Seaside Gothic

Fiction | Poetry | Nonfiction

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Shadowfolk by Luke Edley

Heading out to sea, the RNLI coxswain Gareth Irwin steered the Tamar class lifeboat into the evening’s choppy waters, its blue bow cutting through the frothing waves. He caught sight of the rubber dinghy immediately, half-expecting to see the frightened faces of refugees fleeing far-flung lands.

His heart sank when he saw it was empty.

At first glance, that’s how it seemed. But when Gareth shone a torch and saw shadowy figures moving on the dinghy, he knew something was amiss.

‘Is anyone there?’ he shouted, receiving no response.

Peering through the darkness, Gareth could see shadows waving at him—translucent, human-like shapes in the dinghy, but not a person in sight.

‘What’s going on here?’ his crewmate asked.

‘There’s no-one there,’ Gareth replied, ‘except—’

Dozens of shadowy figures continued to move like smoky apparitions on the dinghy—some standing, some seated—the fuzzy shapes of arms raised aloft, heads tilted upward at him. A dark mass of shadows.

‘It’s nothing,’ the crewmate said.

‘But there’s people, look.’

‘There’s no-one there. Call it in.’

Gareth alerted HQ and the lifeboat turned back to shore.

The following day, word got out that the dinghy had washed up on a nearby beach, so Gareth took a morning stroll to dispose of it. Walking across the sand, he saw the figures again, gathering on the coast like ghostly silhouettes.

The shadows had made a home for themselves on the sandy dunes. Some sat cross-legged on the floor. Others walked around as if searching for supplies, their mysterious reflections cast upon the beach.

Within days, more dinghies had washed up ashore, bringing with them even more shadowy spirits.

Before long, a shadow-strewn settlement was established. A caliginous village now home to the murky incomers.

Gareth was so astonished by what he was seeing he couldn’t resist coming back to the site. The tawny-coloured sand had now taken on a darkened hue, with the ever-shifting movements of a tribe of transparent bodies casting shade on the foreshore.

That same week, local journalists were clamouring to report on this strange coastal phenomenon. Newspaper mastheads christened them ‘shadowfolk’ and members of the public gathered noisily on the beach, trying to take pictures of these near-invisible beings.

Barging his way past the crowd, local councillor Jeffrey Hull was enraged.

‘This is a disgrace,’ the councillor cried, his face coiling up with incandescence. ‘Look at this, they’re bespoiling our beaches—’

‘They?’ Gareth interjected. ‘It’s just shadows.’

‘They’re a blight, I tell you,’ Jeffrey spat. ‘A blight on our beaches, covering our beautiful golden sand in darkness…’ Fuming with self-righteousness, the Councillor turned to address the crowd. ‘This is just the beginning. Soon there will be more shadowfolk coming, and what will you do then? Stand idly by while our coastline forever goes dark? Something must be done.’

Gareth raised his eyebrows, but that did little to discourage the Councillor’s rallying call.

‘Unless we do something, summer will become a distant memory. Our beaches will be off-limits, totally devoid of sunlight. We must rid ourselves of the shadowfolk. They are not welcome here.’

The tide quickly turned against the shadowy settlers. Councillor Jeffrey Hull became the face of a media campaign to do anything they could to evict them, despite having no idea how to do so.

Eventually, a committee of local businessmen proposed a solution.

Pulling up one day in a fleet of vans, they parked their vehicles in rows along the beachhead, mounting them with large panels of floodlights.

Gareth noticed the throng of shadowfolk apparently take to their feet, watching in curiosity.

With a flick of a switch, the beach was suddenly lit up with halogen lights, instantly illuminating the sandy surface. In an instant, there wasn’t a single shadow in sight. The shadowfolk had disappeared, vanishing under the glow of artificial rays. They had been rendered completely inert by the floodlights’ beams.

Gareth stood on the beachfront and watched the anti-shadowfolk campaigners celebrate their victory with quiet disdain.

The evening drew on, and the weather took a turn for the worse. A low rumble of thunder could be heard as dark rainclouds started to amass in the sky. Yet still, the campaigners partied long into the evening, seemingly oblivious to the thunderstorm billowing around them. They toasted their apparent success with champagne flutes, posing for photographs.

With a crack, the sky split with a flash of light and every single one of the floodlights’ bulbs blew out.

There was a gasp. Someone dropped a champagne flute and the glass smashed on the concrete walkway.

The heavens opened and the rain started to fall.

Now cloaked in the evening mist, Gareth reached for his smartphone. Turning his attention back to the beach, he shone his phone torch and could see the shadowfolk moving once again. This time, something was different. As the rain poured down on these tenebrous shapes, they grew more animated.

Gareth tentatively moved towards them, rainfall cascading around him. He peered at the shadowfolk, awestruck. The water was dripping down their dimly-lit bodies and their features had begun to take form. For the first time, Gareth could see their faces. The shadowfolk had become human. Noticing how their expressions looked lost and doe-eyed, Gareth tried to reassure them.

‘It’s okay,’ he shouted. ‘Let me help you.’

Gareth stepped away from them and turned back towards the protestors.

‘You’ll never believe this,’ he shouted at them, ‘they—’

He stopped abruptly. He noticed the shattered glass from the champagne flutes on the floor. Looking up, he saw shadowy figures looming above. The protesters had become the very shadowfolk they once feared.

As he stood in shock, he felt a cold hand on his shoulder. With a start, he turned around and found himself face-to-face with one of the shadowfolk.

The figure’s eyes were haunted by a murky past he was no longer running from.

‘The shadows,’ he whispered, ‘we cast.’