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By Siofra O'Donovan All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Children


When Finella dreams of an old man hurled into a tank and a girl that gives her a ring, she must leave Ernestown, or become a ghost. Because Granma knows what that dream means. And Dr. Pocock knows. It isn't fair- but they knew who she is, before she does. She must be apprenticed to save Lost Souls. After the Steel Wars, the Lost Souls of monks, soldiers, dancers and pedlars are fighting not to become ghosts. And Dreams can save them. Big dreams, mixed in the Dream Bag from Finella's fierce mentor in the Woods of Nowhere: Baba Yaga. Hunted by the Fire Dogs, the Fire Master and the mad Bishop of Darkheim, Finella must catch perfect dreams to restore the passage through which the Lost Souls can escape. But it is her own half brother Edmund, son of the Fire Master, who threatens to keep the family curse and brings justice to the Lost Souls.

Chapter 1

Chapter One

People forget their dreams. They don’t care about them. Besides, they are slithery things with threads to other worlds and times. And they smell. You may not think so, but they do. Dreams can stink. Even in Ernestown, that poky little suburb where nobody remembers their dreams and everybody remembers the rising price of coal, peas and grave plots.

Finella dreamed a horrible dream that smelled of oil and guns, every night for a week coming up to Halloween. Granma knew. And Daphne, Finella’s mother knew. She was a strange girl, just like her own Grandmother. Finella knew her mother knew about her secret dream but she kept her lips pursed.

Finella remembered the day she was born. The midwives wiped her and handed her to her mother, who looked away when she saw the purple birth mark on Finella’s left shoulder. Finella was one of them. Her mother swaddled her up in a cot, and stuffed a dodie in her mouth.

“There, there.” she’d say, “Now just stay quiet.”

She stuffed her back in her cot, and went back to playing bridge with her friends. Her mother could not bear to hold her. When Finella’s wailing became unbearable, Granma came.

“Who’s that?” said Margery, hearing the latch on the back door.

“It’s just Judith. I’m not getting up, she can let herself in.” said Finella’s mother, placing her cards on the glass table.

Granma wheezed down the corridor, smoking a cigarette. She went straight to the nursery and looked into the eyes of her first granddaughter. She sang a little nursery rhyme about an old witch making butter in the rain.

Swanzee Swechee Deschay pada Baga Yaga masswo klethchy

When she sang, Finella saw the words, and she saw the old witch making butter in the rain. She saw the duck mobile over her cot spin around in the breeze through the open window, their tails gently tapping off each other. She gurgled happily and wished this lovely buttery old lady would steal her away. Her mother burst through the door like an angry gust of wind and grabbed Finella out of Granma’s arms, flinging her back into the cot.

“Out!” hollered her mother. “Never sing that song in my house again!”

When the front door slammed, Finella knew the buttery old lady was gone and she wailed all afternoon, while her mother played bridge and drank cocktails that Indian summer.

“Let her cry out.” she said to Margery.

“Oh that’s it. You let them cry. Then they know who’s boss.” said Finella’s mother.

“Babies are awful creatures.” said Margery. “So demanding!”

Finella was six years old when she found Granma again, in the cottage with the blue door behind the bakery. She came up to her window, and sang the little nursery rhyme through the open crack.

“Finishka!” she cried. She could call Finella anything she liked. She came out and held her in her arms and swung her around the garden by her dahlias. She filled Finella with chocolate biscuits and dumpling soup, and wrapped her up in a patchwork quilt.

At home, she was warned. Don’t. Don’t go and see that woman. Ever.

“She’s fishy.” said my father

“Why? What’s fishy about her?” I said.

He didn’t answer. Nobody ever answered that question.

Finella’s dreams smelled. They didn’t all smell bad. They just emitted smell. She had read about narcolepsy which causes you to fall asleep anywhere, any time- on the street, in the post office, over your dinner plate. She wondered if that what was wrong with her. Smells lured her: musty, spicy smells and the smell of moss. The smell of fresh sheets, basmati rice and lavender. She’d get dizzy and lie down. Anywhere. Once, they found her in the janitor’s cupboard at school, and called her mother, who said she was too like Granma. When they found her in the shed at Matty’s scrapyard, lying in the barn, asleep, they said there was no hope for her.

Finella kept her room locked. But her half brother Edmund had a very good sense of smell. It wasn’t because he was seven years older, it was because he had a funny knack that nobody else had: he would twitch his nose and sniff in all the information he needed. He’d say:

“You stink of Granma’s place!” he sniffed around her. “Sardines… spicy biscuits… and ham! Why do you hang out with the old hag, freak face?”

That Halloween, he was building the bonfire from hell: he’d already stacked wood from Matty’s scrap yard on the Maddle River, and stolen a can of petrol with his friends. It would be a filthy, strictly-forbidden, tyre-burning bonfire at Pocock Grange. Finella, dizzy with her dreams, could not collect firewood, despite Edmund’s orders. That horrible dream that would not leave her alone, the one that smelled of saltpetre, oil and dust and made tears scald her eyes. The one that came, every time she closed her eyes:

The army is invading. Tanks growl through the cobbled streets, towards a large Square. Bomber planes drone though the grey sky. Smoke plumes spiral out of buildings. The army marches in, their boots hit the cobblestones with steel toes: tac-tac-tac-tac-tac! In front of them, an old man stands with a white beard and a black hat, a black cape flapping in the winds, with his arms outstretched. His name is Adam Weiss, and he wears a ring with a shining stone set in silver. A ray of sun catches it as two tall soldiers take him, and throw him head first into a tank, his boots dangling in the air before they close the flap and drive away down a narrow street. The army march away. The sun hits the empty place where he stood with his arms open: his ring lies there. A little girl runs up to it, picks it up and hands it to me, where I am watching from an archway in the shade.

Finella knew that name. She locked her bedroom door and dove under her bed, pulling out Granma’s old trunk. The name Judith Weiss was written in white beneath the brass clasps and that pinned the handle. That was Granma. Finella turned the trunk onto its upside. The name Adam Weiss was scratched across the black band. It was him, the funny man in the dream with the ring who was stuffed into a tank and taken away forever.

She scribbled the dream in to her notebook, and tore out the door with a half eaten sandwich in her fist. Edmund tore after her as she ran past the gates.

“Going to Granma’s?!”

“I’ll tell Matty about the petrol you stole for the bonfire! Get back!” she pushed him, but knew she couldn’t make him fall. All she had was her legs. She ran. She heard him come after her as she fled to the field behind Matty’s yard and down by the river where he’d lose her scent. From there, she followed the old wall to Granma’s. When she got to the blue door, Granma was behind her. She had her hands on her hips, with the car door open.

“Are you ready?” Granma said.

Finella pulled out her notebook, and read the dream.

An army is invading an old city. Tanks growl through the old, cobbled streets…”

Edmund was skating furiously up the avenue. Finella looked at Granma. Trouble.

“Get in the car. Quick! ” said Granma. They jumped into Granma’s rusty red car and pulled out of the drive just as Edmund, red faced, skidded into the drive on his skateboard, lunging at the passenger door. Granma swerved around the corner, and they took off in cloud of dust.

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