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Read the first chapter of 'Sabrina Fludde', by Pauline Fisk.

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  • SABRINAFLUDDEPauline Fisk

  • For David

    The ancients had river gods; we too have them in our minds and feel their qualities. For rivers are things

    of life and personality, of soul and character.

    A.G. Bradley, The Book of the Severn(Methuen, 1920)

  • Part One River Mist

  • A body on the water

    When the day began the body was there. The nightmist parted and it floated slowly on the silent riverlike a tree snapped at the root. Its hair spread acrossthe water like a halo of little branches. Its face wasdeathly white. Its eyes stared like knots of wood, shinyand unseeing as a town approached.

    The flourishing market town of Pengwern; when itwas a city and a fortress, its watchmen would havenoticed anything that came rolling downriver from theWelsh mountains. But its modern skyline looked downupon the body without seeing it. Even when the earlymorning mist began to melt, it made no difference.

    The body floated towards the town and nobodysaw a thing. It floated past water meadows whereearly morning walkers exercised their dogs. Past thewater tower which marked the approach to the town.Past steep-gardened houses where curtains weredrawn back for the new day, toasters popping, kettlesboiling, radios and television sets blaring out themorning news. But nobody paused to look down fromtheir windows and see anything unusual in the river.

    Even the wildfowl on the water failed to see anythingamiss moorhens dabbling in the shallows as if thebody werent there, and swans floating past, stately andunperturbed. A heron swooped low, casting a ghostlyshadow over the body, and a white gull landed on itsshoulder, hitching a ride, its eyes peeled for fish.

    9

  • But as if it didnt know or care what happened to it,the body floated on, carried by the river until the townrose overhead. It stood like an island in a horseshoeloop in the river a jumble of towers and spires, castlewalls and new shopping malls, medieval mansions,and train and bus stations. The river carried the bodypast them all and nobody saw anything! Not on themain road, packed full of morning traffic. Not on theWelsh Bridge, where cars inched nose to bumper intotown.

    Even when the body passed beneath the bridge andswept on to the Quarry Park, nobody noticed anything.Here, cyclists pedalled beneath avenues of trees andmothers pushed babies. Leaves fell like snowflakesinto the river, and everybody turned to watch. But noone saw a body floating through the leaves.

    It was as if the body werent there, floating on itsway without caring what happened or knowing whereit was. It floated past a school with girls out on thehockey pitch, but never waved to them for help.Floated past a boat club, but never called to its rowerson the water. Floated past a row of tennis courts, butnever tried to attract its players as it flowed on roundthe town.

    Finally the castle appeared, viewed from the EnglishBridge on the east side of Pengwern. By now themorning rush hour was easing off and there werefewer people about to see a body drifting along. But apoliceman leant over the bridge, and he didnt noticeanything. And a lone cyclist took the river path on thefar side of the bridge, and he never once glanced at thebody which was starting down the straight stretch tothe towns last bridge.

    10

  • The old, iron-girdered railway bridge.Here, caught beneath the shadows of the castle, the

    river began to change. A thin wind blew up it, scuffingthe water into rows of sharp waves which ran betweenthe high fence of a football pitch and a treeless pathbeneath the old town walls. The body started downthis gloomy stretch of water, and the waves broke overit, knocking it about.

    No longer did it float serenely, like a dead queen onher funeral journey. It shook like a rag doll, bobbedlike a plastic bottle, took in water like a sinking ship.It went under water and came up again. Went downagain and started struggling at long last.

    The body wasnt dead, after all. It was alive. Its eyesblinked out water, and its shoulders hunched againstthe waves. Its hands rose in a plea for help, and itshead turned, revealing a face.

    It was a childs face. A little girls.She let out a cry, as thin as the wind. But nobody

    heard. The paths were deserted on either side of theriver, with no more cyclists in sight. There was not afigure on the castle walls, and even the policeman hadgone from the English Bridge. Only the pigeonslooked down from the fast-approaching railwaybridge. But whether they saw the girl, it wasimpossible to tell.

    She bobbed towards them, drawing closer all thetime, swept along on a white-water ride. Just as thedarkness of the bridge was about to fall on her, awoman with a push-chair suddenly emerged from the tunnel which ran under the bridge. The girl saw her and fluttered her hands, trying to attract attention.But the woman didnt see her. She just hurried on. Even

    11

  • the child in her push-chair didnt see anything.It was as if the girl werent there, out in the middle

    of the river. A race walker emerged from the tunnel,too, shoulders tight, buttocks swinging. The girl triedagain, but it was just the same. The race walker swungon, leaving the river to drive the girl under the bridge.

    Now its black stone arches loomed overhead, and itsgun-grey girders bent down like an iron mouth to eather up. Waves ran ahead of her, disappearing out ofsight, and the girl followed without a choice. Therewas nobody to help her. The treeless path stood empty.The cobbled tunnel stood empty. The girl was allalone. Whirlpools swirled around her. There was noescaping.

    The waves dragged her down. Down and out, downand under, one minute there; and the next gone! Thewaves broke over her and the riverbed reached for her.Soft and silty, its tendrils of weed drew her down towhere shed never see the railway bridge again. Neverhave to cry for help again, nor cry for all the things shewouldnt see or do or be. All the things she wouldntknow like who she was, and where shed come fromin the first place, and why she was ending up in thedark like this. Ending her story on chapter one.

    I want to live! the girl cried out. Its just not fair!Give me a chance thats all I ask!

    Just a chance.Suddenly as if the wanting it changed everything

    the girl was up again. Nothing could keep her down,not even a silty riverbed, thick with weed. Strongerthan whirlpools and stronger than waves, strongerthan the railway bridge and stronger than anything,she was up like an arrow. She was reaching through

    12

  • the water, and in a seamless motion which saw herbreak its surface and head for the shore, she wasfighting for her life. The iron girders, loomingoverhead, held no fears for her. And neither did theriver. She knew that she could beat it. Every strokewas easy.

    The bridge fell behind and the town drew close. Thegirl swam into the lee of a stone wharf where, amid aflotsam of old twigs and plastic bottles, her arms andlegs finally gave out. The river deposited her on asmall beach where she lay unable to move, her burstof energy gone as quickly as it had come.

    She had landed at last. The girl looked down atherself. She wore a cotton shift-dress which clung,soaking wet, to her body, and a woollen blanket-thing, tied in a dripping knot under her chin. Her feetwere blue, throbbing with the cold. Her hair wasplastered over her eyes, but she didnt even have theenergy to raise a hand and wipe it away.

    She lay a long time without the energy to doanything. A walker looked down on her from the topof the wharf, then hurried on, tutting to himself at theantics of some peoples children. The girl watched himdisappear. He passed through an archway in the oldtown wall and started up a steep lane. Once he half-turned back, as if having second thoughts aboutleaving a child on the waters edge like that. Then hecarried on much to her relief.

    Hed done what was needed, after all. Done all thatshe needed, at least! It means I cant be dreaming,the girl thought. This must be really happening.Someones seen me at last!

    13

  • Bloomsbury Publishing, London, Berlin and New York

    First published in Great Britain in 2001 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc36 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QY

    This edition published in 2005

    Copyright 2001 Pauline FiskThe moral right of the author has been asserted

    All rights reservedNo part of this publication may be reproduced or

    transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopyingor otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher

    A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library

    ISBN 978 0 7475 7655 6

    Typeset by Dorchester Typesetting Group LtdPrinted in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

    1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

    www.bloomsbury.com

    The paper this book is printed on is certified independently inaccordance with the rules of the FSC. It is ancient-forest friendly.

    The printer holds chain of custody.

    Mixed SourcesProduct group from well-managed

    forests and other controlled sources

    Cert no. SGS - COC - 2061www.fsc.org

    1996 Forest Stewardship Council