From the Tintagel information center, Lydia watched the Greyhound bus drive away. She had to walk the rest of the way to the hostel. The trek was suited to backpackers and Lydia’s life would never be that simple. Still she hoisted her over-flowing tote onto her shoulder and dragged her suitcase down the vacant main street. It appeared the small coastal town had tucked in for the evening, despite the hour or so of daylight left. Only the black feathered jackdaws witnessed her arrival.
She turned onto a gravel road and found fog creeping across the countryside. It obscured her view of the path’s end where she hoped the hostel hid. She hesitated but the rushing sea veiled behind the indistinct gray cheered her onward. She followed the path as it stretched its arms out wide before a faint light and the shadowy outline of a roof.
She approached and a door opened to frame a wrinkled couple in warm light. They bustled Lydia inside, settling her into an overstuffed chair with a cup of tea before she could tell them her name. They introduced themselves as the Jensons and informed her that she was their only guest for the evening. The Jensons occupied the sofa across from her and gave Lydia the full measure of their busybodyness.
“What brings you to Tintagel?”
“Will you be visiting the castle ruins?”
“You can’t come all this way without exploring the castle.” Their heads nodded in unison.
“It’s on my list . . .” Lydia felt dazed by their rapid-fire questions
“You should go tomorrow.”
“The weather will be perfect.”
“Go in the morning.”
“Yes, the morning is the best time.”
Lydia’s head bobbed in time with their nodding. Hypnotic. Exhausting. She agreed with all their suggestions just for the chance to escape into her room.
The next morning, Lydia walked along the coastal path lining the cliffs overlooking the sea. The waters whispered to her like a lover, encouraging her footfalls toward the ruins. The path veered inland around the base of a high stone wall, and then opened up to the lower mainland courtyard. Its drunken walls looked in danger of toppling into the sea. The dark stones were covered in yellow-green moss. Jackdaws flew through narrow windows and perched on crumbling towers. They ruled the castle.
Lydia wandered up the approach to find a large group of French teenagers milling about the courtyard as part of some school trip. They were loud and energetic like all teenagers everywhere, so Lydia gave them a wide berth, choosing to follow the winding haphazard stairs down to the sole connection between the mainland and castle island. She crossed the narrow bridge and climbed the ancient, stony slabs that curved upward. Halfway up Lydia stopped to look down on the lower courtyard. She felt completely cut off from the mainland. Beneath her, the sea threw itself against the cliff face of the island. With each lunge, the waves seemed to crest higher as if trying to reach for her. All that separated Lydia from the sea was a rickety wooden fence. Insubstantial really. She leaned against the fence into the pull of the sea. A child squealed, jarring Lydia up-right. A father and two young boys bounded up the steps below. she turned away from the churning waters and continued toward the upper courtyard.
With the morning spent exploring the island and its crumbling remains of an ancient civilization, Lydia came upon a group of picnickers on the cliffs. They reminded her of her own empty stomach. As she traced her steps back to the island courtyard, she passed the father laughing as his boys sang “I’m the king of the castle” taunts.
Lydia walked through the teetering archway marking the only way off the island. She had already started down the stairs when she noticed the fog creeping up the them. It had swallowed up the bridge, cutting off the island from the mainland. Dismayed, she returned to the courtyard. Her emergency preparedness had not included what to do when stranded on an island due to fog. Lydia decided to track down the other visitors; she had to warn them and maybe one of them had prepared for just such a situation.
Circling the small island but finding no one, she couldn’t understand how the picnickers and the family had disappeared. The fog continued to rise. Thick white clouds blanketed everything on the mainland and lapped at the cliffs of the island. Lydia was on a sinking ship. She headed inland, hoping to find the tourists bunker-ed down amongst the ruins. She wound her way through the low walls of a former garden and the shell of a chapel; she called out as she went but no one answered.
The fog tightened the circuit Lydia traveled until there was no where left to run. She pressed herself into a corner of the garden and tried to remain calm, as the fog smothered her. Something like music penetrated her blindness, she held her breath and listened. The faint sounds of a woman singing and the strumming of some foreign instrument stirred somewhere on her right. Lydia chased after the music as quickly as she dared. The song grew louder. The singer had to be close so she cried out for help. No one answered her and more alarming the music stopped. “Please, don’t leave. I need help. Please!”
There was only fog and the grumblings of the sea. She almost confused it for the sound of men yelling from her left side. It seemed like a large group of them ran past her. She heard the strange rhythmic clanging of metal on metal accompanying their footfalls but saw nothing. She hazarded falling to run after them but their cadence continued to diminish until the sound melted under the raging waves. Their thundering confused her thoughts and muffled her hearing. Lydia stumbled to her knees and covered her ears.
She stayed huddled with her hands over her ears and tears slipping from clinched-shut eyes for what felt like forever. Then the air around her stirred and something brushed against her. She opened her eyes and lowered her hands to find two rows of shadowy figures marching at her sides. They each held a glowing blue lantern and wore long, hooded, black robes. They chanted in some language Lydia didn’t recognize. She jumped to her feet and grabbed the nearest figure, begging for help. It didn’t respond but leaned over her. The others formed a wide circle around her. Fear crept a long Lydia’s spine and she loosened her grip on the figure. “Please, help me,” she whispered. The hood cocked to the side – the quick, jerky movements of a bird. Then one of the figures behind her made a harsh sound like a caw, and jackdaws flew out of all their hoods. They descended on Lydia with sharp claws ready. She ducked and covered her head with her arms as she ran.
The jackdaws continued to dog her. Their claws tore into the flesh of her arms, while their beaks snatched out chunks of her hair. She tripped and tumbled down a sharp incline. Lydia reached out to stop herself, as her body slid over the cliff. She managed to wrap her arms around a small boulder. Her muscles ached and trembled from the strain. She kicked her legs searching for purchase to hoist her lower body back onto solid ground but there was only air and the hungry sea growling far below. The jackdaws flew around her head, mocking her with their cries. They landed on her boulder, staring down at her. “Please,” Lydia cried helplessly. All their beaks dug into her arms. The shock of the pain caused Lydia to lose her grip and then she was free falling.
She twisted her body to face the sea that would be her death. She expected to see tumultuous waves and jagged rocks, instead she found a pink throat and several sharp rows of yellow teeth spread wide to greet her. Lydia’s scream was drowned out by a bellow and a crunch.
Finished with her meal, the beast slid back in the ocean.
The fog cleared immediately. The father rounded up his boys to leave. The picnickers lounged on the soft grass, full from their meal.
“Well, that was efficiently done.” Mrs. Jenson announced as she and her husband surveyed Castle Island. “How long do you suppose we have?”
“Not sure. She gets hungry much sooner of late.” At his wife’s worried look, Mr. Jenson slipped a comforting arm around her waist and led her back to the hostel. “Just to be safe, I booked a whole family for next month.” He winked at her.
Moxley Bugg would like you to know that Tintagel is a real – and breathtaking – place that you should visit before you die but mayhaps it should be the last item on your bucket list.
Moxley Bugg always wanted a life full of wonder and in recent years has opened her eyes to the wondrous all around her. When she’s not frozen in awe, Moxley organizes a writing club, prepares for her upcoming move to England, and works on that young adult novel she started two years ago. You can find more of her fiction mingled with details of her past and future adventures on her blog: http://moxleybugg.blogspot.com/. If you are interested in her writing club, you can learn more on the club’s page: www.facebook.com/groups/WritersbytheRiver/