Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

The Ghost Tide

by Kilmo

The lives Jubilee had met and danced with under so many skies it made her head hurt were what kept her going. She could feel them sometimes deep down where she’d never be able to scratch. Particularly when she woke up with hands covered in thumbs. At first, she was terrified because there wasn’t a finger in sight and she shrugged as deep under her covers as could get. Until her friends came and went by her bedside and told her that the accident had meant the only way she was going to play again was if they performed a transplant. It had been her bad luck all they’d had in stock were thumbs. She brought her hand to her face and tried to waggle the stupid looking things. The surgeon must have been drunk because they were dotted about all over the place.

‘I wish that man had remembered cars are supposed to drive on the road.’

Jubilee had drawn the hurt deep inside where no one could touch it. But it was her tunes she really missed.

‘All gone now.’


Jubilee could only just remember the accident as the car mounted the curb and slipped past her hips. But her records spraying across the sand was as clear as day. When she’d woken she’d known she hadn’t got much time? If her work hadn’t flown with her the hole the car had opened would have done a lot more than spill some of her onto the sand. She’d never sung so fast in her life, and it turned out sewing with music was even harder than you’d think.

That was when her smile had vanished; somewhere between the pavement and the sea. She’d tried looking for it in other people’s faces. In case it had gotten fed up and gone elsewhere, but as often as not she just found stares and that was never going to be the same.

‘You must have lost it when the car hit.’

The spot where she listened to her cans was where the concrete held the sun’s warmth longest; and there was plenty of junk it might have fallen behind. If she was lucky it would be under some buoys maybe, or behind some ropes.

Sometimes Jubilee thought maybe she should feel guilty. After all the driver had been so badly injured he’d never woken up. But the ache he’d left her with kept her twisting and turning night after night, until her sheets were wound tight as a drum.

Jubilee brought her fingers up and explored her scars. The vehicle had hit her side on, but they’d still had to dig glass out of her for weeks. It was only after months of stitching and slicing that she resembled the girl she used to be. The only undamaged part of her was her hair, thick and blonde, it was as hard to break as the sea.

‘Could have been longer if you hadn’t gotten bored and discharged yourself.’

Jubilee popped the lid on the bottle she’d taken with her and watched pills rattle round the sink.

‘I need to feel the wind on my face.’

She headed for the door. The dunes were only a few minutes away. If she was lucky someone might have found her things there. But when she got to them all that was left was sun shades and sandals.

‘Maybe a storm came through, and all the people left,’ said Jubilee as she listened to the sea gulls. But there was one person left, an old man was sitting on the sand staring out to sea.

‘You should be careful,’ he said as he saw her walking toward him, ‘forecast say’s there's twisters coming.’

‘What are you doing here then?’

Jubilee had to shout, because the wind had begun to blow hard enough to steal her words as soon as she said them.

‘Waiting, I want to see what happens when the tide turns, sometimes it brings the sea with it, sometimes…other things.’

Jubilee agreed, she’d often spotted what was left behind when the tide went out and not all of it was pleasant. She’d even found a mermaid once that had tried to bite her when she’d poked it with a stick.

‘How long have you been sat here?’

But the man staring over the waves didn’t turn around.

‘You used to be a fisherman is that it? What’s your name?’

Jubilee swore, he was sat behind an upturned boat and he even looked like driftwood. Of course, he was a fisherman.

‘Raul, and I still am, I’m just between jobs.’
He pulled something from his pocket and lit it filling the air with smoke.

‘Mind if I join you?’

‘It would be my pleasure, guappa. You have a lovely smile.’

Jubilee’s hands flew to her mouth, and sure enough when she touched her lips she felt the corners lift.

‘See? I told you,’ said Raul. ‘What are you doing here?’

Jubilee put her smile away before it could run off. It made her sad what had happened, and it didn’t seem fair for it to have to hear about it again.

‘Someone drove into me near here,’ she said instead.

‘Still alive, though, that's lucky.'

‘Doesn’t feel lucky.’

‘No,’ he shrugged, ‘sometimes it doesn’t. Why’ve you come back?’

‘I lost something round here, a case with all my records in. I’m a DJ and I make my own music,’ she said a little proudly.

‘Can’t you make some more?’

Jubilee sighed, she could. But it wouldn’t be the same, she’d spent ages working on the ones she wanted to find most.

‘Look here,’ Raul pointed at where he’d been looking and Jubilee saw a chord diving deep into the sea. ‘Do you think that’s got something to do with it?’

‘Isn’t that yours?’ said Jubilee.

Raul shook his head and clamped his pipe firmly between his teeth. ‘It was here when I sat down.’

Jubilee looked along the chord’s length, whoever had put it there must have been after something pretty fierce. Because it was a strong one, and the rain drops strung along it looked like pearls.

‘Look, it’s moving,’ said Jubilee with shining eyes, ‘bet there's something interesting on the end. Do you know where it goes?’

‘Up there in all the rain I think,’ Raul pointed to where the dunes began.

‘I’m going to go look. When I find out I’ll come back and tell you,’ said Jubilee.

The sand got in her shoes, but Jubilee kept going because whatever it was making the drops dance on that chord it wasn’t the wind.

As she went inland she realised what she was heading towards was a dragon. Its chin rested between its claws and its mouth hung open so wide she could see its tonsils and the chord threading between them.

‘How did that get in there?’

At first, she was a little scared, and when she looked for it her smile was nowhere to be seen. But the dragon was only made out of sand even if it was huge. She reached in thinking maybe she could unthread the chord. But the jaws slammed shut and Jubilee screamed as the beach settled round her until she couldn’t move. It was lucky her thumbs were caught in the chord like a fist.

She heaved on it and it felt like she’d pulled the sea itself as the ground beneath her feet dropped away. When the water lapped up to her shoulders she thought it was probably a good idea to shout.


Soon the noise had grown so loud it felt like she’d stuck her head in a conch and found the waves hiding there.

‘What are you doing now?’

The chord thrummed beneath her fingers and Jubilee tried to keep her mouth shut, but she couldn’t hold on forever. When she did open it, the water filled her so fast she had to check her neck for gills as bubbles burst round her ears.

Jubilee drew the sea inside her, glad there was no coughing or spluttering and looked between her feet. But she couldn’t see the bottom just blue going down until it turned into black.

Jubilee spread her arms. If she’d been on dry land she’d have put money on you being able to hear waves slosh when she walked. But down here all the water she’d swallowed just seemed to help her breathe. She found the chord again and clenched it as tight as she could between her thumbs.

‘This can’t be anywhere near home,’ said Jubilee as she pulled herself along and the words burst round her lips like she was blowing bubbles in a bath. ‘I’d know, so this must be the Mediterranean? Or maybe it’s a reef?’

The sea looked nothing like the one she’d left. For a start it was warm, and there weren’t any of the signs of industry you got from port. No, decided Jubilee, this was somewhere more exotic, deep, dark, and mysterious.


Her ears popped, and for a moment she wondered why she wasn’t scared. She was still thinking about that when she spotted the figure hanging from the chord up ahead. Her hair had knotted over it, and the grimaces as she tried to pull the mess free were a sight to see.

‘Who are you?’ said Jubilee. There were so many curls floating round her you could barely see her face.

‘I’m…,’ the water swirled as the girl shook her head, ‘I can’t remember, is it important?’

For a second something long and unhealthy like one of those fish you saw in the sea’s deepest parts were no light reached moved amongst all her tresses. But the girl tugged at the chord again and it vanished.

‘What happened?’ said Jubilee, pointing at all the hair.

‘Don’t know, I woke up and it was like this.’

‘You been here long?’

‘Can’t remember that either. But I’m not letting go,’ the girl shook the chord.

‘I bet it goes somewhere amazing,’ said Jubilee.

‘I wouldn’t be here if I knew the answer to that.’

As Jubilee looked closer, she could see that it wasn't just her hair holding the girl in place. She was clutching the chord so tight blood oozed between her fingers.

‘Why don’t you let go?’

‘Can’t do that. If I did, I might never find it again.’ A current washed her hair away for a moment Jubilee caught a glimpse of eyes so black they looked like the night sky. They even had little pinpoints of light in them like stars. ‘Haven’t you looked down?’ said the girl.

Jubilee looked between her feet, and her new friend nodded. ‘Exactly, I don’t want to sink. This is the only thing holding me in place.’

She shook the chord in her fists.

Jubilee had to admit she was a bit worried too. You could see the water move as shapes stirred deep below where the light didn’t reach.

‘That’s got to be heavy; what’s it doing there?’ Jubilee pointed at the sea beast she’d spotted earlier grazing its way over the girl’s scalp.

‘What do you mean? There’s nothing in my hair is there?’

‘There is, I can see it.’

But when the girl reached up the creature dodged every time.

‘Wait a moment.’

Jubilee was still strong, despite her injuries, and she was nearly twice the girl’s size. She let go of the chord and kicked free, floating in the ocean like a sunbeam.

‘Hold still.’

Her hands plunged deep into the waving strands. Jubilee had to try more than once, but she caught the creature eventually, digging her fingers into flesh that was so cold to touch it made her shudder.

‘Ugh, where did that come from?’ said the girl.

‘You never knew it was there? It’s huge,’ said Jubilee as she flipped the beast into the open.

The fish was massive, speckled and brown like a grumpy old man, and its lips were turned down in a permanent snarl. Jubilee touched its scales and tried not to be nervous when they rippled.

Blood span away as the girl relaxed, and now the expression on her face had nothing to do with pain. She looked like the happiest kid Jubilee had ever seen.

‘Thank you, I can’t remember the last time I felt so light.'

The girl’s hair must have had a mind of its own though, because as she spoke it wrapped itself around her until only her eyes were left.

‘I’d be careful with that,’ she said pointing to the fish in Jubilees hands, and Jubilee felt its scales ripple again like a baby had kicked deep inside.

‘I will, but I think it’s got something of mine.’

Jubilee told her what she’d been doing when the car had hit, and the girl nodded straight away, ‘I think I saw some of your stuff earlier.’

‘You did?’

‘Sure, there were picks, chords. I even saw some score sheets. They floated down here with a load of other junk heading for the depths.’

‘But it’s my records I’m really after.’ Jubilee looked at the creature in her arms, ‘I bet I know where they’ve gone. The fish is certainly big enough to have swallowed them, but how am I going to get them back?’

‘I’d make it sick if I were you. Now, I’ve got to go. A feeling like this is too good to waste.’


But the water had started to move round the girl like she was at the centre of a whirlpool. Soon there was just bubbles, and then she was gone.

‘She was nice,’ said Jubilee to herself and looked at the fish, ‘as for you, you’ve got ten seconds to give me my records, or I’m coming in to get them.’

The fish’s pale eyes looked back at her, and for a second, she thought she saw something move in them like a shoal had passed way down deep.

‘You’re not scared of me are you?’

Jubilee grinned and flexed the thumbs on her hands as it thrashed like it knew what was coming.

‘Say your prayers.’

She rolled up her sleeve like she’d seen her mother do before she was about to do something disgusting; and plunged a hand down its neck.

‘C’mon I know it’s in here somewhere.’

Bile floated round her as the fish bucked and jerked so much it nearly got away, but Jubilee was having none of it. When she found what she was looking for she let out a shout that could be heard on dry land.

‘Got them.’

The fish spasmed, and Jubilee hung on for dear life, but she couldn’t stop her arm being spat out.

‘I’m not doing that again,’ said Jubilee.

When Jubilee looked round again she saw the fish was swimming in circles trying not to cough. Eventually, a cloud shot from its mouth and Jubilee started to feel bad about making it ill, but only a little.

When her thumbs found some records amongst all the trash things got better fast. She jammed them against the chord and shot along its length like her heels were on fire. Soon the fish and everything else dropped from sight.

‘At last.’

Jubilee burst through the waves and took a great lungful of air half expecting the water she’d swallowed to come squeezing from every pore.

‘Where am I?’

The beach stretched away as far as she could see. But although it reflected the sunlight like it was made of it; it couldn’t hide what was at its top.

‘Is that what I think it is?’

This dragon definitely wasn’t made of sand. It was made of gold, all except for its feet which were wheels and clad in rubber.

Jubilee found somewhere where she could stand. She’d had enough of pretending she could breathe water. She wanted dry land, plenty of air, and lots, and lots, of sun.

‘That’s mine.’

She grabbed some more of her tunes before they floated away. Then Jubilee pulled on the chord maybe she could dry them when she got out of the water.

By the time she reached dry land she could see a loop lying by the dragon like the fan belt of a car. Her eyes went to its wings hand the handlebars under there.

‘That’ll do,’ she said as she slung a loop over the front wheel. Soon she was winding away, and a hissing rose through the air like the sea was trying to swallow the land. At first all Jubilee could see was a hump travelling through the water like a whale was coming into land. She felt her toes shiver; as a wave broke across them. By the time the water was up to her chin and waves were crashing all around her she had to fling her arms wide. The bike was leaving its anchors and its wings were flapping like the biggest eagle she’d ever seen.

‘Not going to stop now,’ said Jubilee as a wave washed over her head leaving her hair floating on the surface.

She gasped and spluttered and took a deep long breath as the dragon began to rise into the air.


2018 Kilmo

Bio: In Kilmo's twenties, he lived in vehicles and caravans on the continent as part of the European travelling/ squat/ teknival scene. He contracted Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis in 2011 which lead to him moving to Aldershot, and to cut a long story short - he writes. He brought it from squatting in Bristol, to a pub car park...to here: piratefrequencies.wordpress.com

Website: Kilmo

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.