Mary and the Ship

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Children Stories  |  House: Booksie Classic
A fairy story about a girl called Mary.

Submitted: December 29, 2011

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Submitted: December 29, 2011

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Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a little girl called Mary.

She lived in a small white house, on the edge of a tiny village by the sea.

 

Mary was a mischievous girl, and full of fun. She had wavy blonde hair and sea green eyes, and was quite as pretty as a princess.

 

Often, Mary would play in the village with the other children. Their games involved running and hiding and shouting and laughing. The bakers and grocers and shop keepers would smile fondly as they watched the children through their shop windows, and the sound of the children’s laughter made them happy.

 

Only one boy in the village did not join in their games. His name was Jack. Like the other boys and girls, Jack loved being around Mary. She was always doing something interesting, and usually it was a bit dangerous and naughty, too. Of course Mary never got into trouble. She was the darling of the village.

 

Unlike the other boys and girls, Jack couldn’t stop thinking about Mary. He wanted to be near her all the time. And more than anything, he wanted her to know how he felt. So one day, late last summer, Jack had summoned up all his courage and, in front of all the other children, he had walked right up to Mary and kissed her on the cheek.

 

Quite what Jack had expected to happen next, no-one knew. Certainly Jack himself hadn’t thought past the kiss. Still, it came as quite a shock when Mary had yelled at the top of her voice, and sharply pulled away from him.

‘Get off me’, she had screamed.

Jack had gone crimson, as the others had started giggling and pointing at him. With tears in his eyes, he had run away and hidden.

 

Now Jack watched their games from behind a milk cart, or behind the village well, or from a thatched roof top, but never where the others could see him. Whenever he heard them laugh, he imagined they were laughing at him, and his face burnt red again.

 

But Jack’s feelings for Mary didn’t change. If anything, now that he couldn’t be with her, he longed to be near her even more.

 

*

 

Mary enjoyed playing in the village, but sometimes, in the early evening, when the other children were having their supper, she would go out on her own, and walk along the beach.

 

One particular evening, as the sun was setting and the shadows were long, Mary pulled on her green coat with the fur hood, and went out to explore along the long, wide, silvery sand. She was particularly excited this evening, because she was sure she had seen something from her bedroom window, that morning. It had looked like a ship anchored at the water’s edge, but it was so far away along the beach, that she couldn’t be sure. Now she would find out!

 

She skipped lightly along the pale sand, the wind ruffling her hood, as the sun sank lower. The ship (if it was a ship) didn’t seem to be getting any closer, but Mary could be a stubborn girl, and was determined not to give up. Just as she thought that finally it was getting nearer, something caught her eye over to her left by the water.

 

It glinted as the gently lapping waves revealed it, and then it was gone again. Mary walked towards it, and then bent down to look closer. It was a bright, clear, green stone, cut like a jewel. It reminded her of the pictures she had seen in books, of maharajas wearing emerald and ruby studded crowns. She stooped to pick it up. It was wet and gritty from the sea and sand. She wiped it on her sleeve and slipped it into her pocket.

 

She looked up along the shore, and now there was no doubt. It was a ship, and it wasn’t far at all. She hurried on again, quicker now that she felt she was nearly there.

 

Now that she was really quite close to the ship, she could make out a red glow coming from the wooden deck.

 

‘I think it’s on fire!’ she thought, with a thrill of fear and excitement. By now she had reached the ship, but it was anchored about fifty yards from the shore. Mary wondered what to do, and as she gazed at its dark forbidding shape, there was no doubt about the fire on deck. Mary noticed that there were small round windows along the side of the ship. She thought they were called port-holes.

 

As she looked a face appeared at the nearest port-hole. Mary gasped. It was a little girl, and she looked pale and frightened.

 

‘Why, I believe she’s trapped by the fire!’, she said aloud, although there was no-one with her. Now Mary had never thought of herself as a brave girl, but then she had never been faced with anything that needed her to be brave before. Even horrible spiders were quickly dealt with by her daddy. But now she didn’t hesitate. ‘I shall have to swim across.’

 

She unbuckled her shoes and peeled off her socks. She squashed the socks into the shoes to keep the sand off them, and then put the shoes well away from the water to keep them dry. Then she rolled up her coat and placed it as best she could on top of the shoes.

 

Now that she was planning to get into the water, it looked a lot darker and colder than before. And it was cold! Mary knew the best way to overcome it was to dive straight in. Instantly the freezing water knocked the breath out of her. She gasped for air, and made herself move her arms. Even without her coat, her clothes weighed her down. Keeping the little girl’s face in her mind, she gritted her teeth, and pushed on. The walk along the shore to the ship, now felt like an easy stroll in comparison with her struggle against the icy sea. Her bare hands and feet were numb. Her teeth chattered, and her sight was blurring.

 

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, she bumped into the hull of the ship. Right next to her, there was a rope ladder hanging into the water. If she had not been so cold and exhausted, she would have remembered that it was called a gang ladder. She wrapped her arm round the ladder and floated, too tired even to pull herself out of the cold.

 

As soon as she got her breath back, she heaved herself up the first few rungs. She felt warmer straight away, and began to climb the ladder confidently. She was small and light, and was clambering over the edge of the deck in no time. The heat of the fire on the deck buffeted her like an open furnace. She stood staring at it, her eyes smarting, and for the second time that evening, wondered what to do.

 

Just as she was thinking that being surrounded by water must be a good thing if you are trying to put out a fire, she heard a thud, followed by a groan, come from behind her. She spun round and saw a soaking wet boy picking himself up from the deck, exactly where she had just climbed over. It was Jack.

 

Mary opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.

‘Hello’, said Jack.

 

‘Hello? Hello? What are you doing here?’ Mary had found her voice.

 

‘Err, I sort of followed you.’ Jack mumbled. ‘At least I did until I lost sight of you. But then I saw your things on the sand, so I guessed you must have swum out here. Cold, wasn’t it?’ he added conversationally.

 

Mary, ever the practical girl, moved on to the matter in hand. ‘We have to put this fire out.’

 

‘Yes. Let’s fill these buckets with sea water and use it to douse the flames.’ Jack wasn’t sure that douse was the right word, but he’d heard it used before, and hoped it would impress Mary.

 

Mary, on the other hand, was wondering why she hadn’t noticed the two buckets standing against the edge of the deck. ‘I suppose he saw them while he was scrabbling about on the floor’, she said to herself.

 

‘Well come on then. We haven’t got time to stand here babbling about it’, she said, a little unfairly.

 

For the next hour the two them worked side by side, lowering the buckets into the sea (Jack showed Mary how to use lengths of rope from the deck to tie to the bucket handles), and then hauling them up the side (Jack helped Mary with this, although she insisted he needn’t).

 

The cold water quickly put out the flames – perhaps a little too quickly, but then the children had never had to deal with a deck fire using buckets of sea water before, so they weren’t to know.

 

Now the air was filled with wet smoke and the smell of charred wood. It was quite dark now too, so they couldn’t see how smudged and blackened their faces were.

 

‘We’ve done it’, panted Mary, her chest heaving with effort and the smoke.

 

‘Yes. But look down there’, replied Jack in such a quiet voice, that Mary barely heard him.

 

Through the thinning smoke, they could now see that the fire had burnt a wide hole in the deck. Through that hole they could see down into the space below. And what they could see didn’t make sense. By rights it should have been pitch black down there, but it wasn’t. There was an oblong of pale light about seven feet high standing in the middle of what must have been one of the ship’s cabins.

 

‘What is it?’ asked Mary, leaning in as close as she dared.

 

‘I don’t know. Let’s go down and look.’

 

It occurred to Mary, that Jack was quite a brave boy, not to mention awfully observant. Even as she was wondering at this, Jack was using one of the bucket ropes to lower himself down into the strange cabin. ‘Come on. I’ll help you’, he encouraged.

 

‘I can manage’, retorted Mary, although she wasn’t really sure that she could.

 

Minutes later she and Jack stood side by side below deck in the dark cabin staring at the eerie light. And now that they were so close, it was even more strange and unsettling than before. The light was coming from a doorway. But there was no wall. The doorway was simply a frame that stood slap bang in the middle of the cabin. You could have walked right round it if you wanted to. But it was what the children saw through the doorway that held them spellbound.

 

And this is what they saw.

 

There was a lady sitting on a chair looking at what appeared to be a rectangular picture on a stand on a desk directly in front of her. The lady was very pretty and had wavy blonde hair. Her lips were bright red, and she had a slightly naught smile. Her hands rested on a flat black oblong thing with lots of little buttons with letters on them. This oblong sat on the desk right in front of the rectangular picture. Only it wasn’t really a picture. It had light coming out of it, and there was writing on it. The pretty lady with the wavy blonde hair seemed to be reading a story.

 

‘She can’t see us’, breathed Mary.

 

‘Or hear us,’ said Jack, a little louder. ‘It’s like we’re looking through the window of someone’s house, and they don’t know’.

 

But while the lady didn’t know that the children were watching her, the children didn’t know that they were being watched too.

 

In a dark corner of the cabin, on the far side of the magic doorway, a small, but otherwise very normal door had quietly opened. Through it had walked an old woman. She was bent over with age. She wore a long black cloak, and a tall black hat, and she was exceptionally ugly. She crept silently forward towards the children, shielded by the magic door. Behind her, on a lead, she dragged a thin reluctant cat with a pale and frightened face.

 

The children were so absorbed with the mysterious view through the magic doorway, that they didn’t notice the witch (for that is what she was) even when she stepped out into full view – if anywhere in a gloomy cabin below deck can be said to be in full view.

 

Suddenly, with one quick movement, the witch raised her free arm (the other still dragged the cat) and pointed directly at the children. The sudden movement caught their eyes, and they turned towards her. They both let out cries of shock. But the cries were silenced as quickly as they began. From the end of her pointing finger, a green light shone at the children, and they were paralysed in an instant.

 

They could move their eyes, but nothing else. Mary realised that she had never really been frightened before – never in her life. If she could have, she would have fainted on the spot. Only just out of the corner of her eye, could she see Jack. He looked as terrified as she felt.

 

Unhurriedly, the witch tied the cat’s lead to a hook in the cabin’s wall. Then she shuffled up close to the children. Paralysed as she was, Mary’s sense of smell still worked as well as ever, although right now she wished it didn’t. The witch smelled of old rotten rubbish, and old drains, and all the unpleasant things you can think of.

 

With absolutely no effort at all, the witch picked up Mary in her left arm, and then Jack in her right. Carrying them as though they were a couple of rolled up rugs, she walked back through the small door she had come from. She carried the silent, staring children down a short corridor and then into a horrible little cell with a low ceiling. She propped them up against the wall (their heads nearly touched the ceiling). Then she shuffled away, back down the corridor.

 

Unable to move, and so scared they could barely think, the children soon became aware of the floor moving beneath them. It seemed to sway gently. The ship was sailing!

 

It was impossible to tell how long they sailed for. There was no change in the light, and nothing to see. They dosed occasionally. It is surprising how easy it is to fall asleep when you are paralysed in a dark room, no matter how frightened you are. And little by little they became hungry. And then they became thirsty. Ages and ages later, they felt the ship become still. They had stopped.

 

Now the children were alert again. They expected the witch to return, and return she did. Just as before, she scooped them up, one under each arm, and carried them back along the corridor, past the room with the magic doorway, up a set of steps (the witch didn’t struggle at all) and out onto the deck. It was night, but somehow the children could tell it wasn’t the same night that they had first boarded the ship. This night was darker, the air colder.

 

Bumping against the side of the ship was a row boat. The witch dropped Mary on the deck – she would have painful bruises later – and lowered herself down to the boat using a rope, with Jack flopped over her shoulder. As soon as she was near enough she dropped Jack into the boat. Now he would have bruises too. Then the witch went back for Mary. Once in the boat, Mary noticed that the cat was in there already, tied to an oar-lock.

 

Lying on their backs, the only things the children could see were the stars in the inky black sky. The boat rocked up and down as it made the short journey to the shore. Mary was now so frightened and hungry, and maybe a little sea-sick (lying on her back didn’t help) that she finally did faint.

 

When she awoke, she was standing on a cold stone floor against the wall of a cave. It may have been the screaming that awoke her – Jack’s screaming. In front of her stood the witch. She was putting a huge black lid onto a huge black cauldron. Beneath the cauldron was a small fire. The cat cowered in the corner of the cave. Mary had no doubt that Jack’s screams were coming from inside the cauldron.

 

Now the witch came towards Mary. She was next for the cauldron. Once again the witch carried her with one arm, and then with the other she lifted the cauldron lid. Mary saw Jack spluttering and splashing as he tried to get out. She also saw that the water was not bubbling, and that Jack, panic stricken though he clearly was, seemed alright.

 

The witch pushed Mary under the lid and against the struggling Jack towards the water. The instant Mary’s head touched the water, the paralysis broke. This must have happened to Jack too, which was why he was trying to get out. Of course when the witch had put Jack in the cauldron, it had been empty (save for the water), and so a pretty easy thing to do – for a witch anyway. But with Mary it was different. Jack pushed back. Now the witch was far stronger than Jack and this contest would not have lasted long – in fact Mary was getting pushed deeper under the water every second. But it lasted just long enough for Mary to do an amazing thing.

 

For no reason at all, she remembered the green stone in her pocket. Quick as a flash, she dug it out and flung it at the witch. She didn’t know why she did it. It just felt right. There was a flash of red light, and the witch uttered a high pitched wail. Her arms started flailing, and she released Mary. Instantly the children’s world went black as the cauldron lid slammed down.

 

Wordlessly, and of one accord the children heaved at the lid and it slid off with a loud grating sound. They leapt out of the cauldron. The witch was nowhere to be seen. The cat in the corner started mewing. As they watched, the cat grew bigger, and bigger, and started to take on the shape of a little girl - a girl with a pale and frightened face.

 

‘It’s the girl from the ship window!’ gasped Mary.

 

‘Come on. We’ve got to get out of here,’ shouted Jack. ‘We don’t know where the witch is. Come with us?’ He said this last to the little girl. She ran to them gratefully.

 

Jack was the only one who remembered the way out, and running, he led the two girls out of the cave and uphill through a long, dark tunnel.

 

They emerged into the cold night air onto a rocky shore. The row boat was in front of them, moored on the rocks, and the dark silhouette of the ship loomed in the background.

 

‘In the boat!’ shouted Jack. ‘To the ship!’

 

Jack pushed the boat into the water, and the girls jumped in. Now they were all in and rowing towards the ship for all they were worth.

 

As the boat neared the ship, they all saw the short, bent shape of the witch emerge from the tunnel. Like a large, slow beetle, she scuttled towards the water’s edge. Then to the children’s horror, she walked straight into the sea and continued to come after them.

 

The children had reached the ship and were climbing desperately up the gang rope. Their heads twisted between looking up towards the deck, and staring out at the witch in the sea. As she walked on toward them, she sank lower and lower into the sea, until only her pointed black hat showed above the water, marking her progress like a shark’s fin.

 

By the time the children were on deck, the witch had reached the ship, and was hauling herself up the gang rope they had climbed only seconds before.

 

‘Oh, what are we to do?’ cried Mary. She could hear the slithering of the witch against the side of the ship and it made her shudder.

 

‘Down into the cabin’, ordered Jack. As they lowered themselves into the cabin with the magic doorway, they saw over their shoulders what at first looked like huge black spider’s legs feeling their way over the edge of the deck. It was the witch crawling over.

 

The children stood terrified on the cabin floor facing the magic doorway. The pretty lady was there again. They could hear the witch scraping and crawling across the deck, sea water gurgling in her throat.

 

‘There’s nothing else for it’, said Jack. ‘Hold hands.’ And the three children held hands, with Jack in the middle.

 

Then, Jack leading, they stepped forward through the magic doorway, and into another world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end.


© Copyright 2017 Harold Lauder. All rights reserved.

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