The waves lapped gently against the cold grey stone of the port, the water inching its way down as the tide began to roll out.
Ava watched them and imagined where each droplet of water had been before it arrived here.
Upon how many ports had these same droplets smashed and broken? Had they all arrived here together like some mighty school of fish? Or was each on its own journey, joining fleetingly with momentary brothers and sisters to make a wave, before it was off again in a whatever direction the current took it?
Did the droplets know what they were doing or were they simply caught up in the wash of commotion?
Ava thought she knew how the poor droplets felt.
Yesterday her life had been steady and certain as the river that flowed through the little town in which she had grown up. Sure there had been winters so miserably wet the river had bulged and once even burst its banks. Just as there had been times her family had struggled, when illness or injury or some other unforeseeable tragedy had rocked their steady little boat. But in both cases things had always righted themselves again, returning, eventually, to normal.
And just as the river knew it flowed from and led to the wilder waters of the sea, so the Halfbridge townsfolk knew of the terrors plaguing their wider island nation, like the thumping of a distant drumbeat on the periphery of their collective conscience. But the mores of the sea did not disturb the steady flow of the river and Halfbridge continued untouched by the chaos thrumming across the country.
But that was Ava’s life yesterday. Before. Now she was staring out at the vast, unknowable ocean.
It had happened so fast the memories blurred and coalesced like her father’s dyes as he swirled the colours together to make a new hue for his thread. Gone, monsters, danger, leaving. If Ava had had to pick a colour for that blur of memory it would have been red. For the fear, the passion, the urgency and the brutality – that most of all – with which she was ripped from her peaceful, content life.
The one memory that pierced the blur was her mother’s shrill, animalistic scream.
It had pierced the still, quiet dawn then and still it seemed to pierce Ava’s every thought. The rawness, the agony enveloped in that scream clawed into her brain and nested in her memory, refusing to let go.
The fierce, terrifying ocean had violated the river and the darkness engulfing the island had finally sniffed out the delicious, enticing scent of quiet, peaceful Halfbridge and descended upon it like a pack of hungry wolves.
Ava was still watching the waves, lost in memory when she felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.
“We’re boarding,” was all she said.
Being fourteen, Ava would have never allowed her mother to hold her hand. At least she wouldn’t have yesterday… today she took it gladly, squeezed it gently – for her own comfort or her mother’s Ava couldn’t have said.
Possessed by habit, Ava’s mother held out her other hand and looked down to ensure another, littler hand took it.
She began to sob.
Ava found herself, as she had so many times in the last day, with one arm around her mother’s shoulders leading her up onto the waiting ship. Her father was already aboard and Ava swiftly passed her mother into his arms.
She knew then that whatever awaited them on the other side of this journey would always be tainted by the inescapable, unfillable, Alfie-shaped hole in their family.
His little ghost had followed them ever since the demons had taken him. He was there as they hastily packed what they could into makeshift bindles. He was there on the riverboat as they made their way to the island’s primary harbour, the town of Nysport.
And he was here now, trailing their sobbing mother as their father led her to their cabin. Ava could almost see him, one fist tugging at his mother’s skirts, the other planted firmly in his mouth.
Ava blinked away the image and rested her forearms on the rail.
She looked out across the ocean in the direction of the mainland wondering if they’d be swept up in the tide of people fleeing the country, and if they would end up crashing and breaking against the unchartered shores that awaited them.