It was somewhere we went from time-to-time. Nowhere exciting, just a place to stretch the legs, to take a snapshot or two, and to get a breath of fresh air – a breath of sea as it came up the mouth of the river, but without having to endure the crowds at the beach. We visited in all seasons, in all weathers except pouring rain, and nothing exceptional ever happened – until our trip to catch sunset.
We’d gone with the intention of capturing the sun setting over the airport, for it’s a gorgeous Art Deco building, and the fading light meant the outlines of the modern aircraft wouldn’t spoil those gorgeous strong curved outlines. We got there early – it wouldn’t do to be ill-prepared, and scouted the area, crossing back and forth over the bridge to check out the best vantage point. Eventually, we left the bridge and walked along the riverbank closest to the airport, taking our shots as the sun made it’s magnificent progress across the airfield. The setting sun blazed against the turquoises and pinks of the sky, and as the windsock gently fluttered in the breeze and as the light faded, it was all too easy to picture the black and white hues of an old film – men and women walking across the tarmac having dressed formally for travel, their outlines showing off the hats which were de rigueur at the time, and although It wasn’t possible to see, you just knew the women were wearing gloves and carried those big structured handbags over their arms.
As the photographic possibilities of the airport were exhausted, we started to walk back. As we strolled, light escaped via those windows with undrawn curtains in the houses on the opposite bank, the striking reflections they created in the water catching my eye. Giving the appearance of hundreds of fairy lanterns, as the movement of the water in the gentle evening breeze caused the reflections to flicker. Snapping off a few more quick shots, I took a moment to stop, to just look around and to listen.
The bridge itself formed a stark outline against the darkening sky for there were no houses to backlight it. The old timbers taking on a somewhat sinister appearance in the darkness. Worrying about the uneven path back to the car, I called out that I was starting to walk back. A wave acknowledged I’d been heard, but seeing the tripod being set up, I realised he’d be awhile yet. Deciding it would be wise to retrieve the big torch from the car and return, I drudged off, lighting up the path ahead using my phone.
Approaching the car, I could just make out the outline of the cable telegraph signpost it was parked beneath – although I could barely see it, it was so familiar to me, I could all but see the strands of ivy curling around its once bright paint, now faded and rusting. Packing away my camera, I collected the torch, switching it on to ensure it worked. No trouble there – it threw great pools of light ahead of me, picking out details in the darkness. The skeleton of that wrecked old wooden boat alongside the bridge gave a ghostly feel in the torchlight, the seed heads lining the bridge doing likewise as they swayed gently in the breeze.
Without cyclists, dogs and walkers there to distract me, my thoughts drifted to the memorial on the bridge, placed there for those who’d lost their lives in the plane crash a few years before. Earlier that afternoon, we’d visited the new memorial on the other side of the bridge – a reflection of the many wooden boat skeletons, it had been fashioned in highly polished steel, engraved along the ribs with messages from the loved ones of those who’d died that day.
For the first time, it became clear why the bridge had been selected as the location for the memorial. Not only was it where people regularly walked, but in the quiet and dark, I could easily imagine hearing the voices of the recently lost, as they joined in with the voices of those lost over time – perhaps from those old wrecked boats. Although the rapidly fading light and stark outlines would normally cause me a sense of unease, I was surprised to feel in good company, as I picked my way back along the riverbank to where the darkness was about to totally engulf him and his tripod.
© Debra Carey, 2020
The Detective Inspector shifted in her seat slightly but overruled the temptation to look at the DC r s sense the waves of confusion directed at her, and made a note to do a proper debrief afterwards. Normally she would have let the constable ask some questions, but the interview had gone in an unexpected direction and so she kept the reins to herself.
“Right. I think I’ve got this straight, but I’d like to check a couple of details.” Opposite her, the young lady who’d been in party clothes a matter of hours before, sat dejectedly in paper coveralls. She gulped, nodded, and went back to staring at the dried blood that crusted her nails.
Alexa hated her name. The teasing at school had been mercilessly, with a grinding barrage of requests from the banal to the kind of lewdness that is peculiar to 16-year olds. She’d had the opportunity to reinvent herself, and had tried the casual ‘Lexi’ and a couple of other variants before settling on the uncompromising ‘Alexandra’. As she had chosen the name, so the name had shaped her; her mannerisms and mode of speech became more appropriate to an Alexandra, and her circle of friends changed too.
She’d been coming home from a night out clubbing, walking familiar, well-lit streets, although with less directionality than if she’d been entirely sober. She’d meandered towards her shared digs having got separated from her housemates at some point in the evening. If she’d had a few more drinks then what happened might not have happened at all.
The fresh air was, well, refreshing, but only the liver and kidneys can make you sober again. Thinks started to go wrong for Alexandra when she entered the Market Square. This was definitely not on the direct route home. She’d started to feel uneasy, but for no particular reason. It was a full moon, and very bright, causing all sorts of shadows that you wouldn’t get at any other time. The exit she should have taken made her more uneasy, the one that would lead her further off course somehow seemed to be the right one.
On and on, into the night. Error compounded error, as unease blocked her from going home. Buildings seemed to loom over her like a headmaster towering over a child sent for correction. Deep shadows held nightmare creatures. And so she’d reached the courtyard. She’d never been there before, and the alleyway she’d taken to get there was one she would never normally have taken drunk or sober, especially at that time of night. But her she was, and as she emerged, something came at her and instinctively she pushed it away. Anxiety had given way to fear, fear to terror: the selection of ‘the right path’ had done nothing to assuage this. Somewhere, unarticulated, buried beneath the haze of alcohol, obscured by the staccato drumbeat of her pulse, was the feeling that she was being herded. Terror lent her a strength she didn’t know she had and the lurching figure went stumbling backwards, tripped over a doorstep, and hit the cobbles far too hard. Alexandra screamed at that point and timidly went to check on the prone figure. The hand that she put down to support herself as she kneeled found a sticky pool, and she realised it was blood seeping from the figure’s head. She screamed again. Lights came on in the windows overlooking the courtyard.
In daylight, the detectives tried to follow the route that Alexandra must have taken from the nightclub to the scene of the…incident. Some of the choices she’d made, turning off one street and onto another, taking this exit from a square or small park rather than that one, seemed completely bizarre. The Detective inspector tried to block out all the noise and hubbub of normal life, all the thoughts trampling around in her head, and just take in the surroundings.
But the effects felt by Alexandra were not to be found by daylight, nor even simply by moonlight. The streets themselves awoke only rarely, begetting fear and terror on those few capable of feeling the consequences of the way the architecture of this part of town had been moulded. And with the blood sacrifice, the shaper was propitiated. For a time.
© David Jesson, 2020
This month, the fabulous Stuart Nager had a go with the prompt and you can find his story here.