By Róisín O’Donoghue, Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna.
Third place, senior Clare Champion Short Story Competition
It was dawn in Lahinch, County Clare. I sat perched on the highest cliff, not too close to be pulled into the waves but close enough to witness the storm in its full intensity. This was my chance to get noticed as a photographer. Storm Christine was on its way.
The waves crashed from side to side. Suds and water droplets splashed on my face and on the camera screen. It was almost as if the sky was bleeding, it was so red. The red flickered and spread as it reflected over the Atlantic Ocean. It was amazing to watch the changing colour of the waves, grey, blue, green. The wind howled as the monstrous waves heaved against the rocks and rushed onwards with an uninterrupted sweep. The power and force of the waves were unreal. These waves were enormous, bigger than I had ever seen.
The sun rose as the angry, frothy waves came crashing in through the cobbled promenade, wrecking the newly built playground, flooding and bashing the windows, houses and restaurants. The screen flickered as I zoomed in and out, frantically clicking picture after picture. When the biggest waves were gone, I sorted through the photos. Some of them were blurred but then I found the perfect one. The sky was a light purple colour and the sun was rising, merging with the sky. The wave was huge and you could see it looming menacingly over the promenade. It was perfect!
I could barely get to the restaurant door. The water was ice cold as it trickled down my legs.My shoes were soaked. Rocks, seaweed and sand were strewn over the cobbled footpath.
I finally reached what I would have called the door yesterday but was now a few splinters of wood lying across the floor. My business was wrecked. The newly fitted windows were blown in and shards of clear glass floated in the seawater. Little blue china cups bobbed around in circles. My expensive antique furniture that my grandmother had left me in her will, which had created such a distinctive cosy ambience, was destroyed. The royal blue curtains were tattered rags fluttering in and out of the window. I was distraught. My business had been going so well!
I waded through the floating debris to investigate the rest of the damage. It couldn’t have been worse! How in the world could an Irish storm cause so much destruction? The stairs had collapsed so there was no way to get upstairs. All the electrical appliances had been drenched with the water so they were useless. The basement had been flooded as well. To try and get my head around this disaster I went for a walk on the beach.
White foamy surf thrashed against the rocky cliff. I had been training for this challenge for years, since I was 12. I had come from Australia to Ireland to surf the stormy waves. Ireland was a lot colder than Australia, that was for sure.
I pulled on my wetsuit and took a deep breath of the blustery galeforce wind. This was what being a surfer was about, living on the edge, challenging nature, showing off your daredevil streak. I secured my lucky surfboard to my leg only hoping that it wouldn’t get smashed up in the stormy waves. It was high tide so I could barely see any of the sand. The water was ice cold. I swam out a few meters floating on the surf board. I waited excitedly for the waves. Before I knew it my eyes were shut tight and the waves came hurtling at my surf board. It was so exhilarating being scooped up into the wave and gliding along.
There’s no greater buzz than surfing and the feeling of being part of the ocean, really riding on top of the world. Surfing is freedom, adventure and creativity rolled into one. It’s like a bird riding on the wind. I could feel nature’s energy in the wave as I caught it. It was almost a spiritual connection. I cut through the water and glided effortlessly.
Then, just as quick as it came it died on the shore. As I reached the shore again, I couldn’t believe I had done it. The sea battered against my surf board. I turned back to repeat the experience but, suddenly, a current caught me and pulled me out into the waves! I tried to swim against it. I thrashed and splashed but it was no use. What was I going to do?
Wait, what was that out at sea? The small black thing bobbing about in the waves! I yanked off the lens protector off the camera. It was a person in trouble, a surfer probably! I snatched up my bag and trampled and tripped down the stone footpath. I crashed into somebody on the promenade, tripping over a stone covered in soggy emerald green seaweed. My camera tumbled to the ground and smashed to pieces. I groaned but this wasn’t the time to be worrying about a camera when someone’s life was at risk.
“Are you okay?” The man asked, helping me up onto my feet.
“Yes,” I replied “wait, no! There is someone in trouble out there”, I said pointing out to the stormy waves. The black object was waving frantically but being pulled further and further out.
I punched 999 on my phone as fast as I could.
“What emergency service do you require?” said a cool calm woman’s voice.
“It’s urgent! I need the sea rescue service immediately! I am here at the beach in Lahinch, Someone is drowning.”
“Okay they will be there as soon as possible,” she replied.
I tried to be calm but I couldn’t. Somebody’s life was in my hands.
I stood with the other man shivering in the cold blustery winds waiting for the sea and rescue service.
“Where are they? Where are they?” I kept saying. They shouldn’t take this long. They were needed right now! I was dancing around impatiently. Suddenly I lost sight of the surfer at sea. I looked at the man and he looked straight back into my eyes. We were both thinking the same thing.
“I know where there is a lifeboat,” I said
“Well, I’m in, let’s do this!” he said trying to sound confident but I heard a shiver of nervousness in his voice. I raced to the back of the surf shop and dragged out the orange lifeboat. When I got back to the beach the other man had found a ring buoy and a thick rope. This was it, we were either going to live or die. The chances of surviving in this storm were slim to none.
“Wait, before we go, what’s your name?” “John,” he yelled in the roaring winds “Michael,” I shouted.
It was stupid really but I wanted to know the name of the man who was going to be my partner in death. The boat rocked over and back in the waves. I could barely breathe with the strength of the gale force winds. We were fighting with nature. A wave came crashing down on the boat. I gripped onto the plastic sides before we were totally immersed by the water.
Desperate for air, I sucked in a large gulp of salty water and choked on it. The boat floated to the surface and bobbed about. I caught a glimpse of John before water droplets sprayed all over my face. John was unconscious. Making sure I had a tight grip on the boat, I grabbed his ice cold hand. Somehow, I don’t know how I managed it but I draped him over the upturned boat. I kicked and splashed to keep us afloat until I had no energy left. Time was gaining on us and I wouldn’t be able to keep us afloat much longer in these treacherous conditions. I couldn’t even see the surfer anymore! I could only pray that the Rescue Team would get here soon.
The water was so cold that I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. I heard a noise like a chainsaw in the distance. It got louder and louder and then all of a sudden, I realised a person was releasing John from my grip and he was being winched back up to the helicopter. Shivering with the cold, I struggled to keep afloat waiting for my turn. The harness was wrapped tightly around my waist and I shut my salty eyes as the light of the blue sky blinded my eyes. I was being lifted up into the air by the search and rescue team.
“What about the other surfer,” I shouted to my rescuer.
“He is safe on board the helicopter, he was first to be picked up”
Thank God, I thought, I will never forget Storm Christine.