Welcome back to another Guest Blog! This time, with a slightly different format… How many times have you heard superstitions so outlandish, they almost sounded like they were made up? Well, today we’re delving into that realm of make-believe — blurring the line between superstition and fiction as we look forward to our upcoming literary zine, Salt & Mirrors & Cats! So join us, and our zine’s co-founder Signe Maene, in this new GUEST FICTION segment — with a retelling of a very (un)lucky Flemish tale...
Once upon a time, a fisher lived in a small cottage near Ostend. He didn’t care much about the diamonds and pearls the city-dwellers showed off to each other during fancy Friday evening parties, and thought a shabby table was just as nice as one engraved with intricate angel-like figures. As long as he could feed his family from his meagre income, he was a happy man.
He always got up early to walk to the harbour and greeted everyone he met along the way with a big smile on his face. The fisherman never caught much, but he always had just enough mackerel, whiting and cod to survive. One day, he didn’t catch anything at all, but he wasn’t the kind of person who easily gave in to despair. He returned the next morning with an even more positive attitude than the day before, but when his nets remained empty for a whole month, the man did let out a cry of anguish. He became convinced that he was being followed, not by a ghost or the shapeshifters that frequented the region, but by something much worse: bad luck.
His bad luck worsened when his wife and four children succumbed to illness. The heart-broken man stopped smiling. Consumed by grief, he wandered the streets without ever saying a word to anyone, and desperately hoped that that would shake off his bad luck. The only thing that consoled him was sitting alone in the dunes while staring at the tempestuous North Sea.
One night, he saw sparkling blue flames dancing above the sea in the far distance. He thought he was going mad and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were still there and that’s when he remembered the words spoken by a fellow fisherman many years ago. The mysterious flames were often seen and it was said that a treasure was hidden in the seagrass where they danced. The only reason no-one had ever been able to get their hands on the treasure was because no one knew how to get there.
While the fisher thought of the old stories he had once heard, he suddenly felt as if he was being watched and looked behind him. A tall, transparent man whose eyes burned like glowing coals gazed into the fisherman’s sunken eyes.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ the ghost said, ‘I’m sympathetic to your suffering and only wish to help.’
‘The last thing I need is help from someone like you,’ the man said.
The apparition attempted to convince the fisher that he wasn’t an angry spirit, but the despondent man didn’t trust his words.
‘Take this ring,’ the ghost said, ‘it’s enchanted. Wear it and walk through the sea to the spot where the flames are dancing. Don’t let yourself be distracted by anything you encounter along the way. You’ll find a jar there. It’s yours. Take it with you and run for the shore as fast as you can.’
‘Leave me alone,’ the fisherman said. His words seemed to have the desired effect since the sand swallowed up the apparition. The man threw the ring into the sea before going homewards. Not long after, he became seriously ill and was chained to his bed for weeks. When he finally started to regain some of his strength, more bad luck was to come. He watched in horror as his house burned down.
Penniless and without a roof over his head, the man started to visit the dunes again. He often slept there while hoping that the ghost would appear again. He didn’t have to wait long, the ghost could smell the man’s despair and offered him the ring for a second time.
That evening, a storm was brewing and the fisher knew very well that the waves have no mercy for people who are caught up in tempests, but it was his only chance to find some good luck again. Even if the ghost had deceived him, there was little difference between his body decomposing in the sea or continuing to live a life that was filled with hopelessness and heartbreak.
The man startled when his feet touched the water. The sea opened itself for him. A cobbled road leading to a green land in the middle of the sea made itself visible.
Along the way he saw the familiar faces of people whom he had once greeted on the streets of Ostend. He wanted to strike up a conversation with them, but then remembered that they had drowned a long time ago and didn’t belong in the realm of the living anymore.
When he reached the green land, a magnificent house appeared. The door opened and his wife and four children were waiting for him on the threshold. He wanted to run to them, embrace them, kiss them, never let them go, but in the nick of time he remembered the ghost had warned him not to let himself be distracted. With a heavy heart he turned his back on those he loved most.
He found the jar hidden between seagrass and rocks. The seabed trembled violently when he picked it up. He expected he would become one of the drowned souls any second now, but when nothing happened he started to walk back. The drowned and the souls of his family followed him, screaming, crying and screeching as their watery, cold hands tried to grab him. Angry voices arose from the deep darkness, and with every step he took, they became more desperate and strident. The sea began to close again while he was still walking on the sea floor and the waves made one last attempt to keep him a prisoner in its salty waters by clutching his legs, but the man managed to escape.
He opened the jar when he was back safely on the shore. It contained gems and gold, but the most valuable thing had buried itself at the bottom of the cracked, weedy pot: good luck. Even though no amount of good luck could bring the man’s family back, life started to become bearable again. He never forgot his ghostly benefactor and often returned to the dunes in the hopes of seeing him again or catching a glimpse of the blue flames, but neither appeared ever again.
Signe Maene is a Belgian writer who is very passionate about folklore.
She has worked on several projects based on folklore for the Alternative
Stories and Fake Realities Podcast. Signe is currently working on a short story collection based on tales from Flemish folklore. You can visit her
website www.signemaene.com or find her on Twitter @maenesigne.
Thank you for reading!
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