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Magic Realism

Sounds Familiar

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“Ouch!” The sudden pain was intense. From the bottom of her left foot, right up to her skull – a vicious attack from the shallows. She knew that she had no choice but to take her surfboard and head to the lifeguard hut to join several others who sat there bathing their feet in hot water.

In severe discomfort she limped to the top of the beach. Perhaps it would pass, not be so bad this time, she thought.

Avoiding the ocean’s edge where the lethal creatures lingered in the warm sand, particularly at low tide, she staggered along the top of the beach, past large cliffs, massive black rocks, that lined the  Cornish coast.

Still suffering from the unwanted injection of venom, she surveyed the towering sections of granite, sparkling in the bright sunlight, interspersed with  moss-covered ridges where months of rainfall had left their distinctive mark.

Suddenly she stopped. What was that? It looked like the entrance to a cave. She had heard stories about smugglers who used secret paths to hide their goods in the olden days but this was real.  Intrigued, she dropped her surfboard to investigate. Within seconds she was underground. How soothing was the pure, cool, compacted sand in there! Lara walked slowly along a dark tunnel. It was long and straight, leading further and further into the bowels of this enormous cliff. She realized that she should turn around and go back but something drew her deeper into the unknown. Was it the incredible fragrance, a mixture of musty, salty rock and a hint of incense? Although she wore nothing but her skimpy bikini she felt strangely warm.

As the dark passageway became tighter, the temperature increased. Lara could no longer stand up. On all fours she moved forward, captivated by the mysterious path.

Then she heard noises. Was there music? It sounded like an organ concerto but different, more modern, a little disharmonic and still oddly familiar. Her heart beating like a drum, she edged further through the narrows. She did not even notice that she had injured her foot in the process, the same one that was aching already.

Leaving a trail of blood she pushed on until the unlikely pathway opened up. It ended in a vast chamber, a cave as high as a room. A couple of large candles provided enough light for her to see a makeshift cross,  out of driftwood, planted into the sand, and a young man playing a keyboard. His pale hands did not leave the keys but he stopped playing when she entered.

Lara froze. The organist’s ghost-like face had something friendly, reassuring. In the candlelight his thick blond hair looked like a mop of gold, and his eyes were as blue as the sky she had left behind outside. An angel, she thought, but she was too afraid to speak.

“Come, take a seat,” the young man said. Lara felt terribly self-conscious. She was half-naked, he fully dressed. “Stay and listen,” the organist invited her, pointing to a small trunk opposite the cross. Reluctantly Lara walked over and sat down.

The acoustics down in the cave were incredibly powerful. Lara watched the angel’s hands touch the keys almost lovingly – and then he started to sing. His voice was sweet and angelic, high as a bird’s, and it made her shiver. This guy was good, very good. Had she heard him before somewhere? Dreamily she watched and listened, listened and watched. Last summer, in Newquay, a distant memory now, Lara and a group of friends were at a gig. They all had too much to drink but there was this new band. She had forgotten its name but their songs sounded just like this. Church music with a twist, classical rock, rocky classics, spooky chords and unusual riffs.

“You’ve hurt your foot,” the singer suddenly remarked.

“Weever fish,” Lara replied.

“Rock,” said the angel. With that he left his perch behind the keyboard. For a fleeting moment he disappeared behind a jagged boulder at the back of the cave to fetch his first-aid-box.

When he returned with a plaster Lara noticed a strong scent emanating from his dark tracksuit. The angel knelt in front of her so that he could carefully cover the bleeding wound. His fine fingers worked fast, confidently.

“We must go now. There’s not enough oxygen down here for too long,” he explained. Lara looked  around but she had no idea where the exit of this amazing chamber could be. She had got in but there was no way out. It was all rock – solid, ancient Cornish rock. All she could see were rugged walls of dripping stone, each little drop hitting the perfect sand below with a high-pitched ping.

The angel swiftly wrapped his keyboard in waterproof sheets, gently blew the candles out, and then he retrieved a torch from the pocket of his black tracksuit bottoms. “You go first,” he instructed firmly, directing the light to the wall – and there it was, the tunnel, the escape route. No longer afraid Lara crept forward, following the dimly lit path until the passageway widened and she could finally make out a glimpse of daylight. It was still a long way to go but she could see and hear the sea in the far distance. She turned around, ready to talk to the young musician, the sight of the beach filling her with courage. So many questions occupied her mind but nobody followed. She was alone.

Overjoyed to find her surfboard still leaning on the rock where she had left it, she stepped out of the cliff. Nothing had changed. Children were playing on the shore, the lifeguards still busy treating unlucky bathers. Lara felt safe. Grateful to be back, she kicked up some soft sand. The sight of her feet startled her. There was no pain, no plaster and no wound.

“See you tomorrow – same time, same place,” a voice called from behind her.

Casually she picked up her surfboard, not turning back. “Sure,” she said, “sure…”

Birte Hosken (UK)

Birte Hosken was born in Germany but has lived in the UK for the last 30 years. She works part-time for the National Health Service and she has published two novels, both set in Cornwall where she lives. Birte is married and has two grown-up children.

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