Nobody could recall an actual date when the island appeared off the coast of Lyme Regis, why it should have, or what circumstances conspired to allow it, but one thing universally agreed upon was its portentousness.
Mallory, on summer break from the clamour of Oxford’s Magdalen hallways, congratulated himself on the prodigious serendipity of his decision to holiday in Lyme. In his lofty guest house atop the western chine, he enjoyed how 1883’s August skies marbled the Channel, and how they painted the Cobb from buttercup to bronze to crimson.
Would he have accepted fisherman Scatt’s offer to visit the island had he known what he’d find? Unlikely, but men were bullish things, built for conquest, and in that regard he was typical.
He jumped out as the hush of the skiff announced their beaching, greeted by a dour community of leaning posts, each inscribed with a man’s name. The creak of Lyme harbour’s mackerel scaffies were lost as they ventured deeper into the isle.
No posts showed the names of women, and the uniform strangeness of them remained till they reached a larger stele:
Until the grey one comes, let kings rule;
Dawdling girls to play the fool.
Change arrives on salty rime;
Queens lead all things in their own time.
The men dug beneath the stele until the pall of twilight, whereupon they uncovered a rude coffin.
Puffed with scholarly hubris, Mallory took it upon himself to crack the thing open, and there found treasure none should witness: A grey, leathery woman, pregnant at death, and thusly buried, her child laid to rest within her. Decomposing gases had pushed forth a grey foetus; a champagne cork from Satan’s own wine.
As they fled, none saw the grub stretch, nor heard the puff of her very first breath.