This is a story told by a salt-crusted quill on tremulous sands . . .
The Pilgrim Woman noticed a late-comer to the Lone Chapel. She had already come down the steps from The Garret when the lone child came in. He kept to the shadows, his back against the flinted walls, his head deep in a hood. She did not name him, did not bring attention to his shrunken presence.
‘This story is a small thank you to an artist and fine teller of tales who knows about dragons and curses. I hope it will be a gift to any that need it.’
Then she waited until the wind outside whistled over the ridge-tiles before she began:
The girl in the heavy coat dragged along the beach. Her ragged hem picked up salted ribbons of kelp, and clusters of whelk eggs. Sand-hoppers leapt and a stink of rot rose. But she couldn’t take the coat off. Others would see her curse.
Every now and then she bent and reached for small treasures. Yet each shell was marred by holes. Each flint stained by tar. The sea-glass pebbles were still too jagged. Driftwood fell apart in her hands, useless and brittle.
Sand pocked her cheeks. Wind forced salty kisses on her sore lips. She bent her head against the bullying gusts but still they plucked at her hair and threw brine at her eyelashes.
Her pockets clacked with stones. The weighted comfort of them made her coat sag. She added more.
A tern skriked beyond the wave edge. Its cruel white arrow dashed and speared a small sea-bream. Scores more of its kind plunged and struck. The water boiled.
The girl in the heavy coat lumbered towards the killing waters. She passed the end of the groyne where a marker stood to warn ships. Her left foot sank into a pool of sand and left-behind seawater. A rusted strut tore at her sleeve. Something fell from her cuff.
It eddied on the crab-filtered water, unsinking. A feather – the sign of her curse.
She picked it up and sat beside the pool. Perched on the barnacled sea-defences, she examined the feather. Her fingers smoothed the fine strands back together. The surface gleamed with the oiled shimmer of fuel in a puddle. Green and purple, gold stolen from sunset windows and mussel-shell blue.
As it twisted in her hand, not one filament remained blank and featureless black. Each held a sheen. They gave off a little truth for her: of beauty in darkness.
She stood up. She would not enter the killing waters today.
The boy in the hood left as the last word faded. He made his way over the dunes back to the land without a glance at the cold grey sea.