[ fiction - september 07 ]
Just a few yards from the wrack-line, near to where the wind and the moon sent the grey water crashing into itself, the sea bed plummeted down. If you could swim out through the bubbles and the swirling weed, and look down through the murk, one moment there would be a queasily shifting floor of sand and then, suddenly, there would be dark: dark as if a cellar door had slammed. There would be no velvet about this darkness: little green-white points of phosphorescence would sting like grit in your mind, and you would know that this black seethed. This would be the darkness of echoing, vertiginous distance. If you had the nerve to keep on swimming out over the hole, a mile further out the dark would give way to a swaying brown forest. Sun would slip through the canopy and fat, ordinary fish would graze in the treetops. Overhead, clean gulls with light filling their feathers would be squabbling over rubbish. They would have flown high over the hole to get there.
It was a strange thing that they flew so high. They flapped low over the sand and beat up and down the surf, but if they were heading out to the forest they flew inland again so that they could gain height for the journey over the dark. Seals, too, made a long detour.
The occasional body of a seabird or a porpoise drifted in over the hole, but until it hit the shore it had none of the usual screaming cortege that goes with death in the sea.
It was oddest of all at night. The sea is never dark at night; it is just oilier, deeper and more liquid than in the day. It picks up the sky and churns it around and spits it back up; it makes the sky froth and swell and groan; it turns the dowdiest of stars into a Milky Way and every harbour light into a kaleidoscope. But over the hole there was a flat, even dark. The hole sucked the light out of the constellations. What it did with it I don't know.
One day a live thing was swept over the hole. It was a man; a broken engineer from a broken ship. He had lashed himself to a beam, but no longer had the strength to lie on top of it, paddling along with his hands. For three days he had floated below the beam, held limply to it by a length of thin rope, his face staring straight up at the sky. For three days no cloud had crossed the deep, cruel blue of that sky. The man's face was the anvil of a tireless sun; it had bruised him and his mind, and the two had started to separate. And as his eyelids swelled, his soul had begun to peel slowly away from his body. His head was full to bursting with white light.
As the beam crossed from the forest to the hole, the engineer, roused by the chill, twisted round and looked down. The dark reached in and pulled the dazzle in strands out of his brain. Nothing had ever been more welcome. And when it had done that, it cradled the engineer in a cold arm of wave and ushered him down. The engineer could not wait to go, for his face still burned and his eyelids still throbbed. He struggled free of the rope, laughed at the light he had cheated, and dived.
He would never say what happened after that, except that he was scooped up from many fathoms down by a strange white wave that could not have been there, and bundled screaming to the sand. When we found him there he was ringed by sentinel gulls that flew off as we ran up.