It is well-known in the village of Hest Bank that the Methodist preacher John Wesley attempted a crossing of Morecambe Bay late on a May evening in 1759. The locals cautioned him to delay his crossing but the preacher did not heed their warnings and set out across the sands as the tide swept into the bay...
Seven Mile Sands
by Mags Diep
John’s open pocket-watch is ticking. Before him stretches an empty sea-bed, with cuneiform prints of wader birds, and scuffings of the mixed multitude that crossed earlier with the guide. He looks at these seeping way-markers, and hears the distant troubling of the tide. Drowned souls, opaque as muslin, flit in the day’s shimmer. It is late, they say, he won’t make it. All those shining sand-scales. It’s only seven miles. John slips away his watch, and places one scuffed shoe in the closest footfall, trying it on. The sand is wobbly as calves-foot-jelly. Should he go in the morning? He closes his eyes and waits for the milk-film of blindness to mist away with prayer. When he opens his eyes, a gull rests on a thermal above him with wide-winged trust. A laurel branch sways in the sea’s breath, hooked like a shepherds crook.
Another step. This time drier, firmer. Sand-ripples dimple. Shadows grow leggy. A sound, like the warm drone of insects over blossom, begins to grow.
‘Here is a thing, John, listen. The voice of the sea murmuring in this shell.’
There are only broken shells out here. The waders have plunged in their greedy bill-hooks and wrenched life from them. John shudders. His mother’s face wavers. The cruel attentions of his father forced life into her, again and again. Nineteen she carried in the cockles of her womb. But only eight survive.
His father’s watch ticks close to his loins, as he wades through a rising channel in the middle of the bay. Knee high, thigh-high, until, at last, watch-between-teeth, he heaves himself out dripping.
Choking, soft-bodied, shell-less he shivers on. A whistle shrivels on his lips as the wind rises. He tries to mouth ‘the Lord is my Shepherd,’ but he is shivering too much. As the tide returns, the sun is swallowed. There is no visible shore, fog embalms the whole body of the bay. Even the moon is shrouded, blind. Then he hears it. A long, coiled note, warm and bestial. A ram’s horn. The sound that brought the walls of Jericho down. The sound that caused the waters to fly from the feet of the priests as they stepped into Jordan. It is the guide, sounding the fog. John Wesley knows his direction now. He peels off his clinging jacket, kicks off his shoes and begins to run, water snarling at his heels, time still ticking, tucked in his palm.