A wall of water.
That’s the only way I can describe it now. You know, I’ve seen the sea
before. Many times I’ve seen it. But I’d never seen it like this. And I’d never seen it in this place before. Normally the sea stayed where it was supposed to, tidily beyond the sea wall. But here it was. Thick heavy gray waves, barrelling across the fields beyond our house. It was coming at such a speed that the trees and hedgerows were bending under its weight.
I think I heard myself laughing. It sounds odd now, doesn’t it, to laugh at something like that, but I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I thought I was seeing things, or maybe I’d fallen asleep and was having the strangest dream of my life. You know, sometimes when Mam told me stories, I’d find myself drifting off to sleep, and seeing the things she was talking about. A witch transforming herself into a greyhound. A red dragon battling with a white dragon, flames spurting from her nose.
It was Mam’s scream that broke through my trance. It was her voice that made me realise this wasn’t a dream at all, it was really happening. The sea was coming towards me, eating up the land as it went, and all I could do was run.
So I did. But where do you run to when the water has the speed of a cantering horse? My head was telling me to run to the hills, just like my ancestors would have done, but my legs weren’t doing the running fast enough. I could hear the breath tearing at my throat and then I heard something else, the roar of something huge, something inescapable as the sea gained on me and the ground shook below my feet – just like Mam’s stories after all – only this time it wasn’t the roar of a dragon or the pounding feet of a giant but something real, something awful, something that would swallow me whole –
“BOK BOK BOK!”
The sound made me look up. And there, above my head, was the strangest sight.
Look around you. Can you see a tree? A tree that you could climb, if you needed to, with a big strong trunk and thick branches that could cradle you.
Do you remember I told you – chickens can’t fly. But there, perched above my head, on the highest branch of the tallest apple tree in the centre of the orchard, was Betsi. She was flapping and squawking and I knew exactly what she was telling me to do. I didn’t waste a second. I threw myself into the branches of the tree and I began to climb, hand over hand, tugging myself up, my arms screaming, my feet flailing – I’d never been a good climber, because I was always too scared and would look down and freeze, but today I climbed like my life depended on it, because it did. And I didn’t look down. I couldn’t. Looking down was far too dreadful.
It was only when I reached the top of the tree that I looked.
I found a sturdy enough branch, and settled on it, and reached for Betsi, who shuffled into the crook of my arm, quivering, but looking very pleased with herself. And then I looked. And what I saw was –
All about was water. Grey and brown churning seawater. It rose over halfway up the trunk of the apple tree, and it was still rising. The sea spread out as far as I could see. I could not see our field, nor the hedgerows or the reen or the gate by our cottage. I could see the roof of the cottage, but the water was lapping at the walls, and the door had disappeared.
And I could hear – oh, I could hear dreadful things. The sound of the church bells pealing out, to warn the people, but far too late. Far off shouts and screams. And always, always, the roar of the water and the wind.
I opened my mouth and bellowed. “MAM!!!”
There was no sign of her. “MAM!”
Had she made it to the roof of the cottage? Where was she? She’d wasted time shouting for me when she should have been climbing to safety.
And then I saw it. Floating past in the muddy floodwater. A wickerwork basket with a red cloth inside. It was Mam’s egg-collecting basket.
I knew then that she must have been taken by the sea. I clung to the top of the apple tree with Betsi in my arms as the flood rose about us and I cried and cried.