Read The Thing on the Shore Online
Authors: Tom Fletcher
THE THING ON THE SHORE
Tom Fletcher was born in 1984. He is married, and currently lives in Manchester. He blogs at
Also by Tom Fletcher
New York â¢ London
Â© 2011 by Tom Fletcher
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual personsâliving or deadâevents, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my parents
Bracket's Development Opportunity
Arthur had been what, twelve years old. So this was, what, fourteen years ago. He had woken up, not knowing why, and had lain there in bed and listened out for whatever it was that had disturbed him. He had not long to wait.
Raised voices from downstairs: the words were unclear but the sentiments were not. Arthur's room was dark but for the moonlight coming in through the thin blue curtains. He got out of bed and went to look out of the window. No point, really, in trying to sleep now.
The moon hung fat and the stars also appeared extravagant; the sea was alive with the joyous shimmer of reflected light. Arthur looked at the sea and it looked like the perfect medium for life. It looked absolutely ideal. What if to be in the sea were to exist in a kind of luminous weightlessness? It sounded quite perfect. Of course you would not be surrounded by that light, not really, but what if?
Arthur was almost ignoring the shouting from downstairs, but not really ignoring it well enough. He shifted
his gaze from the sea to the lighthouse. The lighthouse had a green light. He dimly remembered the lighthouse once having a white light, as most lighthouses in films and TV programs and illustrations did, but at some pointâhe couldn't remember exactly whenâthe light of Whitehaven lighthouse had gone green. Sometimes, at night, Arthur liked to look at the lighthouse and lose himself in the rhythm of that light. It was not a very bright light, and there was no rotating beam extending from it. It did not flash suddenly; it was just a slow blinking. The light would subtly appear at the top of the red-and-white tower, and then disappear. A gleaming thing: less like a light and more like something green and precious that was reflecting some other light. Arthur liked the fact that it was green and that it was understated. He narrated the status of the light in his head:
. The words were stretched out in his head because the light was either on or off for what felt like a long time. A good three or four seconds, at least.
The front door slammed. Arthur tore his gaze away from the lighthouse and looked down at the floor. Some kind of continuous noise had suddenly stopped with that slamming. Then the front door opened again. He heard his dad calling from the doorway.
But Rebecca, his mum, did not respond. She was running away. Why would she be running away? She was running across the grass toward the cliffs and the sea. Arthur could see her now, dressed all in whiteâthick
white pajamasâhastening off. Harry, his dad, was out there too, although he was less prominent, wearing dark colors that did not stand out against the dark greens and browns of the scrubby ground. He wasn't moving very quickly. He was shouting but he was not moving very quickly.
He was not moving quickly enough.
Arthur started trying to open the window but fumbled with the catch.
What had they been fighting about, anyway?
Arthur's mum reached the cliffs and paused there. She turned back to look at Harry, who was now jerkily hopping and jumping toward her. He must not have had any shoes on. Arthur hammered on the window but neither parent looked up. He looked briefly at his mother standing there, luminous against the sea beyond; then, feeling some kind of desperate certainty about what was going to happen, he looked away. Looked at the lighthouse instead. From the corner of his eye he saw the shining figure of his mother slip away but, with some kind of world-shaking feat of mental strength, he concentrated on that flashing light instead. That
The whale was young and injured. Something vicious and grasping and unseen had ensnared it from behind during its migration, squeezing it tightly in a tentacle grip. The young whale had only been released when its giant mother had turned back and plowed into its attacker, mouth open wide, her pointed teeth tearing at squid flesh. Everything moved agonizingly slowly under water, though, and by the time the squid had let the young whale go, it already had several broken bones and ruptured internal organs. It spiraled downward, keening, crying, singing in a doleful voice, its eyes swiveling to and fro, looking for its mother. It could see her floating up above, quite far away now, struggling as if herself in some creature's grip. But it could not see any sign of the squid.
The young whale felt different now. The element in which it moved felt unfamiliar. This was not the ocean that it knew.
It was no longer swimming through an ocean at all, but it could not know that.
The whale was not aware of its mother any more. Still quite far below it, there stretched a seemingly endless plain of pink and yellow and white and red and green organic matterâtendrils and shells and matted, hair-like material. Above it there appeared to be some kind of strange, closed-in sky. It was a creamy colorânot the familiar deep blue of hundreds of meters of brineâand it seemed to throb with some kind of energy. The whale did not think in such terms, but the sky was vibrating so violently and at such speed that it looked like there were two skies, one laid beneath the other and flickering in and out of existence.
In the distance there was a cluster of purple lights.
The whale stopped moaning as it drifted, and not long after that it died.
Arthur had experienced one of his lighthouse days. Not a day spent at the lighthouse; rather a day spent longing to be at the lighthouse. It was getting dark by the time he finally got down there after work, and after tea.
Increasingly, Arthur found himself alone. There were always traces of the fishermen, but the fishermen themselves tended to have left by the time he arrived. Of course it was not actually true that he was always alone at the lighthouse; it was just that he had started to become more and more aware of the solitude.
He leaned across the wall from which the fishermen fished, avoiding the smear of fish guts. The sea was relatively smooth and still. Not stillâit was never stillâbut relatively flat. Nearly still. Arthur looked all the way out to the horizon and thought it was a bit weird, actually, the way that there seemed none of the usual peaks and troughs.
He pressed his cheek to the sandstone of the wall and closed his eyes.
Arthur was woken by cold water falling on his face. He stood up and saw that it was now dark. It was not raining, as he had first thought, but sea water was spraying up from the other side of the wall. The surface of the ocean appeared to be more agitated than it had been earlier. It looked like there was a disturbance of some kindâlike in a film when a submarine was surfacing. Arthur watched raptly, hoping that something huge and monstrous would emerge, something that just kept coming and kept coming, more and more of it, some kind of shiny black tentacle, or a mass of shiny black tentacles â¦ Or some kind of huge, blind, bulbous whale-like creature, grotesque in its enormity, pale-skinned and moaning, mouth open wide, the whole creature straining against its skin, somehow rising from the water even still, more and more of its flesh being revealed as the brine ran slickly back down the body of the beast, whatever it was, back into the liquid mass of the sea itself. Some kind of saucer-eyed, seal-faced titan with a blank expression and a gigantic mouth hanging open, an endless flood of water streaming from between its teeth as it rose up over Whitehaven, taller than the lighthouse, taller than any lighthouse, bigger than any building. Like Godzilla but just standing there, no apparent desire to destroy, no apparent anger, just a fucking horrible blankness, a terrible apathy, like this thing had just woken up and just wished it was dead.