This story was inspired by an original micro fiction piece I wrote back in the summer for Friday Phrases (a micro fiction party we have over on Twitter every Friday). The original piece, which can be found at the end of this post, hankers maybe for a more sinister tale, but I found when I started to write, the story took on a different, more gentle tone and changed genre slightly. But this is the great thing about 140 character micro fiction. Everyone will read something different into it and if you gave it as a prompt to say, five different writers, then five different stories would emerge and probably in five different genres. The story as a piece of micro fiction is very open to interpretation yet I felt it worked well as a stand alone piece. It is one of my all time favourite FPs that I’ve written. I’m not sure the story I have written from it is my favourite in terms of technical execution, but I write and post these simply to practise my writing. Anyway, see what you think.
William clutched Sally’s freezing hands in his warm ones and followed her gaze out across the bay. Her eyes rested upon the silent sea far below. It was cobalt blue now, but on the horizon swathes of dappled grey cumulus cloud bubbled up, heralding the predicted early autumn storm.
The couple sat on one of the many wooden benches dotted at intervals all along the downs atop of the Devonian limestone cliffs. Further along the coast, increasingly regular landslides of the Permian sandstone had been a feature of the recent wetter seasons. Homes, beaches and seats, not dissimilar to the one Sally and William rested on now, were forever lost to the ravages of the English Channel. Submerged and turned to nothing more than distant memories.
The thought caused a momentary chill to run through Sally’s spine and William pulled her closer.
She turned her head to face the brass plaque screwed into the back of the bench between her own shoulders and his. “To think that one day, in the not too distant future more than likely, our names might end up on one of these benches.”
William laughed and his chest tightened with the effort. “You have the most morbid of thoughts at times my darling.” He leaned over and brushed a kiss across her flushed cheek. “Having said that though, I wonder how one goes about acquiring a name plaque and bench ready for when one leaves this mortal coil.” He squeezed her hand lightly and turned his face back to the bay where the sea now reflected the steely-grey aura of the sky above.
“’In memory of Violet Bradshaw, who loved this bay, even on the coldest of winter days. 1907 – 1988,” Sally read the inscription aloud. “Gosh she’d have been the same age we are now when she died.” The words caught on a sudden gust of wind and carried off over the bay where specks of snowy white surf surged towards the beaches below. Sally shuddered. “I wonder who she was. I wonder what happened to her.”
“One too many portion of fish and chips I shouldn’t wonder…if she spent her whole life here!” William laughed again, a warm, wheezing laugh, a laugh Sally always found comfort in. “Anyway, if the cliffs continue falling into the sea at the rate they are, all these people immortalised on these here seats, will be lost forever. It all seems rather pointless to go to the length and expense of requesting one if you ask me.” William rubbed Sally’s frail, mottled hands in his own again and pulled her in even closer.
“We should get going, I suppose,” Sally said. “This storm seems set to spoil the remainder of our holiday. Besides, it’ll be supper time soon.” She smiled and, slipping her hand from his, patted William’s knee.
William lifted Sally’s walking cane from underneath the bench and helped her to her feet. With fumbling fingers she fastened the top button of her coat whilst William took up his own cane and together they walked arm in arm away from the storm back to the small Bed and Breakfast.
The following day dawned fresh and chilly with skies of cornflower blue, as is so often the case after a storm.
Sally and William breakfasted early. They were keen to make the most of their final full day on the downs, despite the heaviness of their eyes, having being kept awake most of the night by the terrible roar of relentless rainfall and high winds. Curious to see the devastation and damage reported on the TV and radio news for themselves, Sally and William left the warmth of the Bed and Breakfast and headed out into the cold morning.
A police cordon of blue and white tape fluttered in the light breeze along the downs where the rock face rose up to meet the cliff top.
“Oh my!” Sally gasped, clamping one hand over her mouth and pointing with the other. There was no bench where they had sat watching the storm approaching the evening before, only a gaping chasm in the landscape.
“Keep back please,” a stern voice called as the couple strode hand in hand towards the tape. A police officer held his hand up. “It is imperative no one comes any closer,” he warned. “Though there is no immediate danger of further collapse this far back, the area beyond the tape is considered unstable.”
“Of course officer,” replied William, and the couple stopped. Sally grasped William’s hand tighter. “Don’t you find it strange?” she whispered.
“Well, you know, this happening, and after that what you said last night? That bench is now lost to the sea. Violet’s memory, whoever she was, is lost to the sea too. It makes my flesh creep to think of how we spoke of it only yesterday evening.”
“Then don’t think of it, darling,” said William. “Let’s walk further along away from here. It is sad to see it like this, but there is nothing to be reckoned with where the force of nature is concerned, that’s for sure.” He shook his head and they turned to head away from the site of destruction.
The sound of rocks crunching underfoot caused Sally to stop again, and she caught something move in her peripheral vision. “Wait!” She spun William round to face the site of the landslip once more, to the spot where the bench had been. “Look!”
“What is it, love?” William squinted into the low October sunlight towards the place where Sally pointed with her cane. “Look! There’s a woman over there. She’s slipped through the police tape! Do you see her?” Sally pointed earnestly and made to move back towards the spot.
“I can’t see anyone. Are you sure, love?” William tugged Sally backwards.
“Yes, yes, look! Can’t you see her? A youngish woman – crouching down, inspecting the soil!” Sally’s voice rose to an excited high pitch. “She’s dressed ever so well, don’t you think? I hear the 50’s fashions are all back in now. Such a beautiful decade…” Sally’s words trailed off and she stood with her head tilted to one side considering the woman. The figure-hugging dress of emerald green satin that the woman wore stopped just below the knee and displayed a figure even Marilyn Monroe would have envied. The collar sat turned up high on her neck and the woman shielded her eyes from the early, low sun with a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses. Her smooth, pale complexion contrasted strikingly with the jet black hair which fell about her face in loose, glossy curls.
William stared out again towards the spot and then glanced sidelong at Sally. He couldn’t see anyone, despite shielding his eyes with his hands, and he worried now that Sally might be hallucinating. She had such deep thoughts at times and often drifted off into a world of her own. Maybe the lack of sleep last night was catching up with her. “But she is so adamant,” he thought. “There must be a woman there.” William peered once more into the bright sunlight.
“How could anyone get past the police cordon?” He asked, not committing himself to either confirming or denying whether or not there actually was anyone there.
“Well, just look at her! Any woman who looks like that could easily find their way through even Fort Knox if she set her mind that way, I’m sure.”
William said nothing more, other than to remind Sally that they hadn’t managed to wheedle their way across the cordon, so it was highly doubtful anyone else had. And besides, he argued, why on earth should anyone want to do so anyway? He led a reluctant Sally away by the arm, but all the while she glanced over her shoulder at the woman who continued to study the ground so keenly.
It was mid-afternoon when Sally and William returned to the downs after a long day out walking and discovering the rest of the devastation further along the coastline. Mainly it was of the more superficial variety. Sea junk thrown up with the foam, littering the promenades and coastal roads. A few blown over shop signs and fallen branches from trees. The storm had certainly brought autumn full on. The trees, other than the mighty oak and silver birch unable to hold tight to the last of their summer coats.
The police tape was still there separating the downs from the cliff edge, though an officer no longer patrolled the area. A light mist had slowly descended over the blue as the afternoon had drawn on and now the horizon over the bay was all but invisible from its silvery shroud.
As they made to turn into the road back to the Bed and Breakfast, Sally couldn’t help but look over to where the cliff side had been claimed by the sea. On doing so a small gasp of surprise caught in the back of her throat. Without a warning to William, she turned on her heel and began to walk decisively in the direction of where the bench had once been.
“Where are you going?” he called. “The B and B is up this wa-” William cut his sentence short when he saw what Sally was heading towards.
There, huddled up on the damp ground in place of the bench, sat a woman, dressed all in red, her feet precariously close to the verge of what was now the cliff edge.
Her knees were pulled up in tight to her chest, her head dropped low, and she rubbed her bare forearms with white-gloved hands. She wore a dress of deep crimson silk, layered over netted skirts and which seemed to serve as a blanket around her legs against the chill of the October afternoon air. Despite the mist, tortoiseshell sunglasses remained fixed firmly hiding her eyes.
“She’ll catch her death of cold sat on the damp ground like that. Or fall off the edge,” remarked William.
Sally snatched a glance behind her at William, and grinned. “Oh you see her now do you?”
“I see a woman if that’s what you mean, yes.”
“But, don’t you see? It’s her!” exclaimed Sally.
“The woman we saw this morning of course!”
Having not seen anybody that morning, William said simply, “Oh is it?”
“Are you being deliberately obtuse?” Sally asked, stopping and turning to face William.
“Of course not, love. Come on, let’s see she’s alright.”
William pulled the police tape up, all the while looking over his shoulder, like a child about to be caught with his hand in the biscuit jar. Sally slipped under the cordon and shuffled towards the clump of crimson.
“Hello,” she ventured as she approached the stranger from the side.
The woman raised her head, not at all startled at the interruption, and acknowledged the elderly couple with a smile.
“Would you like a hand up?” William offered. “You must be awfully cold sat on the wet ground like that.”
“Oh, thank you, you’re very kind but really, I barely notice the cold.”
“Still, allow me. Please,” he insisted.
The woman graciously took his hand and rose to her feet. “Thank you,” she said, still smiling.
She straightened up and brushed down the heavy layers of her dress, attempting to smooth down the crushed skirt. She was tall, taller than either Sally or William. Sally looked at the woman with a kind of wonder in her eyes.
“Terrible isn’t it?” The woman said, gazing out over the misty sea.
“Oh yes! Utterly awful,” Sally agreed. “It was only last night we were sat in this very spot, on the bench which was here you understand.”
“Time,” said the woman wistfully, as though she hadn’t heard Sally. “Time is a truly terrible curse, don’t you think?”
Sally coughed. “Oh yes, yes. Not that you have to worry about that. You are so young. You have many, years ahead of you, unlike us.”
“Oh, I do now, thanks to that bench out there. Somewhere.”
William threw Sally a quizzical look. She shrugged.
The woman didn’t move her gaze an inch from the sea which was now so still and so calm and so blue, the thought that a storm had been in the area only twelve hours previously seemed like an imagining too far.
“You know,” The woman spoke in a soft, refined accent. “They say when the sea claims a life, that that life is never truly lost. It merely sleeps, submerged in the depths until the time is right to live again.”
“A bit like the Titanic I suppose?” said Sally.
“What rot!” William said. “The one thing which will claim a life once and for all and with absolute certainty is the sea. Davy Jones’ locker is an abundance of decay and death!”
A look of mutual understanding between the two women told William his opinion on the subject was not welcome.
“Yes, just like Titanic,” said the woman, still looking out towards the Channel. “When they found it, in the depths of the Atlantic back in 1985, the lives of those who had lived in 1912 were resurrected. They had been all but forgotten for those seventy years, but through the discovery of the ship’s remains, they had another chance at life.”
“And only ever remembered as they were in their youth,” Sally added, thinking of the Hollywood film.
“Precisely,” said the woman. “No time for them to become old and tired, worn out, wrinkled, rusty.” The woman glanced down at her gloved hands. “The ocean, it seems, can revive as well as claim its victims.”
Sally pondered the words and scanned the bay across to the vast expanse of sea below. “I wonder if the bench which was here will ever be found again. It bore a name, as so often they do, but now sadly now her memory will be lost.”
William noticed a small grin steal across the stranger’s full, red lips. He began to regret offering a helping hand to this woman in the first place. There was clearly something not right with her what with her enigmatic words and her far-away stares. Not only that, but she was she dressed as though she was living six decades in the past and completely inappropriately for a chilly October afternoon.
“You would do well to get yourself one of those benches in your name,” the woman said to Sally, “like so many people do. Have it placed in a spot dear to your heart. On a cliff top is ideal…so it turns out.”
William had heard quite enough. Sally didn’t need her imagination filled with any more nonsense than already caused her to think too deeply about everything.
“Well…it’s been lovely meeting you and chatting,” he said, still wondering with every passing minute whether this woman was the full ticket. “But we really must get going.”
He took Sally’s firmly by the arm and made to head back across the downs in the direction of the small side roads towards the Bed and Breakfast.
“Wait,” said Sally pulling William back again. “Are you alright?” She spoke to the woman. “Have you somewhere to go?”
The woman turned towards Sally and lifted her sunglasses. The setting sun lit up her face, revealing pale green eyes which looked as though they too belonged to the sea. Despite their pallor, they twinkled in the lowing sunlight and the woman sighed.
“Everywhere and yet, nowhere,” she replied. “Everywhere and nowhere.”
“Right…well, we really should get go-” William had had quite enough of riddles.
But Sally didn’t budge. She regarded the woman with a mixture of confusion and pity, unable to make her mind up as to what to say to the enigmatic response. After a few seconds Sally determinedly unclasped her handbag.
“What are you doing now?” William whispered through gritted teeth. The woman in the crimson dress paid no more attention to the couple, her focus now returned and fixed firmly on the misty horizon. Sally rummaged for a pen and piece of paper and, once located, began scribbling something down. She handed the scrap to the woman before William had any time to protest. The woman took the paper delicately in one of her gloved hands and looked down at Sally’s small, neat script.
“Sally and William,” she read. She folded the paper in two and placed it into one of the pockets in the pleats of her skirt. “Thank you.”
William made a point of shivering and blowing into his cupped hands to show he had no intention of hanging around any longer.
“Yes, that’s us,” said Sally. “And this is where we are staying…until tomorrow at least. If you need anything, or would perhaps like to join us for supper later? You seem as though you could do with some company.”
William entwined his arm with Sally’s and tugged her decisively away.
“Oh! I didn’t ask.” Sally called back to the woman as she finally gave in to William and allowed herself to be guided away. “What’s your name?”
“Violet,” the woman replied, still smiling. “Violet Bradshaw.”
The original FP I wrote (from the optional theme: ‘Submerged, Under The Sea’):
When the benches along eroding coastlines became submerged under the sea, no one expected the dead, whose names they bore, to rise again.