I couldn’t sleep. The girl, I still didn’t know her name, had unsettled me. Her scent lingered in the cramped bedroom, fighting with the smell of damp and my own sweat to dominate the room. It was cold now though and I huddled deep under the covers, not that it seemed to help. Every time I closed my eyes I had the unsettling feeling that she was back in the room, standing over me and it kept jerking me back awake with a thumping heart. She had bitten me, hard; hard enough to draw blood and it still ached, even though the bleeding had stopped now.
It was no good, I was left restless, curiously unsatisfied. My head was swimming with unstructured thoughts, fears, wondering. The professor’s books sat beside the bed, near incomprehensible but what I had read had instilled in me the same curiosity that had brought the professor here.
It was no good. I steeled myself and swung off the bed into the cold night air, hurriedly pulling on my clothes and, as quietly as possible, creeping out onto the landing. The boards creaked, every step, sounding to me in the stillness of the night like the thundering tramp of a giant. I stopped, briefly, in the filthy little bathroom to soap the smell of sex from my body and, somehow, that made me feel better, more human, more settled. I was up now though, awake and I needed some air.
The door of the house creaked in its warped frame as I tiptoed out, closing it with exaggerated slowness, sucking my teeth with unease, hoping I hadn’t woken anyone. The only other one awake seemed to be the girl. A shiver down my spine as I stepped from the porch light and I looked up to see her cat-like gaze watching me go, her nose pressed up against the clear glass.
I put her behind me, thrusting my hands deep into my pockets to keep them warm as I tried to pick my way back to the cliffs. There was hardly any light tonight, no moon or stars, just the distant light from the porch and the faintest glow on the horizon to light my way. My hand groped in the dark for the guy-rope and found it, carefully inching my way down that treacherous path, bit by bit, the shadow of the cliff making the path and the beach virtually invisible.
A slip, a tumble, part of the path gave way and I fell, sliding down the path, no way to tell how high up I still was, how far it was to the beach I panicked, so scared by the dark that I couldn’t even voice a cry, just a strangled half-yelp as I tumbled into the void.
Striking the ground drove the breath from my body and left me spitting sand from between my teeth. I was winded and the bite in my shoulder flared, but I can’t have fallen that far. It just hurt, nothing was broken, dignity bruised more than my flesh but still I just lay there in the damp, yielding sand for a little while, getting my breath back.
After a time, the scent, the cool dampness of the sand stirred memories from the bedroom and that made me shudder. I sat bolt upright and struggled to my feet, brushing the sand from me with desperate pushes of my hands.
Then I saw it.
The sea was glowing, faintly, a green phosphorescence that glowed brighter with every wash of the waves and faded as they stilled. Eyes wide I stumbled forward and through the frothed surface of the glowing water imagined I could see the faintest shadows of the lost town beneath the water.
Was it my imagination or was I really seeing it? The squarish outlines of houses, streets, a dark shadow where the body of the church must reach up to its still-standing spire. It was impossible to tell if it were real or a trick of the light but it took me to the very edge of the water.
Water lapped at the toes of my shoes as I stared into the glow and my eyes adjusted slowly to the dark. Shapes moved in the dark and sunken town, or maybe just the cast shadows of the waves. I could see where the beach sloped forward and then dropped off, suddenly, down to those hidden shapes, so much deeper.
There was a glitter in the sand where the water slopped back again and I reached down, Plucking another coin from the sand and brushing it with my thumb. Gold again. Then I saw another, further out. I peeled away shoes and socks and stepped into the chilly brine, plunging my hand down into it to pull another from the dull, grey sand.
Something different then. A shining red further out in the water that seemed to twinkle like a distant star and it drew me. Distorted by the sea it always seemed out of reach but transfixed, I moved until the water slopped around my hips, glowing about me with every step.
I reached out, over the precipice towards the crimson mote, imagining a ruby or a garnet, perhaps set in some ancient Celtic gold.
It grew big in my vision with appalling suddenness and something made the water swell. A wave swept me from my feet and something… something boneless and long-fingered, something rubbery and cold as ice, something taloned and clammy and glutinous grasped my leg and dragged me into the dark.
I don’t remember much.
A great red eye.
Teeth like broken glass.
I don’t remember how I got away.
The next thing I knew I was sitting in my car on the road back to London. A policeman tapping the window and asking me if I was alright.
I was drenched with salt water, the car was soaked in it. Green weed still clung to my body and my shoes, my socks, were nowhere to be found. I couldn’t speak to him. Couldn’t describe what I saw. There were ambulances, concerned people, people from the embassy and then I was taken home. Numb with shock and as helpless as a baby.
I still don’t know what really happened. My leg is scarred, curiously, like the shape of some enormous hand, every scar a mass of smaller, circular impressions into the flesh, as though it were stripped away.
On my shoulder, a double crescent of sharp, women’s teeth has never healed either.
I hope I found the reason we left Maundbury.
I hope they didn’t come with us.