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Fear the Drowning Deep
Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh


 

CHAPTER ONE

 

May 15th, 1913

Isle of Man, near Peel

They found her body at dusk, washed up in a tide pool with a handful of sea urchins and a slender green starfish. As they lifted the girl, her dark hair wrapped around her neck like seaweed. Fat drops of saltwater rolled off her body and kissed the cold sand. I shivered in sympathy, though, of course, she didn’t feel the bitter wind tugging at her gown. Her waxy skin appeared paler than the full moon, which had risen early in the lavender sky.

Old Mr. Gill pushed the girl’s hair back, revealing milky, grayish eyes. I couldn’t begin to guess their true color. Cradled in his arms, the girl looked like a nymph, or one of the mermaids my mam loved to paint.

A neighbor standing beside me shrieked, sending a chill rippling down my back. Other women sniffed. They reminded me of a flock of guillemots, the way they’d perched themselves on the lowest cliff overlooking the rocky shore. They shared handkerchiefs and made little hiccuping sounds.

Not one of them noticed me lingering where a girl of sixteen shouldn’t have been.

Many heads bowed in respect as Mr. Gill and several fishermen carried the girl up the steep incline leading to town. Had she come from the other side of the island, or one of the smaller islands around us? I’d never seen her before, and in our close community that was rare.

One of the women turned to follow the procession back to town, dabbing at her eyes with a scrap of linen. Her graying hair was pinned on the top of her head, and even with the pervasive air of sadness, she stood tall and proud.

Before I could consider hiding—a near impossible task on the barren cliffs—the woman’s shrewd brown eyes spotted me. Despite her age, my neighbor Mrs. Gill rarely missed a thing. Folk said she was as clever as Morag, the ancient sea-hag who lived on the swell of land above town. I thought she was just nosy, though I didn’t dare say it. Her husband had been the self-appointed leader of Port Coire for as long as I could remember.

Mrs. Gill broke from the procession and bustled in my direction, frowning. “Bridey Corkill, this is hardly a sight for young eyes! Shouldn’t you be helping your mam put on supper, child?”

“I’m not a child,” I protested, though without force behind the words. No one argued with Mrs. Gill unless they wanted everyone else in Port Coire to hear about it. “Mam sent me to buy bacon from Mr. Vondy.”

“Yet, I see you’re sadly empty-handed.” Mrs. Gill eyed my windswept hair, and I resisted the urge to pat it down. “How’d you end up here, when the market is on the other side of town?”

“I followed the screams.” I glanced around. The crowd had almost dispersed, but a few curious souls—all young, fit men—were scuttling down the cliffs by way of a narrow, winding path to a stretch of beach flecked with tide pools.

The Gills’ nephew reached the bottom first. He stared into the pocket of saltwater that had, moments ago, held the girl’s body, as though he might find answers bubbling to the surface simply because he’d willed them to appear. In the early moon-washed dusk, he wouldn’t be able to see anything there for much longer.

“Wonder if this has anything to do with all the fish disappearing lately,” one boy muttered to his companions.

“How could it?” the Gills’ nephew scoffed. “Something like this would attract all the sharks from here to Britain.”

“Bridey?” Mrs. Gill’s voice cut over their muted conversation. “Have you heard a word I’ve said?” She sighed. “I know this is upsetting. I can only imagine what your mam will say when you have one of your night terrors after the sight of the poor lass….”

“I won’t. I swear.” I drew myself up taller and squared my shoulders as the sea breeze crashed into me. “But who do you suppose the girl is? Could she have come all the way from—from Ireland?”

Mrs. Gill shook her head. “Certainly not. She would’ve made a fine supper for some hungry creature long before she reached our shores.” She pulled her black shawl tighter around her shoulders. “Where are your sisters?” She looked past me as though searching for more errant girls.

I clenched my hands at my sides, hiding my fists in the folds of my skirt. My sisters’ whereabouts were none of the old biddy’s business. Clearing my throat, I answered sweetly, “Grayse is scrubbing potatoes. Liss is hanging the wash. And Mally’s out with her sweetheart, having a picnic.”

“Is she still sweet on Adam?”

“I think so. Or Artur. I can’t exactly recall, but I’m certain his name starts with A.”

Mrs. Gill pursed her lips. “Your poor da. Sometimes I wonder how he manages to keep his head in a house full of high-spirited women.”

“He says most days it’s like treading water. Taking lots of deep breaths, and praying for rescue.” Much like I felt at that very moment. I hoped my tart reply would be enough to encourage Mrs. Gill to go pester someone else.

“Marta?” Mrs. Kissack, the baker, called from a short distance away. My rescuer. She took a step forward, but paused and licked her lips.

“What is it?” Mrs. Gill asked.

Mrs. Kissack gestured to a few waiting neighbors, the last of the onlookers. “We were just wondering what time we’ll be gathering.”

Of course. The town leaders would want to plan a search for the drowned girl’s kin. Perhaps they’d even make funeral arrangements.

Mrs. Gill nodded. “Let’s meet in an hour, at my place. Right after supper.” She looked from Mrs. Kissack back to me. “I’d best go.” She heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Now I have to clean the house, on top of everything else.”

Turning back to the churning water, I took a deep breath. My lungs filled with briny air, and the salt on my tongue made my stomach squirm. I was probably the only islander in existence who couldn’t stand the grit of salt and sand in everything she owned, and who felt nauseated whenever she smelled fish.

But perhaps it wasn’t so strange, hating the sea’s very existence when it had taken my grandad from me much too soon. Just like the Gills had never quite forgiven the sea for stealing their oldest son many years ago.

“Bridey!” Mrs. Gill shouted over the billowing breeze. She stood at the top of the cliff, leaning on a weathered post. “I suggest you head straight home after visiting Mr. Vondy’s.” An unfamiliar shadow crossed her face. “You shouldn’t tarry after dusk, especially not here.”

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