Today I'm joining 'imaginary garden with real toads' to respond to Ella's prompt to write something for this special time of the year.
The Clock Strikes Two
The sails billowed in a fair breeze as they rounded the headland. It was a perfect late October day. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, the sea reflecting it in a thousand sparkling pinpoints. Will, the experienced sailor, knew the coastline well but had never moored in the secluded bay they were approaching. He suggested dropping anchor and rowing ashore to the pub he had spotted through his binoculars. Sarah, a newcomer to sailing, needed to feel firm ground beneath her feet again and so she agreed.
They secured the anchor and clambered down into the dinghy rocking on the waves. The wind had dropped and Will rowed in perfect rhythm as Sarah watched. Not conventionally handsome, Will was a pleasant-looking man in an open, boyish way. He would be glad when he was older that people mistook him for younger than his years.
As they reached the shore Sarah tried to shake off her growing feeling of unease. Will noticed. ’What’s the matter?’
‘I’m probably tired,’ she said. ‘I’ll feel better when we’ve eaten.’
Will jumped out of the boat at the water’s edge and hauled it up onto the beach alongside some fishing smacks. He held out his hand to steady Sarah and she stepped onto the pebbles. The sun was not shining as brightly here and a chill wind had sprung up. Sarah shivered and Will put his arm around her and pulled her to his side. Somewhere a church bell struck the hour.
‘Someone needs to put that clock right,’ said Will. ‘It’s gone two o’clock.’
The pub was in the middle of a row of cottages, where fishing nets hung over stone walls. A church spire rose behind, a blue clock face barely discernible. She looked back at their yacht bobbing on the blue sea, where the sun still blazed down, and longed to be back on deck, away from this place. Will hugged her and together they entered the pub. The interior was dimly lit and smelt of decades of spilt beer and sour bodies. A log fire smouldered sulkily in the hearth. The few customers glanced up unsmiling as they walked in, then looked away.
The innkeeper told them the pub didn’t serve meals so they bought some crisps and went to sit in a corner with their drinks. They spoke quietly to each other, conscious that no-one else was talking.
‘I feel as if we’re being watched,’ Sarah said.
‘I’m sure we’re not but it’s not very friendly here, I agree.’
They finished their drinks and left, anxious to return to the familiarity of their small craft. Sarah looked back at the pub. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘There are no lights in the windows and there’s no smoke from the chimney.’
Will laughed. ‘The fire wasn’t burning strongly enough to produce smoke,’ he said, but his words lacked conviction.
He rowed quickly back to their boat. Once there he suggested lifting the anchor and sailing to another bay, one he knew well, so they could shorten the next day’s sail. Sarah was relieved and set to, hauling on the sheets to raise the sails.
As the sails took the wind and the boat began to move the church clock struck two again.
The rest of their voyage was unremarkable. Meeting friends in a restaurant a few days later, Sarah and Will mentioned the strange atmosphere of the bay and the unfriendliness of the locals in the pub. One of their friends, a local man, looked quizzical and asked for further details. Will drew a map on a napkin.
Their friend blew out his cheeks. ‘You say you anchored in the bay and went into the pub?’
Will and Sarah nodded.
‘You’re sure it was that bay?’
They nodded again.
‘I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. One night, about a hundred years ago, there was a terrible storm and the land just fell away into the sea. It had been eroding for many years. The villagers were warned it was unsafe but refused to leave. They made their living from the sea. Where else could they go? What else could they do?’
‘How dreadful,’ said Sarah and shuddered. ‘What happened to them?’
‘They all drowned,’ said their friend. ‘Like most seafaring folk at that time they couldn’t swim. In any case, they were asleep when it happened so they had no chance of escaping.’
‘What time did it happen?’ Will asked.
‘Two o’clock in the morning. It was pitch black, no moon. They didn’t stand a chance.’
‘Was there a church in the village?’ Sarah asked.
‘Yes, and that fell into the sea, too.’
‘But we saw it all – the church, the cottages, the fishing boats, the pub,’ said Sarah. ‘We even heard the clock strike two – the wrong time, twice.’
‘You were lucky,’ he said and his grave expression underscored his words. ‘If you had heard the clock three times you would not have lived to tell the tale. There are stories galore of people and boats going missing in that area.’
Will looked sceptical.
‘Oh, not all year round,’ their friend said. ‘Just on October 31st, the date it happened.’