Salt Marsh

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by C.A.A.

Better late, than never!

Image: Elspeth, in between changes, and Timmy.

Salt Marsh

Halloween Night:

The boatmen said that she’s haunted the marsh at the same time every evening since she disappeared, presumed drowned, in the estuary at Salt Marsh. Some speak of her aura, an iridescent green hue, which surrounds her as she treads her way across the mud at night. The fishermen recalled catching her in their nets, early morning just as the sun was rising, then letting her go.

I didn’t believe a word of it, but I was game, keen to enjoy Abigail’s excitement, her dare. We loitered in the half-light on the solitary platform at Salt Marsh Halt. Apprehensive, nervous, she chewed the nail on her ring finger, and studied a map under my torchlight.

I stared at the girl-tramp hunched in her hoodie on the smooth bench along the platform, wondering if I should offer to help her, but decided against it. I couldn’t reach her, touch her, offer her money, even if I wanted to.

Instead, I checked the train indicator board. The 16:31 from Wickleigh was running late. The girl twisted her neck to watch me. I saw her face, pale and featureless in the fading light, shuddered involuntarily, and huddled up to Abi. She felt vulnerable, helpless, held in my arms like that. I told her their train was late.

‘I know,’ she said, breathing out a misty halo, ‘I hope they’re wearing warm clothes.’

I grinned, giving her sloping shoulders an affectionate squeeze. She was changing tack,

‘The sky is dark and cloudy. Can you feel the chill in the sea breeze?’

I felt her little body close to mine, caring for her, protecting her, scrunching the map up between us, as she dreamt,

‘There’ll be no moon of cheese tonight, no starry night sky, no witch riding a broomstick.’

I rubbed her cold nose with my finger, feeling her cheeks stiffen with the cold. Abi was wearing her thin sleeveless black dress under a green anorak for supper in The Smuggler’s Inn. I wondered about her at times like these. Wondered what she’d wear in bed for me,

‘You’re very romantic tonight, Abi,’ I whispered, pushing my fingers through her wispy hair, rubbing the small of her back briskly to keep her warm, ‘And cold. You feel so cold.’

I reached down, lifted the tail of her anorak, the hem of her dress, and felt her bare thighs, bristling with cold. Pumps and ankle socks weren’t exactly ideal for plodding across the coastal marshlands after nightfall. She moved my hand, planting a warm kiss on my lips,

‘I’ll be fine once we get going, I’ll soon warm up.’

‘I’ve a spare sweater in my rucksack. It’ll keep you warm?’

‘Rupert! It’s much too big for me!’

‘Abigail,’ I insisted, raising my voice, ‘Please, put it on. It will keep you warm.’

Shrugging her shoulders, she took off her anorak. I gasped at the sight of her bare arms. What on earth had possessed her to come out, tonight of all nights, dressed like that?

There was a sudden flash of light. Sparks flying on the horizon. The sound of a klaxon: a train approaching. My new turquoise rucksack had wedged between my calves. Gently, I pushed Abi off of me, knelt down, and tugged out my sweater.

The train pulled into the platform, its carriage lights blazing. I saw two familiar faces, pressed against the window, gliding, slowly, past. Abigail grabbed my sweater, hurling it on over her head. The doors slid open. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Tim staggered out first, carrying Elspeth: firmly clamped onto his front, her arms wrapped around his neck, legs straddling his thighs. He looked as if he’d just left the office, dressed in a smart open-neck white shirt, love beads, dark trousers. On his arm, he was sporting a graphite pedometer, a ghastly-looking gadget which restricted his wrist movement. He hadn’t shaved. His tawny quiff was flecked with ash grey. He looked dog-tired, shattered.

Elspeth, meanwhile, clearly expected to party tonight in her white strapless top and tiny white mini-skirt, buttoned down one side. She had this all-over bronze tan. I couldn’t help wondering how long she would last, out on the marsh.

Ignoring me, Tim carried her across the platform, perched her on the whiteboard fence, brushed the long auburn hair off her face, stroked her cheeks, and whispered sweet nothings in her ear. The great romantic!

‘I love you, Elspeth.’

She planted a full kiss on his lips, ‘Love you too, babe.’

He produced a little black box from his rear trouser pocket and flipped open the lid. Inside the box lay a thin gold band encrusted with diamonds and a large sapphire. He asked her,

‘Will you marry me?’

‘Why, of course I will, Timmy!’ she cried, wiggling her ring finger in readiness for him.

There was a spontaneous smattering of applause from inside the carriage as he slipped on her ring. Abi and I joined in. Then, Tim and Elspeth disengaged, sprinted to the train, and reappeared with large leather travel bags, clearly intending to stay the week. They dumped their bags on the ground. We softly touched each other’s elbows. He asked me how I was,

‘Rupert, how are you?!’

‘Good thanks. How’s your face?’

The accident, in which Tim collided with an articulated truck whilst cycling to work, had permanently disfigured him, smashing his face into a dent, shattering his cheeks and nasal bones. He’d been lucky to escape alive. The surgeons reconstructed his cheekbones using flat metal plates, giving him an oriental appearance. Throughout his ordeal, my best friend had remained positive. He’d taken up table tennis and badminton, hoping to play cricket again next year,

‘Improving slowly, thanks,’ he replied, cautiously at first, ‘I get these violent headaches?’

Abigail sounded concerned for him, if not excited,

‘The sea breeze carries a threat of mists now the nights have drawn in. The path along the sea wall will be slippery-thick with mud puddles. I’m worried about your fractured face, Timmy. She has been known to prey on the injured.’

The reference to the dead girl chilled my heart. I drew Abi closer to my chest, wrapping my arms around her to keep her warm, stilling my inner fear. Elspeth edged closer to her man: shaky, shivery, the thrill of his proposal subdued by the stark warning, the adrenalin-pumping prospect of encountering danger, even death, out on the salt marsh,

‘Timmy’s face feels better now,’ she soothed, running the palms of her soft hands over his sunken cheeks until he winced, ‘Doesn’t it, babe?’

He nodded obediently, her devout puppy-boy.

‘Listen, I’m freezing. Where can I get changed?’

I saw Abi give her a frosty look, ‘‘Here, you can change here.’

Elspeth appeared horrified, ‘You are joking?’

‘I’m not joking,’ Abi seethed, pointing out the cluster of twinkling lights, an on-off beam, a lighthouse, in the far distance, ‘The Smuggler’s is over there.’

She turned, for effect, revealing the dimly-lit footpath that clung to the railway line as far as its curve before disappearing into the shadows,

‘Salt Marsh is down there. I told you to wear warm clothes. By the time we’ve walked to the inn, got changed, and walked back, it’ll be pitch black. You don’t want to miss her, do you guys?’

I watched Tim extract two jumpers and a warm fleece from his bag, ‘Of course we don’t.’

‘Elspeth?’

I laughed out loud as she crouched down and rummaged through her bag, pulling out her angora sweater, matching tartan scarf and skirt, thick black woolly leggings, waxed jacket and bobble hat. Watched avidly as Elspeth removed her strapless top and mini-skirt. She had this incredible all-over bronze tan. She flashed me the loveliest smile. I felt a jab in my ribs: Abi, smarting,

‘Rupert! Look the other away!’

I looked the other away. Just as the signal changed to green. The train moved off, towards its final destination. The girl in the grey hoodie had gone.

When I turned to face Elspeth, she had changed. Her hair was crudely-parted, tied back off her face. Cold, sullen, miserable, she drew out a packet of cigarillos, lit up, slung the bag over her shoulder, leaned on the fence, and puffed,

‘Is that better for you, Abi?’

‘Much. Shall we go then?’

‘Think we should,’ I remarked, handing out the torches, ‘It’s getting dark out there. Ready Tim?’

‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’

‘Elspeth?’

She didn’t speak. Abi led us through the automatic ticket gate, across a deserted car park, to the tarred footpath. I followed in her footsteps, two metres ahead of Tim. Elspeth trailed behind. As predicted, the path soon degenerated into a muddy, boggy quagmire, flooded with puddles. We slipped, slid, and skidded down the path to the sea wall, slithering like human eels.

The dark clouds parted overhead, and it bucketed with rain. I was drenched. My sweater was sodden, a sponge. My walking boots were plastered with mud. I thought of Elspeth, plodding silently behind me, her soaked bobble hat, her wet woolly leggings, her cyan lips.

There was a shrill cry, followed by a squelching, splashing sound. Abigail and I stopped. Shone our torches! At a misshapen figure: Tim, lying sprawled face-down in the mud. Elspeth stood perfectly still, rain cascading off her stone face as if she were a statue in a water fountain.

‘Tim!?’ Abi and I cried in unison, ‘Are you alright? Is your face hurt?’

He sounded more irritated than hurt, ‘The face is fine. I fell over! Help me up, will you?’

I lay my torch on the ground and crouched in the mud, preparing to haul Tim to his feet, feeling Abi’s talons, clutching at my shoulders,

‘Don’t touch him! He might be Covid! Are you clean, Timmy?’

‘Of course, I’m bloody clean! Help me up!’

I dragged him to his feet. Elspeth didn’t move, at first. Abi produced a useful pink towel from inside her rucksack which she handed to Tim, at arms-length. The tension, distrust, suspicion, grew within me like a malignant tumour, as the rain eased to a drizzle, a mizzle, a fine spray mist. Tim rubbed his face and hands clean, wiped the mud-stains off his knees and elbows, and returned the towel to Abi who stuffed it inside her rucksack.

There was a conspicuous silence, then an anguished howling noise,

‘Aaargh!’

With a slither and a squelch, we turned to face Elspeth.

Timmy asked, ‘What is it Elspeth? What’s the matter, darling?’

Abi cried, ‘Oh, Jesus! Oh, sweet Jesus! What’s that green stuff pouring from her mouth?’

Elspeth gaped. Her jaws slid open. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The green stuff, pouring from her mouth, like a dirty fog. The filthy fug of green spewed out of her mouth, celestial vomit, the sea bilge of the dead. I felt for her, spewing green stuff out like that, staring at her in disbelief. I yearned, deep inside my heart, to help her. I loved her, at that moment,

‘Elspeth?’ I murmured.

Her body had an incredible all-over green iridescent hue. She flashed me the sickest smile. I felt a jab in my ribcage,

Abi screamed, ‘Rupert! Look the other away!’

I couldn’t look away. I watched beguiled as Elspeth turned green. She moved off towards her final destination! There was a sharp yelp, a wailing moan, the heartrending sound of my dying love, 

‘No! Abi, please! No!’

When I turned to face Abi, she had changed! Her hair was crudely-parted, tied back off her face. Cold, sullen, and miserable, she drew out a packet of cigarillos, lit up, slung the rucksack over her sloping shoulders, fell on me, and puffed,

‘Is that better for you, Elspeth?’

‘Much, Abi. Shall we go then?’

There was a heavy crumping sound followed by a deathly groan, the rattle of lungs in a dead man’s chest.

Tim!

He lay slumped at my feet in the mud. I knelt and felt for the carotid artery in his neck. I knew he was dead, even as he hit the ground. What a time to have a bloody heart-attack!

‘No! Tim! Oh God! No!’ I said.

They led me to the sea wall:

Elspeth swathed in her iridescent hue, and Abi. She had this incredible all-over green tan? A cloying, dirty-mustard-yellow fog descended as, together, we walked, onto Salt Marsh.


Submitted: November 07, 2020

© Copyright 2020 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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Comments

C.A.A.

my mind couldn't picture all that happened so quickly. Wow, a great visual trip.

Tue, November 17th, 2020 11:48pm

Author
Reply

Thank you very much for the feedback, C.A.A. I am just beginning to squeeze in some writing and fear I may have rushed this story a tad; there's scope for me to enlarge it. That said, I'm buried inside "Strange Taste" at the moment and that could yet be a novel! I'll keep it under wraps, so as not to put myself under pressure! Never a dull moment! Lovely to hear from you, and I hope all is well with you.
Best Wishes,
HJ

Tue, November 17th, 2020 4:06pm

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