To Esbjerg

Pearly white clouds shoulder barged their way past the blue of the morning skies, darkening the land somewhat. A beam of elusive sunlight streamed through a gap in the clouds, down onto the beach where he was stood.

That was when he noticed the child staring inquisitively at him with his fingers poking absently around his mouth.

The young man looked sharply at the little intruder as if to convey his shock and annoyance in a glance. It was odd to see this little boy with his bright blue eyes like cold crystal here in the early morning just after sunrise, stood solitary without any evidence of his carers. The pebbled beach and the crashing waves were the only things which had kept the man company all night and he felt rather irked that someone so minor had invaded his quiet thinking space.

"What are you doing?" the child asked in a little voice, still staring with his piercing eyes boring their way into the man.

"Wh-where are your parents?" the young man croaked back.

The boy smiled and moved closer as the man went rigid with fear.

"Don't be afraid," the boy murmured as if he knew what the man was thinking right now, "It's a lovely day to be on the beach but why do you keep coming back everyday?"

The young man's eyes widened at this interjection; the child must have been watching him over the past few days. Surely not.

"And where are your mummy and daddy?" he added, now observing an abandoned mussel shell.

The question almost made the man laugh out loud but he found himself too confused and a little frightened, concealing any trace of emotion.

The boy now rooted among the rocks looking for more hidden treasures, showing little interest in the man. He suddenly seemed less like an apparition.

"H-how?" the man stuttered, "how did you know I've been coming back every morning?"

After a short pause, in which the child extracted a limpet shell from a tangle of seaweed, he spoke.

"The beach knows," he said simply, "and the sea and the sky."

The man was now reeling – this just seemed too stupid an answer even for a child but he could not help but wonder once more if perhaps the child was not actually there.

"People lie; grown ups and kids. But the beach, sea and sky always tell the truth because they have nothing to hide from anyone. That's what makes them our masters."

The last part caught the man off-guard.

"Our masters?"

"Are you thinking of swimming? The Channel is freezing, you know, especially at this time of year. I know because my uncle swam to France from Dover once – he's mad, him."

"So am I," the man said with a leer.

"Why?" the boy enquired innocently.

"Because," he laughed, "because I'm thinking of going for a swim. But not to France, to Denmark."

Saying it aloud after so many days of harbouring it in his head, particularly in front of a strange child, was oddly liberating.

"Denmark," the boy repeated, "Is that where Vikings come from?"

The man nodded.

"It sounds far."

The skies brightened as the sun managed to overcome the clouds in the tussle above, creating an optimistic blue which pressed down from above.

"But why would you want to swim there?"

"Oh," the man felt confused for a second but then began, "I'm going to go to a city on the West Coast called Esbjerg. Esbjerg… I hear it's beautiful."

"I think you should tell your mummy and daddy first," the boy insisted.

"My mummy and daddy are selfish, crazy fanatics who couldn't care less where I am."

"Hmm," the boy muttered musingly, "Grown ups are always moody with their kids aren't they? Always nagging and shouting."

"You'd almost think they never wanted us in the first place eh?"

"Hmm," the child said once more.

"You seem to want to say something else, the man said testily.

"Oh?"

"Yes. Whatever it is just spit it out."

"Well you don't want to know what I think…"

"No, go on, what do you think?" the man said, becoming increasingly irritated now.

The boy looked out at the sea as if hoping to discern the coast of Denmark beyond the horizon, before he replied.

"I think," he said slowly, picking his words carefully, "that you're not going to do it."

The man frowned.

"I think," he continued, "that you're too scared to even dip your feet in the water because you know what's really going to happen if you did try to swim to Denmark."

The young man spluttered. Who was this strange little child who came out of nowhere calling scared? Did he have access to the man's past and everything he had to go through to escape to Kent?

"I think," the boy said once more, "that we both know and have enough common sense to realise that a human cannot swim such a distance and survive.

"The waters are freezing, the currents are harsh and your body would give up long before you even caught sight of Esbjerg."

He pronounced the last word with a slight edge, like a schoolteacher mocking a child's naivety.

"The reason you keep coming back is because you hope that one day you'll develop the courage to kill yourself like you intended."

Something was amiss here. How did the strange little boy know so much? It was as if he had grown ten feet while he had spoken these last few remarks and he was just as much an adult as the young man… if not more.

"How…how!?" the man began, but faltered, finding nothing to ask.

"You're a long way from home," the boy said quietly, still staring out at the sea as if trying to penetrate his vision further.

The boy then tore his gaze away from the horizon and his eyes fixed themselves on the young man, slicing through his heart like sharp, sharp daggers. And for a for second the man felt bare, as if the boy had reached the inner recesses of his soul with one quick glance… but as suddenly as it came, the feeling left him.

The skies darkened once more as heavy grey rain clouds shoved past and above the beach. The young man was stood exactly where the little boy had done a second ago, but he had not even moved… and the boy was nowhere to be seen. The seashells the boy had had were in his hands.

As spatters of rain began falling on the pebbles, the man stared at the spot he had been stood a few feet away and all was suddenly clear.