Of Morgawr and Mawnan
By Heidi Ball
– Heidi Ball is a writer and illustrator from Cornwall. She won the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat Short Story Competition and 2014 Atlantic Press Graphic Literature Prize. She loves a good dystopian tale and is slightly obsessed with cats and zombies. www.heidiball.co.uk
He perches himself on the wooden bench, a dampness spreading its way through his clothes, loose and torn. He keeps an eye on the sea while he adjusts himself. Never as comfortable as he could be, with feet resting on the grass. He shifts his weight, glances around and back in a smooth motion, always wary.
The blue of the sea has darkened, with the lateness of the hour. Its calm surface irritates him. He leans forward, elbows digging into his knees, wringing his hands over and over. Waiting, that’s all he ever seems to do.
But this is his place, the best place to see, where the coastline peaks. He can watch the mouth of the bay to the left, and the river passage to the right. He keeps his eyes wide open, scowling and searching.
All he really wants to do is find a sign. Just a glimpse, or more really, he does wants more. To know there is another out there, another that is different like him, different but the same.
This had to be the spot. He has overheard conversations from groups gathering in his place. They talk, they laugh and they whisper, but the mention of a beast out there in the sea, the thought alone made these intrusions bearable. Because he had wanted to hear more, to find some proof. They hadn’t seen him of course, he was the watcher, not the watched.
He swivels his head now, to catch a sight or any sound breaking the stillness. He tries to picture it, him, her or it, whatever the beast may be, this serpent, Mawgawr. Does he see something? No, nothing.
Wondering if his senses might be playing tricks on him, he tries to imagine himself in its place. What would it do, where would it go?
He shrank down, nostrils bubbled, water rippled over. Down and deep. Drank in the chill. Swim, in and out, roots and rocks. Edging away. Always watching, the water, sleek and slime. Quiet and away. Night coming, river roaming. Alone and onward.
Hunger pulling. The edges give way, open ocean and salt thick, freedom. The depth call and movement pulling. Ribbons of movement and down deeper. Swimming.
Illustration by Olivia Healy
A tingle of anticipation ruffles his feathers. The splash of a tail heard, trailing through the water. A fish, or maybe larger? His pinpoint gaze swallows the distance in an instant. The rise and fall of a body gliding here and there, no, it wasn’t. He exhales. Each moment, another longer and time passing, he begins to lose hope. Hope, and the feeling in his legs.
And then the usual noises, squawks and shouts. A pair of girls laughing, coming his way. Stumbling along.
He exits, backwards through the shadows, away from the viewpoint, back along path to the churchyard. Branches masking his shape and silence cloaking him like a friend.
They take his bench, but he does nothing to stop them. The edge of fear and curiosity holding him in place. Two young things, all arms and legs and chatter he doesn’t always understand. His perch lost. Joking and laughing they ruin his nightly ritual. Secretly, he is pleased.
They take out objects and point with them, heightening their pitched tones. Standing, jumping now on the spot. Intent on creating a stir. Clicks and flashes of light make him blink with wonder. They’re looking out to sea, pointing out over the water, but he can’t see what they see. Not from where he clings to the branches.
They exclaim in excitement, he can feel it, pulsing through the air. Have they seen the beast, have they seen Morgawr? Have they taken his moment!
He swoops over, behind them now, as close as he dares, and stares out in that direction. He can’t see! What was it, there, over there somewhere. His throat is tight, blocked and painful. There’s nothing there. He wants to scream out into the night.
And then the screaming starts, but it is not his own.
Screaming and running, with waving arms and legs. And he had forgotten, in his thirst to know. He had forgot to hide. He had lost himself, and panic fills out his lungs and knocks him off balance. With ragged sweeps and thrusts up into the air, he is blind to the blackness of the night. His eyes wider than ever before but nothing making sense.
Out over the water he flies. Flashes and shrieks propelling him onwards, out to the salt air and away.
He cries as only he can, a distraught Owlman calling to the serpent of the sea, his only friend who he has never met. A howling hoot across the still black water. Desperation dragging him onwards, for fear of being seen, for fear of always being, alone.