Stairs is this week’s prompt from KL Caley at New2Writing.com, and I actually got some inspiration. I trimmed it to around 1300 words, so I hope you don’t mind me making up a little for my #writephoto absence.
The way he’d waxed lyrical about it, you’d have thought he’d bought a stately home. I suppose buying the place you remember playing in as a child is some sort of achievement. He’d told me how every summer they’d decamp to a bungalow on the beach, or near it, and he and his brothers would walk though the sand pit to the beach, and up on the headland was a castle “Like something out of an Enid Blyton adventure. We loved playing there. And it’s got secret passages and everything.”
I smiled, and accepted it was a done deed, he’d spent all his bonus money on it.
I even refrained from saying we had decided to agree on treats with our bonuses. So maybe my treat was not arguing with him. As if I could get a word in edgeways.
We’d set off early, to avoid the worst of the holiday traffic. Half an hour delay on the motorways followed by two hours driving the winding Kentish lanes. We backtracked a couple of times, especially when we saw a nice pub offering lunch. After the required halt, I watched the map, he worked from memory. He hadn’t been there since he was twelve, for goodness sake, and they had gone by train, then a car from the station (long gone under the Beeching cuts).
I was quite surprised when we turned into a sandy car park, parked where we could and avoided a steep drop into some old quarry. Rock and sand still showed in places, but otherwise it was grassed over, lumpy and tumbled.
He turned off the car, leaned back and sighed. “It’s still here.”
I smiled. What else can you do? If it wasn’t here he’d have bought an imaginary piece of land. Say nothing.
Despite the pub lunch, we got the coffee out for a drink before exploring further. And some croissants with cheese in them I’d packed in foil before we left. Soggy, but still tasty.
“That way’s where our beach bungalow was. Rented of course. Same one each year so it felt like home. It’s not there now. They knocked it down to build the power station.”
I could definitely see the power station. Ugly great block converting uranium into electricity and radioactive waste, no doubt.
“And we used to walk all over these sand dunes, or gravel dunes, or shingle banks, and end up on that outcrop over there, where the castle is. We’ve got from here to the castle. Look.”
He had shown me on the plans at home, which was good, because it was a struggle to hold the plans flat on the car bonnet in the wind. The sea looked pretty, a bit grey, rushing around a fair way away across the sands and shale, showing white at the edge.
“How far does the sea come in?”
“Oh, about to that edge of the grass,” he said, waving in the general direction of the Channel.
“Let’s get to the castle.”
It didn’t take long to reach it. I confess I kept thinking it must be bigger, but no, it really was only about the size of a bungalow itself. It must have had more storeys once, but now it was dishevelled, a few walls, some angry nesting birds, no roof, but sturdy walls that had survived the battering of many storms.
“I remember it being bigger,” he said. “Oh, you can see the stairs going up to the tower. There definitely used to be a tower there. We used to fly planes from it and see how far out to sea we could get them.”
He nodded. “But the stairs go down as well. I brought a torch, just in case. Shall we go down? There are secret tunnels underneath.”
I followed him down.
The secret tunnels were very narrow, and you had to hunker down to get through them. I thought hard hats might be in order, but we hadn’t brought those. He stopped.
“I don’t remember this junction. Which way shall we go?”
“From the sound of it the sea is to our right, I can hear it swishing.”
“If I remember right, it opens out into a low cave.”
It would have to be low, I thought. The cliff this castle stands on is hardly worthy of the title ‘cliff’. We’ve probably gone down more stairs than necessary to get to its base.
A few more minutes and we turned a corner. “Light ahead” he said. Another corner and we stood at a slit in the cliff. I wouldn’t call it a cave, but it was definitely an exit.
He looked out. “Oh, this isn’t the beach we used to come to. It’s a sort of tidepool. Maybe we should have turned the other way.”
“Shall we go back then?” I turned and started before he could agree.
It was interesting, but I couldn’t gather the same enthusiasm that he had. He was bubbling, enjoying the adventures of his youth. I was just climbing round an old castle, in disrepair, that we were now responsible for. I hoped we weren’t going to be given a huge bill for its upkeep, or worse still, restoration.
“My feet are cold,” I commented, suddenly realising they were. “How far to the stairs?”
“Should be nearly at the junction.” He shone the light over my shoulder. The ground was strangely dark, but I could see the junction just up ahead.
“Good. For some reason I keep imagining my feet are wet.”
“It was always dry down here. Here you go, left turn.”
We started up a slight slope and found the first step. Which I tripped on, as it was the second one. The first was covered in seawater.
“The tide’s coming in!” I said.
“I’ve never known it come into these tunnels, but you’re right, it is seawater.”
“What’s the state of the moon?”
“What do you mean – oh spring tides, perhaps?”
“Maybe. These stairs are slippery.”
“Grab onto the wall. I’m right behind you.”
“I remember reading that the south-east will be more prone to sea level rise than the rest of the country.”
“Well, we’re about as south-east as you can get, without tangling with the Channel ports.”
“Do you think this castle has sunk a bit, I mean it must be forty years since you were here.”
“True. Good, we’ve got to the top. There’s another way down there, but perhaps we should just take stock.”
“Yes, I think getting back to the car would be a good idea. Perhaps we should find some locals who can tell us more about what’s been going on here.” I may have sounded cool and calm, but I was hot, bothered and very cross with him for putting us in potential danger. And spending his bonus on it.
We stepped out into the castle, and stopped. Our car was in the quarry behind that ridge of grass.
In front of the ridge of grass was sea.
“Oh, heck. That definitely didn’t used to happen.”
“Well, it has now. Our own island castle, access at low tide only. What now?”
After about half an hour of increasingly ridiculous suggestion and counter-argument, we decided to phone the coastguard.
“Do you know the number?” he asked.
“999,” I replied. “It’s one of the emergency services, along with Mountain Rescue in the highlands. And you can even dial 911 these days to get them, too.”
At least it was a reasonably nice day, and the coastguard was very understanding, but wondered why we’d bought the property without checking such things.
I wondered too. Next time, I’d make sure he’d checked thoroughly before buying something. Next time? I must be joking.
But those steps might turn out to be a nice tide-measuring system like the Nilometer I saw in Cairo. We might even make some money from research.
© J M Pett 2023