Tuesday, 22 November 2016

[Northspell 15] A walk through the city

Toban led them along dark streets and twisting alleys, across empty courtyards and down worn steps. Arkel and Gia called him all the names they could think of, dodging his retaliations easily. The other Irena followed Toban obediently, while the real Irena held back, and wondered why the imposter wasn't struggling or trying to get away. A small part of her thought that she should use this opportunity to escape, but the far greater part was itching to grab the imposter by the shoulders and shake her until she'd explained what she was doing, and why she'd come back so suddenly.

She came to an abrupt stop. Toban had pulled the group ahead into a huddle at the bottom of a flight of steps. She slowly crept as close as she dared before remembering that the others couldn't see or hear her anyway. It still took all her courage to step out of the shadows and move closer towards the group. She strained to hear what Toban was whispering.

"...the watchman. Lead him away from the warehouse and meet us at the...Arkel - you slip in through the roof and let..." he jabbed a finger at the imposter, "You - you wait for us and let me know if anyone is coming, or if the watchman returns too soon."

The imposter nodded meekly. Irena scowled. She herself would have had a thing or two to say to Toban, if he could have heard her. She watched Gia shimmy up the wall and drop down on the other side. Running forward to where the others were, she saw Gia pick herself up and run round the corner of the warehouse. Toban gave Arkel a push in the direction of the stairs, and clamped a hand on the imposter's shoulder. From around the corner came the sound of Gia being chased by the watchman. Toban lowered the imposter down the wall and then jumped down beside her. They turned the corner, and Irena was left at the top of the wall, gazing down into the darkness. She sat down. It felt less high then.

Gia had managed it. Gia wasn't that much taller. Arkel would dare her to do it.

 She slid herself off the edge, remembering at the last minute to bend her knees like Arkel had taught her when they were climbing in the caves. It still hurt though, and she'd scraped all the palms of her hands. She got shakily to her feet and stumbled to the corner. She heard Arkel's voice muffled in the doorway, and then it fell silent. The street was dark, so she shuffled forward, feeling her way along the wall with her sore hands outstretched. The doorway was even darker than the street, and she hesitated before stepping into it.

"Ow!"

She stood on something moving on the ground. The thing stood up. The face was at the same height as her own. She looked into the eyes of her double, and saw frightened recognition there.

"Why are you following me around?" It hissed.


Sunday, 20 November 2016

[Northspell 14] Dreaming Reality

For a start, it felt like she'd just woken up. She opened her eyes and found that she could see perfectly well in the cavernous room. Even the bits that had been shadowy corners before were now clear and bright. She heard, but also sensed, Arkel snuffling as he turned over in his sleep, and Gia muttered something about a rockfall and cried out.

Alarmed, Irena ran over and began to shake her by the shoulder, calling out her name, but she was unable to wake her, She went over to Arkel next, loose threads of her clothes catching on the rough wood of the ladder. She was about to call out his name as well, when she became aware of someone or something else down below. At first she thought that Gia had finally woken up, but the noises weren't coming from Gia's sleeping place, but from where she herself had been lying on the pile of rags. She shrank back into the alcove and nudged Arkel with her foot.

"Arkel..." she whispered, "Arkel - there's someone else here. Does anyone else know where you live?"

But Arkel remained fast asleep. Irena kept shoving him with her foot, trying to wake him up, but like Gia, she couldn't shake him out of his sleep. Meanwhile, the figure below was stumbling about in the dark. Irena realised that whoever it was couldn't see as well as she could. She sensed the figure drawing nearer, despite Arkel's curtain obscuring her view of the main cavern.

It was strange, it was almost like she could feel the other person's movements as if they were her own. She felt the texture of the wood beneath her hands, and then the weight of the curtain as it was wrenched aside.

She gasped. The imposter was back. The girl with her face reached down and felt blindly for Arkel. "Arkel, Arkel, wake up." She said, just as Irena had done earlier. "There's someone else here..."

Irena held her breath. Did that mean her? Then she heard loud noises and shouting from the entrance to the cave.

"Oy, wake up you two, there's work to be done."

As the owner of the voice got nearer, Irena saw Arkel roll over and get up on his feet. Everything around her grew darker and darker again, until it was as dark as it had been before. She crawled to the edge of the alcove, feeling for it with her hands. There was more light in the centre of the room, as a strange boy was holding up a stick, the end wrapped in some greasy rags that had been set alight. He was an older boy, taller and more heavily built than either Gia and Arkel.

"Put that light out, Toban" she heard Gia say. "Your eyes will get used to the dark eventually."

"Hey, I don't spend half my time scurrying around in the dark like you tunnel rats," he said defensively.

Gia sighed. "Just put it out, Toban." she said wearily.

"Toban's afraid of the daark, Toban's afraid of the daaaaark...!" Arkel crowed, and Irena imagined him capering around like he usually did, constantly moving.

There was a scuffle, and a sharp yelp from Arkel, and the torch light was extinguished, but not before Toban had cried out, "Hey, there's three of you here; who's this?"

"Oh she's just a girl who ran into trouble and we picked her up," Gia explained. "She's hiding from the guards cos they said they'd cut her hand off if they saw her again."

Toban chuckled nastily, and Irena shivered. "Well, she'd better hope we don't run into any guards tonight ot they'll take both hands..."

"What?"

"Tonight?"

Gia and Arkel spoke at the same time.

"Yeah, tonight. Mamata's got a job for us. Your new friend can come too. We'll need the extra help."

The voices faded away and Irena hastily slid down the ladder and followed them down the dark tunnel.


Saturday, 19 November 2016

[Glory Brats] Bee and Zed

The strange, tall girl --Bee-- moved away from him, leaving Zed to follow or not, as he wished. She reached the door and tried to open it, but it was locked. Frustrated, she slammed the flat of her hand against the door. Zed slipped back into his room and pulled a thin length of wire from its hiding place. When he returnened to the corridor, Bee was still banging on the door in frustration. He crept up behind her, and she nearly hit his head as she spun around.

"Don't do that!"

"What, do what?" he cringed back in the face of her anger.

"Come up behind me like that."

"Sorry, I only wanted to..." he held out the strip of metal. When she didn't respond, he took her hand and guided it to the wire. "Here, look. This might work."

"What is it?" Her fingers slid over the metal, gingerly feeling the rough points on the ends where it had been snapped off from the bed frame. He remembered how many hours it had taken him, lying on his back on the hard floor, working the loose metal to and fro with his good hand, listening for the sound of footsteps.

He took it out of her hands and gently tried to push her out of the way. She didn't move. "Ah...you need to...I need to get at the door."

"Oh." She stepped aside. He crouched down, squinted at the door, then slid the make-shift tool between the door and the frame, just below the handle. Lifting the wire, he flicked it up and to the side, and drew it away from the door. It swung towards them, hitting against their feet.

Bee felt the empty space before her and a frown appeared on her face.

"How did you do that?"

He pressed the wire into her hands again. "It's simple really - the other ones are more complicated. I haven't managed to do them yet..."

"The other ones?"

"The other locks. There's lots of different kinds. This one is the easiest. The ones on our doors are mag locks, but they can be tripped if you break the circuit - that's why they came unlocked when the power went out."

"The power's out?"

"Uh, yeah? The lights aren't...um...sorry." He looked down at his feet, twisting the small bit of wire in his hands.

"So we can just walk straight out of here?" She stepped through the doorway into the darkness and then stopped. "There's another door. Open it."

"I can't. That's what I've been telling you. I've never managed to get that one unlocked. I tried, but they changed the locks, I think..."

He heard her rattle at the door handle, and then the noise of her rummaging amongst the shelves on either side of the small storage area that he knew was there. There was a crash, the sound of smashing glass, and she emerged after a few moments, gripping her arm tight, blood seeping out from under her fingers.

Zed's eye's widened. "You're hurt!

"Yes, smartboy. Can you fix it?" She leant against the wall and slid to a crouch on the floor, cradling her arm against her chest.

"Um, I don't...wait a minute...Can you just...thanks..." He edged past her and into the storage area, carefully avoiding the broken glass on the floor. He spotted the MediCase on an upper shelf, and stretched to grab it down. He took it out to the hall and laid the items out  in the dim flickering light from the emergency system. "Here, this is what you need. Let me see..." He grabbed her hand, and she flinched. "Sorry...let me see where you're injured."

Slowly, she took her hand away from the cut and sat very still as he swabbed it with the cold stinging stuff, then wound a strip of white fabric around her arm. He held the bandage with the grip he had in his weak arm, and used his other hand to cut it free with the scissors in the kit. "There."

Bee moved her arm experimentally, clenching and unclenching her fist, and wiggling her fingers. "Feels better. At least it's not dripping blood now. How d'you know how to do that?"

He clicked the items back into their places in the box. "I watch. And I remember. When they go to fetch the MediCase it never takes them very long, so I knew it had to be somewhere nearby."

She got to her feet. "Smartboy - do you think together we can break the door?"

Friday, 11 November 2016

[Northspell 13] Exploring

Over the next few days, Irena explored every inch of the hideout. She decided that it was much more fun than exploring in the palace because there were no servants to appear and tell you that anything was forbidden, and no nurse or books mistress to stop you from climbing on the furniture. Not that she'd ever thought of doing that before, but she could tell that it would be just the sort of thing that would be forbidden. Besides, it was much easier to climb once she'd got rid of the heavy embroidered coat that dragged her down. The only problem was the lack of light, but her eyes soon adjusted to the darkness and the flickering lamplight.

Arkel, when he was around, watched her progress with interest, and occasionally offered advice and encouragement. "Move your foot left a bit...no, don't put your hand there...it's really much easier if you go up the other way..."

The hideout seemed to have once been part of a larget network of tunnels, as other passages led off the main chamber, but these had mostly been blocked off by rubble or securely boarded up.

"What's behind this one?" she asked, banging on the wood and trying to peer inbetween the slats to the gloom beyond. Arkel sauntered over and kicked at the boards with a dusty foot.

"Dunno," he said, "Never been able to get the boards off. 'Sides, Gia says it's dangerous to go wandering off in these places."

"That's right," Gia said, chucking a bag on the floor that clinked heavily as it hit the sandy ground, "You might fall down a mine shaft and never be seen again."

"What's a mine?" Irena asked, as Arkel fell on the bag and started shaking it out over the floor in excitement.

Gia looked over," It's where they dig stuff out of the ground. Useful stuff, or valuable, doesn't really matter. Sometimes it's deep underground and the tunnels are so small they need to use little children to get at it..."

Arkel had spread all the things out around him in a circle and was moving them from pile to pile: small spoons, tiny metal cups, a brooch with a broken pin, a handful of worn coins, and a sash made of some brightly coloured stuff with a heavy metal clasp.

"Use children? How?" Irena persisted, half-fascinated and half horrified.

Gia made a face as if she was remembering something horrible, but couldn't stop herself from continuing."Well, see, they can only dig the tunnels so far by hand, so they send the smallest children through the cracks in the rocks with the spark powder and something to light it with. Then they have to crawl back before the tunnel caves in. Sometimes they don't make it back."

This was the longest speech Gia had made since Irena had known her. Arkel had stopped playing with the contents of the bag and was staring open mouthed at Gia. "You think this is a mine then? Hey, maybe we could find something valuable without having to even leave. I'm small enough to fit through most spaces."

Gia and Irena shared a look that went over Arkel's head.

"What? I am though..."

Gia scooped her haul back into the bag and stalked off, "I need to take these to Mamata's," she called over her shoulder.

After she'd left, Irena and Arkel tried to see if there were any treasures hidden in their mine, Eventually, fingers sore and nails scraped, they gave up, at least until the next day. Irena pulled the largest rag over herself, yawned, and fell into a deep sleep. Her dreams over the last few nights had been of the usual sort, full of strange staircases, guards with hands outstretched to grab her, and that horrible feeling of wanting to run but being unable to move.

This dream was different.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Glory Brats fragments

Bee heard the thing on the floor cry out when she kicked it. She didn't expect that. The voice echoed in the long corridor. "What did you do that for?"

It was small, smaller than she was. She crouched down on the tiled floor. "You were in my way."

She stretched her hands into the space where it should be and grasped a wrist. It tried to pull away, but she was stronger than it. "Stop wriggling. I want to see what you look like."

She felt hands tug at the band around her eyes, so she calmly twisted her head out of the way.

"But you can't see with that on..."

"Figure of speech." She ran her fingers over the short stubbled hair on top of the head, then moved down the face, feeling the blink and brush of  eyelashes. When she reached the elbow on the left side of the body she stopped, puzzled. The thing was suddenly very still and she drew her hands away. "What's wrong with your arm?"

"Nothing."

"Yes there is, it's--"

"What's wrong with your eyes?"

The corridor was very quiet. She stood up, and heard the small thing shuffling.

"I'm Bee. What are you?"

"Ze...Zed."

"Well Zed, shall we get out of here?"

"We..?"

"You, me. Two of us. We. I don't want to stay here, do you?"

"No?"

"Right then, let's move."

***

Adee stood on his bed and took a flying leap onto the chair at the other side of the room. At least, that was the idea. He didn't quite make it. Without stopping to brush himself down, he cannoned into the door and burst out into the corridor, hitting the opposite wall. Clapping one hand to his bruised forehead, a slow smile broke across his pale face. "Coool..."

He ran to the door at the end of the hallway and kicked it open. He found himself in another dimly lit space, and squinted his eyes to see better in the gloom. The door nearest him had a faint glow of light  coming through a pane of glass set into the frame. He headed for this door, rubbing his bare feet on the soft floor covering. Drawing his foot back to kick again, he suddenly paused, and gave the door a quick shove. It swung open, and he pushed it harder so that the handle hit against the wall with a dull bang. He padded around the desk in the centre of the room and gave the chair an experimental push. It twirled around and a smile brightened his face again. Jumping onto the seat, he kicked at the desk and pushed off with his feet, spinning the chair round and round, his legs swinging out with the momentum.

***

Evie crawled out from under her bed and ran to the door. She looked up at the handle, but it was too high for her to reach. Looking around the room, she fixed her eyes on the chair in the corner. It was sturdy, with heavy weights in the bottom to stop it toppling over, but by pushing her whole weight against it, she managed to get it over to the door. She scrambled onto the seat, and flopped over the back of the chair, her head tilted back. She huffed and puffed, and noticed the emergency lights flickering behind a grate in the ceiling. She shifted her eyes from the lights, to the door handle, to the top of the door frame, and finally to the gap in the grate that allowed it to open when something needed fixed.

Flexing her little fingers, she perched on the chair, braced her foot on the solid bit of the door handle, and stretched as far as she could. She grasped the edge of the door frame with her left hand and reached out with the other facing upward towards the grate. The tips of her fingers caught at the gap and she gave it a tug. It seemed securely fastened, so she tightened her grip and swung her other hand over to join it. The sudden extra weight of her small body made the grate come loose, and it lurched down on its hinges, taking her with it. Her legs hit off the back of the chair, but she held on to the grate with both hands and drew her knees towards her chest. She straightened her legs and tried to catch her feet on the edge of the shaft, grazing her heels in the process. Determined, she moved her hands to the other side of the grate and twisted her body round. She then used the holes in the grate to climb until her fingers felt cold smooth metal underneath. By that time, she could hook her toes into the grate and pushed upwards, hauling herself into the shaft. She perched in the opening, looking down onto the tiled floor.

Monday, 7 November 2016

[Northspell 12] a den of thieves

The woman gave them a flat sort of bread, a handful of sticky dried fruits, and a drink of water from a stone vessel at the back of the room where it was cool and damp. The water tasted slightly gritty, but Irena was so thirsty that she didn't care. She drank every last drop from the thick pottery cup.

 Gia stared at her. "Go get some more then, greedy."

"Oh, I don't want any more." Irena said.

"Not for you, for us."

"Get it yourself," Irena retorted, feeling braver now that she'd had some food and drink.

"I'll get some more." said Arkel, darting over to the roughly carved stone channel that ran in and out of the back wall. He dipped the cup into the water and drained it, then dipped his hand to fill it again.

"I wish we had one of these. It's such a pain having to carry water from the well..."

"I thought you said it was the best?" Gia teased, taking the cup that he held out to her.

"It is," said Arkel, unperturbed, "but it could do with a few improvements."

"Like beds, a fireplace, and its own water supply?"

Irena thought it didn't sound like a very good place at all.

"That was great thanks," Arkel said to the woman, "But we need to get back to The Best Hideout Ever and we can't tell you where it is because the less you know the better."

The woman laughed again. "Alright chicks, whatever you say. Hand over the dibs before you go."

Gia reluctantly took out the pouch and placed it on the table. The woman searched through it, removed three coins, and gave one to each of the children.

"What good is that!" Gia said, as Irena turned hers over and over, examining the words and intricate patterns on the front and back.

"Don't spend it all at once, chickens..." the woman said as she closed the door behind them.

"Spend it on what?" Gia grumbled, shoving her coin into a pouch sewn onto the inside of her tunic sleeve.

"I like it. It's pretty." Irena said, rubbing her fingers over the raised surface of the metal. "But what do I do with it?"

Gia looked at her in astonishment, while Arkel was doubled over with laughter. "You're joking, right?"

Irena narrowed her eyes. "I don't make jokes."

Gia shrugged. "Whatever. You exchange it for things you want."

"Food!" Arkel said, straightening up and patting his stomach, "You can get lots of food with it."

"Not with what Mamata gave us this time. Besides, it's too late now - we need to get back."

Arkel bounced into action, sprinting ahead, so the girls had to break into a run to catch him up. Gia quickly overtook him and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Not so fast, shortlegs. Let's see if it's clear first."

"But I did check..." Arkel protested, struggling free of her grip.

"Well let's check again."

Irena hung back while Gia looked carefully up and along the walkway, but there was no one in sight.

"Alright, let's go," she said eventually, after Irena had got tired of standing and was beginning to get chilled in her thin dress. It was properly dark now, and the only light came from the moon far above. It shone quite brightly, but that only made the bits in shadow even darker.

The moon had shifted across the starry sky by the time they reached their destination. There was a narrow cleft in the cliff face, through which the children slipped easily.

***

Irena sat on a pile of different coloured rags and looked around her. Gia was asleep nearby atop a bundle of old clothes in various states of repair, and Arkel lay curled up in an alcove that was reached by way of a makeshift ladder. It was simply a long piece of scrap wood with shorter bits of wood hammered into it with metal pins. "I made it myself." Arkel had said proudly, and Irena, not wanting to disappoint him, had nodded in appreciation. Gia had rigged up a hanging for him made from scraps of old clothes that were too worn to be mended. Gia mended their clothes, stealing odd bits of fabric from the dying process, or taking things from unattended washing lines. She always added lots of pockets for stashing small stolen things.

For larger things, she showed Irena the bags they used. "We only use these if Mamata sends us on a job." She said. Mamata, it seemed, was the woman who had fed them. She knew how to find forgotten places where there were things to steal, and sold on anything that Gia and Arkel picked up.

The bags were made of a thick, sturdy material, with wide straps to fit over their shoulders, and separate fabric pouches inside. "To stop things rolling around and making a noise." Gia explained.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Sundays at school; a class rebellion; school in wartime

'Our sunday walk at Wellington, sunday afternoons, was either around to Belleisle Conservatory and back along the beach, or the other way. When we were older we were allowed to go ourselves. We used to go to Rozelle House for our Guide activities. I joined the Guides during the war, so I never got to go camping. '

'Sunday night was when we all sat down to write our letters home, to our parents. Miss Garret the music teacher -'Gertie' - was the vice-principal, or 'second in command' - she took all our letters unsealed and read through them, for spelling, punctuation, and to check that we weren't saying anything derogatory about the school or teachers.'

'And when we were fourteen, we thought it wasn't fair that our letters should be read, so we - a group of us - went to Miss Carter, the headmistress, and asked her if we could seal our own envelopes. Miss Carter hadn't known that our letters were read, and told us to send them up next week sealed. It got to the next sunday, and we sealed our letters, and Gertie said "Girls! Who told you to seal your letters?" "Miss Carter" we replied, and Gertie wasn't very pleased.'

'Only one time, I remember, during the war, we could see a great glow in the sky in the distance from the dorm room window, when Clydebank was burning. That was the only time we spent down in the big hall, during the bombing. Four nights we spent down there. We lay on our matresses on the floor. It's quite a big entrance hall, once you go up the steps and through the door. I think most of us were in the hall, all cuddled up with one another. But some might have been in the dining room, all the big downstairs rooms. But wartime never really touched this part of the country. Oh we had false alarms and all the rest of it...'

'I  remember one time I'd been to the dentist, and I was sent home to rest because I was feeling a bit woozy from the sedation. I was in my bed, and I saw a plane over the sea, out the window, so I got up to look. I thought 'that plane's not flying right', and it got lower and lower and one wing tip just dipped in the sea, and the plane tumbled over and was down. It was over the weekend and they tried to lift it, but they couldn't, not til the monday. The pilot was still in the cockpit when they found him.'