Sunset Magic

Young couple holding hands silhouetted against colourful sunset sky

It felt as if anything could happen – if only Simone returned in time

Lochie was unsteady on his legs as he entered the pub. The walk up from the beach had been steep and the sun hot, and now his vision was clouded with dancing black spots.

He took a seat inside the door, stretching the throbbing muscles of his long legs. It was early in the afternoon and the only customer at the bar shared a glance with the landlord before turning to Lochie, who was slumped with his hand over his eyes.

“Are you all right there, mate?”

“It takes some getting used to, that’s all,” Lochie said, giving the man half a watery smile.

Eric – a retired fisherman with the smell of the sea still in his beard – immediately warmed to Lochie. There was such innocent charm in the young man’s smile that the hint of strangeness about him could be forgiven. Tourists were an odd bunch as a breed anyway.

“I know what you mean – it’s rare to see a proper sunny day.”

“Lad, you’ll have to cover yourself up if you want to be served,” the landlord told Lochie.

All Lochie wore was a pair of long turquoise swimming trunks.

He coloured a little in embarrassment.

“Oh, sorry… I…”

“Don’t you have some lost property there behind the bar, Harry?” Eric asked the landlord. He was interested in this young stranger whose face was full of tentative curiosity, and he didn’t want Harry to turn him out.

Harry rolled his eyes, muttering about the extra work of having to dig in the cardboard box under the bar, but he eventually pulled out a crumpled peach sweatshirt and held it up to himself like a model would, spreading it over his massive belly with a grin.

Eric looked at it dubiously. Harry set it on the bar, together with a battered pair of plimsolls that looked as they’d been left in a school gym in the 1970s.

Eric carried the clothes, and his pint of beer, over to Lochie.

“Let’s have a drink for the lad too, eh?” he called back to Harry.

Lochie put on the too-small hoodie and the battered shoes. He gazed at his feet with pride, his pale blond hair falling over his face.

“Yeah,” Eric said, laughing a little. “Not bad.”

“I’m looking for someone. Can you help me?”

Eric slipped into the seat beside him. “It depends.”

“She has short, wavy hair and big brown eyes, she’s not very tall – and she has a boat, she sails.”

“She races,” Eric said, watching him.

“Yes! Yes, she races. Do you know where I can find her?”

“Where you can usually find her: out on the water in her dinghy.”

Lochie’s face fell.

“What do you want with her?” Eric asked. As if it wasn’t obvious – but if some guy was after Simone, Eric had a right to question him, no matter how charming he might be.

“I have to see her,” he said. “It’s very important.”

“Yet you don’t know her name?”

“I never asked, but she knows me. Please, when will she be back?”

Eric hesitated.

Lochie looked suddenly sick with despair. “She is coming back today?”

“Yes, yes.” Eric, unable to stand the torment on the young man’s face, took pity on him. “She’s usually back around five. You’ll see her in the harbour.”

“Five. You’re sure?”

“I can phone her if you like. Tell her you’re waiting.”

The relief on Lochie’s face was so potent even Eric felt he could breathe easier. Lochie accepted the glass of beer Harry brought over to him and took it, cautiously and without taking a sip, to one of the outside tables, from where he could see down to the harbour and watch over the only path.

Eric kept him in view as he rang Simone.

“I’m in The Fisherman, love, and there’s a strange lad here asking for you. I can run him off if you want?”

Simone laughed; he could hear the waves against the boat and the wind in the sails too.

“What’s his name?”

“Lochie. He’s blond, tall… He’s like a very tall twelve-year-old.”

There was a long pause. “Where’s he come from, Dad?”

“He came up from the beach, that’s all I know.”

“I’m coming in, Dad.” She swore suddenly. “I’m a couple of miles out, but tell him I’m on my way. Don’t let him leave, OK?”

“What’s going on, love?”

“I just… Promise me. Please don’t let him leave.”

“He’s so keen to see you I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”

Eric hung up and followed Lochie outside. Lochie stood staring towards the horizon as if failure to spot Simone’s boat the second it came into view would be unforgivable.

A few grey clouds had materialised and already the perfect day was turning muggy. Lochie glanced at Eric. The sudden grey was reflected in his eyes.

Eric leaned on the rail beside him with a sigh. It was his own fault if Simone had unusual taste in men. He’d brought her up on such stories of the sea, such legends and fairy tales, there was no chance of her becoming anything but a romantic.

The Little Mermaid had always been her favourite. He’d read it to her at bedtimes three dozen times over.

At eleven, she’d discovered Treasure Island and sworn she’d marry a pirate or no one.

He’d thought it cute then, but as she grew up it started to mean she went for the wrong guy every time and endlessly had her heart broken – a trend that had followed her into adulthood.

“Do you know the sea well, then?” Eric asked Lochie. He wasn’t simply making conversation; you could judge a man by his attitude to the sea. “Maybe you surf?”

“Surf? No. Well… no, not really, but I do know the sea pretty well. As far as you can.”

“I’ve been fishing this area most of my life,” Eric said.

Lochie smiled his half smile again. “You must have seen a few things.”

“Oh, yeah. Once, I caught a bucca in my net. Just like the stories my mother used to tell me. No one believed me, though.”

“I believe you.”

Lochie’s eyes were fixed on the sea, still looking for Simone. Eric studied his profile. Lochie’s jaw was tight with tension.

“What’s wrong?”

“The weather’s changing.”

“My mother used to say it was an argument between the sea gods,” Eric said, gesturing to the tumbling waves. “In the morning you’ll find lots of sea glass – the broken crockery of their palaces.”

Lochie laughed a small laugh.

“My mother used to tell me stories too, about how the sea has its own laws, a secrecy preserved for thousands of years. How the laws of the sea can’t be broken.

“Not unless you want something terrible to happen…”

He frowned down at the harbour. “The tide’s turning.”

People who had been enjoying the beach had gathered their things and were climbing the path, making for the pub and the café and the ice cream parlour when the rain started spitting.

“Don’t worry about Simone,” Eric said. “She knows what she’s doing.”

She’d have checked the weather report and she was already on her way back. If there were to be any bad weather – and if there were, it would surprise everyone – she’d be here long before it arrived. Eric knew how the weather behaved, and he wasn’t concerned.

He trusted in Simone’s skill. She’d only ever been in trouble once, a little over a month ago – a capsizing, a knock on the head, a rope tangled.

Eric hadn’t known anything about it until it was all over. She related the story to him from her bed in A&E, telling him about the guy who had saved her by diving down to cut the ropes and carry her back to light and oxygen.

“It was the strangest thing,” she told him. “I felt like he was talking to me, under the water.

“I felt so deep, so buried, but I knew that I would be all right when I saw him.

“He was so sure of himself, such an amazing swimmer, and so careful of me…”

Eric wondered if the shock had made her a bit loopy, but he suspected she’d fallen a little for the coastguard. It wouldn’t surprise him if she had.

A coastguard, he thought, I could cope with that for a son-in-law. It was an improvement on her usual vagabonds.

She made him proud, the way she got herself together and went fearlessly back out in her boat.

But although she never mentioned the incident again, Eric knew she often thought of it, and of the man who had saved her.

He wondered why she hadn’t tried to find him. Maybe she had; but maybe he was lost, impossible to reach.

Simone wasn’t a teenager any more, and she wasn’t some mooning Victorian heroine to pine away. She carried on with her life, and it was precisely because she was so sensible and brave, and determined, that Eric knew for sure that she was really in love.

This was how love transformed you. Eric was fortunate enough to know that from his own experience.

He had no trouble believing in love at first sight either.

Eric and Lochie drew back under the awning and watched the darkening sky in silence. The rain fattened and fell heavily, and the clouds turned the threatening colour of thunder.

“What on earth is going on?” Eric muttered.

Lochie turned away as if ashamed. Like a boy who’d lit a campfire and inadvertently burned down a forest.

Eric’s phone rang.

“Simone? Are you all right, love?”

Lochie watched earnestly.

“I’m all right, Dad. I’m almost back.” Eric could barely hear her. She shouted, “Tell Lochie not to leave, OK? Promise?”

“She says not to leave,” Eric turned and told Lochie.

Lochie reached for the phone. “Hello? Hello – are you there?”

He stared at the phone blankly for a moment and then handed it back to Eric. “Talk to her.”

Eric listened. “She’s gone.”

Lochie rubbed his heel against his shin anxiously, dislodging one shoe.

“She might call back,” Eric said.

“I think I should go.” Lochie kicked off the second shoe.

His anxiety was making Eric nervous. It was as if he knew something Eric didn’t.

“She wants you to wait. She made me promise that.”

Lochie hesitated, torn.

“You’ll break her heart,” Eric said.

“She’ll be alright if I leave, she’ll get home safe, and it’s almost dusk…”

Eric was perplexed. “But you’ll come back? Tomorrow? The next day?”

“This was a one-time thing.” His smile was achingly sad. “I can’t stay…” He gazed out over the harbour, as if hoping to see her come running up the path. “If only I could have seen her. Just once. It would have changed everything…”

Then he was moving, leaving the deck of the pub, heading back towards the beach, hurrying with one arm out for balance, as though he was someone unused to walking.

“Lochie!” Eric called after him.

He paused; a lone blond figure under a dark sky.

Eric called out, “Were you the one who saved her?”

Lochie glanced back but didn’t answer, only continued with his strange, lurching walk for a few steps before breaking into the most unconvincing run Eric had ever seen.

Simone would never forgive him for letting Lochie go. Lochie had seemed to suggest that she’d be safe if he left, but it wasn’t as if he had any control over the weather…

Eric stared after him. It was ridiculous, what he was thinking. Impossible. It was the result of a lifetime of too many stories like the ones that had turned Simone into such a hopeless romantic.

There were plenty who said he was soft in the head, and if they knew what he was thinking – believing – they’d know for sure.

If only they’d found each other before sunset. Lochie only had one day, but if they found each other, he’d said it would change everything.

But look at the sky – the sea – the weather! Out of nowhere, as if something, or someone, wanted to keep them apart.

More than anything Eric wished for a happy ending for Simone, a great romantic story that was everything she’d always dreamed of.

Lochie might have given her that.

Simone’s safety was the most important thing, but Eric’s promise was important too.

Eric left the shelter of the pub and started off in a run that was, thanks to an arthritic knee, even ganglier than Lochie’s had been. The wind and rain didn’t bother him, though – he’d been out in worse.

He didn’t want their story to end here. All his life he’d believed and not believed – seen odd things and yet doubted them, told stories and called them fancies.

What was true? Who was Lochie? He was determined to see.

Eric got to the bottom of the path just in time to see Lochie dive off the harbour wall. The sun was low behind the clouds and the wind was driving ferocious waves into the shore and against the harbour. Lochie disappeared into those waves.

Did I really see that?

He let out a few panting breaths. Oh, Simone. You missed it. You missed your something extraordinary!

The tragedy of them not finding each other in time somehow made Eric long for his own lost love all over again and his heart broke a little for Simone.

She would be all right. She’d carry on as she always did, but how could your spirit not be damaged by the loss of such a wonderful opportunity? It was worse than never having known it at all.

Eric stood at the harbour wall, determined to watch for Simone until she came home safely, and then to walk with her to the house they shared, where it was dry and warm.

There – rounding the bay into the harbour came Simone’s boat with a torn sail flapping.

Eric leaned as far as he could over the wall and saw something astonishing: Lochie’s blond head halfway to Simone’s dinghy.

Looking back at Simone’s boat, he saw – his heart leaping with terror and exhilaration – her launching herself from one foot and into the air, cannonballing into the sea.

Eric rubbed his eyes, but now he could only see the tumbling raw ocean and no sign of life.

Both of them had vanished.

The dinghy swayed and tilted on the waves, looking vulnerably small. Eric stared and stared. They couldn’t be gone. They couldn’t be…

Simone’s bright jacket caught his eye and Eric whooped in delight.

She was back at her boat, heaving herself over the side, and then reaching back into the water and pulling Lochie up after her, dragging him, playing tug of war with the sea.

But then there they were, both standing in the sailboat, embracing fiercely.

Eric waved with both arms, jumping and cheering.

I guess she’ll want to bring him home now. This vagabond. This weird homeless guy…

The wind ebbed, the rain faltered, and the sky cleared enough to show a last dying rim of red sunset on the horizon.

They had made it. They had found each other in time. In time, Lochie said, for everything to change.

This proof of all things magical…

We’re sharing another spooky story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during October. Look out for the next one!