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“They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters. 
These men see the works of the Lord; and his wonders in the deep...”


Cold Harbour, 1929

Far out to sea, out in the mist, something moved. Molly pressed closer to the bedroom window to make it out, her warm fingers leaving little halos on the cold glass. It looked like some great creature gliding over the water, bristling with spines, its body snapped and rippled in the wind.

It came closer to the shore and Molly realised it was not a monster, it was a ship, the largest ship she’d ever seen. 

“An arctic clipper” she whispered to herself, letting the magic of the words dance on her tongue.

The window misted with her breath. She could now see  its vast white sails and tall thin masts. The fishing boats of Cold Harbour were tiny, bit enough for only a few men. But this one dwarfed the low houses and flat land, almost touching the sky with its sails. It swept past the house, filling the window.

Molly heard the clattering of pots and pans from the kitchen. It was the only person who evername to the house, Hannah. Hannah who came every morning and filled the house with the smell of baking and cocoa, Hannah who made the house warm and clean, Hannah with the lined hands and  soft apron. Molly could not help but smile at the thought of her and took the stairs two at a time to show her the ship she’d seen.

“Has he come out of that room since yesterday?” Hannah asked before Molly had a chance to speak.

“No, but have you seen..”

But Hannah wasn’t listening. She muttered to herself as she wiped the kitchen table.

“It’s not right, he’s got a child to look after. Sleeping in that chair, not talking to anyone, hiding amongst his books and the moldy tea cups that I have to clean. Sometimes, he’s like a sulking child.”

“Hannah,” Molly said softly. Even at ten years old she knew it wasn’t like that at all. She knew that for her father sometimes the world became too much, that the place that felt safe shrunk and shrunk until there was nothing between him and the darkness but the study door. And she knew there was safety to be found in books.

“I’m sorry child, I’m being unkind. I just don’t like to see you all on your own.”

“Not now Hannah, I need to show you something.”

She tugged at Hannah’s soft hand and pulled her towards the window. The ship was further away now, just starting to turn towards the wharf.

“Oh,” Hannah said and  looked back towards the study door. Then she sighed as though she understood something. “Let’s go outside and have a closer look.”

Molly didn’t stop to answer. She pulled her leather boots over her bare feet, not bothering with the laces, and slipped out the back door. Outside the morning light was pale, the sea misty; waves rolled like ropes across the water. 

From theporch they saw the ship again for a moment, before it disappeared behind the small hill that stood between the house and the town. 
“Come on,” said Hannah and she tugged on Molly’s hand, pulling her towards the stony beach.

“I’m allowed?” Molly asked, but Hannah just nodded. Molly glanced back at the house and thought for a moment. She was not allowed down to the beach. But she was with Hannah, so maybe it was alright, and she wanted to see the ship again, so she nodded.

They followed the line of trinkets that were strung between sticks and trees all along water’s edge. Skein charms had to come from the earth; fur and feathers and anything burned red in a furnace. Even Molly knew that.  Those in town wore them around their necks and said they kept the sea at bay. Molly thought the weather-worn layers looked like an animal that had torn itself to death on barbed wire. 

Molly held Hannah’s hand tight, remembering the one time she had come down to the beach by herself. She’d heard the calls and shouts of the town’s children and, as her father had been locked in his study as always, she’d gone down to watch them. She’d found two boys and a girl running around, chasing each other, laughing. 

“Who are you? Where have you come from?” the girl had asked. Molly had simply pointed back to the house.

“Where are your Skein charms?” 

Molly had shrugged.

“They’re chasing me,” the girl had explained. “They’ve got shells. Do you know if you listen inside a shell you’ll hear The Skein trapped inside and that night it’ll come for you.”

“No,” Molly had explained. “It’s just the sound of the blood in your ear.”

The children hadn’t liked that. They’d grabbed Molly and pushed her down, turning a small rowing boat over on top of her. As she’d huddled in the dark, they’d laughed, 

“Do you think it will work? Do you think it will take her?” she’d heard one of theboys shout.

Then they’d started singing.

“Mary Coat, Mary Coat, went to sea in a rowing boat,
First came storms, then came snow. What came next no one knows.
Say it four times, say it true, or it will come after you.
The Skein, The Skein, The Skein, The Skein. You will never be seen again.”

Then everything had gone quiet. And, as Molly had peeked out from under the boat, she’d watched them walking away. That had been the worst part of all. They hadn’t even bothered to check if their magic had worked. Not one of them had looked back. She’d come home with grazed knees and her dress soaked with saltwater up to the waist, but eventhere there had been no one to notice.

But now, she could see the ship again. She was close enough to see the men standing along the beams, their legs and arms out wide, their heads held high. 

“That means they came home with a full crew, none taken by The Stealing Thunder,” Hannah explained. 

“Why do you call it that?”Molly asked.

“It has many names. I suppose that’s what I was taught as a girl. Why? What do you call it?”

Molly didn’t reply, though she had an answer, she held it tight for safe keeping.

All at once the men began to move, they ran as confidently as she would on the ground, hauling insails and singing all the time. Molly watched it all, feeling like she was there and not on the beach at all. She went to duck under the charm line to get a better view, but Hannah’s hand gripped tighter at her waist.

“No closer, your father may not allow you to wearskein charms, but that does not mean I’m going to let you wander out to sea without any on.” 

“Did she go on a ship that big?” Molly asked.

“I expect so,” said Hannah, without needing to ask who Molly meant.

Hannah let her watch for a longtime, until the mist in the air clung to Molly’s hair in small globes and she was stiff with cold.

“Time to go back I think,” Hannah said at last. Molly ran on ahead, back to the house, stones flying up behind her. She imagined she was on that ship, felt the freedom and the speed.

Her father was standing at the door looking out to sea when they returned. She thought he might be angry, but he wasn’t. He stood with slopedshoulders, like he bore the weight of the world. His thin hair was ruffled, his red beard unkempt and the circles under his eyes seemed worse than unusual. He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead as she hugged him and rubbed her cheek against his worn cardigan. 

“Did you see it?” she asked.

 “Shall we have some breakfast?” he asked.

“There’s sausage and fresh bread,” said Hannah, squeezing his elbow. “Now, you get yourself cleaned up, Molly.”

Molly turned to hang her coat, and noticed wet footprints on the wooden floor, leading to the front door. They were far too large to be her father’s. Molly knew what this meant. A stranger had been in the house.

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