Welcome to The Spot Writers. The June prompt is to update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn't consistent with the original legend.
This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.
by Phil Yeats
She’d stumbled along the familiar path from the manor house to the distant shore. Storm clouds obscured the heavens, and the fog was exceptionally thick. She lost her way several times and lurched blindly amongst boulders and brambles before regaining the familiar path.
In the darkest predawn hours, she reached the cobblestone beach. Unseen, the relentlessly pounding surf beckoned from only a few yards away. She dropped her winter coat onto the cobbles and stumbled toward the sea. When she saw the effervescence created by waves breaking upon the shore, she unbuckled her shoes and kicked them off. As she stood, she loosened the ribbon and let her nightdress fall to the ground.
She stood shivering in the frigid winter night wearing only her chemise. She stepped forward onto the slippery ice-cold cobbles at the water’s edge. A few more steps and the undertow would claim her, ending her miserable existence forevermore.
A large wave washed ashore covering her feet with frigid water. She noticed the intruder as she instinctively stepped back. He disappeared as the fog swirled around trees at the edge of the beach and reappeared several seconds later. Closer now, she could distinguish his features.
He was young, not yet twenty, and strikingly handsome. When he spoke, his voice seemed familiar. But she was certain she’d never seen him before.
He stood just beyond reach, drifting in and out of focus as the fog swirled about him. He was too far away to restrain her, but his bright twinkling eyes held her in thrall.
“Please, reconsider,” he said. “There must be a better solution.”
How could he assess her choices? He couldn’t know how she stood at sixteen with the hopes and ambitions of the fairest and most accomplished maiden in the parish. Or how the handsome young John Dunsmuir had been smitten at the balls, hanging on her every word and action, lavishing praise and dancing with her one dance after another?
Then her handsome doctor disappeared, and six months later her father promised her in marriage to the only son of the local squire. Her financial security would be assured, but the squire’s son was nearer fifty than forty and ugly as sin with a miserable disposition that matched his appearance.
On their wedding night, he beat her when he failed to consummate their marriage. Eighteen months later, she remained a virgin, but the regular beatings became harsher. Tonight, when she stumbled from the house, one eye was swollen shut, blood dribbled from her lip, and she cradled her arm beneath her breasts to minimize the pain.
How could this enigmatic stranger offer her any option but the one she’d chosen?
He held out a neatly folded stack of clothes. “Remove your chemise and don these.”
She inspected the clothes, rougher cloth than she was accustomed to and drab colours, but they’d be warm. As her will to end her life waned, she was feeling the cold. She grabbed the grey-brown trousers and pulled them over her legs and up under her chemise. Strange to be wearing a sailor’s trousers, but they fit well.
“Next, the shirt. We must leave all your clothes on the beach.” He twisted away holding out the clothes while looking toward the path to the village.
She also turned away, hoping to hide the bruises her husband had inflicted.
He turned back toward her after she’d buttoned up the shirt. It was made of finer cloth, and like the trousers, fit perfectly. Next, a pair of well-fitting shoes and then a waistcoat. This was tight across her chest, but he insisted she fasten all the buttons, flattening her breasts and aggravating the pain from her bruises. When he passed her a boy’s cap and instructed her to tuck her blond curls up inside, she realized what he had done. He’d disguised her as a lad, one on his way to join a ship.
She followed, lacking the will to do anything but follow his instructions, to a small house overlooking the harbour.
“This is Mrs. Page. She will keep you hidden and prepare you for the voyage. Please, follow her instructions without question. I will return when it’s safe.” He turned and departed without another word, leaving her in the care of the matronly Mrs. Page.
He returned four days later in the early morning light.
“Come,” he said picking up the sailor’s kitbag Mrs. Page had packed. “We sail on the morning tide.
Two days later, they were at a decent, but modest hotel in Paris, and in the months that followed visited Vienna, Prague, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. In the autumn, they returned to Le Havre and boarded a brigantine destined for the New World.
During the months of their grand tour of Europe, her saviour acted like a true gentleman, always attentive to her needs and never acting inappropriately. Finally, on the voyage across the Atlantic, he provided an explanation.
“I was always a strange child. Many called me a changeling, but my half-brother, John, always stood up for me, saved my life on several occasions. You know John, he courted you when you were sixteen, but your father rejected him as a suitor, claiming he had insufficient prospects. He departed determined to improve his prospects. When you married, his dream didn’t die. He remained determined to somehow win you back.”
“But how? My fate was sealed once I married.”
“I chose to repay my debt by watching for a chance to free you from your bonds.”
“And you’re taking me to him?”
“I will leave you in Halifax and you will travel by coach to Windsor where John is professor of medicine at the newly established Kings College. He can now offer you the life you deserve.”
“Won’t you come with me to visit your brother and receive your reward for all you’ve done for me?”
He shook his head, a wistful look in his eye. “In Halifax, my job will be done.”
The late autumn storm, the worst in living memory, drove the mighty ship toward an unforgiving lee shore. The splintering of massive timbers upon offshore rocks assigned the ship and crew to watery graves.
He grabbed her by her arms, dove into the waves and struck out for shore. With mighty undulating kicks, he battled the turbulent seas and incessant undertow. His strength spent at the pounding surf line, he thrust her into the outstretched arms of rescuers braving the undertow from the shore. When they lifted her weight from his arms, he sighed, rolled onto his side, and let the undercurrent drag him into the depths. The child of a silkie from the sea, he’d grown to a man upon the land. Now, he would return forevermore, a silkie in the briny deep.
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/