The Girl from the Sea – Chapter 6

The Girl from the Sea – Chapter 6

The Captain’s breathing was laboured as they neared his front door, but that was mostly out of fear, he thought.  This load was nothing to what he could normally carry.  Joe’s breathing was laboured too but only because he was carrying so much stuff.  Perhaps Mrs Captain didn’t need to see all this after all.   

The Captain booted the front door open and elbowed his way in.  “Esther, are you here love?”  They tumbled into the front room of the cottage.  It was the only downstairs room with the kitchen in one corner, a small dining table for two and one armchair and one rocking chair pulled up to the fire.  But the things that were in that room!  Joe loved it – the Captain was the only grown up person he knew who was allowed a treasure trove at home. 

The Captain said that it was all things from his travels and each piece held a story.  An enormous bone from some monstrous sea creature hung on the mantelpiece over the fire; the wheel of a ship hung on another wall and alongside it the figurehead and name plaque of a boat once owned by the Captain;  ornaments and shells of every shape and colour adorned each surface; the bookcases were crammed with piles of paper, old maps, compasses and other things used in the Captain’s trade; paintings of ships and harbours hung on every wall; multi coloured glass bottles were filled with various potions and lotions, herbs and spices; the tiniest of ships had been captured in a bottle somehow – Joe had never been able to work out how that had happened.  Surely the boat was too big to fit through the narrow neck of a bottle?  Playing cards, chess pieces, oars from a boat, lanterns, coloured pennants – the list was endless.  Every time you went there you could find a dozen new things to see and hear the stories from whence they came.  All these treasures sat alongside the normal everyday items which were in Joe’s home too. 

“I’m here Emos.  Lord, what have you brought home with you now?  Haven’t we got enough of your bits lying around here already?  Hello there, young Joe.  Is this your doing?  Taking him treasure hunting were you?”  Esther bustled down from an upstairs room with a pile of laundry in her arms.  Mrs Captain was a small lady with a neat grey bun of hair.  Everyone always said that they looked like an odd couple with Mrs Captain only coming up to her husband’s middle.  She was a friendly soul, who spoke kindly and Joe knew that she meant no harm with her words.  Her eyes sparkled with humour as she spoke.  She started unloading Joe’s treasure from him and making piles of driftwood by the fire.  The Captain was standing by the doorway looking uncertain.

 “The Captain found the most amazing thing today Mrs Captain!  Before I could get to it!”  Joe blurted out excitedly.  The Captain gave him a warning look that told him he’d said too much. 

“Really?”  She queried.  “Now that does sound exciting!  Well bring whatever it is in Emos, and let’s have a look.”  She moved to take the driftwood off the top of the pile of cloth in the Captain’s arms, and stacked that next to the fire too.

She went to pull the cloth out of her husband’s arms and gasped.  “Emos, It’s a girl,” she breathed, and hurriedly untangled the unconscious figure from her wrappings.  “Mercy, the poor thing.  What on earth has happened here?”  She eyed her husband and the boy in a no-nonsense fashion. 

“Explanations can come later, but no stories mind.  I shall expect the truth!”  She moved into action with the efficiency of a woman who had had to deal with all sorts of things through the years.  “Lay her down here by the fire, Emos.  Joe, go to that chest and bring blankets and pillows.  Hurry now! We need to get her warm.”  She pulled her outer clothes off her with ruthless efficiency and started rubbing her all over.  “Ice cold.  Frozen stiff.  Must get her warm again.  Emos stoke the fire and put a pan of milk on.  Add some rum to it – just a small amount mind.”  She never stopped rubbing the girl’s translucent skin.

Coming back from the blanket box, Joe had been watching Mrs Captain intently.  She wasn’t surprised by the mermaid at all and as he came back closer to the fire he saw why.  Well, she was just an ordinary girl!  Like his sister after all that.  No mystical tale or fins, just layers and layers of fabric clinging to her legs.  Imagine the disappointment!  Mrs Captain had almost got her down to her undergarments now. 

“Joe, make up a bed right here by the fire – cushions, a sheet and lots of blankets.”  He rushed to obey her.  There was a horrible sense of urgency in her voice now.  Even the Captain was rushing to obey her and had a pan on the stove.  Joe spied him take a sip out of the rum bottle before he added it to the milk, but didn’t think it was wise to mention at the moment. 

Mrs Captain popped the young girl into the bed next to the fire.  Her skin had lost the horrible translucence it had had on the beach and looked to be regaining some normal semblance of colour, but her bruising stood out vividly against the pale background.  Mrs Captain gently sat behind her to prop her up and fed her the milky rum concoction slowly with a spoon, not even noticing that most of it fell out of her slack lips onto the blankets.  Eventually the slack lips appeared to take a small sip of milk on their own.

“That’s it my love,”  crooned Mrs Captain, as if she were talking to her own baby.  “Just a little more.”  The girl’s eyes flickered open briefly and then rolled upwards and shut again.

“Is she…?  Is she…?  Is she dead?” stammered Joe, fearful of the answer.

Mrs Captain stared back at him with unblinking eyes and pulled the covers tighter around the girl, hugging her tighter.

Catch up on previous chapters here: 

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

Fifty Word Inspiration

Fifty Word Inspiration

This is from a writing challenge when I had to pick from a number of choices and write a story in 50 words.  I chose….

Decade is a period of ten years.
Century is a period of one hundred years.
Millennium is a period of one thousand years.
“Together forever” lasts a fortnight.

That is, statistically.
That is, in about 90% of cases.

That is also why romantic mathematicians are so hard to come by!

(“On the Importance of Not Being Literal” by Standing Ovation, Seated)

***

A mathematician once said that “together forever” lasts a fortnight and after a passionate two week fling Tess had to agree.  Visions of bridal gowns and corsages danced across her mind.  She could get a job here and give up her boring office existence for sun, sand and sangria.  Life could be a beach….couldn’t it?

“Ladies and gentlemen we have completed our pre-flight checks…” intoned the nasal air steward.  Tess rubbed the sand between her toes and smiled ruefully.  Her “forever” had finished.

(It’s not 50 words, but it’s close!)

The Girl from the Sea – Chapter 5

The Girl from the Sea – Chapter Five

The sea had calmed but was churning, still disgorging wreckage, rocks and debris.  The remains of the high tide littered the shore – it looked like the sea had been frantically searching for things in the dark.  A rock flung here; a piece of salty driftwood there.  The sand dunes had even been lifted and moved.  Seaweed lay clinging to the rocks like strands of windswept hair and barnacles peered like eyes into the moonlight.

She lay half dead among the rocks, with her hair clinging to her face like the seaweed clung to the rocks.  She breathed with the tide: in and out, backwards and forwards.  She curled around the rocks like a baby huddled for comfort in a foetal position where the sea had thrown her.  Her skin was tinged blue and her lips a violent purple.  The clothes she wore clung to her like a second skin.  Layers and layers of cloth and woollen cloak embraced her against a watery death.  The next wave lifted her body up and she caught a blurry glimpse of a light shining above her.  It flickered and died, like a candle being snuffed out.  “Just like me,” she thought and closed her eyes.

***

Joseph was up early so he raced over the wet cobbles towards the beach – there was always a sight to see after a storm.  The beach wasn’t itself and you never knew what treasure the sea had thrown up in its’ restless night – old boots, anchors, even parts of ships.  The crooked path led from the old watch tower, straight down the cliff face to the sand below.  To the right the dunes, to the left rocks and endless sea and straight ahead the cliffs rose again.  The coastline went on like that for miles: sandy bays, rocky inlets and towering cliffs.  Joe was fleet footed down the cliff face – slipping and sliding down the crumbling path.

He stood and surveyed the landscape before him and what a feast of prizes greeted him: yards of rope, empty shells from which the sea gulls had already taken their fill and enough driftwood to make a raft or so his young eyes thought.  All good pickings to add to his treasure trove!  His trove was safe from the sea out on a ledge on the cliff and was safe from prying eyes being big enough for him alone to squeeze through the entrance.  He started making piles of treasure on the beach and as he worked the sea gently sparkled as it rolled away from the beach. 

He saw the old Captain standing by the shoreline close to the rock pools.  He was hunkered down staring intently at something.  “Must be looking for treasure too,” thought Joe and left him to it.  There was enough for everyone. 

The Captain had long since given up his sailing days but from the stories he told he had lived through every adventure that the boys of the village could imagine.  He was a great hulk of a man, with a shock of white beard and a blue canvas cap and he liked nothing more than telling a good yarn to assembled listeners.  Normally the boys of the village were gathered around his feet while he sat on an upturned bucket gutting the morning’s catch.  The seagulls hovered around trying to get their beaks on the fish but settling for the guts and the cast-offs.   A pipe was normally hanging out of his white beard and as he told his stories the plume of smoke increased around him giving him an ethereal and other worldly appearance.

He had likewise been up early to check the situation on the beach – it was his duty.  He checked the beach and checked the paths.  What had caught his eye this morning had worried him – it wasn’t normal.  He had only seen something similar once before and he chose not to remember that horrible day.  He had caught sight of it on his way down the cliff path and at first had thought that it was just the seaweed clumped in a rock pool.  How wrong could he be? 

On closer inspection the seaweed appeared to be moving with the tide but what’s more it appeared to be breathing.  He gasped as the memories overtook him – a young boy lying in exactly the same way, only he hadn’t been breathing.  He couldn’t do this again.  He steeled himself and told himself to get a grip.  This poor child still had a chance. 

He looked round to check that nobody else was on the beach, before he bent over the seaweed covered body.  It was misshapen and horribly discoloured – the skin was black and blue and what wasn’t bruised was like the translucent film of a jelly fish.  Only by the straggled hair could the Captain discern that it was a girl not more than nine or ten and she was barely breathing.  He crouched down to stare at her and think.    

Joe’s treasure piles were growing nicely.  With each wave the sea brought something different with it.  The rocks which were normally covered by the sea were reappearing as the tide washed out. He looked over to where the Captain was still squatting.  There must be something good to keep him there so long.  “Ahoy Captain!” yelled Joseph, “Any decent treasure over there?” 

The Captain jumped up out of shock – he hadn’t been aware of young Joe’s presence so lost in thought that he was.  “No, no young Joe, nothing here.  Nothing for your eyes anyhow.”

Well that was too much for Joe’s curiosity.  It must be gold at the very least or maybe a whole treasure chest!  He raced over and clambered over the rocks.  The Captain held him back in a vice-like grip.  “No, no,” he repeated.  He couldn’t seem to find the words and just kept repeating them over and over. 

Holding  a young boy still was like trying to wrestle with a slippery eel though and as Joe twisted and turned he caught a glimpse of what was lying in the rock pool and suddenly all the motion stopped.  “A mermaid!” he breathed… “A real mermaid.”  All thoughts of treasure had flown from his head.  This was more than he could take.  The Captain let him go and he crawled as close as he dared to the strange creature.  He couldn’t even hear what the Captain was saying from the rushing noise going through his head.  No one he knew had ever seen a real life mermaid but they all talked about them!  Magical, mythical creatures, who lured men to their deaths with their beautiful voices – beautiful but deadly. 

The Captain perched on a nearby rock and took his pipe out of his waistcoat pocket, the tobacco and matches from his jacket and went through the soothing ritual of preparing to smoke.  It gave him time to think as he drew on his pipe.  And more importantly it gave Joe a chance to examine the catch.  He took the Captain’s place by the rock pool. 

The figure before him was as pale as a ghost but with vivid blue and purple markings standing out against the pale skin – the shimmering colours of the sea.  Her tail clung to her in shades of green and black.   Her hair was like the beautiful strands of seaweed which Joe collected.  He flew away into his imagination to picture her when she was swimming through the water majestically with her hair and tail flowing.  What a sight she must be and how sad to see her in this huddled, bent shape.  The sea must have thrown her onto the rocks in the storm – casting her out of her natural habitat.

“We have to help her Captain,” whispered Joe, for fear of waking the sleeping mermaid.  “She doesn’t look so good to me – should she be that colour?  All blue and black?”

“What…? Oh yes…I mean no Joe.  She should look like you or I.  I think the sea has played a mean trick on this young lady last night.”  And not just the sea, he thought to himself, his brain racing.  How had she got there?  Why was she so bruised?   They had to get her off this beach.  He needed to make enquiries – discreet ones.  He didn’t recognise her, but someone must be missing her. 

Outwardly composed, and moving in his slow, habitual way, he knocked the remaining tobacco out of his pipe against a rock and stored it safely away in his pocket and gestured at Joe to move out of the way.  He gathered the limp and lifeless body up as best he could, wrapping the heavy, wet cloak around her so that she was completely hidden. 

“We’d best get her home then.  Come on young Joe.”  And he set off with her as if she weighed no more than a mermaid’s purse.  In fact she felt heavier than a sodden fishing net which needed hauling in.  As they made their way across the beach, the Captain paused by Joe’s collection of treasure.  “Why don’t you bring those bits and baubles with us Joe, and show the missus what you’ve found?  She’s a right one for treasure!” 

“Aye aye Captain!”  Joe didn’t need asking twice.  Normally the grown-ups yelled at him for bringing rubbish into the house.  Hence the need for a secret storage place.  He gathered up as much as he could carry while the Captain stood waiting patiently with his bundle of cloth.  Now, thought the Captain, they would just look like a couple of regular beach combers.  Hopefully the bundle in his arms might go un-noticed.  “Why don’t you pop a couple of them bits o’ driftwood on top here and we’ll add them to the fire at home?”

Joe willingly obliged and carefully placed the wood on top of the bundle of cloth.  The Captain peered through the layers of cloth at the girl’s pale face.  Still breathing, just scarcely.  Still unconscious.  They made their way up the beach path to the Captain’s home.

Catch up on previous chapters here: 

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

The Girl from the Sea – Chapter 4

The Girl from the Sea – Chapter Four

Frankie was woken with a rough slap around the face.  She looked groggily around her.   The body was gone.  She felt the movements of the waves and the boat rolling beneath her.  Her empty stomach rebelled again. The wind was increasing in strength and she could feel the power of the sea all around them.  They must be out in the open water. 

One of the crewmen dragged her to her feet and hauled her out on deck.  The pitch and yaw of the boat made her stagger on her feet.  She would have surely fallen down if the crewmen hadn’t been holding her up in their vice like grips.  The spray lashed her face and the salt stung her lips.  The wind whipped Anthony’s long coat from around her and slapped it against her legs.

She trembled as she saw the man she had labelled Scarface standing at the stern of the boat in the shadows of the mainsail.  His dark eyes were fixed on the inky horizon and the shoreline which was rapidly disappearing into the distance.  She was aware of two men holding her up; the Captain was leaning against the helm.

“Enjoying your trip?  You look a little bit green, boy.  No sea legs.” The Captain sneered.

Frankie stared belligerently at him.  She couldn’t open her mouth for fear of being sick everywhere. 

“Unfortunately we haven’t got any room on board for people who can’t stand upright on the waves.  Let alone those people who stick their noses where they don’t belong. Isn’t that right lads?” They all laughed, gravelly, menacing laughs.  “Aye, Captain.  S’right.”  Scarface had his eyes fixed on the horizon, scanning the darkness.

Frankie was looking around her trying to see the body somewhere on the deck, but it was nowhere in sight.  She could only assume that they had chucked it overboard.  Her plan was definitely taking a turn for the worse.  There was no way in the world that they would let her go free knowing what she did.

“He got drunk and fell overboard, if you’re wondering about our friend.  We’re all devastated by the loss.”  The Captain took his hat off and put on a solemn face.  “The sea has taken our dear friend to its bosom.  It’s a terrible rough night – these things happen.  You’d best be careful lad that you don’t fall in too.”  The crewmen lifted her closer to the edge.

Frankie was still trying to control her rebellious stomach and being held over the rolling black inky waves did not help.  This was it – her adventure was over.  Staying with Cousin Sissy didn’t seem so bad now.

 “Let the sea deal with him – he won’t last long a skinny lad like that!”  She heard a voice from the stern. 

“You’re a cruel man, Jonas!  Not a merciful bone in your body,” laughed the captain.

Frankie couldn’t speak from fear of her watery doom.  She struggled to protest but the wind caught her words and swept them away. The two men holding her moved closer to the edge of the boat.  The sea was as black as pitch beneath her.  The last thing she heard was raucous laughter as a wave crashed over her head.  She floated briefly to the surface, and watched the boat sailing off into the night, before the next wave swallowed her up whole.

***

Pressure…burning lungs…air needed…sinking further and further.  She couldn’t help herself – panic set in.  She kept trying to kick herself up to the surface.  The cold took her breath away in spite of the layers that she wore.  Salt water hit her in the face every time she tried to reach out for help, but the boat was tantalisingly out of reach disappearing swiftly into the night.  Her arms were so heavy that she could barely lift them because of the weight of her coat.  The layers which had been so welcome were now dragging her down.  Logic told her to shed her coat and she tried to unbutton it from around her neck but her fingers were stiff, swollen and cold and they fumbled it.

As the waves pounded over her head she could have sworn that she was seeing stars.  She tried to focus on them as they swam before her eyes and flickered and disappeared in the waves.  As she came back up for air – there they were again – flickering lights, calling her.  Where they were calling her, she didn’t know – it could be the spirits beckoning for all she cared. 

She felt herself being tossed up onto the curl of the next wave and thrown forward.  Expecting the same impact of a rock hard watery landing, she was quite surprised when she hit actual rock instead.  The air was knocked out of her along with a lung full of sea water.  Her body scraped along the rocks and barnacles – raw burning pain that she could suddenly feel through the ice cold.  Winded and bruised, she thought rock means land.  Land means safety – she clung on to the rocks and was pummelled by the waves until she lost consciousness.

 Catch up on previous chapters here: 

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3