The Best and Worst of Happenings
The Best and Worst of Happenings
January had dawned after a miserable December. Christmas had been celebrated with as much cheer and pretense as they could manage. On Christmas morning the Shepherds exchanged kind words and grateful hugs that they were all still alive, rather than presents. The family took a walk in their fields, breathing in the silence. Oliver started a vicious snow ball fight which escalated into a war. And for a while they all forgot that they had anything to worry about at all. Which is the part of the point of Christmas, after all.
In the evening each home cooked what they had to cook and it was all brought into the village hall which had been decorated admirably for the day. The food was laid out and Nora shouted, “Dig in!” which everyone did ravenously. The offerings weren’t too stingy, she was pleased to note. She also noted though that they would all be living off potato soup for the next month after this.
Bottles were emptied; glasses were raised with cries of “Merry Christmas!” echoing around the hall. Jane even managed to force a smile from Isaac. And that was the best gift she received that day.
The bodies were buried. The day passed in a blur of disbelief. Had you asked Jane about that day only a few days after, she would have recalled very little about it except Lilia. Who of course had had to find out about it along with all the others. It felt as though Jane’s fingers, locked with Lilia’s, were the only thing keeping her standing. The little bird of a girl continually looked to the sky, seemingly hoping to sprout wings and fly up to where he was and perch atop a cloud so she and he could hold hands behind their backs again.
Jane wondered when the point was going to come when enough was enough. Where they had lost more than they could cope with, where they had suffered more than they could accept. And she wondered what would happen once that point came. One thing she knew for sure, was that she would be there with her fists clenched. She would stand her ground and fight because, for her at least, enough was finally, enough.
The arrival of the New Year had given Frank new vigor. Jane was rudely awoken each morning like clockwork by an oddly and uncomfortably cheerful father. She was dragged outside where it was always cold no matter how the sun shone, and “shown the ways of the world.” Much like her mother had tried to do, but this was now man’s work her father was imparting on her. She learned how to plant the earth, how to know when things are ready to be dug up, how to slaughter a pig, a rather brutal process she was not keen to repeat. She learnt the roaming patterns of the goats that they often forgot they even owned. She learnt to locate the strange, crawly creatures that lurked on river beds. Her father had gotten into the freezing river to demonstrate this but would not allow Jane to follow suit, knowing her history with icy waters.
That particular morning Jane merely had to milk the cows, churn it to make butter which she was then to deliver around the village, then she learned the process that went into sheep shearing as it would soon be approaching spring and their winter coats needed to be removed, even though it was still January.
“He’s losing his mind,” Jane muttered behind his back.
She flopped, exhausted, stinking foul and sweet of animals, into a chair in the kitchen.
“What is this all about?” she asked her mother. Nora had already started turning the sheep clothes that one unfortunate animal had lost to a demonstration, into wool which she would then turn into blankets and jumpers. She looked up from her work, as though she had been waiting for this question.
“If I’m going to perish from exhaustion I would like to know why it was necessary,” she said.
“It's hard to explain Jane,” Nora replied. “Your dad and I think…well, all of us actually, we have this feeling that if anyone is going to make it through this, it will be you.”
Jane opened her mouth to object but was shot down instantly.
“You asked, now listen to the answer,” Nora said reprovingly. “We've never forgotten who you are, and I don’t think you even realise what having Evelyn's blood in your veins means. It's unique. You are entirely unique. There is a reason you are alive, and I know that the reason is because we needed another Evelyn and we were granted you.”
“So what your father and I are doing, is preparing you for the time when you might be on your own. So that you won't struggle, if that happens,” she said.
“If I'm all on my own, who says I'll want to be alive at all? What kind of a life will I have?” she asked, straightening up.
“And if Evelyn had thought that way, you wouldn't be sat here at all. I can assure you, you won't be the only one to survive in the whole Kingdom. There will be others. And it will be your job to find them and fix this for us again. It will be hard and it will be all on your shoulders. This is why you need to know how to plant vegetables and shear the sheep. You must remember who you are, all the time, know who you are.”
Something about the atmosphere had changed again in the village after that winter had passed. The funerals and the hunger and the fact that they had almost exhausted their alcohol supply had left the people resigned; all the fight was gone from them. When they met in the hall now, they did not speak much and left as soon as Isaac and Peter returned from their hunt. They rang the bell every Friday, and then the inevitable day came in February when not a single bell replied. They had all known it would happen eventually but nothing could have prepared them for the feeling that the silence left behind it.
Peter, who had rung the bell on that day in question, lowered his head. His face seemed to fold in on itself and he resolutely started to beat the bell again. Harder and harder, more and more frantically, the violent tolling ringing out like a siren. The hollowness of it rattled around the little town, flew into the trees and to The Kingdom beyond where there was nobody left to hear it.
“No!” he cried. “No!”
“Bring him down, Isaac,” Nora whispered. As instructed, Isaac dashed up to the top of the tower and pulled Peter away from the bell. He took him in his arms and the pair commiserated their loss together. Isaac was saying something to him. She wondered what possible words he could have found to sooth him.
“We are alone now,” Peter called down to them. “Last ones standing.”
Since then Isaac had become something else altogether. He seemed to have entirely lost his tongue. He was neglecting his duties, shrugging his shoulders at all questions asked of him. Jane no longer caught him casting sideways glances at her. She had flattered herself in thinking that she would always possess those glances of his.
“You can fix this,” Peter snapped at Jane one evening after having to do all the checks on his own for a week running. “So, fix it.”
So, one brave day as they left the hall once more, she ran after Isaac, following him towards his house. She shouted to him but he did not turn. She called his name, realising the sweet sound it made on her tongue. “Please, Isaac!” she had cried. He had simply followed his family into the house and shut the door purposefully behind him. Of course the closed door meant that she couldn't see him stood alone in his hallway, crumpled up on the bottom step, teeth gritted and cursing how stubborn he was having to be to save that poor girl.
That night she left her home, long after everyone had gone to bed. It was idiotic of course, but what did it really matter now? She had in her hand a small piece of paper. The words she had written on it were getting smudged in the light rain that fell. She had neglected to pull on her boots, feeling that the dirt beneath her feet might make her feel humble and sorry in some way for what she had been too frightened to give to him.
She made her way through the silent village, seeing the shells of houses that lay empty. And the sighing, exhausted homes of the people who had remained. She reached his house and posted the wrinkled and torn piece of paper through a seized up letter box, that hadn’t been opened for a long time, letters being a thing of the past. The piece of paper landed on the door mat heavily for a piece of paper. The two words that it bore faced upwards, brazenly, frustratingly boldly. “Forgive me,” it said.
Then all of a sudden, it was the month of May. The sad and lonely winter lay embarrassed behind them, seeming to apologise for its appalling behavior with endless days and days of sunshine. Not much in the village had changed, but in the house up on the hill, Sophia could be seen outside on particularly fine days, never straying far from the door in case of visitors. She spoke to them now, trusting the new family that she had happened upon. Her body filled out and some of the scars appeared paler, almost. Tim was delighted. He leapt around, ecstatic the first time he saw her in the sunlight. She laughed a tiny laugh at the sight of him. “Thank you,” she had smiled at him.
To take a picture of the village at this time, it would have been very easy to imagine that none of the unpleasantness had ever happened. It had been long enough now with no mention of Crookeds that it seemed that they had all died out whilst they'd been waiting for them to show up. In the back of some people’s minds sat the idea that The Crookeds may have tried to invade their town, surely they were the only target left. They might have tried to but perhaps, they simply couldn’t. Not as long Jane was around. They looked upon her hopefully; they brought round any excess food for her consumption. Doors were held open for her. People felt their hearts lift when she entered the room.
In short, they grew complacent. They also grew vegetables and fruit and made bread and flowers in the gardens and life returned to that little village in the middle of nowhere. Brian had also concocted a way of making his own beer, for which they all had a tasting and cried aloud with joy because it was very drinkable and it gave them that warm, heady feeling that they had been missing so much. They hoisted Brian onto their shoulders and he beamed like it was the proudest moment of his life.
Tradition dictated that once a year to give thanks to the Protectors of the village, they were to hold The Protector’s Day which was to occur in May, to herald the coming of the summer and the approach of easier days. The village had never missed a year. Peter and Isaac argued that they had very little to be thanked for and that this year The Protectors’s Day should be laid by the wayside. To which the villagers shook their heads unanimously and replied, “And miss an excuse for a good old knees up? Never.”
So, on one glorious morning they all set about hanging the traditional decorations of lanterns and bunting and paper chains and festoons of wild flowers, and cooking whatever they could afford to spare which was a little more now that the fine weather had started to give them her bounty again. Brian found out an old gramophone and some records and long forgotten music was heard winding its way through the village long before the celebration even started, which was to be at six that evening, just as the sun was beginning to languish.
An unusual occurrence occurred that afternoon. Jane was forced into a bath.
“Do you not want to appear presentable?” Nora asked, gently nudging her daughter into the bathroom. “You’d be a very pretty girl if you tried a bit.”
“I can’t be bothered mum! It’s a waste of hot water for goodness sake. I don’t have anything to wear!”
“You’ll get in the bloody bath if you know what’s good for you,” her father walked past the tussling women and shot her one of those looks and for a quiet life, she relinquished.
The water left in the bath was brown with filth. Proudly, Jane called everyone into the bathroom to have a look at the infested muck.
“Look! I was filthy!” she laughed.
“That’s foul,” Oliver said, wrinkling his nose.
“I worked hard for that,” Jane replied indignantly. “That’s taken weeks of grubbing about and pretending to wash my hands.”
“I’m proud that you’re my sister,” Oliver said giving her a little peck atop her newly clean head. “But that’ll be your last kiss for a while after I’ve seen that.”
Jane’s mother had laid a dress out on her bed. One she had forgotten that she owned. It had lived happily at the back of her mind and her wardrobe. It was made of white cotton and lace. It fell to just above her knees, and flew about around in the breeze when she walked. A white ribbon tied up around the waist. It was beautiful and therefore Jane could not wear it.
Jane opened her bedroom door, followed by her mouth and was just about to shout her protests down the stairs when her mother cried, “Just put it on Jane!” Supposing that she would never have to wear it again anyway, she mumbled, “Just this once” and donned the uncharacteristic petals.
The men had all been warned by Nora not to draw any special attention to what Jane was wearing when she entered the kitchen. They had been waiting impatiently for her to come downstairs so they could head into the village for the festivities. Jane had been stood alone in her room, plucking up the courage to face the relentless teasing she knew she was about to experience. Somberly, she headed down her spiral staircase and along the corridor where she caught sight of herself in a mirror that hung there. It was a shock what she saw, someone clean and vibrant, someone wholesome looking back at her, looking every little bit like Evelyn. With a brief smile she entered the kitchen where silent intakes of breath happened in quick succession and then, as instructed they all pretended like they had not seen it.
“At last! Let’s go then shall we?” Frank said, putting his arm around her shoulder and squeezing it briefly.
The family walked down the hill together, arm in arm, joking and laughing. Something they had not felt able to do in a very long time.
“What have you done with Jane?” Peter said as he strolled by and nudged his sister.
“You had to ruin it though, didn’t you?” Oliver smiled. “You had to wear your muddy boots, didn’t you?”
“I’m just being practical; never know when you’re going to have to run for your life do you?”
“Oh, will you stop being morbid, just this once?” Oliver sighed. “We’re going to a party after all!”
When they arrived the party had already begun. It was one of the lowest populated parties ever witnessed. But still, there was music playing and food was passed around and small nips of brandy and other assorted spirits were thrown down necks accompanied by many cries of “Here’s to you! Here’s to us!” and so the whole affair felt festive enough.
The Shepherd family were greeted by all with open arms and told to “Catch us up!”
Each were promptly handed glasses of Brian’s amber liquid and forced to drain them in an instant. Jane noted that the square really did look quite beautiful in the light of the falling evening. Twinkling lights shone into the royal blue skyline and a playful breeze sent the bunting and decorations that hung in the trees dancing. Evelyn’s statue stood proud and faithful in the middle of it all.
“Oh my goodness! Isn’t she just…? Aren’t you the spitting…?” exclaimed Lilia’s mother, who was already on her way past tipsy. Then she flung her arms around Jane and started to say, “It’s just so very sad. What on earth are you planning to do?” Before she could finish the sentiment though, Nora took her off for a turn about the square. She mouthed an apology as she did so.
This sputtered and incoherent response to Jane’s appearance that night came from many of the villagers, so even after twenty minutes at the party, she was completely fed up with trying to live up to Evelyn’s memory. She knocked back a few more drams of liquor.
“You look beautiful,” Lilia whispered, smiling faintly and locking her fingers into Jane’s. Lilia, on the other hand, looked tired and thin, an upsetting turn for the worst.
“Oh, not you too.”
“Well, you do. Accept it. Tonight, you are a lady. From the knees up anyway,” she said, with a small giggle.
“This is nice isn’t it?” Jane said unconvincingly, squeezing her hand for comfort.
“Is it?” Lilia asked, her face pale and threatening to burst into tears at any moment. “Should we really be celebrating after everything that’s happened?”
“I don’t honestly think this is celebrating. I think it’s an effort to feel something other than nothing for a change,” Jane said.
“Jane, I’ve wanted to say something to you for a while.”
‘Go on,’ she said, taking a few slices of tomato from a plate, chopped up small in an effort to make it go further.
“I wanted to say…thank you. For finding him. And for bringing him back to me. I got to see him..once more. Because of you.”
Jane could only nod in response. Her friend had developed a broken heart at the ripe old age of seventeen. Just another abomination that the war had brought about. One of those things that time simply cannot heal.
“How on earth is all this going to turn out?” Lilia wondered out loud.
“Come on, Jane! Join in!” cried Peter, who was dancing a sort of jig in a large circle with many others, arms crossed with the people next to him. Before Jane got a chance to answer Lilia, she was grabbed roughly by the collar and forced into the high paced dance with them. Round and round they went, spinning and kicking up their heels as they did so in time with a jubilant piece of fiddle music. The alcohol pumping through her made it feel that whilst they were travelling in one way the earth was travelling in the other at a high rate of knots, like running the opposite direction on a carousel. It made it very difficult for her legs to do as they were told. She giggled mirthfully at what a fool she must look like, the strong pair of hands next her seemed to be doing all the work, dragging her about like a rag doll. The face opposite hers blurred until she couldn’t remember who it was that she was looking at.
This was wonderful, this was something else. She never wanted this feeling to end. When the music drew to a close however, of course, the group stopped spinning and applauded each other for having had such a wonderful time together. She laughed and laughed and performed a mock curtsy to the person who had virtually held her up right throughout the dance. She stopped however, once she saw who it was. His face was stern and hard.
“Stand up straight,” he said before striding off.
Oliver, who had been the other pair of hands helping her around, witnessed the brief and hostile exchange and patted her on the back.
“Look, ignore Isaac. Don’t let him upset you. He’s just feeling wounded because of the rejection. He’ll bounce back. And also he and Peter are stone cold sober, not allowed to drink see, in case anything cracks off so that’s probably not helping his mood,” Oliver chortled, dashing off to join in with a new dance that was beginning. He eagerly darted to Lilia and dragged her on to dance with him. She allowed herself to be moved about, but stared wordlessly and blankly at her feet.
Her mother and father were flinging each other around the dance floor, neither of them sure who was doing the leading. Peter had Isaac’s oldest sister, Anna, by the hands. Anna, like Isaac’s other siblings, was a mystery but if there was ever anyone who would take the time to unravel her it was Peter. The two of them would make sense of each other eventually. Wendy and Vern were dancing slowly to the music because they were very old by now and this meant they were too old for flinging. Jane noted that Oliver and Lilia looked rather sweet together. Oliver looked happy and Lilia looked at the ground. He was holding her carefully and they moved self consciously together but there was something rather lovely about that. All in all it was quite a special little scene she beheld.
Presently Martin came over and dragged Jane back onto the dance floor saying, “No excuse to miss out!”
Jane danced a rather silly little dance with Martin, the two friends were unaccustomed to having their faces so close together and neither knew what on earth to do with their hands but they were enjoying it none the less. He spun her around, dipped her backwards so she saw everything upside down and the pair giggled as they stood on each other’s feet. Then over Martin’s shoulder, she spotted Isaac with his brother and Freddie, they were laughing jovially and looking over at her. She was filled with that bubbling anger she got if something really rubbed her up the wrong way. She dropped Martin’s hands and said, “Sorry Martin, I don’t want to give him the satisfaction,” nodding over at the monster.
Leaving Martin with a rather wounded look on his face, she ran across the town square in a flash and without realising it she was following her feet far from the village, to a spot she rarely thought about now.
Oliver had called it “the rejection,” as though it was now a common piece of news that was known to all. I did not reject him, she thought bitterly to herself. He had not allowed her to respond to his confession. He had left the house before she could say a word. How is a person supposed to respond to being told something like that? And she had apologised, though she had not been sure what exactly she was apologising for. She had left that note for him. She didn’t feel she had done anything wrong in this situation, but clearly since it seemed like everybody in the whole village knew each in and out of their disastrous romance, he had been spreading poisonous lies about her.
The music from the party grew fainter and fainter as she stormed on until it was just an idea of music that floated by on the breeze. The path she took was overgrown with bushes and it was so dark now, she was unsure whether it was the right one at all. She tripped often and made very slow, clumsy progress. She could hear scuttling in the undergrowth of wild animals running at the shock of being disturbed. This land was theirs now, she was the intruder. Ordinarily this might have frightened Jane a bit, but in her current state, she barely noticed it.
It was tricky but eventually, she found it, perched up there in the trees, covered in moss and broken branches and full of feathers. But it was still sturdy. They had built it to last. Awkwardly, she hoisted herself up into the tree, glad nobody was around to see her struggling; the dress was not made for climbing trees. She spent a few moments cleaning it out, restoring the tree house to its former glory. Then she lay on her front, looking out over the land that stretched for years into the distance. She could see the lights down in the village, like a small constellation that had come down to settle there on the earth.
She ran her hands slowly all along the rough wooden walls, looking for inscriptions that she thought she remembered. They were faint and looked weathered but they were still there. One was a tally of how many competitions each of them had won. Jane had the most ticks. Another was a treasure map that they had drawn one day whilst on the hunt for gold that had been buried and lost. There were the rules of a game they had invented. Some letters scrawled by his untidy hand, “Isaac and Jane.” She had known the words were there when they were young, yet she had never really considered what he had meant by them. She ran her finger through the lines. They were jagged, like ancient runes. Rough and rigid. It might as well have been written in stone. She replayed the words he had said when he came to her house that night. They became like white noise, fast and inaudible, taunting her, reminding her what she could have had. She saw him stood there, shuffling his feet and looking every bit like that child she had found in the woods but this time he was spouting complicated words that didn’t appear to make any sense. The picture was blurry, like it had never really happened at all.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that they would be going spare in her absence. It would have only taken a few minutes for anybody to realise she was gone, then someone would have been dispatched to the house to look for her and by now they were probably searching the rest of the village too. It was not her intention to set the cat amongst the pigeons so she sighed and dropped her legs over the side of the tree house, promising that she would return soon.
“We mustn’t leave it so long before the next time,” she said, carefully brushing her fingers along the splinters.
Then before she was about to drop down to the ground she saw, in the not so far away distance, a small, twinkling light. She watched curiously as it bobbed its way towards her through the murky evening. Bob, bob, bob it went until it was very close and when she peered below she saw the light was coming from a lantern and it was illuminating a face she had not expected to see, looking up at her, full of thunder.
“What do you think you're doing? Apart from scaring us all to death?” Isaac asked her.
“And good evening to you too,” Jane smiled. “How did you know I would be here?”
“I saw you leave and once everyone had dashed around like headless chickens I wondered to myself, ‘I wonder if maybe she is carrying on the habit of a lifetime, I wonder if she is being so stupid that she had thought it a good idea to come here!’ and low and behold, here you are!” he huffed, puffing himself up for the fight he knew was on its way.
“Well, you've found me.”
“Now, what are you doing here?” he asked, cocking his head.
“I'm not sure really. I felt like a walk,” Jane smiled.
“You are utterly stupid. It's so irresponsible. You're putting us both in serious danger being here,” Isaac lectured.
“I don't know why you even bothered to come. It's not like we mean anything to each other anymore,” she said, looking out into the surrounding darkness.
“We need to get back,” he said quietly. He turned and started to leave, expecting that Jane would follow. She stubbornly stayed put.
“Come on, Jane,” he called, exasperated.
“I'm perfectly fine here, thank you,” she replied.
“I can't go back without you. They'll skin me alive.”
“Tell them I'm protesting.”
“Them. The Crookeds. You. Everything.”
“Fine! I’ll tell them. But it won’t be me that comes to get you next time. It’ll be your father and you know as well as I do that he will be a lot less accommodating than me,” he said walking further away, still expecting her to follow. She would get frightened soon enough and run to catch him up; the prospect of her father was enough to scare anyone. He stretched the gap just a little further.
“Do I have to come back and get you?”
“You come anywhere near me and I'll scream up a storm and The Crookeds will be on us faster than you have time to fix your hairdo,” Jane retorted calmly.
“Well, you can just freeze up there all night then! I’ll tell them you’re here and if they want you back, they can come and bloody well get you because I am finished!”
“Fine by me!” she called. That time he really did walk away. He was tired of being treated that way by the woman he loved. He stormed away, carving a fresh path through the undergrowth.
“Isaac!” came the cry. His breath caught in his throat at his name.
“Isaac!” she shouted again. He started to pelt back to the tree house, fearing the worst.
But when he reached her, she was stood staring down at him with her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest. There were moss stains all up her perfectly white dress.
“Is that it then?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Are you ever going to let me get a word in edgeways? Are you actually ever going to listen to what I have to say?”
“The stage is yours, speak your mind,” he said, dramatically.
She caught a breath but didn’t actually do anything with it. It appeared she didn’t have anything to say after all.
“Well, that’s a very interesting point you’ve raised there, Jane. Perhaps you’d like to go into some more detail?” Isaac sneered.
“Brilliant,” he replied. “Inspired! You should write.”
“Were you really just going to leave me alone up here?” she asked, her voice shaking.
“You’re impossible! You know that don’t you? You have nothing to lose, Jane! We might all be dead soon so why don’t you just tell me what you feel?” Isaac hollered, pacing about below the tree.
“I promise I won’t laugh at you! I promise not to get angry if I don’t like what I hear. I promise not to tell anybody else. This is ours. This place is ours. What happens at the tree house is ours, remember? You have your chance. Who knows if we’ll ever get another opportunity like this? I dare you, Jane. I dare you to try and let yourself feel something for once.”
She was unsure if he was finished. He was unsure if he had finished too. His breaths were short, every second she stood there, denying him an answer felt like a century. Their eyes were locked and she had a few lines of concern creasing up on her forehead. But still she said nothing.
“Ok, Jane. Enough,” he said, turning his back to leave again. The girl was cruel and had been given more than enough chances.
“Isaac,” Jane tried to begin.
“When all this is over, the only thing I will regret about my life is you,” Isaac said with a muffled sob.
“I love you,” she gasped, barely louder than a whisper.
“What?” he asked, unwilling to believe what he thought he had just heard.
“I’m not saying it again,” she called.
“Say it,” he said, turning and walking closer to the tree house.
“Say it again.”
“Come down here.”
“I don’t want to,” she hissed. They stared silently at each other for a moment, reaching a stalemate. A smile played on his lips.
“I love you,” he called up to her.
“I love you,” she whispered down to him.
It seemed to take him an age to scale the old tree that he knew so well. His feet fumbled for the old footholds that he couldn’t seem to find. She could feel her arms reaching out to him, grasping the thin air around her, suddenly so desperate to have him next to her.
“Please,” she breathed, giddy, frantic as he heaved himself up into that tiny house they had built together. He stood for a moment, taking her in. She was shivering. And then, not for the first time in his life, he moved towards her and pressed his lips to hers. The force with which she threw her arms around him reminded him just how strong she was, pressed against his chest, so immeasurably delicate and perfect. His heart fluttered wildly, like some caged creature in a panic. For so long he had dreamed of her and never once had he expected or dared to believe she would ever be his. He thought that the single kiss that they were destined to share was to be the one he placed upon her whilst she lay dying before him and for years he had clung to that feeling, telling himself he must make the most of it, for surely that was the only kiss he would ever be blessed with. Finally, here she was, kissing him back, kissing him like he was the one that needed saving this time.
She pulled away after a few seconds, gasping as though she’d just woken up and found herself doing something she didn’t know she had started.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing, I’m just…”
“Have you changed your mind?”
“Be quiet for once in your life, will you?” she growled. She put her cold hands on his face, drinking in his darkened features. He was silent.
They kissed for an eternity. This is an exaggeration. For nothing lasts an eternity. And good things such as kissing last much less than this. It is ironic that Jane and Isaac had known each other for nigh on six years, had loved each other for almost every moment of those years and it was only now, right on the cusp of catastrophe that they allowed their love to run away with them, hand in hand. He suddenly realised what a tragedy it would be if they lost this war after all, he realised just what was at stake to lose. He finally understood what they were Hopeful for.
Nothing had ever felt like this. And nothing was ever likely to feel quite like this again. His body was taut and strong against her, she felt so at home, so protected and completely suffocated by the weight of it all. He picked her up then in his arms, as though she weighed nothing and held her very close and so tightly, like he was frightened she would slip away and this perfect world they had created would be gone in an instant. He was a very intuitive boy.
All it took to ruin it all were some birds. At first one or two, trilling out into the darkness and then before they had time to acknowledge how strange it was that the birds were singing in the dark, an army of them were frantically calling. It rose up like a wall of sound and remained at a fever pitch.
And then, cutting over the top of the birds, there was the sound of a bell. Ringing not five or ten times but as many times as the ringer had the power to beat it. And after that, somewhere in the mix of all the noise was where the screaming began, panicked cries of communication. Her stomach sank.
“This is it, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” he said, releasing his hold on her. “Please stay here. Stay at the tree house. Please, I beg of you.”
“No. I'm not leaving you,” she gasped.
He growled slightly and resigned himself to the fact that she would follow no matter what he said. Swiftly, he lowered himself to the ground and caught Jane in his arms as she did the same. He took her hand and they started to run. She kept up with him easily though she was shaking and frequently tripped over roots and stones. The pretence was over. The worst had happened. She congratulated herself briefly for having the good sense to wear her boots.