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'Petrified in the Deep…' by Julie Watkins

Julie Watkins, LISP 2022 Short Story Finalist by 'Petrified in the Deep'

Petrified in the Deep…

I have surrounded Keepers Rock for more years than you would ever know. You hear me. You see me. You feel me. You smell me. You enter me. Sometimes I let you enter and leave. Sometimes I deceive, pulling, dragging you deep. Look down from these cliffs, but not too near the edge. Some walk freely in, giving themselves. They want the end. Perchance.

Sit back, I have a story to tell, of wreakers and murders. There are those who have used me as an accomplice to their crimes. Listen and beware. Those I have taken never rest, they come in and out with my waves, crashing against the cliffs in my tide, staying with me, for all eternity. Listen to their whispers and calls in the sleepy, sneaky night. Listen to the unseen messages they send, from the deep, darkest deep. Remember you are never alone. A flicker of dust, from the funeral urn, a soft sigh from the graveyard yews, a caw, caw from the black crackling feathered calling crow. It is them.

The mocking moon in the pitch- black bat night, leads Caine, at Keepers Rock. He holds his daughter, wrapped in her shawl, a ready shroud for the dead. Her mother had chosen this fate for the child, whilst reading her grandfather’s brass clasped bible, which holds court on the draped red velvet cloth table. It is the right thing to do. Suffer the little children to … Over the fireplace the suspended thick threaded words. Your Lord will watch over you. The wooden crucifix by its side, dropped once in the smouldering ashes, scorched edges, filed smooth again. Grandfather, once sat by the fire, in a scuffed wooden backed chair, rolling a spliff, to add to the muck already on his poor dirty lungs.

They used to ask, how is he?

He’s, alright, he’s alright, but he’s not right. All in the past.

Caine looks down at the babe. ‘There there, little one, you will not suffer as I did. Here’s the church here’s the steeple, look inside and there’s dead people. They’ll make things right; it is time for us, we will talk with her when this is all over. Remember, though we walk through the valley of death, you will fear no evil as I am with you, Amen.

Poor Caine, born out of wedlock, a bad seed, his mother long gone. Gabby Gillard, hole for a mouth, gobbling gossip in the village, I had heard them. She’s nothing but a no-good tart, all fur coat, and no knickers. Turned her from the Church they did when the Church bells chimed. Here they come the black suited Church elders, and the Church priests in their fine robes of satin and silk, their gold crucifixes, hanging proud on their scrawny necks. Put your head up, put your head down. Put your head up, put your head down. Fat round nuns. Skinny long nuns. Blessing you on Sunday dawning, calling you over on the Monday morning. Hail Holy Mary, their sort must pay for their sins. Caine’s sin was to be softly born. He soon toughened up.

I show him moaning faces, in my rushing waves, groaning in agony, taking their last breath, before they prayed. Please Glorious God in holy heaven help, they begged, help that never came. Glorious God was in his bed. Sleeping. I was eager, waiting for my lair. I threw myself against the cliff, mimicking, the voices from his past, his mother, and the men who spanked his arse, smelling of tobacco and cheap sweat. Get the little brat out of your bed woman. He had watched his mother, as she floated away in the wrought iron duck feather bed, he pulled the washed-out sheet over her unseeing eyes, Jack Frost painted ice tears on the window. Caine shivered in his mortal skin.

Down in the dark dale, Caine fought the buggering bullies who dammed dared him. They used to shout don’t tangle with Caine he’s not all there, mad, mad Caine. He was perfect for War. Quick March, Quick March. Head up, head down. Head up, head down. A square meal a day, and a fair pay. Mad Caine, bordering on suicide, no fear of no man’s land, but he survived, to tell the long tale, but not of the rats and lice eating away the dead, and the still living. Rats so long they stretched for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles, and miles. Perchance.

And here he is with his daughter, in control of fate. That’s what he thinks ‘Come on sea, come on what are you waiting for, we’re ready for you. His knees buckle from under him, finally he succumbed to the alcohol. The last sound he heard was the screaming screeching of off white seagulls. It was quick, I chose who I would take, pushing the other back. Go away Peter, go away Paul. Come back little babe one and all.

‘Caine, my lover, how long have you been here, your soaked to the skin. You’ll catch your death of cold lying there.’

He moves his warm lips. ‘What time is it, what day is it?’

‘It’s a warm, slow, August Monday, my lover.’

He had only been there overnight when the night owls’ wings were swift with flight, cheated death, he had. Again. He brushes the gritty sand from his wet clothes. He watches as Monday’s child full of grace, his sweet Constantine walks away on angels’ silver wings, with the dog running beside her, tail wagging, the dogs, not hers. She told him she once owned a black pony, when she groomed him, puffs of black dust floated in the sky. The black dust still floats in the sky, it is still there, nothing really goes away, does it.

I watch the lovers make their way across the sand; she is bending, picking things up putting them into her wild wicker basket. I knew her well. Sweet Constantine, twenty years young. Dark black eyes. Dark black rag curly hair swinging loose, tangling in the breeze, who loved her as we all did. Her hot red checked dress, well worn, shabby, torn, and darned. I’d watched her, threading white cotton through the needles eye, snip, sniping the fustian, calico, satin, and lace, with the scissor, don’t use the tailors’ scissors, her mother would say, to cut your hair, stop sucking your thumb, her mother would say, remember, Stuwwelpter.

Stuwwelpter is for the others with their red stained lips, and cheap fancy clothes, yellow smoke-stained fingers, gums long lost, long teeth, eyes with heavy lids, too heavy to fully open anymore. Constantine when you’re young and you look in the mirror, well sometimes you look bonny, not when you’re old, you never look bonny, her mother would say.

Caine follows her, he has nowhere else to go. Constantine knew who he was because she fed the bleak black rowdy ravens, and they spoke about him. Hark. I leave them, I am calm, silent, waiting, watching.

She carries her wares, with the tear-stained wet shawl carefully folded inside. They stroll easily. The sound of my whitecaps lulls them into peace, quiet. She collects flotsam, shells, and seaweed- depending, on what mood I am in. Creating crafts. She was a girl as I heard tell, she goes to market her crafts to sell.

She took the shawl and placed it on the yellow grit sand. ‘Shall we rest for a while?’ ‘I’ve brought some food.’

The soft white bread, golden honey, and flagon of cold beer, swilled sweet, did not get stuck to their young white teeth. They stay, loving each other, talking, until I had listened to enough, and crept back in.

She called to the dog, ‘time to get back,’ my impatient roaring tide, coming in fast. ‘let’s go.’

Climb the steep path, towards the white soft stoned cottage, which is clinging to the rock, for dear life, ready to topple into me at any time. Its four small, sashed windows peering out, watching those who come hither. Windows like eyes of souls, souls of the past, souls who once made their living from fishing my inners. Constantine unlatches a smiling lions head, on the bleached emerald, green weathered wonky wooden door. She guides him in. Her aroma of cinnamon, pine, frankincense ready for blessings rich in the air. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

The tall cream candles, flicker, quick, hushed movement, creepy crawling shadows across walls. Tick, tock, tick, tock, the clock, stands stiff soldier like in the corner of the low wood beamed room. They sit by a worn wooden planked table, on top of which lay a mahogany Ouija board, gold letters glistening in the shadowed night. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Caine feels the weighty brass planchette, with the wide-eyed wise owl, yellow tired yawning moon, and silvery startled stars. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

‘Best leave the dying dead, he said, otherwise they won’t rest.’ She touches his arm, drawing him back into the chair, while placing her fingers, on the planchette. Slowly it begins to move spelling out the words. We were there we saw what you did, she is safe now, you had no choice. The clock strikes nine. She places the planchette away from the board. After dinner they sit by the fire, she draws him in again.

He was not like the other boys she had known. Only after one thing. Constantine, if you have me, I will have you.

‘I need work,’ he had said,’ I’ll help you salvage.’

He had lodgings nearby, but his money was running out, he would need somewhere to stay.

He ignored Gabby Gillard gossiping about Constantine. ‘Did you know bout her lot, they used to make sure the windows were lit well, there’s a ship coming in. Quick, get the cargo off. Screaming seagulls, hiding the screams of the murdered, cut their froats they did. Now they talk to her through the Ouija board, they look after her. Wreakers, sinners all of em.’

Now as you know, only the church could forgive a sinner. Caine knew he was a sinner, but he did go to the church, and in the dark cool silence, kneeling by the crucifix, with the blood thorned man looking down at him, he did unburden his guilt onto the spirit of the lord. He began to believe he could begin a new life.

‘Father, I have sinned.’

‘Talk my son, leave your sin with God, he will grant you forgiveness.’

‘I have walked with the Beelzebub father.’

‘Speak son, speak.’

‘This world is not a place, that has been kind to me father. When our child was born, we tried, tried hard to keep her safe, but she was already possessed by Bucca, he wanted her, he would keep her safe…’

‘Go my son, you are the only one who must carry the burden of your sins go, go forth.’

The cold wind of time rushed through the eternal hedges. Caine continued to, just be. Well, he tried.

I can see Gabby Gillard hole for a mouth, at Goosy fair. She is taking her gooses to market. She makes her way through the crowds of drunken fighting bait smelling fishermen. ‘Well, what a sight, Mrs Bradshaw, sinners all of em’, she said.

I hear children scream thrown around on the proud coloured carousel. Roll up, roll up, try your luck, come on Gabby scream louder to go faster. Look there in the silver cross, a babe screams alone. Watch your geese, Gabby Gillard hole for a mouth, dogs are about.

Lizzie is fussing over the dog, with his nine tails. Customers are many. Mrs Bradshaw, Gabby Gillard, hole for a mouth’s friend, has come to market to market to buy a fat hog. Home again home again, jiggety jog. She watches Constantine, selling her wares.

‘The price is on it, Mrs Bradshaw,’

‘I’m not giving that much, daylight robbery, can’t you do it for any less?’

‘No sorry, take it or leave it.’

‘Don’t snatch it back, I’m not going to steal it. Watch your gooses, Gabby, the hound will have them, he’s bit me he’s bit me; your savage of a dog has bit me.’

Hark, hark, the dogs do bite…

Constantine, knew of the gossips wicked ways, she knew of their black spells. ‘You trod on his paw, why don’t you look where you’re going, you old hag.’

‘Don’t you talk to me like that, selling your old rubbish, the pair of you stealing from the sea. Smugglers you are, like your family before thee.’

‘Mrs Bradshaw, can’t you leave the past rest.’

‘You’re a fine one to talk. Talking to the drowned dead, the two of you. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. We know all about you two, living in sin, and what was he doing hanging around Keepers Rock, the other night?’

Gabby Gillard hole for a mouth, huddled around. Yes, she did, no she didn’t, make up your mind, did she or didn’t she. Did he, or didn’t he, make up your mind, did he, or didn’t he. How do you expect me to know? You know everything. She did. Did she?

Caine is mad, ‘Constantine, stop it calm down.’

Mrs Bradshaw is mad. ‘Get the police someone get the police.’

Siren’s sound screeching sirens. Harpies, that’s what they are. Makes you jump out of your skin, for goodness’s sake, watch what you’re doing, you’ll have your eye out. Hello, hello, hello, what’s going on here then. Bring the hound, beast of the fields, to the kennels first thing in the morning.

They give the dog the peace of sleep. Constantine tears dampens his fur. He is aware of her sorrow, but thankfully, he has no way of knowing his fate. She wraps him in his favourite shawl, a death sheet. They give him to me. I gladly take him.

Constantine waits, killing time. ‘Caine, we need food supplies from the village.’

Caine can feel the strength of the North wind, my supporter. The North wind blows, and we shall have snow. When the wind is in North, do not go forth. Mrs Bradshaw does not take heed. The night was drawing in. Shop signs creaking, creak, creak, creak, twinkling twilight lit shop windows.

The Dai butchers block, the Tom tailor of Gloucester, Bob pats a pat pat bread maker, Mr Carter, coffin maker, Mr Green, he’s a good draper. Mrs Bradshaw walks with Gabby Gillard hole for a mouth. Caine follows them. He watches them. They walk towards the church yard, the white crumbling tombstones, illuminating the way.

I remember Sad Sid stone mason, chip, chip, chipping, the names of the dead, dust flew in the warm night air. Names gone with time, need to put a new tombstone on those long-gone dusty bones. What will they do with the old stone? Why do you want it?’ Mrs Bradshaw senses trouble.

‘Are you following me, boy?’

‘Yeah, I am. Let me warn you Mrs Bradshaw, you leave Constantine alone, or you will pay. I won’t let her be hurt again; do you hear me?’

‘I know your secrets boy.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘I listen at church when sinners are making their confessions.’

Constantine waits, killing time, she feels the stroke of the dead babe’s hand, on her face. ‘Rock a bye my baby, rock a bye, a bye a bye, my baby, not on the treetop.’

‘Caine the spirits are speaking.’

‘Put the nonsense away the dead cannot talk.’

‘But they do, the spirits lost at sea haunting Keepers Rock.’

‘It’s the living you should be afraid of, Mrs Bradshaw won’t be satisfied until she’s taken everything away from us.’

‘Do something about it Caine, tell her to watch when the lights are bright in the cottage, that is when the spirits gather.’

Later as the night joins me, Caine walks to the edge of Keepers Rock, trying to stand, holding his ground against the roaring wind, the screaming voices, but they are too strong. He drains the last sip of whisky from the flask. It is a pitch-black bat night, but for the lights in the cottage

Mrs Bradshaw stumbles towards the lights. Constantine hears my rage. Drawing the blinds of the cottage. Stopping their peering eyes. The light was no more. Mrs Bradshaw listens to my angry roars; she can hear the long-gone ships. I remember Coleridge’s Albatross. Now I am mad. All the best people are mad, you know. I yearned to toss and tumble her in my deep depths. Toss her to the bottom of Davy Jones locker, she’ll like it there. She can become a fish woman, taking care of the fish children, give her something to do.

Caine, saw her, smelt her in the dark, he thought the same, she’ll make a good fish woman. He picked the hammer up; they both hear a crack. Mrs Bradshaw has no time to scream, so the seagulls screamed for her. They are very thoughtful.

The sky is grey, thunder rolls in the distance, I refuse to play, I wanted peace for a while. Are you coming out to play? No, I said

It is a moonlit, cold ice bright night. The grumbling gnarled trees in the graveyard, whishshsh whishshsh together, they sound almost like me when my waves rush to the shore, rushsh rushsh to the shore. It is a hairy night; in the churchyard bodies lie petrified in their graves. Gabby Gillard lies with her hole for a mouth, snoring on her goose feathered mattress, dreaming of the sins of others, the sins, she has never enjoyed. Caine and Constantine in the calm stone cottage speak.

‘Spirits have you anything to tell.’

The weighty brass planchette moves easily slowly spelling out the words.

Constantine, it is I, Mrs Bradshaw, I have a little babe with me, we swim in the water, rolling around in the deep, deep, darkest high sea.



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