The first chapter of what is apparently a horror novel, set in Aberystwyth
At First Sight
You come here at sunset. Stepping off the two-car train that pulls into the single platform. Don’t bother with a coffee in the comfort shop, you’ll pass between a Wetherspoons and an Indian restaurant on the way to the street if you want anything to drink.
If you haven’t been here since the Masters interview when you stepped into a cab. This time you think you’d do better to walk. You take a straight course, crossing four streets, past chip shops, charity shops, a stationers, pubs, a mid-sized spar, noting the way the smells of sea increase as the distances close; a slurry of saltwater, fried food and rot.
There are seagulls everywhere, tainted white wings lifting in a flurry before you, screaming fallen angels tearing up the vivid scraps. They part before your feet like surprised rats, like the students that cluster everywhere lost in their own bright-colored stories of drunken youth. You don’t need to talk to them yet, you’ll have plenty of time to make friends. Or not. Hurry your step now, the light is fading.
The buildings tend towards the Victorian, the residue of resort life, still graceful for the most part, painted bright in patches, though it’s all gone a bit tatty, a bit beyond prime. You’ve rented rooms in one, by phone, already. It is waiting for you, somewhere.
You are approaching the face of this crescent shaped town. The top rim of the smile. The university makes up one corner, a few thumbed over ruins dimples the other, the centre- where the teeth are- is edged by the sea.
And now you are before it, standing on slate-paved promenade, beside a slat-sided closed ice cream shop, looking out into a vast expanse of heaving, bloodied gray.
The sun is setting, somewhere else. All you can witness here are the throes of its death. A leaking spread of stained-glass colors, broken by the wheeling bodies of birds, made to look black; drenched in the tincture of their shadows, they rise, spin, and suddenly dive.
The promenade culminates in a wall that mimics the lands own grin; difficult, subtly shifting, a lands-end that no one can ever quite depend on or trust. You are safe where you stand, at this artificial boundary of civilization, imparted by men in denial of time. This is your first real visit, almost. You are new here. Are you sure you want to risk this jump?
You land hard in sharp-edged pebbles that scrape your shoes new leather. There is little softening sand, and certainly no castles -beyond those well-toured ruins at the edge of this walk. The smell of death-in-life is rising all around you, enfolding you in invisible wings. The whispered ghosts of the drowned, the lost that you know must reside here, intimations of something deeper, hidden, waiting to rise.
Are you sure you want to stay here? Are you sure you want to see?
Maybe you should return in the daylight, when the students have their picnics and you can order up a whipped ice cream cone in Welsh, assuming you’ve been practicing pronouncing that difficult tongue.
No? Ok, Lilly. This is your home now, for now. You are a long way from Swindon. Keep your eye on the sea. The last dregs of the sun.