Sunday, 14 February 2016

A Cloud of Souls - Carol Leith 8 - 10



Your Place - My Place
          Your Space - My Space          

All three boys sat dazed on the grassy bank by the canal, staring blankly into the sparkling flecks of sunlight that danced across the water.  A pair of swans glided regally about, displaying their brood of grey cygnets.
     ‘Did all that stuff really happen back there?’ said Tom, as he brushed his tight curls back from his face.
     ‘Would be good if you filled us in a bit, don’t yer think?’  Pete pressed buttons on his phone whilst talking.  ‘Before we get to the boat would be good… Bloody thing,’ he waved the mobile phone around in the air, ‘still no bloody signal!’
     ‘Who’re yer trying to call?’ asked Tom.
     ‘Me old man- don’t matter- he won’t give a shit if I don’t come home.  He’ll be out on the piss by now anyway.’ Pete threw the phone on the ground, then picked it up and thrust it back in his pocket. ‘Well it’s pretty damn clear yer not from around here that’s f’sure.  So come on then, tell us what’s going on,’ said Pete turning his attention to Flea.
      Flea took a deep breath.  This was it; he wondered how much they would be able to understand.  ‘I will try to explain a bit about myself,’ he began, ‘and where I come from.’
    ‘Well that would be a start I suppose,’ said Tom, plucking a strand of grass and chewing on it.
     ‘It’s hard to know where to begin.’
    ‘Well what about telling us yer real name for starters?’ said Pete.
     ‘Young One.’
     ‘Young One? What sort of a name’s that?’ said Tom.
      ‘It’s what I’m called.’
      ‘Well I’ll feel a right prat calling you that, so as you’ve got Flea’s body, you may as well have his name too for now. On loan you understand?’
    ‘Yes I think I would like that.’
    ‘OK…go on then…tell us what it’s like where you live,’ said Pete
    ‘Well…It’s a bit like this…in a way.  It could almost be here; at least the topography is much the same… that is to say that the land formation is identical; this canal, the hills around, the gulls, all the same.  But that is where the similarity seems to end.’ Flea paused for a second to think.
     ‘There is a great wall surrounding the Seven Towers,’ he went on trying to keep it as simple as possible, ‘which form the ministerial complex. The Ministry takes up most of the valley.’  He gesticulated towards the city below them.  ‘I believe the world beyond the gates is hostile, but I have never been outside so I’m not sure what it is really like.
     ‘My father says there are people out there who have discovered the secret of “Dark Clusters” which bind universes together. He says they are able to harness the energy which comes from them.
    ‘He also says that I would be in great danger should I venture beyond the walls of the Ministry; there are many who would like to destroy me, he says.  You see it would seem that I’m sort of “special”.’
     ‘Oh right, “special needs” yer mean?’ said Pete, ‘I’m supposed to be “special needs”.’
     ‘Dark Clusters, hmm…that sounds kind o’ cool to me. Can you eat them?’  Tom smiled revealing perfect white teeth.  It was the first time Flea had seen him smile and, for a moment at least, Flea felt that he was being accepted as one of them, and he smiled back.
     ‘Aren’t you curious though? I mean,’ Tom went on, ‘I think I would get out and see for myself.’
      ‘Yes of course I wonder what it’s like out there but it’s not that simple. You see, the great fear within the Ministry is that once something has been invented or discovered, it becomes impossible to un-invent or un-discover. And who knows what those outside might be developing with their knowledge of the Dark Clusters.
     ‘We are all afraid that the powers which rule beyond the boundary wall will use the knowledge unwisely. Many of those outside have shunned the concept of Enlightenment through meditation, you see.  They have their own set of beliefs. I have been gifted with certain powers, some of which have not yet developed.  This poses a threat to many and so I have to be guarded for my own safety at all times. It would be foolhardy for me to go beyond the boundary walls.’ Flea felt strange, he had never verbalised these feelings and reasoning before. He sounded more, sort of grown up and sensible than he had imagined himself sounding.
     ‘Well you’re really outside now,’ said Tom, with a little mischievous twinkle in his eye.
     ‘If you is some sort of alien, then how come you speak the same as what we do?’ said Pete.
     ‘I don’t know, maybe it really is the same place… in a way.’
     ‘Yeah…well…’ Pete sniffed, picked up a pebble and rubbed it between his palms.
     ‘Powers, what sort of powers… like superman do you mean?’ asked Tom, enthusiastically. ‘What about the other kids there, do they have these so-called powers too?’
     ‘Come on, do something then, prove it; fly or something. Now that would be well good,’ said Pete.
     ‘I can’t just perform, it doesn’t work that way. And besides, I shan’t have my full powers until I’m a grown-up. The powers I did have seem less strong now too,’ said Flea.
     ‘Convenient,’ sneered Pete.
     ‘And the other children?’ asked Tom again.
     ‘I don’t know about other children; there are no other children inside the Ministry, only me.’
     Pete and Tom frowned at him.
     ‘So who else lives in this prison then?’ said Pete.
    ‘Oh it’s not a prison,’ said Flea defensively.
     ‘Sounds like it; no kids, high walls, guards,’ said Tom.
     ‘No, it’s a wonderful place.  There are many others who live within the walls. I have my Father for a start.  He is known as the Guardian; he is the most enlightened Master in the Ministry. He is a wonderful, wonderful, person. It is with his teaching and guidance that I am learning to control and use these powers.’
     ‘The powers you seem to have lost,’ Pete cut in.
     ‘Then there is Tan,’ Flea went on ignoring the comment, ‘he has been with me as long as I can remember and he looks after me.  He is great fun, you would both like him.
     ‘And the “High Masters”, they dedicate almost all their time to meditation and thought transference.’  
     He paused to search their faces.  He wondered if he might have lost them but they seemed transfixed.
     ‘And the “Monitors”, they look after everyone really, they sort of run the place I guess. And they wait on us too. And they cook the most fantastic cakes ever!’
     ‘Blooming heck yer right, sounds a great place, I take it back,’ said Tom.
     ‘Yeah sounds a damn sight better than my home, my dad is always out of his head. I try and keep well clear of him ’cos he’s liable to belt me one just for the hell of it,’ said Pete.
      Flea felt a pang of sadness for Pete.
     ‘But last night there was a sort of tremor,’ Flea went on, ‘it was slight at first and I would have stayed in a deep sleep if Anukh hadn’t woken me. She told me she had to get me to safety.’
     ‘She yer mum then?’ asked Tom.
     ‘No I don’t have a mother.  Anukh is a spirit,’ Flea looked at them as they burst into giggles; they clearly did not understand.
     ‘She is a gull, a seagull,’ Flea raised his voice above theirs, ‘well that’s how she appears.  But really she’s a spirit; she leads the other lesser spirits on their journey through to their final earthly life.’
     ‘I was beginning to believe you there for a bit but now…you are joking us now right?’ Pete snorted. ‘Talking to birds an’ spirits? What are you, some sort o’ nut?’
     ‘I don’t expect you to understand, people in my own world can’t accept it either, so there’s no reason you should,’ said Flea.
      But Tom had stopped laughing and was looking him in the eye.
     ‘So those birds,’ said Tom, ‘the ones that got mangled back there; they were the seagulls you’re talking about, right?’
     This boy has compassion, Flea thought, seeing Tom’s concerned expression.  
     ‘Yes,’ said Flea, ‘they sacrificed themselves to protect me. They may have to start their whole journey through many sub-lives before once again reaching the penultimate stage.
     ‘Anukh has told me many times how she and her flock could fly through the Shifts. But I don’t think she expected such fatalities in trying to protect me.’
     ‘Hold on… slow down a bit… I’m getting lost here now.  Shifts…?’ said Tom.
     ‘Things go sort of off-balance during Shifts. Energy waves vibrate through the galaxies, something to do with the Dark Clusters. Time changes, space warps.  A bit like what happened back there in the park gardens…I think.
     ‘And that’s what was happening last night too. I thought it was an earthquake, but Anukh was sure it was a Shift.  No one expected it; one has been predicted in about twenty years, but not now.  It must have taken everyone by surprise.  The Terminustia is being constructed to coincide with the next one, but it’s far from ready.’
     ‘Terminustia?  What’s that?’  Tom spat out the chewed stub of grass.
     ‘It’s a sort of mind-transporter,’ said Flea, ‘when it is completed it will be able to send a chosen Master across the divide.’ Flea tried his best to sound as if he knew what he was talking about, whilst wishing, desperately, that he had not day-dreamed during his lessons. He hoped neither of them would ask him an embarrassing question, like how this worked.
     ‘Well it’s obvious then, that’s it!’ said Tom.
     ‘That’s what?’ asked Pete, rubbing his hands across his stubbly head.
     ‘Come on, think about it,’ Tom was getting fidgety with excitement, ‘the two Fleas have changed places using this machine; has to be.  I’ve seen all the movies, masses of them and my dad’s a complete UFO freak, so I know how these things work.  This is so cool!’
      ‘OK…I don’t mind telling you I’m just an “incey” bit confused now,’ said Pete. ‘So if it’s alright with you, just tell us how you got here?’
     ‘That’s just it, I can’t remember!’ said Flea.  ‘I think it happened by mistake, they wouldn’t send me.  I’m just a boy and I’m not a Master. If and when they decide to send someone, then that “someone” would be primed in advance.
     ‘They would know all about the body they were going to inhabit. They wouldn’t just find themselves in it, like I have. And it is not a thing that would be done without masses of preparation, the person who was to be swapped would need lots of counselling too. I daren’t think about what your friend is making of my world right now.’  Flea could not go on for a while, his head began to swim then he felt a thud against his temple. Then pain!  He slapped his hands against his ears.
     ‘What’s up?’  Flea heard Tom’s voice through what sounded like large sheets of cracking ice slamming into each other.
     The throbbing eased, and was gone.
     ‘It’s alright, just a slight twinge that’s all.’ He tried to sound as if what he had just felt was nothing, but he was worried; he had never experienced pain like that before.
     ‘Oh do get on with it,’ said Pete, scuffing the dust with his trainers.
     ‘I sort of remember scrambling through the underground Labyrinth,’ Flea went on, pleased to be rid of the agony, ‘a series of tunnels beneath the Seventh tower,’ Flea gave a shudder as he remembered the Labyrinth’s dark cave-like honeycomb chambers.
     ‘Are you sure you’re ok mate? You look a bit shaky t’me,’ said Tom.
     Flea looked up, ‘I’m fine’ he said, ‘I have had to learn the maze down there by feel and sense and…and, well it’s very dark.  It gives me the shivers thinking about it.’ Flea hated the dark.
     ‘And so, what then?’ asked Pete.    
     ‘And that’s it!  Every time I try to think what happened next, a blinding pain hits my head and stops my thought.’  Flea paused for a moment, ‘there is one thing in particular that worries me,’ he said.
     The boys looked at him expectantly.
     ‘I remember Anukh said something about having to save some boy, turn him into a gull, she said.  I don’t know what she meant but I think it might have something to do with why I’m here. I don’t know.’  Flea did not think this was the time to tell them about the gull and the hawk-man he had encountered earlier.
     They sat in silence for a while. Pete was the first to move, he stood up, kicked a loose stone at the swans who hissed violently back at him.  Then, grabbing his bike, he started off down the path without a word.
      ‘Come on, we’d better follow him,’ said Tom.  ‘He gets like this from time to time. You have to understand he has a crap time of it at home, he’s a bit of a pain occasionally but, well hey, we’ve sort of got used to it. He’s really OK when you get to know him.’



Beatrice the Unwilling 

Beatrice was not amused, this wretched bird would just not go away and she was getting close to screaming point. 
     It had been pestering her all afternoon, she kept shooing it off the boat, but it just kept coming back.    
     ‘People ought not to feed the damn things,’ she muttered. 
     This one was especially persistent, it somehow managed to get inside the cabin and cause havoc.  It wouldn’t even take a hint when she hurled a can at it.   
      Now it insisted on sitting on the bucket full of pink dye she had mixed up in order to try and salvage her new top, which her mother had managed to ruin with lipstick! 
     Today was turning into a nightmare.  For starters she was not at all happy at being told to “baby-sit” her kid brother and his friends.  
     She had planned on getting a few of her own friends over to the canal boat and chilling out, but oh no, as always she had to have Sam tagging along and now his nerd friends, it was so un-cool.
     ‘You don’t mind do you sweetheart? Only I did promise him he could have his friends to stay.’
     Her mother always did this to her, she knew what was coming next, the old “I never get to go out” routine.  
     ‘Only I never get to go out and it was such luck that Tony managed to get tickets to the play, you know that one that got such rave reviews?  Well it’s on at the Theatre Royal and, well, it’s fully booked for every performance, and heaven knows when it will come back.’
     Tony was her mother’s latest boyfriend, a smarmy lawyer from London.  He would drive down in his flashy “look at me” car, and be all sugary to her and Sam, just for effect.
     She could see through that one, even if her mother and Sam were fooled, and all to slime his way into her mother’s affections.   
     She suspected that it was just for sex. Yuk, the very thought of it turned her stomach over; that over-perfumed body of his with her Mother!   No, she would not think about it.
     ‘Mum, no, please not tonight please, I asked Kelly and Emma over to the boat this evening.’
     ‘Really? You didn’t say anything to me.’
     She wanted to say that there was no point, as right now anything she said just went totally un-noticed, but instead she answered.  ‘I thought I had, sorry.’
     ‘No I’m sure I would have remembered.  Oh! Pleeeease darling,’ she put her hands together and did a stupid begging motion. ‘I hardly ever get out since your father left and I’ve been working so hard, I need this and Tony finds it hard to get away from work at the moment.’
     Away from his wife more likely, Beatrice thought, though that’s not what she said.
     ‘It’s not fair, I never get the boat on my own, I always have Sam tagging along.  Why can’t he and his friends stay in the house and I have the boat?  He’s not a baby any more.’  
     Even as she said it she knew her mother would not wear that one, but it was worth persisting.  He had to grow up one day didn’t he?
     ‘I’ve already told his friends’ parents they could stay.’  Her mother was not going to give up.  ‘And they are certainly not old enough or sensible enough to be left in the house on their own.  Besides it’s the novelty of the boat, you know what kids are like.’ 
     Beatrice knew she would end up doing whatever her mother wanted, but at least she could bargain a little.
     ‘Oh all right Mum, but if I do then will you promise to let me have some friends to sleep over on the boat on our own, without Sam?’
     Her mother grabbed her in one of her squeezy embraces that made her recoil.
     ‘Darling you’re a star!’  Then she went on to overdo the gushy kissing bit and Beatrice winced, praying that none of her mother’s bright pink lipstick would get onto her brand new white top.
     ‘Well can I Mum?’ 
     ‘Yes, yes, yes, anything you like darling.’


     After she had settled herself on the boat, Beatrice tried to scrub the lipstick stain off with “miracle white” but that made it worse so she had no alternative other than to dye the whole thing pink.  
     She thought that she could escape the bird when she cycled to the Guild Hall Market to get the dye, but oh no it had flown after her taunting her with its hollow squawks and even pecking her hair.  
       It really was too much! People ought to be fined or something for encouraging these vermin, you only had to look at the way they fouled the parked cars in the city to see what awful creatures they truly were.  
      If she had her way she would poison them all and be done with it, as if today wasn’t bad enough without having been “chosen” by a stubborn gull as its target for persecution.   
      Perhaps it was out to get her because it knew how much she hated all of them.
     She was conscious of all the unwanted attention she was getting too and she hoped that no one she knew would see her; this could ruin her reputation completely.  
     It was bad enough when she was forced to take “Snoops”, her mother’s cosseted, overweight, miniature dachshund, for “walkies” as her mother liked to call it, but an ugly great seagull, well that was just too much!
     Beatrice was not at all concerned that the boys hadn’t shown up at six o’ clock as her mother had said they would.  She knew they would turn up when they were hungry, and anyway she was enjoying the peace.  
    At least she had managed to shut the wretched bird outside the cabin. She watched it hop about agitatedly on and off the bucket of dye on deck.   
     She took satisfaction in taunting it from the safety of the closed windows.  It pecked at the glass intermittently, but she felt sure that if she ignored it for long enough it would get fed up and fly off to annoy some other unsuspecting person.  As long as it wasn’t her she didn’t much care. 




A thick summer mist tangled itself around the dusky evening shadows hanging low over the water.  The odd quack of a duck cracked the still night as the dewy cloud crept across the bank and slid down towards the city basin.
     The boys hardly felt the chill of the air as they peddled in silence now towards Dundas Aqueduct, where Sam had said the boat would be moored.  
     Each of the three boys was alone with his thoughts and anxieties.
     A comforting smell of cooking mixed with wood smoke filtered through the air as they approached the fuzzy lights which seeped from behind curtained cabin windows, giving them a warm and friendly welcome.
     As usual for high season, the moorings were full with an eclectic selection of boats.  Some were permanent homes festooned with the trappings of life clutter. Old bicycles and bric-a-brac balanced precariously on the roofs, jostling for position amongst the many containers stuffed full of plants. Some were neglected and shrivelled, others flourishing in the fullness of summer.  
     The more organised and better-maintained boats were those either hired or owned for holidays.  Sam’s boat was one of the latter.
     ‘What’s the name of the boat?’  Pete’s voice sliced into the night air. 
     Clinking glasses and gentle laughter floated and hung in the mist.
     ‘ “Thistledome”, Sam’s mum named it, it’s “This’ll do me” if you split it up, get it?’
     ‘Yeah, that figures,’ sighed Pete.
     ‘You’d better stay shtum when we go in.’ Tom looked at Flea. ‘You’re going to get Sam and Miss Prissy Pants right confused, ’cos we’re all such cool mates, like, and you, well you’re not you man, if you get my drift,’ said Tom.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Cloud of Souls - Carol Leith 4 - 7


The Complications of New Friendships

 Flea added the gull and the hawk-man, to the list of things he must tell Tom.  He wondered, as he freewheeled through the ornate wrought-iron gate that led from the tow-path and into the well tended gardens, how he might go about this.
     He had just finished composing his opening sentence in his head when he noticed that Tom was not alone. He was standing with another boy outside an almost completely obscured gazebo.
     Flea observed that the crumbling building was engulfed by mature trees and shrubs, and that it was more held together, rather than just covered, by clinging ivy.
     His eyes were drawn to its dark sinister entrance and a sliver of ice ran the length of his spine. He shuddered and quickly averted his gaze to look at the two boys.
     The boy with Tom must be Sam, he guessed.   He was tall and willowy, with close-cropped blond hair. He wore similar baggy trousers to the ones he himself was wearing and a faded red T-shirt with the word “WASTED” written across the front in large white letters.
     The two of them stared at Flea, conspiratorially, as he approached.
     He knew he must brush aside all the apprehension he had been feeling about this inevitable assignation; best to greet this new boy as if he knew him. He thought.  Then, when he felt confident, he could explain who he really was to both of them.  The logic of his inner voice, however, did not match the unease of his racing heart.
     Flea took a deep breath. ‘Hi Sam, sorry we’re late, my fault,’ he said, in the sincerest voice he could muster, as he glided nearer.
    ‘You’re off your head!’ the tall boy retorted.
     Both Tom and this new boy gawped at him.
    ‘What do you mean?’ he said as he pulled up next to them and tried to straddle his bike as nonchalantly, as they had theirs.
     He felt himself begin to swelter; this was obviously the wrong thing to have said.  Not a good start, he thought.
    ‘Sam?’ said the thin boy, scratching his head. ‘You’re having a laugh right?’
    ‘No, I just said hi that’s all,’ said Flea, trying to keep calm and wondering how boys here might greet each other.
     ‘See what I mean Pete, he’s nutty like my Gran,’ said Tom.
     ‘I only said…’  Flea began, but he was cut short by the second boy.
     ‘Pete, I’m Pete,’ he spat the words as he leant over his handlebars. ‘You know, the one you went to the cinema with two days ago?’
     Pete stared into his eyes; it was clear to Flea that this boy was expecting some sort of response from him. But Flea could think of nothing that might ease this situation and so just swallowed hard on the sparse amount of moisture still left in his mouth.
     The Masters may have been brilliant at teaching him the rudimentaries of meditation and other such esoteric things, but he couldn’t help thinking that learning how to communicate with other children might have proved more helpful!
     ‘Who I’m not,’ Pete continued when a response was not forthcoming, ‘is Sam, so what’s your game?’
     ‘And I’m not Flea…at least not the Flea you know.’ He felt the words speed from his lips, eager to get out.  The two boys looked at him blankly.
     ‘No- REALLY’ he blurted, ‘I’m not Flea at all.’ That was it, he had said it!
     ‘Yeah, right… Derr!’ said Pete, knocking his head with his hand at the same time.
     ‘Yeah, of course yer not dummy,’ said Tom, ‘so how come you’re wearing Flea’s body then?’ and with that the two boys began to fall about in fits of giggles.
     ‘Please, you have to believe me,’ said Flea. He wondered what the Masters could have been thinking, sending him unprepared, to handle this all on his own. He was so clearly out of his depth.
     ‘Whatever,’ said Tom dismissively.  He had stopped tittering and sounded all together more serious now.  ‘You’ve been weird since I called for you,’ he went on, ‘and why didn’t you show up here earlier, like Sam said, instead of making me come and get you?  You were fine this morning, but now, well I don’t know; you’re odd.  You even talk different somehow.’
     ‘Well… yer not yourself, that’s f’sure,’ snorted Pete, pig like.
     Pearls of sweat clustered on Flea’s brow.
     ‘I’M… NOT… FLEA,’ the three cracked words hit the parched afternoon air with such a serious blast that the boys’ attention was attracted instantly.
     ‘I’m in your friend’s body, yes, but I’m not Flea,’ he went on calmly. ‘You see, I think Flea and I have been swapped somehow. I’ve come from a different place.’ Words that were beginning to flow earlier, now dried up.
     They stood silently looking at him, waiting for him to carry on, but he was not sure what to say next. He opened his mouth to try and speak again but stopped.
     His sixth sense had started to bristle; a menacing presence was focusing in on them.
     ‘We’re being watched!’ he said.
     Everything around froze, not a single leaf fluttered.
     The area they were standing in began dividing, like tangerine segments.  He could feel himself being poked out, like a stubborn pip.
     ‘I can’t see nobody…,’ said Tom, looking around them at the shade freckled gardens bustling with normality.  ‘Come on, stop mucking about now, joke’s over.’
     ‘Yeah, yer almost had us there for a mo,’ said Pete.
     ‘It’s no joke,’ said Flea and as he spoke he felt a rumbling inside his skull.
     The ground vibrated.  He saw from the boys’ quizzical expressions, that they were blissfully unaware of any change at all!
     ‘Stop it now; you’re giving me the heebies man,’ said Tom.
     But Flea was not paying attention to Tom any more. The rumbling grew stronger and turned from an indistinguishable feeling inside his head, to a deafening screech.
     ‘Argh!’  he clapped his hands over his ears, but the noise was inside, not out.
     ‘Stop!’  he shouted in agony, ‘just stop!’  The sound was changing to a high-pitched squeal.
     An invisible barrier dropped over him, catching him like a fly under a glass bell jar, separating him from the other boys.
     Flea could see the activity in the gardens; dogs chasing balls, children giggling and squealing as they ran about playing in the afternoon sun, but the sounds they made were muffled and distant.
     He was no longer breathing the same warm air, or smelling the same sweet summer perfume Tom and Pete were taking for granted in their oblivion.
     His heart beat heavily against his ribs. ‘I’m not ready for any of this,’ he cried out loud. ‘Anukh! Father! Tan! Please help me. Don’t just leave me here, I don’t like it.’
     Scrunching up his already contorted face, he pushed against the noise that split his mind in fractions.
     ‘Please…’ he said to himself, ‘please let me have brought at least some of my powers with me into this new body; pleeease’ he was squeezing the words out through tense gritted teeth.
     The sound inside his head popped, leaving just the faintest ringing in its wake. ‘It worked!’ he whooped.
     He felt very woozy, everything around him spun and his legs gave way beneath him.  The bike crashed painfully against his thighs. A large brown mass of feathers streaked through the air and bullet-like, entered the gazebo.
     Flea’s eyes followed the feathery missile. He thought he caught sight of a dark ominous figure beyond the threshold.
     For some reason, seeing the figure standing obscured by shadows sent a flood of terror right through him. He could not think of a time when he had been so scared.
     Pushing himself free of the bike, he struggled to his feet.  His eyes focused on the dim interior of the ruin. He stood in his separated space alone, teeth-chatteringly cold, and watched as the world around him clicked into constant replay; movements repeating over and over, faster and faster in a loop of time.
    Two beams of light cut the air between him and the gazebo. He caught the light with his eyes as a rush of adrenaline sped through his veins. ‘I must hold the light,’ instinct told him, ‘if I blink and break eye-contact, I will be lost.’
     He knew at once that his opponent had “Mind Laser” abilities; one of the strongest forces in the Universe.



Force Meets Force

 Flea’s flesh smarted as a magnetic power scraped him across the ground, dragging him towards the gazebo.   
     Seagulls’ haunting calls echoed inside his head.  Their harrowing cries rose to a deafening crescendo then stopped, leaving a bubble of welcome silence.  
     His limp body thumped the bottom step of the stone building, the rim of the “glass bell jar” lifted and he was flicked inside the musty building.  Swallowed up in a potpourri of urine, dank rotting vegetation, cat spray and stale liquor.  
     Before he had time to think, he was ripped from the damp earth and whipped into a corkscrew which whirled him about like some rag doll.  Flea heard a cracking sound as his body smashed against the ceiling; he felt nothing.  
      ‘Must keep my eyes wide open,’ he said to himself, whilst fighting to recall his lessons about the Mind Laser skills. He clung to the two rods of light with puppy-like grip, aware of the thousands of gull eyes, like tiny stars, blinking in his peripheral vision. He cherished the gulls’ squawks of encouragement. 
     He felt the moist, foul-smelling breath of his assailant brush his face.  Using all his strength he elasticated himself away, only to be pulled back. 
     Time and time again his flesh bruised and tore as each twist threw him against the jagged stone walls.  
     ‘It is pointless; you cannot hope to escape me. Give in!’  His opponent’s voice grated deep, invading his inner space, feeling, probing and sifting through his emotions, his thoughts like a fine tooth comb.
 ‘What do you want, what are you searching for?’ Flea shouted, shutting down as much of the telepathic connection to his foe as he was able.
     The gulls fell strangely silent; then all at once they took to the wing. A draught of stale air kissed Flea’s skin, drying his eyes.    
     ‘Just one blink will moisten them,’ the voice taunted. 
     Flea was holding the contact now by the thinnest of threads.  He wanted so much to blink, just one blink.  His eyes were so dry!   
     ‘Come now, this is no place for a child, don’t you want to go home?’ the saccharine words exuded a false kindness.  ‘You do not belong here. This is a game for men, not for boys. If you stay you will be destroyed!’  There was a smile in the voice, but there was also a sense of unease beneath its surface. He could feel it, as sure as he could feel the gulls around him.
     The violent twisting of his body was taking its toll.  He could not hold the gaze much longer.  
     He felt his flesh rip, as something sharp tore into his side. The pain arrived as his head smashed against a jagged stone. 
     With this brutal blow came a blink, snipping the final thread of light that linked them. He felt himself slide down the wall like a soggy sponge.     
     Thousands of beating wings drew the dank debris of rotting leaves over him in a spiral up-draught.  Razor beaks and needle-sharp claws lashed ferociously around him and an odour of singed feather and burnt flesh filled his nostrils. Damp leaves stuck to his seeping wounds and short desperate breaths snagged in his throat.  
     He was too spent to move, his eyes ached right into the back of his skull.
     The shrill, ear-splitting shrieking of the gulls’ desperate cries became muted in his head.      
     A single shaft of sunlight gave him the inner-strength he needed to keep conscious, and he crawled towards it.  Welcoming the warmth of the sun and the sweet smell of scented air, he dragged his exhausted body from the building.  
     Pulling himself into a sitting position against one of the stone pillars of the entrance, he watched the tornado of blood-speckled feathers whirl from the gazebo, the twisting column of white, grey and red, climbed high into the blue sky, where it dissolved and faded into a cirrus cloud. 
     A sad scattering of fatalities lay around him, a tangled mass of flesh, feather and bone. 
     With great effort he lifted his eyes and saw the silhouettes of Tom and Pete on the back of his eyelids as he blinked into the sunlight.  And gradually, as the world around seemed to settle, he caught the welcome sound of their voices.  



Why - What - When - How?

‘How the heck…did that happen?’ said Tom looking over at the gazebo. 
‘Bloody hell!...’said Pete. ‘There’s blood everywhere… and that’s, that’s, look by the ivy-tangled pillar… Flea.’ 
     Flea could see the boys through his blurry vision; he could see that they had seen him. He knew it was impossible for them to take it in.  He wasn’t sure he had taken it in himself!
      ‘Scare-eeey!  Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ said Tom to Pete in a hushed voice. 
     ‘Dunno what you’re seeing but I’m sure I’m not seeing what I’m seeing,’ said Pete. ‘No one else seems to be taking any notice though; look…they’re just walking through all that blood and guts like it’s not there!’
     ‘Come on, we’d better see if Flea’s OK,’ said Tom tugging on Pete’s arm.  
     The boys laid their bikes on the ground and walked cautiously over to the gazebo. 
     ‘How?.. I mean what?..  I mean,’ Tom knelt down next to Flea and raised his hand to gently touch him, but stopped short.  Dropping it down then lifting it again, he placed it on Flea’s shoulder in a sort of understanding, comforting, way. ‘You OK mate?’  he said. 
     ‘I’m not sure…I…’  Flea’s mouth was pumice dry.
     ‘You need help man.’   Tom’s hand touched the sticky goo that oozed from Flea’s wounds and grimaced.
     ‘This is gross!’ Pete said picking his way gingerly through the dismembered bodies.
     ‘How much did you see?’   Flea’s voice was faint, but he hoped they could hear him. 
     ‘One second we was all just standing chatting, right, then Pete an’ me look over here at you, an’ like it’s… like… well… really mad, you’re over here like this… right?’  Tom turned to Pete for confirmation.
    ‘Yeah… right,’ said Pete. ‘Don’t make no sense like, an’ all these bits o’ dead birds, an’ you, gross, look at you, all beat up an’ that.  Like how’d that happen?  This is so not good.’
     ‘Yeah. And how come we can see all this an’ no one else can?’  Tom was gesticulating at the people ambling in the afternoon sun.  ‘Look, they see nothing!... You got yer mobile?’ 
     ‘Yeah I’m gonna call yer mum. Lean forward a bit and I’ll see if it’s in yer backpack.’ Tom fumbled around and pulled out the phone.  ‘At least you’ve still got that intact,’ he said as he pressed the numbers. 
     Flea felt too weak to tell them it would probably be useless.
     ‘Strange, no signal,’ said Tom. 
     ‘Strange? You think that’s strange, boy, show me summat that’s not!’ said Pete in a shaky voice. 
      Flea’s eyes were heavy, ‘I’m…so…tired,’ he said.
     As he began to drift off in sleep, he felt a familiar tingle in the back of his mind; someone was trying to contact him; a friendlier connection this time.  
     A voice, yes a voice! He was instantly awake, heart racing. He unlocked his mind and tried to connect. Then it was gone; the connection was being blocked. His heart sank and he slumped back, even more exhausted. 
     ‘We have to get help, he looks rough man,’ Flea could hear Tom’s voice but it sounded far away.
     ‘Hey…you in there…don’t croak on us,’ said Pete, shaking him gently.
      Flea opened his eyes a slit. A man was walking his dog a few feet away.   
‘Hey!... Mister… hey!... we need help here,’ Pete called out, but the man cut him dead.  ‘Mister!’ he shouted louder as the man paused to let the dog cock its leg against a nearby bush. 
     ‘Hey mate! yer deaf or summat?’ Tom had joined in and waved frantically for attention. ‘Must be bloody blind too; look he’s taking no notice of us at all!’  
     ‘He can’t…,’ Flea began weakly, he wanted to tell Pete that they were in a different space, but Pete seemed not to hear as he made a desperate dash at the man. 
     Pete was within arm’s reach when he came to an abrupt halt. He stumbled back a little and corrected his balance.
     ‘Hey this feels rubbery, like some sort of invisible barrier,’ said Pete, sliding his hands across the filmy surface. He pushed and beat it with clenched fists. 
     ‘Help! Help! Please!’  Pete screamed, but the man paid no attention.   
     ‘He can’t hear you,’ said Flea, in a tissue-thin whisper.  
     Flies were already buzzing around the many corpses.  
     ‘Apart from these bloody flies it’s strangely quiet don’t yer think?’ said Tom, trying to brush them away from Flea’s face.
     ‘My fault…all my fault… some mistake…,’ Flea found that his words were beginning to fade before they had time to leave his lips. 
     ‘What’s he say?’  Pete bent his ear closer to Flea’s mouth.
     Flea could do nothing but listen to them talking.
     ‘He’s delirious I think.  I’m shit-scared Pete, I think he’s on the way out,’ said Tom.
     ‘What yer saying? Like dying… right?... No way!’  Pete picked up a large stone from the ground and nervously tossed it from hand to hand a few times then hurled it at the invisible wall.
     ‘Hey…look…,’ said Pete, staring out at the gardens beyond.
     ‘Look, out there…see?’
     ‘What… that group of boys yer’ said Tom, squinting into the sunlight.
     ‘So…well…they’re us!’ Pete pointed, ‘I swear…look the three of us… out there…’  
     ‘Bloody hell!...Yeah, you’re right….but…,’  said Tom, as they looked at the normality of the outside world, at their “other selves” locked in conversation. 
     ‘This is mad, totally mad, we’re here, and we’re there,’ said Pete, ‘so where the hell are we?’ 
      But Tom was not listening.  He was cradling Flea’s limp head in his arms.  ‘He’s stopped breathing!’ 



Space - Times - Places

 Flea closed his eyes, if he tried hard enough, perhaps, he could will them all into the space on the other side of the barrier; back into their other selves; into the time beyond.  
     He pushed and pushed with every last scrap of energy he could muster, so hard that his heart stopped for a second; then with a bang, it jolted back into action. Flea’s eyes shot open. He had managed it!  They were standing back in the warm sunshine!


     ‘Hey, look, there’s three guys over there,’ Tom was saying, as they all three stood grouped together in the dappled sunlight.
      They were looking at three other boys a few feet away, crouching amongst a pile of feathers and blood on the threshold of the gazebo.
     ‘Yuk!’  Pete winced. ‘Where the hell did they come from?’ 
     ‘Don’t stare, we could end up beat up like the one on the ground if they catch us staring at them,’ said Tom, averting his gaze.
     ‘I don’t believe it…,’ Pete squinted at the group of boys. ‘Hang about…, they’re… No can’t be… no… not possible… no way!’
     ‘Yes,’ said Flea, in a strong matter-of-fact voice, ‘they’re us!’  
     And as he spoke so the “mirage” melted away.
     ‘What the hell?’ Tom turned his saucer-like eyes to Flea.
      Flea stared into the middle distance; his thoughts were with Anukh and the gulls.  She had sent her flock to save him; he knew that now, but at what expense?  He wanted so much to communicate with her, but it was useless, his telepathic link was blocked. 
      ‘Weird…’  Tom’s large dark eyes glared at Flea through tangled coils of hair.  ‘You really aren’t Flea are you?’
     ‘Why?.. What?... How?’  Monosyllables popped from Pete’s mouth in awe.
     Tom sucked the air in through his teeth. ‘Are you some sort of alien?’ he said. 
     ‘Of course not, I’m like you; at least I think I am… except… I don’t know, except, from another slice of space, I think.’ 
     ‘Slice… of…space?’ said Pete. 
     ‘I’m here in your friend’s body,’ he slapped the palms of his hands against his chest, and I’m no happier about it than you are.’ 
     ‘So what’s going on?’  Tom fidgeted nervously.
     ‘I don’t know yet, I wish I did. But I’m beginning to think that all this has something to do with what your friend Flea told Sam he saw here this morning.’  
     ‘Well is it safe now or what?  Like…Can you feel anything about to happen again?’
     Flea was just about to tell them that he felt everything had settled down, when a slight vibration ran under his feet. 
     ‘Oh no…You felt that too didn’t you?’  said Flea, seeing their alarmed expressions.
     ‘This place gives me the creeps,’ Pete shuddered.  ‘What say we just get out o’ here? Like NOW!’ 
     ‘Yeah… let’s go,’ said Tom, ‘come on Flea, or whatever yer name is.’  
     Flea didn’t need any persuading. 
     ‘Where to then?’  Pete panted as they shot out of the park gates and onto the towpath.
     ‘Let’s get to Sam’s boat as we’re staying there tonight anyway,’ said Tom, ‘Sam’s probably there already, bet he got fed up waiting here for us to turn up.’
      ‘No one told me about staying on the boat,’ said Pete. 
     ‘His mum said only two friends, an’ hey…weren’t you supposed to be in Spain with yer Grandad?’  
     ‘Ah…yeah…slight change of plan.’ 


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Cloud of Souls - Carol Leith 1 - 3

A Cloud of Souls


Gulls massing, there must be millions of them white as hope itself against a dark stormy sky. An ominous tremor streamed through the boy’s veins. 
     ‘I’m scared Anukh,’ said the boy.
The gull’s stare penetrated beyond the boy’s eyes deep into his mind. 
     ‘Why me? I don’t want this, any of this. The Masters are wrong Anukh I know they are. You can see that can’t you?’ 
     Anukh stretched her wings then furled them to her side. ‘There is not a single soul who hasn’t at some time asked “why me?”  All I can say is don’t be scared, I will come to you wherever you are,’ her soft voice calmed his racing heart.
     ‘Something is happening out there. And if I’m so “special” then why do I not know what it is?  Surely I should know, surely.’  The boy looked out into the depths of the storm clouds.  ‘You’re saying you will come to me, what do you mean come to me?  I’m not going away Anukh. Or is there something Tan is keeping from me?’
     ‘All I know is what you yourself can feel. You can sense the movement; open your mind to it. Let it into your soul, only you have the answers, only you my sweet boy. Soon I must join my flock, they need my guidance.’
     ‘Please don’t leave me Anukh, don’t go, not yet.’
     ‘Look the sky is clearing; the sunset will be upon us soon.  You must sleep. You need rest.’  Anukh spoke softly dreamily and as she spoke so the boy’s eyes leadened and his mind fluttered into silence.
      Sleep was claiming him as the beautiful bird spread her wings and swooped from the sill and up, up towards her waiting cloud of gulls.


Who Am I - Where Am I

 Hello Flea,’ he said, as he stared in the mirror. His new voice seemed strange as it formed his new name. He quite liked it! 
     ‘I think I prefer my clean-shaven head to this though,’ he said pulling at his tangle of unruly orange hair.
     Mackerel-skin eyes, similar to those of the woman in the hall, blinked back at him. 
     ‘I feel like a stranger in here,’ he whispered, steaming up the glass with his breath. ‘But then I guess I am!’ He rubbed the condensation with his hand, and let his fingertips explore the contours of his mottled face.
     Running his tongue over the inside of his mouth, he felt remnants of food he had not eaten stuck between his teeth. 
     He couldn’t help but feel a trifle disappointed as he looked at his reflection.  This body was even frailer than the one he had left behind.
     ‘Shift yer butt in there Flea! What’s keeping you?’ a rather irritated boy’s voice shouted through the closed door.
     He hurled a few random items into a wash-bag and pushed them down amongst the other things in the backpack the woman outside had thrust at him. Then, swallowing hard, he left the bathroom to join the woman and the boy waiting in the cluttered corridor. 
     ‘OK, I’m ready,’ he replied in a shaky voice.
     ‘About time, let’s go!’ said the boy. 
     ‘You’re not your usual bouncy self this afternoon, are you darling?’ the woman looked down at him lovingly.  ‘Is everything alright? You still want to go and stay on Sam’s boat, don’t you, sweetie?’ 
      Flea felt the concern in her voice.    
     ‘Yes, I’m fine… of course I want to go,’ he said, trying to hide his hesitation. 
     The woman bent towards him. She smelt all summery, like roses. 
     ‘Are you sure you’re OK darling?’ she said. ‘You look a bit pale to me, don’t you think so, Tom?’
     ‘He’s fine,’ snapped Tom. ‘Aren’t you Flea?’ 
     Flea looked at the dark-skinned boy with long tangled coils of black hair.  He was taller, chubbier and more robust-looking than him. 
     Tom mouthed the words ‘Come on,’ at him. 
    ‘Yes, I’m fine,’ Flea coughed. ‘Let’s go,’ he said, straightening himself up.  
    ‘Well if you’re really sure…,’ the woman said, stroking him on the head as if he were a pet.  ‘You’ve got your mobile haven’t you?’ She pushed them gently from the flat.
     Flea turned and looked back at her, as she stood in the doorway. ‘Thanks Mum.’ He was guessing at their relationship.  
     The words felt strange, yet gave his heart a pang of joy as his eyes met her smile. 
     He felt a bit of a fraud, but until he could find out what had happened and a way to get back home and into his own body, deception, he sensed, was better and much easier than any garbled attempt he could make at an explanation right now.  
     ‘Go on, both of you, have a good time and behave!’ she said.      
     The shock and discomfort he had felt on entering this body was beginning to be replaced with a sense of adventure and a tinge of excitement.   
     It was warm outside, seagulls circled high above the large plane tree which filled most of the small leafy square they now stood in. 
     Flea noticed a large red vehicle at the end of the street.  It had “Bath City Open Top Sight-Seeing Tours,” in bold writing all along its side. 
     Never before had Flea seen so many people crammed into such a small area. People everywhere, sitting, pushing, pointing, huddling, eating, drinking, laughing and chatting. And wearing such wonderful, brightly-coloured clothes!  Clothes he had only ever heard about in stories. Where he came from everyone wore simple robes.   
     The many voices mingled together as one musical note to his ear.  The mouth-watering mixture of food smells made his tummy rumble. 
     ‘Let’s go get the bikes and get moving,’ said Tom, as he shouldered his way through a group of ambling tourists. Flea followed, keeping as close as possible so as not to get lost in the crowd.  
     Tom stopped at some metal railings.  ‘Damn, the padlock’s on,’ he said, pulling at the chain which was wrapped around the iron gate. ‘You got the key?’
     Flea thrust his hands, instinctively, into his baggy-trouser pockets.  ‘Ah… not sure.’ He rummaged around, felt a small metal object, pulled it out and held it up triumphantly.
     ‘Just open it!’ said Tom, agitated.
     Flea fumbled with the lock.
     ‘Oh bloody hell, what’s up with you this afternoon?’ Tom snatched the key from his hand.  ‘Give it here!  Why are you acting so god-damn strange?’  
     Flea followed Tom down the stone steps. How long would it be before this boy realized that he was an unwilling impostor in his friend’s body?  
     They got the bikes from the vault under the pavement and set off, winding their way through the busy, narrow, cobbled passages, onto a main road and over the bridge which crossed a wide fast-flowing river.  
     The city’s hustle and bustle background noise was eclipsed by the cool silence between the boys.
     A few seagulls chuckled from the rooftops of the high buildings. Flea felt they were mocking his wobbly attempt at staying upright on the two wheels. Cycling was something he had very rarely done before now.    
     The surroundings seemed familiar to him: the river, the green hills beyond the city and.... the gulls! 
     Of course, he thought. A pang flicked his heart: ANUKH! 



The Unforeseen Shift

His mind cleared a little, allowing a glimpse of memory to filter through.  Could it really have only been this morning when she had woken him so abruptly?    
     ‘Wake up Young One!’  Something was wrong.  She was flapping about the room.  
     ‘Anukh?  What’s the matter?’  The bed was shaking; the whole room shook.
     He rolled out from under the covers and flung his thin, bony legs over the edge of the mattress, rubbing the crusty sleep from his eyes.
     ‘It’s started, the Ley-Lines have been disturbed,’ said Anukh. ‘You have to come now!’ 
     She was speaking to him as she always did, through his mind. 
     He remembered the look of wonder on Tan’s face the first time he saw this happen.   Evidently, according to Tan, the Master who looked after him, ability to communicate telepathically took years of meditation and then it had only ever been possible between same species. But the boy found it easier to communicate with this gull than he did with people. 
     She flapped her beautiful grey wings, shedding a few feathers around his small, sparsely furnished bedchamber.   
     He grabbed his day-robe from the chair next to the bed, pulled it over his night-shirt and quickly fastened the leather strap around his waist.
      ‘Where are we going?’ he asked, trying to remember what he had learnt about Ley-Lines through his foggy half-sleep. He slipped his feet across the cool marble floor and into his sandals.   
     Anukh did not answer.  She was already flying some way ahead.
     He followed her down the marble stairs and along a tangle of winding underground corridors that connected all seven towers that formed the ministerial complex.  
     There was a great commotion throughout the whole place. Doors slammed, half-asleep, half-dressed “Monitors” and a few of the junior “Masters” struggled to keep upright as they, too, began to spill into the passageways.  
      It was hard going, as each tremor flung his frail body against the stone walls.  
     ‘I have to get you to a safer place before I leave you,’ said Anukh.
     There was a great rumbling all around them, loud crashing sounds, breaking glass and rushing footsteps. 
    ‘Leave me?’ His heart sank. ‘What do you mean Anukh, where are you going?’  
     A huge ornate mirror fell from the dark stone wall smashing on the hard steps in front of him.
     His pale blue eyes reflected in the shattered glass, as he skidded over the slivered shards on his descent.
     He could hear Anukh’s voice. She sounded anxious.
     ‘There is a boy in another dimension who needs me,’ she was saying, ‘I must turn him into a gull, to protect him.’
     He stopped running, what was she saying? He felt sick in his stomach.  Another boy?
     ‘Don’t leave me Anukh, don’t go!’ He tried to sound brave but his thin voice gave him away. ‘This is only an earth tremor Anukh, it will soon calm.’ Panic raced through him, ‘I’m sure this other boy will be alright, whoever he is.’ 
     He couldn’t quite believe that he was being so selfish, but he was very scared.
    ‘This is no earth tremor Young One.  There has been a Shift,’ she said. ‘You must be strong now. I have to go, but I will get you to safety before I leave.’  
     He had never before heard Anukh sound so stressed.
     His mouth dried.  He had learnt about Shifts but he only knew them theoretically.  There had not been one for thousands of years. No one expected one now, so he had almost ignored the lessons. 
     Suddenly the ground shook even more violently and he lost his footing. He felt a sharp pain on the side of his head and everything went black.


     His head thumped, but at least the tremor must have stopped because nothing seemed to be moving.  He lay very still, not wanting to open his eyes, content instead to drift about in this strange sleep. 
    Cotton-wool voices seeped in and out of his mind as he began his unwilling ascent into consciousness. 
    ‘The child is safe, that is the most important thing.’ A muffled voice, he did not recognize, invaded his subconscious. He suspected it was one of the clinicians; there was a smell of ether.  
     ‘Oh thank the Universe!’  A second voice said, on a long drawn out breath.
     This was Tan’s voice!  A warm, comforting wave of relief wafted over him: he would be safe with Tan.  
     ‘Why were you not guarding him?’ the first voice chided.  ‘How did he get as far as the Seventh Tower on his own?  He might have been killed!’  
      Tan gave a nervous cough.  The boy knew Tan would be chastised for leaving him alone. He wanted to shout out “I’m to blame not Tan”, but some deep instinct made him hold his tongue. He knew he must not move, if he was to discover more.
     It had taken a lot of continual persuasion to convince Tan to leave him alone some times. He hated being guarded so closely and Tan cared about him enough to see this.     
     ‘He is not like other children,’ the first voice continued, ‘we all know that; he must be guarded and protected at all times.  The Guardian has made that abundantly clear to all of us.’ 
    ‘Yes. I’m sorry, I apologise.’ Tan’s voice stumbled a little. 
    ‘Hmm… well you were lucky, it seems we were all saved this time, his injuries are not major.  He will gain consciousness soon I am sure. But don’t ever leave him unguarded again Tan.’ 
     He lay there listening to the two voices discussing him. He hated being treated with such care.  
     Yes, he knew it was for his protection, Tan was always telling him this.  But to be just an ordinary boy, even for a short while. Oh how wonderful that would be.    
     This was the surgical unit, he could tell by the strong clinical smells that filled his nostrils. His head was being bathed and it was hard not to wince as the ointment stung, but he needed to continue eavesdropping from this useful oblivion, so did not move a muscle. 
     ‘What do you think is happening?’  Tan was standing so close that his voice vibrated through his own frail body. 
     ‘I’m not sure, last night a wave hit the atmosphere.  It was not a strong one, but I fear it could trigger a reaction in the diametrical opposition within our Universe.’  
     ‘But this conflicts with predictions, surely?’ said Tan. ‘Where is the boy’s father? What are his instructions?’
     ‘The Guardian is aware of the situation. He is in his meditation hall this very moment and he has called for the High Masters to join him in meditation, in order to build up maximum strength in our collective aura.’
    ‘But the boy…,’ 
    ‘You will protect him and await his recovery Tan,’ the voice ordered with curt crispness.  ‘I have alerted his Monitors, you will not be alone. I will wait until they arrive. When he is conscious, you must lead him through the Labyrinth to its centre.  He will be safe there.’    
     ‘Master…I…,’ a loud buzz came from the intercom cutting Tan’s sentence, followed by the sound of urgent footsteps.  
     There was a pungent smell of stables and Tan began to sneeze violently.
     ‘What…are …,’ Tan sneezed. ‘What …,’ another sneeze.
     These are the horse-guards, he thought, as he lay motionless. They never enter this part of the Ministry.  Something must be very wrong. 
     ‘Please…’ Tan wheezed. ‘Please…I…’
     ‘Here, breathe this,’ the first voice said.  ‘It’s an inhaler; you’re having an asthma attack.’
      Then one of the horsemen’s voices broke in through Tan’s sneezing and spluttering.
     ‘The Globe… there’s been a break-in!’  The voice was loud and on the edge of hysteria.
     ‘No! That can’t be true, you must be mistaken.  The alarm would have sounded if anyone had even approached the summit without being scrutinised.’
     He listened, keeping as still as he could.  The Globe fascinated him and he lay visualizing it, as the voices around went headlong into panic. 
     There it was, as clear as if he were seeing it with open eyes, right at the top of the Seventh Tower, the tallest of all the towers.  So tall, that the clouds often obliterated it completely. But on clear nights he would lie in his bed and stare at it through the slit window, mesmerized by its glow, like a second moon against the dark night sky. 
    ‘No it’s not possible. How can it be?  The scanner is foolproof.’  Tan’s breathing sounded laboured now.   ‘No one can enter without the scanner screening the mind,’ Tan sucked in a breath through the inhaler. ‘And even if an infiltrator did get to the Transporter,’ he sneezed violently. ‘Well, they couldn’t operate it could they?.. Not yet.  It has never, to my knowledge, been fully tested.’
     ‘No the Terminustia, or Transporter as you call it, hasn’t been tested successfully, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop someone trying.  There are those who will try anything in desperation.  And with the Shift last night…’  



A Gull On The Towpath

 Flea struggled to keep this memory coming; he wanted to hold onto it, but it faded away and he was drawn back to his new surroundings; the call of gulls high above.  
     He wished Tan were here now, he would know what to do.  But try as he might, he couldn’t make a telepathic connection. 
     Telepathy was not one of Tan’s strong points at the best of times, which was the main reason he had never graduated. 
     His father could make contact if anyone could, but even he had not come to the rescue. ‘Why have you all deserted me?’ he whispered to himself, as he fought to master the art of cycling. 
     Tom was peddling hard now, making his bike hop on and off the pavement, swerving between pedestrians who shouted after them.  Flea had a job to keep up; his limbs still ached from the excruciating pain he had gone through when his mind had entered this body. 
     ‘Something’s eating you ain’t it?  Tom shouted, turning his head back to look at Flea. ‘So… Come on...out with it… what is it?’  
     Gravel smarted Flea’s legs as Tom skidded to a halt at the foot of a flight of steps.  Flea pulled on his breaks and slid to a stop, inches from Tom’s rear wheel. 
     ‘No…I’m OK,’ said Flea, trying to sound calm, ‘but where are we going?’  
     Large brown eyes rounded and glared into his. ‘That’s it again…’ said Tom, ‘you made the plans, you arranged where to meet, you decide where to go, it’s your idea to explore the place, it’s you who said something strange was going on!  Now…suddenly you don’t know nothing!’ Tom’s voice stopped on a high squeaky pitch.     
     ‘I... but…’  
     ‘No! No!’ Tom snapped, ‘don’t you “but” me, you listen right? You get yer ass in gear and we do this thing together, or…or… not at all…OK? OK?’  His voice was deeper and quieter now, but cold and irate.
     Flea could not think of what to say as he watched Tom snatch his bike into the air and storm up the steep earthy steps. He struggled to follow. The bike was awkward and cumbersome; the pedals banged against his shins and the handlebars poked into his eyes.  
     A rush of excited recognition shot through him on reaching the top step. He knew exactly where he was.  This was the canal towpath; he had walked here with Tan only yesterday!  It was less overgrown and far busier than normal. There were brightly coloured boats moored against its banks and there was a man operating a loch gate nearby. It was definitely the same place though, but different.    
     ‘Tom!’ he panted excitedly.
     Tom turned his face from the handlebars where he had been resting his head for a couple of seconds and scowled up at Flea’s grinning face.    
     ‘I don’t know how to say this…I…’  Flea began, he wanted to tell Tom that he knew this place, but he found he was stumbling for words. 
     ‘OK- so you’ve changed your mind, haven’t you?’ said Tom rolling his eyes skywards. ‘Go on, say it.  No, on second thoughts don’t say it; wait till we’re with Sam. I want to see his face when you tell him.’  And with that Tom turned his bike and took off along the path.   
     Flea felt in real need of a friend and if this friend was to be Tom, then it was vital he gained his confidence; he just wasn’t sure how.  
     Thoughts shuffled through his mind like playing cards. He began to arrange them in some sort of order.  
     Tom had mentioned that the real Flea had told him something strange was going on.  What could this boy Flea have meant by “something strange;” might this something be a clue as to why he was now here, in the real Flea’s body? 
     He was peddling fast, determined to catch up with Tom and tell him everything; who he really was, his own world, how he might have got here. However crazy it all sounded, he would have to try to get him to understand.  But Tom peddled even faster.    
     Just as Flea felt he might be gaining ground, a gull dropped from the sky and landed on the path in front of him.  He pulled hard on the brakes.  
     There was a rush of heavy beating wings close behind him; glancing over his shoulder he saw a great hawk descending! He ducked his head and felt the tip of a talon snag his hair. 
     His wheels skidded on the gravel and the bike went from under him. 
     Flea saw a look of sheer terror flick across the gull’s eyes just before the sharp pointed talons tore into its soft flesh.  The knife-like claws hooked into the limp prey, tossed it into the air and caught it with a human hand.  The bird of prey had transformed into a MAN! 
     Flea felt a stinging pain in his left leg and grit scratched across his eyes, as he scraped to a halt on the gravel. 
     He began to shake uncontrollably as he lay watching the grimy, dishevelled and rather evil looking man, tear the seagull apart with his teeth, spitting out the feathers and gnawing the flesh from the bones. 
     Flea closed his smarting eyes; he was filled with nausea as he brushed the grit from them. Then with trepidation, he dared to look again. 
     The man and gull had gone! Disappeared, there was nothing, not even a feather to prove they had ever existed.  He reached out and touched the spot where the gull had met its fate, but his fingers brushed only sand and dust.