As I turned past the bay window of the general store, I thought for a moment that….. but no it couldn’t have been. I thought for a moment that there had been movement ahead of me, a sudden flash of white through the archway.
Moving slowly forward and outside ‘6 private’ I peered cautiously through the arch but there was nothing to be seen. I stood there at the low wall of the patio for several minutes scanning the village beyond, looking for something, but there was nothing to be seen. Despite the warm sun of the afternoon there came a sudden chill to the air causing me to shiver, whereupon I returned to my cottage, where I remained for the rest of the day and all the night, though I did not sleep well that night. My head full of nightmare images of the village, of the guardian suffocating, suffocating, suffocating………… I woke with a scream, sweating and peering about the room in the light of the fire. There was nothing.
I rose late the next morning, well there seemed little to get up for. Breakfast was forgone but I did make up the fire, red hot embers remained in the grate from last night.
A shopping trip to the general stores saw my collecting more tins of ‘village food’ and a bag of bulls-eyes, there was no fresh provisions left as a stale hard loaf sat upon the top of a glass display cabinet, as I signed for my goods upon the counter 210 credit units No 14.
Carrying my shopping back to ‘8 private’, I crossed the square when suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks, frozen to the spot I put a hand to the back of my neck where the hairs stood on end and the chill of the previous afternoon returned.
I spun round half expecting to see….. but there was nothing, a ghost from the past maybe, nothing more how could there be?
That afternoon I forgo my usual six lengths of the outdoor pool, instead I went for a walk along the beach, descending the steps of the quayside by the stoneboat, I splashed through a gully of water onto the firm sand beyond. When the tide was out, it was possible to walk right across open sand of the estuary to the other side, or to walk for miles towards the mouth of the estuary. One might see this as a way of escape, if it were not for the speed at which the tide turned and came in.
Over a period of time I have made a study of the tides and such, due to the numerous deep gullies meandering across the estuary, the tide comes in slowly as it first works its way along the gullies, these creating a series of sand banks upon which one could so easily find oneself cut off and once the sand banks were covered……..
Well as the tides and currents are so strong and treacherous, one cannot afford to take chances.
As I walked along the beach I saw something ahead of me, at first I could not make it out, but as I drew closer its shape became all to clear to me, a village taxi buried up to its axles in the soft sand as indeed were my feet, right up to my ankles.
The taxi was obviously used during the evacuation, and having been driven so far, had had to be abandoned, I could not help but wonder what had happened to the driver and possible passengers. I stood there looking about me, along the cliffs, out towards the mouth of the estuary and back towards the village that is when I saw it, the white membranic mass of the guardian rolling and bounding towards me.
For several moments I stood frozen to the spot, eyes wide open transfixed upon the guardian as it came closer and closer towards me. Then the spell was suddenly broken and I turned and ran, ran for my very life. But the soft sand all too easily gave way beneath my feet, slowing me down and allowing the guardian to gain ground upon me. Heart pounding like a hammer within my chest, legs aching, lungs gasping for breath I trudged my way across the sand, splashing through a deep gully of water. I made it to firmer sand and to the graveyard at the foot of the cliffs. Here I stumbled and fell, glancing behind me the guardian was only a short distance away. Round the point was a cove and set in the cliffs I remembered was the narrow slit of a cave entrance.
I picked myself up and ran splashing through the water of the now incoming tide, the cave ahead my only sanctuary. Glancing over my shoulder the white membranic mass of the guardian was almost upon me. This spurred me on as I squeezed through the narrow opening and into the cave beyond.
From outside there came the blood curdling roar of the guardian, I could see it through the narrow opening, quivering it was in a state of great agitation at being frustrated by its prey.
Slowly I made my way deeper into the cave keeping a hand on the rock wall, it was damp and clammy and little light cut through the gloom of the cave. But here I felt safe as I crouched down at the back of the cave.
In the village they told you to be still at the approach of the guardian, here I was still hardly daring to breath as I peered into the gloom of the cave.
Vexed the guardian had been, but its vexation had not lasted for long. For the guardian began to alter the size of its membrane and in shrinking was able to squeeze through the narrow entrance and into the cave. Once inside its mass expanded and the guardian rolled forward in pursuit of its prey…. Me!
As I crouched there in the darkness I could hear the beating of my heart, which became louder and louder and seemed only too willing to give me away and that if I could hear it so too must the guardian.
Then it came, slowly out of the gloom of the cave the white membranic form of the guardian, its blood curdling roar echoed and re echoed around the cave as it set upon me.
I screamed, oh how I screamed as the guardian’s membrane covered my face as to suffocate me. Lungs began to burn as I began to struggle and gasp for air, fingers clawed at the membrane in a desperate bid to tear it from my face. But to no avail, my arms began to feel limp and fell to my sides as blackness begin to take over, finally falling into a state of unconsciousness from which I may never again wake.
The day began as any other, a lone citizen of the village I know not where. My isolation had taken its toll upon me and there seemed little reason for my continued existence.
The village is slowly becoming over grown, there not being the gardeners to do the work.
The storm last night blew over the canopied tables at the café and old people’s home, but what’s the point in my picking them up?
I still keep lookout though and it was one morning from the round outlook set at the top of the cliffs that I first saw them, footprints……. bare footprints in the sand below.
There was only one set of foot prints they began leading away from the steps of the quayside down by the stoneboat, away from the village and out across the estuary. I was no longer alone, there had been someone else here all along.
The tide was coming in fast, so there was little time, I raced down from the outlook and plunged headlong along the over grown path atop of the cliffs leading down to the sea wall, it was a race between me and the tide.
The footprints were definitely that of a man, but as I followed them across the sand there seemed to come a change in them, now only the toes and balls of the feet were evident, as though he were running, running away from something and into the surf.
The village remains silent, a silence only broken by the screeching birds over head, they are my only company now.
So here I am, the last remaining citizen of the village, constantly watching, waiting for those who must surely one day come……….
© David A. Stimpson