The sound tower is silent, abandoned in the dunes, windswept and dated. Conditions are calm, nullifying its function. On still days like these, the tower finds itself a relic.
We find a spot in its shadow, down by the shoreline, surrounded by remnants of the ocean. Starfish cover the beach in dead constellations. The carcass of a rabbit, washed up and barren, bobs its head in the tide.
With the beach to ourselves, we waste no time in preparing our picnic. Far down the coast, crowds gather on a cliff top, the sky clear and perfect for the occasion. We eat salad and cold meats as we wait, our skin shrivelling in the presence of the sea. At midday it begins, muffled cheers in the distance, as red and blue trails paint shapes above the ocean.
An air display team, flying in unison, pixels on the horizon.
The sound of their engines reaches us, indicating it is time to begin. We fetch a tarpaulin and our shovels from the car. Our task is discreet, hidden by the distraction of the air show, the whole town focused on the planes. We work under the watch of the tower, now a silhouette against a smudge of colour, rainbows of smoke in the sky.
As we half-watch, one of the planes falls away from the others, a speck that disappears into the ocean. From our distance the scene is abstract, belonging to another world.
A breeze rearranges the sand. Slight but noticeable, enough to pause our efforts. Spots of rain follow as the sky darkens. All signs of the storm that has come out of nowhere, to the surprise of the pilots. More spots of rain, or possible drops of ocean from the impact, carried to us in the breeze.
The wind grows cold round our legs, salty and unforgiving. It flips the rabbit carcass over, blowing it into the shallows before breaking it in half.
This change in weather reaches the tower. Air flows through its apertures, its design now apparent. A familiar hum returns to the beach, a background noise. Sounds from down the coast feed into its song – crowd noise, an impact on water, the voice of the pilots. Indistinguishable, hidden within the tone, reaching us on delay
The storm escalates as our belongings shift and scatter, bouncing across the sand. The tarpaulin flaps open, fluttering like a ghost of the ocean. Starfish roll by, taken by the gale that is now reaching a peak. We make snap decisions between us, grabbing what we can before the wind decides for us.
The tower groans, the weather teasing new sounds from its vocabulary. An oily scent fills the air, a reminder of the pilots. We head back to our car, accompanied by their echoes, amplified by the sound tower that churns on the horizon.
PAUL THOMPSON lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed. Find out more at @hombre_hompson
Image via Pixabay