Thursday 30 May 2013

The Pirate at Dusk

By Hannah Begg.

Darkness was falling
. Bats swooped high overhead; the water was beginning to fade from a clear, welcoming colour to a dark, quiet shade of mystery.

She crept forward, careful to stay hidden behind the twisted branches, her gaze never leaving the spot in the distance where the river turned the corner and disappeared from view. As the sun dropped further from the sky, and the cicadas began to sing into the night, she waited.

With steady, sweeping movements, the man appeared in the distance, slowly moving across the surface of the water, balancing precariously on the small wooden raft. In complete silence, the long paddle sliced through the water’s glass-like surface; an almost invisible ripple of water shimmered behind him for a moment before disappearing, leaving no trace of the path being created. She let out a sigh of relief and her muscles relaxed; she smiled as she watched the figure move silently down the river.

To her own surprise, as each day passed, she found herself creeping closer and closer to the water’s edge; her curiosity grew more and more each time she saw the man appear in the distance, paddling slowly down the river. Now, every afternoon, she’d creep to the water’s edge with an increasingly hopeful anticipation, waiting for the moment when he would appear in the distance and drift silently past...

Originally, she had come here to escape. Once upon a time, the occasional bruising around her eyes had been easily explained away as clumsiness, accidents, faults of her own. But once they became an almost daily occurrence, and the lies poured from her mouth thick and fast in an attempt to dissuade those around her from acting on instinct, she realised it had gone on for too long. Terrified that she might not survive another beating from her merciless partner, she fled.

The small, dark cottage she’d stumbled across had initially been somewhere to sleep, cry, and hide. Every small sound from outside made her freeze, fear shooting through her veins, sure she had been hunted down and was about to face a horrifying, violent death. But, as the weeks went by, her terror gradually eased, and she found herself peering out the dusty windows, curious about her surroundings. Hiding from the rest of the world, she began eating berries and fruits that hung heavy from thick vines outside the windows. Using a splintered broom she found behind a creaking door, she began sweeping the cobwebs and dirt from the bare concrete floor; finding a small cloth beneath the ancient sink, she scrubbed every surface until it shone. Months passed; the sun rose each morning on a gentle transformation - an old, abandoned shell made of timber and brick was soon something warm and clean, full of hope and optimism.

Shivering as the night took hold, she continued to watch the man drift by. Smiling, she remembered the first time she had seen him. Collecting water in a small bucket, his sudden appearance in the distance had made her blood run cold; dropping the bucket and stumbling backwards, she had run as fast as she could, tearing her clothes and skin on thorns and branches as she blindly ran for the safety of her small home.

Now she sat each evening, waiting, watching, imagining what wild, wonderful, vivid possibilities might account for his presence; adventures he might be embarking on - nightmares he may be running from...

He’s a pirate, depositing another bag of stolen treasure into an underground bunker further down the river, guarded by gremlins and warlocks.

He’s a widow who lost his wife and his mind in a shipwreck, and now sails oceans and rivers in search of her ghost.

He’s visiting the unmarked grave of a relative he brutally murdered.

She shivered as this last thought crept into her mind.

Suddenly she realised he was looking in her direction. Holding her breath, she stayed still. Slowly, the man lifted the paddle and held it aloft, as if not sure which way to paddle next. Remaining motionless, her heart beat faster, her hands began to tremble. He continued to gaze towards her, and suddenly swept the paddle through the water so the raft spun gently forwards and started to drift in her direction. He approached, the stretch of water getting smaller and smaller. His gaze - deep, dark, endless - was piercing through her soul, slicing through her fear, her breath catching in her throat. Slowly, she stood, and carefully stepped out from behind the branches. She began to move towards the edge of the water. He was now only metres away, gliding gently forwards, his eyes never leaving hers. She caught her breath again as she stepped into the water, the icy chill sending a shock through her legs. The raft drifted closer and he stretched out a hand, reaching for her.

She hesitated. The pieces of her life, her world, her existence, crumbled away and left her standing there, trembling, at the edge of a black and white precipice. To step forwards, she would be leaving behind her tattered existence; she would be releasing her pain and despair and leaping into the unknown, without a fragment of expectation or knowledge about her future.

Smiling, she reached out; her hand slid into his and he lifted her onto the raft. Sweeping the paddle through the water, they moved silently into the night, the riverbank disappearing behind them. The wind was cold on her face; she breathed deeply, and looked forwards, the river stretching endlessly into the night.

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