The Red Tower

 
The tower stood on a cliff, white stone crumbling into the sea below and the swirl of the wind flecking the tower’s sandstone walls with salt spray. The tower had stood for centuries. Once, it was a guard tower for those keeping watch for invasion from the waves or maybe a high point from which to keep an eye on the coastal villages. Now, abandoned for decade upon decade it is a mere curiosity, unregarded if not entirely unremarkable. Few people thought of the tower, except as a part of the landscape, no different from an overlarge tree or a burial barrow. Less than both, perhaps, because it had no name.

Abi didn’t care. She called it the Red Tower or sometimes Red for short, and she went there after school most nights. She couldn’t remember why she had first gone up to it, what strange desire had possessed her. She remembered only walking under the archway where the door had once been and looking up at the solid stones and the open sky through the fallen roof. Her breath had been taken and she stayed for hours, until it got dark and she was in danger of missing her curfew. Then, a half-mesmerised, half-terrified trek back down to her car, parked at the foot of the hill. She’d driven home with a twisted ankle that had turned out to be a sprain. But that was her fault, not Red’s.

She looked down from the doorway now, brown hair blowing in the wind, at the hill she’d stumbled down that night to the same beaten up old Mini parked in the lane that led away from the road. The car had been red once too, but time had worn and faded it to a dirty pink with spots of rust. She loved the car, not only for the personality it had—the foibles that a modern car didn’t have, squeaks, groans and splutters—but also for the freedom it represented and the responsibility it meant. The world was, proverbially, her oyster. When school was done and homework completed, or left undone in minor rebellion, Abi and her faded red Mini, that she called Max, would venture as far as she liked as long as she was home by eleven pm on the dot and not a minute later, young lady. Her mother’s words, usually followed by a noise of agreement from behind a newspaper or briefing file held by her father.

They were fine, in their way. At least, they were parents and they said something approximating the right thing, embarrassed her in front of boys she liked and encouraged her to go after boys she didn’t and were oblivious to the difference. Other than that, they worked and she was cared for. She felt love and felt loved. It was neither exciting nor dramatic. She couldn’t wait to get away, knowing full well she’d miss it when she was gone.

University loomed large. Choices. Careers. Personal Statements. She turned from the Archway and clambered up the half-broken stairs to the Little Window. It looked out over the sea. The sound of waves breaking reached her ears, the soft melody of the water. There were no cares inside Red, no worries or applications or parents or boys. Just Abi and the stones and the sea.

She waited, crouched on the stairs, while the problems slipped from her mind, tumbling like grains of sand from bare feet. The sunlight reflected off the water in quick flashes. Sometimes there were seals swimming and diving, indistinct shapes to her naked eye, but not today. She was alone with Red.

The wind whispered through gaps in the tower’s walls, breathing in and out like air from a lung. Red felt different and yet the same whenever she came. Today, though, Red was more different than usual, like the breath of the wind was being held in anticipation. She looked around the square walls and the bare earth it surrounded, but nothing seemed out of place. The feeling stayed with her, making her shiver.

She climbed down from the steps, jumping the last few and went into the Small Porch that led out from the opposite side. She thought of it as a porch, but it was a room or a cell. The door that made her think of a porch was made by a gap in the stones that she had to bend to get through. Even then ivy brushed through her hair and the jagged edges scraped at her shoulders.

On the wall of the Small Porch was an Iron Cross. She thought it might truly have been a beam support or some such thing, but it was iron and cross-shaped. It was twisted on its central nail; shifted, she thought, by the wind. With a delicate touch, she spun it round, hearing the rusty nail scrape on the stone, and then with a click it stood straight again. The wind sighed and Abi felt the breath catch in her chest. White light filled her eyes, blinding her. Her skin felt hot. Thought melted away into darkness.

The tower stood on a cliff, white stone crumbling into the sea below and the swirl of the wind flecking the tower’s sandstone walls with salt spray. The tower had stood for centuries. Once, it was a guard tower for those keeping watch for invasion from the waves or maybe a high point from which to keep an eye on the coastal villages. Now, abandoned for decade upon decade it is a mere curiosity, unregarded if not entirely unremarkable. Few people thought of the tower and the battered old Mini that was parked in its lane, except as a part of the landscape, no different from an overlarge tree or a burial barrow. Less than both, perhaps, because they had no name.
 

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