The Cornish Sea laps, coating the daffodil-hued shoreline. Movements are as gentle and cyclical as the turn of each season – one wave spills into the next as dominoes set to fall in a predictably-fashioned line.
Spring is a verdant season: abundant and full of the potential that surfs its way to the surface as a toppled surfer. Buds and new shoots spring from spongy holds, piercing the air with sage tendrils which reach up, and outwards, to the sun. They grow peacefully, navigating causeways as ships upon oceans. Their growth and progression is steady, but determined. They hope to find a safe harbour away from the building winds to come during autumn and winter, that notoriously travel inland, after roaring upon open seas.
For now, they are perfectly safe.
Her forming landscape tumbles with springlike notions as a collage where each newspaper clipping holds a semblance of meaning. This is what she hopes to achieve painting Clythe Cliff and its snuggled cove beneath the rocky ledges.
Seabirds glide above as they buoy on uplifts, easing their shifting paths to washy swells. She watches the depth of their flight as they fully elongate their wingtips, expanding to full splendour. They breathe in heady, awakening gusts as they seek small fish to luncheon upon as they hover above the glistening sparkles of the sea’s calm edges.
Children frolic as their parents relax on stripy blankets upon the warming sands. Cries of enjoyment and hilarity, as they play with the spilling surf, rise frequently to the artist’s alerted ears. For it is Easter-time and children are enjoying two weeks where they are freed of the confines of school bells.
One particular toddler catches her interest as he stretches his curious, chubby toes into the billowing white foam that unravels upon the sand. He jumps in glee, running back and forth between his watchful parents and the shore, excitingly anticipating the silly surf each time he returns. This game will keep him occupied for hours. His parents turn their bodies slightly towards each other, as they lounge, enjoying a few moments of ‘adult time’. The mother shields herself from the pivotal sun with a straw hat; it has purple flowers entwined along the rim. Her oversized Bridget Bardot sunglasses cover her eyes as she flirts, smiles daintily, as her husband leans in, whispering niceties and playful promises.
The artist shuffles her feet, having stood statically for many hours as she captured the colourful markings of the bay upon her impregnated canvas. A tartan blanket is laid beneath her easel, poised above a gentle clifftop overlooking the expansive Cornish Sea. She places her paintbrush, dipped in cerulean blue to capture the hues of the sea, as she sits to take a stretch and a break from painting, upon the easel’s ledge. She opens a small wicker hamper and unpacks a silver thermos of hot coffee. Its dark and decadent liquid reanimates her senses as its pungent aroma lifts in the breeze as she takes steady sips from a bamboo travel cup, floral patterns adorning the outer surface. Her eyes remain fixed upon the shoreline activities and the hubbub of an unusually warm and pleasant April day. No showers – not yet anyway. The sky is clear, as untainted as white, untrodden snow.
As she unravels her lunch of Cornish cheddar, crackers and chilli jam, she breathes in deeply, suckling the salty sea air. Her fingers are flecked with debris of paint. Yellow ribbons streak her fingers and flecks of primary colours coat her fingernails: shadows of the rocks, cliffs, seagulls and day-trippers that she has translated from sight into coloured semblances upon the canvas face. She ignores the metallic tang of the paint that clings to her fingers as she tucks hungrily into a well-layered cheese cracker, having built a healthy appetite. Sips of her filter coffee punctuate her mouthfuls of comforting cheese, and the tangy chilli notes from the jammy relish, as she enjoys the enriching view.
Abruptly, unseen and very unexpectedly, the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worst. The aquamarine skies and the skittish yelps of children at play are snuffed out as a candle flame on a windy heathland. The change is swift, as quick and lethal as lightning bolts. Large pelts of rain dash upon her head and smear the still-drying paint. The breeze, no longer gentle, achieves a much firmer hold, displacing her water jar and held paintbrushes that have been left to soak, releasing their coloured bands as a depleted rainbow.
Without further delay, she haphazardly bundles all of her artistry belongings together, repacking them as best as she can at speed. The canvas is wet, damaged perhaps irreparably unless it it protected soon. In a flurry, she unzips her plum-coloured Peter Storm jacket and wraps it around her artwork, as a lover stood out in the cold. She pats down the rising coat, billowing in the gusts, praying that the work is not damaged beyond repair and the touch of her brushwork – she hopes to be able to rekindle its tenacity and springlike hues if needed.
Her eyes gaze down upon the quickly cleared beach, now that she has a moment to breathe, having secured her work. In the corner of her right eye, she spies a figure. The moving shadow is clad in heavy black, as ebony as night itself, with an entrapped child under their cloak. The child is forced, overwhelmed by the stranger or so it appears, allowing his small-self to be eclipsed. His white face is drained of colour, now pallid as white-washed alabaster.
Suddenly, she makes the connection between the toddling boy in the frolic of the waves at the shoreline only half an hour before, and this terrified face. It is the same child.
He must have been taken or misplaced by his parents somehow.
The artist shouts down to the ominously cloaked figure whom has disguised themselves by a raised hood, submerging their face into inky darkness. She can make out no noticeable facial features or items of clothing at all beyond the façade of the dripping black fabric that encircles the stranger, rising in turrets with the uplifts of the gale.
“Stop. Stop, I say. That is not your child. Let him go at once,” bellows her voice, more steely than she actually feels.
The hooded enigma swiftly continues in the opposite direction from the artist, hurrying a little. To her it appears as if he or she is making for the other end of the cove. The child inside the cloak moves awkwardly and clumsily having not his eyesight to guide him or the will to be guided by a stranger.
“I’m calling the police,” she proclaims as she hastily taps 999 into her iPhone 9. Wet drips paint the surface in translucent globules, obscuring the numbers as she blearily types. “Police please.”
A few moments pass.
“A child has been stolen at Clythe Cliff. A hooded figure has a male toddler hidden under their cloak and is making their way along the sandy cove. The child is calling out for its mother. Help. Help. Send someone and quickly,” she stammers.
“Of course. Stay on the line, madam, while I report this through to the police. I will keep on the line with you until a police officer arrives,” a calm female voice announces, endeavouring to reassure and soften her spiky angst.
Minutes tick by as the folds of the charcoal cloak begin to obscure and diminish from the artist’s view. Thickened, duplicitous fog has settled upon the shore, muddying further her view of the stranger and the guileless child within the smudgy depths of the stranger’s hold.
“Madam, five minutes. I’ve sent the nearest based team to you,” the operator’s voice assures. “Can you confirm if you can still see the child?”
As the artist looks up, she sees that the sea air has brewed into an even deeper and more penetrating fog – a well of moody stupor. In despair, she scans the stretch of the sands, seeing no movement or person at all. Beads of perspiration begin to drip down her back and forehead as her level of panic rises – plummeting to sky-high plains. She can feel the tormented thuds of her heart as her panicked thoughts stumble over one another, tripping in their frenzy.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
As she grabs onto the easel to steady her nerves, the beach is now just a cloudy haze. She looks to her artwork and sees that her coat has fallen from the canvas, not surprisingly in the ferocity of the building sea wind.
She eyes the canvas – the self-same one that has wholly occupied each, and every, thought for the vast majority of the day.
No longer are the etched brushstrokes, floral and spring-like, visible upon the surface. No longer do the images reflect the joyous scenes of the morning’s merriment upon the sands. No longer is the artwork her own. It has been erased, completely tampered with by some unknown, malevolent force.
For upon the canvas, her paintwork has been wholly obliterated from existence. Instead, there are two words, scoured in the deepest black as the hue of a crow’s wing at midnight: He’s mine.
Meet the Author
Emma Wells is a mother and English teacher. Her poetry has been published in: The World’s Greatest Anthology, The League of Poets, The Lake, The Beckindale Poetry Journal, Dreich Magazine, Drunken Pen Writing, Porridge Magazine, Visual Verse, Littoral Magazine, The Pangolin Review, Derailleur Press, Giving Room Magazine, Chronogram and for the Ledbury Poetry Festival. She also has published a number of short stories and her first novel, Shelley’s Sisterhood, is due to be published shortly.