The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Chapter Seven: Storm (Part IV)

Sim’s directions had been surprisingly accurate and helpful. Normally peeps don’t really see the world around them, the less so the more common it is to them. For the most part they are unable to describe it in useful terms to a stranger. But Sim had it down so dead on that I found the place on a lonely moor, in a moonless night, without once getting lost.
I had gotten off the narrow, winding footpath here and there, though, especially where the wooden posts of the overland power line didn’t exactly follow it. Several times I had sunken into muddy pools of moor water, mostly only to the ankle or the knee, but more than once all the way to the hip. When I finally got to the cottage, water was squelching in my boots and crumbs of peat were itching my arse crack.
The cottage was a blocky, square stone building, thatch-roofed, and directly at the shore of a lake, hidden well by a dense birch wood. A short wooden pier lead directly from the house onto the lake.
Everything was dark and quiet when I approached. I got out the keys Sim had given me. At first they didn’t seem to fit, and for a second I thought it had been a cruel joke, but then I was past the catch in the lock and the door opened. Since all the windows were covered by shutters – and there was little enough light outside – the inside was pitch black. I felt for a light switch and found it, but flipping it did nothing. With the help of Mark’s Death Arcana Zippo I eventually found the fuse box and turned on the power.
The cottage had one room, one kitchen, and a small bathroom that obviously had been built in later. At first the faucets wouldn’t run, but some more look revealed an electric pump. Witching it on yielded fresh water, and an electric geyser even made it hot. I quickly stripped and warmed up under a steaming hot shower. The electric kettle, some old Tetley’s bads, and a thermos allowed me to warm up from the inside as well. The only thing I really missed was fags, but I had smoked my last on the walk here.
I never considered not going to the cottage, or not waiting for Sim the next day. I know that most peeps don’t get that, but to me there is a big difference between lying and breaking my word. Call it pride, but lying is a way of gaining control and power. Breaking my word cheapens myself. It’s not that I don’t do it, it’s just that I am loathe to, and usually need a pretty good reason.
But all that didn’t mean that I trusted Sim, of course. His dad had already proven to be a hypocrite and a snitch, and his older brother an idiot for not knowing that. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the family. But I wasn’t going to put my fate into their hands, was I?
Next to the door I found several pairs of Wellingtons, some raincoats, and an old woollen seaman’s jumper. Of my own wet clothes I only put back on the woollen knee socks Mr. Roth had given me. (Unlike cotton, wool, I had discovered on my journey, keeps you warm even when it is wet.) Then I stepped into the smallest pair of rubber boots, and put on the jumper – it hung down to my knees – and one of the rubberized rain coats. I cleaned up my mess as good as I could, took one of the woollen blankets from one of the bunk beds, and an Orson Scott Card from a stack of Science Fiction and Fantasy books on a shelf, turned off all the lights, faucets, switches, and fuses, and cleared out.
In the birch wood I found a well hidden spot, a bit up a hillside, from where I would see both the cabin and the path leading across the moor without being seen myself. I hung my clothes to dry, snuggled up in the blanket, took a crumbling, moss-covered log for my pillow, and tried to get some rest. Given the circumstances I slept reasonably well.
At first light I put my own cold and still damp clothes back on, and climbed the nearest hill top. I would guess the elevation at maybe 300 meters and I had a pretty good view of the surrounding area. He land was very beautiful, in its bleak and monotonous way: Undulating, mostly shallow hills in shades of dark auburn, burnt umber, and sepia, broken here and there by pale grey and chalky white ridges of bare rock. There were patches of heath and rushes. Most hollows contained small lakes or pools. To the Northwest the country got rougher and rockier, to the West, beyond the lake, there were mountains. The foot of the hill I was on and the shore of the lake were bearded with birches and pines. There might have been a road on the far side of the lake, and maybe a house a good way down the shore, but that might have been a ruin. Other than that there was no sign of human life in sight. I though that this was actually a pretty good spot to lay low for a while.
Walking had warmed me up, and my body heat soon dried my clothes, except for the boots. For the rest of the morning I walked around the area, checked out escape routes, vantage points, and other useful features. I found out that the house I had seen wasn’t a ruin, but boarded up and not in use, like the MacLeod cottage. It had a small pier. On the pier lay, turned over against rain, a small fibreglass rowboat, which I heaved into the water and used to scout out the small island closest to the MacLeod cottage. On the South side of the island I found an old, overgrown orchard, many of the dark, crooked branches weighed down with ripe apples. I collected some, sat down on a comfortable rock, and while I ate my fill, I read the Orson Scott Card. Later I took a dozen more apples along, enough to last me the rest of the day.
I returned the boat and walked back to the cottage for some more hot tea. There was no food in the kitchenette, but sugar, and I poured enough in the thermos to make the tea viscous with it.
Finally I returned to my look out post and in the company of Mr. Card I waited for Sim.
In the late afternoon someone came riding down the path on a bicycle. It was him, dressed in a school uniform, black-and-yellow tie flying behind him like a streaming pennon. Over the waters the tall, helmet-shaped mountain had just been set aflame by the setting sun, and the reflection of those burning rocks gave everything a grim, war-like hue, and his wite button-down shirt, damp with sweat, seemed soaked in blood.
I watched him skid on the gravelled path as he turned into the final curve to the cottage. When I was satisfied that nobody had followed him, I came down the hill behind him. By the time I reached the bike, dumped carelessly on the ground, wheels still coming to a stop, he had disappeared inside. He looked crestfallen, when he came back out, but as soon as he saw me standing in the m idle of the track, his face lit up again.
“Awricht, Dana. Masel tsocht ye didna come efter aw.”
I crossed my arms, didn’t return the smile.
“I gave you my word, didn’t I?”
“Aye, sae ye did, Mr. Blanchard.”
“He could have asked, before calling the bloody police.”
For a moment Sim’s face darkened. It took me a second to realize that it was with shame, not anger.
“Yer richt. Masel hae tae apologise fer ma Paw. Hisel’s a menseless, unwycelike oof what tsinks tey rules o’ courtesy dinna apple tae Sassenachs.”
Sassenach – or Saxon, Gaelic for Englishmen and sometimes all foreigners – was a word I knew already. But more than than I knew the sound that crept into Sim’s voice as he said it, that helpless rage and anguish about someone you couldn’t stop loving, no matter how much you wished to. I had heard it often enough on my own voice.
“Well, thank you for warning me. And for offering shelter.”
“Och, least A coud dae. Finnd ye t’wey awricht?”
“Yeah. Only got wet feet.”
“Bit ye dinna bide inower.”
He gestured towards the house that indeed looked as if I hadn’t set foot inside. It wasn’t a question, the way he posed it. I hesitated just long enough to see the expression of shame and rage deepen on his face. He understood too well.
“I shouldn’t have doubted you. I’m sorry.”
He shrugged.
“Och aye. Let’s gae ben and git ye wairmt oop and fed.”
On the way inside, I noticed he was limping slightly.
“You okay?” I asked, nodding towards his leg. “You hurt?”
“It’s naessin. Chust a wee bit sair.”
Sim opened the shutters of the two windows that were not visible from the lake or the path, turned on the heating, and put on the electric kettle. He told me to take off my wet boots and socks and put them on the radiator.
While he did that I asked: “So, what happened after I was gone?”
“Naessin much. Masel telt Conall. When oor paw finnd ye gaen, he suddent hae minds ye wis oan yer wey tae Ullapul, Conall haed. Bit oniwey, t’ polis un An Gjerstan wisna seekin fer ye. Aisser yer fowks ne’er cawd ‘em, or tay dinna ken ye’r in t’ Gailtacht.”
“T’ Hieland. Here awa.”
He smiled and spread his arms to embrace the land in its entirety.
Well, that figured. There was no reason for anyone to be looking for me up here, after all. The last I had been spotted was leaving a bus not even quite out of Wotton, Gloucestershire. I couldn’t decide whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Suddenly Sim grinned and got something from his backpack.
“Bit chust tae be shuir, masel brocht ye tus!” He handed me a pair of scissors and a pack of dye. “And tus.” And he produced a plastic bag stuffed with old clothes.
I weighed the pack in may hand and gave him a grim smile. Half an hour later I had somewhat scrubby, short, dirty blond hair, and was dressed in threadbare jeans, a white T, and a zippered, olive jumper with elbow patches. Looking in the mirror I had to admit that no verbal description would connect me with the boy who had sat down for supper at the MacLeod dinner table. Sim even made me exchange the motorcycle jacket I had stolen from Ruth for a sheepskin-lined denim jacket that had once belonged to Aidan, another of Sim’s brothers, who no longer lived at their rents’s place. I only refused to give up my Oxblood Doc Martens.
“Sae guid as new,” Sim confirmed. “Hark, masel hae tae gae hame fer tea, bit if ye want, A kin come back efter.”
“That would be great. You sure you won’t get into trouble?”
“Me? Nae!” He grinned again, his marvellous chipped grin. “Ye kin caw msel Sim Blanchard, mo caritsh. Onie usse tsin ye want fer me tae bring on ye?”
So I asked him for fags, and off he went, still limping. Again I went outside and spent the time in between up on the hill. This time when I saw him return, alone and un-followed, I went back inside in time, turned on the radio, and waited for him there.
He had brought me two packs of Marlboro.
“Bit no inower or ma paw will ken.”
We went outside onto the short pier. I tore open the pack, got one out, broke off the filter, sparked up and sucked in a lung full of smoke. I offered the pack to Sim and after a moments hesitation he took one. He did his best to hide that he was unused to it, and I pretended not to notice. We sat down next to each other.
“Everything alright at your rents’s?” I asked
“Shuir. Nae problems at’a.”
And then he asked, timidly: “What’s yer tale, tenn, mo caritsh?”
“Ran away, travelled around, got no real goal.”
He peered at me in the deepening gloom, blinking when smoke got into his eyes. He waited for me to continue, but I brazened it out.
“C’mon,” he finally said softly. “Tsat’s no fair.”
I sighed, and then to my own surprise I found myself nodding, and beginning to talk. And to my much bigger surprise I found myself not even making up stuff.
I didn’t tell him much of the hard facts, like my name or where I was from. I moved my aunt from Gloucestershire to Wales, and altered all other names and dates and locations somewhat. But as the night progressed and he kept asking questions, I told him more and more of the truth, the whys and hows, of the joys and the pains and fears, as good as I understood them myself. I told him a lot about Edinburgh – which I made out to have been Glasgow, although he knew too much of both cities to be fooled, it turned out – and he sucked up everything about the cons, about “James” (i.e. Charley), and about “Kit” (Ponyboy), and about my trip through the Highlands. I even mentioned Cannich.
Finally we fell silent.
“Gie’s anusser,” he said. I did and lit it for him.
He rolled onto his tummy and blew the smoke over the quiet water.
“A ken what happened tae ye in Corie an t’ Shee, in t’ Mullardochs.”
“What happened to me there?”
“Ye wis taken by t’ Deena Shee tae Elfin.” He turned his head and looked over his shoulder at me in the darkness. “Tae Fairyland. Tay bide unner t’ hills, t’ Shee. Bit when yer lacer bruik, tey bud let ye gae.” And at my amused expression: “A’m bluidy serious, Dana. Tay ar real, sae tay ar.”
He looked back down onto the water and into his own dark reflection. Then he extinguished the fag in the lake and but the butt to the others to dispose of in the bin later. He rolled onto his side, propped up his head on his hand, elbow on the planks of the pier. He paused, began to say something, hesitated, and began again.
“Will ye lairn us?”
“Lairn. Teach.”
“Teach… what?”
“What ye ken. Lairn us tsievin. Connin. An aw tsat.”
“You want me to give you a course in Larceny 101?”
Sim laughed, a quiet, mirthful laugh, if a bit shakey.
“Aye.” And pleadingly: “Ma shay duh hull ay.”
Cehenneme git!” My words were out before I could think about them. “I will not. Are you nuts?”
Sim sat up, awkwardly. He got to his feet stiffly and walked back into the cottage. I put out my own fag and followed him. Sim turned on the light.
“Why the fuck would you want to learn any of that, Sim?” I asked. He blinked at me in the bright light of the lamp over the table.
“Hou no? Ye’re daeing it, aren’ ye?”
“Weren’t you listening? I went to jail.”
“An tsat dinna stap ye, A notice.”
“Look, I appreciate your help, I really do. And if there is anything I can do for you, I will. But that is crazy. You live in a village with, what, maybe one hundred inhabitants? That’s about as many as in the single kahrolası tower block I was raised in. How long do you think I would have lasted had I only plied my trade in my own kahrolası house? Or your school – how many pupils are in that school?”
“A hunnert and aichty-nine.” Face and voice sullen.
“My school has 2000 kahrolası pupils. My kahrolası primary school had 600. And I never would have been so stupid to try to steal in either. I know it sucks to hear that, but your world is too kahrolası small to be a crook in, man.”
“A daena ken tsat wird. Kuh-ro-lasse?”
“It’s Turkish. Means damned.”
“Wha sais masel wull bide here foriver?”
Siktir git! That’s not a party game, Sim. That’s not a kahrolası adventure novel. If you don’t practice that, and practice every day, it’s no good to you at all.”
“So, you can’t practice here. And you’re bloody fourteen. By the time you’re eighteen you’ll have forgotten all of it. Look, Sim. Some stuff you can learn by doing. Playing football or riding your bike. Some stuff, that’s a really bad idea, like flying a plane, or free climbing, or picking kahrolası pockets. You’ll only get in kahrolası deep trouble. I don’t need to waste my time for that.”
A phit! Ye’re nae twa years aulder tan masel if yer a day, and if ye gat yersel t’ jyle hinder year, ye haed tae hae stairted yer tsievin t’ same age as masel uss noo.” He glared at me. His face was pale, and his thick dark curls hung down his forehead. He shook them out of his eyes with an angry flick of his head. “Mebbe masel wull practeese on a kuhrolasse suit wi bells, like tsay daed auld lang syne. Oniwey, whit’s it tae ye? Aren’ye chust efter telling me aw aboot hou ut’s yer ain richt tae fuck oop yer ain life houaniver ye chuise? Ar ye really gaen tae tell us noo masel nae hae tsat richt? Feech, if tsat’s sae ye kin fuck yersel, Sassenach!”
We stared at each other across the table. Sim had his fists balled tightly, and his shoulders were shaking.
“Why did ye tell Ceana to get me out of the house yesterday?”
“Ceana told me you put her up to it. To ask if I would accompany her to feed the horses. Why?”
He swallowed and stared at the floor. Then he sighed.
“Masel haed tae talk tae Conall aboot ye. And mak siccar ma paw and ma maw wadna pit quaistans on ye. And… and masel etteled at getting ye pit oop in ma chaumer.”
“You… what… ettled? Chaumer?”
He sighed again. “A tried tae get ye pit oop in ma bed-room.”
I thought about that.
“How? Never mind why. How did you do that?”
“Bi makkin on tae ma maw masel didna want ye tar. Tsat’s aw it teuk.”
“You took extra long to clean up your homework before supper, too, didn’t you? To keep the chair next to you free, so that I would have to sit there.”
The anger still nested in Sim’s eyes, but he couldn’t quite suppress a grin. He shrugged.
“You are one devious bastard, you know that?” I asked.
“Telt ye, ye kin caw masel Blanchard an aw.”
“Aye, so you did.”
Across the table I offered my hand to him, even though in my heart of hearts I knew it was a mistake. But then, I never could say no to him.
“Okay, Sim MacLeod. For as long as I stay, I will teach you what I know.”
“Ye hecht?” His eyes were hard. “Ye’ll haud tryst?”
I didn’t know those words, but the meaning was clear enough.
“I promise. And I keep my word.”
And so I did, damn me. And so I did.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Chapter Seven: Storm (Part III)

Conall’s family lived in one of those long, whitewashed stone-built cottages, with small awning windows along the front and back and none in the narrow side walls that peak in a chimney. It was set a little back from the road, on a rise yellow with high, flowering gorse. The Defender roared as Conall raced it up that last bit before killing the engine in a choked stutter. When I stepped out, the coconut smell of the gorse washed over me. The sea, on the other side of the road, was dark, and quiet.
Conall took me inside. Everything was crowded with boots and coats and people. The air was steamy with the smell of boiling cabbage, and wet dog, and many conversations being carried on at once. In the living room a table was being set while a boy and a girl were hastily finishing homework. Three older men in work clothes were discussing something in Gaelic in the hall next to the front door. In the kitchen a matronly woman, her long hair streaked with silver, was directing more young people to cut bread and fill jugs. Lamps were spaced haphazardly, so that some areas were gloomy and others brightly lit, increasing the sense of buzzing chaos.
Conall shouted over the din to several people that I was “Danny” and that I would stay for tea. Several people nodded to me. The boy at the table, who was maybe a year or two younger than me, and who had dark, curly hair, bright eyes, and a chipped tooth, looked up from his homework and asked something in Gaelic. Conall laughed and answered back. I understood that he made it clear that my name was “Daniel”, not “Dana.”
Then he said to me “Masel buist fault tae yowes” and left again. I had no idea what that had meant. A young woman, maybe three or four years older than me, greeted me. Her English had the same beautiful Scottish sing-song, and the dry, harsh “r”s, but was a lot more intelligible than most of her family.
“Hi Danny. A’m Iona. Pleased tae meet ye. Tae’s awmost ready. D’ye want tae wash oop?”
And she showed me a tiny bathroom next to the kitchen. It had just about space for one deep, chipped enamel sink, and a loo with a rickety, wooden seat, and two feet, and it smelled very strongly of soap.
I closed the door, and breathed deeply. I washed my face and my hands rather thoroughly, and combed wet fingers through my shaggy and by now shoulder long hair. I looked down on myself: I was wearing my patched fatigue trousers, and – under an old black leather motorcycle jacket – a black T with bold, mustard yellow letters inviting everyone to “Guess where I’m pierced”. I had appropriated the T from an Australian backpacker on Skye. At the time I had thought it was pretty funny, but now I felt decidedly uncomfortable in it. But I couldn’t very well keep the jacket, that I had taken along when I’d left the sleeping Ruth, buttoned up to hide it, could I?
So, when I came out again and Iona took my jacket to hang it on a hook in the hall that had already two or three other pieces of garment hanging from it, the boy at the table nudged the girl and pointed out the words on my chest. Both giggled.
Iona said something to them in Gaelic, rather sharply, and they began gathering up their pens and papers. People filed into the room and sat down on chairs.
“Hey! Ta’ss ma sait!” the boy shouted when someone else wanted to sit on the chair he had been on before.
“Awricht, awricht, Sim. Dinna tak a sparey. Whit’s wi aw yir gibbles on ma ane cheer?”
“Chust sit on Conall’s fer noo!”
Sim – that’s pronounced shim – cleaned up his mess, and by the time he was done, everybody had taken their seat and  the only one that remained for me was the one next to him, from which he just then removed his book and papers.
I was officially introduced to Mr. and Mrs. MacLeod – he was one of the three men from the hall, a broad-shouldered, big-handed man with closely cropped, steel grey hair, and a dashing scar on the right side of his face; she was the woman the kitchen with the silver in her hair, and eyes surrounded by a nest of crow’s feet.
When Mr. MacLeod shook my hand across the table, he greeted me, but left my name hanging, expecting me to complete it: “Daniel…?”
“Balnchard, Sir. Daniel Blanchard.”
Gerald Daniel Blanchard is a Canadian master thief, who burgled amongst other places an Austrian castle in 1998, and who had finally been caught in 2007. I had followed his process with fascination and awe.
“Thank you for sharing your supper with me,” I added. “It was very kind of Conall to invite me.”
Mr. MacLeod seemed pleased, and for the rest of the meal, I was mostly left alone. Soon enough the necessary information transfer that always occurs when a large family sits down together took up everybody’s attention. And when Conall came back, he had to explain about the cut on his face – he had gotten plastered and fallen in to a barbed wire fence – and then about the sheep, or yowes, he had bought.
Only Sim kept quietly bugging me.
“Whaur ye frae, mo caritsh?”
“Uss’at sae? Whaurawa frae tare?”
“Och, aye? Nae frae Quebec?”
“Bit Blanchard uss a French naem, nae?”
“Yes, but people have French names outside of Quebec as well.”
“Yer accent ussna Canadian, uss’t?”
“My mum is from Austria.”
“Hou auld ar ye?”
“Awricht? Ye leuk yunger. Masel uss fourteen!”
That last bit he said with all the pride of someone who only earned that distinction very recently.
“Sae, whit ar ye daeing in bonnie auld Alba?” He grimaced and thre a quick look at his dad, before he added: “In Scotland A meant.”
“Just travelling.”
“Aw by yersel?”
“My rents are back on Skye. Your brother Conall picked me up hitchhiking.”
And so on.
While Sim kept up this constant Q&A, I tried to figure out the peeps at the table and their relationships. Mr. MacLeod was a right patriarch, he kept the pose of the unmoved mover at the head of the table – and even though the table was round, it was very obvious that the head was wherever he sat. The others seemed to regard him with a mix of fear and respect. Most of the other were his children, and their general management was apparently left to Mrs. MacLeod. There were two daughters and three sons present, though I gathered that a few more had already left the house. One girl was a friend of Iona, and one boy a mate of seventeen year old Boyd. One of the older men from the hall had left when supper had started, but the other was a friend and neighbour, and I got the impression that he and Mr. MacLeod were working on some project or deal together, but could not pick up any details.
Eventually tea was over. I offered to help with the dishes, but Ceana, the youngest, and the one who had been doing homework together with Sim when I’d arrived, wanted me to help her with her chores, namely feeding the horses and rabbits. Sim, who would have had to go also, asked if I could fill in for him, so he could help Conall with something (a lot of technical farming terms were used, in Scots or even Gaelic, too boot, and it all went right by me.)
Ceana showed me their four horses and the rabbits they kept in boxes behind the house. From her I learned that her family were crofters, people who kept a small farm next to a main job. Her father captained a whale-watching boat from Port Maree and her mother did some administrative work for the Highland Council. But they also raised quail, held sheep, offered hiking tours in summer, and hunting tours in autumn. And they had two hunting cottages to rent to tourists.
It my be girlish, but I really like horses. When I had been younger and begun getting into trouble, this one counsellor got me a place in a stable in the Southwest  of Berlin. I was told that it was a job, taking care of the animals. I only learned later that in fact my mum had to pay for it, and that it was therapy. I still bristled at the memory of the deception, but I really enjoyed spending some time with the horses. And when Ceana noticed that I got along with them, and knew what to do, she warmed to me. That was how I found out that Sim had put her up to getting me out of the house.
When I got back, Conall told me that I would stay in his and Sim’s room for the night. He would sleep in the room of another sibling who wasn’t there that night. It seemed a bit complicated but I went along. From the pitying looks I received from Mrs. MacLeod and Iona I understood that Conall had relayed my tale of woe.
Sim showed me to the room and gave me some washed out PJs from one of his older brothers. I had expected him to take up his interrogation again, but he hurried away and left me to my own devices. I was fine with that, and sank into the thick covers. I had had more to eat than in a long wile, and since I had begun the day early and with some serious walking on Skye before getting that ill-fated lift, I was quickly asleep.
Not much later, Sim shook me awake.
“Wheesht” he hissed, signalled me to be quiet, and handed me my jacket.
“Pit on yet claes!”
“Yer claes.” He also tossed my trousers and T onto the bed. “Coorie oop!”
“Why?” I asked, but instinct had me obeying already.
“Akis ye coud fuil ma glaikit brusser wi yer yairn, bit nae ma paw, ye bawheid. An me naisser. Tsat T-shert o’ yers, nae lad what’s feart o’ his paw wat pe caucht deid in it. And oniewey, A ken what Gerlad Blanchard uss. So A ken yer nae what ye said ye ar. Bit ma paw onlie suspects, sae he’s callin’ t’ polis in An Gjerestan reit noo! Tsat’s hou ye want uptail tis bluidy seicont!”
He opened the dormer window and looked out.
“Kin ye sclim o’er tae t’ ruif and…”
But I was already at his side, then up on the window sill, and pulling myself onto the eave line and the dormer roof.
I looked down from there and said: “Thank you, Sim!”
That was the first time, I used his name.
He smiled up at me: “Isheh do veha, Dana.”
That was, what he would call me from then on forth.
There was a noise on the landing outside his room. I froze. He ducked inside but after a second he had his head back outside.
“Fause alairm. Hey, haud on fer a sec. Masel uss richt back.”
He disappeared and I heard him hurry out of the room. I considered scarpering anyway, but while I was still checking out the best – and that meant quietest – way down from the roof, he was already back.
“Here, tak tsir.” He held up a ring with two keys. “Tay’re fer ane o’ oor deer stalkin’ boossies.” And he explained to me how to get there.
“It’s toom richt noo,” and at my confused look: “Empty. Nae occupied. Ye kin scug tare. A’ll come by t’ morn and bring ye sum scran… sum food.”
I wanted to turn away, but he whispered: “A kin onlie come efter schuil us soot. Ye promise ye’ll be tare, Dana?”
He looked zp at me, his face pale in the darkness.
I promised. He nodded and ducked back inside. I crawled across the roof to the windowless side wall and down the downspout, and disappeared in the night.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Chapter Seven: Storm (Part II)

I spent a couple of days on the Isle of Skye, walking around mostly along the shore, swimming in the sea, and reading my way through a bunch of cheap crime and romance novels I picked up at the hostels. In the hostel in Uig in the north of the island I met Ruth, a thief from London who had specialised on backpackers. We spent a night of getting drunk on whiskey and swapping tales and tips about grafting and life on the street. I tried to get her to join me in some confidence game, but she wouldn’t. She had been screwed royally by another con artist a while back and had been caught. It had cost her 10 months and 2 prison rapes. She would never again trust anyone to play anything more complex than straight theft. She tried to get me to team up with her for that. I’d had enough of that in Leeds.
Thursday afternoon I got a ride out of Broadford Bay. Sparring was opened right away with the confession of the Honda Civic Si diver who had picked me up that he normally didn’t take on hitchhikers because of “how today’s youth is”. I probably succeeded in confirming most of his prejudices – more than he knew when he finally kicked me out at that unmotivated roundabout outside Achnasheen, since I had lifted his wallet and a high end mp3 player from the coat he had flung on the back seat.
I was still giving him a two fingered salute and shouting some choice expletives in Polish and Turkish after his diminishing hatchback when a muddy, dented, bottle-green Defender One-Ten Pickup stopped next to me. Two sheep were bleating under the aluminium hard-top covering the bed. The window was cranked down and a large, slender brown dog looked out. Past him, from the driver’s seat, a young man with a freshly stitched up face peered at me.
Faesger ma. Masel ween ye want fer anusser ride.”
He wore dirty curderoys, tall, olive Wellingtons, and a colourless, coarse woollen jumper. His hair was cropped to a fuzz. The stitches on his left temple and cheek gave him a rakish appearance, but underneath he seemed friendly, and open, and ready to laugh.
He reached past the dog and opened the passenger door. I climbed in.
“Thank you.”
Isheh do veha,” he answered and put the car in gear. “Masel uss on t’wey tae Inverewe, by Port Maree. Bit if yer gaun aist A coud tak ye tae Garve or Ullapul.”
None of these place names meant much to me, though I had heard of Ullapool. So I said: “Ullapool would be perfect, if it’s not too much trouble.”
He let the clutch come too fast, and stuttering and coughing the Defender crawled out of the roundabout, and only picked up speed as we passed through Achnasheen, past the train station and a burned down hotel. The dog sniffed at me and gave a short bark. His tail thumped against the vinyl upholstery.
“Awricht. Masel uss Conall. T’ dug uss Jovantucarus.”
“Daniel,” I answered.
“Nice tae meet ye, Danny. Whaur ye frae?”
That one was always tricky. If you are too far from home, it raises all sorts of questions. But passing yourself off as local obviously doesn’t work either. Back in England I had sometimes gone with relatives living somewhere beyond where my ride would take me, sometimes embellished with a sick single mum and the need to stay with said relatives for a while, but in the Highlands I had made the experience that peeps were apt to go out of their way and hand me over to my imaginary family. So I went with this tale instead:
“I’m from Canada, but my dad’s grandmother came from Scotland. My parents are visiting some distant relative today, but I didn’t want to, so they let me explore a bit on my own.”
Conall was astonished at how far I had gotten, on my own (I kept underestimating travel distance in the Highlands, it may not be much as the Crow flies, but given the state of the often single track roads, it was a lot in travel-time), but I think I would have pulled it off, had not a police car come our way shortly after, lights flashing. Normally, the best way to react to the rozzers is by keeping your face under control and just going about your business as if nothing’s amiss. But the A832 between Achnasheen and Garve had been bloody deserted and I still had the wallet and the mp3 player of that Civic driver burning a hole into my pocket. So I slunk down and pressed myself into the corner between seat and passenger door. Conall watched me and raised an eyebrow, but kept on driving.
“Sumtsun masel shoud ken?”
I tried to turn my slinking manoeuvre into a yawn and stretch, fully aware that it wouldn’t be convincing, not after my worried glance into the wing mirror. But the police car had disappeared behind us, and it set up my next yarn nicely.
“C’mon, Danny. Masel uss no blind. Why’re ye hidin frae t’ polis?”
I summoned up the memories of Cannich and all the shame and resentment I could and put on a sullen face. And I told him about an abusive dad, and a stupid cow of a mother who never fought back – and how last night he had gone off on one of his rages again, back in the holiday cottage on Skye they had rented. How normally I would weather these storms at a friend’s place, but how there wasn’t anyone here. So I’d taken some money and planned to make the best of it, stay in some hostel, and wait out the three days it usually took him to calm down again.
I mostly stared out the window or at the scuffed tips of my boots as I talked, my head ducked to match the role of the battered child, but I threw Conall a furtive glance, and to my astonishment saw he had swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. There was no doubt on his face, just compassion and concern.
“You will not hand me over to the cops, will you? If they drag me back now, only one day into his fit, he’ll smile and be polite and my mom will back him up in everything. They’ll make it all out to be my imagination and stuff. But he’ll kill me once they’re gone. Seriously, you must promise not to tell!”
Conall promised, solemnly. And then he invited me to stay at his family’s place for the night. I tried to wriggle out of that, but I’d dug myself in too deep, and short of jumping out of the car and running away, there wasn’t a no he’d accept for an answer.
So at Braemore Junction, he took the turn for Wester Ross, and in silence and a golden sunset we drove through some of the most breath-taking land I have ever seen. On the right the sea, quiet and slate grey, and reaching for the horizon. And on the left the earth dark with moor and heath, and the rushes pale golden and shivering in the wind. And behind that, dusted in snow, the mountains, rising, and rising, like time made substance.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Chapter Seven: Storm

But you, of all people, know how fast the weather can change.
- Patrick Stewart as Prof. Charles Xavier, X-men III: The Last Stand (2006)

[This post has been subsumed in the following one in a rewrite. Please continue there.]

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Countdown: 4 - Flesh of Lost Summers (Part VI)

He didn’t release my arms. He just sat on me, leaned forward, holding the weight of his upper body on his outstretched arms, and allowed for the world to collapse inward and dissolve in that lasting, coppery kiss.
Once, he bit my lip, and our blood began to mingle. I trembled with my whole body.
What did I feel? Relief. Waves, and waves of relief. They welled up inside me like a flash flood, filling the lightless caves, and flushed all the dust, lose shale, and guano of past disappointment, rejection, and doubts away. They kept rising, those waves of relief, until I was certain they would spill out as tears, finally free again, but it was giggles instead, bubbly, pealing, as if my insides had been carbonated.
And there was lust. So much more, and so much more raw, than there had been with anyone else. The way his knees dug painfully into my wrists, the way my lip throbbed and burned, the taste of the blood, and of the tobacco on his spit. The way he just wouldn’t break the kiss, even when I started giggling. The way his tongue patiently, savouring, explored the inside of my mouth. The way his breath flowed from his nose past my cheeks alternately cool in and hot out, evenly, unhurried.
After a while, still without breaking the kiss, and without lifting his knees from my arms, he put his socked feet together, put the toes between my thighs and pushed them apart. He brought his feet further up until he was sitting on his heels and his spans were pushing hard into my crotch. He wriggled his toes ever so slightly against my bum, and I could feel his lips form a smile against mine when I groaned.
His tongue was still in my mouth and our combined saliva and blood was running down my cheeks and chin and into my nose. He kept kissing me while I helplessly humped my crotch upward against his feet. He kissed me allthorugh that most uncomfortable and strenuous form of masturbation, until I filled my shorts.
Only then did he sit up and look down at me. He wiped his mouth once, with the back of his hand, smearing the blood and giving him a terrible, wolfish expression. He just looked at me questioningly. I looked up, dizzy and uncertain what he was expecting.
“Well, Tavi?”
“Thank you…?” I hazarded, my voice hoarse.
“Thank you what?”
“Thank you, Sir?”
“Is that a question, Tavi?”
And there was the last uprising of relief. There still weren’t any tears, but If elt it pour out of me, out of every pore and orifice, wash over me, until I was shivering, the way one does at the end of a long piss. I relaxed, and I smiled, without any reservation, and said with utter conviction and sincerity:
“Thank you, Sir.”
And I was rewarded with that strange smile of his that only sat in the corners of his eyes.
In the following weeks, Hendrik expected me to continue studying hard and reaching all the goals he had set for me. And if we spent less time on my studies while together, he expected me to make up for that in my own time. But to be honest, he never expected more of me than I could deliver, if I really put my back into it.
It was probably the strangest relationship I ever had with someone, way stranger than with Ponyboy or even with that cold bitch that would end up shooting me 2 ½ years later. There was sex, of course, but even that was, I dunno…
I was required to cum onc, but only once, each time we met, and it was always the last thing we did, before going our separate ways. And it was always and only by me humping his feet and creaming my undies. Usually he would sit on a chair or the edge of his bed, and I would kneel before him, my hands on his thighs, and do my business. Afterwards he sort of lost interest in me until next time.
And he… well, take the time he took my cherry. This was how it went: He asked me if I’d ever been fucked before. I said, honestly, that I’d played around, you know, with some things, like carrots, and stuff. I’d even done it a few times on cam for dirty old men getting off on it. But no other person had entered me there. For a afew days he didn’t mention it again and I was sort of disappointed, and then he told me to get permission from my mum to go camping with him for a night the next weekend.
For his 18th birthday, just one or two weeks or so before, he’d gotten his driver’s licence and a used fire-engine red BMW Funduro. That Friday he was waiting for me in the yard behind the tenement building his rents were living, next to his bike. He took my backpack with my sleeping bag and change of clothes and everything and just stuffed it into the narrow gap behind the concrete shed that housed the bins. There was a load of other trash there.
“Nobody will take it. You can get it out when we get back. Now take of your pants und briefs.”
He just looked at me impatiently. He hated when I questioned his commands. I looked around in the yard. We were alone. Half hidden behind the bin shed I opened my belt and dropped my shorts. I stepped out of them without removing my trainers, and then slid down my briefs. (He had forbidden me to wear boxers any more. Only tight slips were allowed.)
He took the briefs and had me put on my shorts again. When I had rebuckled the belt, he stuffed the briefs in my mouth. Then he put the sextra helmet he had sitting on the seat of the bike onto my head. Turned out he had spray-painted the visor opaque from within. When he had shoved it onto me, I was gagged and blind.
He sat down on the bike and started the engine. Then he had me climb onto the seat behind him and off we went.
I have no idea where exactly he took me, but according to my watch it was about a three hour ride, first through the city, then on the highway, then country roads that got increasingly bumpy, and finally completely off-road. For me this ride, mouth dry, jaws aching, in darkness, the noise of the wind and the engine blasting everything from the world except the feel of his cool, slick, leather-clad torso against my chest and the naked arms I had slung around him, lasted forever. In some ways it hasn’t even ended yet. Maybe it never will.
Once we arrived, he had me climb off and took my by the hand. Still blind and dumb he guided me through some underbrush, down a slope, and into a thicket of reeds. The ground got marshy, and then I stepped into cold water. Hendrik just lead me on. I could hear him splash through the water next to me. With nothing to hold onto but his hand, I walked on. The water reached my knees, my hip, my chest, and then we were swimming, me still with the helmet, his hand still my lifeline. A few minutes later, there was again muddy ground under my feet, it got shallower, and he was leading me up another slope.
Wordlessly he had made me sit down, back to a tree, and tied my wrists behind it. Then he busied himself with a fire. Only when he was done, he removed the helmet and the gag. We were on a small wooded island, in a small, swampy lake, surrounded by a coniferous forest. There was a tent he must have had waiting for us. Over the fire he was boiling water in a tin pot. When it was done, he made tea and fed it to me from a tine cup. It was too hot and burned my tongue. He didn’t stop forcing it into me. The clothes, mine and his own bike leathers, he just let dry on our bodies.
So, when he eventually untied me, and we snogged, and rolled down back into the shallow, muddy waters of the lake, and he took me with my head half submerged, it was really only that one other thing, that happened that weekend. The ride, the tea, the blind swim, and the island, and later, spending the night – tied up again – in his arms, those were what it had all been about.
Or there was thing with the clothing. First it was the boxers, but then he gave me a bunch of old underwear and socks from his little sister, Solveig, to wear instead of my own. And finally he made me give him my hi-top Chucks and gave me a pair of Solveig’s worn, low, pale yellow Keds instead. When I balked, he just gave me this strange look. Not dominating, you understand, he never brow-beat me. It was just this mild contempt, like a dare. Like, aren’t you even man enough to be able to wear a girl’s clothes without getting frightened. And so I did. And you know what. I felt good about it. I felt proud.
The worst, and the best, he demanded of me, was without a doubt the night in the woods.
In late July he had told me to stop wanking. My only relief would be those sessions with him. Of course there wasn’t really any way for him to know if I complied, though I think he knew he could trust me to keep my word. Being faithful made me much too happy and proud to do anything else.
“But,” he said, “when I have to trust you, I need you to prove that you also trust me. Really trust me. Do you think you can do that, Tavi?”
What do you think I answered to that?
So one evening he again put me into that helmet and drove me deep into some woods. When he removed the helmet and showed me what he had prepared, I grew very faint, and very afraid. At the bottom of a small hollow he had dug a grave, a neat, oblong rectangular hole into the forest ground. The spade and the axe he had used still leaned to a large oak tree nearby.
He knelt down next to me, lit a fag, and handed it to me.
“You can say no, Tavi. I won’t tell you what will happen. I’m not telling you it will be okay. I’ll just ask you to trust me. If you don’t, we go back bow. But you and me, it will be over. It’s your choice.”
I looked at him. It was one of the few times he was flushed, too. He, too, was breathing hard. In his eyes burned a fire, a strange, wild desire. He really, really wanted this. But he left the choice to me. Only, of course, it wasn’t a choice. I wasn’t going to be a coward. I couldn’t. So I nodded.
“Say it, Tavi.”
I had to think about that for a second, but then I got it.
“I trust you… Sir.”
He gave me one of his smiles, strained by his dark desire. He tied my wrists behind my back. Then he had me climb in the hole and lie down. One side of the hole wasn’t vertical, but sloped, like a bathtub. I had to lie with back on the slope, facing up. He tied my legs, too. And then he began to fill the gave with the dark, damp earth, all the way until my face, staring straight up, was more or less flush with the ground, a pale oval in the middle of the forest floor.
Last he scattered leaves and twigs and lose earth over the whole area. I blinked some dust away and blew some leaves from my mouth and nose, but I must have been practically invisible even from only a couple of meters away.
“Can you breathe, Tavi?” he asked.
I tried. It was harder than normal, but I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. I tried to smile, in spite of the terror, and whispered: “Yes… Sir.”
He nodded, gathered up the spade and axe, got onto his bike, and drove away. I heard the engine recede and fade into the wind in the treetops.
I don’t think there are words to describe that night. The unbearable fear, the loneliness, the sounds of the nature around me. I watched the last light fade from the little sky above me. The dark crowns of the oaks and pines and maple trees standing high above me like giants merged with the night until only a few pinpricks of starlight remained here and there. Insects crawled over my face. Mosquitoes discovered me early. I must have fed thousands that night.
I honestly didn’t know if he would come back. And a part of me totally got off on that idea, that he had left me there to die. Even when I started to call for help. Even when I started to beg.
At some point I pissed myself, turning the earth around my crotch to mud. At some point a group of wild pigs moved past pretty close. Ever since reading Clive Barker’s Pig Blood Blues, and later Thomas Harris’s Hannibal, I had been fascinated by the idea of getting eaten by a pig. I was certain, they would discover me and eat the face of my skull. I couldn’t even see them, just heard them moving and grunting and snuffling in the darkness. Eventually the went away.
Time stretched, like taffy, and fragmented. I realised that breathing was getting harder. I was running out of energy to push away the earth pressing against my chest, and lying on tied arms didn’t make things easier. I don’t know if I really could have suffocated that way, but at the time, it felt that it was happening, right then. The feeling grew more and more intense, until sheer physical panic took over. I screamed and yelled and begged. I struggled, but all I managed was to wear myself out even more. I had loosened the earth around my head enough so I could turn it a few centimetres to either side, or lift it a little bit, but doing that was so strenuous I had to let it sink back after a few seconds.
At some time it rained for a while, big drops hitting me in my face. I could feel the wetness seep down through the earth, making it even heavier and breathing even harder. The dripping of the drops from the leaves continued for a long time after the rain itself had stopped, distorting all sounds even further.
I sometimes thought I heard people, or steps, or a suppressed cough. Sometimes I was afraid and ashamed, sometimes I screamed for help. The sounds always drowned in the sounds of the nightly forest, leaving me uncertain if I had just imagined them.
When morning finally came, and I lifted my head and tried to look around, I could see a figure from the corner of my eyes, sitting hunched against a tree on top of the slight rise encircling the hollow I was in the centre of. I was near delirious at the time, and exhausted beyond anything I had ever experienced. I was convinced that the hunched figure was Death, incarnate, waiting for me to give up my last breath. And I was certain I would do so soon. Each breath was a gasp, flat, and I felt very dizzy and faint. The world had ceased to be more than a vague scribble on a paper-thin sheet of experience. Underneath was only that void I had already encountered once, on my 12th birthday.
The figure got up. It was Hendrik, holding his father’s hunting rifle. He stretched, brushed some leaves from his legs, and walked away. Half an hour later, I heard his motorcycle approach. He dug me up, untied me, gently took off my clothes, helped me into a fresh tracksuit, and lifted me onto his bike. I was shivering all over and could hardly hold onto him. He was very careful as he drove back.
At his place – his rents were away, like almost always – he ran me a hot bath. He washed me gently, with a soft washcloth, and some scented bubble bath.
“Were you there the whole night?” I asked, still barely able to use my voice. I kept trying to touch him, to hold onto him. Even when he left the room only for a few seconds, I felt like crying out to him like a baby.
His face remained serious when he didn’t answer. He only kissed me, the softest kiss of all the ones he ever gave me. There was no smile in his face, no praise. I don’t have a word for what was there, but it was worth to me even more than the night he carried me off the football pitch.
Why didn’t it last?
I don’t know, really. There wasn’t any one thing. He tried a lot of things. He played with pain, made me bleed. He also tried to find the point where my revulsion would best my need to rise to any challenge. He never found my limits. And that began to bring him to his.
He made me get my second tat, and even paid for it: Out of the money I had paid him. When my mum discovered it, she blew her top, as she had with the first one. Of course I neither told her who had done it, nor that it had been Hendrik’s idea. But even so, he was very careful not to mark me too much, cutting, or beating, and not to get me sick. Not for my sake, I am certain, but to avoid attention.
He began to abuse his girlfriend. He made me watch them, tied up in his wardrobe, or even in the large drawer under his bed where he kept his duvet and pillow during the day, as they made out. I was there when he defloured her, telling her he loved her all through. He made me go on picnics and stuff with them, selling me as this social case he had taken on to keep me off the street. He upped that eventually by telling her I was queer and getting her to talk to me girl to girl about blokes. The talks were double torturous for me, having to keep everything that mattered about my sex life – namely him - out of it, while suffering through her own humiliation that remained invisible to her.
None of that really stopped what I felt for him, but it began to fade. On our last meeting he made me dress in her clothes and pretend to be her, or some mock transvestite version of her, while he screwed me. I don’t know what he was after that day. I tried hard, but he never finished.
We lay next to each other, not touching, when I said:
“Can’t we come out?”
“Hm?” He turned his face towards me, brushed my long hair from mine. (He had forbidden me to cut my hair.)
“I don’t care if you stay together with her, and really, I am sure she wouldn’t mind about me. I mean, she must half know anyway, and she’ll suffer far worse for you. So will I. I just don’t wanna stay hidden anymore.”
After all the many challenges he had given me, all of which I had passed with at best a brief hesitation, this was the first serious one I had given him.
He blew softly on my sweaty face. Then he shrugged.
“You can go anytime.”
He didn’t call me Tavi. I felt hollow and tired and disgusted with myself. I got up, took off her clothes. Naked I was marked by him all over in a thousand small ways, masked by my usual bruises and scrapes, but I could have counted and identified every single nick and prick and scar he had left on me.
He watched me get dressed and walk out. He never said a word.
I didn’t call him again, after that. And he didn’t call me. We met at football training, but there we had always pretended that there wasn’t anything between us, so we just continued that act. It was hard at first, but it quickly got easier. And when I shaved my head and began wanking again, I knew it was over.
I think I could have forgiven him everything, except cowardice. It wasn’t that he didn’t admit to me, it was that he let himself be held back by fear, the fear of what others would think of him.
The real kicker, of course, wasn’t his failure. The kicker came, when at night, in the loneliness of that tiny room I had once shared with ‘Nette, I talked to her ghost, the way I often did. And I told her about Hendrik, and how pissed off I was at him. And her ghost, dry and far away, asked me, why not being a coward was so important to me.
“Because of what you taught me,” I said.
I felt her wistful smile, the one only ghosts can wear, because to them everything is past, is lost, is both precious and no longer important. And in her smile I read the bitter truth: I was afraid of failing her. I was afraid of being weak. I was afraid of being afraid.
Nothing had changed.
I was still a coward.