Once again we’ve been inundated with entries for our Christmas ghost story competition. In the run-up to Christmas Day we’re publishing the winners and runners-up in the 15-and-under and 16-and-over categories. Today we feature a runner-up in the 16-and-over category, Guardian of the Souls, by Dafydd Modig from Hayling Island.
Yet another bleak, rainy day though it had been unseasonably mild. Autumnal browns, russets, reds, umbers, yellows and the occasional tinge of evergreen coloured the trees.
Britain’s changing seasons was something he’d always loved. No, something they had. For the past few years, there was precious little that he’d loved. Even his memories hurt him, a source of pain and sadness. He’d been marking time for quite a while. Pointless, without direction ‘...as if I were a small ship, adrift on a vast ocean with no-one to steer her, at the mercy of the winds and currents.’
Those words (or something akin to them) he’d said to his therapist. Oh, he’d recognised the need for therapy. It hadn’t assuaged the grief but accelerated the process. Death has a way of re-focusing your values, kicking you in the teeth or even destroying you. He’d come close to the triple whammy.
And now, where was he? Out of his ‘living Hell’, for sure. In his more lucid moments, he fancied he’d ‘died’ and gone to Hell, ‘died’ again and escaped to ‘Heaven’. Just one more death left, he mused, to ‘Paradise’. Though not religious, he believed the soul existed beyond this fragile human frame, released by death and crossing to some alternate place, where tortured souls were healed and all ultimately re-united with lost loved ones. Not really a belief, as such, but a comfort.
The rain had abated, time for a walk. His new surroundings were only a few months old but had become familiar. They’d enjoyed walking and he was beginning to again. By the coast, just as they’d planned. At least he was living their retirement dream.
An aimless perambulation; nothing to hurry for, nowhere to go, nothing to do. No point.
Along the beach, watching the sea (a constant fascination), listening to waves crashing against the shore and then, he found himself at a marina. Boats were another fascination but a complete mystery. A sudden halt. The style of the vessel caught his imagination; he liked things with character or some quirky charm and here was a glorious old sailing boat, 1920’s or 30’s era perhaps. But the name — ‘Guardian of the Souls’. Very unusual.
He hadn’t noticed anyone before. Had he been too fascinated by this vessel’s ancient beauty to see him? Whatever the reason, he was now aware of the mariner.
‘Yes, she’s lovely. If I owned a boat I would want her to look just like this.’
Why say that! His personal relationship with the sea had been limited to cruise ships and cross-channel ferries. The smaller the vessel, the more he was prone to sea-sickness. Ridiculous to ever contemplate owning such a craft, he would be forever in fear of...
‘Do you fancy a trip?’
The question not only interrupted his train of thought, it had completely flummoxed him.
‘But it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow.’
‘So it is. Did you have plans?’
No, he hadn’t. In the last few years, it had been a case of getting through Christmas.
‘No but...’ an apologetic shrug ‘...sea-sick.’
‘You’ll be fine. Tomorrow morning.’
That was it, it seemed. Leaving the marina, prudence suggested returning home via the chemist in order to pick up some tablets to combat sea-sickness.
The morning arrived and they were heading out of the marina, along the inlet.
‘Ever sailed one of these before?’ The mariner asked.
‘Wouldn’t be a good idea to leave you at the helm then, would it!’
‘Where exactly are we going?’
The mariner’s face was fixed in concentration, negotiating the vessel out of the inlet and into open water but something about the words ‘familiar waters’ seemed disconcerting.
He’d no idea how much time had elapsed since leaving the relative safety of the inlet. No words had passed between them even though, at times, there’d been a compulsion to ask the mariner just how far they were going.
‘Bit rough, isn’t it?’
‘Just like life at times.’
Why say that. Glancing towards the land, shock hit him.
‘I know that coastline! The waters here can be quite treacherous.’
‘Then you’d best take the helm.’
He swung around – the mariner was gone. The sea was boiling now and that current around the headland had caused many a small vessel grief. Not knowing what else to do, he grabbed the tiller.
‘Decision time coming up.’
The mariner was now standing at the vessel’s prow, staring out ahead.
‘Who are you?’
‘You know the answer to that. What you have to realise is there are those, both living and dead, who care for you. They don’t like to see you like this. So choose.’
‘Last time you were here was three years ago. You spread your wife’s ashes from that point.’ The mariner pointed at the headland.
‘How do you...’
‘Rocks ahead. Starboard, now.’
He thrust the tiller to starboard. The vessel responded and the jib obligingly caught him a glancing blow across the head...
When he came too, he was sitting on a bench on the marina. There was no sign of the yatch. A tentative feel of his head revealed no scabby cut nor, it appeared, any bruising. He walked into the yard office and the clerk enquired.
‘Help you sir?’
‘Yes. Berth number thirteen. Who owns the yatch moored there?’
The clerk smiled.
‘Suspicious lot, the people who built this place. There is no berth thirteen, sir. You must mean number twelve. ‘Windjammer’ is moored there.’
‘No, it wasn’t ‘Windjammer’.
The clerk extracted a notebook from his pocket as the puzzled man left. Funny, it only ever happened to him and always on Christmas Eve; the troubled people who came looking for something. The notebook was entitled ‘Guardian of the Souls’.
It had two columns, the ‘Saved’ and the ‘Lost’. He regarded the man as he walked away, marked one of the columns and carried on with the boredom of his daily routine.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Dafydd’s story is inspired by his own loss.
He moved to Hayling Island in May this year from Crawley after losing his wife Kay to cancer in 2012.
Dafydd says: ‘My story’s inspired by my life journey, interrupted by tragedy, and my attempt to move out of the limbo I found myself in.’
He adds: ‘Kay was the love of my life, and I think she would be pleasantly surprised that I’m the runner-up.
‘I heartily congratulate the winner and look forward to reading their story.’
Formerly Dave Moody, Dafydd changed his name as part of his attempt to ‘reboot his life’ and start afresh. It is a translation of his name in 6th century Old English.
Dafydd’s previous writing experience includes one-act festival plays, pantomimes and poetry, and his literary future is looking bright too.
He says: ‘I believe in the old adage that we all have one good story in us and I’m working on mine at the moment.’