Shokrypt: Between Memory and Dream
I can see town, an’ my hands are clean as dust can get ‘em, but there’s something I gott’a do an’ I can’t think what it is. Some thought in my head just floating an’ I can’t quite grab it. I’s jus’ gonn’a sit up on the apex for a bit till it comes settling down on my shoulder like one a’ them fireflies old Sizzen keeps in his jars. Don’t do no good chasing after ‘em see, that’s what he told me, you gott’a just keep quiet an’ sit like you don’t want ‘em, an’ then they start wanting you. Come over and dart about in front of you, trace lines ‘cross the night, but all the while you gott’a just keep sitting till they come and do the same. Then you got ‘em see, an’ they don’t mind. An’ neither did I, ‘cause it weren’t like the scitters, them fireflies came all a’ their own accord and Sizzen looked after ‘em, let ‘em out when they wanted, an’ never even kept lids on their jars, it weren’t lids that kept ‘em there see. That’s what it was old Sizzen had in his hand when he found me hiding away in that barn a’ his. One a’ them fireflies in its jar all buzzing about to show him the way, ‘cause it was night see, and Sizzen’s eyes they weren’t none too good even when the sun was up.
So I’s just gonn’a sit here at the side a’ the road, an’ look at the lights a’ town till that thought comes back to me. Still got a good while till sun’s fully down and the sixteen to keep me company. I never did know what happened to that other tree, that seventeen. I can see the gap now, in the row across the hilltop, like some ol’ critter gone an’ lost a tooth fighting. Something on the other side of it. Look like a tree or something in the distance, but I ain’t never seen a tree there before, an’ they don’t just up an’ grow in a day. An’ it’s moving, I’m sure. Looks like it’s getting bigger, just a bit, my eyes a lot sharper ‘n Sizzen’s see, an’ I don’t think they fooling me. It’s not only your nose gets closer to how things are when you running from South, I could pick out any one a’ them trees south a’ bank from a mile off f’I liked, f’I needed to. Sometimes town folk walk out here late. Wolves and cats never come this way, not for years anyway if’n you listen to talk, an’ there ain’t much else to listen to round acres. Maybe they coming to sit an’ wait for thoughts, easier to let ‘em come back down when you out here away from people and houses, thoughts don’t like houses much, not like them fireflies in them jars.
Anyway, I’m jus’ gonn’a sit and let mine come back to me, forget about it till it does. An’ the sixteen, they can jus’ sit wi’ me too. In fact, think I’ll go wait in that gap where seventeen was ‘fore it went, I reckon they might like it if someone got to fixing up the line for ‘em, an’ I’m jus’ about skinny enough to pass for tree, not mentioning the dark shade left on me. If I keep still enough, be just like seventeen back again. That thought’s gonn’a land on my shoulder soon enough, an’ I can get back to them town lights.
Being scared’s a funny thing. Not laughing funny, being scared never made me laugh much, but still, it’s funny. You don’t have to do what it says.
So that night when I left Rothschurch, I didn’t plan it, I just knew. Know I knew ‘cause I said g’bye to them little insects and their piles and my friend I never seen in the dirt. Kissed his stone ‘fore I went, then crossed the grass. Window was all lit up, just a little square a’ yellow staring back inside itself right at the top a’ the tower, ‘neath the cross where its sides met. Been looking all night, seeing how I could get in. Didn’t think I’d been plotting, just laying there in the dirt, but I must a’ been ‘cause when I got to that high cold wall I already had my way up in my head. I’s gonn’a climb - being small’s sometimes a good thing see, like when you running or hiding, and climbing no different. Didn’t have no extra fat to be hauling up them stones and my fingers spindly enough to wriggle in where cracks had set into the wall. In fact, later on, when I’s done and on my way back in the grass again, I got to thinking ‘bout how I’d not been eating so good since I’s running. How I’s had to take what I could from trees and windows. I said sorry every time I took from people, mind. First, I’s remembering every house I took bread from or slept outside so as I could pay ‘em back when I could, only I’s running for longer ‘n remembering lasts, so I just have to do what I can I s’pose.
Anyhow, all that food I’d not been eating made me real skinny, jus’ bones really, worse ‘n I ever been before, even when I got the shade. But I’s lean like a wildcat. Only what I di’n’t need been wasting away see, an’ I got to thinking how f’it weren’t for that, I might not a’ been able to get up that wall, pull myself up hand by hand, till I reached that yellow light at the top. But no matter how much I thought ‘bout it, then or since, I can’t see no more to it other ‘n what happened inside. Sometimes pieces just fit see, an’ someone gets saved or someone don’t. Sometimes both. It’s like the shade, how it di’n’t get me, but maybe that dead ‘un I been sleeping on, my friend, he weren’t so lucky. F’it weren’t for that dead ‘un I reckon I’d a moved on earlier, maybe not ever climbed in that window, even now seems out a’ place, for a skinny brak who’s been running an’ hiding long enough to know it don’t do no good climbing through windows, ‘specially when they got no bread to take.
Rothschurch weren’t no chapel like they got here. F’I turn my head I can see the cross here, through branches a’ that big ol’ tree they got planted in the square. Tall wooden cross, wood that’s been warmed every day by the sun, had any rain drunk out of it, an’ softened a little round its edges. Not like Rothschurch, wi’ that great tower, all lumpy wi’ stones and a mean little cross sticking out its top, pointing at you when you walked by or slept near it. Like it was pointing everywhere ‘cept where it should be, making people feel bad ‘bout things they hadn’t done and look down so as they wouldn’t look no closer. Only I’s been sleeping in that garden wi’ the planted stones and the dead ‘uns long enough to hear things. Things made me think in ways I used to, made me think a’ South.
See, South gave me another thing. At the time I thought it was a curse, thought it bore me ill like ‘most everything sprung up out’a that place, but turned out it was a gift. It gave me a feeling, feeling that came rising up when I saw something that remembered me. Remembered me a’ them others like me, that stayed back South, them ones I snuck right by on my way out. They probably never got no stones above ‘em. Probably turned into smoke or bare feet or black rivers, or worse still working in them machines, sleeping wi’ whispers all about ‘em.
So that night I got that feeling, been piling up like dirt inside me every time I heard the noise. Noise like I heard jus’ once before. I’d been busy forgetting ‘bout South see, forgetting ‘bout princes and smoke and Uncles who weren’t uncles, but you never really forget, you just weigh that picturebook down as good as you can, till some wind comes and blows it right open again. An’ that’s just what happened. Every night at Rothschurch I been hearing that noise, an’ I been holding my ears and talking to dead ‘uns or anything that’ll listen but it came straight back at me, that wind came howling straight out’a some hole someone got cut inside ‘em jus’ like it did wi’ the islander boy. Was the same noise, jus’ like when he seen the prince, an’ I knew f’I didn’t climb that tower, I’s gonna be hearing that noise every night, jus’ like the islander saw them bare feet, maybe still seeing ‘em now.
So I’s pulling myself up, onto that window ledge, all the time being careful no one’s looking - outside’s too black too spot me when I’s climbing against stone, but in front a’ that yellow square a’ light I reckon even Sizzen could a’ picked me out, without his fireflies, even. An’ first thing I seen when I looked through into the tower was books. Jus’ rows an’ rows a’ books, all lined up like the sixteen on the apex, only there’s more ‘n sixteen, more ‘n a hundred, jus’ a whole room, all walls a’ books. An’ in the middle, on top a’ this wooden stand with a sort’a cross cut into its back, there’s one book, smaller ‘n most a’ the others but you could see it was most important. Jus’ one little black book wi’ tassel a’ red hanging out the top, like they do so they remember where they was last time they’s looking inside. Poking out like a little lizard tongue it was. I remember thinking how if it was a tongue, it could a’ read what that book had to say, an’ maybe it did, only the book di’n’t want jus’ anyone hearing it so it slammed shut on its tongue. I’s got habits a’ thinking out a’ turn that come wi’ sleeping wi’ dead ‘uns so long, an’ it almost sent me off that ledge and back down so as they only have to plant my stone where I fell. Only I’s probably not worth a stone. Maybe one a’ them little wooden crosses like the one they got at chapel stuck in the ground.
Bell’s starting to ring now, sun going down behind the tree, can feel the metal against my back cooling down too. Little ‘uns all coming out like ants. I’s littler ‘n most of ‘em, even if I don’t think like it no more. I reckon old Sizzen, he got plans for me, not in chapel see, he not so keen on that cross, not one a’ them crosses up in his house, even though they used to be. I seen them cross shapes on the walls where they used to hang, see. Was his idea ‘bout Camp, getting me ‘mongst other little ‘uns like them that are running out’a chapel, few looking my way. Little sunnyhaired girl there again, pretty dress she got today. She’s making like she’s looking at the fountain, but I can tell it’s the corner a’ her eye she paying most attention to, corner I’m laying in. Still, I’s gonna have to leave them plans too, as well as Sizzen and sunnyhaired girls. ‘Spect he’ll be mad at first, but he’ll know why I done it after a while, he’ll know even if he tells himself different, could never a’ lasted, jus’ not enough food going round, simple counting see. Lot a’ things come down to counting when you set ‘em right. An’ it’s not jus’ counting. Comes a time when you run so far all you know is running, you looked so much for somewhere to call home, that when you find it, an’ it feeds you an’ sends you to Camp, you legs start itching and you get to missing the feel a’ running. ‘Cause running’s a home all on its own see.
Lot a’ people in town talked ‘bout Sizzen, not to him see, but ‘mongst themselves. They still bought his stitching and smiled when he went by, at least till they took notice a’ me anyway, but they’s tied to that chapel and that cross like something you woul’n’t believe. Town’s invisible hands working on ‘em see. An’ they knew ol’ Sizzen weren’t no preacher, they seen his face round ‘most everywhere in town ‘cept chapel an’ it made ‘em talk see, ‘cause that way they di’n’t have to talk to themselves. But I don’t blame ol’ Sizzen. ‘Cause these people who di’n’t like talking to themselves, they never been through yellow windows under stone crosses, an’ they never seen dead ‘uns talking out the night.
See, I’d figured on there being a gap somewhere in that window. Only way I’d a’ been able to hear the noise coming through. Sound don’t just carry through stone, ‘specially that soft little sound like I heard. An’ I’s right, just at the bottom of the glass, there’s a crack where someone’d fixed it open, no wider ‘n one a’ them stones in the garden - which was ‘bout how wide I was see. I’d got through, an’ I’s making my way over to where that book was in the middle a’ the room when I heard it again. Soft and sad, was like a little black river threading itself in my head, pulling me t’ward where it was coming from. Thought that little red tongue poking out the black book got its voice back for a moment, till I got to looking at the corner of the room. There was a wooden door see, next to where a whole lot a’ dusty ol’ books sat in a pile, rolls a’ carpet leant up against ‘em, and the sound was carrying through that wood from the other side. Sounded different when I’s inside, not just closer, but sort’a like I knew it from somewhere, somewhere I couldn’t remember, like you should know a voice when you in the same house as it, only I couldn’t remember, an’ I’s at that door ‘fore I knew what I’s doing, that soft little thread a’ voice in my head, running over me. There’s a crack where the door’s a little bit open see, less space even than the crack I got through in the window, but more ‘n enough to fit an eye in, so that’s what I done. An’ I seen it then. ‘Cause it weren’t a boy. ‘Least it weren’t no more. Its body was a little ‘un, like them standing about after chapel bell’s rung, talking to each other and running, but there weren’t much boy left about it. Still had its skin, but was near enough bones, like this ol’ car cooling down ‘neath me.
Down in the garden, sleeping above the dead ‘un I made friends with, I had to work at not thinking what that sound coming from the tower might be, had to keep talking to that stone till it talked back so as I mightn’t get to thinking what makes noises like that. But if I had a’ let my head onto it, I don’t reckon I’d a’ been able to catch a sight a’ what was sitting through that wooden door, even wi’ what I seen before.
There’s jus’ one room see. With white walls, but dirty, ‘cept on one side where it was a great big square all clean, and shadows in the corners. Then, there’s a sort of a wardrobe, wood all peeling and flowers cut in its front. On the floor, which is all stone, there’s a square a’ carpet, red wi’ little gold stitches, worn so you could see the thread the colour sat on, an’ that one time it used to be fancy piece a’ cloth, when it was first made probably cost a fair few, but now, all worn away, was only fit for this backroom. An’ one corner of it was disappearing into the ground.
But in the middle, next to that carpet, there’s a chair, one a’ them that roll back and forth see, like what the old ‘uns have for the evenings, wi’ feet that aren’t really feet. An’ sitting in it, I seen this thing. He was jus’ sitting, his head all laid sideways ‘gainst his shoulder, all dressed up in white, only the cloth was dirty too, wi’ black that come through from the inside, black where his chest was an’ all down his stomach an’ between where his legs were, thick black just come right through that white cloth he’s sitting in. An’ his arms an’ legs they just hanging there, laying down round that chair, which weren’t rocking. But his mouth, when I looked at that face, I seen its mouth an’ it was moving, an’ that sound was coming out, like I heard out’a the islander, only this was worse now up close, like it was something remembered only it di’n’t know who remembered it or why, this was the thread that’d been pulling me an’ I seen it for what it was, seen that little black tongue move across its lips an’ I seen the dirt all piled up on the floor at his feet an’ it looked like them insect hills where I’s been sleeping in the garden. I seen it was the same dirt as in the garden, that same dirt I been sleeping on. An’ back in the wardrobe there weren’t no clothes, I could just see now I’s looking hard enough, leant up inside it, through the doors in the dark, there’s just tools, like for gardens, cutters and blades all different shapes, an’ at the end, against the side, a shovel. An’ more dirt coming out from underneath.
I’s leaning on the door, getting myself ready for something though I di’n’t know what, telling myself things I knew in my head while that thing in the chair kept sounding, just so as I had something. I told myself ‘bout my uncle and the river, and my brothers, an’ I got stuck on ‘em, all of ‘em, an’ for the first time in I di’n’t remember how long, all their names came out at me from somewhere. That’s how I know see, that you don’t forget, that names in’t just gone, that they need a little time to come back a’ their own. An’ I jus’ let them names a’ my brothers go round and round in my head, till I couldn’t hear that voice no more, an’ I leant against the thick wood a’ the door an’ it weren’t me that was scared it was someone else. Then the wall on the right, it opened up all of a sudden, an’ in stepped this man, all dressed like a preacher, all in black see, wi’ the hat an’ tall as anyone I ever seen. I never noticed the door ‘cause it was painted like the wall see, all white. An’ that preacher, he moved so quick he was at the chair and doing something I couldn’t see for all his black, an’ the sound a’ that thing was getting louder, only sort’a stretched and higher but softer still, an’ it was pulling at me, pulling down my brothers’ names from my head.
I’s not got through the door yet, an’ I don’t know what would’a happened if I had. I’s too skinny to open that big thick hunk a’ wood quicker see, but now I got to thinking I had to do something. I got to thinking I should’a never come in through that window in the first place, an’ I looked behind me, back to that window again. But I heard that voice, an’ jus’ something in it, that thing in the chair wi’ its little black tongue an’ its black clothes, I heard something crawling up inside the thread a’ noise, something that was more boy than that thing sat in the chair an’ my feet just froze. I’s trying to turn but I jus’ couldn’t. An’ the preacher he must a’ heard that too, ‘cause whatever it was he’s doing he stopped an’ walked over to the wardrobe. While I’s hearing him, rustling wi’ the creak a’ wood and clang a’ metal, I seen his face. I seen his face when he turned.
That preacher’s face scared me more even than the thing in the chair, wi’ his beard all neat and glasses set in silver balanced on his thin nose. An’ smiling. That was worse than anything I seen in that chair, ‘cause that preacher he di’n’t look like no monsters I ever heard talk of, ‘fact he looked like just about the kindest old man you ever saw. Sort’a face people give money to in chapel. That’s what I know about monsters see, don’t listen to what people tell you, monsters look like jus’ ordinary people. An’ that thing in the chair, that wasn’t a monster, it just been made to look like the one in that smiling old man’s head, or in that book wi’ the tongue behind me. That was a boy not rocking in that chair. I looked at him see, an’ I seen that boy, wi’ his voice in my ears an’ my head, running between the names a’ my brothers, an’ I seen what that old preacher done. He must a’ taken one a’ them garden tools with him see, ‘neath them black preacher clothes a’ his, maybe doing some work outside ‘cause that boy in the chair, his head was leaned back, an’ he was smiling, he was smiling all across his throat, black running thick down his chest out’a that smile. An’ that sound was coming out, just running wi’ the black.
I’s wanting to run so bad, so bad my legs were shaking in their cloth an’ I thought I mightn’t be able to, only then, looking at that boy, just as I’s ‘bout to turn and make for the window, I let my head get ahead a’ my legs again. I thought a’ that scitter I flipped back on its feet when I’s running out’a South in the storm, thought a’ its eyes, they the same see, same look as the islander, only they weren’t islander’s eyes this time, they were boy’s, same as me. Only as I looked at them eyes, head all on its side, neck still smiling and running, they started changing, started turning black an’ I seen they was looking right at me, right at my very own. In that time see, wi’ preacher rustling in the wardrobe, me an’ that boy we seen each other, I seen him and worse he seen me, an’ I seen in his eyes something old and young at the same time, something we normally got hidden only preacher cut away anything to hide behind. I seen he wanted to speak to me see, to talk, jus’ to touch another little ‘un who in’t dressed in black an’ I tried as best I could to give him all the love I could through my eyes, even though I’s scared beyond scared an’ sick worse an’ I ever been, I tried holding his hand in that gap ‘tween our eyes all black and shining an’ I couldn’t see him right ‘cause water’s filling me up. I tried to look at him with as much as I could, as much as I ever got given me, an’ he saw me, he couldn’t move but his eyes were looking straight at me, through that little crack in the door, they saw me an’ I saw me in ‘em an’ there’s no gap between our eyes no more an’ I thought a’ my uncle holding me up in my bedcovers then, jus’ smiling, and that’s what I did, ‘fact I felt my uncle in me then, an’ I knew how that scitter must a’ felt when the islander passed into him, felt my uncle looking through my eyes, an’ smiling shooting out starlight on this boy, on this boy’s eyes an’ he could see me, he could see that it weren’t all bad an’ someone got a little starlight for him. Then that boy he weren’t making no sound no more, an’ I looked and his eyes had gone, he weren’t in ‘em no more see, he’s gone.
Then, right in front a’ me that preacher’s hand’s reaching, bony ol’ wrist sliding out from black cloth straight t’ward the door I’s hiding behind. I’s looking at him stepping over t’ward me, thinking how he must probably be wanting that little black book for something, maybe set the lizard tongue ‘gainst the black ‘un in the chair, when I got to realising I’s right between him and the book an’ he’d be on me, an’ I di’n’t much like the idea a’ that what wi’ what I’d seen a’ his preaching.
An’ that’s another thing that’s funny ‘bout being scared. How it slows the world right down. Right in front a’ me, the old man’s hand ‘gainst the door, pulling, an’ his glasses lit up, an’ that smile, jus’ as the door opened, it took forever. That door was heavy but not heavy enough to slow the world down, an’ that smile was creaking, creaking like the ol’ wood a’ the door till it stopped, jus’ stopped where it was.
I di’n’t even see his eyes. I just ran, ‘cause I’s so scared now I di’n’t know what was. An’ all that time I been running, running from South, running from one garden to the next, running in trees and rivers and under stars and suns, all that running it was leading to that point see, ‘cause I been running from South ‘long as I remember, an’ in that black cloth preacher wi’ his neat little beard and glasses I seen everything I been running from an’ I jus’ ran straight into it. I forgot see, forgot myself, an’ his hands all on my back, like something hateful, something weak but strong and hidden, but I must a’ caught him jus’ right, jus’ as he was leaning back, ‘cause that ol’ man he went wi’ me as I ran, an’ jus slid straight across them cold flat stones on the floor till he disappeared clean through. I’s standing there breathing, jus’ breathing. An’ I seen where that red carpet wi’ the gold stitches must’a been covering the hole in the floor, where part of it must’a been hanging through, an’ maybe that preacher he tripped when he’s slipping backwards, maybe tripped on his robes ‘fore they got sucked down wi’ him. I looked down that hole once, an’ it was black as anything, there’s jus’ a ladder going down in the black an’ nothing else. I di’n’t look at that boy again ‘cause his sound had gone an’ I di’n’t think it’d be coming back, not without a preacher to bring it back, an’ read out’a that black book.
When I got back out’a the window, not even looking to check for people, I wondered ‘bout the dead ‘un I been sleeping on too, the one shade got instead a’ me, an’ I got to thinking a’ the writing on that stone an’ how I wouldn’t forget it, no matter what, how I’d put it wi’ my brothers and let it run round wi’ them in my head if n’ I got scared again. Only I never did get scared again.
Can hear the bell going again now, little ‘uns all heading back for evening chapel. An’ this old car’s bones starting to cut into mine. Think I better go. Been putting it off too long.