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.


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