by Andrew Patch
The presence of the normal signifiers informed Cole that he was at the right place. Red-eyed voyeurs, a collection of wringing hands and cigarette smoke, circled the line of police tape that isolated the ship. Nearby, at the base of a tree, an assortment of bears, flowers and notes were accumulating. Within the taped perimeter Cole could see white clad specialists analysing the wreck half that lay half in, half out, of the water.
Seventeen since the girl had gone missing. Even if they stayed here for another hundred they would never find her. The police themselves had concluded as much, the search already moving outward, into the dunes, woodland and river. The game of hide and seek had moved beyond the confines of Laura Rose and her group of mates. Cole didn’t need to visit the nearby town to know that the posters and whispered rumors would by now have begun to appear. A carnival of secrets that would culminate with the nomination of a queen, chosen to reenact Laura’s last moments for the cameras, existing for one final time. A fifteen-year-old girl, blond hair and brown eyes, though missing a moon shaped scar under her left eye.
A pointless exercise, Command sending him here was evidence enough.
Cole lifted the police tape, brandishing his ID, police parting letting him board via a propped up ladder. The ruined deck, like the rest of the ship’s exterior, was bleached by sunlight. A forgotten ruin that had been a haunt of local kids for years. A place to smoke stolen cigarettes, drink cider and leap off into dark cold water. Though Cole doubted they would for the next few years.
The lab geeks were beginning to retreat, finding nothing aside from what they already knew. Cole nodded his head in professional sympathy, resting his back against a rusting handrail as he checked his smartphone, whilst forensic gear was stowed away into spotless black bags. The readings on the phone’s screen advised that he needed to head below deck, approximately six feet towards the bow.
The deck had been checked, and double-checked, every inch of available space inspected, documented and discounted. Behind the rotting cabin, whose interior was a realm of graffiti, fag ends and the stale scent of urine, lay an open hatch. A corroded set of steps led down into the rotten body of the ship. Cole slipped along the sloping passageway, thick with the scent of brine and decay. Passing endless declarations of love and teenage rebellion. Another check of the phone, three steps on the left.
Cole found himself stood in front of a damp smelling cupboard, the door ajar, and the interior empty. Tall enough for a child to hide in, a squeeze for an adult. Holding up the phone Cole scanned the cupboard. The echo of the rift was there as Command stated, faint but potentially viable if he was quick. He removed from his backpack a small cymbal, engraved Tibetan markings. He tapped the dull surface with his fingernail three times, watch the cymbal’s markings writhe as he muttered the incantation. The burst of light that filled the cupboard made him squint, a pulsing mass of purple and silver typical what the geeks at Command called a NoTA (Nomadic Temporal Anomaly). Swiftly Cole took out of his backpack a ball of green twine, looping the thread around his stomach before tying a knot to a rusted nail on the wall opposite. He tugged gently, the nail stayed firm. Satisfied, Cole took a deep breath and stepped into the cupboard.
He was stood outside a busy seaside cafe, highly polished scooters lined up along the sea front, whilst sharp suited boys and knowing girls promenaded along the pebbled beach. A rolling grey sea filled the horizon, mirroring the grey sky above. Cole looked at his phone, which had automatically transformed into a diary. A blank page filling with blue biro:
BRIGHTON, UK, 1963, TIME-ALTERNATE 11/A/23
The cafe itself was busy inside, as he walked in the scent of bacon; cigarette smoke and the clamor of conversation filled his senses. Cole walked toward the counter surveying the dining clientele, mainly more suited boys surrounding a few coquettish girls, possibly of the right age, but none were Laura. The old lady behind the counter interrupted his recon, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, a pot of tea in hand,‘what can I get ya love?’
Cole paused for a second, ‘I’ll take a tea, could I borrow a pencil?’
The old lady fished the pencil out of her apron, handing it over, before grabbing a nearby cup and splashing milk in. Cole laid the pencil on a blank page of his diary, watching the green and red biro marks swirl around the object. A chromatic representation of DNA extraction, finger database analysis and genetic consultation. Cole knew already what the answer was, the moon shaped scar, though waxed and waned with time, was unmistakable.
‘That’ll be half a crown love’, Laura looked at him expectantly, cup of hot milky tea in hand.
Now he had to decide what to do. He reached into his jacket pocket, past the gun, to a small coin lying beneath.
Laura irritated watched the bookish young man flick a coin into the air. There was always one who delighted in showing off. Yet she found herself watching the coin spinning lazily. Royalty and lion blending into one. He effortlessly caught the coin, lifting his hand to reveal the answer.
A smile, then he spoke ‘take care Laura’.
Before she could react the boy reached behind and pulled at something unseen, then vanished.
Her heart raced, Laura felt the world beginning to swim around her. The cup dropping, porcelain smashing, stopping conversations.
Questions. Answers. Her mind fractured with uncertainty, Laura Rose sank to her knees, head in hands.
Whilst outside the grey sea roared.
Andrew is currently working on a dystopian novel set in 1990s England. Therefore he spends most days listening to The Smiths and eating Space Invader crisps. You can say hello @imageronin
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'What happened Grandpa?'
'A shipwreck built up for years'
'A Sunken Ship'