It’s All Hallows’ Eve. The moon is new and the stars are bright on a cold clear night. Trick and Treaters are long asleep in bed. For a bet, Lucien, slightly drunk, is spending the night alone at the end of the pier. He’s not superstitious, but the stories of the haunted pier on this night of nights have left him on edge. He drinks from a whisky flask.
The tide is out and a vast expanse of glistening mud stretches beyond the end of the Victorian pier to the mouth of the estuary. For the first time, Lucien sees that the mud flats are not flat but full of ridges, hummocks and rills running with streaming water into gullies deep in the mud. He’s astounded that the moonlight is so bright and the mud is beautiful.
The centre of a nearby hummock shifts as the mud disgorges a naked man. Oh shit! Lucien gasps. The man’s body is as white as sun-bleached bone; his skin bears no trace of mud. He walks without sinking. Oh Christ, Lucien whispers as other figures rise up from the mud: a little girl in a floral dress with flowers in her hair, a Scotty dog, two uniformed sailors and the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.
God, she’s so beautiful. She can haunt me any day. Who is she? He wonders.
The mud man says, She’s Princess Perpetua.
Jesus, he can hear me thinking. Why are you all dressed differently, not including you, of course? he laughs, made brave by too much whisky.
The mud man replies, We are as we were when we drowned and the mud sucked us down.
How long has the princess been under the mud?
Nearly two hundred years.
Lucien realises that he’s clenched his fists so hard that the palms of his hands are bleeding. He wipes them on his trousers and takes a large swig of whisky. He sees the princess walking across the mud to the steps leading up to where he stands. Moments later, she’s beside him, as he shakes with fear and gasps for air. The sound of a harmonium playing a waltz fills the air.
Shall we dance, Perpetua asks.
Lucien can’t speak.
She takes his hand and leads him down to the edge of the mud.
I can’t go on that. I’ll sink, he stammers.
I’ll keep you safe.
They dance further and further out across the mud.
The music stops. Lucien stares at Perpetua as flesh falls from her face to reveal her skull. Help me back, he begs.
Too late, too late, you’re mine.
Lucien screams and struggles to break her embrace. As she lets him go, he sinks into the stinking mud. With his mouth and nose filling with the ooze, his final scream is nothing but a muted gurgle.
At dawn his friends arrive at the pier to see if he’s won the bet. All that remains is an empty whisky flask alongside muddy footprints.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.