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.’ 


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