Past midnight a storm hammered and rocked the walls of Jack Brad’s’s hovel on West Bay. Then a sudden noise brought him awake. The sound of a fist on the door. There it was again. No cry or shout, just the pounding again and again. He’d lived alone since Jane left him.
“What’s your business?”
He ran to the kitchen for the twelve bore and quickly thumbed in two cartridges.
“Mind, I got me gun and stand back from the door!” The shadow moved.
Easing the bolt back, he jarred open the door pushing against the wind. In the whirlwind outside stood a tall figure wrapped in oilskin with a hat jammed down on his forehead.
“Let me in Jack, I’ve got summat for you and I need a place to hide it.”
The man was Crask, a scavenger, who lived under the high cliffs which hunched around the Bay. He cradled a parcel in his arms and laid it down on the work table and turned up the wick in the lamp.
“Put down the gun, Jack and I’ll let you into a bargain.”
Crask leant forward, put the object on the table and twisted his lips into a half smile.
“Just you and me, mind, and down the middle!”
Jack breached the gun and stood it in the corner.
“Show us what you found an’ I’ll think on it.”
The scavenger bent over and began to untie the cloth which wrapped the prize. It was a fine cotton material, with some dark stains. Crask had some difficulty in untying it and ripped at the bundle.
At last, the object rolled onto the table. It was a woman’s hand torn off at the wrist, the fingers curled as if in a spasm of agony.
“Jesu! What have you done?” Jack shrank back, eyes wide and stood against the wall.
“Calm yerself,” Crask held up his hands, “I found her on the strand. In the dark, no one saw her jump.”
West Bay folk knew how the great cliffs drew unhappy souls to the brink and certain death.
“But the hand!” Jack stared at the blanched fingers and the delicate wrist.
“She fell on the rocks, it was natural. But see,”
He pointed to the fingers; two rings glittered, even in the lamplight they glowed brightly. “Must be worth a good amount.”
Jack stood back as Crask pulled at the rings. He held the palm with one hand and twisted the finger. The grey skin swelled up as he tugged; a little circle of resistant flesh formed around the finger as he twisted and pulled. Eventually, he freed them and put them on the table.
The hand curled again and lay palm up with one finger outstretched. Jack covered it with the bloodstained sleeve.
“Look at that!” Crask hugged himself, looking down at the treasure with a fixed gaze.
“Get it out of here!” Jack looked him in the face and pointed to the hand, “Just take it, in the name of Christ! It belongs to the poor creature on the shore.”
Crask stirred from his reverie and nodded. He took his hat and without a further glance, pushed the grey bundle into his coat pocket.
“What about the rings?”
“Hold ’em till the morning and I’ll collect them when it’s safe.”
He swept out into the wind before Jack had time to speak, leaving the door wide open and the wind swirled in like a witch, howling and tumbling the furniture about the room.
He struggled to the door, put his back to it and bolted quickly. The silence seemed strange after the tumult. In that quiet moment, he looked for the rings. The table was empty. The chairs were tumbled over and he scrabbled on the floor where they had been. The rings had gone. The floorboards beneath the table were bare. He pushed aside the table and chairs to scour the floor.No sign of them. His eyes darted into every dark corner of the room.
He covered his eyes with one hand and sat hunched against the wall. In his mind’s eye, the hand with its curled fingers was still there, beckoning to him with one outstretched finger. He cursed Crask and his greed. Then, with a moment of clarity, he saw the truth. Crask had pocketed the rings after he stuffed the hand into his coat.
He clenched his fists and scrambled to the door, pulling his greatcoat from its peg. Outside the darkness covered him instantly. As he ran he shouted but the wind whipped his voice away from his lips. Above him, the faint outline of the cliffs hung over him; he stumbled along the shingle making for the steepest bank of the Bay where he expected to find Crask. A dim shape was moving among the stones below the crest. As he ran, thunder rolled around the sky and a flash of lightning, gave an instant of clarity to the scene ahead. The figure of a man stooped over a bundle on the ground. Another roar of thunder filled the sky and he sprang at the man gathering him in an embrace to choke him. They struggled shifting from side to side as they fought, tripping on the lifeless corpse that lay under their feet.
Again, a crack of thunder burst out of the heavens and without a sound, the cliff began to move. Silently, swiftly the face of red clay dropped to the beach and covered the struggling men. It spread out into the shingle in a rolling carpet of stones and earth covering everything in its path.
The next morning, curious folk came out to see the damage. Jack Brad’s hovel stood open. Inside, in a crevice by the door, they found the two rings.
“Them’s mine,” said Jane Brad, “I lost ’em years ago.”