Detail from 'Ships in a Storm on a Rocky Coast' by Jan Porcellis

by Matthew Richardson

It’s only when Ma and Pa wake me that I realise the cries weren’t in my dreams. I’m told to get dressed quickly. Truth be told there’s not much to put on – a shirt and the only pair of breeches that I own. I dress and sit on my bed, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and watching the cruisie lamp throwing its flickering light against the stone walls.

Ma comes for me soon enough, her face grim. We’re out of our longhouse and walking up to the cliffs before I’ve finished yawning. Pa is up ahead, his lantern swinging a pool of light ahead and behind him. Soon it joins a dozen others, all of them bobbing in the hands of grim-faced crofters. Ma, my sister and I hurry to keep up.

The screams are louder now and as we crest the cliffs we see her. The ship is exactly where I knew she’d be, at a strange angle against the rocks, a collier by the look of her. She’s heaving in the swell. I can hear the deck planks groaning, and through the rain and the sea spray I can see small figures clinging to the rigging and to the masts.

It’s cold. I try to snatch the shawl that my sister has thought to bring out with her. Ma stops me and we all turn back to watch the ship. There’s nothing we can do. That fact doesn’t stop us looking, though. The whole village comes up when there’s a ship run aground. It’s not something that we enjoy, exactly. Pa says that we’ve got a duty to go, that if our lanterns on the cliffs give those sailors some small measure of comfort we’ll have done our bit.

There’s tales from the folk up the coast. Stories that we stand by as men drown. Mutterings that sailors are thrown back into the sea after clambering onto the rocks. I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that it’ll be light in a few hours. It’s only a collier, sure, but it’s not every day a ship founders, even on this headland. There’ll be rich pickings in the shallows.

Matthew Richardson has previously been published in publications including Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter. Matthew tweets at @mjrichardso0 and blogs at

Detail from ‘Ships in a Storm on a Rocky Coast’ by Jan Porcellis via Wikimedia Commons.