He blew tentatively and stopped suddenly, startled and yet pleased at the note he had elicited. It had a quality of infinite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he somehow felt it must be audible for miles round. It was a sound, too, that seemed to have the power (which many scents possess) of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing, and in the midst a lonely figure, how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a seabirds wing somewhere outside the dark panes. The sound of the whistle had so fascinated him that he could not help trying it once more, this time more boldly. The note was little, if at all, louder than before, and repetition broke the illusion.
Elsewhere, listening to her favorite conch, one of a large collection of shells, which had come to overflow her china cabinets and dominate her small shack of a home, the sound of the ocean was interrupted by a long keening moan, a sound whose emotional valence she could not place. Somewhere between sorrow and satisfaction, it vibrated for a protracted moment, and then ceased, and there were only the waves once more.
The music in the shells was her only source of pain relief, but the note had done more than numb her to the shooting, spiderweb aches: it had transported her out of her body, to a chilly dark meadow on the edge of the sea, with a refreshing north wind she could feel in rehabilitated bones.
Though the dark made depth difficult to gauge, she reckoned the hole was deep enough now. She lowered the mast into it and pushed the earth back in around it to hold it vertical, pressing down around it with her boot to stable the pole. She had parked far from the spot, so as not to infer with the signal, she stepped backwards some metres, the cable trailing out between her headphones and the metal aerial that was now fixed into the ground. There was a slight breeze, an occasional crackle from her poor soldering, the field was empty, the wind was warm. She listened.
He closed his eyes and felt the presence of another, a woman. He saw her, kneeling, and then a long stretch of shore—shingle edged by sand, and intersected at short intervals with black groynes running down to the water—a scene, in fact, so like that of his afternoon’s walk that, in the absence of any landmark. The light was obscure, conveying an impression of gathering storm, late winter evening, and slight cold rain. On this bleak stage at first no actor was visible. Then, in the distance, a bobbing black object appeared; a moment more, and it was a woman running, jumping, clambering over the groynes, and every few seconds looking eagerly back. The nearer she came the more obvious it was that he was not only anxious, but even terribly frightened, though her face was not to be distinguished. She was, moreover, almost at the end of her strength. On she came; each successive obstacle seemed to cause him more difficulty than the last. “Will she get over this next one?” thought Parkins; “it seems a little higher than the others.” Yes; half climbing, half throwing herself, she did get over, and fell all in a heap on the other side (the side nearest to the image in his mind). There, as if really unable to get up again, she remained crouching under the groyne, looking up in an attitude of painful anxiety.
She clutched a pair of headphones, sitting askew around her neck, their strange flat cable sticking to her neck like dark seaweed, coiled and coiled and tangled in her black, sweat-slicked hair. She was wheezing, now, gasping for breath, and clawing at the sky, moving as though she were ripping wallpaper out of the air. Parkins was surprised to recognize the motion, from a long repressed memory, or maybe from a first aid class; it was the characteristic action of somebody drowning.
He wondered whether, in this dream-reality, he should move forward to help her. Something about the distance, or about his own flickering lucidity, made the situation seem deeply impersonal. She struggled some more, her face still blotted out, and then crumpled. Something in the sea-wind whispered.
So far no cause whatever for the fear of the woman had been shown; but now there began to be seen, far up the shore, or was it from the sea itself, a little flicker of something light-coloured moving to and fro with great swiftness and irregularity. Rapidly growing larger, it, too, declared itself as a figure in pale, weedish draperies, ill-defined. There was something about its motion which made Parkins very unwilling to see it at close quarters. It would stop, raise arms, bow itself toward the sand, then run stooping across the beach to the water-edge and back again; and then, rising upright, once more continue its course forward at a speed that was startling and terrifying. The moment came when the pursuer was hovering about from left to right only a few yards beyond the groyne where the runner lay in hiding. After two or three ineffectual castings hither and thither it came to a stop, stood upright, with arms raised high, and then darted straight forward towards the groyne.