“Go on.” Abigail commanded. “Read it to me. While we’ve still got daylight.”
Sophie squinted at the battered paper, as it flapped in the wind. She felt a bit dizzy as she looked down again to the surging sea.
“Can we go inside?” She asked. “It’ll be easier to read, and it won’t blow away.”
Sophie was kind of relieved to step back inside, into that strange, decaying Crystal Palace. She wasn’t going to plunge however many feet into the writhing foam from in here.
She could read that semi-cursive scrawl much more easily, too, when she wasn’t struggling to keep the trailing strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail out of her face, and the wind wasn’t stinging her eyes.
“I was born in Liverpool, in the year 1859, the son of a sea captain. At the age of 18, I travelled to Manchester, to study Mathematics. Though I do not mean to boast, I proved to be rather adept in my studies. Some said I could go on to be one of the greatest mathematicians of my generation.”
“This is so fucking Alex Jamieson.” Abigail interrupted. “He’s always fancied himself as a writer.”
For some reason, Sophie didn’t want to keep reading. She felt something in her head, telling her to put the paper down, to get straight back on the boat and leave this Godforsaken place.
She kept going, nonetheless.
“That was until I met Elizabeth.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake! Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.”
“I first saw Elizabeth through the window of a cab as I was on my way to a lecture. She was the most wonderful creature I had ever set eyes on. Her blue eyes gleamed like sapphires fixed in her pure-white face.”
“That’s fucking terrible”
“I know, right? You want me to keep going?”
Somehow, Sophie really didn’t want to keep going. The paper seemed to have grown genuinely heavy, and her arms were getting tired. Every word she read seemed to add to this. The paper grew heavier and heavier, as if the meaning of the words had their own weight.
“Of course you keep going. This is fucking great.”
“I met her as she disembarked outside her house. It turned out she was none other than the daughter of Professor William Scott, one of the university’s foremost scholars of Mathematics, and that she would be at…”
Sophie’s hands were shaking now, and she was struggling to keep her eyes on the page. It was like staring into the Sun.
She couldn’t bear it any longer, and threw it to the floor.
“What’s up?” Abigail asked. “I mean, it’s shit, but it’s not that shit.”
“I don’t know. It’s just… it’s just… I’m tired, that’s all.”
“I’ll read it then.”
Sophie bent down and picked it up. Her movements became slower. Her hands were shaking. She fumbled with the pages, finding the place where Sophie had left off. She skimmed over the rest, clearly struggling to keep her eyes there.
“He asks her out. She says yes. He gets scared and fucks off up here.”
Abigail threw it to the ground.
“I’m not reading it all out loud, it’s too shit. It’s all just Alex Jamieson’s crap, anyway. It’s his fucking handwriting.”
“Wasn’t it, like, hard to read? Like you kept wanting to look away?”
“I know. It was shit, wasn’t it?”
“It was shit, I know, but wasn’t there something else? Like there was something in there that wanted you to stop reading?”
“No, it was just shit.”
“That’s probably right.”
It was stupid, it was definitely stupid. It was just something Alex Jamieson had written. There was nothing about it to suggest it was an authentic document, and if it was, someone would have already found it.
“Come on, Soph, you’ve got a degree in Physics. You know this is silly.”
“I know it’s silly. It’s just, it’s just, it was definitely there. I’m probably just making it up, but it was definitely there.”
“You’re just making it up. This place is fucking with you, or something like that. Let’s get downstairs.”
Abigail was quick to leave the wad of teabag-stained paper behind her on the floor and scamper round and down the rough and crumbling staircase and out of sight, but grabbing five cans of lager from the crate on the way and drinking heavily from the first, with the other four cradled precariously under her left arm. Sophie was glad to follow, and to leave behind that nightmarish, distorted greenhouse.
The shafts of light from the narrow windows, punctuating the staircase were getting fainter and redder as the sun went down. Sophie was struggling to find her footing, feeling blindly for each little foothold. She made it, though, and saw Abigail, sitting, curled up, against the wall, with three empty cans next to her.
“Good evening”, Abigail said to her, loudly and assuredly, standing up, and then sitting back down again almost immediately.
“Good evening”, Sophie muttered back. She collapsed to the floor next to Abigail, propped up against her shoulder.
“Hey, get the fuck off me.”
Abigail nudged Sophie off with her shoulder, and she sat back up.
“That sure was shit, wasn’t it?” Abigail eventually said.
Sophie grabbed the one remaining beer and took a big enough gulp that she felt sick.
“It was shit alright”, she sputtered back as soon as she was able.
“I feel like heading outside”, Abigail said. “You want to join me?”
“Sure”. Sophie was, as much as she would never admit to Abigail, desperate to get out of that accursed place. They both staggered to their feet and stumbled through the doorway into the biting wind.
The deep blue-grey of the clouds faded indeterminately into the black of the roaring sea, and, from far off in the murky distance, the light at Sulaness flashed, and flashed again, and flashed again.