The Surprising Days of Isla Pembroke by Tamsin Keily


Her mother told the story like this:

Once there was a gentle spirit of the ocean. She soothed the waves when they were filled with irrational rage. She whispered soft words to calm the storms so that the sailboats could be coaxed safely into shore. And when lightning sparked across her waters, she would wrap her arms around the panicking ships to keep them safe.

The spirit of the ocean had a sister. A fierce, whirling wind of a sister who scurried through coves with gleeful delight, who whooped with laughter when the boats were sent wildly bobbing across the water.

The spirit of the ocean loved her. It was a love not quite like anything she had ever experienced. A feeling in the deep caverns of her heart that she would rip the world in two to keep her safe. That she would sink a thousand ships if they threatened her happiness. A soaring sense of love that made the water sparkle and the fish leap joyfully into the air.

But the spirit of lightning was jealous of the young breeze and the way she danced effortlessly through life. The way she could bring life to a child’s kite, the way she could lift the seeds from the air and spread them across the world. He was jealous of how she was loved by her sister whilst he remained alone, barricaded by his own sparks and heat. Nobody had ever loved him like that.

Jealousy wormed into his thoughts until one day he could hold back no more. The spirit of lightning sent his deadly sparks after the wind and struck her down.

When the spirit of the ocean saw that her beloved sister had been taken from her, she let sorrow fill her, let it send her waves into a frenzy. A storm howled across the coast with waves the size of mountains, crashing mercilessly into cliffs and harbour walls. People huddled around their fireplaces in search of warmth and light and hope, waiting for the night to pass and for the sea to calm.

And it did, eventually. A heartbroken wail can only last so long, fury eventually turns to empty grief. The waters became gentle once more.

However, her rage had carved new shapes into the coastline. On one beach, one cliff was swept away entirely, except for one mighty, towering slab of rock. The locals could not understand how it did not just topple down. But the ocean spirit knew that her grief had carved that monument, and it would not fall until her grief was gone. She knew it would stand forever.

And then, in her dreadful sorrow, she soaked the rock in her tears, filling each teardrop with a desperate yearning to see her sister once more, until time itself was forced to bend to her will. The ocean spirit found a way to the past she had been forced to leave behind.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. For the doorway to the past required power. Power that only came from the very lightning that had stolen her precious companion away. She begged and pleaded, cried until the waters rose and spilled down the coastal village streets.

But the lightning would not listen. He would not help her, so blinded by white-hot jealousy. The ocean spirit, broken and distraught, disappeared. The waves were left to rage and roar to their hearts’ content, the fish swam lost and unguided.

Time passed. Guilt grew slowly within the lightning spirit’s heart, a constant and sickening whirlpool. Desperate for some forgiveness, he tried to make the ocean spirit’s wish come true.

So lightning regularly strikes the beach where the ocean spirit’s rock monument stands, desperately trying to hit the stone and fix his dreadful mistake. But the lightning always misses, blinded by his own remorse.

That’s how her mother’s story goes anyway. Read carefully from the old pages of her own childhood fairy-tale book. A story to explain the almost crippling weight of a family love, to explain the unusual column of stone that stands on the beach and weathers the storms. And to explain why the village has its name: ‘Karrekoth’ – ‘old stone’.

A story, yes. But lightning does often come to Karrekoth. Still the stone stands, untouched, unmoved by the lightning that desperately strikes around it.

And the past remains closed.