A Cloud of Souls
‘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.
‘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.