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Short Stories

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A Wretch Like Me

A Wretch Like Me

Novel Coming Soon(ish)

 

Site Title

 
 

Gold

 
 

Clementi

Featured in The Sussex Short Fiction Review Vol.2

Out far and up high in the mountain hills of Sardinia the midday sun stood facing down, glaring at the ground. Heat so hot that it bit the skin and never kissed it; sucking life and colour from vegetation until it became reminiscent of straw. The beige-bone colour littered the earth. The water, previously extracted by the sun, hung dense in an invisible sticky fog. Such temperatures deterred all decent, self-respecting life forms from venturing outside. Those who did not fit that quota and did venture out in to that mild hell were the desperate, of which there was only one.

            He was an old man, as old as the trees around him. Even his skin was like bark in its dryness and creasing. The parting, ever-morphing skin rolled like waves with every twitch of facial muscle. The eyes that shone out from that mess were sad, honest, and hungry. It was these three ill-matching words that defined him. His furrowed brows would cause a diffraction of raw, sun bitten skin upwards towards his dishevelled white hair. He was simply clad in white cloth and leather sandals, the latter was reflected in his gait; he trod light-footedly but lifted his feet higher than normal to avoid the occurrence of small stones between his coarse skin and the woven leather. The effect was that of a miniature march. Ahead of him walked his army; a herd of goats, their coats hung down like skirts and their horns twisted and turned like the devil’s. The bells that dangled from their necks chimed, creating music that wafted through the peaks and down to the base of the hills. The orchestra of goats played together in an unconscious frantic sound caused by their jumping from rock to rock. The forty or so goats that the old man cared for were his own, but they were to him not the children that they would have been to other herders. No, the man saw nothing but meat and milk. 

The sun took its toll on the old man and wearily he sat down beneath a single olive tree. The goats no longer hearing the previously relentless ‘yip-yip’ turned and saw their master sitting, so they too came and sat. Up on the hill, beneath the olive tree the old man sat looking down at the land. To any casual observer the old man forced to the front of the mind an image of Jesus, sitting alone with the outward expression of wisdom. It is necessary to state that this is an ill-fitting comparison; Clementi’s wisdom was of a different kind. Where many great philosophers could explain political discourse, religious narrative or social structure, Clementi had a localised knowledge of arable practices. He was in truth, the complete countryman.

            Clementi had roamed these lands for many years and before that his father had done the same. He knew them totally and completely. From his tree view he could see down to the village where he lived; its chalk white buildings stark amongst the surrounding farmland, the white collation in between miles of green reminded Clementi of a honeysuckle bush. A single road passed out of the village disappearing towards the land’s end and along it a carriage trailed, its rickety frame wobbled as it moved. From this distance no more could be told. It was sad, he knew and he often reflected, that he had no experiences outside that single white flower. Were poverty or cowardice to blame? No, he supposed not. He could both afford to and liked the idea of travel yet he still had not. In all honesty he admitted to himself that he had no option to leave, the goats that his father had passed down to him were both a memory and a prison. He later thought back at that as the same thing. How melancholy it was, he thought, to have a destiny, no freedom to choose what life to live, only the monotony of a predetermined future

            With the midday passing, it was time to make the descent to the village and retire for the day. Clementi stood, brushing the dirt from his clothes and started off. The goats lifted their heads from their dozes but did not move until their master sounded an irritable yip-yip. Then they bounded after him. The goats’ energy so juxtaposed with their master’s that it was almost a comic spectacle. The path that took the group down was winding and long, the large stones slipped and slid underfoot so Clementi had to slow. Although he had done it a thousand times he knew a tumble was all it took to put him out of work and his whole livelihood would break apart. So slow and steady it was, like the mules that pulled the carts. On reaching his destination sweat stuck to him like a film, it soaked his shirt and stained it yellowish. Dismal as he felt, he now looked worse.

            It didn’t take Clementi long to capture the goats and lock them away. He was adept at it and had accepted their reluctance as daily challenge to overcome. When they were locked away and he had moved on they continued to head-butt the door, eager for the day not to end. Although as the silence inside their pen descended, they calmed and longed for the yip-yip of tomorrow. The village was a small walk further down from the pen and Clementi reached it around the nineteenth hour. He felt a chill run along his arm and up his spine. The white walls cooled quickly and the night would soon freeze over. Along the street he walked mothers packed their children indoors for supper, dogs sat outside peering in hoping for food and the streets became deathly silent. Down here below the hills light disappeared quickly as the sun drops behind them. So it was night by the time he reached the bar. The exterior of the bar was not well kept. The crooked wooden panels and bleached painted signs depreciated the image of the bar and kinder folk did not dare enter. Inside, if any man had dared to enter, he would find it to be as homely as his own. The tanned dark wood, dim lights and warm fire slipped any person into fatigue. There were two sofas in the left hand corner and scattered elsewhere were tables and chairs. The room was half packed. A doorbell rang as Clementi entered and strolled towards the barman. 

            ‘Una birra, po piaghere’ He told the barman and one pint was poured. The barman was as old as his customer but the single noticeable difference was the man’s complexion; it was lighter and his skin was taut, pulled back by his ears. It showed the damage a man could do to his beauty if he surrendered himself completely to an unattractive lifestyle. Clementi lifted the glass to his mouth and the liquor’s relaxing warmth sunk into his core. The bubbles of the lager fizzed refreshingly in his mouth as he sipped and looked about. He found it amazing that such a drink could rejuvenate all energy and all perspectives of life. During the day these men and women work their labour in silent stoic pain, under the heat and sun, sweat dripping into their eyes, yet the minute they took a drink of that golden liquid it was as if the day never existed. They laughed and flirted with adolescent vigour and their life was fuller and more enjoyable. There are those who despise the drinking of alcohol but if they came here and saw the benefit it had among these people, they would surely praise it. 

            Clementi sidled up to a man who sat on his right. The man’s posture was stooped and his clothes dirty but not ragged nor old. The man turned to Clementi and smiled, like one smiled to a friend, his teeth complete in number and nearing plain white. His face, comfortable to look at, was wan and burnt like the rest.

            ‘Clementi, my friend, how are the goats?’ He asked.

            ‘Alive. Unfortunately.’ They both laughed and knew that he did not really mean it. Clementi continued, ‘The days merge into a single long hot one, and I cannot remember the last time we spoke. What are you up to?

            ‘In truth, I have nothing nowadays, that arable reform took what land I had left. Once I was the greatest sheep farmer in all of Sardinia but fuck now I don’t even have one sheep!’ He took a large glug from his glass.

            ‘I am sorry to hear it Matia. There is no break here. You work all day to get what you have and then the next day it is taken from you, no compensation - nothing.’ He spat vehemently into a tissue.

            ‘Yes, they take all they can and nobody will lift a finger. Don’t they know the poor are people too? Plus, it isn’t just me Clementi, half the village has been affected, small local farms become bigger national ones, humble farmers become starving servants and all the while the rich stay rich and eat grapes off their own bellies. If I had my way – equality for all!’ He stood up from his stool and drunkenly stumbled forwards towards the door. He paused for a second, his back to Clementi, and then he turned and looked at him for a while. The look was solemn but hopeful. ‘Good luck,’ he mumbled and carried on his way. For a long while after Clementi juggled Matia’s words about his head. ‘Equality for all’, what a nice theory that was, though a nicety was all it was. Like equally weighted scales will one day tip, life had a way of unbalancing.

            By now the bar’s atmosphere had peaked. It was packed. All the seating was taken and so too were the armrests. There was no single ethnicity in the village; some were lighter and others darker – all descendants of Sardinia’s conquistadors. The French, Spanish, Tunisians and Italian had all had their time and the result was people with no specific lineage, no specific race but people bound by patriotism for the same small piece of land. Clementi gazed over to the man next to him, who he had not previously looked at with any analytical purpose. His rounded lips and soft eyes were cut apart by his sharp cheekbones. His placid greyish skin was distinctly Arabic. Clementi was from France long ago and his florid cheeks were a trait of it. He belonged to a community of persons that traded in gossip, laughter and rapport. Suddenly he was not so upset at not having travelled. He took a final sip of his drink and felt himself at the perfect height; he was not nearly drunk but perfectly serene and this mood drew him homeward.

            Outside the cool air almost solidified his breath, it floated away from him as it does from a chimney. He strutted along the pavement nonchalantly his mind in other places. The house to which he lived was small in size; it had a kitchen, a sitting room, two bedrooms and the same amount of loos. The master bedroom Clementi and his wife, Adela, occupied and the other used to be their children’s but they had long since flown the nest and did not often visit. Adela was a woman of virtue and ageing beauty, beneath the marks of age a young woman could be seen. Her smile was genial but it did not carry any stronger emotion and had not for many years. She busied herself during the day with friends and sewing, and liked to live a simple effortless life. She usually took to bed in the early hours of the evening and so Clementi knew that when he arrived at the house and the lights were off she was asleep. The relationship between Clementi and Adela, after many years, had separated. They had once had deep affection for each other. One must hold back from using the word ‘Love’ when the situation is not completely fitting, too often the word is used as a hyperbole and its actual definition is lost, that being the strongest emotion one could feel for another human being. Adela lost her affection for Clementi after their last child left home. The constant focus on raising a family had diminished her interest in Clementi and when that focus was changed, it was apparent that the magic was gone. However, unrequitedly, Clementi loved her, in the true sense. He still saw the young woman that had married him fifty years ago and during those years of childcare he looked on her and loved her more for the way she shared her heart. He was heartbroken to find what he had witnessed all that time was not sharing but transferral. What was worse was the anxiety that Clementi had started to dwell on; that she suffered because of him, bound by a marriage that meant nothing, to live and to only be free of him at death.

            He unlocked the door quietly so that she would not wake and crept in towards the kitchen. There he found a cold plate of what Adela had cooked for him a few hours earlier, their understanding and respect for each other maintained. When Adela cooked for herself, she cooked for him too. He ate feverishly and went upstairs. In spite of the lack of mutual feeling Clementi and Adela still shared a bed as traditional husband and wife. In the night they would lie there and sometimes Clementi’s elbow almost touched hers, for he kept as close to her side as was possible without any actual contact; he feared reaching out for her in worry that she would shrink further away from him. The constant level of proximity was for Clementi a natural thing, though Adela remained ignorant of its occurrence. The warmth of her skin radiated against his, so that if he closed his eyes he could imagine that they were touching, but it was not enough to fill what his heart lacked. He longed for a single embrace and it was in this yearning state that he realised he could not remember the last time they had kissed and his eyes clouded. He fought the emotion away. When his eyes adjusted to the dark and he could see in the grainy light, he studied her face. In this peaceful hour, Clementi imagined the life they used to talk about and as he slipped below the surface of his consciousness his thoughts continued as dreams and he slept calmly and quietly only so that he would wake up and life would carry on just the same.

Beached

‘What is England like brother?’ Juan Carlos had a heavy Nicaraguan Spanish accent. I was not good at Spanish but I was getting the hang of his way of speaking. He seemed to swallow the end of his words and then go onto the next before even opening his mouth. Nevertheless, this I understood.

            ‘Muy frío, hermano mío.’ He always asked this and my response was always that it was cold.

            ‘What is the beach like?’ This too he always asked. He lived in the heart of the country, a long and expensive distance away from any coast.

            ‘Bella.’ Beautiful, I always replied. It made him happy to hear it. He loved the beach but had never been. The background of his small Nokia flip-phone was a beach scene with a beach chair and a beach umbrella. He often dreamed of beaches too and would tell them to me. I had only lived with his family for a few months and would only stay another month. It was sad but we never talked about it. We mostly talked about the beach. It started when I arrived, I made a joke one day. I said, ‘Let’s go to the beach, vamos a la playa and let us wash there.’ His eyes twinkled naughtily and he replied, ‘I will need sun cream, a towel and swimming trunks.’ ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘It will be very hot.’

            Juan led me along the path because I knew not the way. All the time he talked about the sand; the beige colour, like that of the cantaloupe and the thousands of reflecting crystals that blind and dazzle simultaneously, the feeling of it between your toes, under your nails and I told him of the subtle warmth that is released from deep underneath as one lays ones foot on it a few hours after midday.

            We trampled through thick forest and knotted vines. Coconuts sat large and omnipresent watching us from their great height. And all the time he would point at the trees and say, ‘Aren’t beach houses so pretty? I’d love to buy a house on the coast.’ When we came in off the ridge and descended into the valley and the water became visible, he cried visible tears. ‘Que bonita.’ He whispered. Then he sprinted headlong at the water and would not, could not stop until he reached the bank. At last, after much silence he turned and looked at me and said, ‘Look, there are dolphins and sharks and crabs. Between my feet the sand is soft and it is true, the heat does rise slowly from beneath. Oh dream upon dream I have had, and now it is real.’

            We washed in the clear water and it flowed over us, cool and refreshing. When we left the river and returned home, his mother asked him ,‘How was the beach?’ He replied ‘Good, really good.’

You see it was the best we could do, to imagine, but for him it was good enough.

And With The Wind It Went

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Shortlisted and 3rd place for The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, Author of  Tomorrow Award.

Published on Worldreader.

The wind scoured and dipped over the hilly grassland. The winds were tough this time of year; it was the changing of the seasons. Daytime could be thirty-five degrees and at night nearly minus forty. Summer was sinking into the depressing winter that always brought snow and ice. The early morning frost was melting under the sun’s unavoidable glare. With no trees, there was no protection from the elements and this is what chilled Naranbaatar the most.

 

‘A demonstration of your right to become a man,’ they had said. Naranbaatar hated them. This illogical ritual might make boys men but it also made boys dead. Their little town in the northeast of Mongolia could not be further from his destination in the south. A daring venture across a bitter wilderness with nowhere to run, let alone hide. Once a boy turned thirteen, he had to travel to their sister village, where he would wed in an arranged marriage. His father showed no sympathy no matter how much he cried, no matter how long he screamed. ‘It’s tradition,’ his father said.  It was an event repeated year after year, intended to separate the weak and leave only the strong but Naran knew that was all lies; this was filtering really just separating the lucky from the unlucky. Nothing could prepare you for a two hundred mile trek with no guidance and no help. Nothing.

Perched on a ledge outside the gates of his village, Naran could not bring himself to travel any further. They had left him with a horse called Altan, his pet eagle called Bat, a map and enough rations for a week. Each boy from Bayan Tu'men had an eagle. The Bayans believed that eagles were the souls of the warriors from a time before peace. An eagle could hunt, carry, scout, and was a living being to talk to when you were lonely. Bayans and eagles were inseparable. He turned around, away from the ledge and faced Altan. Altan was orange-crimson and his coat was tufty like a cow’s coat. Hardy animals were bred for weather like this. The wind swept Naran’s braided ponytail into his face. He was temporarily blinded but he still managed to mount the takhi even with Bat clutched onto his forearm. The saddle and stirrups were made of ox leather. Cloth bags containing food, water and other essential supplies, hung from the rear of the saddle. This was an adventure he feared, but one he had no choice but to make.

Kicking into the horse’s belly, the beast jolted into action. Giving a last glance at the village, he rode over the ledge and out of its sight. The village sat on a steep hill that was covered in slate and loose stones that slipped and slid as the trio made their way down the hill. One of Altan’s hooves gave way on a moving stone. The horse was close to toppling but he picked up the pace in order to keep up with his own body. Now hurtling down the hill Naran’s eyes watered in the cold air. He tugged at the reins, begging Altan to slow for fear of the horse breaking its legs. Bat, barely able to hold on, pierced Naran’s forearm guard and the talon broke Naran’s skin. Naran cried out but his voice was lost in the gale. They were nearing the bottom of the hill and finally Altan began to slow. At the base the group halted and Naran half dismounted and half fell from the horse. He lay there spread-eagled, grass tickling his neck. He gasped for air. His mind raced as adrenaline surged through his body.

After five minutes of his temporary paralysis, he looked over to his companions. Altan was grazing on the coarse grass as if nothing had happened. Bat was perched on the horse’s back, plucking his ruffled feathers. Using his right hand Naran propped himself up. A wave of agony ran up his arm.  Panicking, he removed his guard as quickly as he could. Underneath it the intermediate cloth was soaked red. The depth of the wound was unclear as the blood had already started to dry. Before he had left the village, they had briefed him on basic first aid but he was unsure as to whether he could leave the blood as a layer of protection or wipe it away. The herbs they had given him, as part of his rations, would sting more than the wound itself. He decided to leave it rather than reopen the wound, so he kept the, now, red cloth and strapped the leather guard back on. For miles, the endless wilderness stretched away, hardly a distinct sight within eyeshot. A chill ran down his spine, he had only left the village half an hour ago and already he seemed doomed. Naran walked over to Altan and searched his bags for the compass. He felt the cool bronze and plucked it out. It was very basic and barely worked. He held it away from his body so that the compass would not react to his magnetism. Locating south-west, he placed it back in the bag, gathered his composure and in one giant leap, swung his legs over and onto the horse.

           

*

 

Hours on horseback made Naran’s bum sore. The pain had grown into a sharp stabbing in his spine. Every time Altan took a step, he was jostled in his saddle. As the day drew to an end, Naran’s strength began to fade. Up above him Bat was flying free. He was well trained and never strayed far. Naran arched his neck backwards, watching Bat’s floating body hover beneath the dying sun.  He whispered to himself, ‘If men could fly, none would walk.’ He dreamed of soaring through the sky, wind rustling through his clothes, free to roam wherever he pleased and to do so quickly. Instead, he was down here, sweat glistening on his forehead and soaking his shirt. The group stopped at the top of a low hill. From on top of Altan, Naran could see forever. It was all the same, sandy grassland. There was something spiritual about the way the grass blew in the wind. It moved, swaying back and forth to the echoing chimes of the whistling winds. It reminded Naran of the great waters his mother had told him stories about; stories of troubled men on fearsome ships and others of women wailing over their lost husbands. Naran did not know yet whether to fear the lonely sea of grass or to relish the solitude.  Perhaps he was too young for philosophizing but he already felt like a man. A squawk from above reminded him of his impatient friend.

 

‘Tired Bat?’ He called.

 

Naran stretched out his arm, signaling for the eagle to make a landing. Bat circled once more, then flew outwards; slowly glided round to face him, then half flying half-fluttering he approached and landed on his forearm. Naran sucked through his teeth. The wound still hurt. Over the last few hours, it had started to throb gently. Reaching with his other hand, he grabbed the eagle’s hood and placed it over his head. As he was tying the knot, his stomach rumbled. He had not eaten since he had left and even then, the nerves had stopped him from eating much. Now, yearning for some fresh food, he took off the eagle’s hood. The bird looked around, puzzled, his eyes still adjusting. Lifting Bat above his head, the bird began to search. The hill provided a decent enough vantage point and gave Bat a good view of the surrounding land. Naran’s shoulder ached; his right arm was already weak from his injury. Slowly, his hand lowered and quivered under the weight. Just moments before his arm would have collapsed, Bat took off. His great wings projected him high into the air and he beat them until he reached thirty meters. All the time his eyes were fixed on one spot. He then spread his wings and glided out to the sea of grass. His descent was as fast as an arrow. Bat plunged down, head-first, wings tucked in. As he plummeted, he picked up speed and just before he reached the ground, he reared up, thrusting his feet and those deadly talons ahead of him. His untucked wings acted as parachutes. Still, he hit the ground with awesome power.  The impact threw dust from the ground and a cloud cloaked him. From the hill, Naran gulped nervously. It was becoming darker and harder to see. Then suddenly he reappeared out of the dust and zoomed back towards Naran. In his clutches was a muskrat, big enough to demand the grip of both talons. Bat dropped it in Naran’s lap, completed another spiral, and then landed with a thud that almost pulled Naran off the horse. Regaining balance, he could see that the bird was tired. He looked down at his horse and could see the horse was in the same state. Before he placed the hood back on the bird, he drew his knife, cut a small slit in between the rib cage of the muskrat, and opened it up so Bat could eat the lungs. It was a Bayan tradition and Bat was expecting it.

 

With finding a place to stay firmly in his mind, he stuck his finger in his mouth and held it out to the wind. There was a possibility of the wind changing in the night but with any luck it would stay as it was. He steered Altan down the hill so the horse would block the wind and he stopped at the base. Having wrapped up and put away the small rodent, he dismounted in discomfort. His legs were wobbly, unused for so long.  He fell over onto his backside. On the floor, closer to the ground, the wind was softer. Only now did he notice the searing burns on his cheeks. They stung at the touch. He looked out at the plain, through the leaves of grass. At a glance, it looked empty and desolate but as Bat had proved, there was life in the desert.

 

*

 

It was a week since he had set off on that wispy day and the odds were against him. Food supplies were shortening, water was almost non-existent.  He dreamt of puddles and the splash of abundant water. Bat and Altan were becoming increasingly hard to control. They were torn between loyalty and hunger.

 

It was early morning. Naran’s journey south meant the temperature was slightly warmer but not by much. Altan was too weak and wild to carry Naran so he walked beside the beast. Bat sat on Altan’s saddle, scouting. The group had long since walked beyond the grass plains and entered the heartless Gobi dunes. Naran missed the swallowing grass and despised every moment in the trudging sand. The sand got in his boots, his pockets and even in his water. Those grains of silica were inescapable. In the afternoon, the sand burnt the soles of his boots. At night his breath gave way to snow. Neither of the animals were coping well with the conditions. Bat had begun plucking his own feathers and was a scraggy mess.  Altan had lost considerable weight and you could fit a finger between his ribs.

 

Bat squawked loudly in Naran’s ear, begging for food. Naran mind’s was racing. ‘Shut it Bat,’ he snapped. ‘I can’t feed you if I can’t feed myself.’ Bat squawked again. This time he flapped his wings in Naran’s face. Naran could feel the frustration building up inside him. Maybe if I ate you. He could not believe his thoughts. No, he could never do it. These birds were sacred. However the more he thought about it, the less guilty he felt about doing it. He would be full and there would be one less mouth to feed. Naran eyed up Bat. The bird was still so plump it was almost an insult to the rest.  Bat squawked again. This time Naran was seething. It was like there was a voice repeatedly reminding him of his stomach. Naran slowly put his hand out towards Bat.  This time the bird let out a shriek and clawed at Naran. Naran howled and fell into the sand. He kneeled against the dune.  There was a scratch on his palm but it was insignificant. Then suddenly he remembered his forearm. The hunger had masked the pain and the thought of it. Now, in a frenzy, he unravelled the sticky cloth. He did this with impatience and so by the time he got to the last coil, it was too late. The bandage came off pulling mouldy flesh with it. The stench and pain knocked Naran flat on his back. He risked a look.  The cut was sourly infected. Gangrene had set in. He looked around to find Altan’s shape but instead was confronted by the sun’s glare. It stunned him and his vision turned white. It was then that he felt the heat of the sand. In his madness, he had forgotten how scorching it was. It toasted his entire body. At this moment Naran felt hell; fires filled his eyes and out of the flames flew a black shadow. It collided with his body, scratching at him. Through the daze he saw the shadow was Bat. The bird had smelt the flesh and, driven by pure famine, sought it out. With his other hand, he batted the bird away, screaming curses. Bat took off and Naran followed in pursuit, hurling obscenities. Soon the bird was out of sight. Naran’s poisoned mind told him to run and so he did. He hurtled over dune after dune, leaving the weak Altan behind. He knew only one thing and that was that he was heading in the right direction.

 

Hours later he was slowing, his entire fat reserves used up. White flashes crossed his eyes and stars were appearing. Chronic dehydration was taking its toll. He approached a sizeable dune.  As he reached the top, the sand gave way under foot and he tumbled to the base. Groggily he got up once more. He limped a few meters before collapsing. The dusk was the last thing he saw before he passed out.

 

In his dreams, he pictured tall trees and abominable waterfalls that crashed down like thunderclaps. He sat at the edge of the pool.  The mist condensed on his forehead and the water cloaked his feet like silk. Even the rocks glistened and shone above him. He was alone and he was humming to a folk song he had been taught as a kid. He did not enjoy music back then but in such a sweet dream, it fitted so nicely and he could feel himself swaying to and fro. A harsh noise broke the utopian scene and out of the waterfall appeared a bird the size of a horse. It hurtled towards Naran but he could not move. The bird collided with his frozen body as he woke up. His eyes fluttered open, it was still dark. Once he had regained his hearing, he could see he was in a sandstorm. The sand was covering his body, it filled every crevice. As he sunk into the sand he slipped out of consciousness once again. This time he dreamt he was on a cloud, on the cloud was a harem of women. They called his name but when he stepped towards them, he fell through and plummeted toward earth. As the wind rushed passed him, a smile crept up on his face. So, this is what it felt like to be free. He relaxed his body and watched as the earth ran up to greet him. In his hallucinogenic state, he spotted his body right below him. Arching his neck he looked at his surroundings, not far from his body, over some more dunes was a girl, a few years older than he was. She looked upwards as he plummeted past. His voice was lost as he hit the ground.

 

Naran woke up heaving, rolled over and retched his empty stomach into the sand. He left a little puddle of saliva.  Summoning all his strength, he forced himself onto his feet. His entire body burnt, ached, and itched. He stumbled on until he reached the dune from his dream. He crawled to the top, sand constantly giving way beneath him. As he peered over the dune, he began to laugh. Only a few hundred meters away was a village. Small huts looked over the wall at him.  A wisp of smoke rose from the center of the village. Naranbataar rolled onto his back, looked up into the blue sky, and cried waterless tears. He had survived. Just

The Spoils

A* at GCSE - Edited

I exited the sun-bleached house on to the sandy pathway littered with smoky debris from the night before. I hobbled and stumbled my way past savaged bodies and ruined houses into a clearing marked distinctly with palm fronds. This is where I was to wait. The few houses that did remain were a long distance from the beach. These my people had left to sleep in for the night and to keep in case we needed them for another time. At last, after several minutes of waiting, they arrived. Each were well known unto me, the first had a scabbard on his hip and a fairly big captains hat on his head. He was fierce you could see the tell tale glint in his eyes. The second and third were at least 10 years younger both were lightly armed with only a dagger. They were twins and were our ringing monkeys, each of the three bore the badge of our brethren.

 

The first man, Captain Alcorn led the way with the two boys and myself trailing behind. He led us through a dense forest that contained a myriad of monkeys and numerous unblinking eyes that followed you even to places where you thought you couldn’t be seen. The call of the Howler Monkey immersed itself in the voluptuous sound of the Songbirds chirping. This place could be heaven if it wasn’t for the crimes that occurred a couple of hundred metres back. Just when I had started to feel that Alcorn was not taking us anywhere, we broke out of the forest onto a cove sheltered from the rest of the island. The cove was littered with shells from sea turtles and the blistering sun reflected of the waves creating a mirage of diamonds and gems. In the middle of the sea stood a gargantuan ship complete with night black sails, a mermaid figurehead and cannons each the size of tree trunks.

 

As we left the cove on a small rowing boat the amount of smoke became apparent. The sky was much greyer than it was a mile away, the small rowing boat became smaller and smaller as it got closer to the ship. I could now make out the fine details of the ship, the hull was the same colour as the sea and everything was outlined in gold. On a plaque at the front of the ship was ‘Xolotl’, named after the Aztec god of thunder. There was something so fitting about this name. You could actually believe that this ship was as powerful as the god himself.

 

We climbed a ladder. The two younger boys jetting up first, then the captain and finally myself. Once on board the enormity of the crew could be seen. The captain and I walked first to the cabin, past piles of tangled ropes. The cabin itself was a house, plunder and bounty lying about with a deluge of coin and endless bracelets, vast maps lay stranded on circular tables. Once the cabin had been checked we walked up to the wheel. It was made of bronze and was well polished and greased at the axels. As second-in-command it was my duty to maintain the relationship and welfare of the crew. Fights often broke out on the wolf pit, that was the deck and it was my duty to interfere and stop them. However today was a special event. We had just put out to sea and the ship slid gracefully yet powerfully through the waves. Today one of the crew was going to walk the plank. He had been caught in the act of betrayal and to set an example he had to die. None of my men could swim because they had respect for the sea and would not dare tempt it. He walked unsteadily towards the edge prompted and pushed by one of his ‘friends’. His whole body shock violently with fear as he approached the gaping nothingness below him. With a final cry the man was shoved off the edge. His knotted hands prevented him from staying above the waves and with a gurgle he slipped away.There was a harsh cheer and then, as if by command, they all went back to work.

 

We were now a long way from the island. The Caribbean sun had begun its descent and the purple glow had become vivid. The other islands teemed with life and fluttering seagulls squawked while protecting their young. Whales called in the depths whilst fish swam free and alive. The life around seemed to juxtapose with the death the ship carried with it, and as the night ventured in, we searched for our next prey.

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Winner of MFM - About Time

I have this little ring with me. It’s a man ring, like a signet. Not that women can’t wear them, it’s just that this one has only been worn by men. It’s gold but could do with a shine. And there’s a wreath on it. It had been engraved delicately but ever since it’d been nicked and scratched. It was my great grandfather’s originally. His father, my great great grandfather, bought it for him on his 21st birthday. Like me on my 21st birthday I’m sure he was dazzled by it. Gold, it is made of pure gold. Just think of it! A piece of gold on your little finger. People used to sieve rivers for hours on end just to get gold like this.

           

This piece of gold had been to the Great War and back. My father told me that the glint of the shiny gold had almost killed my great grandfather. He’d been crawling in the mud across no mans land on a bright day. The enemy must have seen the reflection because the next thing he knew there was a bullet in his leg. So it’s tradition to always keep it dull.

           

Now me. What shall I have done with it? Something I can tell my son about I hope. Something great. That’s right I’ll have to do something great. Something worth hearing.