The Red Church

Prologue: The Sound of the Sea

6 April, 1946

I followed the sound of the sea. I had kept the roar and crash of it close ever since ducking out of the taxi-cab. The train had taken me as far as Shoreham, but after that, I had been at the mercy of the driver's fees. He had looked me up and down once, then waved at the sky as if it was my fault that the heavens had split open. He marked me as an outsider with that one glance. He had known I would pay anything to get through this rain.

I had.

He drove until my pennies were worth no more. "Seabreeze is that way," he said when we stopped. He nodded into the fog. 'That way' was nothing but hazy fields, with only a ragged countryside lane cut through them.

"You can't take me any closer?"

"Not to Seabreeze."

I had watched his motor coughing into the distance. I had sworn, tugged my coat tightly around me, and pulled the brim of my hat over my eyes. Nothing could be protect me from the relentless storm, though. It rolled over from the sea, a tidal wave of driving rain and biting wind. Each time it touched my skin, it chilled me deeper than bone. Coastal towns always seemed to get hit hardest, as if the very ocean gave up some of itself into the sky. Maybe it was penance for living off it for so many centuries.

I tried to head in the direction the driver had waved. I pushed through a field, water-logged and drowning in mud. Somewhere in the fog, cows lowed, but I could see only their shadowy forms through the mist. It was through fortune alone that no angry farmer put a bullet in my back. Maybe I expected it, because every few moments, I found myself glancing over my shoulder. The lane had been swallowed up behind me. Grey fog ushered me forward.

It was again in shadow that I first saw Seabreeze. The postcard photographs had shown it as a pleasant small town, nestled in the rolling hills along the south coast. Its pier had been decorated in ribbon and streamers, the point of its helter skelter and Ferris wheel glittering in the summer sun. Children played in the white sands, while ice cream and hot dogs were handed out beside the Punch and Judy stand. The buildings reached down to the revetment, whimsically placed and rising up the hill as if they had been scattered there randomly.

I saw it now only as skeletal silhouettes marching down to the sea. I could still hear the waves, but they had blended with the fog into one mass consuming the town. The famous pier was drowned amidst the haze. Beneath the bent and battered sentinel of an old beech, I paused to catch my breath. Far below, the water beat the cliffs. I had almost forgotten how much I had come to hate that sound. It was funny how the mind could conjure up anything coming out of that marine mist.

I hobbled my way down the winding path. It was slippery with gouged indents of mud, and more than once, my foot went from under me. I kept a close hold on my luggage, and my eyes forward. The metal railing looked half-rotted, as if it hadn't seen use or maintenance for many years. I don't know how I reached the bottom without breaking an ankle. I cursed myself as stupid, but still I kept going.

A sign greeted me with a smiling Nereid, floating bare-breasted in a crude blue seascape. Hers was the only face I saw as I wandered into the outskirts of the town. The road I followed led past three small cottages, their shutters all pulled tight. Vehicles, about twenty years out of date, sat upon the gravel. I carried on past a small school and lonely general store, all shut up with no sign of life. For a moment, I thought some cruel joke had been pulled on me at the train station, and the agent had sent me to a ghost town. But no, I knew this was the place. As terrible as it was, this was the site I had been haunted to visit.

Somehow, I found my way towards the centre of town. The postcards had been right about one thing. The buildings were scattered as though a child had placed them as a play project. Only three or four would keep to a straight road and then it would bend into another. And always, they kept going down, winding further into the fog until they reached the sea.

I must have gone past the same road three times. How anyone found their way around here was a mystery. All the while, the storm kept pressing in closer, a wild angry voice that streamed up the hill and cut into my bones. I was soaked through, frustration churning inside. The fog seemed a living thing and with every passing moment, it threatened to disgorge things I would rather it kept hidden. I stopped, placing a wet hand to my eyes. Sickeningly, my breath trembled, the beginnings of shakes which had naught to do with the cold. I forced myself to exhale slowly.

When I removed my hand, a figure stood there. It watched me silently. Long minutes seemed to pass as we stared at one another. My limbs refused to move.

"Are you lost?" a female voice called. She came towards me. I found small words.

"I need somewhere to stay."

"Of course you do. Come. My husband and I own a bed and breakfast not far from here."

I had no time to question her appearance. She turned and started to walk back into the mist. Unless I wished to stay lost, I had no choice but to follow her.

That was my introduction to Seabreeze. You see, she has not wanted me here since the very beginning.

a/n: So this is an old story idea I had which I abandoned, but recently, I've been playing The Sinking City and it's really inspired me to get back to weird supernatural-like mystery stories...with troubled protagonists! I wanted to try a first person narrative with this, which I never do so it is a fun experience! Hope you enjoy :)