Wednesday, 30 December 2020

[Glory Brats Xmas Special] Not just for Christmas

 "There's lots of trees outside - why do we have to bring one inside?" Dee asked, helping to drag the felled pine through the snow.

"Just because." Sparrow answered shortly, out of breath from wielding the axe and now hauling the tree back to the house.

"It's tradition!" Tekla chirped, running alongside in her rubber boots, stumbling a little in the snow.

Dee tugged harder on the branches and followed in Sparrow's footsteps. He stamped his feet into the packed snow, but his toes still felt cold, despite the two pairs of socks. He curled them up inside his too-big shoes and thought of the hot food that would be waiting for them when they got back to the house.

"That's funny...." Sparrow dropped the trunk of the pine and pointed ahead. "There's no smoke from the chimney."

Dee's face fell. No smoke meant no fire, and no fire meant no hot food.

"I'll go see!" Tekla ran ahead before Sparrow could stop her. They hurried to catch up, but not before Tekla came running out of the house again. "There's no one there!"

They forced the tree in through the door and into the room with the fireplace. It was, as Tekla had said, empty. The remains of a fire smouldered in the grate, and their belongings were scattered around the room as they had been when they left to get the tree.

There was a noise at the door and shortly after, the other three came into the room. Bee was first, her staff tapping on the floor, then Zed, with as much firewood as he could carry with one arm. Rat was last, holding a struggling puppy in her arms, scratching and nipping with sharp baby teeth. Rat gently bit the puppy on the ear in retaliation. It squealed and wriggled to be set free, but she crouched down in the corner, still holding it tightly in her strong little arms. Tekla ran over to look.

Sparrow pointed at the fire. "You were supposed to be cooking!"

Zed hung his head. 

"Rat disappeared." Bee said. "We had to find her."

Zed hurried over to the fire and knelt down by it. "At least I brought back some firewood..."

"And what is that?" Sparrow's finger swung round to Rat and the puppy. 

"She won't let it go."

Tekla turned her face to Sparrow, "Can we keep it? Please? Please?"

But Sparrow was busy rummaging through the packs for food. She took her knife and started chopping potatoes and carrots on a plank of wood, scraping them into a metal pan as she did so. Zed poured in some water from the canister and set it at one side of the fire, nestled in the embers. Dee came back with more water from the pump and placed the bucket by the fireplace. Bee busied herself stuffing items back into the packs and generally tidying.

"Where's the bird?" Sparrow asked.

Zed pointed to a plastic bucket behind her and she reached in and pulled out the carcass of a turkey. A few feathers still stuck to the skin, and she plucked these off, grimacing as she did so. Although she was well used to eating meat now, the details of preparation still left her feeling a bit sick. She took her knife and messily cut into the flesh of the bird. She stripped as much of the meat as she could and put it in the frying pan which she then sat in the middle of the fire. "Keep an eye on that, Zed."

She went outside to wash her hands at the pump, and came back in ready to decorate the tree. They set it up in a corner of the room in a bucket filled with stones. Sparrow had found some red fabric and tore it into strips to drape around the branches. And in the kitchen Dee had found a roll of tinfoil. Sparrow took this and showed Tekla and Bee how to thread pieces of it onto string to make a garland. In a cupboard under the stairs they found a box of candles and they placed these on the floor around the tree so that the tinfoil glittered in a circle of light.

"It looks like stars..."Dee said to Bee.

Bee thought that Christmas smelt of pine needles and fire smoke. She felt the prickly branches of the tree and gently set the tinfoil garland swinging so that it made a sh-sh-sh sound as the pieces rubbed together.

"Now we need presents," Sparrow said.

"What's presents?" Dee asked.

"Things you give one another."

"Nice things..." Tekla added.

Dee thought a bit. He didn't have much but he did have a few collected things. He pulled out a handful from his pocket.

"Not now!" Sparrow said, "They have to be wrapped first. In secret." She produced a stack of old newspapers and put them in the middle of the floor. Everyone took a sheet and scurried away to odd corners of the house. Even Rat grabbed a crumpled bit of paper in her fist and took it away.

After the food was all eaten, Sparrow said it was time to do presents. Rat and Tekla sat in the corner, feeding the puppy strips of leftover turkey. Sparrow went first. She gave Bee one of her old school ribbons, one of the satin ones that felt so nice when you ran your finger over them. Dee gave Zed one of his precious bottle tops with pictures printed on. Tekla gave Rat a long coloured feather. Rat looked as though she was thinking very hard and then pushed the puppy into the middle of the circle, covered with the sheet of newspaper. The puppy whined and nosed at the paper. 

Sparrow lifted the paper off. "I suppose we're keeping the puppy then..."


Tuesday, 8 December 2020

[Glory Brats 15] Tag, you're It!

 After bread and honey for breakfast, they were all shooed outside into the sunshine.

"Go and find the other children, they'll be about somewhere..."

They wandered around the settlement in a scattered group, headed up by Sparrow and Tekla, with Zed, Dee and Rat in the middle, and Bee trailing behind. She wished the others wouldn't go on so quickly, but didn't want to ask them to slow down.

A few adults glanced at them strangely as they picked their way in and out of the turf houses and wooden buildings, but after a while they became aware that they were being watched by other eyes. Every time Sparrow thought she'd caught them out, they ducked out of sight or ran behind another house. They could hear smothered laughter too, and whisperings just before they turned a corner.

Someone darted out from a doorway and pushed Sparrow, "Tag, you're It!" They yelled as they sped away. Sparrow took off after them, leaving the others behind, somewhat confused.

"It's a game..." Tekla explained. "You gots to not be caught by the other person who's It. An' if you DO get caught, then YOU become It.

"Become what?" Dee asked

"IT..." Tekla stressed in frustration.

They stood around waiting for a while, hearing cries and whoops of laughter coming from all around them. Then a boy barrelled around the corner, looking over his shoulder, and charged straight into Dee, knocking him down onto the muddy grass. 

"Sorry," The boy said, and held out a hand to help him up. He stared a little at Dee's paler than usual skin, hair and eyes. "You're them kids from the forest?"

Dee looked around at the others for encouragement and nodded.

The boy backed away a little. "My sister says there's bad things in the forest..."

"There is!" agreed Dee. "We were chased by a... a thing with snapping teeth and it growled at us, like this..." he demonstrated to the boy.

The boy looked impressed. "Weren't you scared?"

Just then, a pack of children came around the corner, calling for Eli. They stopped when they saw him talking.

"Eli - you coming back to play?" One of them called out.

"Yes, but listen - they fought off a monster in the forest!"

"It was a dog, actually..." said Sparrow, from behind the group of new kids. "And it was just protecting its puppies."

One of the older kids spoke up, "Those wild dogs can be really dangerous." 

"Yeah, an' if they bite you, you go MAD..."

Eli looked over at Dee. "Anyway, you comin' to play?"

"The It game! Can my friends come too?"

"Sure."

"How's Bee going to play?" Zed asked as everyone was running off.

"I don't want to play." Bee said quickly.

"It looks like fun though..."

"You go then, Smartboy. I don't mind. I think I'm too old for games."

Zed chased after the others, catching up to Rat who was trotting to keep up. Bee walked along the side of the house, following the sound of the voices. At first they were in front of her, then they were all around. And then Zed's voice appeared right at her ear.

"They know a game you can play!"

"I don't want..."

"Please, Bee? I want you to play."

Bee sighed. "Just because it's you, Smartboy." She allowed herself to be positioned by Zed. 

"You need to listen out for people calling 'Here I am' and then try to find them. They're not allowed to move. Oh, and you have to call out 'Tell me where you are' before they say 'Here I am.'"

"This is stupid..." Bee muttered to herself before saying in an only slightly louder voice, "Tell me where you are."

***

Sparrow stood on the edge of the crowd. She watched Bee walking forward and listening for the replies.  She felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Rosa.

"Come with me a moment. We need to talk."

Away from the others, Sparrow felt the tension in her body return. It had vanished while they were playing for a while, but now she felt like every part of her was on edge. She followed Rosa up the steps to the stone tower in the middle of the enclosure. Inside the wall it was like a tunnel - a small dark passageway built into the thickness of the wall. They went up a stone staircase, curving with the wall, and emerged into the inner section. This was a platform, spanning half the inside circle, like a wooden house built into the side of the stone wall. The other half was open to the sky. Looking over the side, Sparrow could see people on the ground far below.

"So this is Sparrow Jones..."

Sparrow looked up to see a tall, dark-skinned woman crossing the floor towards them. Rosa pushed her forward, and Sparrow took the hand that was held out to her and shook it awkwardly.

"I'm Grace Norden, and I'm in charge of this place. I'm the one who's responsible for your father being here."

"Where is he now?" Sparrow asked, feeling like no one was telling her what she wanted to know.

Grace looked over at Rosa and nodded. Then she waved Sparrow over to the side of the room where there was  a wood-burning stove and some seats. Rosa left them alone.

"Your father is doing some important work for us on the railway line between Exchange and Central. But he will be back here at some point. We can look after you and your little sister until he does. And your friends too."

"But why is he working for you? He's meant to be working on the new railway."

"That's really something he'll need to tell you himself. For now just know that he's doing good work. And when he comes back he'll be really proud of you for keeping your little sister safe, won't he?"

"I suppose so..."

"He will be. Now, can you find your way out by yourself? I have another meeting soon."

Sparrow nodded, eager to get back to the others and tell them the good news that they could all stay.