A brief introduction to life in Splinterton - this chapter sets up the next scene, which gives a clue to a forgotten secret of the town that will play a major role in the troubles to come.
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The Processional Tide has the air of a Carnival. Excited children crowd down wet slippery seaweed covered stairways under the shade of the Town, their teachers and some of their parents following more slowly, holding on to fresh rope handrails installed earlier that day. Sixty feet above them is the dark underside of the town, with arches, buttresses, and cantilevering resembling an ancient wooden cathedral ceiling. Around them are perspectives of rows of mighty columns of petrified wood disappearing into the distance as they hold the whole town above the slick brown-gold bedrock. A smell of salt and pungent rotting weed fills the air. Out in the sunlight a column of people can be seen making their way to the outer wall, but the children and the accompanying adults are moving deeper into the shade, holding nets, buckets and fishing lines, whooping and hollering, revelling in the unearthly echoes.
“Wait wait wait everyone!” calls a boy on top of a rock. The group around him stop and look up. He takes a breath, and loudly says “HELLO!”. A flat voice seems to quietly speak directly into the ear of every person standing at the base ofthe rock - “hello”. It is the boy’s voice echoed back, and yet it isn’t. It is like hearing him as an old man, tired and disillusioned. They have heard the bitter echo of this particular place many times before, but as ever a chill runs down the spine of each and every one of them. “Get down from there you fasswit!” A few nervous laughs, and the spell is broken – they go on to the prime fishing area underneath the town.
Clambering over a rocky outcrop, they come to an extensive collection of rockpools, dark and deep. A swish of shiny fat scaled flesh skims the surface of a pool before vanishing into the black water. Professor Hawkins and her assistants raise bright lanterns on long wooden poles and insert them into holes bored into the stone long ages ago. One of the assistants squeals as the pole bursts some marine creature living in the hole, and slick red liquid stains his britches from knee to belt. The children laugh and after a while the young man joins in, though his face is radiant red with embarrassment.
“Quiet now, everyone” said the Professor. “The light will attract the curious creatures – be ready!”
Small groups of children surround each pool, squatting with nets at the ready. An adult stands by each group with a long poled gaffing hook. Soon there are small excited cries as the children start catching fish, crabs and the giant alien-looking isopods peculiar to the Splinterton caldera. For every cry of success there are a dozen hushed calls of“shhh!”, it is a scene of near silent excitement.
The young assistant with stained britches is distracted, wrestling a particularly feisty eel into a sack from the end of his gaffing hook. Hearing a cry he looked up in time to see a child’s feet disappear below the surface of the pool. Quickly jamming a cork onto the tip of his sharp gaffing hook, he used it to reach down into the water. The hook hit the bottom of the pool, it was barely seven feet deep by his reckoning, but he can’t find the child. He threw the hook to a stocky boy to hold, and plunged into the cold dark pool.
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