The House Between Tides
Chapter 1 2010, James
The first bone he had dismissed as dead sheep. There’d been others—ribs decaying amidst rabbit droppings and debris from the collapsing ceilings, or bleached vertebrae. But the next one was a long bone, and he held it, considering a moment, then rocked back on his heels.
This was no sheep.
He leant forward, interest sharpening, and scraped at the sandy soil, revealing more stained bones and recognising a tangle of threads from decaying textile. A rotting plank half-covered the remains. He tried to move it aside, but it stuck fast, then he straightened, aghast, as certainty came. The plank was an old floor-board, nailed down, and the bones were underneath it.
He stared down at the remains, thrown off-balance, then bent again, his mouth dry, and explored further until he came to the pale orb of the skull. Then he stopped.
The body had been placed on its side with the head hard up against a boulder in the foundations, the chin dropped to the chest, exposing the side of the skull. Exposing not a smooth roundness but a fissured depression, choked with sand. His mind roared as he reached forward to clear crumbs of mortar from the half-buried jaw, flicking an indifferent wood louse from the bared teeth, his hand trembling as he uncovered more of the crushed temple and the dark orbit of an eye. Then he straightened again and stood looking down, the trowel hanging loose in his hand.
It was the snapping of fast wing beats that broke the spell, and he ducked instinctively as a rock dove bolted from its roost in an alcove—bloody bird!—and he glanced at his watch, twisting it on his wrist. Out of time. The tide had turned, and the wind was strong. Storm coming. He quickly bent to cover the bones again, then grabbed his jacket and ran to the Land Rover.
The empty stretch of sand which, for a few short hours twice a day joined Muirlan Island to the main island, was disappearing fast. Had he cut it too fine? He revved the engine hard as the vehicle descended the track and he reached the point where track met sand. Then the battered vehicle sped across, through the shallow water, spray arching from its wheels as it rounded the rocky outcrop at the midway point, following the vanishing tracks which had marked his route across that afternoon. Swooping terns accompanied the incoming tide as it flooded the sandy stretches between the headlands, closing in behind him. He glanced in his rear-view mirror at the grey bulk of the house silhouetted on the ridge, and gripped the steering wheel. A body, for Christ’s sake!
Then, as he tore across the wet sand, he glimpsed a figure in a long dark coat standing on a little headland, staring out towards the house. A woman? He looked more keenly. A stranger— The Land Rover plunged drunkenly into the last deep channel and he revved the engine again to pull up the other side, releasing his breath as he felt firm ground beneath the tyres. Then he swung the vehicle to the right, wiping damp palms on worn jeans, and headed down the single-track road, skirting the edge of the bay, to find Ruairidh.