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Ten Green Bottles
“Ten green bottles, hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall. . .” a little girl sang softly as she clambered indiscriminately over the grey rocks, her hair whipping about her face in the sea breeze. “There’ll be nine green bottles, hanging on the wall. . . ”
The little girl paused and gazed out to sea. Just at the point where the sparkling, deep blue sea met the bright blue of the sky there was a ship. She watched it, all the while singing the song.
“Seven green bottles, hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be six green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” Her thin, white summer dress billowed about her legs, rippling in the wind like the waves below her.
“Five green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” The little girl’s bare feet slipped a bit on the wet rock as she turned to watch the fluttering of a kite on the other side of the rocks. She stretched out her arms on either side of her body to keep her balance, but did not stop singing the song.
“Three green bottles, hanging on the wall. . .” She began scrambling over the rocks once more, going almost on all fours now, as the slope increased. “And if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be two green bottles, hanging on the wall.” She crested the rise and stood looking out over the sea and beach on one side, and the mundane little village on the other.
“Two green bottles hanging on the wall, and if one green bottle should accidentally fall, there’ll be one green bottle hanging on the wall.” As she sang, she worked her way carefully forward until she stood on the very edge of the rock overlooking the sea. Her countenance brightened as she neared the top. But once there, she looked down at the waves crashing on the rocks below her, and for the first time, her song faltered. This side of the rocks was sheer, not at all like the gradual climb she’d had up the back. The waves lay some fifty feet below her, but she could not take her eyes off them. She raised her voice above the wind to sing and took another step forward in fascination. “One green bottle hanging on the wall, and if that green bottle should accidentally fall. . .”
* * *
At first, everyone inferred that she had just wandered away. No one really worried; the village was small and she couldn’t have gone far. But nobody had seen her.
When the little girl’s hair clip was found on the rocks above the beach, her parents began to panic. What if she’d slipped and. . ? They called in the police.
A police boat set out to patrol the cliffs with the girl’s parents accompanying them, now resigning themselves to the girl’s fate.
They found her body lying broken on the rocks. Her dress was soaking and torn from the sea spray and rocks. Blood covered her forehead and seeped from her side, in harsh juxtaposition to the pale white of her skin and dress. Her father stood soberly as the mother buried her head in his coat and wept as the police searched the body and the area surrounding it.
Nothing else was found on the beach except an old green glass bottle. It was brought to the sergeant in charge and he used his pen-knife to dig the cork out of the bottle’s neck. Inside was a crisp, white sheet of paper with one sentence written upon it.
There’ll be no more bottles hanging on the wall.
The police could make nothing of it and decided that it was a mere coincidence. One young officer, new to the force, was reminded of the old childhood song, Ten Green Bottles, but he did not mention it to his superiors, for fear of being laughed at. And anyway, he told himself, it doesn’t matter.