Curse of the Evil-Eyes?
Archibald William Smith. That was how his parents had christened him just over thirteen years ago, but now his parents, teachers and friends all called him Archie.
Archie was a very happy, friendly boy who was rather tall for his age and, was easily recognised in the small fishing village where he lived by his unruly crop of red hair and freckled face.
He lived with his Mum and Dad in the small guesthouse they owned on the edge of the harbour in the little fishing village in South Devon. The guesthouse had ten bedrooms for the guests, and a sunny dining room with round tables covered with cheerful coloured tablecloths where the guests eat their breakfast and evening meals. There was another large room with comfortable armchairs and small tables where the guests could sit and play cards, or even listen to the wireless. The wireless was Archie’s dad’s pride and joy, as it was the very first one to be owned by anyone in the village.
At the back of the guesthouse was the large kitchen where Archie’s mum prepared the food for the guests, as well as cooking the family’s own delicious meal.
There was a garden at the back where Archie’s dad grew vegetables for the meals and also a chicken run that supplied eggs for the guesthouse, with any over sold in the village shop.
It was Archie’s job to help in the garden, collect the eggs and feed the chickens.
However, the job Archie really enjoyed was helping his dad with his fishing boat.
The guesthouse was not busy enough to keep them all occupied for most of the year, so the fishing boat was the main work for Archie’s dad.
He was also a valued member of the local Lifeboat and was number two in the rescue boat to Mr Tambling the coxswain.
They had crab pots, nets and fishing lines that always needed sorting out, as well as the need to clean the boat after each fishing trip. Archie and his dad spent many hours together in the harbour keeping the boat ready for its next trip. Archie enjoyed helping on the boat, but he especially liked just being with his dad, who also had the same striking red hair.
Archie was happiest when he and his dad set out together in the boat to fish, or collect the crab pots.
However, he could not go with his dad all the time, as he had to go to the local school with the other boys and girls from the village, but in the school holidays, summer evening and weekends he saw himself as a fisherman like his dad.
When Archie was not out sailing with his dad, or working in the garden, he loved to explore the many beaches and coves to be found around the village.
He climbed rocks and swam in the sea in the summer, but his favourite pastime was spent in and around the many rock pools that were to be found around most coves and bays in that part of Devon. Archie knew which pools were most likely to have crabs and small fish hiding in their seaweed and rocks, and spent hours watching the changing scenes in the shallow water of these magical pools.
Although Archie was popular at school with the other boys and girls, he spent most of his free time happily alone in his own seaside world.
He generally preferred being with the boys more than the girls, so it was even more unusual when he met Sally and they became firm friends. Little was either of them to know when they met, how many strange, amazing, and sometimes frightening adventures they were destined to experience together.
* * *
When Sally first awoke the next morning, it took her several seconds to realise where she was. She could hear the gulls calling to each other and also sounds of the waves breaking on the beach of the small cove beneath the cliff where her Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s cottage stood.
She was in Devon!
Sally jumped out of bed and rushed over to the bedroom window, pulled back the curtains and opened the window allowing the early morning breeze and sunlight to stream in. The sea was sparkling in the sunshine and Sally could make out several small boats quite a long way off shore.
She stood for several minutes watching the beautiful scene outside the window, thinking how different it was to the view from her own bedroom in London.
When Sally came down stairs to the kitchen she found her Aunt Mary busy preparing breakfast and Sally helped by laying the table.
Over breakfast her uncle said with a laugh, “Sally I have to go down to the village and see a man about a fish!”
Sally replied, “That sounds different. Can I come with you?”
“Of course you can, provided you can ride a bike.”
“I have ridden my sister’s bike in London many times, so if you have one I am sure I can ride it.”
“Your Aunt Mary has a new bicycle she had for Christmas so I am sure we can talk her into letting you ride it,” Uncle John replied with a smile.
“Of course you can Sally. You are almost as tall as I am so you will be fine,” said Aunt Mary.
After breakfast and helping her aunt wash-up, Sally and her uncle got the bicycles from the shed at the bottom of the garden and set off towards the village. The lane that led to the village ran along the cliff-top for a while before it swung into a steep down hill section with high grassy banks either side. Sally enjoyed the ride down the hill without pedalling, but she did wonder how hard it would be coming back up the steep hill again on their way home.
Coming around a sharp bend in the lane, they rode into the village with the little houses clustering together on the hill that led to the harbour. The lane was made from cobblestones in the village and the ride was quite bumpy as they rode down to the harbour. Uncle John stopped, got off his cycle and leant it up against the wall.
Sally joined him and looked over the harbour wall at the busy scene below. There were several small boats tied up alongside the jetty and Sally watched as the fishermen below unloading their boats. One boat was painted bright blue and the tall fisherman in his long roll neck sweater was working with a boy. Both of them had very red hair and were laughing together as they unloaded boxes with crabs in them.
Uncle John called, “Hi Smithy. Can we come down? I would like Archie to meet Sally.”
The tall fisherman waved back and pointed to the steps leading down to the jetty.
Sally’s uncle explained, “This is Mr Smith and he is the man I have come down to the village to meet. I buy the fish for the guesthouse from him. I hope he will have something nice for our supper tonight.”
“That would be wonderful. Fresh fish straight from the sea that will be a real treat,” Sally said.
Her uncle warned her, “Be careful walking down the steps, they are rather wet most of the time, so they can be rather slippery.”
Together they climbed down onto the jetty by the boats and Sally was introduced to the fisherman and also to his son Archie. The first thing Sally noticed about Archie was his red hair. “He is like Joe,” Sally said with a smile to herself. “I wonder if I will end up with a redhead like Annie.”
Sally thought that Archie was very quiet and even a bit shy. He was quite a bit taller than her, and he had a very tanned face that was covered with freckles.
Next to the boat was a trolley with a long handle onto which Mr Smith and Archie loaded the boxes with the early morning catch of crabs along with other boxes filled with fish all glistening silver in the sunlight.
When they had finished loading the trolley Mr Smith pulled it along the jetty and up a slope into a large open-ended shed at the end of the harbour wall.
“Where are we going?” Sally asked Archie
“You will soon see,” he replied. “We come here most days. I think you will find it fun.”
Down the centre of the shed was a long low table that was covered with white tiles and Mr Smith and Archie lifted all their boxes of crabs and fish up onto the wet counter.
Sally had never smelt anything like the mixture of scents that filled the shed. It was the smell of the fish, as well as the tangy smell of the sea and seaweed.
After a short wait, while the other fishermen also unloaded their boxes. A short man in a long coat arrived carrying a book. With him were several other men that Sally realised, by the way they were dressed, were not fishermen.
This small crowd started at the far end of the shed. The man holding the book started shouting very quickly and the others in the crowd were holding their hands up.
He spoke so quickly Sally could not fully understand what he was saying. Or what was happening.
It was an auction of the fish.
Uncle John explained, “This auction happens on most days, with the fish and crabs taken away for use in shops, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses. It is why we always have such nice fresh fish in the village.”
Some of the fish was also sold to the people of the village for their own use at home. Sally thought that it was very noisy but also very exciting, and above all as Archie had said, it was great fun.
Mr Smith told Sally as he waited for the auctioneer to reach his own boxes. “I sell most of the fish, but I also take some home to the guesthouse for guest’s meals as well as our own.”
When the auctioneer arrived at their boxes, they were sold very quickly to various people and Archie seemed very pleased. When the boxes were all moved off the counter, the shed floor and the tiled counter was washed down with hose pipes so it was clean for the next day’s sale.
Sally’s uncle had brought a large crab for their supper and explained he had some other business to discuss with Mr Smith. He asked Archie, “Will you please show Sally around the harbour and the local beach.”
Archie agreed, “I would love to show her around, but I hope she is able to climb rocks.”
The children watched as the two men walked up towards the far end of the harbour. Archie told Sally that they would be going the Smugglers Rest. It was a small pub that most of the fishermen used after the fish auction sale was finished.
Archie took Sally back down to the boat and helped her down onto the deck. There was still a strong fishy smell even though the deck planking had been scrubbed clean using seawater; also the crab pots and nets had been tided up after the latest fishing trip.
Archie explained how the crab pots had bait in them and were dropped over the side of the boat with a line attached to a marker flag. These pots were left out over night and collected by his father the following morning, hopefully with large crabs trapped inside. Sometime if they were very lucky they found a lobster inside the pot and this Archie said was very exciting, as they were very valuable to sell.
Archie’s father knew the rocky bays and coves very well. He also knew where the best places near the rocks were to catch the crabs that this part of Devon was famous for.
Sometimes they used nets to catch fish but mostly they used lines with many hooks on them.
Archie told Sally, “We do get some wonderful fishing days. Some times when shoals of mackerel arrive in the area we catch them by the basket full. We sell them at the auction, but best of all we enjoy eating them ourselves.”
They went into the small cabin and Archie showed Sally the wheel they used to steer the boat. Archie proudly said, “Sometimes I do the steering while dad works on the other jobs in the boat.”
Archie also told Sally about the local Lifeboat. “Last year there was a terrible storm and the Lifeboat was called late at night.”
“Do they take the boat out in any weather?”
“Yes. That night I woke up to hear the signal rocket explode calling the crew to man the boat. The wind and rain was crashing against my bedroom window. It was horrible, but I heard dad running out of the house.”
“You must have been very frightened for your dad,” Sally replied.
“I was, but I know that the crew is very good and that Mr Tampling is the best sailor I have ever known. He is the coxswain and always looks after his crew however bad the weather is, and brings them back safely.”
“What happened that night,” Sally asked.
“Dad has never told me much about it, but I know they saved five sailors and the crew got some bravery medals.”
“Did they have to go far to find the boat that was in trouble?”
“Yes quite a way. The boat hit rocks at a very hazardous spot about two miles off shore called Smugglers Rocks. It’s a very dangerous place and it is also very weird. None of the local fishermen go near the place if they can help it.”
The two children climbed into the front of the cabin. Beside the wheel was a beautifully painted plaque with a picture of the boat with its name ‘Archie’s Pride’. Archie told Sally, “I am very proud my dad named the boat after me.”
The two children then climbed out of the boat back onto the jetty with Archie leading the way out of the harbour, down through some rocks and onto a small sandy beach.
They took their shoes and socks off and paddled in the warm shallow seawater with the gentle waves making a wonderful sound. At least so it seemed to Sally who had never been on a beach before.
Then she told Archie, “This is the first time I have stood in the sea.”
Archie could not believe it. However, Sally found it just as hard to understand that Archie had never been to any large town, nor could he believe just how enormous London was and how crowded the streets were.
They ran along the edge of the sea and onto the rocks that jutted out into the water at the end of the beach, where Archie showed Sally a large pool trapped in the rocks.
He explained, “The tide comes in and out each day covering the rocks with deep water where we are standing. When the tide goes back out again it leaves water trapped between the rocks to form this pool.”
“It is very beautiful,” Sally replied. “How deep does the water get before it goes back out?”
Archie pointed to a dark mark on the rocks above their heads. “That is the high tide mark.”
Sally was amazed just how deep the water would be.
The water in the pool was crystal clear and contained pretty seaweed and shells. There were even small fish that darted in and out of the rocky edge. They stayed for a long time exploring this along with other pools when Archie said, “I guess we had better get back to meet the grownups in the village.”
As they crossed back over the beach towards the harbour Archie picked a flat stone and threw it low over the sea. It flipped up from the water and bounced several times, almost like a ball bouncing from the London streets that Sally normally played in.
Sally was fascinated; thinking how clever Archie was to make the stones bounce on the water. It took Sally several attempts, with Archie showing her how to skim the stones, before she finally made one bounce.
He explained, “The stones have to be flat to get the best result.” So they both happily hunted for the perfect shape to get the most bounces.
It was then that Sally picked up the stone that was to change their lives forever and was to lead to the many adventures they were to share together.
Sally called Archie, “Come and look at this stone. I bet you have never seen anything like this before.”
“Of course I have,” Archie retorted as he crossed over to see what she was holding.
It was different to any of the others they had been finding. It had many strange markings on it. One pattern looked almost like a closed eye.
Sally said, “It’s lovely I want to keep it.”
“Don’t be daft,” Archie said. “This is just right for skimming. I am sure I will break the record for the most bounces with this one.”
Before Sally could stop him, Archie snatched the stone from her and threw it low across the water. It seemed to flash in the sunlight as it hit the water for the first time and then bounce up.
Archie had thrown it with all his might, but suddenly, on its third bounce, it flew back through the air and Sally caught it.
Archie said, “That’s very strange. It must have hit a rock just under the water.”
Again he snatched it from Sally and once again skimmed it as hard as he could out to sea.
The same thing happened, on the third bounce it flew back to Sally, but this time it almost hit Archie, who had to throw himself flat onto the beach as the stone whistled past his ear.
The children looked at each other and then at the stone nestling in Sally’s hand.
The closed eye marking on the stone changed. As they watched the eye slowly opened and then winked at them!
Sally screamed in fright and hurled the stone out to sea, but again after three bounces, it flew back to her and landed back in the palm of her hand. She had never felt such terror before. Now she had as she stared at the strange stone.
Archie was just as scared and had started to run up the beach when Sally had screamed, but he tripped and fell down onto the sand.
As he started to push himself up his hand slid down deep into the sand and he felt a hard object, and it seemed to creep itself slowly into his hand which was now closed over it.
When he opened his hand there was another stone. Was it his imagination or had this stone also got an eye?
Once again on that strange sunny July day, Archie saw another stone that seemed to wink at him!
The two children ran screaming but now found that they could not let go of the stones. It was as if they had been glued to their skin.
Sally was shaking with fright and Archie, although not sobbing like Sally, he felt the hair on the back of his neck rising and his arms were covered with goose bumps.
They looked around the beach but they were alone. Archie shivered not with cold but with pure fright.
Sally screamed “I can’t throw it away.”
“I can’t either. What do you think they are?” Archie asked.
“They are magic stones. Evil black magic!” sobbed Sally.
“If we can’t get rid of them it is because they maybe cursed.” Archie replied.
Sally was aghast. “Do you think it is the evil-eye?”
The two children stared again at the stones. Was it the curse of the evil-eyes?
Sally looked wildly around her then ran down towards the sea in panic.
Archie followed her and asked sarcastically, “Don’t be silly do you expect to see hundreds of sea witches with seaweed in their hair splashing out of the surf to put more spells on us?”
“Don’t be daft” Sally replied, “You tell me not to be silly, but you can’t tell me where these horrible stones came from, or why they chose us to attach them selves to. So there!”