Original Manuscript Copy: This is not the final version. You are welcome to read, like and comment. Do not copy, cite, or distribute without the express written permission of the author.
© Perry A. Simpson 2022
Published by The Lemon Zest Project
Written by Perry Simpson
Knockmonlea, Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland
(Tel: +353 (0)86 109 2836)
by Perry Simpson
Little Jack bent down and rescued the ball from the shallow rock pool on the Welsh coast. He liked to explore the rock pools to see what he could find after a storm. Most of the time it was only drift wood that he would find, but today was different.
He had found a green leather ball with the word 'Ireland' in the middle. It also had white shamrocks on the other panels. The saltwater dripped from it, wetting his trousers. Little Jack wasn't sure whether he should put it back where he had found it. This is what his father had told him to do in the past. Little Jack had always wanted a proper leather football, but he got a plastic one for his birthday.
Little Jack pondered in thought. He didn't think this belonged to another little boy. The temptation was too great. He put it under his arm and headed off for home.
Little Jack showed the ball to his father.
He gave a disapproving look. 'What have I told you, Jack?
Jack said nothing. His head bowed downward. He knew bringing it home was wrong.
'See look, there's a name on it.' It wasn't a name. It was the word, 'Help' written in shaky handwriting. 'Vera, what do’ ya make of this?' Gavin handed it to his wife.
Vera looked at it. For some strange reason, it seemed familiar. Then, her face froze as a terrible thought crossed her mind. 'Could this be the little girls?'
‘What little girl?' Gavin had no idea who she was talking about.
‘You know the one that cousin Long was talking about. The little girl, Mary something or other, that has gone missing in Ireland.' Vera handed the ball back to Gavin and ran to the phone.
Gavin looked at the ball and the scruffy handwritten thought. It was every parent’s nightmare. The thought of Jack going missing sent a cold spasm down his spine.
The police had arrived and took the ball away for examination by the forensics team. They hoped that to find something, anything that would tell them where the ball went in the water along the Irish Coast. The Irish Gardaí confirmed that the little girl, Mary, had a ball exactly like the one found off the Welsh coast.
Mary O'Donnell had gone missing five days ago. Everyone had assumed that she had been swept away in the storm. Now, renewed hope lifted the local community where she lived. They hadn't stopped searching. Everyone wanted it to be her ball and a clue, even the tiniest clue would point them in the right direction. They knew that somewhere along the coast near Waterford she might still be alive.
That hope grew from the little community to the whole nation as the news broke about the finding of her ball. It was something that every Irish parent dreaded. The Gardaí thought it unlikely that they would find her alive. They weren't going to raise anyone's hopes. The twenty-four-hour critical window had long passed. The local community and people of Ireland held their breath. Others prayed for a miracle.
Back in Wales, Little Jack and his parents waited. It was like this little girl was part of their family. Vera had called her cousin in Waterford several times to see if there was any news. Nothing.
The break came on Saturday morning. The forensics team had indeed found something. It connected the ball to a particular stretch of coastline north of Waterford. Embedded between the joints of the leather panels was a type of plant, traces of soil and pollen.
The Gardaí sent out a unit two hundred strong to search that stretch of coastline. Every officer knew what was at stake. It was like an invasion had landed along the coastline. Vans, dogs and lots of men in boots.
An army of local volunteers swarmed from the local villages headed for the beech. But, not to defend the state from invaders. This had become a huge community effort to find a little Mary O'Donnell.
The line of bodies spanned across the rugged terrain. They collected and collated debris as they went. There was a sudden wave of excitement as a volunteer came across a little girl's shoe. Not only a clue, but a glimmer of hope.
The press had got wind of the developments and filmed the scene from the top of the hill. The windswept in from the sea and ripped across the rocky outcrops. The weather was about to turn and with it any chance of finding Little Mary.
Time was running out for the anxious army of volunteers. Hardly a word could be heard as the sea of bodies advanced towards the advancing tidal water.
An officer drew attention to a find in one of the rock outcrops. It was the battered body of a man, face down. This was a man known to the Gardaí. He has been on an offenders register and a watch list since he was released from care. There will be an inquiry when this missing person's case concludes.
A moment of confusion halted the advancing army as news of the grim finding swept along the chain of windswept bodies. The light was fading and with it the window of hope. Everyone wished for the same thing. The rain came as promised, but this didn't deter anyone. The army continued to ripple down the rough terrain, like a wave of determination. They continued to search.
A dog barked in the distance. A lively liver and white Springer Spaniel paced round and round in circles, tail wagging. The scent from the shoe had led him to something. The other shoe. Not only the other shoe, but also the scent of little Mary.
The handler released the dog. Not usual, but time was against them. The spaniel bolted off at speed, nose glued to the ground, pausing, twisting, turning. He made his way up the hill towards civilisation. The Gardaí had an idea where the dog was heading and several officers mobilised themselves. The search had turned a corner.
The spaniel had reached a small stone cottage, hidden away from the world. He was close now, the excited dog slowed, his nose snorted along the ground. Officers scrambled through the marshland and sirens approached from the narrow lane opposite.
The trail led the enthusiastic Spaniel to a barn. He paced up and down searching for a way in. He barked at the advancing officers.
The Spaniel found a way in.
The officers broke the door open. The Spaniel was sat next to an old wooden chicken pen, tongue hanging out as he panted. He had found Mary. She was still alive, but very weak. The handler hugged his dog with tears in his eyes.
The army of volunteers paused to watch as the coastguard helicopter approached. News soon spread down the chain of soaking wet bodies. Young couples hugged and kissed. Others embraced one another, tears of joy washed away by the persistent rain.
Little Jack stood with his father looking in the general direction of Ireland.
Gavin wondered what if Little Jack hadn't brought the ball home that day. He also knew that Little Jack would not realise the importance of the decision he had made until he was older. He had disobeyed him by bringing the ball home, but in doing so, he had saved a little girl's life.
Gavin placed his hand on the back of Little Jack's back. 'Come on, let's have a game,' he smiled.
Jack was holding an identical ball to the one he found, with one subtle difference. It was a gift from a little girl, autographed with thank you and a kiss.
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