My first attempt at creative writing......
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Towards the end of yet another tedious trek over the moor, Dougal stopped dead in his tracks and tilted his head curiously to one side, as though he could hear something faint on the wind, there but not there. After a moment he sighed a slow and laborious breath and wearily continued on his way. “Nearly,” he thought to himself, “maybe next time”.
Ten minutes later, as he opened the door to the bothy, he thought, just for a second, that he heard it again. “Strange”, he said aloud “ne’er heard it twice like that” but as had become increasingly common, no one answered him. With a shrug of his shoulders, he accepted the silence and pulled a match from his pocket, struck the head against the striker plate and put the flickering flame to a battered old oil lamp that sat on the table beside his old worn-out cot. The weak smell of sulfur drifting into the darkness.
Slowly, he lay back on the bed and too exhausted to do anything more fell into a restless slumber, but it came slowly, as he knew it would, as it always did! Then the dream slowly crept into his mind, always starting the same way: in the rain, upon the moor…………
It fell in a torrent, cold and stinging. The boy was small even for a three-year-old, undernourished and painfully thin. Holding his left hand was an older child, at least five years the senior, but this child too was ill. Not sickly like the smaller one but something dark and brooding lay behind the eyes.
The clouds scud across the sky towards the horizon as they made their way over the moor. The horizon between sky and moor never getting closer and always darkening, from blue to black, seeming to fit the mood of the older child. The little one looks at his companion with trepidation, not quite sure whether he felt love or hate. His sibling, yet not. Thrown together out of necessity, not the love of family, but what other option does he have?
He awakes with a start, drenched in sweat. As he wearily runs one hand through his sparse wiry hair, he reaches to light the lamp, not realizing that he had never doused it before he slept. He lets out an exasperated groan as the hot lamp shatters on the cold stone floor, the smell of kerosene suddenly pervading the room. Careful not to step on the glass with his bare feet, Dougal leverages himself out of the cot and over to the basin, pours some water and washes. He chuckles absently to himself as from somewhere in his long memory comes the "don’t forget to wash behind your ears" that he used to hear when he himself was a small boy………. “Why can’t I see his face?” he asked himself. For as long as he had been having the dream he had still never seen the face of the boy, the dream disintegrating like one of those old flickering moving pictures just a second before the revelation.
With a resigned shrug of his shoulders, he threw off the remnants of his slumber and continued with his morning ablutions. Then his favorite meal, breakfast! Nothing fancy, just a couple of eggs, a slice of a dwindling supply of cured bacon and a cup of cold milk. It wasn’t much but he always felt better after breakfast. It was something subliminal, the smell of the bacon or perhaps the crack and spit of the grease of the cooking eggs, whatever it was it always made him feel like this day would be better than the previous, but it seldom was.
The morning was overcast and threatening rain or even possibly snow. “Great,” he said “another soaking”. He buckled his greatcoat around his waist, grabbed his crook and set off across the heather. He whistled tunelessly to himself as he trudged along, the breakfast warm in his stomach but his spirit sinking. “How had it come to this?” he thought. He’d once had a seemingly bright future ahead of him. Son of a teacher, he had been lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn to read and write when he was very young. He’d always been surrounded by books and had had a voracious appetite to learn. So where had it gone so wrong? When?
His soul searching was interrupted as he was greeted by a flock of black-faced sheep. They had heard Dougal long before he was aware of them being there. They knew him and while perhaps not fully, they trusted him. After all, he fed them and tended to them when times were hard or they were sick but even so, he never ceased to be amazed by their warm welcome as he had been told many years ago that sheep were skittish and nervous creatures, but these ones seemed different. Almost as though they were lifelong friends. Just as that thought crossed his mind, a ewe pushed through the flock and nudged her newborn lamb forward to meet Dougal. He stood there frozen to the spot….
Looking at the lamb but listening intently to the wind. “Over here” it seemed to say “Dougal, over here”, he started to walk forward almost trance-like, following the call of his name: “Dougal”, “Dougal’……. He looked down at his left hand. It felt as though someone was holding it in a vice, it began to tingle and slowly the sensation started to move up his arm and across his chest.
The flock watched on as he fell to the ground. They bleated in anguish for their friend and moved forward to envelop him in soft white wool. Slowly, almost timidly, several of the older sheep lay down beside Dougal, close enough to give his body warmth and shelter but still far enough away that there was no physical contact. They had been told it was strictly forbidden.
The little boy was daydreaming, but that wasn’t unusual. His companion suddenly stopped, jarring the boy's arm and making him yelp in pain, for which he received a hard slap across the back of his head. He bit down on his lip, knowing that uttering another sound would earn him much worse.
His companion looked ahead into the gloom, unsure of what was there. The boy squeezed his eyes together trying to see. At first, nothing looked any different than when they had first arrived on the moor but suddenly, there on the far horizon, visible against the gloom of the sky and moor, was a very distinguishable cloud. While all else around it was dark and gloomy, this cloud was white. So white that it actually hurt the eyes to look upon it even from such a distance.
His companion was not happy. He could tell and as if on cue, the grip on his hand tightened even more and he could feel tears begin to swell up in the corner of his eyes. “No,” he said inwardly, “I will not cry”.
Slowly Dougal began to stir. There were faint outlines forming through the flickering of his closed eyelids. Shapes that should be recognizable to him but that were still just out of reach of his consciousness. It was the smell that brought his senses back into focus. The smell of stale air that never sees the sunlight or at best gets refreshed when the door to the outside world is opened and a small breeze came drifting into the bothy.
The bothy was old, much older than Dougal could remember. It seemed that it had always been here, a constant on a changing living moor. It was not much more than a single story stone rectangle with a cold slate roof. There were two fire grates, one at each end but even in the old days when both were lit and roaring their warmth never met in the middle. The only natural light came from small slits in the stone up near the roofline. A throwback to ancient days when the bothy may have been more than it was. Now it was sanctuary to people on the moor who got caught unawares at the quick climate change that frequently occurred on this moor. Anyone was welcome to use the shelter and in days long gone by Dougal had often had unannounced visitors.
“How did I get here?” Dougal asked himself, or so he thought. “We found you on the moor” replied a soft voice from somewhere in the gloom of the fire at the far end of the building. Dougal stiffened at the sound of the voice. He tried to raise himself up to see exactly where the voice came from but he couldn’t move. He started to panic and fight his bonds only to discover that actually he was only wrapped in a warm blanket and covered in heavy white fleece.
“Relax Dougal,” said a different but calming, lilting voice. “You are safe now”. Something in the voices reassured Dougal and he relaxed and took comfort in the warmth that enveloped him. For the first time in as far back as he could remember these days, he began to feel warm from the inside out, instead of the outside in and he drifted back into sleep.
Something had changed. The pain in his hand eased as the grip relaxed but didn’t let go and he still felt uneasy, knowing now that the pain could return at the whim of his companion. Why had the appearance of the cloud had such an effect? As they approached the cloud it started to shimmer and dissipate. His companion’s mood lightening as the darkness increased. The boy thought he could see the shape of a man laying on the ground at what used to be the bottom of the brightness. Their pace quickened as his companion hauled him onwards and then suddenly the pain in his hand was back. He looked at his companion with pleading eyes but saw only the face distorted in a howl of animal furry and human anger. There was no body, just the indentation in the soft heather where a body had lain.
Dougal finally awoke and stood up, letting the fleece fall softly and silently to the stone floor. There were a couple of oil lamps blazing away and the room was cast in a warming glow as the embers of the fire still glowed red. “Hello?” he called out…. “Hello? Where are you?” but there came no reply. He had no idea how long he had been sleeping but he assumed that his visitors had stayed long enough to make sure he was okay before going on their way, or maybe they had ventured off to the village to find help. He sat down on the edge of his cot and tried to remember what had happened. The last things he remembered was the voice on the wind, the pain in his chest and then waking up here, back in the bothy. “Damn it,” he said as it finally dawned on him that he had probably been lucky enough to have just been saved from dying alone on the moor, victim of a failing heart! “What are the chances of those strangers happening upon me?” we wondered.
As he sat there, he realized that he actually felt in great shape. For the first time in weeks he felt fully rested and as he bent over to pick up the makeshift blanket, he felt a rumbling in his stomach and found that he was completely famished.