There were three thumps on the door. Tom Lowe’s eyelids unfurled so shapes emerged within the room. A chair, the rugged stonework, the porcelain wash bowl. He turned toward the window to see the flickering glow of a wind-teased Davy lamp. From the fuggy halo of light loomed the shadow of a broad head, peering in. Tom rolled awkwardly to the side of his mattress. The cotton stuffing was sprouting out in tufts where the stitches had split open with his weight. His bed was on the ground floor and the curtains were parted, allowing the knocker-upper to check for his outline. With his sister, Emily and his son, Ross in the cottage with him and only two bedrooms upstairs, it was a practical idea.
The living room was roomy enough and he could slip out to the outhouse without disturbing the others in the night, a regular routine after slurping down an egg-hotty – a warm beer whisked with egg. In the evening, the bed became a place to slouch with Ross, to share stories or indulge in a sing-song over the crackle of a fire. The embers in the fireplace made it easier to drift off each night and calm the senses after a day in the mine.
Pete Morgan was checking Tom had stirred awake, as he did six days a week all the year round. In this outer district of St Agnes, the community behaved as a machine in the week, each man, woman and child a cog to turn at the right time. There were several knocker-uppers circulating in the mornings. Pete took Short Cross Road on his route, where Tom’s stone clad cottage was but one in a crooked street of such homes, rented from the mining company.
It was day start, 4am.
“Awright are ee, Tom?” shouted Pete.
Tom rubbed his eyes to massage life back into his face and ran his thumb and forefinger opposite ways across his thick black moustache and down his chin, as if to smooth it out for neatness.
“Yes… On yer way Pete,” he replied loudly.
Pete trudged away to the neighbouring houses, banging on each property in turn, the signal for poor slumbering souls to attend to their duties. Beyond the window, was a deep impenetrable blackness, the hallmark of winter, accompanied with the nervous unwinding whistle of ocean wind cascading off the Atlantic.
Tom rolled out of bed and stood still for a moment, listening as Emily busied about upstairs. He heard those familiar groans from Ross resisting the morning, followed by the usual stern but loving tone of inducement from Emily. Emily was the mother now and it was accepted. Her other role was as a Bal-maiden, sifting and hammering the ore at the top of the mine, whilst Ross was a Thruster, pushing the empty carts into the tunnels.
Loss had been a uniting force in the cottage. Tom’s wife and Emily’s husband had both perished from Tyfus. Emily had hardened since her husband’s death, like rock: stoic and constrained, turning pain into a crust over her soul. The toll brought Tom and his sister together, like they were rooted to the same earth. Tom did his part and took Emily into his house, and in return Emily pledged to earn her way and keep an eye on Ross.
Emily’s ritual of dressing and cooking in the early hours was exhaustive. She would descend the stairs, oil lamp in hand, with the clunk of wooden soled boots, adorned in full maiden attire. There was more ceremony than a wedding in a Bal-maiden’s morning. Her striking white bonnet, or ‘gook’, and walking out apron, were impossibly white and clean for such a dirty daily grind. Cleaning those garments to spotlessness became a matter of pride and ritual for Bal-maidens. She bore several petticoats built up in layers to retain a sense of modesty, something not afforded by the practical calf length skirt used for the role.
Ross looked older than his 10 years and tired. The spark that once resided in his hazel eyes had turned to a darker, fiercer fire than the breezy light of youth and hope. A cavernous yawn escaped from his little mouth but he just remembered to cover it with a fist before Emily’s hard glare could chastise him for bad manners.
“I’ll get the pasties on,” snapped Emily. All three of them would leave the cottage that morning with bulbous barley and potato filled pasties for their lunch break, each with a thick crimped pastry crust.
The living room erupted into busyness and flickering orange candlelight. The splash of water from the wash bowl, the coughs and splutters, clearing old dust from the lungs, the opening of draws and glow of the stove. All the time, the intense gale unrelenting beyond.
“Be sure to warm up before the shift today,” commanded Tom.
“Don’t you worry. Ross and I will spend a little time by the boiler at the Wheal to dry out.”
“I had a bad dream,” said Tom matter-of-factly, looking at the dead coals in the fireplace.
Ross looked up at him and without pause said, “Are you missing mummy?”
“Always…” replied Tom.
“Me too,” said Ross.
It was a miserable February morning.
Tom sat for a moment in contemplation and noticed Ross was unwilling in his posture. The poor boy was taking on the burden of those three times his age and with fortitude but he looked sad, in need of something, to keep going. The future offered simply hardship, the past sorrow. Time had sold them short.
The poor boy was taking on the burden of those three times his age and with fortitude but he looked sad, in need of something, to keep going.
“Ross, they say coal turns into a diamond over time, when it’s forced to endure all. You know what I mean by that?”
“…I’m coal?” he replied.
Tom shook his head slowly, smiling at the retort
In contrast to Emily, it took moments for Tom and Ross to be ready. Tom had a stained cotton shirt and a worn grey overcoat, which he would take off before enduring the heat of the mine. Tom pulled his heavy boots on over his socks, tugged his miners cap tight over his brow and grabbed his pickaxe, resting it over a shoulder.
The day would be hard, that was a given. It was only a mile and a half walking to the mine and the best of it was downhill but the road before the valley was exposed and took the full force of wind and rain. You could be drenched to the skin in seconds and for Bal-maidens there was little hiding from weather, unlike the miners who descended into the cover of tunnels.
“Jon’s with you in the tunnels today, Tom. Be careful, he beat Stuart Hoskin half to death last week. Hoskin accused Jon of killing his bull – I mean what man does such as thing? Hoskin found it in the field with its hind quarters cut out in circles. Jon didn’t take kindly being singled out, so he snapped Stuart’s arm. Anyway, I can see the way he sizes you up when you’re in his path,” warned Emily.
“Don’t worry about ‘im. He’s an idiot, he don’t scare me, not one bit,” said Tom, poking his tongue into a painful tooth cavity.
Emily passed a carbide lamp to Tom for his cap and checked over their own cylindrical, hand-held oil-wick lamp, to ensure she could navigate the paths with her nephew.
Wrapping herself in a shawl she scooped up the pasties and folded them into blankets to keep the rain off. They all stole a moment to take a long look at each other, in silence.
“Right, it’s time”. He could hear the rest of the village on the move beyond the door and in his peripheral vision could see the procession of lights moving along the road toward the coast.
Tom unbolted the lock and the wind blasted into the cottage, flooding the room.
“Pizendawn!” he growled as raindrops flicked into his eyes.
He motioned for Emily and Ross to join him out, slamming the door behind him, as the three braced themselves against the rude force of the rain-laced gusts.
Ross said a prayer in his head, a secret plea he would recite in his mind every morning. ‘Please God, keep my father close to me and keep him safe. Amen.’
They staggered off to join the slow winding line, with no way of knowing the horrors that awaited them later in that day.
The screams had been but a second of sound before the thunder of the collapse and the blast of dust.
There was blood. More blood than Tom had every witnessed in one place. It was over and under the piles of rocks. The minecart was protruding at an angle from the rocks, the exposed end poking upward and severely twisted where the weight of boulders and scree had smashed it into the track. Down in the dirt was a little arm, pinned under a boulder. A bone was poking through the skin. Instinctively he knew the arm was not his son’s, but never-the-less his son had been in the tunnel too just a few moments ago. He felt a deep hurt in the pit of his stomach.
There was rarely such a thing as a controlled explosion. If you drill holes in rock and slide dynamite down them, there is clear potential for catastrophe. The blast could ignite gases in the rock or crack and dislodge a section of the tunnel ceiling to bring it down.
There was rarely such a thing as a controlled explosion. If you drill holes in rock and slide dynamite down them, there is clear potential for catastrophe.
Miners were screeching and cussing. Tom had seen his share of accidents but when pit boys were killed, it was a sickening clean up.
The dust and dirt swirled in disturbed eddies as men ran. Some fled from the collapse and some ran towards where the boys had been. Tom stood perfectly still. The rock ceiling was twice as high as before, it grumbled and loose streams of dirt trickled from newly formed cracks.
“It ain’t safe here Tom, get out,” croaked Michael Massy, clearing his lungs. Michael was a stocky, solid man and the shift boss. They often worked and ate together within the dark depths. They rarely talked more than a minute but intuitively they had forged a mutual respect.
“This boy’s gone, we should dig him out. Ross was with him but can’t see ‘im here. This might only be a small section that’s down… I need to find ‘im!”
“Let the other fellas do it, Tom. You don’t want to find him if he’s under the rock.”
“No. What about them other men on the other side of that pile? They might be alive too, the fellas that lit the fuses. You need muscle now, to dig.”
“Now come on with ee Tom, get up top. Don’t see things you cannot unsee.”
Tom swallowed hard in an anxious moment, considering what to do next, partly in shock.
As if a devil was coming to attend to hell, Jon Baker emerged from the settling dust, just as Tom gathered up his pickaxe to set off back to the ladder.
“No guts for it eh, Tom?” he smirked. Tom looked him square in the eye. For a split-second the intensity of the stare unsettled Jon but it fuelled a need to respond with increasing malice.
Jon grinned and narrowed his eyes.
“Where’s your boy then?” said Jon, knowing full well the hurt it would cause.
Beyond fatherly love, sons were treasured as it meant they could pass on the trade, the pride and the legacy of the job. Tom stood still in defiance, his hand firmly on his axe handle, waiting to decide how to react.
Michael sensed there would be a flare up of violence.
“No time for this nonsense. Jon, help get a support arch up and this rock out of the path.”
“No, I’ll do it!” bellowed Tom.
Jon was smirking, despite knowing Tom may have lost his only child.
Tom’s eyes were clear in the dark. In a couple of long strides, no words, no wavering, he stood firm, nose to nose with Jon Baker.
“I ain’t scared of nothing…” he began, his voice steady, his eye unblinking, “…except losing my boy. If you say a word more on this as play, God help me, I’ll kill you where you stand!”
Jon’s face remained in the fixed grin, unflinching. Michael hovered alongside them and realised he could not divert their attentions. It was the last thing he needed.
Finally, Jon let his grin dissipate as if to grant Tom a reprieve for not revealing weakness.
“Well… Come on with ee then, stop wasting time,” Jon said with determination, almost as if the standoff had never occurred.
Tom relaxed the grip on his axe handle. They began scooping up the hand sized rocks, rolling larger ones out of the pile. The sound of grinding cart wheels filled the tunnel.
“The cart here is for rock only, men. Leave the boy’s remains to the side and get me another cart!” shouted Michael down the tunnel.
“To be clear here, this rock ‘ere, it will go in my name,” grunted Jon. He was laying claim to the metals in the rockpile. You got paid by what you brought out, what you claimed. It was in poor taste to make a fuss of the issue in circumstances like this.
“You gonna bother to wipe the blood of those rocks before you pay em in?” spat Tom.
“Blood won’t get in the way of my pay. This is the age of metal, son. You think the company men will be weeping over two lads gone? Thrusters die all the time in the mines.”
“My boy ain’t dead till we see it. You hear me?”
Jon rolled off the largest of the rocks from the fresh corpse.
The body of the boy had been flattened as if rolled by a rolling pin. He must have popped with the rockfall, his skin bursting at the sides with the weight of the collapsed roof. Tom could just about make out the cotton of a shirt in the wide red disc of flesh.
For a moment, all the men had to pause to observe the remains. It was an unusual and disturbing vision. Their eyes were fixed in equal measures of disgust and awe.
“Get me a shovel,” said Jon, with no trace of emotion, “I’ll scrape ‘im up”.
Miners ran forward holding struts to shore up the ceiling. They had well practiced protocols for such horror shows.
Further along the crooked remains of the tunnel, a short distance on the other side of the rocky debris, Ross was staring at a newly formed opening to a cavern that had appeared.
He had three candles on him and was halfway through his first. The dust was clearing a little and he could hear something beyond the boundary of that dark hole, a sound like mumbling, along with tiny, fast moving steps – like the feet of a lizard darting.
His heart was already racing from the ceiling collapse but to compound his panic, there was a different kind of dread welling in him. He was trapped in an air pocket between two rock piles and staring at the forboding cave entrance, that had crumbled open within the tunnel’s wall. There were strange noises and a feeling of movement beyond, something was in there.
“It’s just rats, that’s all. There’s nothing there,” whispered Ross, “There’s nothing there, there’s nothing there, there’s…” It was just a small noise in the tunnel but it was something, and something that was alive.
He began to sob. The candle in his hand was unsteady and casting deep shadows over the jagged rocks about him.
“Are you a monster?” he asked the blackness, drawing on all his reserves of bravery. He waited as silence engulfed him. From within the cave there was what sounded like subdued laughter, but not from a human being.
“There’s a clearing here! And a candle!” croaked a miner, poking his head through the hole they had created at the top of the scree. Tom scrambled up to the small gap in the rubble.
“Boy!” bellowed Tom, “Boy! You in there?”
They all fell silent, collectively tuning in to listen for signs of a whimper the other side. There was nothing.
“Right!” yelled Michael Massy, “All of yee, get digging there now!”
There was a chance. They could all feel it, the chance of a rescue to balance the day.
He used his hands as cups to part the scree away from the rock ceiling, to make an opening. Gradually, the hole became large enough to crawl through. The miners huddled their heads together and collectively stared in.
Tom squinted at the image of the candle burning. It was on the floor, stood up on its own in a small puddle of wax, a flickering glow dancing about the rocks around it.
“Out the way. I’ll squeeze through,” said Tom. He was no small man but he was powerful and determined. He barged between the other men, forcing his arms into the space they had opened up, grabbed the other side with his palms and hauled his body up through the gap in the rockpile. The other side of the mound presented a sharp fall and he tumbled down the slope. Little cuts opened up on his bare chest but it was no matter to Tom. He brushed the dirt and drips of blood off his body and assessed the scene.
“He’s not ere but there is a new cave opened up. He must ‘ave gone in.”
Tom let himself breathe out a long exhalation. Ross had not been crushed. He knew that now. He would not leave the tunnel till he had him back.
Jon was next through the gap, much to Tom’s dismay. Jon was bigger in stature than Tom and was in discomfort squeezing through the tight aperture. Tom took some private pleasure in watching the bulky miner become temporarily stuck before he erupted from the hole like a newborn, tumbling into the space in a mess of limbs and swearing.
“I thought ee didn’t have time for this sort of thing? Company don’t care, you don’t care, that’s what ee said?”
“And let you take all the glory? If I find the bugger I’ll give him a beating for not staying put,” spat Jon, rolling into the cramped space with Tom. The cave entrance was rough and ragged.
“Pass me a proper lamp,” barked Jon through the hole he had just heaved through.
Michael obliged, poking his arm through the rock pile with a Davy lamp, which Jon snatched indignantly.
Beyond the opening was a cavern about the size of a small house with two natural tunnels running off it. The walls glinted and sparkled with minerals.
“Well, ladies first,” said Jon, gesturing to Tom to move into the cavern.
“Be careful in there” yelled Michael from beyond as he watched the unlikely pairing prepare to move into the unknown. “Don’t ee go too far in there. I can’t afford to lose more today.”
As Tom pushed forward, stooping into the cave, Jon held up the Davy lamp behind him and started to sing in a gruff, low voice. It would be a beacon for the boy and give the miners some reference to their distance and direction but more than that, it was Jon being his usual bloody minded self.
“A good sword and a trusty hand, a merry heart and true, King James’s men shall understand, what Cornish lads will do.” He waved his spare hand like a conductor as he recited the lyrics to his favourite song, “And have they fixed the where and when? And shall Trewlany die, here’s twenty thousand men, will know the reason why!”
Tom ignored him and scanned the cave, “Where is that blasted lad?” He stepped gingerly into the rock room, his boots finding the ground uneven, with enough surprises underfoot in the form of ditches and sharp protrusions to hobble him in a moment of distraction. It was clear quickly enough that Ross was not in the cave. He must have taken one of the two low spikey tunnels but which one?
“Left or right?” asked Tom.
“You take left, I’ll take right” said Jon.
Tom nodded and adjusted his hat so the dim light on it was straight ahead. Jon watched him shuffle off into the dark and peered down the opposing tunnel with disinterest, singing louder as he navigated the low ceiling.
The tunnel was tapering downward and Tom soon found himself on all fours, nudging ahead, knee slide by knee slide.
He waited. Nothing.
He could still just about hear Jon’s out of tune song in the other tunnel, leading slowly away. As he crawled he percieved a small sound, not Jon’s infernal singing or the miners back in the tunnel. Something else. He could hear it, there was someone with him in the tunnel – just ahead. Tom smiled a broad toothy smile in the dark.
“Ross! I found him! He’s here!” he yelled in jubilation.
The shape of a boy was ahead of him but strangely it did not move, neither away nor toward him, it just crouched there, blocking the tunnel ahead.
“Don’t be afraid son, come back with me now… I’ll get you out, you little Heller.”
He could hear Jon making his way toward his tunnel now. This would all be over soon.
The boy refused to budge or even talk, so Tom kept forward on his four limbs. Only a few feet away now, Tom looked up as best he could, straining his neck in the awkward space, so the light on his hat shone forward.
For a second a face came into view. It was not the face of a boy. The grey bulbous head was wrinkled and pockmarked, with large black eyes like that of a wasp. He saw a glimpse of what looked like green material on the legs and then the creature darted away, further down the tunnel, leaving nothing but dust and a heavy breathing miner behind it. Tom had let out a small squeal of shock, raising his hand as a barrier, but the thing was gone.
The grey bulbous head was wrinkled and pockmarked with large eyes like that of a wasp.
Jon came up right behind him, on all fours and panting with the exertion.
“Where is ee?” he demanded, holding his lamp up. “Well, where’s the boy?”
“I saw… I saw some bloody pigsey…I swear it…Not Ross, a bloody pigsey!”
Jon’s expression froze for a second in total disbelief at the words Tom had used, before his eyes widened and he let out a raucous belly laugh, one that echoed about the cave system, bouncing off the walls. It was a laugh so out of place in the tragedy it mystified and angered the anxiously waiting miners, who stood perplexed, back in the safer quarters of the mine. Tom squeezed further up the tunnel in pursuit, whilst Jon continued to laugh and wheeze at the absurdity of the statement, for a second resting on the ground to collect himself, propped by his elbow.
“Ha… Wait till I tell the men! You’ve lost your mind, boy. And there you were, telling me you ain’t scared of nothing. To think, I almost believed ee too… You be scared of shadows!”
Tom was panting with fear but feeling his way forward, determined to see what he had just witnessed for a second time. Perhaps Jon was right? As he edged forward a bizarre glittering dust cloud seemed to envelope him, like he was passing through a substance, a veil. It disorientated him for a second. There was a weird purple glow on the rock surface but also in the very tunnel air.
It took a moment to realise Jon had stopped laughing, very suddenly, and there were no more sounds at all. Tom stopped dead, and called back down the narrow tunnel.
“Jon, you still there?… Jon.”
There was a flash of light behind him but not a lamp, a strange sharp bluey white light, like lightning, that lit up the tunnel. It illuminated the spot Jon had just been lying in, but Jon was clearly no longer there, almost like he had never been there. There was a whoosh of warm air as if Jon had simply been whisked out of existence – as if time and space had shunted him along somewhere.
The sound of something moving fast. Little legs. In front of him. Tom continued to shuffle onward and the tunnel widened out to his physical relief. He managed to crouch, then stand, and with his lamp he could make out the wall and ceiling, an opening revealing a very large cavern. There were long wrinkled fingers of stalactites looming down from above and crystals glimmering in the recesses. It was as if the cave had been cut off since the dawn of time, a sacred prehistoric vault, hidden in the rock.
There was a another noise, a different noise, like someone whispering but the words, he could not understand them. It was like a person from foreign shores, another language.
The small hissing voice in the dark gave him a shiver on hearing it. Then another similar mumbling, which gently echoed in the cave, as if in retort – perhaps in disagreement. It reminded him of the engineers quibbling to figure out the dynamics of their mineshafts, when there was a technical challenge.
The strange purple glow returned, this time mushrooming in intensity directly before him. It illuminated the enire expanse of the cave and there, in the middle of it, three of the pig-faced beasts were staring at him, standing by the strangest object. It was the length of five carts and resembled an upturned silver dinner plate, hovering in the cave – levitating as if afloat in the air, cushioned by some powerful dark, magical power.
“Whazz this? Where’s my Ross?!” he bellowed, shaking with adrenaline.
One of the strange beasts gestured to the object, which Tom took to mean his son was inside it.
The demons would not stop him, he would fist fight them if need be. If they had Ross he would tear them to pieces in the dark.
The trio of creatures did not gesture again nor move toward him as they seemed aware Tom was aggressive. There was something just a little human about them that made their appearance even more disturbing. They even wore clothes of some kind, as if they were civilised; close fitting garments, made of unusual materials. He noticed they observed him like doctors observe sick patients, with acute, studied scientific curiosity – but he sensed they were a little perplexed and irritated that he had emerged into their underworld sanctuary, to disrupt their dealings.
Slowly but with intent, one of the beasts held up what appeared to be an iron stick with a glowing blue tip. Tom stepped back, readying to fight. The stick made a low humming noise and within a moment, Tom blanked out and was lost in darkness.
The crows quivered from their perches on the thin black branches of windswept trees. With unblinking eyes, they tracked the sad figures walking the cliff trail, as Tom shuffled along in roughly the direction of the Porth Towan beach. Ross was clinging to Tom’s side, a shoreline limpet anchoring to the security of rock. His tears had stopped but he could not unclench his hands from around his father’s waist. He needed security more than air, his world did not make sense.
The sea was moody with movement from the vantage point of the cliff. White frothing crests were rising and breaking far out in the water, scooped into furling tunnels by the power in the air. Tom watched through narrowed eyes. He didn’t feel right, at all. He tried desperately to centre himself with the familiar smell of the sea. He was in disarray and his memory was shredded to tatters.
He had woken in the gorse with his son only moments ago, like some village drunkards. They had sore heads and felt ill with fatigue. They had been splayed out like starfishes washed up from a strong tide. The last thing Tom recalled was Jon singing a dreadful, tuneless song, and then nothing – pure nothingness. Not one coherent memory surfaced to link recent events together into a meaningful thread. It was as if part of his mind had been stolen from him.
How, in the name of God, had he climbed out of the mineshaft with his son? He hadn’t even found the boy as far as he could recall. How had he appeared upon the cliff top? Where were the miners, where was Emily? Where was Jon? His recent memory was lost, wiped clean like a washed slate. Had he banged his skull? But there was joy in the confusion of it too. He had embraced Ross without collecting himself first, such was the purity of his relief.
They gathered themselves up and committed to return home, the only thing left for them to do. There were unnerving, strange sites as they hobbled up the trail, something was fundamentally wrong with the details of their surroundings. There was a fence he didn’t recognise, the cliff edge looked closer than he recalled and there was a man standing on what looked like driftwood out to sea in the waves. Never had he witnessed such brazon, foolish and wild behaviour. His head ached and by God he was thirsty, like all the water had been taken from his body. Ross, beside him, was distraught with bewilderment and dread.
There was a fence he didn’t recognise, the cliff edge looked closer than he recalled and there was a man standing on what looked like driftwood out to sea in the waves.
“I don’t understand…” Ross whimpered.
“It will be clear soon. We must have inhaled gas? Something happened in that mine. Something, but I cannot recall it…”
They came to the top of the cliff and found to their surprise, a smooth stone seat, one they had never seen before, despite walking the ragged, scruffy trail daily. It was set into the top of the cliff in the grasses, at the highest point, looking out to the blue wet curvature of the Earth. A man’s name was etched into a copper plate on it, with the dates 1975-2023.
They looked hard at each other.
“Are we in heaven, daddy?” asked Ross.
“I don’t think this eer is heaven, son. Look, the mine chimneys, they’re broken, like they be old.”
The hollowed ruins were visible on far off cliffs. Shells of buildings, like gravestones to an industry.
“I can’t explain this, but it’s as if we are forward in years? Let’s head for home now, son, let us see if home remains there…” drooled Tom, clearly foggy in the brain. He scratched his arm, which felt hot to touch and irritable. That’s when he noticed the red triangular mark there, like it was branded with a hot iron. It may have been witchcraft, came a thought. Maybe this was a curse? He pulled up his son’s shirt sleeve and there it was, in the same place, an etched mark in the skin.
“This vexes me… Something has done this to us, twisted the land and the years,” he said, throwing a hand out irreverantly at their surroundings.
Tom held his hair in his tight fists and then pulled it in frustration. Were those truly dates on the seat? He tugged at his boy’s arm and scanned the close surroundings again in panic, as if they may be set upon any moment.
“We need to find folk, locals can help us.”
They rounded the top of the cliff, so the valley and beach emerged into their field of view, and down below, at the end of cliff path was Porth Towan, but not the place they knew, not just four dirty buildings facing the dunes. They stopped in their tracks in total horror.
There below, were sights no man could fathom. Horseless metal carts moving along with men within, clothes weaved in bizarre and unatural materials, in fashions so outlandish, and some even indecent. And so many buildings that did not belong there, grown overnight from the sand. Around a drinking den, folk in colourful garb accumulated with beer bottles in their hands. They were staring out to sea, gasping, pointing, making loud noises. Some were holding up small square lamps the like he had never seen before.
As he tentatively moved toward them, he could barely process the sights and sounds. Music was in the air, but the pair could not make out a choir or musicians and the noise, was that music?
As the crowd stared out to the horizon, Tom and Ross tracked their line of sight to witness the subject of their curiosity, a series of flashing lights, skimming and dancing over the waves. The glowing orbs where like miniature suns, two intensely bright spheres swooping and diving and then thrusting upward, carving the clouds with patterns and figures of eight. It was some kind of aerial ballet, a display of intellignet light where the sea met the sky.
“Devil’s work,” gasped Ross.
“There be no other explanation,” agreed his father.
A young lady with hardly any clothes about her, displaying her legs and belly without shame, turned to take in the sight of the father and son inching into her space. Dust was still curling off them into the wind.
She looked them up and down in curiosity. Tom bare chested with dirty baggy trousers and hobnail boots, and his red eyed son, dressed in strangely smart but ‘well-used’ clothes. They were rugged and time worn. She guessed, through the lens of her own prejudices, they were from the traveller community. Several caravans had appeared recently in one of the forgotten cliff car parks. She pointed with one straight arm to the brilliant lights winding with vigour in the sky.
“Dudes! Look! Just look out there…UFOs…UFOs! They’re beautiful! Come on, get your phone out, this is a once in a lifetime!” she blurted with a beaming smile.
“We don’t belong ‘ere’,” replied Tom.
“Hey? Well, you sound Cornish to me! People round here don’t mind travellers… Just look at those things, they’ve been here for ten minutes, they just flew out of the cliffs there…Sick, man, sick… I’m putting it on YouTube. I mean, why wouldn’t you?! Hashtag rich and famous!”
Tom didn’t understand a word she uttered. He paced around in a circle, not sure where to look and that’s when he noticed the dazed, lurching figure coming down the cliff path toward him. It was Jon Baker, but he was not singing or laughing any more.