About a wild boy and a lonely man whose lives are brought together by natural forces.
|The whole world can be seen from this place.
Above it in an azure dome, the endless sky curves down to the mountains beyond. A wild, enthusiastic wind soars over land fed by the clouds and bitten by the fat, woolly sheep that reap the benefits of the earth and pass them on to the men, and in the middle of this world, under the fabulous sky is this high-standing hill that is friendly with the wild.
A large wooden box stands on the grass. The sun’s rays make one side glow a warm golden colour, and the damp of lingering dew creeps up from the bottom. There are three solid sides, and a hatch that is closed on the front. Next to the box stands a tall man in a wax jacket. Hands in his pockets, he stands hunched with his back to the wind. A few metres away is a dark green landrover, its sides and wheels caked in mud. This is a difficult place to get to.
Finally, the man turns around to face the world. He has been standing here since before the sun had begun to rise. He had stood shivering in the darkness and bullied by the wind, but it was worth it because he had to be on time.
If you listen hard enough, you can hear the fierce beating of his heart. Vibrations fill his chest, a drum, and the hill shudders along with his body. It feels his excitement and his fear. Faster now, and louder, faster and louder in a painful crescendo that cannot be ignored.
Finally he has had enough. This is the right time. He slides the wooden hatch open and lets it fall to the ground as he stands to the side.
The wind rushes into the box, filling it with presence and power which erupts from the opening in a graceful gathering of mist-white feathers. The tall man is jumping about, running down the hill after the sky bird and shouting “Go on! Get out of here!” Car and box are left behind, forgotten, as he follows it down the hill, stopping at the bottom of a tree.
The creature, a white buzzard, alights in the highest branches. The ungainly animal below her is out of her life, and she will never see him again.
“Good luck,” he waves, and blows a kiss. Then, turning, his back to the wind, he walks again to the top of the hill.
Mark sprang upright, his muscles twisted ropes beneath sweating skin.
“Can anyone tell me,” the drawling teacher began, for the seventeenth time, “How a cheetah is adapted for speed?”
That was easy enough. A flexible spine, and claws that could not be retracted. The cheetah’s lengthened stride and superb grip meant that it could run at sixty-five miles per hour, and individuals had made it up to 75.
But what could grip the air for a flying eagle? What use would a flexible spine be to this aerial hunter, who could far outsprint a cheetah?
Tempest knew, and in the back of his workbook he sketched the outline of an eagle’s keelbone, strong and light, that is sharpest when the bird is hungry. He sketched the widely fanned tail that twists like a rudder, and the broad wings that could be swept back as the bird plummeted. No lumpy ears or shoulders broke up a diving bird’s form; no wiry coat to catch the wind and slow her down. Tempest drew the silky feathers of the female white-tailed eagle, his friend Artemis. Queen of the wild.
The teacher eyed him reproachfully. He felt her mascara-choked eyes on his back, but he didn’t care.
“Arran!” she barked.
He had to back-track his thoughts, hesitantly rejoining the same pointless mindframe that connected the class. “Long legs,” he replied.
The teacher bent closer to him, her brows raised, eyes wide as if she was interested. This was her best encouraging look, common among teachers at his school. “Yes? Carry on? How does that make cheetahs fast?”
Tempest’s heart was burning with frustration. He looked at the picture on the board. The classic image of a cheetah, running. Of course. Everyone knows that cheetahs do nothing but run. All day.
Just as the eagles were always shown as being big, fierce and proud, cheetahs were always shown running, being fast and dynamic. The picture everyone had of cheetahs showed nothing of the cat’s life: no one seemed to think of how delicate and vulnerable that fragile form was. Beneath the fierce-looking eyebrows, similar to an eagle’s, that are designed to protect from the sunlight, beneath the striking colouring and the speed, a cheetah’s average day was a battle for food. Yet it struggled on, chasing prey despite the many risks from tough scavengers.
The other students would go further in life if they learnt to do the same. Yet instead of studying its courage, they were studying its speed. The teachers had missed the whole point of how original and stunning wildlife could be…as usual.
He looked again at the picture, transfixed in a headlong leap away from the dozy class of deliquents. How long ago was that picture taken? Its subject would probably be dead by now.
“Arran!” the teacher was back at the front of the classroom. Her chastising yap had jolted the others awake.
Tempest shrugged. “Dunno.”
The teacher sighed, exasperated. “Yet you love animals so much.” Her remark was intended to be intuitive and tender, but it proved to Tempest how little she knew. How little anyone knew that his heart was away on the moors, running with deer and flying with eagles. He didn’t love animals any more than a human loves his house. He needed nature. It helped him and nurtured him, a better mother and teacher than any he had had. It gave him comfort and support. Moreover, he was a part of it, like a spider is a part of its web, and it never left him. Not even here, in the warm stuffiness of the classroom and the endless safety rules and the security cameras and the stupid pupils and the hatred. Not even here, with the rasping noise of the Ipods, the metallic shine, the grind of the doors and the artificial glare of the lights.
For the real world was part of him, and he was part of the real world.
The shrill scream of the bell took the room under seige: the pupils suddenly found their energy and leapt from their seats, shoving heavy books into their bulging bags, spilling ink on the tables and kicking the chairs in a frantic effort to be the first away.
Tempest didn’t see the point: they’d all come back in the morning. It was a charade, one of many in the children’s act that was the price to pay for popularity. As they all tried to squeeze through the narrow doorway, like garlic being pressed, he hung around behind them. If he stayed in their midst, he was more likely to be picked on, and anyway, Tempest had no intention of going home tonight.
As the little characters of Keith and Gladys skipped merrily across their inky office, being scratched out and redrawn countless times, Mark tried to become inspired. It wasn’t easy being an illustrator. Some days, he woke at three o’clock in the morning with a burning need to draw, a sudden idea that had slunk into his head at night and gone on rampage, killing every other instinct, want and emotion. But at other times he was apathetic, unable to make sense of his training or skills. He’d draw a couple of lines and slump in his seat, his mind exhausted. Keith and Gladys, the bizarre little figures that had popped out of his head and fed his bank account, were nonetheless fairweather friends.
His mind strayed from its regular path and wandered into the known, yet frightening wilderness. He became vaguely aware of an echo back from years before, burrowing somehow into his subconscious like a weevil grub. And then at once it became a fully-fledged word that slammed into his skull.
The more he tried to staunch it, the more it bled into him.
Every drawn out syllable was as painful as if he had a needle in his eye, and he strained to block it out by drawing anything – whatever he could think of except the lines and curves of that stinging name. So confused was his hand that he ended up drawing a single desperate line across the paper, which ended in a flick.
He stopped drawing just as the light began to flicker and struggle. He sighed, glad for a distraction, and wandered over to the fuse box. No fuses had blown, which was strange. He glanced out of the window to see if anyone else’s lights were off, and deduced from the water streaming down the window and the drunken angle of the trees that a storm had flown up.
How long had Mark been working for? Time slowed to a stop, meaningless now, as he looked through the window. With the cold black cape of the night came an unbearable loneliness. Work was all he had, and in the light of day it never seemed so bad. But when the darkness came he couldn’t stop the onset of a disease, the worst disease, that got under his skin and tortured him invisibly. Every night.
He couldn’t hear the clock ticking. This, too, was odd, for its soft, regular thudding was normally a comfort to him, and he usually noticed as soon as the battery needed changing. But now the cottage was as silent as a churchyard. Only the distant rustle of the distant trees outside the window could be heard, and the wind herding the rain as dolphins will herd fish. Mark watched it absent-mindedly, then turned towards the clock, which had resumed its ticking.
He searched the row of drawers in the kitchen, trying not to hit his head on the cupboards overhanging them. His hands grasped forks, spoons, blunt knives and sharp ones, which taught him to be very careful. Finally he found a tiny box, which was rough like an unshaved chin on one edge, and rattled as he took it out. By the sound of it, there were two left. Blindly, he fumbled for a chalk and wrote “matches” on the wall.
Ouside the wind wailed, rattling the windows as if it were solid. Mark froze suddenly when it made a scream that was almost human.
When his heart had begun to beat again, he smiled and relaxed. He was all grown up now, and silly things like the weather shouldn’t scare him.
He lit a candle on the table with one of the matches, and it chased the fear away with its growing and shrinking light. Mark huddled next to it and wondered what to do. In Inverness, there were often storms and powercuts. Why wasn’t he better prepared? He cursed himself for relying too much on the lights and technology of the modern world. Indra’s life never had to be suspended when the power cut out.
Indra…now that the name had crept back into his mind, taking advantage of the distraction, it wouldn’t leave. There was no use trying. In a few years’ time it would reduce him to a quivering wreck.
There was someone at the door.
They had been knocking incessantly for a little while, but Mark hadn’t distinguished between the wind’s rattling and the frantic thumping of something that wanted to come in.
Whoever could it be in this storm? Perhaps a neighbour looking for a candle or some matches, but surely no one would ask him for that.
With a last look at the friendly candle, Mark crept into the ebbing shadows beside the door and opened it.
The wind hit him in the face, knocking him off-balance and chilling the room. The candle flickered and died.
Outside, the moon glowed faintly from behind a mask of angry cloud. Soft, dull light fell on the glistening road, highlighting some areas and leaving others in shadow. The wind whistled through the street, looking for something to play with. Standing at the doorway like a wolf that had stopped in its tracks was a boy of around seventeen years of age. He glanced feverishly down the street and back again to stare defiant, straight into Mark’s eyes. Long, dark hair flicked and flew in the wind. The boy wasn’t as tall as Mark, but what he lacked in size he made up for in presence. If the mating scream of a vixen had a physical form, this would be it. His eyes were wild and black like sloes, and they were fixed on Mark’s as if willing him away.
Mark was compelled to open the door. The boy dashed inside just as the streetlights blinked into life. The lamps in the house came alive again, and Mark turned to look back at the stranger. His eyes were not black, as they had seemed, but the same deep chocolatey brown as his hair. They had lost some of their defiance, and were beginning to glaze over, although he still looked frightened and unsure.
“What’s your name?” asked Mark. For some reason, looking at this kid made him feel shakey.
The stranger didn’t reply. His face was white, and Mark wondered what was wrong with him. It was then that he noticed that the black shirt he was wearing was damp. Not with the rain: the boy was wearing a long brown wax coat. He was also clutching in one hand a bloody piece of cloth, and his other arm was tucked into his shirt.
“Are you okay?” Mark went a little closer, and saw that the boy was not holding cloth, but his hand. It was bleeding profusely and soaking his dark clothes. Mark tried to go even closer, but the boy backed away. He was frightened. For a few seconds Mark felt drawn into his wild eyes, the colour of melted chocolate. Then they shut, and he collapsed.
(a/n: just a little taster, soon I'll put the 2nd installment up)