He’d seen plenty of ballan wrasses before. Every one of them had thrashed their tails to put as much distance as they could between themselves and him, which was a prudent reaction from a fish no larger than his forearm. Could he have been mistaken? He lowered his hand and the white spots were unmistakable, even if the wrasse’s true colour was reduced to a uniform grey at this depth. The wrasse rammed his mask again and knocked his head back. He felt his fins scrape something solid, which seemed to infuriate the fish. It thumped against Ian’s head again and again. It was like being swatted with a magazine, harmless in itself but he couldn’t orientate himself and fend off the wrasse at the same time.
He flicked on the flashlight clipped to his jacket. The wrasse flashed into iridescent red and green in the powerful light, then it was gone with a flick of its tail. Ian played the light on the straight edges in front of him. Flaking paint that had once been white glowed back at him. The glare blinded him to anything outside the beam, so he switched it off. The frame of a roof reached upward from the block. Ian saw the slate tiles scattered beneath him. A knot of nausea tied itself into the pit of his stomach. He finned around the house, taking in cracked window panes that still held unbroken glass and the door he ran out of eleven years ago and swore never to pass through again. The door he’d promised Jakki he would pass through if by some impossible chance it was still there.
Because it was impossible. There was no way a ramshackle cottage could fall off the top of a cliff without being ground into fragments. Yet here it was, not quite level but still standing on what looked like a layer of soil that must have come down from the cliff, right below where he’d started his dive.
Next week: The Father
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online