Along the darkening coas.., p.1
Along the Darkening Coast | Jamie Campbell
Copyright ? 2016 Jamie Campbell
All Rights Reserved
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Table of Contents
About Jamie Campbell
Foreword from the Author
This short story was written as a first foray into the process of putting together a completed piece of work; that is, to help me get a feel for handling and editing a completed story, and to experiment with prose and voice styles. I hope the reader finds it entertaining, and trusts that there will be better stories to come.
Along the Darkening Coast | Jamie Campbell
On 19th January 2016, in my little hatchback I made my way down the country pass. I'm suspicious of my own memory lately; I suspect we all chop and change, with most of the details we think so vivid melded together by our minds. I suppose it doesn't really matter though, so I'll tell you what I think. I think the road was poor. Not so poor as to suggest abandonment, but definitely neglect. I think the trees hung close, and then thinned out to give views of hedgerows and lakes pitted low in the rolling fields - and then hung close again. The bumpiness made for a fun ride, with my dad sat next to me joking away. The rain was heavy but lavish - pearlescent drops from tatty wipers. No harsh, wind-swept spray.
There wasn't much reason that we were heading to the beach that day, just that it made a pleasant target for our practice session. It doesn't take much piecing together to see that the wild and neat little lowlands between the towns, heavy in neither traffic nor pedestrians, were a perfect place for me to safely flex the failings which merited my 'L' plate. I joked to my dad that I didn't understand how this drive would be any use to me with nothing to obey or navigate, to which I got something like, 'Maybe it's best if you learn to handle the car first Lyla, and then run over teenagers on bicycles later.' If there was anything I felt odd at the time about the ride leading up to what we found out there, I have since forgotten. Maybe that's what's odd; that there was no disturbance, no warning sign an astute little rider should have noticed. It was a chilly, rapidly darkening day out in a storm, but anything ominous about those elements alone would be a figment of your mind. I could smell the freshness of the air.
Soon the road degraded, now by design rather than desertion. Tarmac gave way to cobblestones, and the trees which paraded us through paradise increasingly thinned until grassy banks of green and beige flanked along the passage. It was beach territory in character and craft, and the sun was golden on the horizon. I'm in London now - I traded the coast for the city skyline - but my desk and coffee can't compare to the cosiness of that front seat of my car that day, when we rumbled up to the deserted parking lot. The window wipers glazing the windshield in a kind of shimmering coating. The warmth of the heating system. The satisfying crunch as the pebbles ceded to rubber.
We parked and the rain seemed to dissipate, and, very shortly after, I was being dragged by the hair out of the car, my dad insisting we take a walk on the beach.
'That wasn't part of the plan!' I protested.
'Nothing is,' he said.
It's time I warn you that the normality of events is (shortly) about to go downhill. The ride haunts me - and I describe it so carefully - because even now I feel like I needed to have seen something in it, that maybe an event or sign is hiding there which I missed, and everywhere I look for details which could have warned me to what we were approaching. But no, so far. When I stepped out of the car, little trainers tentative on the cobbled road, it was all so normal.
My dad had already disappeared over the dunes, knowing the place well. This beach was semi-secluded; public enough that it was well known and well enjoyed, but sufficiently out of the way that few would bother to come here on a wintery weekday. It was a long enough beach to get more lost on than I cared for, and I took a brief glance at the tree we had parked by - withered, dead, starved of sustenance, suffocated in the sand.
I lunged my way up and over the dunes and the sea appeared - just the sea as always. It was pretty each time but no longer magical. You get used to a wonder after a lifetime. It did have a quality of turning the sunset sky into a shimmering endlessness though, and I stopped to stare, but only for a moment. Then I was sloping down the sand to join my dad.
Each time I bring myself back to these moments of time, I try to convince myself that I saw it when I came over the dunes, the view of the beach in its brilliant entirety. Convince myself that I just discarded it as a rock or something. But I never did. The only comfort is that my dad must not have seen it either, which makes me know I wasn't crazy, or obtrusively blind. We walked on, leaving behind the upper beach, the sloping pebbles and the parts of the groynes that always stayed dry. Down there on the flat sandy plain, which the waves had surrendered just before, it was where you felt the awesome strength of the ocean. Since I can remember, there was always a strange sense of power standing at a place that would be submerged again in churning water just a few hours later. A never ending rumble played the air, like mountains moving amidst us. The blackest part of the magnificent raincloud we'd motored through had stormed past us, it seemed, and it hung over the ocean threatening to choke away the sunset. I was surprised to see we weren't alone, however. At least half a dozen kids were playing football, perhaps soaked, or maybe having found shelter. A bit of humanity out here was nice.
A great deal of what we chatted about on that beach was scattered by the wind whilst we walked - fragments, hard to hear in places through the rushing sound - so that our conversation was equally temperamental. My dad found plenty of time to poke harmless fun at unlucky Lyla. But as we laid our footprints through the sand, we saw something, at enough of a distance to make it hazy. My mind didn't jump straight to anything sinister - why would it? I thought it was a rock, a chunk of a rock pool hiding the rest of itself from our view. Still, we were a little taken aback; there were no other significant rock pools where we were walking, so we exchanged a glance and made towards it. I think my dad was curious to see what it really was too.
What we found would come to dominate my life for the next six months, and dominate my mind long after. I can relay to you what I saw, and thought, but that which I was feeling you'll have to postulate for yourself from this account, for most words I try don't feel like they quite capture it. We arrived upon what - just as it seemed from a distance - could easily have passed for a rock, char-black and apparently shapeless to a casual glance, about the size of a chair. But the quirks and textures of this thing didn't have the raggedness of something shaped by the sea. Lines that hugged the body seemed to run in perfect parallel, and its dimpled surface all over was too uniform. It was too ordered. Too purposeful. My eyes brushed over it at the time, but I know now the lines formed glyphs, pertaining to no culture I've been able to find.
The main mass of the thing looked solid rock - utterly elemental and devoid of life - but draping down over that eerie lifelessness were structures that felt nothing like lifeless. They were tentacle-like, and draped the main body, but they weren't distinct as such; instead they appeared to meld into the rest. The entire object reminded me bizarrely of a strawberry, only the succulent leaves replaced by grotesque tentacles. In my stumped haz
Something about the object's presence - something it was giving off, radiating, I've come to believe - was affecting me, drawing me to want to investigate it. My hand had been fluttering at my side since I first laid a glance at those apparent burning black scripts, and I drew it up to touch what felt like nothing more than cold, hard, gritty stone.
My father did not look ready to brush it off as another 'nothing to worry about'. His face was furrow-browed and positively tense (versus my dopey perplexment). He asked me to lend him my mobile, to which I pointed out that it was in my bag back in the car. 'Go fetch it, honey. I'll wait here.'
As I moved away from him I saw the children playing in the sand again, care free and oblivious to the thing we had found. They flocked around as they moved, but then something else moved in front of them, dancing across my field of vision, only for a moment, so that I was given a glimpse of pigtails whipping in the wind. The girl had gone by the time I blinked; I hadn't been sure I'd really seen her at the time.
Steadily I ran back up the coast. I felt like I was running away from the heart of a storm. The ocean seemed to howl after me, but it was a low-pitched kind of howl - something mountainous and all encompassing. I might have described it as an endless inhale, spoken by the sea and the stormy-black sky which hung over it on the horizon. Looking back over my shoulder across the expanse of the sodden sand, only the sunset piercing the clouds felt comforting. As best as I could remember I retraced my steps to the cobbled road, the sand dunes falling apart at my footfalls as the sunlight fell apart at my feet. Where was the tree that marked my car? The warmth too was fading with the light, but a deep chill had already set in me.
I stood at the top of the dunes with the breeze dancing through my hair and there I spotted it - moderately tall and majestically poised, but withered and dead. The silhouette of my car was jutted at an odd angle, betraying my suspect skill. But it wasn't just my parking, it couldn't have been. The front left of the car alone had sunk into the ground after the gravel. It must have been to a mild extent violent - a single headlight was flickering, lighting up nothing. At this point, the oddities were stacking. I lingered over what happened in my mind but never stopped my action. The much more bizarre was waiting for me, and back inside my car I found my phone.
We were sitting on a bench above the dunes when the police finally arrived. Suddenly I was probed with questions and then quickly cast aside as the focus stole back to my father, but the police pair had also come with a member of the local lifeguard too, to see if our description was anything he recognised. Only he seemed to give me a genuine kind of attention when talking to me.
Dad made light of the situation, but it didn't seem to penetrate me. He skittered between the two answering questions and several times chatting to the lifeguard as I sat daydreaming nearby. When I approached im, he patted me on the shoulder, but eventually nodded me away with, 'Let me talk to this man for a bit, Lyla. I'll come to you in a little bit,' and resumed the conversation.
Instead my thoughts stole back to the rock, the artefact (as I was now so sure). Twilight was on us, and it stood a shadowy pillar, static in the darkness. It drew so much fascination, despite the reality that it could easily have passed off for nothing much more than a neatly carved rock.
I had shirked the surveillance of the police constables, and I was ready to step back onto the beach, to approach the artefact once more? but I was stopped by a hand on the shoulder and a voice - 'Miss Fall?' - which I recognised as the member of the coastguard.
'Would it be okay if I speak to you a little bit more?'
'Yeah, okay, yeah, sure,' I stupidly blurted through. He led me a little out of earshot, down onto the sand and nearer the water. The water... it had calmed itself, for a time. I could hear less chaos out there, although now only glimmering waves as they hit the shore were visible.
'My name's Landen, by the way. Thank you for speaking to me and the police officers.'
'That's no problem.'
'I think you have the right to know a little bit more about what you're dealing with. I've been a lifeguard here for several years now, and I see all kinds of strange finds on these beaches. All my colleagues do. But there's been a string of seaside discoveries like nothing else, and you're the latest finder, Lyla.'
I should have been taken aback at the news there were more discoveries like mine, but in a much different way I felt a relief of knowing me and my father weren't alone in this sickly discovery. Landen, meanwhile, was pulling from his pocket a rolled up piece of paper.
'There's a list here of others who've found objects exactly matching this one. Four others, in fact. I've spoken to two of them myself, and their stories have opened up a world of questions for me, but I won't trouble you with speculation until I have something more concrete. I'm going to let you think about whether you want to talk to them yourself, though, which is why I want to give this to you.'
I didn't quite know what to say at this, having little desire at the time to traipse around after strangers. 'What is it, exactly? The thing that we've found?' I asked, but he re-emphasised that he didn't know yet. At the very least he told me he had dug up a possible source, and would look in to it in the meantime.
Landen wished me luck, and was ready to take off into the darkness, when I reacted.
'Wait,' I said. 'I don't understand.' He knew what was going on, clearly, and I was clearly lost.
'How did the other people find them? I mean, were they recent? What else do you know?''
'I don't know much more than what I've pieced together, and I've only spoken to two of the four others. I'd have to say that yours has been the least interesting encounter, though.'
'Sure. The first one of these incidents I heard of was through a friend. The son of one of the local civil servants who lives down here... a nice guy, you know? He used to walk his dog along the beach every day - I knew him from secondary school. He was spooked by something just like this while he was taking his niece rock pooling. He sent the little girl back to the beach, and then almost drowned being stranded when the tide came in. He has had the most recent encounter, until you, of course.'
'The second was a Japanese chef. He at least behaved sanely, but the manner in which he found his rock was much more bizarre. A sink hole opened up in the shallow beach waters, and Mr. Inagi was in the wrong place at the wrong time.'
'Wrong? What, did something bad happen to him?'
'Well, could you call this a good experience? You'll see for yourself soon enough.' He sighed. 'I'm afraid I haven't been able to ask any questions of the remaining two. Their stories may be just as bizarre.'
'Then how do you even know about them?'
'Notes, archives, accounts. It was newspaper articles that brought them to my attention, and then a friend in the council who helped me find records. Lyla, I have a possible lead I plan to follow through on in the next few weeks. I promise you'll see me again if I find anything.'
Our meeting was brief - extraordinarily brief, in fact, given I didn't even have a contact number for him - but Landen would play an important part in shaping my thoughts for the next few months. The illusive lifeguard who set me on the path of discovery, and disappeared during all the discovering.
Along the Darkening Coast | Jamie Campbell
Along the Darkening Coast by Jamie Campbell / Horror have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on36 votes