And thus she ventures alone. Theresa, an adventurous spirit, is unlike Salvo in his desire to be freed from childhood. Theresa clings to this blissful world of play, she cares not for grown ups and the strains of the adult world. This will be their first major parting, though not their last.
The afternoon activities of the village are relegated to background buzz as Theresa leaves the safety of Salvo’s house. She shimmies her way back down the high built stone wall. It crumbles from use but her feet are well versed in the tricks and stooped shafts of it’s harsh exterior. Never possessing enough self-awareness, Theresa does not comprehend the growing unease of the villagers, the way they raise their eyebrows at her boisterous antics, the further her age creeps and the closer to adulthood she rises. Salvo is not the only one with love-struck eyes, and these others whisper about her slender form, the growing poise of her bare shoulders, the loss of girlhood in her feline features now sharp and inviting.
The room in which the man lays is musky and Theresa does not stifle her repulsion. Still, she tries to remain alert, the mission driving her to composure as she sneaks through the open shuttered window of the school. Her landing is soundless, her penchant for sneaking in through back windows skilling her in the art of the silent landing.
She sees him immediately. He lies dormant, this sea-carried figure, the waxy quality of his skin echoing the salty bream of a churning tide. A makeshift bed, the hasty shoving together of hard-backed school desks, prompts a certain brashness and Theresa moves like an intrepid explorer towards the man. She notes everything about him and feels a jolt of tepid trepidation. He is handsome, she thinks. Yes, beneath the beating blue of his skin, almost transparent in the silent room, he sings to an otherworldly tune. Theresa circles the table carefully, and comes to still at his feet. His shoes, she notices, slick black and pointed. The heels, she bets, would click elegantly as he walked. This was not a man accustomed to the tempers of the sea. He emanated the city and Theresa begins to fantasize, her hand mindlessly tracing the soft leather as she imagines the sights and sounds of the world beyond.
Her hand found a crack, out of place, an odd imperfection. She looks down. Something had been scratched, carved messily like the poems of lovers in tree bark, on the bottom of the man’s pristine shoes.
Call me when you get there.
“Call me when you get there,” she muses aloud.
Perhaps it was this, the sound of a voice so soft and distinctly feminine, that woke him. Perhaps it was mere coincidence that caused him to peel open his eyes and sit up at this exact moment. But Theresa felt the shock of electricity as he bolted upright and met her frightened gaze. It was then that he began to scream.
“The Eddy! The Eddy!” the man yelled, the gargling husk of a voice, bracingly powerful. The throaty hue reeked of ancient sea water and Theresa blanched, backed away in fear.
Before she could open her mouth to speak, to posture the question of the meaning that stood before them both, a distant creaking intruded upon the scene and all at once the door to the room crashed open. The sound was one of horror and the chaos that ensued coiled around the room and refused to let go long enough for Theresa to ponder the ghostly whites of the man’s vacant eyes.
The grownups who had entered, somehow sensing the awakening, anticipating the presence of the too curious Theresa, now stormed the space. Salvo’s father was among them and his expression flashed darkly as he caught sight of the girl, crimson-faced and open-mouthed. Theresa gulped, the trouble she was bound to be in now making her suddenly sheepish, the leathery shouts of the man, now thrashing violently as they leaped to restrain him, filling her galloping fear.
Towering and furious, Salvo’s father opened his mouth and advanced towards Theresa, who shrunk back into herself. Yet, a beat of something unknown halted Salvo’s father for a split second, his enormous stature freezing in place. Unusual, this shell-bound hesitation, for he was a man of action. When words escaped his unlearnt grasp, and they often made themselves elusive to him, he found comfort in the steadfast nature of action. And so this feebleness, a barred entry to impulsion and the jolting shock of uncertainty caught him suddenly. Then, quick as a whip, this falter resided beneath his authority and he rushed to the girl.
The fluttering had begun at the first scream. Something ancient dwelling deep in Theresa, whose palms had begun to sweat, that cool heat that flooded those which feared it’s very presence. She blinked slowly, all becoming haze and murky light. The man was still shouting and his struggling directed itself towards Theresa, his eyes gleaming, colourless. She was so pale, the clammy tingling in her toes feeling its way up, up and out. It spread and she collapsed like a doll, eyes rolling back.
Salvatore Messina yelled something indecipherable and they all crowded the girl. Theresa lay splayed out on the floor, limbs emanating from her unconscious body. Her stillness was eerie, and she had fallen deep under the spell of darkness long before she heard the frantic voices of adults, the touch of calming hands.
The last thing she remembers, an old song, folklore some say, a haunting hymn of wayward girls who are devoured by the monstrous sea.
* * *
The girls had been the first things on her waking mind, as drowsy and incomprehensible as she was. Her mother had stifled her, forcing her to bed and keeping her on a strict schedule of turning over every hour, mopping her brow and denying her any visitors. Theresa drank the molten, black anchovy oil that was fed to her, but refused to eat anything else that was proffered to her chapped lips. Her mother was unbearable and Theresa could not escape the haunting images that flooded her dreams. Of the girls in violet and crimson, spinning and cackling as the man stood watch, always standing watch, empty eyes seeming to see it all.
And so Theresa sought them out, these girls. They had always been there, just hidden from her notice, so absorbed had she been in the pursuit of childish things. They welcomed her, eased her pain with their gentle hands and brushed their secrets into her long hair. She smiled and felt the dwindling of fear. They helped her from her stupor, lifting the embroidered covers from her bed and pulling her up, up, up! She laughed freely as they stripped her from her nightgown, all gossamer hands and the senseless breeze of cotton flung skywards.
Strange things, marred by the invention of coincidence, often occur by the sea, and so it is that Theresa’s thoughts, straying as they did, appeared to conjure up the very real figures on the cliff top, their pre-Raphaelite beauty swinging wildly in the blustery weather.
It is here that we part with Theresa, so lost is she to the dance of the sea. Her mind is reeling and no thoughts of her past, of her dearest friend, of herself even, cross her distant wanderings.
Luckily, there is something else in this picture. Someone else only just out of sight. He crouches in the milk-spotted gorse, still as a lamb, breathe held tightly for fear of discovery. He is torn.
His heart seized, joy trampling all previous sentiments of greyness in wonderful tones of emerald sea glass. Mind racing with all the things he has been longing to voice to her, Salvo sees Theresa and longs to run to her side. But then, the figure broke, split, multiplied into unfamiliarity and Salvo stopped in his tracks. For it was Theresa, of that he was sure, the long pull of her legs, the glowing gold of her curls recognisable to him from any such distance. But there were others. They swarmed one another, laughing, joking, the secrets of girls bandying between them with such ease and Salvo felt something dark bloom in the pit of his stomach.
All in billowing fabrics, the girls carved a striking collection, the blood red vibrancy of their dresses, dancing through the wind and recalling the squawking of birds. A terrifying flock christened in rouge, they seemed to dance before Salvo’s straining eyes. Torn, he stood, the budding anger of the sight filling his vision, the proof of Theresa here, healthy and throwing back her head to let out shrieks of glee mired back to her by the other girls. He clenched his fist at the lie, the apparent joke held at his expense. They all laughed at him, pitied him. Poor Salvo, the boy who wanted to become a man. Maybe everyone knew, Theresa, his parents, the whole village, even the sea mocked him with its swirling secrets.
Salvo’s anger steers him into a grudging silence. He is hurt, a betrayal of this kind for one so young tearing apart irreparably some long-held ideal of the truth of things to come, and he is yet to know the extent of the consequences his every choice dictates. He resolves to leave Theresa to it, to her new friends, her new life. What does he care? He is resolved to becoming a man, and so has no need for the friendships of children. He clenches his fist once, twice, and resolves to retreat without a word. He will go home, stew in his bitterness and demand answers from his father.
He stands, set in his purpose. But the knowing has never been that easy, and an escape for this young boy would be too convenient a choice. They see him, this small, lone figure, retreating despite all he has seen, all he has yet to do.
Blockaded on the other side, Salvo stands, as of yet unaware that his presence has been realised. He creeps carefully, with all the care of a newborn fawn, scrupulous steps parting this way and that. He stands slowly, turns, ready to run down the sandy path that leads him homeward bound.
But the man towers behind him, barring all entry to the path, the gentle calling of his mother, the worried rallying of his father- for they are all searching for the two missing children. Panic is in the air, every living thing electrified with the brewing storm. The sea watches it all.
The Eddy stands in terrifying wait for the boy.
Salvo turns towards the girls, heart pounding, the blood crashing through his head in mimicry of the tremendous waves below. They call to him like sirens, but their lilting voices magnified like one collective sound, reach Salvo’s ears and bristle with unease.
Theresa smiles, and he is struck by the urge to turn away, for she does not seem like herself and this new spangled version, dripping in red and whirling like a spinning top, scares him.
There is no escape.
The man appears like a crash of light. He towers in front of Salvo, barring all entry to the path. Panic is in the air.
The Eddy, Salvo thinks, horror curdling like unstoppered milk at the destruction of his perfect plan of escape.
“No!” The word leaves Salvo’s mouth, dripping off his tongue unwarranted, seeping weakly to meet the Eddy’s dead-pan stare.
There is no escape.
END OF PART III
Life is stranger than fiction? Clearly you haven't listened to these strange tales… STRANGER THAN FICTION is a series brought to you by some seriously freaky writers, storytellers who weave tales of foreign lands on far-away shores… or perhaps, they are even closer than you think…