In the Silence, the Curlew Calls

by Catherine Cawley. Winner of the Best Short Story for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

Freya paddled across the flooded land, her little boat rocking in the water. She was escaping. Escaping from Them. The icy dusk crept across the estuary making her limbs stiff with cold. Moisture hung in the stinking air, and an acrid taste pierced Freya’s tongue.

All was water and sky. Both were one.

Dog was beside her. Freya rested the oars against the boat, and buried her nose into Dog’s soft fur, silky on her neck, breathing in his familiar smell. She adjusted the bandage wrapped about his leg. A dark red stain seeped across white linen. Dog nuzzled her with his wet nose. She stroked his ears and he fell still. Freya’s smile vanished like the fading light.

The heave of the sea bumped the boat on the water’s surface. Freya clutched the sides, steadying the old vessel with shaking hands. She hugged her ripped coat close. Torn skin laid ragged across her bare ankles. Wintry air snagged in her chest. A pale sun sank through leaden sky.

The silence. The water.

She rowed on.

Freya remembered the dry land when she was small. She would visit with Mom and Dad and explore the marshes, a mix of land and water where the willows grew. The land wasn’t flooded then. There were fields, hedgerows and woodland. Then the storms came. Persistent. Devasting. No one was worried at first. Another river bursting its banks.

There was no river now. No trees. No roads. No houses. No people. Just a vast expanse of water, a mirror reflection of the sky.

Freya recalled sailing the family boat along the estuary with Dad, silently, in peace. Dog was a puppy then, curled up beside her, tail thumping her arm.

‘Shush, Dog,’ she would say. ‘You’ll scare the birds.’