by Chloe Slauenwhite
“Grandmother, tell me a story.”
Delia stood beside her grandmother’s wooden rocking chair with a winsome smile on her face.
“A story?” Grandmother looked up from her knitting. “I suppose I could do that, if you use your manners.”
“Please!” Delia exclaimed.
“All right. Should I tell one about Sable Island, or would you like something different for a change?” Grandmother knew very well that Sable Island stories were Delia’s favourite kind.
“Oh, Sable Island, please!” Delia made sure to be polite this time. She looked with big, expectant brown eyes up into her grandmother’s face.
Grandmother never stopped knitting, but she lifted her eyes to stare out the window. Delia could tell that she was not in this room anymore; she was back on Sable Island, where she lived as a young girl. That was what made Grandmother’s stories so good— she told them as though she was there, describing current events as they played out.
“I was about your age, I suppose. Ten or eleven years old. . .”
~ ~ ~
Dusk had fallen over an hour ago. Everything was shrouded in mist, making the darkness nearly impenetrable. I stood on top of a sand dune, with the lights of my family’s house just visible behind me, ensuring that I would not be lost in the night.
Since my father was the lighthouse keeper, I knew Sable Island very well. I would say that I knew every dune and ripple in the sand, but that was impossible since the wind and ocean were constantly shifting things around.
I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply, every sense tingling with the mysteries of the night. The cool breeze rustled the stiff blades of marram grass; grey seals were moaning and hissing; a storm-petrel flew overhead, calling in its eerie voice. All this was music to my ears, singing along with the ever-present roar and foaming of the sea. It was times like these when I felt as though I was the island’s offspring, that the wind and the waves had shaped me, and I was their daughter.
I liked to go out after dark to be alone with myself and nature. It always calmed me and enabled me to sleep easier.
After a few minutes of contemplative quietness, I heard something to my left, and when I turned, I saw a shape through the fog. The edges were blurred but by the size and the soft whicker it made, I knew it was a horse. I held as still as possible, a little unsure of what to do. Never had a Sable Island pony come this close to me before, especially not on its own free will. During the day I always attempted to get close to the herds that roamed the dunes, and I had never succeeded, but this horse walked right up to me.
I knew it was no mistake. That horse knew where I was long before I heard it. Equine sense of smell is excellent.
I took a small, slow step closer, and the shadowy figure didn’t back away. I took another step. This close, I could see the outline of a hairy face with a shaggy forelock, and twitching ears that were rotating back and forth. Ever so slowly, I reached out, and my fingers brushed a soft nose. A thrill raced up my arm. I shivered.
I couldn’t believe it. I had just touched a Sable Island pony! As I had that thought, Shadow— for I had named him already— turned and walked away, quickly disappearing into the darkness. Without a thought of why or how I would get home, I followed.
I had to walk very quickly to keep up with the swift strides of my leader. Once, my bare feet got entangled in a wild rose bush and my ankles got scratched up, but I barely felt it at the time. All my focus was on keeping Shadow in sight.
Every few moments, he would vanish, and I would continue staggering forward, straining my eyes to see where he went. But always after a few steps, I would see him in front of me, waiting.
After we had been going for a few minutes, a petrel flew up right in front of me, calling out loudly. I gasped in surprise, my heart racing. Then as I realized what it was, I laughed. Petrels are nocturnal birds that burrow in the ground. I must have startled this one as much as it startled me.
I noticed now that there was no more grass growing in the sand under my feet. To my astonishment and pleasure, Shadow had led me right to the water’s edge. I looked around to find him, and discovered that I could actually see again. The fog had lifted, and the crescent moon shone softly between the clouds that were scudding along in the deep blue sky. I stood still for a minute, caught up in the beauty. The waves were slowly pulsing in and out, like the breathing of the ocean. Dozens of seals bobbed in the water, sleeping, their grey heads reflecting the faint light of the moon. Birds were gliding overhead, and a herd of horses were milling around a little ways down the beach. I started slowly toward them, hoping to find Shadow again.
I came within fifty feet of them before they raised their heads to scrutinize me closer. Three more steps, and they began to move away. I followed, but they didn’t go far. The lead mare took them right into the water, hoping that perhaps I wouldn’t want to get wet. Getting wet never deterred me from anything, especially horses, and so I waded right in up to my knees.
The horses splashed around, dipping their noses into the water and snorting, tossing their heads and shaking their manes. They lifted their graceful knees high, as if to step over the waves.
Then, all at once, the most beautiful thing happened. I have not yet come across anything more astonishing and lovely. There’s a fancy name for the phenomenon nowadays, but to me, it was pure magic.
The ocean began to glow with deep jewel tones of green, blue, and every shade in between. I gasped and stared down at the water flowing around my legs. I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt thrills run throughout my entire body at the sight.
Looking back up again, I watched the horses continue to wade through the glowing water. That picture has stayed with me my whole life. I’ve never forgotten it.
The sea seemed to be rejoicing. I did not know the reason, but I rejoiced with it. I began to run along the edge of the water, laughing and scooping up handfuls of bright turquoise liquid. It was not only colourful, but gave off a glow that bathed me in soft light.
I tripped in my exuberance and crashed down into the sea foam and wet sand. Scrambling up to my hands and knees, I sputtered out salty, gritty dirt. I was now fully, completely, and entirely soaked, but I didn’t care. Not on this glorious night of magical adventure.
My mouth nearly clear of sand, I began to walk, still gazing out at the ocean. I could not soak the beauty in enough. The birds whirling overhead, the seals bobbing with the waves, the horses now out of the water and shaking themselves dry; all these were illuminated by the moon and the bright sea.
For a while, all senses apart from my eyes were forgotten. I felt and heard nothing until now, when a noise at last penetrated my ears. Reluctantly, I turned to see what it might have been, and came face to face with Shadow. As I took my eyes off the sea, the thing I dreaded most occurred— the beautiful light went out, and the moon was left alone to shine on Sable Island. I cried out in dismay, but Shadow did not flinch. He stood calmly, waiting for me to overcome my sorrow and follow him again.
I continued to stare at the water for a few more moments, willing the ocean to respond to my unspoken plea, but alas, I went unheard. The water stayed its usual deep black, and finally I gave in and looked to Shadow.
He made eye contact with me and then began to walk off into the dark, but this time it was much easier to follow him since there was still no fog. He led me up to the top of a sand dune, where I could see the lantern shining its light from the front porch of my home.
I sighed. I didn’t want to go back there, not yet. I simply could not just go to bed and fall asleep now. My head was still too full of the wonders I had witnessed tonight. So instead of allowing Shadow to escort me farther, I reached my hand out to him and said, “thank you. I can take it from here.”
He sniffed my fingers, blew out his breath softly, and then slowly ground his teeth. I began to walk to my left, glancing back every few steps to see if he was following, but he remained where he was and watched me leave.
I went down the side of this sand dune and up another, stopping when I topped the rise. I sat down and pulled my knees up to my chest.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up to the sun rising over the water, painting the sky pale pink and orange.
~ ~ ~
Delia stared at her grandmother, speechless. “Wow, Grandmother. That was an amazing story! Did it really happen? Did the water actually. . . glow? I’ve never heard of anything like that before. There’s a name for it?”
“Yes,” Grandmother answered, “they’ve named it some unenchanting scientific mouthful. As for whether that truly happened to me or I dreamed it, that’s one thing that I’m not even sure about, myself. It seems so like a dream, but I believe it’s true. It’s one of those things you have to decide for yourself, whether you believe or not.”
“Oh, Grandmother, I believe! I believe!”
Chloe Slauenwhite © 2022
Age 16, homeschooled, Garland, NS
Sable In Words 2022
Youth Writing Contest, 14-17 age group
Sable Island Institute