The Day A Very Unusual Boy Went To School
The Day They Broke Time.
By I. J. Noble.
The Day They Broke Time.
All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, Mechanical, electronic, photocopied or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
Published by I. J. Noble.
Copyright © Text I. J. Noble 2013.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
The lost Birds
The day a very Unusual Boy went to School
Books of Short Stories
“The Day They Broke Time”.
Michael Jardine lay face down where he had fallen. He wasn’t conscious, but he wasn’t totally unconscious, he was just drifting somewhere between the two states. For the first two days the pain in his head had been so great that he had wished to be dead. All he could do was try to hold body and soul together. As he slipped between these levels of consciousness, the world seemed to pitch and roll beneath him. Through his eyelids, he was aware of sharp bursts of light; what his mind had come to accept as rainbow lightning. It cut the air from every conceivable angle. From below, shards of colour burst out of the earth all around him. This light seemed to him to be radiating right through him. But in his confused state, he couldn’t really be sure if the light was being created in or outside his head. He had no way of knowing where his nightmares ended and reality began. The only thing that was constant was the terrible pain in his head.
On the third day, Michael was aware that the earth had ceased shaking and juddering beneath him, and the lightning had also stopped. In his more lucid moments, coming more often now, he could feel the hot sun of the day on his back. It was so hot that it was almost burning him through his clothes. Coupled with the pain in his head, this made him feel extremely uncomfortable.
The world outside his head might have stopped, but the workings of his brain were still spinning out of control. The sickening turbulence was so wild, that he was unable to tell up from down.
Through everything that was happening to him, he was becoming more and more aware of a building thirst – he desperately needed to drink. A vague memory crept into his mind; he had been fetching water. He could see himself filling water bottles from a spring. The spring was full to overflowing with cool clear water. He parted his dry cracked lips in anticipation. His throat felt like the bottom of a sand pit. He was also aware of something heavy on his back, pressing him against the hard ground. His mind was giving him the information, but he couldn’t think it through rationally.
He drifted back into pain. Thankfully after a short while the pain eased a little, and he was thinking of water again. He had been carrying water on his back, he was sure of it. But why would he be carrying water? It puzzled him. Another wave of pain disturbed his train of thought. After it passed, he began fumbling for his rucksack. It seemed to take him hours to locate one of the water bottles that were in there.
After drinking, he lost the sense of urgency, and let himself slip back into near oblivion. His next sensation, many hours later, was of biting cold. Although he shivered uncontrollably, the cold took away a little of the pain by reducing the swelling in his head. In a few lucid moments, he had been able to lift his head a little and through his eyelids, he could see beautiful streams of coloured light above. But the precious few moments passed, and he slipped back into what he was coming to think of as the black pit.
On the fourth day the pain that had been his life began to ease further. He was able to put some thoughts together. What had happened to him? Nothing like this had happened to him before. The terrible pain he was in told him that it was a physical thing. Had someone or some thing attacked him? Had the attack left him with a permanent brain injury? Or could it be some kind of illness; had he had a stroke or something similar? Did he have some kind of brain tumour? His uncle had died of a brain haemorrhage. Or was what he was going through due to outside forces? He knew of no phenomenon that was vaguely similar – normally the world didn’t shudder and roll about, and light didn’t come out of the ground and go right through you. What about the streams of coloured lights in the sky, what were they about?
He had seen coloured lights in his head before. When he had been a boy, he had crashed his bike and knocked himself out. What he had seen then had been more in the way of stars floating around in his head, although the other symptoms felt the same: head spinning and feeling sick, not knowing where he was, or what was happening to him. Yes, all that was the same.
If he could open his eyes, would he find himself in a hospital ward recovering from a brain operation? He had read about a man’s experiences when having brain surgery: the pain, the lights, and the weird hallucinations. Why was he lying face down? Why was the mattress so hard?
If he’d had the operation on the back of his head, he would be lying on his stomach wouldn’t he? Why couldn’t he open his eyes? Was the brain damage permanent? Would he never be able to open his eyes? His heart began to race. What other things couldn’t he do, things he had always taken for granted.
If he was recovering from an operation, he knew his wife would be sitting beside him, waiting patiently for him to regain consciousness. He knew that. He wanted to believe this scenario so much. He was about to call out to her. His mouth opened, but before any sound came out, a picture sprang into his mind. Then it was as if a floodgate had opened, and memories come rushing in. He could see himself with others on a boat.
They were arriving on an uninhabited island in the middle of the South China Sea, thousands of miles from home. Hundreds of miles from anywhere! He knew then, he was in a bad way.
Several weeks before, he had chanced on a job to go on an archaeological dig on that remote island. Someone had fallen sick and they had to find a replacement in only four hours. Yes, he could be packed; yes he would be ready to go in time. No, he said, he wasn’t afraid of needles – he lied, who wasn’t afraid of needles? He needed the money – that was a fact! He didn’t like planes either. Thankfully the last part of the journey was by boat. The sky was blue; the sea was green, the dolphins jumped and played around the boat. He would have been in paradise, if he could have stopped feeling guilty for leaving his wife and his two children back home in wintry Britain. He and his wife had little time to discuss the matter. To say that he had been excited by the life-changing idea was an understatement. Looking back he had given Rosy little or no opportunity to say no.
He never even found out what his job was until he and the team stepped onto the island. He was a gofer. Go for this and go for that. But the money was more than reasonable and he had been behind on his mortgage.
What wouldn’t he give to turn back the clock! He fought back the tears, telling himself that crying would not help the situation. He had the feeling that if he did cry, he might never stop.
Why couldn’t he open his eyes? Perhaps his eyes were open and he was blind. He knew his hands must be near his face from the position he was lying in. He pulled them up close to his face. He found his right eye. His eyelid was closed. He breathed a sigh of relief. He pulled back the eyelid and light streamed in. The light was so bright that it sent darts of sharp pain into his head. He let the lid close again. Waves of pain stabbed through his head, and he recoiled into the dark pit. It was quite a while before he returned to the land of the living. His eyes seemed to open of their own volition now, and he had to shade them from the bright sunlight with his hands. It was a great relief not to be blind. Why was the sun so bright and why was it so hot? He could feel it burning him through his clothes again.
Why was he lying face down on the parched, cracked earth? Without lifting his head, he cranked it to the right and then to the left. All there was to see was more parched earth. Where had all the vegetation gone? He had to be dreaming or delusional? The island that they had been on was lush and green.
He tried lifting his head, but he felt sick again. He had to drop his head back onto the ground. He waited for the spinning to stop. Then his curiosity got the better of him again. He had to take another look. He needed to confirm what he thought he’d seen. He opened his eyes and was shocked to be confronted with the same scene – bright sunlight, and brown parched earth as far as he could see.
His heart started to race, his head started spinning again. He couldn’t catch his breath. What the bloody hell was happening to him? The world couldn’t just change out of all recognition in a matter of days. It was impossible! He must be locked in a nightmare. He’d suffered with nightmares in the past, but this was by far the strangest. He closed his eyes – his mother had always said, close your eyes and count to a hundred if you were in a temper or in doubt – he counted to a hundred. Then he opened his eyes. It was as he had feared, bright light and scorched earth.
He pulled himself onto all fours. Where had all the green trees gone? Everything around him was bare. Not a single leaf, not a blade of grass. And why was the sky red and purple? He knew then this couldn’t be real. There had to be something wrong with the working of his mind.
Was it a brain tumour? Was it making him see things that weren’t actually there? No, that wasn’t it. It was the other way around – he was not seeing things that should be there. He was confused, scared and didn’t want to think anymore.
But the thoughts wouldn’t stop coming. Could there be something affecting the part of his brain that mind-bending drugs play with? Things like magic mushrooms. He’d had some knowledge of these hallucinogenic drugs, and the effects were strikingly similar.
So he could have eaten, or drunk something that had brought on this state of mind. It was a different fear that gripped him now. Was he going to live in this psychedelic world he found himself in for the rest of his life? He took a deep breath. He would not panic. His brain was telling him that the land was brown and practically bare, but for a few large blue plants that vaguely resembled cacti. The sea was pink! As far as the eye could see the sea was bright pink! And the sand on the beach was jet black. Now he knew he must be on some kind of trip.
He had woken to a very bizarre world, and yet, he had no real proof that he was awake! He could still be dreaming, because nothing was as it should be. Even the sun looked bigger and redder; it wasn’t the neat ball he remembered, it had flames licking at its edges.
It was all so unreal. So was he back to thinking it might be the effects of drugs? That would mean he wasn’t sleeping. Asleep or not, he knew he had to make some kind of decision. He just couldn’t think straight. He slapped himself lightly on the forehead in frustration. Jagged waves of pain engulfed him. He had his answer. He would take it that he was awake.
First he needed to drink, and then he needed to get away from the burning sun. He tried to stand, but stumbled back to his knees. The world had turned a cartwheel in his head. There was nothing for it; he would have to travel on all fours. There was only one place to get out of the burning sun, and that was the cave.
That was another puzzle. He had left the cave to fetch water for the team, so why hadn’t they come looking for him! The cave was their place of work, where they were excavating for bones and fossils.
He guessed it must be about a mile to the cave and on hands and knees that would take some time. An hour later he was still only half way and he could feel the sun burning into him through his clothes again. The knapsack on his back was getting uncomfortable and slowing him down. He thought for a moment of ditching it, but then he thought of the team – they had been without water for four days. Had it been days? It could have only been a few hours. If he was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs – that he might have unwittingly taken, it might have only been a few minutes. Perhaps that was why they had not come looking for him! He had gone for water and water he would bring, that was what he was being paid for. This train of thought made him feel stronger. He was almost convinced now that the timescale had only been a matter of a few minutes. And from his experience of mind-bending drugs, he might be coming down from his high anytime soon. But what if the drug was in the water? He wouldn’t be coming down if he kept drinking it. If he didn’t drink the water, he would die of dehydration. Fuck, it seemed he was in a real catch 22.
He had to stop thinking! He had to stick to his plan and get out of the sun. The small stones that littered the ground dug into his skin making his knees and hands bleed. It was so hot, that his drops of perspiration evaporated before they reached the dry, cracked earth. He could feel his heart labouring, as his lungs sucked and blew like an old bellows. He just couldn’t get enough air. He felt he had to stop, but if he stopped, he doubted he would get moving again. He desperately needed to drink – but what would the polluted water do to his brain? As he was thinking, his hands were already searching out the water bottle. He drunk the contents of the bottle in one long guzzle.
He had crawled another fifty yards, when he came to a small outcrop of rocks, and wasted no time in crawling into the shade under them. The relief he felt was almost instant. He lay tight into the cool rock for a long time panting. When he turned onto his stomach, looking for more comfort. In doing so, his hand passed over a cool stream of air. The air was rushing out of a small hole in the ground. He pulled himself over it and let the air run over his face, head, and hands, just as if he was bathing in running water. He felt his strength build again. He lay back against the cool rock.
He was able to see more of his surroundings from here. He had almost crossed the island. From here the land dropped away slowly to the beach. Before whatever it was that had happened to him there were sand dunes and golden sands. Now the brown earth met a black beach that disappeared into the pink sea. He watched the waves roll onto the beach for a few minutes. Pink sea, no he didn’t like it, it would never catch on.
It was only then that he realized that the sea made no sound, as it tumbled onto the beach. It wasn’t just the sea. There was no sound at all – he could hear nothing. And where had all the chirping birds gone, and the noisy crickets that fiddled day and night?
He called out, but couldn’t even hear his own voice. He touched his ears, only to reel back in pain. Then he saw the blood stain on his shirt. He traced the dried blood up his neck into his ears. He gently picked at the dry blood in his outer ear, hoping he might release the blockage there and be able to hear again. But the end result was more pain than he could bear. This triggered a memory of a blinding flash of light, followed by what he could only liken to the crack of a whip; only a thousand times louder. He knew then that it must have burst his eardrums at that point.
Were his problems physical after all, and it had nothing to do with mind-bending hallucinogenic substances? Thankfully there was no tumour and he hadn’t had a stroke. Where did this leave him? Was the brain damage going to be with him for the rest of his natural life? He felt the panic building again – he thrust his face back over the cool vent of air and took a deep breath. On a more positive note his headache was definitely easing and the dizziness wasn’t nearly as bad. He would stay there for the rest of the day and hope that there was more improvement after rest and sleep.
It was cold again in the night, and it disturbed his sleep. He woke that morning feeling a little better, but far from refreshed. It was still cold as the sun crept over the horizon. He sat up and pulled his knees into his chest and looked around the totally alien environment. The sea was still pink, the sand still black, and the island still almost bare.
But how could it be? He dreaded churning over the same thoughts again, but how do you stop thinking? And what other way was there of making sense of it all?
He knew that mind-bending drugs could change the brain’s perception of colour. Then perhaps a brain injury could bring on the same effect. So he could understand how the sea could look another colour to his brain. But how was it that he couldn’t see foliage? Why couldn’t he see the birds, and the other animals going about their business?
He had passed close to this spot many times, but had never seen the rocks before. The dense foliage must have hid them. Perhaps there was nothing wrong with his brain; perhaps what he was seeing was exactly what was there? But it didn’t make sense. If there had been something like a tsunami that washed everything away, then he would have been washed away with it. Besides, everything would be wet not parched. Christ! Had he been picked up by aliens and transported to another world? No, that was crazy thinking. How many times had he laughed when hearing that one? But it was definitely an alien landscape. There were strange cacti, there was no foliage of any kind, no animals or birds that he could see, and not forgetting the pink sea. Was it the same island? The more he looked, the more uncertain he became. In just those few minutes he had been pondering the situation, he could already feel the warmth of the sun. Even the coming of dawn was quicker than he remembered it.
There was only one way to find out. Just a few hundred metres down the beach there should be a cave – no, correction there would be a cave! There just had to be! He saw no more point in deliberating on his predicament until he knew that. But, bloody hell, what if it wasn’t there? What then?
He was about to tap himself on the head again, to make himself stop running things over and over in his mind. But he stopped himself, he had already done that and he knew it would hurt.
He pulled himself to his feet with the aid of the rock face. Needle-sharp pains ran through his head, his stomach lurched and he fought back the feeling of sickness. He thought it would have been helpful if he had some form of walking stick to help him along, but there was nothing.
Everything settled in his head and he took his first step. He felt light. Not just light-headed, but light – even with his rucksack half full of water, he felt incredibly light. Was this what it was like walking on the moon, or on another planet! He stumbled forward. He just had to know. He began to pray that the cave would be there. It had to be there and the professors had to be there, and his family had to be on this same planet – even if it had been changed out of recognition. He told God that he would never ask for anything for himself ever again.
He hit the beach running. He was immediately aware of its hardness under his feet. The beach was hard and smooth. It felt like he was running on glass. He dropped his rucksack, and lurched forward, arms flailing. Pain pounded in his head with every step. He took sixteen giant steps then stopped in his tracks. He just stood there motionless for several minutes, his eyes staring in disbelief. There was no cave.
The whole entrance of the cave had collapsed in on itself. Hundreds of tons of rock, some as big as houses lay piled on top of each other. There was nothing left of the cave to see. As he staggered towards it, he was feeling totally deflated. His mind was full of dread and he was truly miserable.
Then he saw movement at the base of the rock-fall. He couldn’t for the life of him make out what it was. Only that it was red and yellow in colour. Could it be one of the professors? He started to run towards it, his hopes renewed. He hadn’t run far when he stopped again. He could see now that it wasn’t one thing moving, but hundreds of things milling around. When he got to within about fifty feet of them, he could see that they were little red and yellow crabs. They were of a type he had never seen before. There were hundreds of them, crammed tightly together. Their outline didn’t register with him for a while, but as he drew closer, his mind joined up all the dots; they made an outline of the torso and limbs of a human being. He realised that they were eating someone. He started running again. He started shouting for them to stop. Whether they could hear him or not, he never considered. Although he couldn’t hear himself, he was aware of the vibration in his throat.
They stopped as he drew near, and hundreds of eyes turned in his direction. But they did not back away, as he had expected. Instead, they formed a defensive line, holding their claws up in front of them defiantly. He hadn’t expected that. It stopped him in his tracks.
They were very small, and his intention had been to crush them under foot. But he suddenly had to think better of it. As a collective, what were they capable of? Was it possible that they had just killed this man? He would play safe and keep his distance. He would gather rocks and bombard them. He would see if that would drive them off. He let off the first rock and made ready to run in the other direction. But the rock landed long of its target. The second also landed long, but the third landed dead square among the throng. He had hit some of them – because he saw their green innards spatter on the rocks behind them.
In the blinking of an eye, the crabs were moving off down the beach. But they were not moving sideways as expected, like every crab he had ever seen. They had turned on their sides, pulled their legs in and rolled along the beach like a ball, flicking their legs out to give them forward motion. They would have no trouble outrunning a man, of that he was sure of; and he was glad they were running away and not chasing him.
When they were travelling forward, the red and yellow on their backs and underbellies, seemed to spiral into their centres. This made it hard to focus on any one individual, much like the hypnotic spinning cards that were popular in the seventies.
As the crabs raced down the beach, something large was casting a shadow on the ground. Mike looked up to see hundreds of birds dipping out of the sky. A moment later he could see that they were not birds at all. As they passed overhead the first thing he noticed was their wings. They were definitely more bat-like than bird-like, because they had no feathers. But they weren’t bats either. They had no legs, and their body looked smooth and scaly. They had a fish-like tail that moved like a rudder. They were the oddest things. If they weren’t a bird and they weren’t a bat, what exactly were they? His mind hesitated as it raced to recognise them. He finally came to the conclusion that there was only one thing they could be – some kind of flying fish.
They were gliding just inches off the surface of the black hard beach, with their huge fish mouths stretched wide open, ready to scoop up the fleeing crabs. But the crabs weren’t making it easy for them. They were turning to left and right; every crab in unison and all the time their colourful bodies were spinning faster and faster. Mike felt he had to look away from the hypnotic affect they were having on him. He guessed that was the desired affect they wanted on the flying fish. When they got to the end of the beach, the crabs hit the sea with a splash, their spinning bodies throwing the pink water high into the air. The flying fish chased them in, making an even bigger splash. The water boiled with crab and fish swirling around and then as quickly as they had come, they were gone. Everything returned to complete stillness.
The sea was flat calm now, and nothing moved on it. He looked around; there was nothing moving on the land either. There were no birds or animals, no trees to sway in a breeze. No clouds to move in the sky. It seemed so unreal it almost hurt his eyes. Added to this was the fact that he could hear nothing! He closed his eyes for a few moments. Was there really a dead body? And whose body could it be? Would it be somebody he knew? What if it was one of the professors? But how could all this be true, flying fish chasing psychedelic crabs: that turned themselves into wheels, and raced along as fast as a car. It was all in his mind – wasn’t it?
He walked forward, his body language that of a man going to a funeral. He stopped two feet from the body that was laying face down. It took only a moment for him to recognise the corpse. It was poor old professor Williams, Mike knew him from the colourful jumper he was wearing. He had been wearing that one the last time he had seen him. Although it was in tatters, there was no mistaking it. He had bragged that his ‘good wife’, made him several of them every year. The jumpers were all different, in their pattern of random clashing colours. The beauty of it, he said, was that it was all recycled wool from charity shops. He loved her jumpers and wore them with pride. He was a big advocate of recycling.
Was the professor really dead? Was any of this real? Or was it all a sort of creeping madness?
The truth was that he was very fond of the old man. It shocked him to see him like this, even if it was only a figment of his imagination – he suspected. The crabs had eaten all the skin and flesh off his back. They had eaten down past his backbone; and had begun gorging on his stomach and its contents. But this couldn’t be real!
He couldn’t see the professor’s legs because they were under the avalanche of rocks. But that was odd in itself – because the rock fall did not seem to be recent. The rocks had been weathered and sand had been blown into the crevices over hundreds, if not thousands of years. Yet Professor Williams was half buried under it.
A large rock was lying where his head should be. Mike thought he would try to move it, and was surprised that he was able to lift it so easily – either the rocks were getting lighter or he was turning into superman. Was this more proof that it was all in his mind?
The professor’s head had been smashed into two halves. It was a gruesome sight. Mike supposed it was much like the two halves of a coconut. Two crabs that had remained hidden under the rock, had been feasting on the soft tissue of the professor’s brain. They weren’t to know what a learned man the professor was, and what a fine brain they had been feeding on.
The professor thought if he could extract the DNA from the ancient ones – the long extinct peoples of that island, he could save the people of the world from all diseases. Could anybody save the world now? That was if there was a world outside that little island to save. Mike watched the two crabs wrestling over one of the professor’s eyeballs. They must have been making some sound, as their hard shells crashed into one another. But he could not hear it. Although he was beginning to come to terms with this silent world, it still made this little scene very surreal.
It was getting harder to remember what sound was like. And there was no sound as his boot stomped the crabs against the hard glass-like ground. Some of the green liquid that oozed out of them spattered the bottom of his jeans, and a moment later his jeans started to smoulder. Without thinking he snatched at the smouldering fabric with his hands. Immediately his fingers and hands began to burn. He had to rush to his pack and douse them with water to dilute the acid. The palms of his hands were bright red and sore; the bottom of his trousers was burnt through where the green acid had spattered them. He had burnt his jeans before with battery acid, when attempting to repair his car. The acid had taken a lot longer to eat away at the cloth, hours in fact; this had been instantaneous. He estimated that it must be at least fifty times more powerful. He had been lucky to get away with just burnt hands. It wouldn’t be pleasant if he got it in his eyes. If he ate one, he was in no doubt it would kill him in seconds. So how was it that the flying fish could survive eating them?
There was a body of someone he knew, that had been half eaten by strange crabs: which, when you stamp on them, ooze out acid. Put it with all the other things he was experiencing – it was as bizarre as any dream he’d ever had. But it all felt so real. The stench from the body seemed very real. He bent and touched the professor on one half of his head. He was real all right; he could feel him. What the fuck was going on!
It was a peculiar thing, a strange comfort to Mike, to know that he was not alone. Even though the professor was dead, at least his body was on the same planet.
He imagined the others were also dead, crushed under the rocks, a little further inside the cave entrance. He deduced this because if they had made it out alive, they would have buried the professor. He supposed this job was down to him now. He had never buried anyone before – come to that, he had never even seen a dead person before.
If Professor Williams had been just that little bit faster, he could be standing next to him know. They could have mourned their colleagues together. He was finding it harder to hold his emotions in, and he had to wipe the tears away from his eyes. He had to bite his lip to steel himself.
A mental image of Professor Williams popped into his mind. He visualised him sitting in his canvas chair, with his great big hands wrapped around a mug of tea. Like the other professors he was an elderly man. And Mike supposed, in the normal way of things, he should have been retired. He had short-cropped white hair. His face was tanned and well wrinkled – a first class advert for keeping out of the sun Mike thought. His favourite words were,
“Be a trooper and put the kettle on.”
Between sips of tea, he had taken the time to explain to Mike how the ancients used to live; what their beliefs were, and half a dozen theories on why they had vanished off the face of the earth. All the signs of their civilisation were there – but not one single bone was found. The most obvious theory was that they – like other tribes in the past; they had eaten their dead. But the professor didn’t subscribe to that. He said they were too advanced for that. He knew this from the finely crafted artefacts they had found in abundance.
They had fishhooks thousands of years before the rest of humanity. More importantly they had the ability to make fire. He believed that they had a better and fuller life then most peoples of the modern world, and that most definitely included Britain. He really had made history interesting.
A smile came to Mike’s face when his thoughts turned to Professor Thomas. You didn’t have to ask him what he was thinking, because most of the time he thought it out loud. When you took him fragments of pottery for instance,
“Now let me think, we have two pieces of pottery, same colour, same thickness, so they are probably from the same pot. However, we shouldn’t trust that completely. Now, how old are they? Possibly ten thousand years BC I shouldn’t wonder, give or take a few hundred years, I’m convinced of it.”
Then he would repeat this as if no one had heard him thinking out loud.
“Now then Michael, I think what we have here are two pieces of pottery probably from the same pot… I hope that answers your question.”
Professor Jones was a little younger then the other three. He wore a red baseball-style cap. He often joked that he only came on these expeditions to get away from his three teenage daughters. But he always carried a picture of them in his wallet. Mike remembered when he had been introduced to him for the first time. After the handshake he got out the wallet and pointed out and named each of his daughters to him. He also kept a big picture of them beside his bed. Mike had the next bed to his, just inside the mouth of the cave.
And then there was Professor Caruthers, when he had to think he would go for a walk with his pipe in his mouth, puffing plumes of smoke behind him, like an old steam train.
Michael missed the professors and suddenly felt very alone. He had read Robinson Crusoe when he was a boy. He had wondered at the time what it would be like to be marooned on a deserted island – now he knew exactly what it felt like. Only instead of Man Friday, he had a body to bury; instead of lush foliage and fruit trees, he had nothing but scorched earth, and a few blue alien plants. He had no wood to build a shelter, and no cave to shelter in. Robinson Crusoe had the bounty of the sea and the goats to feast off. This land looked devoid of any life. And if the crabs were anything to go by, the crustaceans in the sea were inedible. Count your blessings was what he had always been told – he wasn’t sure if still being alive could be considered as a blessing. He would have to sit down and give it serious thought.
First he would give the professor a decent burial. But he would have to find some implement or tool to help him dig the grave with. There was no wood on the island as far as he could see. His only hope was to find something that might have washed up on the beach.
He walked for a mile or so, the heat from the sun growing more unbearable by the minute. The air was so hot that it hurt his lungs when he inhaled it. The glass-like beach under his feet was getting so hot it was beginning to burn the soles of his shoes. And it was evident that the sea had washed up very little, and there was nothing that could help him with his gruesome task. Then just like it is in some movies the hero is about to give up the hunt, when he or she finds what they are looking for. Mike saw the tip of something white protruding out of the black, hard sand. It was a rib bone from a small whale. It was, he had to admit, a blessing. The rib was about a foot and a half long, it had a four-inch girth, and it was broader where it had once joined the backbone. It wasn’t that suitable for digging a grave – but there was nothing else. He kicked it free of the hard black sand. As he pulled at the rib another rib appeared beneath it. The thing he noticed immediately was how cool it was under the glass-like substance.
As he was digging under that one, he felt a sharp pain in his right hand. He reeled back with the shock of it. It had been a bite; he could see small teeth marks on the back of his hand. He reacted by sucking the blood and spitting it out. Although it hadn’t hurt that much, it was more the shock of it. He changed his tactics and grubbed at the bone with his foot again. When he finally got the bone out of the sand, he could see that something had been chewing on it; more proof that there was life of some kind under his feet. And worryingly it seemed to have an appetite for human flesh.
The glass beach had cracked up all around where he had been digging. He sort of knew you could make glass out of sand, so he guessed the sand had been burnt until it had turned to glass. The glass was a little less than an inch thick. He thought it must have taken a lot of heat to do that, and that worried him.
As he walked away he felt something hard move under his foot. He looked down and through the broken glass he saw the tip of what at first looked like a cow’s horn. He began to pull at it, but it did not budge. Then with his newfound tools, he smashed more of the glass around it. The glass shattered and most of it disintegrated back into sand. He could now see the outline of something big in the sand, and whatever it was it was at least six feet long. After clearing a few feet of sand away, to his delight, he found it to be a tusk of a narwhale. Now this was definitely a blessing. When he had been a boy he remembered he had wanted to own one so badly.
He had been taken to a whaling exhibition by the school. There he had seen the long spiralling bone. He didn’t want to kill a whale, but he wanted to own a tusk. What a funny time for a wish to come true. As he lifted it he realized that it would make a good weapon. Suddenly he felt like a warrior. He took it up in both hands and stabbed the air. Then he swung it over his head to get its balance. It felt good. He felt armed, and ready to meet the unexpected. Looking around though, he couldn’t see anything he needed to be protected from.
As he walked back he practised with his tusk, repeatedly thrusting it forward, slashing the air. He turned and stabbed; he worked all the set pieces he had seen in various films over the years. Before he knew it, he was back at the cave. The body was still there of course – he had been more than hoping that it wouldn’t be.
He would have buried the professor where he lay, but he didn’t know if there was a tide. If there was a tide it might come in and wash the body away?
He found a suitable place to dig a grave up on the bank. It took about an hour to dig out the grave in the hard dry earth. Then came the gruesome task of digging out the body, from under the rocks. Mike used the tusk to probe around the professor’s remains. The crabs had eaten most of the back of his body. Mike took hold of the professor by his arms and started pulling on them; as he did so the joints began to creak and Mike could see the skeleton stretching. Then the professor’s left forearm came away at the elbow. Mike lost his balance and fell backwards landing on his back, with the professor’s decomposing hand resting across his face. The stench of it was almost overpowering, not to mention the horror of it. Mike felt that he had to wash the stink off his face immediately, even though it used up more of his precious water supply.
He felt he couldn’t continue with the burial. But reason told him that if it wasn’t him, who else was going to do the ghastly deed. Even though he still had the nagging doubt, that it could all be a figment of his imagination?
He would have to persevere – he had little choice. After a little thought, he changed his approach to moving the decomposing body, and took hold of what was left of the professor’s jumper and pulled on that. This seemed to work, because the under side of the jumper was still intact. But then the body broke in half leaving the legs behind. Then, as Mike pulled the body across the smooth glass of the beach, the professor’s brains slipped out of his skull and draped behind. Next the head fell off as Mike pulled him up the bank. Eventually he placed the torso in the hole. But then he had to step into the hole, to turn the torso chest up. He thought it was more dignified than face down. Then he collected the head, gathered up the brains and tried to push them back into the professor’s skull. There was an added complication when the brains didn’t seem to fit his skull anymore. When he stuffed them back in, they pushed the two halves of his skull into a funny shape, but he felt he had done what he could with it. Then he placed the head back on the neck – and soon wished he hadn’t. One eye was gone and the other was deathly grey and sunken deep in its socket. The worst thing was, the eye seemed to be looking up at him.
Finally he got the two legs out – even if it was only one at a time. He put all the parts together the best he could, but still wasn’t happy with the head. Then he remembered the professor’s glasses. He found them, and they helped hold the two halves of his head together, holding the brains in. He looked down at the re-assembled corpse, Professor Williams had always been a little on the, well – let’s say, he would never win a well-dressed man competition. But now with Mike’s help, the professor had surpassed that – now he was too untidy to enter a worst dressed scarecrow competition – and he thought the professor knew it, from the way he was looking at him. The crabs had eaten the lips away from the left side of his face – and this made it look as if he was scowling at Mike, through clenched teeth. Well, Mike thought he had done his best under the circumstances. And it wasn’t the sort of thing that you got marks out of ten for. Finally, he plucked up the courage to cover the professor’s face with the dry, sandy earth. He felt a lot better now, not having the eye following his every move. Once he had back-filled all the earth, he covered it with small rocks, which he took from the base of the landslide at the entrance to the cave.
Where he had gathered the rocks, there were dark unbleached patches, confirming that the rocks had been there for a very long time. How was it then that the professor had been trapped beneath them, and he had only been dead a few days?
The sun was overhead now and the heat was becoming unbearable. He decided he would have to come back the following day, to say a prayer over the grave.
It was a great relief to get out of the sun. And it was pure luxury, having the cool air rushing from the hole in the ground. He put his face over it – it was heaven. He took off all of his clothes, and bathed in the air. He stayed there until he had goose bumps and his teeth began to chatter. Then he realised that it was another blessing.
After dressing he sat looking out to sea. He had always lived by the sea. He used to sit on the shoreline and listen to the waves tumbling onto the beach. Did the pink sea have the same sound as it crashed onto the glass beach? He tried to imagine the sound of it as he watched the waves crash onto the smooth glass. But hadn’t the sea been flat calm, just a few minutes before? There was no wind. He supposed there could have been a storm far out at sea, and the waves were probably made by that. This place he found himself in was one big mystery.
His mind drifted back to home. Just weeks before he had come away, they’d had a family meeting. Were the children old enough to look after a puppy? He’d said they would have to wait, because, unknown to the family then, he’d been made redundant again. He wished now that he hadn’t told them about losing his job and that he had said yes.
He wiped a tear from his eye. He was not going down that route, he told himself. His wife and children were home safe in their house, and their sea was still blue. He would never get used to a pink sea or the burnt and almost bare island. It was like living in a psychedelic world? And that reminded him of a very memorable weekend he had once spent in Wales. It was the time they had come across the magic mushrooms – by way of accident.
Four of them had gone for a long weekend. On the Friday night, they had met a Welshman named Sebastian Jones in the local pub.
“Down for the mushrooms are we then boys?” he asked us. We nodded, not having a clue what we were letting ourselves into. Thinking he meant ordinary mushrooms.
“Good harvest on Ll… this year, Sebastian had said.
We had no idea where Ll… was, neither could we pronounce it? So after a few drinks, we were going to be up at dawn, and wild fried mushrooms were going to be on the menu for breakfast, compliments of Sebastian Jones.
At half past five the following morning, it sounded as if someone was trying to break down the door. It was Sebastian as good as his word. They confirmed to him their heads were throbbing and that a fry-up didn’t sound as appealing as it had done the night before.
“They’re the best thing you can get for a hangover,” said Sebastian. He wasn’t going to let them off that easily. Five minutes later they were climbing the hill at the back of the cottage. They were tramping along, but wishing they were back in bed, when Sebastian screamed at Mike not to put his foot down. Mike hung there like a man about to step on a mine. Sebastian dropped to his knees and edged his way slowly to Mike’s outstretched foot. Sebastian begged Mike again not to move a muscle.
Mike remembered how hard his heart was beating in those few moments – he even felt its pulse in his head. He remembered feeling faint when his mind raced through the possibilities: venomous snakes, yes Mike knew there were snakes; mantraps – yes he had read about a chap coming across one, only a few weeks before. They had polecats in Wales too, how nasty were they? If Mike hadn’t been fully awake before, he was at that moment.
“There,” Sebastian said, getting to his feet and holding something out that was obviously precious, delight etched across his face. He was holding some of the smallest mushrooms they had ever seen. Mike was quick to convey this fact to Sebastian. Sebastian looked hurt.
“It isn’t the size of them but the power. And how big do they grow where you come from?” He asked.
The boys conveyed to him that you could get them the size of small dinner plates, in some shops.
Sebastian drew in some air between his teeth. He was obviously impressed. The alarm bells should have started ringing when Sebastian said “So you are telling me that you can buy them in the shops!”
“Yes,” said Tom, “in most corner shops, and in every supermarket.”
“When can you buy them in the shops?” Sebastian asked.
“Any time of day or night,” my friend said
“No, I meant what time of year, because these are the first of the season.”
“You can buy them anytime of year,” Tom said.
“Bloody hell,” Sebastian said, “You’ll have to send me some in the spring when my supply usually runs out.”
We said we would be more then happy to do so. Sebastian’s face lit up with a devil’s grin.
Now that we knew the size and shape of the wild mushrooms, we soon found lots more. By the time we had got to the top of the hill, which we thought should be renamed a mountain; our pockets were bulging with mushrooms.
And from that point, they could see for miles in every direction. The views were stunning. Mike closed his eyes and remembered the view.
“They might be small,” Roy said “but he was sure there were enough there for a fry up.”
Sebastian said we were funny and he knew the first time he saw us, we’d be good for a laugh. He asked if we want them on toast with fried eggs on top. He obviously found that funny and started to laugh. I should have picked up on things, but it was early in the morning and we were still hung-over.
Then Sebastian sat down, crossed his legs and took up the stance of an Indian chief. He threw a handful of the mushrooms into his mouth, chomped on them a few times, pulling a face as if he was chewing bitter lemons. Then he made a big deal of swallowing them – he even put his hands to his throat and stroked them on their way down.
Then he said something like “yuk” and took a long tote from a can of beer that he had produced from his army greatcoat. Sebastian then offered the can up. Being the nearest I took hold of the can. Sebastian pretended to go through the motions again, encouraging me to eat. It must be some kind of ritual I thought. I didn’t want to offend anybody and anyway what harm could it do?
God they tasted horrible, and I was grateful he had the beer to wash them down with. Then I said the obligatory “yuk” and passed the can on.
When the other three had followed suit, Sebastian took another handful and another slug of beer to wash them down with. They tasted bloody awful, I said. Then I told Sebastian that the ones in the shop tasted wonderful. Sebastian said that he wouldn’t wait for spring; they could send him some back as soon as they got home.
We obeyed this ritual three more times. Then it was Sebastian’s turn again. We watched him pulling more faces, as he forced the mushrooms down his throat. But the actions he was going through looked so comical this time – and it all seemed to be happening in slow motion. His jaw looked wobbly as it slopped about under his gigantic nose. I remembered thinking Sebastian’s nose hadn’t looked that big before. And his eyes seemed to be bulging out of his head as he attempted to swallow. We all began to laugh. Sebastian also began to laugh and almost choked on the mushrooms he had in his mouth. For some reason they thought it was absolutely hysterical when he had to spit them out. At that time this must have been the funniest thing we had ever seen and we fell over laughing. As I laughed, sparks were bursting in my head. Tom was trying to convey something to them, but he was caught up in fits of laughter. We didn’t understand and this made us laugh all the more. It was as if laughing had become infectious. The more we laughed the more we thought it funny. We seemed to be in an unbreakable loop.
Just then Roy spotted a bird of prey circling overhead. He stopped laughing in an instant and jumped to his feet and began shouting “vulture, vulture, coming in to pick over our bones.” The four of us huddled into the space of two, gripped with blind panic. Sebastian Jones on the other hand, said that he had never seen a vulture, and would like to catch it. He would put it in a cage and take it home for his Mam. He said he would have a think. As he thought, we could see his thought twitching and jumping around the veins in his face. Finally he said that he had come up with a cunning plan how to catch it. If everyone lay down and played dead, when it came down, he would grab it. We lay down and waited. The buzzard that had been pretending to be a vulture drifted away into the distance.
A thousand weird thoughts ran through my head as they lay there on the grass on the very top of the hill. The last thought was why were we laying there so still? Was gravity holding us there? I had his answer when I tried to move, and found I couldn’t. I asked if anyone could pull me up, because gravity had hold of me, and was pulling me down. I really could feel myself sinking into the land. It seemed that gravity was holding everyone down, except Sebastian Jones. He told them that the very same thing had happened to him once; and he had been stuck on this very hill for five years. But in that time he had built up a sort of immunity to gravity and to prove it, he had got to his feet and pulled us up one by one. We thanked him and told him that he was the great one, sent to look after us. In that case he said he would put a feather on his cap, because all great ones wear a feather in their cap. It was then that we noticed that the sky had turned green and the grass was dark blue, and the very earth was alive and breathing; we could feel it undulating under our feet.
It was a cloudy morning and the clouds shadows drew crazy patterns on the land. Then we noticed the faces that were looking at us from out of the clouds. Will said that they were angry faces. Suddenly angry faces surrounded us. The countryside was filled with their dark shadows. I was the first to run. A minute or two later, they were busting through the cottage door and I bolted it behind us. Then we were doing a sort of ring-a-ring-a-roses in the middle of the living room. We were safe; we had outrun the nasties. Then they flopped on the three-piece-suite and in moments we all fell asleep.
When we awoke hours later, Sebastian was gone; and that was the last time we saw Sebastian Jones and the last time we played with mind-bending drugs. But we have spoken of it often. It was their little secret. Oddly, it seemed to draw them together as friends. Mike wondered if his friends were living in a similar world to his, and thinking of the experience they had shared. He knew in his heart of hearts, that if things had gone wrong, they would do everything in their power to help his wife and children.
But he told himself that nothing had gone wrong, and when he died of starvation – and he estimated that would be soon, judging by the way that his stomach was rumbling – the thought that his family would be safe and well would help him in his passing. He had often wondered about dying and death. But it was always an older version of him-self that was doing the dying. He never thought he was going to die alone on a deserted island, hundreds of miles from anywhere. Did starvation hurt? He had never thought of it hurting. He had seen terrible pictures of people on the news dying of hunger – and had been moved to tears like everyone else, but he never considered if it hurt. He hoped it didn’t, but he guessed that it was going to.
With this thought in mind he drifted into sleep, but was woken a few hours later shivering with cold. He tried to ignore it and didn’t want to be woken up. But there was something pulling him awake, there was something flickering in front of his eyes. He opened them to find that the sky was full of streaming lights.
He recognised the light immediately – they were the northern lights, or the aurora borealis. He had seen them in documentaries, and again they were something he had always wanted to see, before he died. In fact he and his wife had saved up to go on a cruise, but then she fell pregnant. Instead, they used the money as a deposit on the house. First the tusk and now the northern lights, two wishes had come true. But how was it possible, the northern lights were in the north? That is why they called them northern lights. Was his mind dreaming up these things? Was he still unconscious? Did he have a tumour in his head? Had he really taken a job that brought him to the South China Seas? It seemed very unlikely in that dark hour of the night, when the brain wants to turn against you. He was an ordinary workingman. Not the sort to get such a glamorous job. He had wanted to travel, so was his imagination making it up, giving him the things he had always wanted? He curled up to his rucksack and drifted off to sleep, hoping he would wake from his nightmare in the morning.
He woke late, and the sun was already high in the sky and it was warm again. He drained his third water flask – three down and three to go. Then it hit him. Everything else had changed, so was there still water at the spring? He knew he had to go and find that out right away. Taking the three empty flasks, he made off across the island.
He had come to the deep gully that led to the spring and descended. There was no track any more. He remembered the first time he got water from there he had to cut his way through thick undergrowth to get to the spring. It had taken him half the day. But again the question was – were these real memories – or was his imagination telling him that he had them? Shit, he was sick and tired of tossing his thoughts to and fro, going round and round in circles. Now he knew why people in solitary confinement went out of their minds. This would have been his fate, if it weren’t for the dried up spring that lay at his feet. But with no water on the island, he was going to die of dehydration – that was if he was living in the real world. He had to stop thinking! He took his head in both hands and squeezed as hard as he could – he wanted it all to stop. He started running. He raced up the bank and was flying over the ground; he had never run so fast in his life, he didn’t think that anyone on earth had ever run that fast. But before he got to his little oasis of rock and shade, the heat consumed him and suddenly he was on the point of collapse. He again he had to resort to crawling on his hands and knees to get out of the blistering sun. After crawling back into the shade, sleep claimed him.
He was woken several hours later by the cold night air. The northern lights were again flickering across the sky. He sat for a while not thinking about anything in particular, just looking at the sky, and just enjoying the beauty of it all. He needed to do something to keep himself busy, something to keep his mind off things. He knew he needed food and water. So seeing he had nothing else to do, he thought it would be a good time to go looking, while he was still sane enough to recognise these things when he saw it.
Christ he had to say it again, his mind had created a very bizarre place for him to live in. Perhaps it was a sort of game he had to master and all the things he needed to survive were all around him. He had seen several films about people being locked in odd worlds. They all had to navigate themselves out, or they would have to remain in that world forever. Or worse they would die if they failed to find basic things like food and water. Cacti might be his first clue? Everybody knew they hold lots of water. But surely that would be too easy. But blue cacti, that was if they were cacti? After all, they were only vaguely similar to the cactus plant that was on his bathroom window at home.
He approached the nearest plant. He was very surprised when he touched it. The skin was hard to the touch and very, very, smooth. It was more like fine porcelain or bone china then plant material. He tapped it with his knuckles, it even sounded like porcelain. Well he wasn’t going to be able to eat the skin that was for sure. At his eye level it had a series of holes every two inches or so, all the way around. Near the bottom was another set of holes, again going all the way around? When he put a hand near to a top hole, he could feel air rushing out. When he felt a bottom hole, air was being dragged in. He thought it was a good thing that it didn’t take a genius to work out the purpose of the holes. It was obviously its cooling system. It was very much like the houses they built in Morocco where the centre of the house is open to let the air flow through to keep it cooler. Even so it was very sophisticated for a plant. But he was no expert. And some expert somewhere could probably show him lots of examples. He moved on to another plant, it was exactly the same as the other in every detail. When it was sucking cold, and possibly moist air in at the top did it take out the moisture and store it in its roots under the ground? He quickly decided to dig it up and see.
But the moment he put his tusk near the base, the plant let out a high-pitched whistle. He dropped the tusk in fright and jumped back. The high-pitched sound had hurt his ears. The plant was obviously intelligent, and knew what he was about to do. It was truly remarkable, a plant with some kind of brain. Then it hit him – he had heard the whistle. He shouted, and he could hear his own voice now – even if it was faint. If he was shouting and could barely hear himself, how loud had the plant whistle been? If his hearing had been at its normal level, was it possible it might have knocked him out? He thought he would give this plant a wide berth. It obviously felt fear, and he didn’t want to torment it. He picked up his tusk, trying not to make any sudden movements. He then took five steps back. He had to weigh up the situation carefully. What was he dealing with here? And what other forms of defence did they have, if any? He had touched them without them objecting.
He put down his bone and the tusk and approached another plant close by. He approached it slowly. The plant remained quiet and he touched its smooth skin. To show that he meant no harm, he began stroking it; in the same way you would stroke a dog. He suddenly felt a small vibration running through the plant. Not unlike a cat purring. Then he heard a faint low pitched whistling. He took this to mean that the plant was enjoying the feeling. He rubbed the smooth skin a little faster, and the plant whistled a little lower. He thought that if this wasn’t in his imagination, it would be totally awesome. He had made friends with a plant. He supposed he had a pet. He had to admire his imagination for coming up with something so bizarre. He was about to rub one of the many nodules that infested the top of the plant, when the plant gave a shrill short whistle. Mike took it as a warning. Then from one of the nodules on the plant, a particularly long thorn appeared, it slowly inched out until it showed a good six inches. Then it retreated back in again. He supposed it was like a dog showing his teeth. His imagination was working overtime here. He watched in awe, instinct telling him not to make any sudden movement. Then the thorn was blasted out on a puff of air. He turned to see it hit his bone that had been lying on the ground. The bone flew into the air and landed several feet away. He could see that the dart had passed right through the thick bone.
God, that thing could have killed him, there was no question about it. He froze for a moment. What should his next move be? What was his imagination trying to tell him? But if it had wanted to hurt him, it could have easily have done so. Was it saying – don’t tickle me there; you might hurt yourself? He went back to smoothing the plant, unsure now for whose benefit. Was he trying to reassure the plant that he meant it no harm, or was he appeasing it so it wouldn’t harm him? After a few minutes of this, the plant stopped purring. Had it had enough, or had it gone to sleep, like cats often do? Whatever it was, he thought it might be a good time to retreat.
He made his way back to his little oasis, and was glad to be out of the unbearable heat. He inspected the dart that had pierced the bone. He soon found that it wasn’t just a dart, but it looked to be carrying a poison. It was basically a hypodermic needle. The tip was literally needle sharp. A few centimetres up the shaft were rows of tiny holes that would have let out the poison a split second after the dart had hit its target. The poison or acid had etched deep into the bone; it had ended up making the hole about three times bigger then the circumference of the actual dart, and was still being made bigger as he inspected it. He reminded himself to keep his fingers well away from the tip.
Acid seemed to be the weapon of choice here, and he should note it. If the plants were so well armed who was their enemy? Was there something on the island that could attack him?
That night passed in much the same way as the others, with the cold waking him in time to see the night’s entertainment, courtesy of the northern lights. The only difference was a new moon, it was much redder than he remembered it and it looked smaller – therefore, he supposed it was further way. The sun was bigger and the moon was smaller, what was happening there?
He had decided that he needed to conserve water, and the best way to do that was to stay out of the sun. So he would only move about at night. The light from the moon was much appreciated in this.
He had an unfinished job to take care of, and he made his way down to the professor’s grave. He stood at the side of the grave for a few moments with his head bent, in mark of respect for his mentor. The old chap had taught him so much. He felt that he had learnt more in the short time he had been with the professors’ than he had learnt in the whole of his life before meeting them. Then he said the parts of the Lord’s Prayer he could remember out loud. And to his great relief, he could hear the muffled sounds of his words as he spoke.
He thought if only the professor could have taken two more steps before it had all come tumbling down – what a difference it would have made to both their lives. He wondered why his imagination had killed him in such a way.
Professor Williams had often explained his thinking to Mike. He had certainly got him thinking about past generations and the complex lives they had lived. The ancients couldn’t look it up in a book, he had said – they had to think it all through. And as they progressed, it was they that invented writing, so that we could get information that they had strived for at a turn of a page.
But unknown to them, the professor had said, they were also passing information down through their genes, not just in a biological way, but real knowledge on how to overcome every day things. DNA itself is programmed to learn. So man and every living thing on the planet can evolve to meet new challenges. The Professor had read the “Origin of Species”, and that was his stepping-stone. The only fault in the book, he said, was that the writer had under-estimated God. God had put on the earth one single cell amoeba. But God had programmed its DNA to respond to change, and for millions of years it did nothing but multiply. Then the earth changed, and the DNA did what it was programmed to do. And the cells clustered. To make up very simple life forms that moved as one. And they grew and got ever more complex.
Mike remembered the grin that spread across the old man’s face, when he said “And the rest is history.”
People paid money for his lectures. Mike had got the contents of his DNA for nothing. He had been listening hard to his every word, and found them fascinating. The professor had definitely passed the bug on to him and the professor had known it. Mike was going to miss the old man. He was going to miss them all. He had liked them all very much, and had included them all in his prayers. He then asked himself why he was mourning these people that were just a figment of his imagination. He told himself not to go there. He didn’t want to spend his last few days going mad.
After his little service, he headed down the beach in the other direction to the way he had already been. He was still hoping to find something washed up that he could eat. His stomach had been growling for a few days, only he couldn’t hear it yet. At dawn he turned, heading back to his oasis. He had found nothing. He slept deeply through the day. When he woke he remembered he had dreamt about food. He had been eating at a table full of food. It had been so vivid that he thought he could still taste apple pie in his mouth.
If he was living in a dream like state – how could he be dreaming in a dream? How could he be waking from a dream into a dream? This was complicated – perhaps he would give it more thought at another time. But he didn’t really want to go there – he had been doing too much thinking.
The sun was dropping below the pink sea and it would soon be night. He took a mouthful of water, and swished it about before swallowing it. He would only have one gurgle at a time to conserve the water. Because who knew, his imagination might conjure up a ship of some description and save him at the last moment. And he was always looking to the horizon for it.
But for now he would explore the island to see what his imagination had created for him. Each cactus plant he came to, he stopped to give it a stroke, just as you would to a cat. Each plant responded by the equivalent of purring. There were twenty-seven plants in all. And by the end of the night he had introduced himself to all of them. When he was at the centre of the island, he noticed that they were all on a grid pattern. Each and every one was perfectly in line. There must have been a reason for it, but he didn’t know it. He walked among them for hours, inspecting each and every plant closely. He spoke his thoughts out loud to them, hoping he was not shouting. He asked if they had a brain like his, and if they had, where they keep it.
He knew they must be self-aware, because they were communicating with him in a very intelligent way. Or was it that they could sense his presence, through the holes in the top and base? Perhaps they had a sort of sonar like a bat. Or even radar. How did they get their nutrients and water? He had a plant at home that took its food source from out of the air. There was a name for them, but he could not remember it. He put a finger close to one of the holes at the top of the plant, he could feel a small race of air passing into the hole and at the bottom he could feel air being exhaled. This was completely reversed to the day. Was it that it was now taking any moisture from the air and filtering it out? But surely this was breathing, wasn’t it? Then it breathed just like he did! Didn’t that make it a mammal? Wasn’t that something else?
The night seemed to have sped away, and he was a little surprised to see the sun coming over the horizon. By the time he got back to the oasis it was already warm. He cooled himself off at his very own air convector. Then he slept and woke as the sun dropped into the pink sea. Nothing had changed. He had been hoping before he opened his eyes, that the world would be back to normal. Or was he still trapped in his imagination. Did it matter which one it was? Whichever it was, it was still his here and now. He would make the best of the time that was remaining. After all, he had lived with his imagination all his life – so why should he doubt it know?
He took a mouth full of water swished it about for a long time then swallowed. Tonight he would make his way to the far end of the island. He had never been to that part of the island, and needed to know if there was any food or water to be found there, or anything that could he useful to him. He was beginning to find he was becoming interested in his new world. And of course he would stop to say hello to a few of his pets on the way.
It took three hours to get across the island because he had stopped to say hello to a cactus – if you say hello to one, you have to say hello to them all.
When he finally arrived on the other side of the island there was nothing but the black hard sand and a rocky coastline. He walked back along the glass beach, but again found nothing. But he would not give up. The following night after saying hello to his pets, he would walk back on the other side of the island. Again he found absolutely nothing that he could eat or drink or could help him in any way.
As he prepared for sleep, he thought he could smell honey – he put it down to wishful thinking, and the gripping hunger he felt. Two hours later he was back dreaming about food. He was about to tuck into a plate of bangers and mash; that was dripping in onion gravy – when he was jerked out of his sleep by shrill whistling. It was the plants; they were all whistling and seemed to be in a right panic? He knew this was some sort of heightened alert.
Then he saw what looked like large birds coming in off the sea. He grew quite excited for a moment. But as they got nearer and on closer inspection – the way they flew was not strictly bird-like. And they weren’t flying fish – he had seen that right away. So they had to be something new to him. What had his imagination dreamt up for him this time? His brain said bumblebee. But their size said eagle. When they were only about fifty yards away, he could see that they were more similar to cockroaches. But hundreds of times bigger! Did cockroaches attack people? He didn’t know, or was that killer ants he was thinking about? He knew locusts ate all vegetation that they came on. They could strip a large field of wheat in a few hours – he had seen the documentaries. And they were the little ones! He thought that cockroaches were far more aggressive. What damage could cockroaches of this size do? He slipped down flat onto the ground, hoping they had not seen him. He stretched to take up his tusk and his bones; just holding them gave him a little comfort. But what he felt he needed was a bit of military hardware – a tank of some description might fit the bill?
He knew he wouldn’t stand a chance against so many large creatures if they decided to have him for lunch. What was his imagination thinking about by creating these monsters? He estimated that there were about forty of them in all. The first wave of five passed over his head. They clearly hadn’t seen him, or were not interested in him. He was grateful for that, because the size of their teeth was frightening. They looked as if they could take a man’s arm off with one bite. They immediately began to attack one of the blue plants. The sound the plants were making was deafening now. Now he knew what the darts were for. He willed them to defend themselves and fire at the creatures. The cockroaches were now hovering above them, flitting from side to side. At the same time they were somehow shooting light at the plants – it had the same effect as strobe lighting.
He saw the first dart released; it cut the air like a knife. It looked on target, and for a moment it seemed to have hit its target. But the dart had either missed or had gone straight through the beast. The roach didn’t seem harmed in any way. Several of the blue cacti fired five or six darts at different targets in many directions. Again all looked on target, but again seemed to go right through. He saw several darts hit the locust’s wings. But all the darts just burst through, coming out the other side; they seemed to have no effect.
Another wave of insects flew in on the same cactus. Then he saw a dart find its mark. The dart had entered the head of the creature, through one of its nostrils; it had clearly pierced the brain – because there was only about half an inch of the dart still protruding. The insect crashed to the ground almost immediately. It began to writhe and thrash about and looked as if it was trying to claw out its own brain. Mike could see the working of the brain through its transparent shell. The creature’s head had a very light blue tinge; its neck had all the colour of the rainbow smudged onto it. Its thorax and inner workings were a light green, and its legs were a slightly darker blue than the head.
But as Mike watched, the brain was turning purple. He guessed that was the effect of the poison. The ugly beast then jumped into the air, and let out a shrill scream. It reminded Mike of a reed musical instrument being played badly. Then the cockroach dropped to the ground and fell silent.
Mike couldn’t stop himself crawling forward to take a closer look at it. He quickly came to the conclusion that it was some piece of kit. Its armoury was as sophisticated as anything he had seen in modern warfare. The body, or thorax, was a honeycomb of cone shapes. The darts were channelled into the centre and then out of the cones on the other side. Therefore the darts were passing through the beast without hurting it in anyway.
The only way to describe it was, it was a little like a modern bicycle helmet. But not one helmet, but two placed together to make up a shape similar to a rugby ball. You then have to visualise the holes all round. The holes were coned shaped as they led into the centre from there it opened to a cone on the other side. So the dart went in one cone then out its opposite number.
The legs of the creature were more or less of the same design. On the upper thigh it was like patterned marble, again with every colour of the rainbow. The wings were very different; they were made up of thousands of tiny scales, much like the scales of a fish. Although the darts had found a target, they were simply knocked out one of the scales. It only left a tiny hole, where it had passed through. This didn’t seem to upset the balance of the insect at all. Then he noticed on the under side of the wing there were reflective scales. These were made of a hard substance similar to mother-of-pearl. This was how they made the strobe lighting. They were merely reflecting the sun’s light back at the cacti. This he presumed distracted the cactus so they would miss their target.
The inner workings such as the heart and stomach were stretched inside of the shell; he could see them clearly through the translucent body. He tapped the roach on the head with the tusk, one of the protective shields that covered its huge black bug-eyes slipped to one side. This again was like mother-of-pearl and transparent, looking very much like sunglasses. Its teeth looked extremely long and sharp. And how the cactus managed to hit its nostril with a dart was beyond him, it was such a small target. Mike stretched out and touched one of the creature’s legs; it felt like a very hard plastic.
As he was examining the dead cockroach, the battle was intensifying around him. Another two of the creatures had fallen. One looked dead, but the other had a dart in the joint of its lower leg. Mike watched as it was frantically biting through its own leg, just above the dart. He could also see the blue turning purple as the poison spread through the leg. The lower leg finally fell away, and from the colour it looked as if the roach hadn’t had a moment to spare. The creature had clearly had enough of the fight, and was making off back in the direction it had come from. It passed within a few feet of him and he could see that the leg was oozing green slime – he deduced that it must have been its blood.
He had wondered why the cacti were placed in the way they were? Now he had his answer; this way they were never in direct line of each other’s fire.
The insects seemed to be concentrating their attack on just a few individual cacti. All of them were on the outer edge of the field. This way the cockroaches were only coming under fire from three sides. He watched another direct hit, this time the dart had lodged itself in the corner of the cockroach’s jaw. The beast hissed and was frantically tearing at the dart with its front legs. Mike could see the purple poison creeping up its face.
Mike knew it was a goner; it was only a matter of time. The cockroach must have known this too, yet in its last moments of life, it still had destruction on its mind, and it nose-dived into one of the cacti, shaking it to its roots. That was presuming that it had roots. The plant was listing badly. When the other roaches saw this, they came flooding in at it from all angles. About a dozen of them combined their focus on that one plant. The plant changed the pitch of its whistle. It was clearly in distress and in the greatest danger. Then Mike saw the problem it had. Because it was tilting over at an angle, it couldn’t defend itself from one side. The roaches were more than aware of this. Two of the creatures were already on the ground and under its defences, pushing it further over. Mike could see and hear one of them crunching down on the base of the plant.
Darts were flying in from all directions. He saw another roach fall out of the sky, but it wasn’t enough. Five of them were around its base now, and all pushing as one. The plant was being prised out of the ground as they rocked it to and fro. The plant’s distress was ever more evident in the higher and higher tone of its whistling – in fact, it was now screaming so loudly that it was the only thing that could be heard on the battlefield.
Mike’s heart was pounding, his mouth was dry, and his hands were shaking. A moment later, he found that he had picked up his bones and his tusk, and was running at the cockroaches screaming like a wild man. It was strange, because it felt as if he was watching himself –and it was almost as if it was someone else running; someone else doing what he guessed he had to do. He had covered the distance in less time than he imagined. He didn’t feel as if he was ready for the battle and he had no plan.
One of the beasts had flown down and was now hovering in front of him blocking his way. He thought he knew their weak point, and thrust the tip of the tusk at the nostril. He was expecting the creature to fall. But the tusk was much too big to enter the tiny hole. But the creature was surprised, and the impact catapulted it back a few yards. But it soon steadied itself and was ready to take Mike on again. Mike was still moving forward at a good pace. He had no time to think of a strategy. He knew the battle was going to be down to brute strength. He swung the bone for all he was worth; it glanced off the creature’s head and then hit its right wing. The wing made a crunching sound from the force of the blow. The wing broke free of its socket and went spinning away; it buzzed as it flailed through the air. One of the roaches turned to face the odd sound that was coming its way. In that same moment the wing hit him right under the jaw. The head jerked back and its neck snapped with the same sound as a twig being broken under foot. The wing swung around and hit another roach right between the eyes. The eye guards were ripped off. A split second later three arrows splattered into its unprotected eyes. The creature was bellowing out an awful high-pitched note, as it bounced and jumped around for about five seconds, before it dropped dead in a heap on the ground.
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The Day A Very Unusual Boy Went To School
Tim has had to change schools owing to his parents recent divorce. He likes his new school but there is a fly in the ointment - a gang of bullies who want money, something he doesn't have. Every day he has to devise plans to keep out of there reach, and every day the gang become more determined to catch him. In the summer holidays Tim's mother makes him audition for a film - he gets the part. This saves him from thinking about the gang for the summer. The film company take him and his mother to a castle deep in the countryside. The film is about a boy being bullied at school and saved by an alien - a part Tim knows only too well how to play. But why are the C.I.A. making this film?
- Author: islwyn noble
- Published: 2016-06-08 15:20:09
- Words: 74081