The island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands, was blessed with numerous bays, coves, and inlets. I spent two years of my life on the island, when I was just eighteen. It was an insular place in more ways than one, and I was restless, eager to move to London, to the world of books, theatre, music, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. I had a job, I had my aunt’s home; but I was lonely, and I missed my school and college friends.

On weekends, or on holidays, I would explore the island’s bay and beaches, and there was one particular cove that I liked because it was a little difficult to get to, and the tourists usually gave it a miss. It had a pebbled beach (unsuitable for sunbathing), and when the tide came in the sea waves beat up against the cliff wall. When the tide was out, you could walk or paddle a considerable distance before reaching any great depth.

In swimming shorts, I would venture quite far out, my limit being a group of rocks that were exposed when the tide was out, but submerged when the tide had turned and was approaching high water.

Those lonely rocks attracted me in some strange way. No one else visited them, and I felt they belonged to me and to the seagulls that were forever wheeling overhead, their mournful calls contending with the sound of the waves lapping against the base of the rocks.

One morning towards the end of April, when the tide was out, I walked out to the rocks, now fully exposed, and settled down on one of the them in order to absorb some of the spring sunshine. It was a flattish rock, and I stretched out in a languid, sensuous mood. The sky was a tent of blue. The sea was relatively calm. All was well. Only the gulls complained.

I dozed off. In fact, I fell fast asleep; dreamt of tropical lagoons, coconut palms, and jungle princesses. I don’t know how long I slept-two hours or more – but when I woke up, the sun had disappeared and a heavy mist had drifted in over the sea. I couldn’t see the beach. I could only see the neighbouring rocks. And now the level of water had risen. A wave dashed against the rocks, sending its spray over my shivering body.

I felt trapped. I would have to swim back to the shore, and I was a poor swimmer. Before long, the sea would cover the rocks, and I would be swept off them. The sea was rough now, and the sound of the waves striking the rocks drowned out the cries of the gulls.

I stood there, naked to the elements, shivering in the cold salt spray.

I decided to call for help. The beach seemed very far away, but perhaps a passing boat would pick up my cries.

“Help, help!” I called, and I was answered by the cries of the gulls, as though they were mocking me.

“No one will hear you. Don’t tire yourself by shouting.” Someone had spoken to me. It was a human voice, not a bird. Standing on another rock, a few feet away, was a girl in a red bathing suit. It’s hard for me to describe her. She was about my age, or perhaps a little younger; fifteen or sixteen. She had short curly hair. She stood barefooted on a flat rock, her arms on her hips, as though defying the wind and waves.

“I haven’t seen you before,” she said, her accent that of the island people. “You were sleeping for some time. You overslept. Now it’s too late.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“I couldn’t get across to you. There’s a strong current between the rocks.”

“Who are you?”

‘I’m Alice. From the village in the bay.’

“How did you get here?”

“I was bathing and collecting mussels. I am always collecting mussels. You can find them on the rocks when the tide is out.”

“But what are we going to do now?” I asked fearfully. “The water will soon be over the rocks.”

“Yes, the tide is coming in fast. And there’s a storm coming up too. Can you swim?”

“Very little.”

“Don’t try. You’ll be swept against the rocks.”

The sky was grey, the waves ominous. It had begun to rain, and the wind swept the cold rain across my face and exposed body. I shivered from a surge of fear.

“What do we do now?” I called out to the girl. “Nothing. Hold my hand if you can reach across.”

I stretched my arm as far as I could, but I could only touch her fingers.

“I’m Alice,” she said.

“I know. Hello, Alice.”

“It’s only a dream,” she said. “We’ll wake up soon.”

But it wasn’t a dream for me. It was real, and we were going to drown or be dashed to death against the rocks.

And then, through the gathering darkness of the storm, I heard someone calling out: “Ahoy there, ho! Is anyone there? Ahoy!” A small fishing boat was approaching us, tossing about on the turbulent sea.

“Here!” I called. “Help! Here on the rocks.”

The boat came nearer. Two men were in it. Fishermen or, possibly lifeguards.

“We’re stranded,” I called. “Come nearer. Take us off!”

“Can’t get too close!” called one of the men. “I’m throwing you a rope.”

He tossed me a rope, and I grabbed it, stepped into deep water and was hauled across to the boat. The two men got me into the boat and were about to pull away from the rocks when I remembered the girl.

“Wait, wait!” I cried. “There’s a girl on the rocks.”

“Can’t see anyone,” said the younger man. “Can you see anyone, Bill?”

“Your eyes are better than mine,” said the older man, but he peered into the gathering mist and called out: “Halloo! Is anyone there?”

He was answered by the crash of the waves as they struck the rocks.

“Her name’s Alice,” I said. “She was talking to me. Alice, Alice!” I called, adding my shouts to theirs. Did I hear a faint cry carried away by the wind?

“There’s no one there now,” said the younger man, starting to row towards the shore.

“She was standing on the next rock,” I pleaded. “She touched my hand.”

“Did you say Alice?” asked Bill. “There was a girl called Alice who drowned here many years ago. You weren’t here then, Jim. Like you, son, she came out to the rocks just as the tide was turning and a storm was brewing. She was swept away by the currents. We never found her.”

“Are you saying he saw her ghost?” laughed Jim, now pulling vigorously on the oars. The rocks were slipping away, now under high water, out of our vision.

“Could be,” said Bill. “Others have sometimes seen her.”

“But she was real,” I said. “She touched me.”

“Maybe she did,” said Bill. “Maybe she gave you a helping hand. Those rocks are not for sunbathers. Don’t go out there again, son. We won’t always be around to rescue you.”

He took the other pair of oars, and we went skimming over the leaping waves towards the safety of the shore.

I kept staring back towards the now invisible outcrop of rocks, but I could see nothing. Above the sound of the rushing waves, I heard only the mournful cries of the gulls as they circled above us.

“She touched me,” I said to myself. “She must have been real.”

Excerpted with permission from “High Water” in The Night Has a Thousand Eyes: My Favourite Stories of Love, Warmth, and Friendship, Ruskin Bond, Aleph Book Company.