Many Communications Must Remain in Doubt
He just appeared at the edge of Seb’s vision.
Tall, dressed in dark clothing and exuding a faint impression of menace, the motionless figure was standing upon the red shoreline like an affront to the pink, blue and yellow doors of the pretty beach huts lining the promenade. The sudden, intense scrutiny gave Seb a start. Momentarily, even a blurred face suggested itself inside his mind, peering about, though his imagination must have been responsible for that.
Seb laid his coffee and notebook down, turned on the bench and squinted into the distance. He was sitting near the cliff edge on the headland south of the beach, and even on such a clear day he’d never make out the man’s eyes at that range. But had they been in the same room, and had he been glared at by an unseemly stranger, Seb’s discomfort would have been the same.
Fifty feet below where Seb was perched between Broadsands and Elberry Cove, the empty sea stretched to a vague horizon. The coastline curved north to Paignton and distant Torquay, the claret shores and grey cliffs reaching for Hope’s Nose. His thoughts had been wandering out there, seeking the elusive impetus for what he was trying to write, but his reverie was obliterated by this abrupt intrusion.
Under closer observation, what became more surprising was that the figure didn’t appear to be standing on the beach. He seemed to be positioned a few feet out from where the sand ended. The man must have been standing ankle-deep in the shallows, or was perched on a submerged rock. This created the impression that the man was standing upon the water. A curious trick of perspective for sure.
From his raised position, Seb could see only the far half of the beach, but no more. A few dogs raced about, darting in and out of the gentle surf, and a few people dawdled and chatted near their frantic pets. Still too cold for bathers in April and there were no pleasure craft out that morning, but the sparse crowd on the beach appeared oblivious to this lone sentinel standing so near to them. Or was he so unsightly that they pretended the man was invisible?
If Seb wasn’t mistaken, a growing stillness had also been imposed by the solitary dark shape. The cries of the seabirds were gradually softening to silence inside his ears. And through the spreading quiescence the sea’s chop rose as his absorption increased. Soon the running water no longer sounded like the sea at all.
Seb felt himself drawn outwards to be engulfed in a moment detached from the world. The breeze dropped. He became disoriented and slightly nauseous. Louder was the gush of the water’s current. His mind cleared and was uncluttered for . . . he didn’t know for how long exactly, but probably only for moments. And then, from far away and behind his head, or from deep within his mind, he heard a voice call his name.
A train’s steam whistle shrieked as if imitating the cry of the dinosaurs whose grinning and collapsed remains embedded the coastline where the limestone and brick-red breccia sands crushed each other. Seb flinched, but even his gasp seemed to have originated from a mouth behind his shoulder.
Two miles distant, the train carrying holidaymakers chuffed slowly into sight on the opposing headland, making its way to the great viaducts built by Brunel. Clouds of steam billowed and unravelled into vanishing rags of vapour. A long line of carriages, painted chocolate and cream, followed the engine’s slow, military determination.
Seb had lived in the bay for three years, but the train still summoned images of Agatha Christie’s world: flappers and gents with pencil-thin moustaches who dressed for dinner. And he clawed at this nostalgia as if it were buoyant wreckage in deep water with no sight of land. He near begged the presence of the train to return him to the world that he had known only seconds before.
And it did. His fixation with whoever stood on the shore was severed.
When he returned his attention to the beach, and scanned its red length, the watching figure was no longer there either.
A few days passed and Seb had nearly forced a rational explanation for the disquieting experience: he was tired, maybe his sugar level was low, he had been mesmerized by the sun-flecked water.
But when he saw the man again he knew who it was.
This Coat is Too Tight