Erosion

Genre
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Nowhere to go. Impossible to stay. The last remaining Chalet Park residents are about to lose their homes to the sea.
21-year-old Lizzie can't understand why they don't leave. But they are up to something odd. Will they have time to enact their plan before their way of life is gone forever?
First 10 Pages

Erosion

Chapter One

The sea roared, battering the land. On the cliff edge, a row of chalets trembled. In her scramble to get out of bed, Lizzie tripped over her unpacked suitcase, limped to the bedroom window and yanked back the curtain.

Rain teemed down, making it difficult to see. She rubbed away condensation with her palm. Outside, grey mist obscured the other chalets. A rumbling drummed across the ground. The floor began to shake, and she pressed her hands against the window frame. Tremors like this didn’t happen in town. She’d been mad to take up the offer of shelter in this remote chalet park even if the accommodation did come free.

The movement subsided, and she pressed her nose against the smooth, damp surface, her breath clouding the glass. She wiped it clear with her sleeve. The first signs of daylight cast a dull perspective over the surrounding buildings, but driving rain still distorted her view. Even so, she could tell something was very wrong with one of the chalets.

She wiped the glass again. With a booming crack, the distant chalet jolted backwards, roof severing, and its reverberations stampeded over the grass. Holding tightly on to the sill, Lizzie braced herself. The walls shook. As soon as the movement stopped, she hurried from the bedroom, across the living area and unlocking the front door, swung it open. A strong gust howled around her, bringing with it the cold breath of a northeast wind. Slamming the door closed, she returned to the bedroom, dodging the suitcase, and pulled on jeans, boots and a jacket over her pyjamas and sweatshirt. The curtains at the single-paned window fluttered, and she pulled up her jacket zip.

Outside, the sound of rupturing stone, rock and wood blasted across the ground and hit her full in the chest. She gasped, feeling the weight of the elements pressing her backwards. Only by bending her head against prevailing gusts and driving rain could she force her way towards the cliff edge and the precariously positioned chalet.

It was harder than she’d thought. Immediately drenched, her hair stuck to her face, and her trousers clung cold and wet against her thighs. Keeping her shoulders hunched, she fixed her eyes on the building, annoyed that she had left the comfort and warmth of her bed without thinking what she’d do to help.

A dog barked. The chalet’s front door slammed open against cracked frontage, banged closed again, then once more blasted wide as a gale ploughed through gaping fissures and broken windowpanes. Lizzie glanced to her right along the line of dark buildings then over her shoulder at the ones behind. No lights shone out. Not one door opened. No sight or sound of curious neighbours. She told herself that others were dragging on their boots and coats and at any minute would appear and rush towards the collapsing chalet.

Then she saw the couple. Several feet inside the broken doorway, an elderly man and woman clutched each other. They were dressed in outdoor clothes, though seemed in no hurry to leave.

“Hey!” The wind snatched away her voice. “Here, come on!” Frantically, she waved her arms. Water, heavy as granite, smacked white foam against the rocks before heaving to explode again. At the sound, she stepped back and glanced once more towards the other chalets. They remained silent and dark, still nobody in sight. She looked back at the couple. They’d disappeared. She edged nearer but still couldn’t make out where they had gone. The dog kept barking.

“Here, boy.” Lizzie stared deep into the gloom of the building.

Two figures knelt on the floor, heads resting on each other’s shoulders as they clung together as though praying. They seemed oblivious to the barking dog, her frantic shouts and their chalet collapsing around them.

“It’s this way.” She edged closer. “Come on, get out.”

Barking wildly, the dog ran towards her, but the couple didn’t even turn their heads. The dog ran back, looked at Lizzie, then again at the couple.

“Get up!” The force of the wind and rain fought her voice. Waves thundered against the cliff. She clenched her wet fists. “It’s going to go!”

Still they didn’t acknowledge her. She glanced around once more, wondering what to do. Hesitating for barely a second, she crept forward, carefully extending one foot through the doorway. Creaking, the chalet shifted., Lizzie screamed, jumping onto solid ground and staggering backwards. She looked again at the surrounding buildings. Still no-one appeared, and she began to sweat in spite of the cold. All doors in the outcrop of buildings remained resolutely shut, not one slither of light leaking through tightly drawn curtains. A pale grey clung to the grass, and only the sound of rain, wind and crashing surf permeated the misty air.

Lizzie trudged to the nearest chalet. Grabbing the handrail, she leapt up the steps and hammered a fist against the wooden door. It didn’t open. She wiped away the rain streaming down her face.

“Hello?” she shouted. “Is anybody in?”

No answer. She banged again, but the building remained in darkness. Grasping the door handle, she shook hard. It didn’t budge.

Sliding on the mossy timber beneath her feet, she hurried to the next building and grasped the rail as she climbed the treacherously drenched steps. She struck the door with a numbed fist, but like the other, it remained closed and locked. Tears pricked her eyes. The pressure in her chest was almost unbearable. She stumbled to the third chalet, but on seeing wide-open curtains and darkness behind, she immediately headed to the next. This time, the moment her hand hit the door, it opened.

The outline of a tall, youngish man leaned forward. “Hello?”

Lizzie pointed into the drizzle. “One of the chalets.”

He peered at her more closely. “Who are you?”

“There are people in there.” She wiped a trembling hand over her wet face. “The cliff is giving way.”

Her voice sounded weak, but that was as loud as she could make it. Stepping back, she willed him to hurry. He stared past her for a moment before flicking on a light, which illuminated his towering, wild-haired figure. Rain gusted across the veranda, and Lizzie hunched her shoulders as a squall sliced through her thin coat. She caught an unexpected whiff of the ripeness of apples. All at once, stars speckled her vision, and she reached again for the rail in an effort to stop from swaying. She focused on a pile of driftwood propped against a cheerful blue kitchen unit. And then he reappeared.

“Which one?” he asked, brushing past so close she almost fell over. “Close the door.” He didn’t even look back to check she’d heard.

She skidded on the grass trying to catch up. He had a long, sure stride. With his collar up and hat pulled low over dark hair, she couldn’t fathom what he would do. The twisted shape of the chalet loomed in front of them. Within seconds, they reached the edge.

He cupped his hands and shouted, “Shelley? Gordon?”

Hearing squelching footsteps, Lizzie turned to look behind. An older man, probably in his early seventies, hurried awkwardly towards them until, finally, he slid in the mud and only held himself up by grasping at the taller man’s arm. He squinted directly into Lizzie’s face.

“Who the hell are you?”

“I tried to help,” she stuttered. “I was telling…” She paused, but the taller man didn’t offer his name. “There’s two people trapped in there with their dog. We’ve got to get them out.”

The older, stockier man pushed her roughly aside and pulled at the other’s sleeve, turning him away. Sensing movement, Lizzie glanced at the chalet. With a whisper of crumbling soil, it shifted again. Then a huge slice of land fell away. The chalet tilted towards the sea.

“Oh my God,” Lizzie whispered.

The chalet teetered precariously on towers of turf and stone. The back and one of the side walls had broken away, and between them, the wind and gravity slid furniture across the floor. Curtains flapped, bedding tore off a bed, ornaments smashed against walls, and interior doors ripped free of their hinges.

“Where are they?” Again, the wind snatched her voice, and the others didn’t appear to hear. She saw the elderly man inside the chalet, balanced on the edge of broken floor, and instinctively reached out. Without warning, the cantankerous older man blocked her way and jabbed a finger in her face.

“Get back to your chalet.”

The wood groaned and splintered. Lizzie slipped past, but he grabbed her coat sleeve and yanked her back. They faced each other, ready to spar as the wind tugged at their coats and trousers. The ground shuddered again, and chunks of soil tumbled into thundering waves.

“Can you see him?” Lizzie called to the younger man.

“Gordon?” he shouted.

The chalet lay almost completely on its side. Several figures hurried out of the mist towards them. Another old man appeared. He shook his head and gesticulated towards the building. About twenty metres away, the woman from the sole caravan on the site desperately held a man back from approaching further.

“They’re still inside!” Lizzie cried. “We’ve got to get them out!”

The old man glanced at the half dozen people who had gathered nearby.

“Someone’s got to go in!” Lizzie pleaded.

“Anyone got some rope?” the taller man shouted.

Someone hurried forward and handed over a massive coil of hemp.

“Jez!” the old man interjected.

Lizzie grasped at the name as Jez tied the rope around his waist. The man who had handed it to him wrapped the other end around a concrete post.

Jez caught Lizzie’s gaze. “See what you started?”

“What?” Lizzie saw a gleam of amusement in his eye before he turned and inched his way to the cliff edge. “Take care!”

She grabbed his arm, holding his gaze as rain streamed down his face, dripping from his nose and lashes. Even in this terrible situation, there was warmth in Jez’s eyes. The dog yelped and leapt through the air, head-butting Lizzie’s leg and then scampering in circles, ears down, tail flailing. She looked back at Jez and saw doubt flicker across his face. Together, they turned as a steady cascade of crumbling earth grew into a thunderous rumble, and the section of cliff collapsed metres from their feet, taking the chalet crashing with it into the sea.

Chapter Two

Gradually, the sky turned a pale yellow over the quietening sea. Waves scraped back from the rocks, and gulls wheeling overhead cried for scraps. The rain petered out. The wind dropped, leaving the air damp and chilly. Along the cliff top, emergency services abandoned their vehicles and approached on foot. Figures clustered around one of the weather-beaten chalets that stood about fifty metres from the cliff edge. The foul-mouthed seventy-odd-year-old from the night before lit a cigarette.

Inside, sheltered from the grey morning, a woman in her sixties poured tea into mugs for the small crowd gathered in her chalet. She pushed one towards the police officer who was interviewing her. He nodded his thanks and glanced at the bag of sugar on the worktop.

“Mrs. Cummings? D’you think I might have a couple?”

She smiled for him to help himself and addressed a pleasant-looking man standing close by. “Trevor? Would you mind?”

He kissed her cheek and picked up two of the mugs. “John?” He handed one to a tall, emotionless man in a neat jacket before placing the other in front of a nervous-looking woman sitting on an ancient sofa. “Drink it, Joyce,” he said. “It’ll warm you up.”

Joyce Carmichael, looking pinched and pale, cradled the cup in her hands. Mavis Cummings, rounder faced, hurried from the kitchen area and sat beside her, almost spilling her drink. Their husbands stood apart, gauging the second, squat officer by his questions as Jez explained that Peter Hawksworth was visiting his family near Leeds and the other missing resident, Marilyn Hopper, always stayed in Rook Bay on Friday nights. The Bowles had remained in their caravan, as they didn’t want to leave the children. Meanwhile, a third officer talked to Lizzie Juniper in the chalet next door.

Gordon and Shelley Weston’s retirement home had stood furthest from the track that led to the main road. It had also been nearest the cliff edge. Adjacent, but further inland, stood the Carmichaels’ chalet, then the Cummings’, then a brightly painted celebration of a wooden house that had remained unoccupied the previous night. Beside that stood Jez Maiden’s and finally Peter Hawksworth’s neat building next to the rough track leading steeply up the hill and onto the coast road.

Those who owned chalets nearest the sea were immediately forbidden from returning until representatives from both the Environment Agency and council had ascertained that the land and buildings were safe—and only then to organise evacuation. The chief officer recommended they be out by the end of the week at the latest, preferably in the next day or two. Luckily, there were no more storms forecast and bright, warm weather was predicted. Even so, they would need to move out as quickly as possible because the land remained unpredictable. The council official wanted them to leave that morning, but backed by the Environment Agency’s assessment and carefully judged agreement, everyone promised to be out by the coming Friday—the 5th of November.

The old man threw down his cigarette and glanced at the neighbouring chalet then down the line to the Bowles’ rusting caravan. He didn’t once turn his head to look at the deep gash breaking into the field where the Westons’ chalet had stood.

***

Lizzie struggled to keep her eyes open as she stared at the mug of sweet, milky tea in her hands. She felt sick. It must have been obvious because Police Officer Greg Taylor glanced up and said, “This won’t take long—unless you want to get out of those wet things first? I can wait. Or do you want me to fetch one of the medics?”

Lizzie shook her bedraggled head. She couldn’t summon the energy to strip off her dirty wet clothes or even rise from the chair where she slumped. She didn’t know how to begin. Already it felt like a nightmare that she struggled to remember. Only the terrified look on the old man’s face, the sound of the dog barking, the thunder of crashing waves and the cold of Jez’s oilskin against her cheek remained in her head.

They sat in silence, ignoring distant shouts and throbbing engines. In the unbearable stillness of the room, she began to tremble. The liquid in the mug she held rippled, and she stared at the widening circles as if it were the most important movement she had ever seen.

“I’ll come back,” Greg said gently, rising from his chair. Lizzie looked up at him and frowned. “You’re going to catch your death—get changed. There are others I can see. I’ll go talk to some of them and come back to you.”

She let out a long breath. The police weren’t usually thoughtful. If her eyes hadn’t felt so dry and painful, she would have cried.

“No,” she said. “Ask what you want. Get it over with.”

Greg looked unsure but cleared his throat and read out her name, address and phone number, much to Lizzie’s confusion.

“When did I tell you those?” she asked.

“Just now. Do you want me to put that down for you?” Before she could answer, he took the mug out of her hands and placed it on the table. “Those details are correct, aren’t they?”

Lizzie pressed her lips together. Tears began to rise at being shown unaccustomed kindness. “I only moved in yesterday.”

“Oh. Right.” Greg frowned. “I don’t think you’ll be allowed to stop here if that’s—”

“I’ll be out by tonight,” she interrupted.

“Good.” He relaxed slightly. “Glad to hear it.”

“I’ve got friends. They wouldn’t let me stay here even if I wanted to.”

“Right,” he repeated. “I’ll, er…” He waved his pen. “Can you tell me what you saw?”

“I saw it fall.”

“Do you know what time it was?”

She shook her head.

“Can you tell me the order it went?”

She stared at her hands, trying to remember, and glanced up at the officer. He was slightly flushed and inappropriately neat and clean in contrast to her dirty fingers and cropped nails. Briefly, she wondered if her mascara had run. What had woken her? She couldn’t recall. The driving rain and gusting wind had practically dropped now and the quiet made her uneasy.

“I don’t know,” she admitted and covered her mouth to stop her jaw shaking, but her hand trembled unhelpfully. Tears brimmed in her eyes, blurring the officer’s features. His face seemed too close. Tears trickled under the curve of her chin, and she wiped them quickly away.

“I heard a noise,” she said, breathing deeply. “I looked out of the window. There was something odd about the chalet over there, and then the floor started shaking. I got dressed and went outside, but it was cold, really cold and windy, and the rain was horrible.” Her voice cracked, and she stopped.

“D’you want a tissue?”

“There’s some toilet paper,” She pointed towards a door at the far side of the room.

He stood and moved away. The fluorescent light came on, and Lizzie flinched and averted her eyes. Almost immediately, he came back, holding the roll out to her. She unravelled several sheets, then balled them up in her fists.

“What did you do?” he asked.

“I couldn’t see anyone, and…I think I heard the dog barking, so I ran to the chalet, but I was scared. I tried.”

Comments

Jennifer Rarden Thu, 23/05/2024 - 08:27

Great start. Really makes me want to keep reading to learn more about what is happening and the different reactions to it.