It wasn’t much more than a whisper that came out of my mouth….something was happening! A huge shadow was crossing the sky, in time with the drone of the plane. I looked up, and then looked around me. The beach had cleared, it was completely empty. I turned back to take the two ice creams and pay my money, but the ice cream van, and the old Italian were both gone. I was standing there alone on the beach. The colors were fading too. It felt like time was standing still. The waves were breaking on the sand still, but in slow motion. I turned around in a full circle! There were no cars or people on the promenade. I heard sounds like a record being played at the wrong speed. I turned around in a circle again and looked everywhere. I was all alone. Was I dreaming? I squeezed my eyes shut and counted to ten before opening them again. Nothing had changed, I was still alone! Wait a minute, there was a sound! The drone of the plane was still there, well for a while anyway and then that was gone too!
There was only darkness and silence.I felt very small and scared because I didn’t know what was happening. I felt like a scene from a film at the cinema was playing out in front of me. Things started to accelerate, noise and action surrounded me. There were people on the beach, but not the same people that had been there earlier. They were all speaking a different language, it may have been French, but I was seven and had never left England, so how would I know? People were running into the water and getting as close as they could to something that was burning there, I could feel the heat from where I was, it was bad. All of these people stood at the water’s edge as if frozen in time, crying and trying to edge closer to the fire. It was too hot! They were forced to stand and watch helplessly. What was burning, was it the pier, how could something burn in the sea? I felt a small hand slip into mine and I turned around to see a small girl standing next to me, she was even younger than I was. Her face was all dirty, sooty looking, with two clean patches where she had been crying. She looked scared and helpless so I took her in my arms and held her. She didn’t say anything, just hung on to me and cried quietly. I almost forgot I was holding here while I watched the scene play out in front of me. I think I saw people trying to jump out of the fire, because I saw movement, but not for long. They looked like large fire flies flitting around the burning giant. It smelled bad too. I could smell all sorts of burning smells, some like a petrol station, some like old furniture burning and some like…..well you don’t want to know about them. Fire engines and ambulances had started arriving, but I knew it was too late. Even a seven year old knew nothing could survive this. I kept my arms tightly around the little girl, who didn’t move, or speak, her head pushed tightly between my neck and shoulder, not wanting to see what was happening. She was so light that I didn’t feel like I was holding anything at all. No one took any notice of me. People ran around me and almost through me as though I was invisible. I got up walked to where the sand became a grassy bank. A grassy bank that should not be there! Where had Blackpool gone with its tower and busy streets? Where was the lively promenade or the ice cream van? I thought I really must be having a nightmare. It had to be the worst nightmare I had ever had. So real, so awful! It was starting to get dark! The people on the beach were now carrying torches. More spectators arrived and just stood there watching.
Slowly, out of the flames, walked a band of people.
I was seven years old, and had been enjoying a day on the beach in Blackpool. Now Blackpool was gone and I was sitting on a grassy sand dune, at dusk, on my own. Well not quite on my own, I was hugging a small child. She was so still I had almost forgotten she was there. I hugged her even closer, more to give myself comfort than for her. She was motionless, and very cold. I wished I had been wearing something other than my green bathing costume, I didn’t feel cold, but I could have wrapped it around her chilled body. She wasn’t shivering though, just very cold. I looked down at her sleeping face. Her eyes were closed and she had her thumb in her mouth. She looked peaceful, even though she still had the tear marks down her face. I looked up again and what I saw didn’t make sense to me. People were standing around in groups; some were praying, others were crying, and some just talking in hushed voices. There were firemen and police, all wading their way into the sea, trying to get nearer to the flames, which were still burning in the shallow water, but appeared to be submerging, the sea dowsing them. People walked out of the flames in two’s and three’s. It was all wrong! These people didn’t look hurt or even disheveled. They looked totally unharmed. They were walking right past the rescuers and then through the little groups of people who were scattered along the beach. No one paid them any attention. Why did no one see them? They were walking at a steady pace, not fast, nor slow and were getting closer to me, almost heading for me. Then they started passing, slightly to my right. I stood up, so they could see me, the small girl still in my arms didn’t budge. I tried to speak to the first person who passed me, he was wearing some sort of uniform, but the words froze in my throat. I reached out to touch him and try to make him feel better because everyone else was ignoring him. He turned to me and smiled and gave me a little salute, but didn’t stop. Maybe they had been told to go somewhere to get help or treatment for any injuries, but no one looked injured. Why was that? The fire had been intense, if anyone had survived, they would be badly hurt. It seemed like these people in uniform were leading the way, I turned around to see where they were headed, but they just seemed to disappear into the darkness.
The little girl in my arms had opened her eyes and was watching as the passengers passed by. An older lady stumbled as she walked past me and I reached out to try and help her, but she drew back from me and reached up to the man beside her, who helped her to get up. It felt like a cold breeze was coming from these people! It was a gentle cool breeze and it smelled of lilies. The girl in my arms started wriggling to be free, I held tightly on to her, I didn’t want her to be lost, or drowned. All of the people passing by, looked like nice people, but this was no place for a small child on her own. It was no place for me either. Where was I? A woman caught my eye when she was about ten feet or so away, she looked sad and confused and lost. The little girl was trying to get out of my arms, silently but with determination. The woman saw her and walked faster, holding out her arms, tears filling her eyes. I didn’t feel the little girl leave my arms and pass into her mother’s arms, but she did. They both looked at me gratefully, smiling silently. I reached out to them both, feeling like I should go with them, but my arms passed right through them. It scared me, but I knew this was going to happen. Somewhere between the man in uniform passing by, and the child leaving my arms, I had worked out these people were no longer on this earth. I had seen ‘things’ before, even at my young age. A cousin, who had long since passed away from a childhood disease, visited me from time to time. I was used to her, but it was a shock at first. She looked just like these people, calm, serene and at peace. They kept coming, I counted about a hundred of them, but it seemed like more. I still couldn’t understand why I was seeing them, or where I was, but I accepted it because it was happening. Maybe I had been put here to take care of the child, who somehow had got separated from her mother. I felt good that I had helped someone, but I also felt I was at the beginning of the dream and not at the end.
I stood and watched as the little band of people, unseen to the rest of the world, walked slowly past me. I worried in case I was dead too, no one on the beach seemed to see me either. I almost felt compelled to join the line of souls silently drifting by me. I could see the last of them now, by the water’s edge, still walking slowly by the gathering crowds. They passed right through photographers who were taking photographs with their big camera’s and would report whatever had happened here, to the rest of world in the morning news papers. A priest was also standing on the wet sand, close to the breaking waves, with a group of people around him praying for the dead. I taken my eyes off the victims for a moment, but felt someone standing in front of me. I didn’t want to see who it was, I didn’t know why, but I didn’t want to look anymore. I could feel a cool breeze against my skin and felt someone brushing my cheek. I turned my face to the breeze. It was Tim’s friend Maurice, still looking well dressed in his hat and coat, with his gold fillings gleaming. I stopped breathing. How could this be? I wanted to run away. I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks. Maurice smiled at me, I went to him, wanting him to pick me up and make everything alright, but couldn’t move. He bent down and touched my face again, but then had to walk on, behind him was Tim! Tim looked at me and smiled a very sad smile, but didn’t stop. Now I put my little hands together and prayed that I would wake up. After Tim and Maurice, there was darkness. I closed my eyes tightly and prayed hard. The only time I ever prayed was at night, kneeling by my bed, so I said the Lord’s Prayer and then blessed everyone who had passed by me tonight. I still hoped that I would open my eyes and find myself lying in the little bed in the comfy Bed and Breakfast, with my mum sleeping soundly in the other bed.
I opened my eyes and the noise hit me, sirens, people yelling, I could feel the heat of what remained of the flames. People were crying, wailing, the smell was horrific. I looked behind me to see a glow on the sand dunes, but that was all that was left of those who passed by. I looked back at the beach, where everyone was wading into the water with hoses, trying to extinguish the flames, but to no avail. There was very little left to extinguish. Things started floating on the top of the water, things I didn’t want to see. I felt sick, and tired and alone and very scared. There was another explosion and I dropped to the sand, not wanting to be part of this anymore.