On her way back to her hometown of Bannimor, there is a terrible accident. Skye is thrown into the channel and encounters…someone…
Chapter 3: Returned
Skye struggled against the chilling water, too stunned to think, flailing instinctively for up. The sound of distant ocean breakers rolled through her mind. Then her head broke the surface and she gulped misty air. Water slapped her face and spilled into her open mouth. She choked and spat.
Blinking stinging eyes, she thought she glimpsed figures moving through the mist-enshrouded water. “Over here,” she screamed, “I’m here.” Her throat hurt with the force of her cries, but whoever she’d seen had vanished.
Casting about, through the shifting fog she made out the faint outline of the Pixie. Hope focused her and she began to pull through the water towards it, trying to ignore her mounting terror. The current was against her, but she kept all her thoughts fixed on the boat. Reaching it, her shouts met with silence. Fear bit deeply. And now she saw the boat was listing, its tilt becoming more pronounced by the second. Would it suck her down if it sank? Her heart hammered with confusion and dread. The cold was numbing, and already every movement was an effort.
In the distance she caught raised voices and the chug of an engine. Maybe the ferry had circled around to help? Or was it sinking too? Images of drowning passengers filled her mind. Panic choked her, but she fought it. She couldn’t flip out. She had to stay present to survive.
But her body was losing the energy to stay afloat. She needed to rest. Just for a minute. It wasn’t even really a choice. She gulped a breath of air as she sank below the surface. It was almost a relief; so much easier to just…
No. Don’t give up. Gathering herself for another push up, she squinted through the water, and horror jolted her. A small, still form sank slowly by. Emma.
Suddenly the toddler moved. Adrenaline surged through Skye. Lunging, she caught hold of a tiny wrist and dragged the infant up, kicking for the surface like a person possessed, unsure they were rising.
Then she saw a boat just visible through the water. So close! Relief leant her fresh energy. Her legs like lead, her lungs straining, she hauled Emma up in a last desperate stretch towards the surface. Hands from above seized the little girl and pulled her from Skye’s grip.
At once the water surged around her, wrenching the boat away, voices silenced as Skye sank once more, spent. She didn’t even know if they’d seen her.
The water drew her down, dragging her clothes about her like weights. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. Her lungs screamed, her thoughts battering futilely for a way up. The filtering light dimmed. Familiar waves thundered through her mind and the dark ocean rose to swallow her.
Then through the gloom, arms reached for her. A face rippled into view, an angel with charcoal eyes. Dark hair washed about his face, all shadows and angles. He took her in his arms. She was dreaming, lost in one of her nightmares. Together they raced up.
Moments later Skye was choking out water and sucking in air, the channel wind icy on her face. Her throat burned. Cold arms held her, and she looked into silver-grey eyes. Although she couldn’t read his expression, the quickening sense of discovery, of awakening to something that had crept into her dreams, surged as she stared at him. His eyes darkened and her head spun.
The drone of an outboard swelled into her consciousness. A yellow shape loomed out of the fog. She was turned about and something buoyant was thrust into her grip.
She felt strong arms leave her. Coldness filled where he’d been.
There was a shout and someone plunged into the water beside her. She was seized, hefted, humped and bundled, scraping against wet canvas. Seconds later she slumped into the bottom of a rocking IRB.
“Skye, oh my gosh, Skye.”
“M-Morgan?” Feeling like her limbs belonged to someone else, Skye struggled upright. Everything tilted, nausea washing through her, and she pressed her head to her knees.
“Skye, just stay there, don’t move.”
No problem, she thought. What just happened? She tried to remember, but her thoughts were like water spilling from her open hand.
Morgan dragged a towel around her. “Just rest. You’re okay, you’re safe.”
Shivering, Skye rubbed her eyes with the edge of the towel and squinted around. She recognised David and Kirk. Or was it Kurt? She couldn’t see above the side of the inflatable to look, but other motors were audible across the water. The other boy, Harvey, must be on one of those. And Lisa, somewhere with Emma.
A guy balanced on the side, pulling a yellow shirt over his head. She got the impression of sun-golden hair and skin. A girl in the same uniform was steering, powering them to Bannimor, Skye hoped. What a way to arrive.
Closing her eyes, she leaned against Morgan, grateful for the warmth of Morgan’s arm around her. Soon the noise of the engine chunked down a few notches.
Skye opened her eyes and tried to stand, but her legs didn’t want to cooperate.
“Wait till they stop!” Morgan urged.
A mooring rope was thrown to someone on the wharf who looped it around a pillar. This wharf was much smaller and older than Fallsmouth’s. Access was via a wooden ladder. Morgan helped Skye to stand. Her wet jeans clung revoltingly to her. Now she wished she’d opted for shorts.
“Are you okay to climb?”
“I’m fine.” Her voice felt odd, shaky. She concentrated on gripping the wooden rungs, tinged with the odour of fish scales and salt. Her hands felt twice their normal size, with less than half their usual strength.
When she reached the top, she staggered as it seemed to pitch. The weathered timber was warm beneath her icy feet. Her sandals must have come off in the channel, she realised. Lucky she’d packed spares. The towel around her shoulders made her feel like an invalid. She tugged it off. It was bad enough arriving bedraggled without looking all voted-off-the-island.
“Leave it on Skye, you’ll freeze.”
“Morgan, I’m f-fine,” she insisted. Morgan rolled her eyes but didn’t push.
Behind them the IRB motored away. Skye turned to follow its path. “I didn’t thank them,” she realised
“Don’t worry, they’re friends of mine. You’ll be seeing them again soon enough.”
A wraith of fog still hung in the middle of the channel, shreds and wisps snaking upwards, dissolving, gone almost as quickly as it had arrived. Another IRB circled what looked like debris. A couple of other boats circled slowly nearby. Squinting across to the far side she thought she could make out the shape of the ferry. Seeing it she felt relief.
“Hey, we need to get you dry and warm. And Mum’ll be freaking out if she’s heard.”
Skye felt there was something she should be doing, something she was missing. Warm and dry sounded so good though.
“I’ve got your bags,” Morgan continued, “I won’t tell you how creepy that was: your luggage, but no you.”
“You didn’t get my message?”
“Message? No. I came straight from the restaurant. When you weren’t on the ferry I figured – make that hoped – you’d only missed it. The rescue squad were just finishing a training exercise and some of them were heading to Fallsmouth, so I caught a ride. Then we saw – well, heard a collision somewhere in that fog. It was horrible.”
“Right. Horrible.” Skye agreed woodenly.
“We can talk about this later,” Morgan said gently. “You’re safe, that’s what matters. Let’s get out of here.”
Her wet clothes chafing, Skye felt like a walking disaster. Morgan found a couple of spare towels in the boot of Rowena’s pale blue Morris Minor. She put one on Skye’s seat and insisted Skye put the other around her shoulders. She gave in without protest this time. The tension had drained out of her like the water pooling at her feet, leaving her limp and cold.
Leaning her head back against the hot vinyl seat she closed her eyes. A face swam into her mind. The angel she’d dreamed in the channel. He had seemed real, his face like a medieval poet; melancholy and beautiful, to her eyes anyway. She itched to draw him, his mix of light and dark, eyes in the dim green light the colour of burnt charcoal. He had felt so real, speeding her to the surface.
Except that he hadn’t, she acknowledged. He’d been a figment, existing only in a weird echo of her night-time dreams. And somehow, because of it, she’d found up. Once she surfaced, she knew she had the surf rescuer to thank. She ruefully inspected her forearms and elbows, grazed on the canvas inflatable. Couldn’t get much more real than fabric burn, she thought.
Stifling a squeak of alarm, she clutched at the dashboard as the car suddenly hurtled downwards into grey shadow.
“Relax,” Morgan teased, “Great brakes in this thing.”
Skye recognised the unmistakeable echo of an underground car park, tyres squealing as they swept into a parking space. “I’d forgotten you were a total speed freak,” she gasped, grateful for the good brakes. Morgan laughed.
Skye’s eyes took a minute to adjust. She’d been completely unaware of the short trip. She hadn’t even noticed the village, lost in replaying the moments in the channel with her dreamed rescuer. This must be the new digs, the holiday apartments, she realised.
They each took a bag and Morgan led the way beneath sparse artificial lighting to a door marked ‘Do not use in case of fire’.
“So cryptic, don’t you think?” Morgan pointed at it as she pushed the swing door open, revealing an elevator.
“Totally,” Skye agreed. “Do they mean “Do not use in case there is a fire, or…”
“Or do not use if there is a fire,” Morgan finished. “Really, they should say “Do not use if there is a fire if that’s what they mean.” The elevator doors opened and they stepped inside, Morgan pressing button ten.
“Couldn’t agree more,” Skye grinned. She’d missed this. The horror of the channel began to fade.
Soon they stepped out into a corridor that ran the length of the apartment building. “Welcome to The Tower-zz,” Morgan emphasised. At each end of the corridor, large windows admitted late afternoon light. Stopping outside the last door they heard the murmur of a voice behind it. Morgan hesitated, biting her lip. “I thought Mum was still at work. She’s going to flip out if she sees you like this.”
The implication was hard to miss. Ellie’s spectre hung over them for a second. Then it was gone as Morgan’s stealth-mode kicked in. “Okay, you go straight for the bathroom – first door on your left – and I’ll run interference. While you’re in there, I’ll break it to Mum. Dampen the blast, so to speak.”
They both giggled like they were twelve years old, trying to sneak out rather than in.
“Which bag has your clothes?” Morgan murmured. “You take that one, I’ll take the other. Ready?” She opened the door and Skye followed her in, veering off through the first door on her left. She had a fleeting impression of cream and taupe, and light spilling through glass before closing the bathroom door behind her.
Dropping her bag, Skye leaned back against the door, listening to the murmur of voices as she took in the bathroom. It looked like a design magazine spread: tiny white wall tiles, grey slate floor and trim, and gleaming chrome.
Her reflection regarded her from a mirror worthy of a grand hotel lobby. She grimaced at the half-drowned rat. Her usually unruly hair hung in bedraggled hanks, its silver blond now dull like wet sand. Her face looked ashen apart from a pink spot high on each cheek, the light smattering of freckles standing out. But her eyes…she stared at them. Apart from being large they usually had nothing to recommend them as an interesting feature. Their colour hovered indeterminately somewhere around blue. Now they shone like over-bright sapphires with an expression she couldn’t place.
Staring at herself, something nagged at her. Something was missing.
Behind the door voices escalated, one in both pitch and volume and then proximity. Skye smiled: Rowena. She jumped as the handle under her hip turned. Standing away from the door just in time, she was smothered in a patchouli-scented hug.
“Skye! What have they been doing to you?”
“Rowena, you’ll get wet,” Skye protested, aware of Rowena’s chef’s whites.
“I don’t care about wet, I care about safe. And that’s what you are, thank all that’s Holy.” She held Skye at arm’s length, scrutinising her. Her pinched expression softened in relief. “It’s been too long since we saw your lovely face. And to think we almost didn’t. Do you know if everyone else is all right?” she looked at Morgan.
“Pretty sure, although…” Morgan stopped.
Skye’s eyes widened. “The lady who was on the Pixie, Lisa – did they find her? I got her daughter to the surface, but I didn’t see Lisa…” She felt sick.
Morgan and Rowena stared at Skye.
“You got someone to the surface?” Morgan clarified.
“Um, yeah…?” She saw them exchange a look she couldn’t read, and then they beamed on her with more pride than seemed warranted.
“Well, wadya know, a hero in our midst,” Morgan crowed, gleeful.
At first glance Rowena and Morgan were difficult to place as mother and daughter, until you saw the determined chins and the green eyes – those they shared. Rowena was a freckled English Rose with auburn curls, a petite livewire of energy mixed with motherly concern that enveloped Skye whenever she was near. Morgan by comparison was statuesque, a force of nature in her own right but so serenely self-contained it didn’t radiate the way Rowena’s energy did. Olive skinned and black haired, Morgan apparently took after her father, absent practically since her birth. His main role in their lives was that of a cautionary tale.
Rowena crushed Skye to her again. She began to genuinely struggle for breath.
“Mum, you’ll hug her to death. Let her breathe!” Morgan prodded.
Rowena released her. “Now don’t catch your death with a chill. Get straight out of those wet things and under hot water. You have a change of clothes? Good. I’ll start dinner, something warming.”
“No way Mum,” Morgan contradicted, “you just finished work. Relax, we’ll handle dinner.” Then both she and Rowena cast doubtful looks at Skye.
“Hey! What?!” Skye protested. “I’m not that bad. I can help…open a tin or something…” her voice died away into a grumble, cheeks pink as the others laughed. Her lame culinary skills were no secret.
“Take your time, Skye, we’ll sort out dinner,” Rowena said.
“And yes,” Morgan added, before closing the door “The mum and kid that were on the Pixie with you are both safe and well. The surf rescue guys got filled in on people found when we were looking for you.”
Lisa was safe. Emma was safe. Skye forced her thoughts away from the channel. Through the door the Lauders were still audible, arguing the toss about dinner. She smiled, feeling lighter. She’d really missed this.
Peeling off her wet clothes, she dropped them into the laundry hamper. It wasn’t until she was dressed again that what was missing finally registered. Skye clutched at her bare neck. Dragging her clothes back out of the hamper she shook each item vigorously, feeling every inch of them before finally acknowledging with a sinking kind of sorrow that her mother’s necklace was lost.
She hadn’t told her dad she’d found it in his dresser drawer yesterday while hunting for spare earbuds. From a tiny cardboard box, pushed into the back corner under a jumble of things, she’d lifted a fine golden chain, and her heart had begun to thud.
Two familiar twisted rings of white shell threaded on the miniscule glistening links had slowly turned. One, flecked with pink and fawn, felt light enough to blow away, which was weird. Skye remembered it being heavy, as if carved from some dense precious material. Nestled against it, the other, pure white, Dad had given Mum when they fell in love, romance village-style.
Her mother had missed this not long before she’d disappeared. Skye remembered the hunt for it and her mother’s desperation. She’d been distraught. Eventually it had been forgotten. Or had it been found? Because here it was. Mum never took it off. But she hadn’t been wearing it that day. That last day.
But how could Skye know that? And yet she did. Her mother had gone into the stormy sea without this necklace around her neck. Skye could see her as clearly as if she’d been there herself.
Her skin prickling, she’d pushed the dark, confusing thoughts away. But not the necklace. Drawing the delicate chain over her head, she had slipped it beneath her T-shirt, returning the empty box to the drawer, and left the room, her cheeks hot and her heart thumping, earbuds forgotten.
And now, rolling somewhere in the channel, probably buried in silt, her precious link with her mother was gone.