The back garden was dark, the trees in heavy silhouette. The rising moon had not yet moved above the bulk of the three-storey house. Annie felt the stone warm in her pocket as she moved in haste along the path. She didn’t notice the other, blacker shadow that followed and slipped through the gate after her. Annie had almost reached the moonlit crescent that separated her house from the sea when the shadow bumped into her throwing her off balance onto the grass verge.
“Yeow,” squealed the shadow.
“Bozz!” yelped Annie. “You scared me to death.”
“Yeow,” Bozz sounded winded too.
“Out on one of your midnight prowls again, are you, Bozz?”
“I’m going down to the beach to find Bill. I think he’s in trouble. Aileen told me Hamish was really upset this afternoon and I’m sure that’s the reason. So…what do you say, cat… are you in?”
Bozz sat down on the path and turned to face the house.
“You don’t like the idea of the beach, do you?”
Bozz didn’t move a whisker.
“I have to go anyway, Bozz. So think about it. It would be nice to have your company.”
A rumbling growl emerged from Bozz’ throat.
Annie took this to mean she was on her own. She didn’t have time for any more persuasion. She set off firmly if a bit unhappily for the murky pool where she and Hamish had first sailed the William Morr.
The furry shadow broke into a trot behind her.
When Annie reached the water’s edge the moonlight revealed nothing floating across its surface. Where else might he have gone? She looked around her. The moon was the perfect lamp and made it easy to see sharp rocks, pools and sea weedy patches. She would try further on.
Annie and a very cautious Bozz wandered out towards the sea. It was an enchanting night. The shush of the waves mingled with the splashes and soft barks from a pod of seals. Their backs flashed silver as they curved from the water. What had brought them so close to shore?
“It’s so different here at night; so beautiful,” Annie whispered. “Are you out here somewhere William Morr, sailing over a moonlit sea?”
Annie felt pieces of herself melt into the night air. Her head swam with wave-like images, her steps carrying her to very edge of the rocks. She kicked off her shoes and began to wade in. The silvery water lapped over her feet, then her knees. It didn’t feel cold at all. She dipped her hands into the water and threw showers into the sky and watched as the droplets shimmered off her fingers. It was like picking up the stars.
With slow steps she moved into deeper water. The ocean lifted her arms level with her shoulders. She let her feet drift off the sand and rise to the surface. She was floating open armed inside the bowl of sea and sky.
“This must be what heaven is like.”
“Yeow!” called Bozz.
Time dipped and spilled around Annie like the sea. One moment all her senses were alive with sounds and sensations and the next she drifted in a dream of stillness.
“Yeow! Yeow!” Bozz called again from the shore.
She stirred and rolled her body so she could look into the water below. A shaft of moonlight broke through the surface clear to the sandy bottom. Now could she see fish darting about, a lobster whipping its tail and rocketing backwards, and fronds of dark polyp-covered seaweed swaying as the tide breathed. Then, far down caught under a barnacle-covered rock, emerged the familiar shape of a small wooden boat.
“Bill,” Annie spluttered, wide awake and alert. She stared more closely, her eyes stinging in the salty water.
Every so often the pull of the tide would move Bill’s stern up a little then drop it again. A piece of tarred string, likely torn from a fisherman’s net, had wound around the boat holding it to the rock.
She blinked. The pictured blurred. Annie took some deep breaths and tried looking down into the sea again. The moon kept changing its mind about the lighting but Annie looked anyhow.
Diving to get him might be possible. The recent memory of being underwater swam back into Annie’s mind. Maybe she could do it again. After all it was Bill down there. Once she got him free they would make it out together.
“Bozz, I’m going down,” Annie called.
She had read somewhere that if you want to dive underwater and stay for a while you need to fill your lungs extra full of air. You had to be careful though because there had been something about losing consciousness.
She began taking in great gulps, holding her breath, and then slowly releasing the air. She did this three or four times, feeling her lungs get bigger inside, holding more. On the fifth breath she tucked herself in half then pushed down hard her legs kicking, her arms swimming out for extra power. She felt herself descend but not very far. She burst back up to the surface in a rush.
It was going to take more practice. She rested in floating position before a second attempt. This one was much more successful but still short of her goal. Another rest. The third time she succeeded in touching Bill’s side before she ran out of breath.
“Well Bozz, this is it,” Annie called to the furry outline sitting on the rocks. “If I don’t get him this time I’ll be too tired to try again.”
On the fourth dive she reached the barnacled rock with breath to spare and began to unwind the tangled netting. Bill inched out from his prison.
Just a little more unwinding and you’ll be free; her lungs were near to bursting.
It was then the dark shadow came slowly through the water from above. There was still one more piece of line to untangle.
‘We can do this, Bill, we can,’ the words buzzed in her head. But the darkness was right over her now and it didn’t move away. It was like a huge net, a great smothering hand.
The last thing Annie remembered was it touching her face, then nothing.