Time and Tide
This is my take on March’s Blog Battlers writing prompt. This month’s word is “Castle”. In a first (and probably last) for me, I’ve written some fan fiction. Consider it my homage to one of the great classic sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the series, even if it did scare the hell out of me as a kid. Gary’s great take on last month’s Blog Battlers writing prompt placed the seed in the back of my mind. When I came to this month’s challenge I drafted up this time-bending tale. When I sat down to write it I was tripping over myself not to copy elements of the series. In the end, I gave up and embraced it, deciding not to reinvent the wheel.
Hopefully, I’ve captured something of the original groundbreaking writing. Unfortunately, I was clearly having too much fun and totally failed on the 1k word limit. Being a little cheeky, I’ve taken a tip from the series original format and broken it into two 1k episodes/parts 😉
If you like this or don’t like it. I can guarantee there’s lots of better takes on this month’s prompt. Be sure to check them out.
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
Part 1 – Tide
Steel surveyed the beach, a long sliver of golden sand sandwiched between the turquoise sea and cloudless blue sky. “Here?”
“Yes here,” said Sapphire, retrieving a pair of sunglasses from a non-existent pocket of her long blue silk gown.
“A beach, on a summer’s day?”
“It makes a change,” she said, removing her shoes and wading into the cool water. It seemed to Sapphire that they were only ever called on to police the dark corners of the universe.
Steel removed his heavy jacket, loosened his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. “I sense nothing. Are you sure this isn’t just your idea of a holiday?”
She smiled at him and performed a perfect pirouette. When she stopped, her silk gown had been replaced by a white lace summer dress, her long blonde hair now tucked under a wide sun hat. She paddled off down the beach. “Shall we?”
Steel never understood her interest in fashion or even the concept of fashion. They had a job to do. What did it matter what they looked like? Throwing his heavy jacket over his shoulder, he set off after her.
They’d been walking, or in Sapphire’s case paddling for half an hour, and Steel was feeling the heat. “It’s another fool’s errand.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Sapphire, peering up at the sun. “Something’s off, I just can’t put my finger on it.”
Hot and bothered, Steel was all for giving up. This would be the third false alarm in as many assignments. Frustrated, he kicked out at a nearby sandcastle.
Stop! Sapphire’s thought hit him like a mental slap and he froze, his foot hovering just above the sandy sculpture. Back away, she urged.
“What is it?”
“I think it might be why we’re here.”
“Why is it here?”
“It’s a beach!” mocked Steel.
Sapphire smiled and walked around him. “It’s a sandcastle on an empty beach.”
“Who made it?”
“Does it matter?” said Steel, threatening to trample the castle.
Sapphire knelt down and pushed his foot aside. Her eyes glinted as she waved a hand over the castle, sensing each atoms subtle decay.
“Well, how long?”
She stood beside him, pleased with herself. “102 years 145 days.”
Steel walked around the fragile fortification, keeping his distance. “The tide should have washed it away.”
“Long ago,” said Sapphire, staring off into the distance. Eyes glowing, she pushed, lightly at first, for time needed a gentle touch. They were here to fix the fabric, not tear it any further.
Steel watched as the approaching wave slowed and froze, its white peaks suspended like ice. Above, seagulls hung in the breathless sky. The only movement a blue twinkle in Sapphire’s eyes as she twisted time upon itself.
Back! she commanded, and the waves receded, lapping back from the beach one after the other. Steel watched his own footsteps recede, step-by-step back to where they’d arrived. Sapphire’s eyes glowed brighter now as she pushed into the past. Seagulls flew back towards the distant horizon. The tide rose, forcing Steel to retreat. She didn’t notice the lapping waves, her mind was elsewhere, threaded through time and space.
Watch! she hissed.
The approaching tide flowed over the sandcastle, submerging it under frothing waves. As the tide ebbed, the hairs on Steel’s neck bristled. In the waves stood the sandcastle, intact, in defiance to the demands of nature.
I can’t go… much… further!
That’ll do, thought Steel. He could see her shaking under the strain. She eased them back into the present, careful not to snag the fragile fabric. Familiar waves lapped upon the beach as ghostly footprints marched towards them and the seagulls resumed their graceful flight. As the light faded from her eyes, she staggered. Steel rushed over to steady her. “It’s just sand, Steel. It shouldn’t be here.”
Steel nodded and stared around at the halcyon scene. There had to be more to it than a child’s folly. In the distance, several colourful beach huts marked the boundary before the dunes. On the wind, a hint of a melody. “Do you hear that?”
Music! replied Sapphire. I can’t make out the tune.
They followed the haunting music. As they neared the huts, they found themselves on a well worn wooden boardwalk, the music much louder now.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
Sapphire smiled as she recognised the tune and joined in. “Oh, I do like to be beside the sea.”
Don’t! berated Steel.
Sapphire smirked. After fashion, she knew music was Steel’s other pet hate. They continued along the row of technicolour huts.
“What year is this?” asked Steel.
Sapphire looked around. “2020, August.”
“That explains why the beaches are empty. But it doesn’t explain that!” he said, nodding to a green Model Ford T parked behind the huts. Sapphire strolled over and ran a hand along its immaculate bodywork. “1920.” And sliding her fingers down the side of a bright red hut. “1915”
Oh, I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom.
Steel found the source of the music, a gramophone just inside the open door of a yellow hut. Picking up the needle, he brushed it aside. The hut was empty except for the machine. He stepped back out into the sun, shielding his eyes. From somewhere behind the hut came a child’s playful laugh. Steel nodded to Sapphire, and she hurried around back.
There’s nothing here.
Or here, added Steel, checking the locked doors of the other huts. “I don’t like games.”
“Games?” said a voice from behind him. He spun around. A woman stood holding a plate of cucumber sandwiches. In her early thirties, she was dressed in a blouse and long plaid skirt down to her ankles. The wide collar spoke of fashion from a different time, the dress of a more conservative era.
Part 2 – TIME
Sapphire stepped from behind the hut. I see her!
“Ahh, there you are. Would you like a sandwich?” asked the woman, holding out the plate to Sapphire.
She wasn’t there a second ago, thought steel. What is she? A ghost? An echo?
Sapphire took a sandwich. No, I don’t think so, she replied, taking a bite. “Thank you.”
The woman smiled and offered a sandwich to Steel. Steel stared at her sternly. The woman’s smile disappeared, and she placed the plate down beside the gramophone. “They said you would be along at some point.”
“Who?” demanded Steel. Ignoring his question, the woman retrieved a parasol from within the empty hut. “I do like to be beside the sea,” she said, opening the sunshade and walking off down the boardwalk towards the beach.
It’s toying with us, thought Steel.
Sapphire caught up with the woman. “If you don’t mind me asking. Why are you here?”
“Oh, I do like to stroll along the prom,” answered the woman.
It’s an echo, Steel insisted.
There’s something else, something human.
They reached the end of the boardwalk and the woman stopped and stared down the beach towards the sandcastle. Sapphire squinted at the mirage. In the heat haze, she could just make out ghostly forms. A boy. A man. They were playing in the waves. Turning back to the woman, Sapphire saw she was crying. When she saw Sapphire staring at her, she closed her eyes to stem the flow of tears. “Will you just let me be, beside the seaside?”
She’s crying, thought Sapphire, reaching out a hand to comfort the woman.
She? queried Steel. It’s not a she! It’s manipulating you, Sapphire. Don’t-
Before she could react, without opening her eyes, the woman seized Sapphire’s wrist. “I’ll be beside myself.”
Steel! Sapphire felt a tidal wave of time smash into her dragging her into the past.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
The words reverberated through Sapphire’s mind, pulling her further and further into the past, back to a distant doorstep. A path meandered through a lush garden to a white picket fence. She was the woman, saw what she saw, felt what she felt.
I’ll be beside myself with glee.
A soldier walked up the path. A vague ghost at first that solidified into her husband, returned from the war. She fell into his arms. Emotions overwhelmed Sapphire as she bounced from one disjointed moment to the next. All the time the unrelenting twisted tune, its brass trumpets blaring, pummelled her. Time folded again, and she was on the beach. This beach, on an idyllic summer’s day. Her husband playing with his son, throwing him high into the air as they laughed and built sandcastles. Before Sapphire could take stock, she was in a car on the long drive home. A spectacular sunset interrupted by her husband sneezing, then coughing. The car pulls over. He has a coughing fit that would not stop. Another twisting wrench of time and Sapphire looks down upon a fever soaked bed; his cold blue lips. Her world shattered.
Where the brass bands play.
She’s at his funeral. The brass band is playing. Her son’s hand slips from hers as he begins to cough, spots of blood on his hand. The music reaches a crescendo, a howling scream of anguish, its discordant beat echoes of a heart broken.
Steel! Sapphire cried. She was lost, her world replaced by a swirling ocean of memories. Trapped in a cell, in an asylum with only sorrow and regrets for company. she sat in a dark corner, rocking back and forth, singing to herself for a lifetime. The same tune intoned over and over, looping back around and around creating ripples in the fabric of time. Ripples that don’t go unnoticed. From forever it reaches out to her, offering the impossible.
Steel reached the woman as Sapphire faded into the past. Without thinking he tried to tackle the woman, wrapping his arms around her. She did not move. Instead, a titanic wave of emotion and energy tried to rip him from reality. He was not Sapphire, the emotions that had swept her away meant little to him. She’d always said he was cold and she was right. With steadfast resolve, he absorbed the anomalies channelled power. Ice flowing over his frigid body as the entity writhed, threatening to tear the fabric of reality asunder.
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.
Steel’s icy breath hung in the air, white crystals crept along the wooden planks of the boardwalk as he dug himself into the now. Sapphire flickered in and out of existence as she frantically tried to unpick herself from the woman’s splintered memories. Amongst the turbulent waves of time, Steel stood as an unmoving singularity, a lighthouse in the storm. Her way home.
Now, Sapphire, Steel urged he could feel the entity beginning to falter, its control of time waning.
“Just let me be,” screamed the woman as her spectre faded, her words carried away on the wind. Sapphire re-materialised as the rift closed and exhausted, she collapsed to the floor. Steel’s rigid frozen body fell beside her onto the scorching sands.
Steel! Are you okay?
I w.. will b.. be.
Sapphire leant over and caressed his chin, careful to avoid frostbite.
Even in the hot midday sun, it was a long while before Steel defrosted enough to talk, let alone move. “What created the rift?”
“It wasn’t an object,” said Sapphire.
“It’s always needed something. A thing out of place or time,” said Steel.
“Not this time. I think it used her.”
“It used her to trap us?”
“No, not exactly. She just wanted to hold on to that perfect day,” said Sapphire. She was struggling to comprehend the sheer force of will it took to hold a moment for a century. Her own meagre efforts had only ever stretched to minutes.
“Did she communicate with it?”
“So, it used her. Tricked her!” spat Steel, slipping on his jacket. “It’s learning, Sapphire. Adapting. It knows who we are now.”
Sapphire stared out across the sea and sighed. Steel was right. Their nemesis was studying them as they studied it, learning, plotting, probing across time for any weakness. She couldn’t help but think it might have met its match in a mother’s sorrow though. Who had used who, she wondered? Not that it mattered. Left unchecked, the result would still be chaos. Protection of the timeline came first, no matter how terrible the cost.
They sat for a while regaining their strength, wondering how they’d file this assignment. A moment later they were gone, the beach empty but for the seagulls and gently lapping waves reclaiming the memory of a sandcastle from another day.
Cover image courtesy of InspiredImages from Pixabay
20th March 2020 at 12:14 am
This genre is not normally my cup of tea but you reeled me in, you sneaky sod 😉 Well written and intriguing. Is it just me or was there an element of exorcism going on here?
20th March 2020 at 9:22 am
Hi Doug. Glad you liked it. I think what’s so unique about the original series was that it was basically ghost stories retold with a veneer of pseudo sci-fi. So yes almost every episode, including my meagre efforts was an exorcism of sort. Pushing something unwanted back behind a veil.
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20th March 2020 at 3:07 pm
So it was over the word limit … I still enjoyed it! The vivid description and the relationship between Steel and Sapphire quickly drew me in. The tension between those two was a great combination of empathy and antagonism. There were a couple of times I got lost (hey, you twist time, what do you expect?). 😉 When the father is ‘playing with a son he had never known’ I thought at first time got so twisted the son was born after the father went off to war, where he died. But it turned out he knew the son, just not for very long. Also when Steel rushed in to save Sapphire from the woman, he ‘without thinking threw his arms around her.’ At first I thought he threw his arms around Sapphire to drag her back. Certainly a compelling read that made me want to find out what happens next! And I think I went over the word limit on my comment…!
20th March 2020 at 3:26 pm
Thanks aebranson. Especially for letting me know what didn’t quite work. It’s gold to me. I have to agree it’s a little bit messy in places, especially with Sapphire’s trip into the past. The beauty of having it online is I can go and tweak it a bit. I’ll certainly go and have a look if I can fix the points you’ve identified. Thanks again.
29th March 2020 at 10:26 am
Sorry about the delay Chris, bit of WTH going on here, well…probably everywhere come to think of it. First and foremost, I hope you’re OK.
Secondly, thanks for the shout out re a prompt to a prompt…so to speak. Fan fiction it may be, but what a series to have a go at. If you can do more on these if read them for sure. Maybe there’s a prompt word we’ve never used on BB before…. “Fan Fiction.” That might be a blast.
As for this take on a truly great series (did other commenters make the link?). Really took me into the series. A seamless fit methinks. Although, I don’t recall a mention of Steels bowler hat….is not memory correct? Bowler hat and walking stick, or was it an umbrella?
Loved this too. Even the lead in quote was a memory jolt. Captured the essence of both Sapphire and Steel perfectly.
If there a series that could reawaken with modern filming this has to be it! They have a script writer here already!
29th March 2020 at 12:25 pm
Hi Gary. I’m good. In lockdown for six days now in the UK. Just settling in for the long haul. In theory it’s an opportunity to get some writing done. In practise it’s a busy time adapting to doing nothing. I hope you are and yours are keeping safe.
A fan fiction prompt might be interesting just to see what different people are fans of. You got me wondering about the bowler hat and the umbrella. I might be wrong but I think you might be thinking of John Steed from the Avengers. Patrick McNee pretty much the epitome of the British gentlemen. If you do go with a FF prompt I think I might have a crack at the Avengers 😉
I’d love to see a reboot.
Joshua G. J. Insole
7th April 2020 at 3:04 pm
Sorry for taking ages to read this (again!), things are a bit hectic, at the moment. Hope all is well with you, Chris! (And that the lockdown isn’t driving you too crazy…)
Great story! I didn’t mind the extra length at all, and quite liked the two part system. Time and tide. There’s some beautiful poetry there. I must admit, I’ve not actually seen the original show you’re referring to, so hopefully that hasn’t hampered my understanding of what’s going on here, but I reckon I grasped it!
I particularly liked when the apparition continued the song in response to the questioning, it was very creepy and chilling:
“If you don’t mind me asking. Why are you here?”
“Oh, I do like to stroll along the prom,” answered the woman.
I also very much enjoyed your use of language in describing the scattering of time and memories, it felt all very chaotic and heartbreaking — nicely done! I should probably check out Steel and Sapphire, considering how much I enjoyed this piece…
7th April 2020 at 8:35 pm
Hi Joshua, hope you are well. Glad you enjoyed it. It is odd that during an enforced lockdown I seem to have less time than ever to actually sit down and write. I’m not quite sure how that works. Certainly writing horror at such times it’s difficult to compete with the daily news. All of Sapphire and Steel episodes I believe on are on youtube, but I warn you it may not have aged well 😉 Stay safe.
Joshua G. J. Insole
11th April 2020 at 11:52 am
I know exactly what you mean, Chris. In theory I should have more time to write and read, yet I’m struggling. I think we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves, considering we’re experiencing a global pandemic. Looking after ourselves is priority number one! 🙂 I’m quite fond of old shows — recently been rewatching The Munsters. I find them quite endearing, so I think I may enoy S&S!