Chapter Three - A Fight in the Clouds
For the next couple of days, it rained pretty much non-stop and, for most of the time, we were shut up in that depressing hostel. We did manage a rainy visit to a local ‘Museum of Highland Life’ which left me with the distinct impression that life up here a hundred years ago must have been pretty grim. I mean… it was bleak enough in summer. In winter it must be really dreadful.
But at last the rain stopped and the sky was blue and shiny and kind of decorated with little, white clouds as the gaggle of excited, chattering girls trooped down to the harbour for what was supposed to be a highlight of our week… a boat trip along the coast.
And I suppose I was looking forward to it too. I mean… after being shut up in that miserable hostel for so long, you’d look forward to pretty much anything!
“Are you quite sure it’s safe?” Droopy asked the old fisherman when we reached the boat.
I looked at Megan but didn’t bother saying anything. It was another of those ‘just not worth the aggravation’ situations.
“I’ve been fishing these waters for the better part of fifty years and I haven’t lost a boat yet,” he said in his funny highland accent… and you could just about see he was grinning behind his bushy white beard.
“And it’s not going to be too rough for the girls?”
“It’ll be a wee bit choppy just out beyond the breakwater but it should settle down once we get round the headland. Ye’ll be fine, when you get used to it.”
Droopy didn’t look all that convinced but you could see her sort of bracing herself and she took the hand he was offering and let him help her down into the boat.
I mean… she still looked pretty worried but she called us all on down anyway.
It was an old fishing boat that had been fitted out for tourist trips. There was a little half cabin thing towards the bow which had windows to the front and sides but was open to the rear. The fisherman stepped onto the side of the boat then kind of jumped up to sit on its roof looking back at the rows of benches behind him and waited patiently as the girls trooped on down the gangplank.
“Grab yourselves a seat,” he told us and, once everybody had found a place, he started reading out a sheet of safety instructions in a bored voice. Of course, when he started going on about life jackets, Mary Jane did this stupid squealing thing.
I mean… I know I’d been thinking, ‘Don’t be so pathetic!’ but I didn’t think I’d said it out loud… saying stuff like that is just more grief than it’s worth
But I must have done because the guy gave me a bit of a grin.
“Right,” he said, when he was done, “now that bit’s over, we can get going. Today, we’re going to be heading up the coast towards Seistethy Draig. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to take us through the Maw – that’s the passage between the stack and the cliffs up there - I’ll have to have a look at how the tide’s running when we get there. I’ll stay as close in to the cliffs as I can, so you should be able to get a great view of the birds. I hope you’ve got your binoculars with you.”
“Are we allowed to get up and move around?” Claire asked.
“You can go anywhere you like except back by the engine gear,” he said, nodding towards the back of the boat. “You can even come into the cabin to see what I’m up to but no more than two at a time, please.”
“I’m not moving from this seat,” Barbara said emphatically. She already looked pretty pale. The old fisherman thought that was pretty funny but didn’t bother saying anything.
He jumped down onto the deck, stepped into the little cabin and started the engine. “Cast off!” he shouted to his mate who was still on the quayside. The mate released the ropes and jumped aboard.
“Let’s get up front, away from this pathetic crowd,” I said quietly to Megan as we chugged across the harbour. I mean… the others were bad enough at the best of times but, right now, they were really getting on my nerves.
“Better not let Droopy see us,” Megan answered. “You know what she’s like… she’ll not want us out of her sight.”
I nodded then grabbed my mother’s leather wristband… I guess it was sort of a nervous habit, whenever we were doing something that was kind of on the edge… it made me feel calmer, I suppose.
We waited until Droopy was looking back towards the village then slipped off our bench and quietly made our way forwards, along the narrow walkway bit that ran past the cabin.
“Make sure you hold on tight up there,” the fisherman guy told us as we passed. “It’s going to get a wee bit choppy now for a bit.”
There was a handrail running along the roof so you could hang onto that as you made your way forward. We sat with our backs to the cabin wall, looking out over the bow of the boat.
“It’s much better up here,” I said to Megan. “It’s a bit bouncier but at least you get to see the waves coming in and can kind of get ready for them.”
Megan nodded but didn’t say anything. She was looking a bit uncomfortable but I knew her… if I was up here at the front, there was no way she was going to be staying at the back with the rest of the sheep.
It got pretty wild for a bit as we rounded the breakwater and we had to grab at a metal loop thing as the boat slapped into a whole series of waves which splashed spray up over us.
We just sat there for a while, looking out at the dancing water but there was some sort of disturbance from the back of the boat. Megan climbed carefully to her feet and looked back. “It looks like Barbara’s been sick,” she reported.
“I am so glad we’re up here, out of the way,” I said.
“Me too!” Megan agreed with a smile, sitting back down again.
We sat there quietly for a bit, looking out and enjoying the odd splash of spray on our faces.
“Look at all those birds!” Megan said suddenly, pointing up to the cliffs which loomed above us on the right. There must be millions of them!”
“You know what?” I said, looking up at the headland. “Those must be the cliffs where we went for the walk, that first evening.” I looked around for my island but it was out of sight, hidden below the horizon.
We watched the cliffs as the boat rounded the headland. Once we were past it, the sea became much calmer. “That’s better,” Megan said and the two of us sat together in this comfortable silence as the little boat chugged north.
“Hey look!” Megan said suddenly. “I can see that seat thingy.”
“The Dragon’s Seat,” the old fisherman said, “Seistethy Draig.” He’d just appeared round the side of the cabin and was fiddling with an aerial on the roof.
“Why’s it called that, please?” Megan asked.
“Haven’t you heard the old tale?” he answered with a grin. “The dragons from the island of Caery Draig used to come and sit on it when they were deciding which little girl they wanted to eat for their tea!”
“What island?” I asked, turning all serious and even ignoring the stupid way he’d said it.
“Oh, it doesn’t really exist,” he answered with a laugh. “It’s just an old tale round these parts. They say there’s an island, down aways, south west of the village, where the dragons live.”
“But I saw an island down there the other day when we were up on the cliffs,” I said in a quiet voice. “And I could see something in the sky above it.”
“Maybe you’ve got ‘the sight’ then!” he said. He was still smiling but now it was only with his mouth. His eyes had gone all hard and I had this sudden feeling that there was something going on inside my head.
I sort of froze, trying to make sense of what was going on. I mean… the guy hadn’t moved but it felt like he’d taken his fist and shoved it straight into the middle of my head… and like he was trying to grab hold of this bright light thing, right in the middle of my brain. I sort of thrashed out wildly, flailing towards whatever it was that was attacking me and trying to stop it and chuck it out.
It was hard to even grab hold of the thing. My eyes closed and I forgot pretty much everything except for the struggle going on inside my head…
Except, of course, my right hand grabbed at my mother’s bracelet
Then, almost weeping with the effort, I managed to get some sort of grip on the thing. It wasn’t a particularly firm grip but at least I stopped it… whatever it was… from drilling on into my skull. And, once I’d stopped it, I could gradually build up the strength of my grip until, with a dirty great heave, I managed to chuck it out.
I collapsed onto Megan’s shoulder and sat there… sweating, trembling and gasping for breath. I felt as if I was about to black out or something.
And when I managed to look up, I could see that the fisherman was staggering too. He was holding onto the cabin roof and swaying violently.
“What’s the matter?” Megan asked. “Are you alright?”
But I couldn’t answer… I was still too shocked.
At last I started to get my head round what had happened. I was pretty pissed off when I worked out that the fisherman had attacked me… we’d basically been having a fight.
But then I forgot about how pissed off I was… and even how knackered. We’d been having a fight, alright…
And I’d won!
I glanced across at the fisherman again. He still looked pretty stunned but I was worried about what he was going to do when he came back to his senses. So I kind of reached inside my head… trying to make sense of what was going on in there in case he tried anything else.
The attack had drawn my attention to the bright sort of light thing in the middle of my brain… I’d always kind of known it was there but something… instinct, I guess… had stopped me from investigating too closely. So I felt out towards it. There was still the resistance thing going on, basically telling me to stay away, but it was all so urgent that I dived on in anyway.
And suddenly the resistance collapsed.
For a moment I felt as if I was falling but then I sort of caught myself and could look around again.
It was as if my mind had been turned inside out. There were my own familiar thoughts, fears and emotions… but they were laid out in a pattern around me.
And then I properly understood what the fisherman had been doing… he’d been trying to break into my mind!
If anyone ever… ever… tries that again, they’ll be sorry!
I wanted to work out how he’d attacked me… and how I’d managed to protect myself… So I tried to feel back along the path that he’d come from… though I got the impression that direction didn’t mean all that much when I was looking around inside my own head like this. I came to some sort of wall. But everything was way too urgent to worry about that sort of thing. So I pushed on. It resisted for a moment but then…
It felt as if I‘d just stepped out into space.
I was floating in this vast emptiness. Looking back, I could see the shiny light that I now sort of recognised as being me. Except that, from out here, it just looked like a cloud, with only the most obvious thoughts and feelings… my excitement and fascination… floating around on the surface.
But then I gradually noticed there was a whole heap of other clouds out there. Most of them were pale and wispy but a couple were a fair bit brighter. And, as I looked at them, I worked out that each of these clouds was a different person. I could even see some thoughts, sort of leaking out from them. One was obviously saying, ‘I feel sick’, whilst another couple were looking at a black bird over on some rocks.
Most of the clouds looked pretty calm but one of them, the brightest, was kind of thrashing and churning… and I just knew that that one had to be the fisherman.
Fascinated, I sort of reached across to his cloud and peered inside, and I found myself looking down on the jumble of thoughts which were dancing around inside his head: she’s sharp this’en… she’s strong in the sight. She bounced me out as if I were nowt but a bairn… what would granny ’ave made of ’er… I’ll go round my Aunt Winnie’s tonight for a word.
But as soon as I saw that thought, I realised that I didn’t want anyone else to know what I could do. So I cautiously reached inside his cloud and tried to sort of smooth out anything which might give me away. There were his thoughts about my ‘sight’ thing… rub that out. And about our fight… that definitely had to go. And even his memory of our talk about the island… get rid of that too.
When I was done, I slipped quietly out of his mind and sort of eased back into the real world.
Megan was giving me a funny look. “Are you alright?” she asked when she saw that I was back with her.
I just hissed, “Quiet!”
The fisherman still had this funny, absent sort of look on his face so I looked over towards the cliffs and pretended not to be paying any attention to him.
“Had a bit of a funny turn there,” he muttered as he lurched unsteadily down the walkway back to his cabin. And, when he had gone, I let out this dirty great sigh of relief and leaned back against the wall as I relaxed.