocket of their apron. Relieved to find the medicine the court assigned to them to lower their libido. It was almost time for them to take it.
“So Beryl, tell me about the place we’re going to?” It wasn’t like Ferro was completely in the dark when they zoned out like this. It was more that when they weren’t actively focusing on their life, it just passed them by, like a stone rolling down a hill.
“Uhh, It’s called Siltcrib. It’s a paper town on the beach that some people think they’ve visited. You said you had some connection to it, but never explained?” Beryl reiterated.
“Oh yeah, I used to play in that spot as a kid…” That was as much explanation as Ferro got out before they stopped talking, causing a long awkward silence.
“...So, Anomalous areas usually react strongly to people with nostalgic ties to them,” Beryl explains, breaking the silence.
“Ahh umm. Why do you call them Anomalous? It seems strange. People usually call me something like that...”
“Oh sorry, I had no clue you were an Anomaly...” Beryl's voice takes on an apologetic tone so strong even Ferro can pick it up. “My profession has a bad history of being twisted. We started calling places we didn’t fully understand Anomalous Zones. Our research was misinterpreted. These places became seen as unnatural and evil. A place where merely spending a night in it could corrupt someone, and drive them to ‘madness…’ ” Beryl rolled his eyes, “Of course this isn’t true, it was just meant to alienate and vilify people like me.”
The two of them reach the beach where Siltcrib was said to be. It was just flat grey sand, and a sea that stretches out to the horizon. “But it didn’t end there…” Beryl continues, “Lawmakers who’ve never set foot in an Anomalous Zone in their life found opportunity in it. If they could convince people that all forms of ‘madness’ came from this unnatural source. They could frame their hate policies as ‘protecting’ the general populace. So they labeled every neurodivergent, disabled, or otherwise different person as an Anomaly. And I’m sure you are already familiar with how they limit the life of anyone marked with that title...”
Ferro nods, It’s something they’ve dealt with for as long as they could remember. Their entire life was people telling them they can’t be the way they are, and being adjusted until they were acceptable. They eye their medicine in the pocket of their apron. Perhaps they finally succeeded...
Ferro wrangled their attention enough to explain their experience, “I used to play with a boy here a lot, The thing is. He wasn’t from around the rest stop the Driftwood is part of. It’s only a few businesses making money off of travelers so-”
“I see you got tricked into coming here too, Beryl,” The voice of a confident pure white Verling drowns out Ferro’s. They turn to look at him. He walks with a cane in one hand, smoking a long cigarette in the other. Despite his distinguished dress, his pristine fur reveals his youth.
“Oh, hi?” Beryl greeted the stranger interrupting their time together, “And who are you?”
“My name is Terne, I’m a fellow paranormal investigator.” He takes a drag from his cigarette, “Sorry to say it, but Siltcrib is a complete hoax.”
That wasn’t true. Ferro was pretty sure they used to know someone from Siltcrib. But by the time they could form a sentence in their head, Terne was already drowning them out.
“Consider that only locals talk about this myth, and the only buildings nearby are businesses that would benefit from the tourism paranormal interest brings.” Terne looks at Ferro directly and smiles, “But look at me blabbing on, I see you brought a lovely partner with you on this investigation.”
“Oh yes, very lovely. This is Ferro. They run the local Driftwood Inn… Huh...” Ferro could see Beryl finally realising how bad this all looked. Ferro had to say something. This new guy was turning him against them very quickly.
“Beryl please, I swear to you this all really happened to me-”
“Well it's certainly possible, most people experience something strange once in their lives.” Terne jumped to their defense so quickly it caused Ferro to stop in confusion. “Tell me Beryl, have they told you more tales of the uncanny when you've asked before?”
“They did say their inn was haunted by their aunt when I met them…” Beryl stared daggers at Ferro.
Terne laughs, “Beryl please, the haunted Inn is the oldest trick in the book for drumming up business.”
“Yeah, I should have known better... But they seduced me!”
No. No. They didn’t use him like that. They would never! They had to explain, but all of this was moving too fast for their clouded mind to keep up with. “Beryl, I-”
“I think you’ve been manipulated by the Innkeeper enough,” Terne tapped his cane against the sand. “I could use an escort back to town though. My leg is acting up…” Beryl took Terne’s arm, giving him support as the white devil leaned on him. With a grimace Beryl looks back at Ferro, so convinced they had been playing him the whole time.
Ferro just stared at them disappearing into the distance for a while. “My life is better…” Ferro mutters. It was all so unfair; they knew that was true, but still struggled to feel anything. “My life…” They kicked the sand... Not even rejection could make life more than a list of events. Searching for a spark they once felt, they looked out toward the long breath of the sea.
The water rose and crashed in frothing waves, keeping an eternal rhythm that started long before Ferro was, and would continue long after they didn’t. They put one footpaw in the water. They were meaningless to it, the water simply moved around their foot. Even in their brief time here, all they would ever be is an obstacle overtaken and enveloped in a moment. Their other footpaw goes into the water.
Looking out towards the horizon, it seemed so easy to get lost in the vastness of the sea. They always joked about throwing themselves into it. But what was stopping them now? From swimming so far they couldn’t possibly get back, and drowning in a place they’d never be seen. They took a step, then another and another. Soon they were waist deep. Imagining their arms getting tired from swimming, looking back to a shore that was just a tiny speck. Their lungs would burn as salt water entered it. Drowning would be a painful death, so much sharper than the constant dull ache of being alive. Water would fill their lungs with scorching agony until finally all of that faded, replaced by…
“No.” Ferro stood in place, feeling a heat they haven’t felt for months well up in them. Their entire life had been spent getting swept under a rug, made quiet, complacent, and acceptable. They clenched their fist. “I’m not gonna die the way I lived, dealt with, and out of the way...” Ferro dug into their apron, grabbing the vial of medicine. It was time for them to take it, anyway. They turned themselves back towards the beach, uncorking the vial before stopping themselves.
They stared at the open vial of medicine. Assigned to them because their sex drive was deemed too high. They did fuck themselves out of a healthy relationship, before almost fucking themselves into prison. Perhaps they really were a danger to themselves. But was this really the solution? To chemically shear parts of themselves away until they were finally made acceptable? The heat they felt kindled in these thoughts. Flares of anger, frustration, and rejection burned together until they became a roaring inferno of emotion, hot enough to break through their clouded psyche.
“Fuck this…” Ferro muttered, fresh tears streaming down their cheeks. It felt almost unfamiliar. They realized it was the first time they’ve cried since taking this medicine. “Fuck this world for labeling me an Anomaly. Fuck my parents for never treating me like a person… And fuck this stupid fucking poison I’m forced to drink!” Ferro upturns their medicine, draining it into the vast body of the sea.
They stood right there in the stillness of their decision for a while. Before, as if in response, the sound of a massive expulsion of water startles Ferro, making them jump out of the shallows. A giant pillar of displaced water lingered in the air not so far from shore. The pillar dissipated into mist as Ferro eyed an impossibly massive dark shape under the blue. Within a few awe struck moments, the cryptid had vanished back into the depths.
“W-was that a Whale!?”