Sable Magic

By Margaret

The night was velvety and humid. You could feel the coming storm in your bones.

Jem Legacy had always wanted to sail but he was too young to apply for a place on a ship, or so his uncle said, and he was the ruling authority. Jem was determined to sail to Canada. So, one day when his uncle had been going to town, Jem had climbed aboard and hid in a coil of ropes. When the Rockrose set sail, it took Jem to see the unknown.

He climbed out from the immense pile of rope he had been hiding in all day, stretched out his cramped limbs and peeked around the corner of the cabin. No one was on deck except the watchman, sitting in the bow looking out at the water and occasionally taking drinks from a mug.

Jem sprinted to the mainmast and scaled the rigging. When he stopped, he was high above the deck and his arms were shaking and sweat was dripping down his forehead into his eyes. He stepped onto the yard tip and looked around. The sight was amazing! The moon was just rising, painting a silver path along the water’s surface so that Jem couldn’t tell where the moon left off and the water started. The stars shone brightly until they faded into the moon’s brighter light. They were faintly mirrored on the choppy waves. The Rockrose sailed on along the path of silver, the high wind moaning around the mast and bringing on the clouds that broiled in the east.

Jem scanned the deck, wondering why the watchman hadn’t passed in a while. He was sitting in the bow still, but he was slumped weirdly. Then an enormous snore broke the night’s silence. He was asleep! Jem grinned. Some watchman. Good thing there are no rocks in the middle of the ocean! he thought.

He began to climb down the rigging. By now the night was getting darker and Jem was having a hard time seeing where he was stepping. He was only halfway down when a cracking boom split the air and a shudder ran through the whole ship. Jem was shaken from his perch on the rigging and thrown into midair. Shock was all he felt until he landed on the roof of the cabin. The wind was knocked out of him as his body hit and then bounced. Everything blurred as he fought the panic welling up in him. Men’s voices cursed and swore as the crew came above deck. “We’ve hit a reef! All hands for’ard!” the captain yelled. His voice was calm and sure. Running came from all sides, more shouting, and one voice rose above the rest: “Someone send out a distress signal! And someone else find out where we are!”

Jem slid down the roof and jumped lightly to the deck. He crept to the nearest window in the cabin and peeked in. A man was bending over maps and muttering to himself, his brows drawn together with worry and concentration. Suddenly he threw down the map and ran from the cabin calling, “Captain! Captain! We are off an island approximately 43.15 kilometers long! Sable Island, I think. 156 kilometers away from Nova Scotia!” There was a short silence. “Well then! Get to work and let’s see if we can get out o’ this alive!” the captain answered. His voice showed the nervousness everyone was feeling. A tense ten minutes went by before a shaky voice called out, “We’ll all die! They won’t see our signals! We’re all dead!”

Jem ran to a pile of boxes, ducking behind them to get out of the wind and rain. He looked around, wondering if he should call out to let them know he was there. It was either that or drown. Jem sprinted to the bow, pushed his way through the men, and looked over the side. The ship was stove in, and water was rushing through the hole. He threw up into the heaving water and then the deck collapsed, tipping Jem over the side into the icy-cold waves below.

~ ~ ~ ~

Gennie hadn’t been able to sleep. So here she was, walking the shore in the moonlight, the wind tearing at her face, forcing tears out of her grey eyes. Its cold fingers were worming their way through every bit of clothing she had on. Gennie lowered her head and wrapped her arms around herself. She scuffed the pebbles with her bare foot, uncovering a large shell. It was a spiral shell, gray, and green with black streaks. The pink middle glistened. Gennie reached down and dug it out of the sand, and as she rubbed it off on her blouse, she looked closer. The outside was just like the tower on a castle she had read about: rugged and spiraled. She sniffed it, catching the elusive scent of salt and seaweed. Then she gasped and looked closer. An image was appearing on the side of the shell like someone was painting it on.

She saw, as if from far away, a ship in full sail with the moon glinting off the wet wood. It plowed through the waves, proudly lifting its bow and then slamming it back on the water. Suddenly it swerved sideways; it had hit a sandbar! Then a bell started to sound in Gennie’s head. It sounded far off, as if through mists of time. The stars started whirling so fast they were white streaks in the black of everything else, and then the wind lifted and everything was smoke.  A pounding sensation filled her head.  Darkness swirled around her, completely erasing her sense of direction. In her mind’s eye a vision came to life: a small island, a mere sandbar, with a large lake in the center. She saw sand dunes and wild ponies, and that was when she realized where she was.

The first thing Gennie noticed was that a storm was coming on and the seals were quietly slipping into the water. These looked like grey seals, and others were harbour seals, she was sure. She walked on a little way, the long grass swishing around her legs. The sun-baked scent rose up and she inhaled deeply. The grass, she knew, was marram grass, and she wondered if she would see the Scots pine.

Gennie walked on, enjoying the tempestuous wind whipping her hair behind her, watching the grass bend and in graceful sweeps. She noticed the clouds coming ever closer and then the wind picked up and brought with it rain. She rounded a bend, intending to see if there was a small cove but all thoughts about shelter left her at the sight she saw.

A ship, a good way off the shore, was sinking! On the left side, a huge hole gaped in the side of the ship. Men were rushing around the deck and a rowing boat was riding the waves towards it. Yelling and even screaming came across the water to Gennie. Suddenly she saw part of the deck fall and a figure fall over the side of the ship. The rescue boat was on the wrong side; they wouldn’t get to the man in time, he would drown! Without a second thought Gennie ran to the water and waded waist deep before diving. The water was freezing! Gennie struck out as fast as she could in the ship’s direction. She was a good swimmer but the distance was farther than she had first thought it was. A huge wave lifted her up and dumped her back ten feet, the force of the wave’s fall pushing her under and buzzing filled her head. She opened her mouth desperately for air and swallowed salty water. In a blind panic she thrashed her way to the surface and gulped in fresh air.

Gennie struck out again for the ship. Her arms felt like lead and her legs screamed at her that they were done with moving but her strong will forced them to move, and within five minutes she had reached the side of the ship. She swam in a circle, feeling around for the human she had seen fall. She closed her circle a bit, starting to panic; she needed to find the person before they drowned! Finally, her leg hit something. She dove, feeling with her arms, she felt and caught hold of a body; still alive, she hoped. She started toward the shore, dragging her burden with her.

This time Gennie let the waves carry her in. Carefully she held the body so it could breathe. Once her arms let go for a moment but quickly she grabbed on again — she wasn’t going to give up now!

After what seemed like forever, Gennie felt sandy beach beneath her feet. She stumbled up and dropped her burden carefully on the sand, looking to see who it was she had just saved. It was a boy about fifteen years old with dark hair. She wondered what he was doing on a ship: maybe he was the cabin boy. Whoever it was, Gennie needed to get him higher up on the shore.

~ ~ ~ ~

The sand kept tripping Gennie up, and her wet skirt was coated with sand, bits of grass and flowers. Carefully she set the boy down and wiped her face with the back of her hand. She looked around for some place to leave him, but the moon was setting and she was so tired she could hardly see. She left the boy and walked down a little way before sitting down. She fell asleep without knowing it.

Gennie woke up with a start. She sat dazed before jumping up and looking around. Her face felt tight and hot, so she ran down to the water’s edge, seeking something cool to dip her face in. She knelt by the surf and dipped her hands in. The water glimmered and she looked up, wondering if the ship was burning, but it was still sinking slowly to the watery depths. The glimmer was coming from the swiftly rising sun, and the sky was red, bloodred. Gennie sat soaking up the beauty. The birds were waking up, singing to the dawn, and an Ipswich sparrow hopped down from a flower stem and hopped along the sand, coming ever closer. Its bright eyes twinkled curiously at Gennie. She leaned back on her hand and smiled, twirling a piece of grass in the other, but then the hand she was leaning on felt a sharp object digging onto its palm. She turned, curious, and dug with both hands, quickly uncovering a large spiral shell, perfect in all its imperfections. She turned it over, wondering; it seemed to be the same one she had seen on the Nova Scotia beach where she had started.

This time when she looked into the shell she saw a shoreline with waves flowing in, the wet rocks glowing rosy in the sunrise, and on the cliff, her uncle’s house sat, quiet before the rush of day.

She looked once more at Sable Island, taking it all in: the sun, peeking over the watery horizon, the birds flying out of the long grass, the old buildings that were slowly being eaten by the relentless sand. And above all, the lonely haunting wildness of a small Island made of sand that had the courage to stand up to the never-ceasing gnawing of the sea.

Then she felt the swirling pounding sensation that had introduced her to Sable Island.

~ ~ ~ ~

Gennie landed sitting on a rock, looking out to where she knew Sable Island was. Now it hit her what an amazing thing had just happened to her; she had actually flown over part of the Atlantic Ocean and landed just in time to save a boy. She grinned. Wait till I tell Uncle! she thought.

A crunching caused her to turn around. Her uncle was walking down the shoreline toward her. She waited until he sat down beside her and then asked, “You couldn’t sleep, either?”

He laughed mirthlessly, “I never sleep on mornings like these. Too many memories.” She looked at him, one eyebrow raised, and he laughed again, real laughter this time. “I might tell you sometime, Gennie, my little sunflower, but not now.” He turned quickly and pointed out where Gennie had just been looking and said quietly, “Sable Island is out there. I was there once. A beautiful bit of sand… the wild horses captured my heart, and never returned it.” He had a faraway look in his eyes.

“I know,” she said. This time it was his turn to look skeptical. “What do you mean?” He sounded confused.

“I know because I was there, too.”

By Margaret © 2023
14 years, Home schooled, Aylesford

Sable in Words 2023
Youth Writing Contest, 14-17 age group
Sable Island Institute