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HEN THEY HAD PULLED HIM half-drowned from his foundering ketch, Avery Beal thought he was safe. Now the elm planks of the infirmary wall rattled and sang with every fresh gust and blow from the storm outside; Avery lay shivering on his bunk, under the watchful eye of the Infirmatian Prior, Brother Michael.
“I’d like to get you ashore,” Brother Michael
said. “Get that leg X-rayed. I don’t think it’s broken –
just a small fracture.”
Avery squinted at Brother Michael in the candlelight. “My boat…” he murmured. He tensed, tried to sit up, but lacked the strength in his aching, tired limbs.
Brother Michael smiled. The fishermen valued their boats above their own lives: especially this one, who had no family to care for – only his battered, aged ketch.
“We tied it up to the Pier’s landing stage,” he said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. “She’s as safe in this storm as the whole Pier is, and you know how many blows our Abbey has survived.”
Avery sank back onto the hard mattress. Brother Michael was right. The Abbey had existed on the West Pier for over a hundred years, and despite minor damage it had endured the worst of storms. It truly was a haven from the anxieties of the world.
“You’re a good seaman,” Brother Michael added. “It took rare skill to come out of those waves, to make the end of the Pier.” He turned his eyes upward, gazing beyond the wooden eaves. “I’m certain you had help. When you’re fully recovered you can offer up true thanks for your deliverance from the sea.”
But after he’d gone, Avery knew that the danger would never be over for him: not while he fished the dangerous waters of the South Coast. If there was anything to be done, it was to escape his profession before it killed him.
The next day dawned bright and blue, as if the storm had never been. Avery accepted a small loaf and cup of ale from a lay brother, then hobbled outside to inspect his boat.
The salt laden wind refreshed his lungs after the stuffy, comforting closeness of the Infirmatian’s interior. He blinked in the strong sunlight, threw a cautious glance seaward over the calm waters, then sought out his waterlogged ketch. It lay amongst the other boats tied up against the pier head dock.
As he had expected, his boat was badly damaged. The masts were missing (he’d expected that) but a large gash in the hull, running from the stern almost up to the prow, made him wonder if it truly was a miracle that had saved him. Or perhaps it was where the boat had dashed against the Pier in his final desperate attempt to reach the shore. No matter. The boat would need the attention of the Fisher Guild’s best carpenters before he could take to the sea in it again.
Not that he was in any hurry: he had a different mission that morning. He made his way, leaning on the iron deck rail, towards the Abbey’s Chapter House. The two-storey wooden building was located on the pier head, in between the east and west landing stages.
Avery hoped Abbot Harefoot would receive him, but he knew it was impertinent for an undistinguished fisherman from the community to call on the abbot of the West Pier without good reason. He’d only spoken to the abbot once before, when the abbot had said kind words to him after Avery’s wife had died, along with her baby, at childbirth.
The abbot’s study was on the first floor of the Chapter House. As Avery hesitated before the study door, he told himself he was being ridiculous: if he could survive that storm last night, the abbot could hardly do worse to him. He rapped sharply on the oak panel.
To his surprise, the abbot greeted him warmly. A small man, almost monkey-like with a pinched face that hid behind grey whiskers, Abbot Harefoot sprang up from behind his desk and grasped Avery’s hands in cool, dry palms. They were surrounded on three sides by leaded windows that afforded the abbot a panoramic view of his whole Christian enclave, from the fishing village of Brighthelm on the east side of the Pier, to the rice paddy fields of the ancient Hove Lawns to the west.
Nigel Brown is very good at writing stories for themed anthologies.
He has written several for me. The story he produced last year for my special 100 issues celebration in Interzone, “The Annuity Clinic,” was selected by David Hartwell for his 2003 year’s best anthology.
His stories accepted by me have been:
The Scriptorium Disk – Quercus 1 – The West
Pier Gazette themed issue
The Annuity Clinic – Interzone 188, my spurious anniversaries themed issue, April 2003
Rare as a Rocket – Interzone 168 (submitted for the John Christopher issue), June 2001
Under the Overlight – Interzone 165, the John Christopher tribute issue, March 2001
He has also published widely elsewhere. This is a partial list:
Subject to Contract in Substance:Science Fiction & Fantasy
No.4 Autumn 1996
Lasuta in Aboriginal Science Fiction No.53/54 Winter 1997
Sackcloth and Ashes in Enigmatic Tales No.1 June 1998
Harriet in Enigmatic Tales No.3 December 1998
The Rattle in Enigmatic Tales No.8 Spring 2000
Sing a Song of Saxon in Fabulous Brighton anthology 2000
Under the Overlight in Interzone 165 March 2001
Rare as a Rocket in Interzone 168 June 2001, Honorable Mention for 2001 in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 19th collection (Ed.Gardner Dozois)
Nelson Expects in The Mammoth Book of Hearts of Oak (Classic and New Stories from the Age of Fighting Sail) 2001
Annuity Clinic in Interzone 188 April 2003, also selected for the Year's Best SF9 (Ed.Hartwell and Cramer), Honorable Mention for 2003 in The Year's Best Science Fiction 21st collection (Ed.Gardner Dozois)
Catharsis in William Hope Hodgson's Nightlands Volume 1:Eternal Love 2003
A Myth Long Forgotten on William Hope Hodgson Nightland tribute website