May’s Writing Workshop: Earthquake

Saturday 10 May 2014 by

For May’s Writing Workshop, I am doing something ever so slightly different. This piece was a hasty scribble made in the middle of NaNoWriMo madness, and I have yet to see what it would become (it was separate from the NaNo writing but bothering me so much I had to write it anyway). It’s un-edited and un-finished. Your task this month is not only to offer feedback, but to continue writing it! See what happens…

The foamy waves hissed over the pebbles up to my feet, and then sighed away again, gathering its strength for another inch further up the beach. The hem of my dress was wet, and I could smell the bitter salt. I stood and stared out over the dark blue-green-grey-brown as it bulged and heaved and rolled. The horizon was a dark bruise of anger – where the sea touched the sky it scarred and fractured. I could see the storm coming. I turned away, towards the land. The pebbles were a ripple of brown and black and grey, and along the end was a low slung wall of sagging grey stone. The crown of the wall was stubbled with cropped and saddened grass, which swept up in a greenish carpet to the village.

The storm out at sea, would soon roll over the village and head inland to other towns, villages and the big cities. I had collected what I needed to from the market, but had decided to walk along the beach instead of going straight home. With the storm coming in, and the wind making my bare neck and hands sting, and my face pinch tight with cold, it was time to go back to the cottage – up the slope and down the dark track with a backbone of grass down the middle, through the gate made from driftwood (and that still smelt slightly of salt and water), trip down the path, climb over the dog lain across the doorstep, and through the door with its upper half still open to the elements, and in to the grey flagstone kitchen, with its weatherworn table and sagging black stove and smell of warmth and onions.

But I wasn’t there yet. I was still at the divide between land and sea, feeling the pebbles push through the thin soles of my shoes, the basket weighting down my right side – potatoes and eggs and leeks nested together, waiting to be used. The prospect of roasted pheasant and parsnips and warmed cider for dinner, the cat lying across my feet and the dog snoring in the corner, clung at my imagination then. The sea churned green and grey, but I was looking inland. Tonight, the wind would howl around the cottage, tearing at the shutters on the window and the creeper up the front wall – it would hammer against the door, and perhaps cause the dog to bark half-heartedly once or twice at it. Mother would sit with Kayna until she fell asleep, because she’s still afraid of the dark and the rain and wind, though she will never admit it. I will curl by the fire, my book heavy and comforting in my lap, warm from the cider and dinner. Perhaps Mother will warm milk, with a pinch of cinnamon, to ease in good dreams.

The thought of the pheasant and parsnips had drawn me to the wall at the end of the beach – the pebbles tutting and scuttling beneath my feet. It wasn’t until then that I heard my name called. Turning, I saw the boat being pulled against the beach; the dark, curled head of Carne leant towards the prow as he pulled. He called my name again and I waved to show I had heard. His father, an older, more weathered mirror, scolded him though I couldn’t hear the words, and they pushed harder to take the boat above the water line. It was odd, I noted, that the waterline seemed further from the water than it should at this time of day. In fact, the waves seemed to be curling backwards rather than rolling up the beach.

The wind, yanking at my hair, pulls it across my face for a moment, and when I sweep it from my eyes, the water is further away still. Even Carne and his father are watching with puzzlement. The boat is resting lopsided high enough now to be away from the tide.

“Carne!” I called, and he waved in my direction, starting to stride across the beach in that long, loping gait that was so familiar. It takes him a matter of moments to reach me, his broad fisherman’s face bright red and his curls shaking themselves in the wind.

“What’s happening?”

He shrugged. “Couldn’t get a catch today either. Something’s going on.”

We both look at the dwindling waves. Carne shrugged again. “The storm is frightful enough, p’raps it’s that. I had better -”

He couldn’t finish, because we were knocked back from our feet, reeling and swaying; the ground sucked and heaved beneath us, trembling as if shaken by a deep, incarnate fear. The pebbles on the beach leapt and rattled around us, some reaching up to sting my face where I cower on hands and knees. Carne reaches out for me from where he too is unable to stand. There is a great roaring, angry bellow in our ears, the wall by which we stood only a moment ago shatters and crumbles into shards, spilling thick earth through the gaps. The grass – once a smooth, uninterrupted swathe of green – it now boiling and shaking, tearing brown scars this way and that. Over the howling, unending rage that shrieks in our ears, I can hear screams from the village over the hill. I cry out as the surging earth gives a further rumble, and then stops.

Carne and I stay kneeling a moment longer, panting in fear, our knuckles dug deep into the beach. The screams continue. Carne looks over his shoulder to his father, who slumps against the boat – now tilted completely sideways and looking fragile – his hand up over his right temple.

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