‘Oh come on, it’ll be fun!’ Ella teased her new husband as she ran off down the beach, glittery sandals clasped tightly in one hand, dress hoisted off the damp sand with the other.
‘But Ella, we’re not supposed to come down here. The coastguard warned us about the high tides, it comes in really fast in this bay.’ He cast a furtive glance back the way they’d come. Worried the lifeboat crew could see them in the distance, not heeding the advice they were given. They’d made jokes about having to rescue the newlyweds before they’d even been married twenty-four hours. ‘And the… the… you know, that other thing he warned us about.’
Ella turned to face Tom with an eyebrow raised and head tilted to one side, mockingly. ‘You’re not seriously scared about that are you? The Branok Bay witch. All superstitious nonsense. No doubt Morveren was a local woman that someone had a grudge against, and they burnt her for that rather than witchcraft.’
‘It’s creepy though, burnt alive in her own little stone cottage.’ His eyes flicked to the ragged remains of a stone building up ahead. Sat upon a rocky outcrop jutting defiantly out of the sand like a solitary tooth amidst the gaping mouth of Branok Bay.
Ella smiled one of her most dazzling smiles that she knew would win him over. ‘Come on, don’t be such a spoil sport, it’ll be fun. Looking around the ruins together, just us and the sea for company.’ She fluttered her lashes for extra effect.
‘Still though, I really don’t think we should be wandering this far out when the tide is coming in.’
‘We won’t be long, and look at it! Just take in that glorious view.’ She swept her arm theatrically to emphasise the stunning sunset in front of them. The sea looked as though it were on fire, oranges and reds dancing across its flickering surface, basking in the evening warmth of the summer evening.
Tom relented, and took his wife in his arms. ‘It’s against my better judgement, but how can I deny my beautiful bride?’ He pushed a stray strand of honey coloured hair from Ella’s face, and lost himself in her hazel brown eyes.
‘You can’t!’ She kissed him slowly on the lips, tasting the salty tang of the sea, and darted off towards the ruin, which was silhouetted against the sun. A large black blot of an otherwise idyllic view.
Tom caught up with her as they arrived at the foot of the huge, forbidding rock. ‘How are we supposed to get up there then?’
Ella checked every crack and curvature of its surface, looking for a sturdy foothold. ‘There’s meant to be some sort of steps worked into the stone.’
‘Looks like the sea has long since worn those away, it’s been here for centuries. We’d best head back, you’re not exactly dressed for rock climbing are you?’ He pointed to her glittery sandals which she then tucked onto a rocky ledge.
‘Here they are!’ She called out triumphantly, as Tom sighed, hope of returning to the hotel before sunset swiftly disappearing. Ella cautiously clambered over the rusty chain denying them access and made her way up the steps, worn smooth by years of the elements and feet beating down on them. It was slick with tidal leftovers lower down the rock. Little rock pools and slimy walls of green, seaweed stuck fast to the stone.
‘Watch your step, you could break your neck on this stuff!’ Tom grasped the walls for reassurance, and noticed the graffiti scrawled there, the calling card of a bored teenager wanting to leave their mark on an infamous landmark. The sea breeze whispered through the holes and crevices in the rock like siren songs pulling them in. Tom shuddered. ‘You know that coastguard said there have been loads of sightings and weird stuff going on round here. I’m really not sure it’s safe at all to be climbing up there. What if we get stuck? I don’t think I’ve got any reception on my phone here, I’ll never be able to call the lifeboat out to rescue us.’
‘Oh Tom, don’t be such a scaredy cat. Where’s your sense of adventure? Live a little.’
They wound their way around the edge of the rock face, and through a tunnel that emerged onto the topmost point where a little stone cottage stood broken and open to the elements.
A sudden gust of wind chilled them to the core, sending shivers through their bones and goose bumps rising across their skin. Ella wrapped her arms around herself to stave off the cold creeping into her flesh. ‘Let’s go and take a look inside.’ Her brown eyes flashed with excitement as she crept forwards.
‘I think we should get back to the hotel now. Just look how fast the tide is coming in, we’ll be stranded up here if we don’t move…’
SQUAWK! A seagull dive-bombed Tom, startling him. He crashed to the floor with his hands over his ears.
‘Are you okay?’ Ella found it hard to keep the giggle from her voice, and tried to stifle it with a hand pressed to her lips.
‘I told you it wasn’t safe up here!’ He struggled to his feet. ‘Bloody seagull. They’re a right menace! I’m going back down. I’m not staying up here another minute!’ He struggled back towards the steps.
‘Oh Tom, you’ve no sense of adventure. I’m just going to take a quick look inside, then I’ll be right behind you.’
‘Make sure you are, that tide is getting dangerously close now. As it is I think we’ll have to get our feet wet just to get back to dry land.
‘I’ll be quick. No point struggling up here and not taking a proper look around.’ She said as Tom’s head disappeared from view, back down through the tunnel at the heart of the rock.
Ella felt as though someone was watching her, and turned to see another gull sitting on a corner of the stone wall, watching her every move with its beady yellow eyes. ‘Shoo away with you!’ She flapped her arms to scare him away but he just kept on staring, his glassy eyes looked threatening and cruel. As she drew closer he let out an indignant squawk. He flew away, leaving her alone with the wind howling about her, whipping at her dress and making her shiver with its icy bite. Maybe Tom was right, this was foolish, but I just have to take a look now I’m here, she thought.
Daylight was fading fast as Tom reached the bottom of the Witch rock of Branok Bay. He misjudged his footing and slipped, cracking his head against the cold stone on his way down. He felt the hot, coppery blood trickle down his face as he slumped to the floor, the sea eagerly lapped around him, the tide rising with each and every ebb and flow.
Tom awoke with a start. Freezing and soaked to the skin, and choking on salty water. He could barely see as the sun had almost set, and one eye was caked in blood. The strong current had pushed his body forward enough that he was now cut off from the rock. Cut off from Ella. Ella, the thought startled him into full consciousness.
‘ELLA?’ He shouted, with no response, and no sign save the squawking of gulls overhead, their call eerie in the twilight. He splashed towards the beach and on to the lifeboat station to raise the alarm.
The smell of fish and decay hit her as soon as she passed through the doorway into the remains of the cottage. Her gag reflex kicked in and she fought back the urge to vomit. She saw rotting fish over to one side and guessed these were leftover scraps from seagulls and other seabirds that stopped by.
She moved slowly through what was left of the building. Peering through what was once a window, she could see the tide greedily making its way up the rock and decided that maybe she ought to make this a short visit after all. Ella looked around, she could just make out what was left of a fireplace and what looked like a big, stone bowl. Dirty water had pooled inside. She looked into the murky water, her own face looked back at her, framed by the dying embers of the sunset sky above. Her eyes looked odd, distorted in the water, they looked glazed, almost white, nothing like her usual brown. Something clattered to the ground behind her, she snapped round but could see nothing out of place. Her heart hammered to escape the prison of a ribcage. Must have been another seagull or something, she thought as she tried to slow her breathing to a normal pace. She leant one hand on the stone bowl to steady herself. A movement from the corner of her eye drew her attention back to the water. Ripples? There can’t possibly be ripples, there’s nothing in…
A hand burst up from the water, clasping an icy grip around Ella’s wrist. She screamed and hoped that Tom would hear her. ‘TOM!’ She bellowed but was answered only by the crash of waves and the screech of gulls. Long, gnarled nails dug into her skin leaving deep welts that stung like fire. She pulled back, the hand was strong and it took all her strength to escape it. She fell backwards and grazed her arms across the cold floor. Ella clawed her way back towards the doorway but a pressure around her ankles dragged her back towards the water. ‘Noooooooooooo!’ She screamed, blinding terror now eclipsing her senses as she grabbed at anything she could to escape, as the full horror hit her. The legend of Morveren, the Branok Bay witch was not superstitious nonsense after all.
She winced in pain as she was flipped onto her back. Ella looked into the eyes of a woman ravaged by fire, her skin a twisted mess interwoven with seaweed and barnacles. White, misty eyes stared down at Ella as a small crab scuttled from the abyss of a mouth that hung limp, a black hole of despair.
Ella opened her mouth to scream as the ghastly apparition of the Witch of Branok Bay flew at her, and buried itself deep within her. The smell of fish and rot intensified as her whole body shook as though ice had replaced the blood in her veins. Darkness claimed her.
‘Ella? ELLA? Oh Ella you’re alright, you’re here.’ Tom cradled her in his arms as she sobbed. ‘I’ve got you now. You’re safe.’
‘Come on Miss, we’ve got the lifeboat waiting for you.’
Ella looked past Tom to the rescue team assembled behind him.
She barely made a movement or sound as she was lifted onto the lifeboat and sailed to safety.
‘It’s a dangerous place that rock. Tide comes in quick there, easy to get yourself cut off. If you don’t mind me saying though Miss, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘The Witch of Branok Bay,’ another of the crew laughed.
Ella stared out across the ocean, she wore a blank expression as a small crab scuttled down her arm. Tom watched in horror as her brown eyes turned white and misty.