Hollow Shores by Gary Budden – An extract
Dead Ink Books
The Hollow Shore
I packed Esoteric Kent into my backpack with something for lunch, a bit of fruit, bottles of water. The walk was only nine miles and we aimed to end up at The Old Neptune in Whitstable by early afternoon for more pints and a decent lunch. We set off, walking into a morning weighed down with mist, through deserted streets onto Faversham Creek, past sleeping restaurants and artisan shops, into the realms of the boat people, a few of whom were already up and active, wraith-like in the mist chopping logs and wrapped in dew soaked fleeces. A woman looked up silently from her chopping as we passed, axe in hand, standing in front of a mildewed boat named Reynardine. The mist was a thick, wet swaddling. Boats bobbed on the waters of the creek, the tide low, carved mudflats becoming visible. Turnstones flitted about, gliding in small groups over the creek. I heard the cry of a black curlew somewhere far out on the saltmarsh.
Dave ducked his head as he walked under a large houseboat, Jack Orion, propped up on lichened and mossy wooden poles, groaning and creaking like the old men in The White Fox. We came to the end of the boat people’s territory, pushed through a squeaking gate and splashed muddy through puddles that dotted the path to the Hollow Shore like some inverted miniature archipelago.
We came to what once must have been a winch for unloading and loading goods, in those hazy days of proud British maritime history. Now, rust patches like orange fungus burst through the flaking white paint, and a hook swung gently on frayed rope. A metallic gallows that stood guard to a rickety wooden bridge crossing the creek. We crossed, looking down the impossible distances to the mudflats where I saw sandpipers dart and dash, and then we were onto the saltmarsh.
We walked and we talked, talked about everything from our childhoods to the abandoned psychiatric hospital rumoured to be rotting out in the Kent countryside, of environmental therapies, the music and books we loved, old memories and fresh stories, the healing effects of horticulture and the debate of town versus city. I told him that I’d met up with Adrianna, and he grinned, but shook his head.
‘Do you really want to open old wounds?’
I thought for a moment, and said, ‘Yeah, I think I do.’
The path was still sodden from the recent rains, my boots slick with creamy mud, the wind off the Swale increasing its ferocity. This landscape, so flat, barren and beautiful. Icy wind formed tears in my eyes. I paused and leaned against an Environment Agency sign, a litany of danger spelled out in yellow and black; drowning, floods, electrocution, the violence out here easy to imagine.
‘Come look at this!’ Dave beckoned me over to the concrete wall separating the grassy path from the shore. Bladderwrack carpeted the shoreline before giving way to low-tide mudflats. Over the water, the Isle of Sheppey so close it felt like it was within touching distance. I thought of the prisons there, that solitary bridge connecting the island to the mainland, and the boxing hares I’d watched with Dad when I was nine years old. I saw a black clad figure on the opposite shoreline, waving.
Dave pointed at a small boat that was half submerged in the eager mud, it’s prow buried like it was rooting for lugworms. The rust and decay, the ruins and the mildewed boats, these forgotten paths, were too good not to record. He hopped onto the shingle and edged towards it. I watched him clamber and slip on deep-green seaweed as he approached the boat, camera snapping away, spattered mud forming abstract patterns on his jeans. Who would ever have thought the two of us would still be here, in the place where we grew up, post-marriage, muddy as fuck, taking pictures of rusty boats on our smartphones. I was glad we were still mates. Marriage didn’t make me happy. Didn’t make her happy either. I was happier here than I’d been in ages, dirty, cold and wet. Even the pylons looked beautiful.
I lit a cigarette, watching Dave slip and slide on the bladderwrack. A group of cormorants flapped overhead. I listened to the sigh of the marshes.
The walk continued for aeons, two lone figures, the only ones privy to the giant suspended sky, the shining shingle, the discovery of space in this most crowded of counties. Dave, keen-eyed for ruin, spotted another wreckage, some unidentifiable amalgam of rusted machinery slipping into the marsh, hungry plant life colonising the metal.
Gary Budden writes fiction and creative non-fiction about the intersections of British sub-culture, landscape, psychogeography, hidden history, nature, horror, weird fiction and more. A lot of it falls under the banner ‘landscape punk’. His work has appeared in Black Static, Unthology, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, Litro, Structo, The Quietus and many more. His story ‘Greenteeth’ was nominated for a 2017 British Fantasy Award and adapted into a short film by the filmmaker Adam Scovell. He also co-runs the indie publisher Influx Press. His debut fiction collection, Hollow Shores, was published by Dead Ink Books in October 2017.
Anybody wishing to visit Hollowshore, can follow the ‘Two Creeks Walk’ here