“Linds. Lindsay, come on, give ‘em back.”
Lindsay is holding my flip-flops, one touching either side of her head, pulling a guppy face and thoroughly mocking me. She snatched them out of my grip when we were walking on the beach together, but now we’ve moved inland the ground is more rugged, with stones and rocks digging into my bare feet.
“Way to take a joke too far,” I say, but she does look pretty funny so I can’t be too annoyed.
“Stick in the mud,” she declares as she throws them at my feet. They land upside down. I sigh theatrically.
Our opposing choice of attire is almost comical – me in garish short-sleeved shirt, shorts and currently barefoot. Her in jeans, walking boots and thin, high-tech raincoat. I said she was overdoing it when we set off, but now I’m a little envious; it’s definitely getting chillier.
But wow, what a day! Sunday morning in mid-September on the Welsh coast. It should be colder. It should be wetter. It should be miserable. But the sun is out to play, lighting up the thin scamps of clouds with halos and God rays and creating startling shifting shadows on the wide expanse of summer-baked sand. I even suggested going for a paddle in the water; Lindsay wisely declined.
“Ever been up to the lighthouse?” She enquires, coming close and taking my arm in hers. I pull her closer – a sign of affection designed to steal some of her precious warmth. I look up ahead to where she’s pointing.
The beach has ended. To our right, craggy rocks rise from the sand and plummet into the calm waters a couple of hundreds of yards away. Ahead and to the left we have dunes becoming rolling grass-covered hills. ‘Idyllic’ is the word that springs to mind.
We’re not alone. Dog-walkers, cyclists, other couples dressed in less mismatched style have all had the same idea of making the most of this Indian summer, this surely-final flail against the inevitable frozen hand of winter.
Lindsay is pointing at a red-and-white striped tower just over the brow of the horizon, maybe just half a mile away. If the light is spinning at its peak, the sun is obliterating all sign of it. I tell her I’ve never been there before, never been this far up the beach before.
“Let’s go,” I add with enthusiasm befitting the glory of the day. Off we walk, arm in arm, quietly alone in our own thoughts. The ground is uneven underfoot, mixing grass and stones and little sink-holes of sand, like a miniaturised golf course built by nature to be trampled by man.
For a while, the lighthouse doesn’t seem to get any closer, and as I get warmer under my own steam from climbing this gentle incline, a part of my mind wanders to just calling the whole thing off, turning around and starting the long trek back to the car, maybe grabbing an ice cream first. I banish the thought, and nudge Lindsay gently in the ribs, causing her step to go off kilter and her foot to land in a muddy patch.
“Dick!” She laughs, and I laugh too. “Child-ish!” She over-emphasises, shoving me back, quite a lot harder than I pushed her. Things escalate quickly, and soon we’re stood several feet apart, giggling like idiots while passing walkers chuckle to themselves at our display.
Without realising it, we’ve surmounted the brow of the hill, and a gorgeous picture is splayed out beneath us: the lighthouse hugging the land’s edge away to the right; numerous out-buildings dotted here and there in what can only be described a meadow of soft grass, neatly kempt thanks to efforts of a few straggly sheep that dot the landscape like fallen clouds. “Lush,” declares Lindsey, almost under her breath. She is not wrong.
The air is fresh and cool but the direct sunlight is warm – my right side is warmer than my left. I breathe deep, enjoying the sensation of the day. “Look at that one,” Lindsay comments, gesturing with a nod of her head. “Looks mental.”
The mentalism in question is one of the lighthouse’s out buildings – a squat, slightly grubby-looking affair with two great horns atop it, like the whitewashed helmet of some buried Viking giant. “Cool, fog horn,” I add, and without further ado we both head down the hill in that direction. People still mill around, though most owners have considerately leashed their dogs in the company of the sheep. Down near the lighthouse is quite a gathering of people, and as we get closer we can hear a warm chatter rise toward us on the softening breeze. Some sort of party, is how it looks.
Gravity helps us, pulling each step forward so walking is easier than standing still. We’re holding hands now, and her skin is cool and dry to touch, slightly hard where her palm meets the roots of her fingers. A ring digs into my skin. I curl my toes up with each step to stop from losing a flip-flop.
The party appears to be a wedding party, with everyone dressed in Hawaiian garb – men in garish shirts, girls in grass skirts, beer glasses filled with light ale and wine glasses filled with orange liquid. Smiles, cameras around necks, small clusters of friends chatting. No bride or groom on display. “Classy choice for a wedding location,” observes Lindsay, “less classy choice of theme but each to his own. At least it looks fun, not like Rachel’s black and white gloom-fest.”
Rachel is a friend of mine, to whose wedding I dragged a reluctant Lindsay as a sort of date. It hadn’t gone well, and the event had indeed been overly serious and dour, despite the appearance of some interesting guests and the invention of a cocktail that is half Bailey’s, half Cointreau. Orange Rage, I think we called it.
We’re level with the wedding party now, but they don’t hold our attention. Instead we’re fixated on the horned building – “horny” as Lindsay puts it – which is now just ahead of us and much larger than we’d first thought. The horns are massive, looming dramatically above us, blocking out the sun.
“It’s just bonkers,” says Lindsay, breaking away from me to go and look through the dark windows, up on her tiptoes. I follow, and look in. Though the glass is dirty it’s easy enough to see through, and inside is a mess of broken machinery and ancient-looking grime, like the building hasn’t been used in years and has surely become the home of countless rats and spiders. I grimace, and Lindsay says “gross.”
“I guess it’s not operational any more,” she adds, and is immediately proved wrong by the most horrendous, eyeball-shaking honk rattling out from horns above us. We both crouch, instinctively, Lindsay losing her balance and collapsing onto her backside as the noise fills the air, overtaking all senses so that I could almost taste it. And with that, the blast was gone, with no echo besides that of our memories, and possibly our damaged cochleae.
And then the chuckling. Lindsay picks herself up and smacks at her backside to clear it of dirt. She’s laughing, laughing at her own silliness and laughing almost nervously at the shaken-fear feeling that lingers. I smile, and look over to the wedding party – there are spilled drinks and much laughter, though a young girl near the centre of the group appears to be crying and no-one is comforting her.
“But it’s broad daylight,” states Lindsay, framing it as a question. “It’s the middle of the day and there are bugger all clouds in the sky. Definitely no fog-“ and as she finished that word, “fog,” it came again: another long, tremulous rumbling blast of sheer noise in its purest form. This time shock was replaced with a kind of annoyance, and we both start to move away from the horned building at a pace.
Lindsay says something but I’ve no hope of hearing it over the din, and I can’t lip-read it. She tries again, clearly shouting, and I catch – I think – the end of the word “here” as the noise cuts out and she’s left standing in a quiet field, yelling at the top of her lungs.
She takes a breath, ready to repeat herself at more modest volumes, when it hits again; barely a pause to breathe this time.
A man nearby is holding his dog in his arms, the poor thing doubtless terrified. It is a terrifying experience, to have one sense so overwhelmed that it knocks all the others out of kilter. I can’t entirely see straight. My balance is pretty much shot and I notice that I’ve lost both flip-flops after all. A distant part of my brains tells me not to step in sheep excrement.
A cyclist has dismounted. A walking couple have succumbed and have sat together on the grass, cuddled up close, waiting it out with hands to ears. My hands are on my ears too – I don’t remember doing that. So are Lindsay’s. It’s loud and it hasn’t stopped this time.
We’ve wandered over closer to the wedding party, which incredibly includes a couple of guys still taking sips from their drinks. Most people have hands on their ears, but the mood still seems fairly light. I’m looking at the building, the cause of this insane ruckus, and I see its front door swing open. A man steps out, and closes the door behind him. He’s wearing old torn jeans, tucked into Wellington boots, and a dull ragged woolen jumper. On his head he has a bronze cage paneled with dark green glass – an old diving bell helmet, hiding his features absolutely. In one hand he has a long dark stick.
He walks towards our group. Approaching the cyclist from behind – he hasn’t seen him – the stick is raised and pointed. In a puff of red, the cyclist’s head is gone, his helmet spiraling empty to the ground. The weapon gives no report, as there is only one sound in the world: the fog horn. I imagine people screaming but I can’t hear them. Some people are moving around nearby, behind me and to the side, but most of those I can see don’t appear to have witnessed the murder.
Lindsay has, and she’s pulling on my arm. I’m fixed to the floor, unmoving. The man moves on, raises the shotgun once more and drops the dog-walker and his hound in one go. It is like a savage silent movie, the noise so loud as to simulate silence in its all-encompassing nature.
I turn to look at the wedding group, and some of the men have hold of a girl, the one who was crying earlier. She is around 15 or 16, dressed in a bikini with grass skirt. Trembling, she keeps dropping to her knees but the men haul her up over and again. I look back and the man in the diving bell helmet is closer, and has presumably reloaded. He is walking toward the group.
Lindsay has seen the girl being dragged forward and has, on some level, understood what is happening. The sitting couple is running away as fast as it can, bringing a slow, deliberate glancing turn of the head from the killer. He keeps coming toward us, toward the group, and I look back and see Lindsay fly into the gaggle of men, fists flailing. She lands a square punch, surprising me really, and the man holding the girl’s left arm drops with almost comical speed. The girl breaks free and runs, straight past me just a few yards out of reach, in the general direction of the fleeing couple. I think her path will take her into the corpse of the dog walker, but she doesn’t break her stride and is soon gone. The noise is now everything, it has me entirely in its grasp, and I really cannot move my feet.
I turn once more, and see Lindsay on her knees, being dragged along the ground, kicking and – presumably – screaming. One of the men punches her in the back of the head and her body goes limp, dropping directly to the feet of helmeted man. Barely breaking his stride, he has bent down, is scooping her up in one massive arm, and sweeping her back over his shoulder. He turns, walks away from the group, and toward the horned building. I am still frozen in place as I watch him open the door, dip inside and close it behind him. The horn stops.
Free of the din, I step forward unsteadily. I peer through those grubby windows and see nothing moving inside. The door handle doesn’t give under my grip. Slowly, haltingly, I walk back toward the group in the Hawaiian shirts, and a man hands me a beer. I take it, sip it, and join in.
Credit To – RA Farmer
Credit Link – https://twitter.com/R_A_Farmer