Archive for the ‘lies’ Category

He tried the same trick again that had gotten him to the Orkneys: To wait amongst the cars before they boarded, find one to hide in when the occupants are taking a leak or stretching their legs, and sneak out on the ferry past the ticket check. He picked a station wagon with the rear seats flipped over and an antique rolltop desk wedged in. The desk was covered by several woollen blankest to protect it and he figured he could hide under the bunching blankets without being seen.
Again, he opened a door – this time on the passenger side – and kept it open just a crack when the driver got out and locked the car. He slipped inside and pulled the door shut from inside, locking himself in, and crawled under a blanket. The cord around his neck caught on something and he took off the pick and stuffed it into his pocket. The same excitement filled him as he had to lie under the blanket, blind, sounds muffled, and he had to wait whether it would work out or not.
He heard the driver return, the engine start again, the expected rumble up the ramp into the thrumming hold of the ship. He waited for the driver to get out, but he couldn’t hear or feel anything under the blanket and the incessant vibrations of the huge ship’s engines and the general din of all the other cars and passengers. He realised his mistake with the station waggon, the insides were too small and too well lit for him to have a chance of observing the driver without risk of discovery to himself.
He considered sleeping in the car, under the blankets, and to simply wait until the car had left the ferry again, but he was afraid he would struggle free of his cover in his dreams and be found still on board, with no place to flee to. So when he thought the driver must surely have left, he peaked out. The lights in the car were off and he tried to get to his knees quietly, but he bumped into something under the blanket and it made a hollow thump.
“What the…?”
The man’s voice was deep and throaty, and somehow sounded as if he’d been weeping.
The boy didn’t waste time looking, he scrambled to the passenger side rear door and tried to open it, but it was locked.
“Who are you?”
Shit, he thought. Fucking shit. And he turned around.
The only illumination in the car came from the fluorescent lights high up at the ceiling of the hold, and most where blocked by trucks and travel busses parked around them. The man was wearing large glasses that blinked in the little light and hid his eyes. He was gaunt and balding and wore a neat charcoal sweater under a light grey suit jacket and over a white shirt and a mauve tie. His face was twisted in what the boy assumed was intense anger.
“A blind passenger, I don’t believe it. A dirty little stowaway. Thought you get across without paying, did you, you rat?”
“Please don’t report me.” It was out before the boy could take it back.
“What?”
The boy took a deep breath. The second time was harder, he could feel his face begin to burn. “Please. Don’t report me. I… I can pay you.” And he took out the stolen money, offered a fistful of bills to the man.
I shouldn’t get caught, he thought, desperately. I shouldn’t have to see their faces. And he knew what he meant was, they shouldn’t get to see his. He hated the pleading in his voice. “Please… Sir.”
The man seemed taken aback for a moment, then considering.
“Come up here. Show yourself.” And he patted the passenger seat next to him.
The boy hesitated briefly, but he knew that the man only had to step out of the car and call for help, and he would be arrested and sent back. It was the thought of himself in handcuffs when his mother came to collect him – or his sister Nessa if his mother would refuse to – that made him comply. He shoved the money back into his jeans’ pocket. Then he climbed through the gap between the seats and sat down, hands in his lap, unconsciously already accommodating the cuffs.
The man had leaned back a little to give him more room, but watched him with an odd expression. When the boy was sitting, the man reached up and turned on the light. Everything about him was grey, and a little bit crumpled, in that tasteful British way that made him entirely inoffensive and almost impossible to remember if passed on the street. The boy was very conscious of his own dirtiness and smell.
“If you have so much money, why didn’t you pay for a ticket?”
The boy hesitated. He couldn’t come up with any useful lie.
“I’m not old enough,” he admitted, hesitatingly. “And no papers.”
Something in the man’s eyes changed, in his posture. He tensed slightly, Seemed to move at the same time closer and away. Something about him reminded the boy of the men he used to cheat in Edinburgh. Maybe he can do it here, seduce him and then get away. He remembered the moves.
“Also, I thought I might need the money. If… it doesn’t work out.”
“If what doesn’t work out?”
“The… the man… I’m meeting… my friend…”
“You…?” The man stopped. There was disgust on his face, the boy thought, but also need. Was he imagining it? But what did he have to lose? He gave himself a push, searched for tears inside. He thought of Bev, of how she would feel when she woke up. It didn’t work. He groped for something else, Nette’s death. No, that was buried too deep, frozen in a hundred centuries of polar night. He knew where he had to go, the one place he could tap for tears.
He thought of the night in the deer stalking cottage, the tentative touch, the kisses, the awakening hunger. The whispered words. And he felt the burning in his eyes, and the loathing for himself, for abusing the memory.
Quietly: “He said he would take care of me, but I don’t know if I can trust him. We only spoke on the web. I might need it to get away again. But…” He forced himself to look at the man next to him, to smile. It was easy to make the smile look faked and forced and shaky. “But I’ll pay you anything if you don’t send me back. You don’t know… I… I can’t go back… If my father…” – he managed to get a slight hitch into the word ‘father’ that added a perfect touch, he thought – “if he sees me again in handcuffs, he’ll…” He let the sentence trail away, let his still burning eyes dipping down in genuine shame for the charade.
“I’ll pay you… in money… or…” The hesitation was genuine as well. “Please, won’t you help me? I… I need some help.”
The man was silent. The boy didn’t dare to look at him. The man turned off the light in the car and said in his deep voice: “Well, I can’t leave you in the car.”
The boy looked up. The man was pale except for two bright red spots on his hollow cheeks. The glasses were opaque with reflection again.
For two days he drifted around Orkney. He got onto public busses when he saw them and got off at random stops, to walk along the one track country roads or simply across the windswept plain. On the seemingly limitless sky clouds and sunshine changed periodically according to an inscrutable schedule determined by far away currents and convection.
At the Standing Stones of Stenness, a Neolithic circle of stones set on a narrow peninsula between two shallow lochs, he met an old man walking with two hounds. The boy had been standing in the shadow of one of the stones smoking and watching two crows argue in coarse voices when the man suddenly spoke.
“Memories, huh?” the man asked. His windbreaker was the dark blue of municipal uniforms, and he had a lazy eye that made it hard to know what he was looking at.
The boy smiled noncommittally and tossed aside the cigarette. The old man slapped the cold stone next to them. “They got memories, too, you know?” he said, and when the boy didn’t answer he answered himself.
“Yes, old memories. Do you know that they have been set up at the same time the earliest civilisations started out in Egypt and Sumeria, India and China.”
The boy looked around, across the lochs and the pastures dotted with gorse and tufts of wild oats, all the way to the end of the land and the sea many kilometres distant.
“What did people do in this place?” he asked the old man. “There’s nothing here.”
The old man looked around as well, with his mismatched eyes, and then watched his dogs chase each other between the standing stones.
“Maybe that is what they came for.”
In Kirkwall he had two strange encounters that would haunt him for a long time. One of those happened as he picked pockets in the cathedral. A clump of tourists was listening to a guide tell some tale about a woman unjustly accused of witchcraft, and who mysteriously disappeared from a dungeon cell underneath the church the night before her execution. The boy had mingled with the group and used their shoving and pushing and the distraction through the guide to steal wallets. Just when the guide encouraged them all to peer inside the gloomy hole that lead down to the dungeon and everyone was craning their heads, a hand closed itself around the boy’s wrist.
“Not this one, Jack. Believe me. It’s not worth the trouble.”
The man was tall and stared at him with intense eyes. Then he let him go. The boy slowly walked away, so as not to rouse the attention of his other victims and make sure nobody else would remember his face.
He strolled through Kirkwall for a while, and listened to two heavily tattooed girls play Minstrel Boy near the harbour. The long-haired, dark one sporting raven feathers on her arms was playing the guitar, and the cropped, blond one with the Celtic knots and heavy leather choker and bracelets played a fiddle.
At dusk he walked around the Peedie Sea, a small body of water at the Western border of the town, cut off from the sea by a narrow sandbank with a road running across. The sky was overcast and reflected the town’s lights a sickly sulfurish yellow. In the shadow of a silo, amidst high stands of pricklyburr he met the tall man from the Cathedral again.
“Hold this for a moment, Jack.” The man was holding out a red glow stick. The boy took it and in its light watched the man set fire to the spiked fruits of the pricklyburr, drop them into a bowl and inhale the lazy white smoke.
“Thanks.” The man took another hit and the boy thought he could see the man’s pupils widen and swallow all of his pupils until there was nothing but two limitless black wells. The man’s voice was cracked and strangely quivering when he spoke again: “I have something for you, Jack.”
The man took something small out of his coat pocket and handed it to the boy. The boy turned it over in his fingers. It was a guitar-pick made of ivory, with scrimshaw filigrees and patterns winding around in it in slanted likes like some sort of unearthly writing, and a silver framed hole. The boy didn’t play the guitar, but the pick seemed to be almost too heavy to be useful.
“My name is not Jack.”
“Isn’t it? Well, it should be. Run a string through the hole, wear it like a charm. You’ll never be caught again. And now go away, Jack, and don’t come back. Take the light and go back to where you came from.”
By then darkness had fallen, and the boy made his way to one of the hostels.  That night he had some problems bluffing himself past the age and ID check of the Kirkwall hostel. He tried to sell the yarn that he had gotten separated from his sister (the girl at the check-in counter seemed more receptive to a boy with a big sister than one with a big brother) who he was travelling with, that his papers had been in the backpack she carried, and that she would arrive the next day, but the girl at the check-in counter wasn’t buying it.
“Ah’m sohry, bit Ah cannae do it, luv.”
He nodded, resigned to try another hostel. He pushed his hands into his pockets and encountered the strange, heavy guitar pick. He took it out and looked at it again.
“At’s a pretty thing. D’ye play the guitar, luv?”
“Do you have a string or something?”
Maybe feeling sorry for denying him earlier, she hunted around her desk and handed him a length of some gilded cord.
“There ye are, luv.”
He ran the cord through the hole in the pick, just as the stranger had recommended, and tied both ends off. He slipped it over his head and centred the pick on his chest, underneath his T, when the girl said:
 “Leuk, there is yer sis.” And at his startled expression: “’At is yer sister, luv, in’er?”
The boy turned around and saw a young woman carrying two backpacks, a violin case, and a naked guitar. It was the blond girl with the Celtic knot tattoos who he had listened to earlier. Something about her indeed bore an odd resemblance to him. And somewhere nestled in the corners of her eyes there was weariness he recognised. Trusting his gut, he rushed towards her to help her with her luggage and said loudly:
“Hey, I thought you’d arrive tomorrow, sis. I forgot my ID in the backpack. Stupid of me. Good thing I was wrong.”
The young woman sat down the larger of the bags and handed him the other one without perceptible hesitation. “I don’t think so. You didn’t forget it in Aberdeen, you numbskull, did you?”
The boy knelt down and began to rifle through the strange bag. The young woman started to chat with the check-in girl, telling her about the annoying wet end of a little brother, and got three beds on her ID.
“Come on, wet end,” she said, jingling the room keys. “You carry the bags.”
And in the hallway: “Listen, kid.  I only agreed because I really can do without a scene right now. Don’t let me regret it.” After a pause, “Annie. You are?”
“Wet End. And thank you.”
Annie laughed. “Alright.”
In the room they were joined by her dark haired friend with the raven feather tattoos.
“Did you get it?” Annie asked, voice discordant with tension.
The raven girl nodded but asked:
“An’ who would tha’ be?”
Annie looked around as if she had completely forgotten her new relation.
“That seems to be my little brother, Wet End. Wet End, this is Bev.”
“Mistaek,” Bev said, with a broad Irish accent. She took a small package from a pocket which Annie grabbed with obvious greed. “Ye don’t want her fer a sister, ye want me. I’m the fun one. But ye can be my brother as well, if ye want te.”
Annie excused herself to the bathroom. Bev took up the guitar. She strummed it once, rolled her eyes and began to tune it. The boy sat on the edge of a bed and relished the pain her comment had caused him. It took Bev a while, but when she was satisfied, she started in on what the boy eventually recognised as “Johnny I hardly knew you”.
He and Bev then spent the night talking and her teaching him the basics of playing the guitar, while Annie lay in blissful stupor on one of the beds. The boy wondered how his sister might have turned out if she had still been alive. Early in the morning he got up and searched through the packs of the sleeping girls. He took almost a hundred pounds and an old but well-whetted, well-oiled Swiss army knife. He gave Bev a light kiss and then snuck out of the room.
That day he travelled the islands again, and slept on fresh hay in small, lonely barn in the middle of a wide, lonely field. The next night he took another ferry further north.

The air in the cottage was cold when the grey morning filtered in through the shutters, but Sim’s naked body, next to me under the thick down covers, radiated heat. For a while I stared a the ceiling, and beyond it I saw all the ceilings under which I had woken in the past, in my mum’s flat, in juvie, in the flats of strangers, in the guest room of aunt’s, in the pit in Leeds, in all those hostels, in Dewey’s tent, and the different skies I had woken to when there had been no ceiling, from the night of being buried to the lost time in the Mullardochs.

I turned my head and looked for Sim’s face, peaceful and asleep, being slowly lifted out of a sea of shadows that clung to him, that caressed his cheeks and temples, the dark locks stuck by dried sweat to his forehead, his lips and neck, that clung to and caressed all of that like a mother saying good-bye to a child forever.

It took me a while to realise what the feeling was that filled me then. It took me a while because it had been so long since last I had felt it. It had been 484 days, to be exact, I later figured out since the day Hendrik first kissed me. The feeling was bliss, the sort that makes everything else meaningless.

And then, as if sensing my gaze, he opened his own eyes, sleepily, and smiled – a puzzled, content smile, almost as if in wonder where he was. I know it is impossible, but I swear that in that moment a single beam of sunlight broke through the clouds, found its way through the blinds covering the windows, graced his face, and made his eyes glow like a clear, cool, mountain lake in the spring sun.

“What’ss t’ time?”

“Not sure. Around seven. Maybe bit before.”

He smiled again and without letting his eyes leave mine tentatively moved closer, as if expecting me to push him away. When I didn’t he carefully laid himself into the crook under my shoulder, his head on my arm. Like that first kiss, in the holiday home, it was as if he entered my embrace like someone testing and then immersing himself in unknown water.

He pushed the covers down and ran his dirty fingers over the tat on my chest: A clock-face framed in two curved words, “pain” above it, and “killer” below.

“Is tsat whit ye feel?”

“Not now, no. But at the time it was very, hm, comforting.”

He took my arm, the one below his head, the way one wraps oneself into a coat an looked at the silver scars running along it inside, from the wrist almost to the inside of the elbow.

“Whit wuss ut tsat ye gat first?”

“I got the tat afterwards. After I… got back. To remind myself that the option remained. That even if I didn’t do it, every day would bring the day closer that…” I trailed away without finishing the sentence. Sim nodded.

“Wull ye tell us hou ye dead ut?” He looked back into my face. “Tsat’ss why tae ye Sassenach.”

“I know,” I said, running my hand softly through his curls. “I’m not all stupid, ye ken.”

“Och aye te noo,” he said, deadpan. And then: “Wull ye?”

I let my head drop back into a pillow. “I…” I faltered, took a deep breath, tried it two more times. But I didn’t find any words that didn’t either make it sound ridiculous or pathetic. “Not now, okay?”

Something must have stopped him from pursuing that one. Instead he pushed himself up on an elbow and began to inspect my body.

Last night we had done everything in darkness. Sim had wanted to turn on the light, but still in the role of the teacher I had advised him to try it by touch, smell, taste, and sound at first. Like with picking a lock, those senses are far more useful in sex than sight, and as long as we can we rely far too much on our eyes. It diminishes our world. And like the good Padawan that he was, Sim had heeded that advice then. But now he took the chance to fill in the blanks that particular experience might have left him with.

He touched the blackened, L-shaped scars on my shoulder almost with reverence. Two nights before, sitting by the lake, I had told him about Julie and about Ponyboy. Sim made as if to kiss the scar, but in the end didn’t.

“Hou mony tattoos uss’t tsat ye hae?”

“Three. Painkiller was the first one.”

“Whan wat uss tsat ye hae’t made?”

“Three years ago, pretty much.”

He whistled, a real boy whistle from between his lower lip and his upper incisors. “Yer paurents alloued tsat?”

“Are you daft? My mum totally lost her rag, every time actually. But it wasn’t like she make me wash it off, could she?”

“Daur say no. Shaw us t’ issers?”

I rolled onto my belly and showed him the barcode on my bum cheek with the tiny words – in some dot matrix font – “sold under sin” printed underneath.

“Hendrik had me get that one. He paid for it… in a way.”

Sim nodded. “And t’ last ane?”

I showed him my other shoulder, opposite the scarred one. The tat there looked unlike the painkiller and the barcode tattoos a little amateurish, in a pale blue ink. It was a three-layered piece of cake with what might have been a cherry on top.

“That one’s from juvie. My mate Sebi did it with a sewing needle and ballpoint pen ink.”

Sim thought about it for a while, then he smiled. “T’ cake uss a lee?”

“Och aye.”

I was still grinning back at him when the bed cover began to slide off the bed and off both of us. Sim caught it quickly, but not quick enough to keep me from noticing the welts on his back, and buttocks, and his upper thighs. He covered them as if nothing had happened, but there was a weariness in his eyes now as he tried to gauge my reaction. I didn’t show any reaction, I’m sure, but I probably kept my face blank for just too long. But, anasını satayım, too many things suddenly made sense:

Why Conall had been so ready to believe me, and why his father hadn’t. Why Sim had tried to get me away from the house, and why he had been so sore when he came by the next day. Why he was so skilled an emotional reader, and such a master at misdirection. And all the little, bitter comments.

When I didn’t say anything, he echoed me: “Och aye.”

What else was there to say – except that question that burned inside me. Had it been because of me, because he had warned me? A question didn’t dare to ask, afraid of what obligations it might put on our friendship.

Instead I asked: “What’s on the agenda today?”

I think Sim was relieved when he laid down on the bed next to me. At least he didn’t move away.

“Want tae come wi us tae kirk?”

“Don’t you think that’d be risking a bit much?”

Sim grinned at me, his beautiful, crazy, wild grin. “Nae at aw. Te day uss kirkin at Saunt Lorcán’s. Tsat means t’ kirk wull be fou o’ fowk, wi t’ pipe band, and awbody clappin haunds wi t’ priest and aw. Smookin ye in and oot wull be a pure skoosh!”

I hemmed and hawed, feeling very uneasy, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and his excitement was catching. The thought was kind of thrilling. And anyway, I never could refuse him anything.

He had told his rents he was spending the night at a friend’s. The friend was in on it, more or less, and used to covering for Sim. Sim rode together with me to the A832, but dropped me off there to loiter behind some rocks and wait for him. I had taken the Zimmer Bradley along and spent the next 45 minutes in the company of Rumal and Orain, until Sim returned together with Conall and Caena in the Defender Pick-Up. The rest of the family had ridden either with neighbours or in their dad’s saloon.

Sim reintroduced me to his brother and sister, who he declared loudly to be trustworthy, and Conall excused himself for having almost gotten me nabbed.

“Masel uss sae sorry, Danny. A really dinnae expect fer ma paw tae actually gae and clipe on ye.”

I tried to take it with some grace, which I might have gotten off reasonably well, and they complimented me and Sim that with the new hair cut, dye job, and different clothes none of those who had seen me before would recognise me as long as I staid in the background.

The church itself was a big, grey, squatting block of a building, and brimming with festive worshippers. Once we arrived there, Sim bade me stay behind, and dashed off – turned out he was one of the altar boys and had to change before service. But as soon as he was away, a young man, early to mid twenties, walked up to me. He was wearing dark slacks, brown suede shoes, and a moss green blazer. He had Sim’s dark curls and bright blue eyes.

“Hey. A’m Aidan. Ye must be Danny.”

Carefully I shook his hand. He was tall and look good in that charismatic way that has nothing to do with looks and that people have who see more than they let on and who can form an opinion without sharing it.

“I’m Sim’s brother. He asked me te look efter ye, while he’s busy.”

Aidan was there in the company of his girlfriend, Lydia, who in turn had a younger brother, John, who was in Sim’s year at the local High School. Aidan left me with Lydia and John while he said hello to his mother and his siblings. He no longer lived at home, and, apparently, wasn’t currently on speaking terms with his father. Lydia started to chat with me, but it was awkward with unspoken chunks of life barring us every way. When John asked me about football we were all very relieved.

That mass was the first time I actually prayed to God again since ‘Nette’s death. I prayed the way I had done before she had gotten sick, the way she had taught me. In prayer you do not ask God for anything. If you have eyes in your head and a brain to understand what you see, you know that God does not change His plans because of the whims and wishes of humans. And if anyone ever comes to you with tales of miraculous cures, ask them why no amputee, however deserving, however hard praying, ever re-grew the littlest finger, let alone an arm or a leg? What, God does cancers and comas but no missing limbs? No, there is no heavenly wishing well. Prayer, done properly, means giving thanks for the world as it is, and listening for God’s voice, to tell you how you can contribute to its beauty and splendour.

Fittingly the sermon’s theme that day was Job 37:14 – “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.”

I reserved the right to heed or not to heed his words, as I saw fit, but we both – God and I, like God and Job before – knew that to do either was at my own peril. So I knelt down, in all the earnestness of my heart, and swallowed my pride, and for the first time in 3 ½ years I gave thanks. For, though I knew that my life was fucked up beyond belief, on that morning I was grateful for it indeed.

Afterwards Sim dodged his rents, and joined Aidan, Lydia, John and me. It was clear enough that Sim and Aidan shared a special closeness. Amongst his brothers Conall might have been Sim’s every day best friend and companion of many small adventures, but Aidan, the oldest of the siblings, was Sim’s hero and role model.

Aidan had come with Lydia and John in his extremely sexy black Toyota MR2 roadster, a car he had treated with luxurious contempt: The inside smelled of smoke, dope, and spilt beer, and there were parking receipts, betting stubs, and crushed cigarette boxes littered about. Aidan took me along, first dropping off Lydia and John at their rents’s place, and then me at the cottage. On the way there, along the A832 and down the port hole riddled cart rut across the moor, Aidan quizzed me.

“Sim thinks pretty big of ye.”

“He thinks pretty big of you.”

“Aye,” Aidan laughed and tried to dig a pack of fags from the breast pocket of his blazer. I leaned over, got it out, lit a fag, and gave to him. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“So. Oniweys.” He took a puff and hemmed and hawed a bit. “I’ll ask ye straight up. Are ye plannin’ on playin’ some sort o’ con on him and ma family? Or usin’ him fer some other crooked deal?”

“What makes you think I would do that?”

He looked at me through a screen of smoke.

“Sim told me just enough about ye te hae me worried, but nae enough to know what yer up te.”

“Did he now.”

“Look. I dinnae care what the two o’ ye are doin’ up here, as long as ye daena play fause wi ma wee brother.” And when I didn’t say anything: “Ye see, Sim doesnae put trust in fowks. But fer some reason I cannae fathom, he put his trust in ye.”

Not enough to warn me about you, I thought. But then, he probably put more trust in you than you deserve yourself. Do you really know your own brother so little?

I took a fag for myself. The cottage appeared at the end of the track. The car shuddered and shook on the uneven ground.

“I have no intention of playing false, Mr. MacLeod. I have no intention of hurting Sim. But…”

I searched for words outside amongst the heather, the crags and pools, and didn’t find any. Aidan stopped the car. He opened the door, dropped the fag end onto the ground and extinguished it with a well practiced twist of his right brown suede shoe. He looked at me and nodded. “Aye. Life sometimes deals us a shite hand.”

We both got out. There was a hint of the sea on the air.

“Well, Danny.” Aidan offered me his hand across the roof of his roadster. “If ye’re ever in need of a place te stay, feel free te come te me.” And he handed me his card, naming him a solicitor, and giving his address in Port Maree.

***

When I saw Sim again later that day, he was in a foul mood. Tourists had rented the cottage and would be arriving on Wednesday. Our time together had gotten an official time limit. But – he had to grin at the cleverness of himself – he had strategically annoyed his dad into giving him the chore of making the cottage presentable for the tourists. That meant he also had an official reason to come by after school on Monday and Tuesday, which he did.

The weather was rather dreary and cool, but we still had a blast. On Monday I met him at the gates of his school and together we played two cons I had dreamed up. The marks were day tourists passing through, minimising the threat to Sim of being caught, and the nature of the game made maximum use of the fact that he was well known to the locals, while I was a stranger as well.

Tuesday we rode the horses to the tip of the peninsula and swum in the sea. Later we fished in the lake. And later still I helped Sim clean up the cottage while he introduced me to his favourite Scottish punk band, The Real McKenzies. And then he put on Nick Cave and we practiced dancing some more. From dancing one thing lead to another, and ended with him kneeling in front of the bed while I buggered him energetically.

Had we been caught doing this before 1861, it would have meant death by hanging for me. Until 1980 it would have meant penal servitude for life or no less than 10 years. (Though only if I had been of legal age myself, I suppose. I never understood the British rules regarding the age of criminal responsibility.)

This is what it meant in 2008:

Suddenly Sim grew pale as death and stared over my shoulder. Someone had come in under the cover of Nick Cave singing about the Mercy Seat.

I turned around as fast as I could, given the circumstances, and could hear Sim wince as I did. Then my ears were ringing and I stumbled backwards and fell over the edge of the bed, the entire left half of my face in sickening flames.

Over me stood, face contorted by rage, fists balled and in the air, Sim’s father. I have no idea what he screamed or even if it was English, Scots, or Gaelic, but the meaning was clear enough: “I will kill you.”

I doubt though that he really had that resolve. Few do. He just thought it was the correct and manly sentiment to show at such a moment, and  that in the end some judicious violence would suffice. Of course neither of us knew that he had actually succeeded, but that it took one year and two months for the impact to run down the skein of fate and finally break my body.

I was still stumbling to my feet, hampered by jeans and boxers bunched around my ankles when Sim – his legs were untangled and naked but for a single, vividly orange sock – jumped up and went between his dad and me, begging – begging! – him to stop.

His dad caught him with a backhand slap to the temple that sent Sim flying across the room like a rag doll, until the corner of a table connected with his head and broke his flight curve.

He crumpled to the floor like a heap of wet clothes.

I told you I sometimes see red?

I assume I must somehow have gotten out of the jeans, and I must have grabbed whatever I got my hands on, Sim’s heavy-duty bicycle lock as it turned out, and I must have attacked Mr. MacLeod.

I only remember that I heard two sound: Furious and insane sounding bellowing – that must have been me – and then a soft whimpering. The red haze receded enough for me to realise that the whimpering had come from Sim’s limp body. That was enough to bring me back into the real world.

Mr. MacLeod was lying on his back, his right wrist and leg apparently broken, his face almost as pale as Sim’s had been when he had seen him. And I was standing above him, the bicycle lock held high and about to be brought down with all my strength onto his head.

I still wanted to murder him. That is not a figure of speech. I wanted to see his skull crack, his face split, and his brains run across the floor in a pink, frothing mush. I wanted to stomp into that mush and make it squish. I wanted him to be eradicated from this earth.

But the rage was fading almost as quickly as it had come. Having heard Sim’s one whimper had been enough to cut away the bottom of my heart and to let everything boiling in it fall out, leaving nothing but a terrible and cold emptiness.

Keeping the lock firm in hand I retreated to Sim and knelt down net to him, to feel his pulse. I didn’t feel it, but I was probably too shaken to do so anyway. He was breathing though, so he was still alive. There was blood pooling under his head and I couldn’t see where it was coming from. I didn’t dare move his body for fear of doing more damage.

Instead I fished his mobile from the pocket of his jacket – a jacket he had hung over the back of the chair – now knocked over – just an hour ago, when we had still been laughing. And hugging. Dancing. And kissing.

Pushing aside premature grief was very hard.

I concentrated on dialling emergency services.

“There has been an accident. Someone has been hurt at the head. He is losing a lot of blood. Unconscious. Fourteen years.”

She wanted to know where I was. I asked Mr. MacLeod. When he didn’t answer right away, I roared at him and hit his broken leg with the lock. He roared, too, in pain, and then told me what I needed to know. I passed it on to the shocked emergency operator and hung up.

I got dressed, gathered up my few belongings, stuffed everything in the nylon backpack Mr. Roth had given me, and waited by the window. I had expected an ambulance, but when I heard the helicopter, I knelt down next to Sim and gave him a small kiss on the forehead and, ignoring his father, hurried out of the house and hid amidst the birches.

I watched the medics carry Sim and his dad away. I saw that they had put a serious looking inflatable brace on his neck and that his face was uncovered. I couldn’t give tuppence about his dad.

When the helicopter had left, I picked up the bike Sim had left again carelessly lying on the gravel of the cottage, and rode off.

***

I went to Aidan’s place, the one noted on the card he had given me. There was no police car at his front door. When he opened the door for me, he was holding the telephone in his hand.

“I heard. What happened?”

I stumbled over my words, anger and grief and self-reproach tying my tongue. With a few quick, precise questions he sussed the situation.

“Stop apologising,” he said absentmindedly. “I know ma dad.”

I took a deep breath. I looked at him hard. Then I said:

“If you know your dad, you know he will put all of this on me.”

Aidan looked up, his face a question mark.

“I want Sim to live,” I continued. “I don’t see what I can do to help beyond this, but if there is anything, I will, even if it means going to the rozzers. But if your dad thinks he can finger me for Sim’s attacker and get away with it he’s wrong. If none of you will speak up, I will. I’ve seen the marks he left on Sim. Everything will come to light and he will go down with me.”

Aidan still didn’t react.

“I don’t know how badly you want to see him in jail, but they got my voice making that 999 call. They have me shouting at him and hurting him. My fingerprints are all over that cottage, and probably all sorts of other traces. And my prints will eventually lead them to everything about me. You’re a fucking solicitor, you do the math.”

He looked back at me for a while, thinking. I believe he was really pondering whether he should let both me and his dad go to jail. But then he took his phone again:

“Ma? It’s Aidan. I know, I’m on ma wey there. But ye must listen now, ma. Send Iona te the wee cottage. She must scrub it doon. No, everything. Change linen, and do every light switch and door knob, water tab. Anything somebody might put his hands on. No, ma, if ye daenna want yer husband in jail fer a very lang time, ye will dae it. Richt noo! Aye, A’ll see ye there. And ma? If ye get ther first, make him shut oop until A’m there, too, aye?”

He turned to me, looking grim and a bit sick. “I have te go now. Ye can stay or leave. There’s food in the kitchen. Help yerself.”

It was one of the longest nights of my life. I spent most of it sitting on the windowsill, staring out at the street, expecting police cars. I finished all my fags, remembering with each one the two boxes of Marlboro Sim had brought me. Remembering every damn thing we’d done together.

I got up once to pee, and another time to drink some water from the tab.

The sky was greying when Aidan returned.

“He’ll live. It’s a fracture and they say his brain is swollen, but they say he’ll make it.”

I slumped down in a corner against the wall.

“Ye gotta leave. They dinna believe our yarn aboot the accident and ye havin’ been chust a hiker passin’ through, but I daena think they’ll be able to pruive anything, once ye’re gone.”

I nodded. I gave him my e-mail address, in case he or Sim ever wanted to contact me later, and we went down to his car. We rode in silence. The land was still just as beautiful as it had been when Conall had taken me. He let me out at Braemore Junction. We shook hands, and he said farewell cordially enough, but there was little doubt he wished I had never set foot in his family’s house.

Then he took off, in his sexy black roadster. I stood where he had let me off, at the car park for Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach. I was 1,971 kilometres from Lake Iešjávri, as the crow flies. 1,971 kilometres and 86 days. And 1,533 kilometres and 191 days from a little, run down farm house in Lower Silesia.

And 3,026 kilometres and 393 days from that dinghy Greek guesthouse near the Aegean Sea.

Not that any of these places would have meant shit to me then. All I knew, as I stood there, was that I couldn’t go south. That I couldn’t go back.

So I struck out my thumb and waited for a northbound car to take me along.

Sim’s directions had been surprisingly accurate and helpful. Normally peeps don’t really see the world around them, the less so the more common it is to them. For the most part they are unable to describe it in useful terms to a stranger. But Sim had it down so dead on that I found the place on a lonely moor, in a moonless night, without once getting lost.

I had gotten off the narrow, winding footpath here and there, though, especially where the wooden posts of the overland power line didn’t exactly follow it. Several times I had sunken into muddy pools of moor water, mostly only to the ankle or the knee, but more than once all the way to the hip. When I finally got to the cottage, water was squelching in my boots and crumbs of peat were itching my arse crack.

The cottage was a blocky, square stone building, thatch-roofed, and directly at the shore of a lake, hidden well by a dense birch wood. A short wooden pier lead directly from the house onto the lake.

Everything was dark and quiet when I approached. I got out the keys Sim had given me. At first they didn’t seem to fit, and for a second I thought it had been a cruel joke, but then I was past the catch in the lock and the door opened. Since all the windows were covered by shutters – and there was little enough light outside – the inside was pitch black. I felt for a light switch and found it, but flipping it did nothing. With the help of Mark’s Death Arcana Zippo I eventually found the fuse box and turned on the power.

The cottage had one room, one kitchen, and a small bathroom that obviously had been built in later. At first the faucets wouldn’t run, but some more look revealed an electric pump. Witching it on yielded fresh water, and an electric geyser even made it hot. I quickly stripped and warmed up under a steaming hot shower. The electric kettle, some old Tetley’s bads, and a thermos allowed me to warm up from the inside as well. The only thing I really missed was fags, but I had smoked my last on the walk here.

I never considered not going to the cottage, or not waiting for Sim the next day. I know that most peeps don’t get that, but to me there is a big difference between lying and breaking my word. Call it pride, but lying is a way of gaining control and power. Breaking my word cheapens myself. It’s not that I don’t do it, it’s just that I am loathe to, and usually need a pretty good reason.

But all that didn’t mean that I trusted Sim, of course. His dad had already proven to be a hypocrite and a snitch, and his older brother an idiot for not knowing that. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the family. But I wasn’t going to put my fate into their hands, was I?

Next to the door I found several pairs of Wellingtons, some raincoats, and an old woollen seaman’s jumper. Of my own wet clothes I only put back on the woollen knee socks Mr. Roth had given me. (Unlike cotton, wool, I had discovered on my journey, keeps you warm even when it is wet.) Then I stepped into the smallest pair of rubber boots, and put on the jumper – it hung down to my knees – and one of the rubberized rain coats. I cleaned up my mess as good as I could, took one of the woollen blankets from one of the bunk beds, and an Orson Scott Card from a stack of Science Fiction and Fantasy books on a shelf, turned off all the lights, faucets, switches, and fuses, and cleared out.

In the birch wood I found a well hidden spot, a bit up a hillside, from where I would see both the cabin and the path leading across the moor without being seen myself. I hung my clothes to dry, snuggled up in the blanket, took a crumbling, moss-covered log for my pillow, and tried to get some rest. Given the circumstances I slept reasonably well.

At first light I put my own cold and still damp clothes back on, and climbed the nearest hill top. I would guess the elevation at maybe 300 meters and I had a pretty good view of the surrounding area. He land was very beautiful, in its bleak and monotonous way: Undulating, mostly shallow hills in shades of dark auburn, burnt umber, and sepia, broken here and there by pale grey and chalky white ridges of bare rock. There were patches of heath and rushes. Most hollows contained small lakes or pools. To the Northwest the country got rougher and rockier, to the West, beyond the lake, there were mountains. The foot of the hill I was on and the shore of the lake were bearded with birches and pines. There might have been a road on the far side of the lake, and maybe a house a good way down the shore, but that might have been a ruin. Other than that there was no sign of human life in sight. I though that this was actually a pretty good spot to lay low for a while.

Walking had warmed me up, and my body heat soon dried my clothes, except for the boots. For the rest of the morning I walked around the area, checked out escape routes, vantage points, and other useful features. I found out that the house I had seen wasn’t a ruin, but boarded up and not in use, like the MacLeod cottage. It had a small pier. On the pier lay, turned over against rain, a small fibreglass rowboat, which I heaved into the water and used to scout out the small island closest to the MacLeod cottage. On the South side of the island I found an old, overgrown orchard, many of the dark, crooked branches weighed down with ripe apples. I collected some, sat down on a comfortable rock, and while I ate my fill, I read the Orson Scott Card. Later I took a dozen more apples along, enough to last me the rest of the day.

I returned the boat and walked back to the cottage for some more hot tea. There was no food in the kitchenette, but sugar, and I poured enough in the thermos to make the tea viscous with it.

Finally I returned to my look out post and in the company of Mr. Card I waited for Sim.

In the late afternoon someone came riding down the path on a bicycle. It was him, dressed in a school uniform, black-and-yellow tie flying behind him like a streaming pennon. Over the waters the tall, helmet-shaped mountain had just been set aflame by the setting sun, and the reflection of those burning rocks gave everything a grim, war-like hue, and his wite button-down shirt, damp with sweat, seemed soaked in blood.

I watched him skid on the gravelled path as he turned into the final curve to the cottage. When I was satisfied that nobody had followed him, I came down the hill behind him. By the time I reached the bike, dumped carelessly on the ground, wheels still coming to a stop, he had disappeared inside. He looked crestfallen, when he came back out, but as soon as he saw me standing in the m idle of the track, his face lit up again.

“Awricht, Dana. Masel tsocht ye didna come efter aw.”

I crossed my arms, didn’t return the smile.

“I gave you my word, didn’t I?”

“Aye, sae ye did, Mr. Blanchard.”

“He could have asked, before calling the bloody police.”

For a moment Sim’s face darkened. It took me a second to realize that it was with shame, not anger.

“Yer richt. Masel hae tae apologise fer ma Paw. Hisel’s a menseless, unwycelike oof what tsinks tey rules o’ courtesy dinna apple tae Sassenachs.”

Sassenach – or Saxon, Gaelic for Englishmen and sometimes all foreigners – was a word I knew already. But more than than I knew the sound that crept into Sim’s voice as he said it, that helpless rage and anguish about someone you couldn’t stop loving, no matter how much you wished to. I had heard it often enough on my own voice.

“Well, thank you for warning me. And for offering shelter.”

“Och, least A coud dae. Finnd ye t’wey awricht?”

“Yeah. Only got wet feet.”

“Bit ye dinna bide inower.”

He gestured towards the house that indeed looked as if I hadn’t set foot inside. It wasn’t a question, the way he posed it. I hesitated just long enough to see the expression of shame and rage deepen on his face. He understood too well.

“I shouldn’t have doubted you. I’m sorry.”

He shrugged.

“Och aye. Let’s gae ben and git ye wairmt oop and fed.”

On the way inside, I noticed he was limping slightly.

“You okay?” I asked, nodding towards his leg. “You hurt?”

“It’s naessin. Chust a wee bit sair.”

Sim opened the shutters of the two windows that were not visible from the lake or the path, turned on the heating, and put on the electric kettle. He told me to take off my wet boots and socks and put them on the radiator.

While he did that I asked: “So, what happened after I was gone?”

“Naessin much. Masel telt Conall. When oor paw finnd ye gaen, he suddent hae minds ye wis oan yer wey tae Ullapul, Conall haed. Bit oniwey, t’ polis un An Gjerstan wisna seekin fer ye. Aisser yer fowks ne’er cawd ‘em, or tay dinna ken ye’r in t’ Gailtacht.”

“Gailtacht?”

“T’ Hieland. Here awa.”

He smiled and spread his arms to embrace the land in its entirety.

Well, that figured. There was no reason for anyone to be looking for me up here, after all. The last I had been spotted was leaving a bus not even quite out of Wotton, Gloucestershire. I couldn’t decide whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Suddenly Sim grinned and got something from his backpack.

“Bit chust tae be shuir, masel brocht ye tus!” He handed me a pair of scissors and a pack of dye. “And tus.” And he produced a plastic bag stuffed with old clothes.

I weighed the pack in may hand and gave him a grim smile. Half an hour later I had somewhat scrubby, short, dirty blond hair, and was dressed in threadbare jeans, a white T, and a zippered, olive jumper with elbow patches. Looking in the mirror I had to admit that no verbal description would connect me with the boy who had sat down for supper at the MacLeod dinner table. Sim even made me exchange the motorcycle jacket I had stolen from Ruth for a sheepskin-lined denim jacket that had once belonged to Aidan, another of Sim’s brothers, who no longer lived at their rents’s place. I only refused to give up my Oxblood Doc Martens.

“Sae guid as new,” Sim confirmed. “Hark, masel hae tae gae hame fer tea, bit if ye want, A kin come back efter.”

“That would be great. You sure you won’t get into trouble?”

“Me? Nae!” He grinned again, his marvellous chipped grin. “Ye kin caw msel Sim Blanchard, mo caritsh. Onie usse tsin ye want fer me tae bring on ye?”

So I asked him for fags, and off he went, still limping. Again I went outside and spent the time in between up on the hill. This time when I saw him return, alone and un-followed, I went back inside in time, turned on the radio, and waited for him there.

He had brought me two packs of Marlboro.

“Bit no inower or ma paw will ken.”

We went outside onto the short pier. I tore open the pack, got one out, broke off the filter, sparked up and sucked in a lung full of smoke. I offered the pack to Sim and after a moments hesitation he took one. He did his best to hide that he was unused to it, and I pretended not to notice. We sat down next to each other.

“Everything alright at your rents’s?” I asked

“Shuir. Nae problems at’a.”

And then he asked, timidly: “What’s yer tale, tenn, mo caritsh?”

“Ran away, travelled around, got no real goal.”

He peered at me in the deepening gloom, blinking when smoke got into his eyes. He waited for me to continue, but I brazened it out.

“C’mon,” he finally said softly. “Tsat’s no fair.”

I sighed, and then to my own surprise I found myself nodding, and beginning to talk. And to my much bigger surprise I found myself not even making up stuff.

I didn’t tell him much of the hard facts, like my name or where I was from. I moved my aunt from Gloucestershire to Wales, and altered all other names and dates and locations somewhat. But as the night progressed and he kept asking questions, I told him more and more of the truth, the whys and hows, of the joys and the pains and fears, as good as I understood them myself. I told him a lot about Edinburgh – which I made out to have been Glasgow, although he knew too much of both cities to be fooled, it turned out – and he sucked up everything about the cons, about “James” (i.e. Charley), and about “Kit” (Ponyboy), and about my trip through the Highlands. I even mentioned Cannich.

Finally we fell silent.

“Gie’s anusser,” he said. I did and lit it for him.

He rolled onto his tummy and blew the smoke over the quiet water.

“A ken what happened tae ye in Corie an t’ Shee, in t’ Mullardochs.”

“What happened to me there?”

“Ye wis taken by t’ Deena Shee tae Elfin.” He turned his head and looked over his shoulder at me in the darkness. “Tae Fairyland. Tay bide unner t’ hills, t’ Shee. Bit when yer lacer bruik, tey bud let ye gae.” And at my amused expression: “A’m bluidy serious, Dana. Tay ar real, sae tay ar.”

He looked back down onto the water and into his own dark reflection. Then he extinguished the fag in the lake and but the butt to the others to dispose of in the bin later. He rolled onto his side, propped up his head on his hand, elbow on the planks of the pier. He paused, began to say something, hesitated, and began again.

“Will ye lairn us?”

“Learn…?”

“Lairn. Teach.”

“Teach… what?”

“What ye ken. Lairn us tsievin. Connin. An aw tsat.”

“You want me to give you a course in Larceny 101?”

Sim laughed, a quiet, mirthful laugh, if a bit shakey.

“Aye.” And pleadingly: “Ma shay duh hull ay.”

Cehenneme git!” My words were out before I could think about them. “I will not. Are you nuts?”

Sim sat up, awkwardly. He got to his feet stiffly and walked back into the cottage. I put out my own fag and followed him. Sim turned on the light.

“Why the fuck would you want to learn any of that, Sim?” I asked. He blinked at me in the bright light of the lamp over the table.

“Hou no? Ye’re daeing it, aren’ ye?”

“Weren’t you listening? I went to jail.”

“An tsat dinna stap ye, A notice.”

“Look, I appreciate your help, I really do. And if there is anything I can do for you, I will. But that is crazy. You live in a village with, what, maybe one hundred inhabitants? That’s about as many as in the single kahrolası tower block I was raised in. How long do you think I would have lasted had I only plied my trade in my own kahrolası house? Or your school – how many pupils are in that school?”

“A hunnert and aichty-nine.” Face and voice sullen.

“My school has 2000 kahrolası pupils. My kahrolası primary school had 600. And I never would have been so stupid to try to steal in either. I know it sucks to hear that, but your world is too kahrolası small to be a crook in, man.”

“A daena ken tsat wird. Kuh-ro-lasse?”

“It’s Turkish. Means damned.”

“Wha sais masel wull bide here foriver?”

Siktir git! That’s not a party game, Sim. That’s not a kahrolası adventure novel. If you don’t practice that, and practice every day, it’s no good to you at all.”

“Sae?”

“So, you can’t practice here. And you’re bloody fourteen. By the time you’re eighteen you’ll have forgotten all of it. Look, Sim. Some stuff you can learn by doing. Playing football or riding your bike. Some stuff, that’s a really bad idea, like flying a plane, or free climbing, or picking kahrolası pockets. You’ll only get in kahrolası deep trouble. I don’t need to waste my time for that.”

A phit! Ye’re nae twa years aulder tan masel if yer a day, and if ye gat yersel t’ jyle hinder year, ye haed tae hae stairted yer tsievin t’ same age as masel uss noo.” He glared at me. His face was pale, and his thick dark curls hung down his forehead. He shook them out of his eyes with an angry flick of his head. “Mebbe masel wull practeese on a kuhrolasse suit wi bells, like tsay daed auld lang syne. Oniwey, whit’s it tae ye? Aren’ye chust efter telling me aw aboot hou ut’s yer ain richt tae fuck oop yer ain life houaniver ye chuise? Ar ye really gaen tae tell us noo masel nae hae tsat richt? Feech, if tsat’s sae ye kin fuck yersel, Sassenach!”

We stared at each other across the table. Sim had his fists balled tightly, and his shoulders were shaking.

“Why did ye tell Ceana to get me out of the house yesterday?”

“Whitwey?”

“Ceana told me you put her up to it. To ask if I would accompany her to feed the horses. Why?”

He swallowed and stared at the floor. Then he sighed.

“Masel haed tae talk tae Conall aboot ye. And mak siccar ma paw and ma maw wadna pit quaistans on ye. And… and masel etteled at getting ye pit oop in ma chaumer.”

“You… what… ettled? Chaumer?”

He sighed again. “A tried tae get ye pit oop in ma bed-room.”

I thought about that.

“How? Never mind why. How did you do that?”

“Bi makkin on tae ma maw masel didna want ye tar. Tsat’s aw it teuk.”

“You took extra long to clean up your homework before supper, too, didn’t you? To keep the chair next to you free, so that I would have to sit there.”

The anger still nested in Sim’s eyes, but he couldn’t quite suppress a grin. He shrugged.

“You are one devious bastard, you know that?” I asked.

“Telt ye, ye kin caw masel Blanchard an aw.”

“Aye, so you did.”

Across the table I offered my hand to him, even though in my heart of hearts I knew it was a mistake. But then, I never could say no to him.

“Okay, Sim MacLeod. For as long as I stay, I will teach you what I know.”

“Ye hecht?” His eyes were hard. “Ye’ll haud tryst?”

I didn’t know those words, but the meaning was clear enough.

“I promise. And I keep my word.”

And so I did, damn me. And so I did.

Continued here

Conall’s family lived in one of those long, whitewashed stone-built cottages, with small awning windows along the front and back and none in the narrow side walls that peak in a chimney. It was set a little back from the road, on a rise yellow with high, flowering gorse. The Defender roared as Conall raced it up that last bit before killing the engine in a choked stutter. When I stepped out, the coconut smell of the gorse washed over me. The sea, on the other side of the road, was dark, and quiet.

Conall took me inside. Everything was crowded with boots and coats and people. The air was steamy with the smell of boiling cabbage, and wet dog, and many conversations being carried on at once. In the living room a table was being set while a boy and a girl were hastily finishing homework. Three older men in work clothes were discussing something in Gaelic in the hall next to the front door. In the kitchen a matronly woman, her long hair streaked with silver, was directing more young people to cut bread and fill jugs. Lamps were spaced haphazardly, so that some areas were gloomy and others brightly lit, increasing the sense of buzzing chaos.

Conall shouted over the din to several people that I was “Danny” and that I would stay for tea. Several people nodded to me. The boy at the table, who was maybe a year or two younger than me, and who had dark, curly hair, bright eyes, and a chipped tooth, looked up from his homework and asked something in Gaelic. Conall laughed and answered back. I understood that he made it clear that my name was “Daniel”, not “Dana.”

Then he said to me “Masel buist fault tae yowes” and left again. I had no idea what that had meant. A young woman, maybe three or four years older than me, greeted me. Her English had the same beautiful Scottish sing-song, and the dry, harsh “r”s, but was a lot more intelligible than most of her family.

“Hi Danny. A’m Iona. Pleased tae meet ye. Tae’s awmost ready. D’ye want tae wash oop?”

And she showed me a tiny bathroom next to the kitchen. It had just about space for one deep, chipped enamel sink, and a loo with a rickety, wooden seat, and two feet, and it smelled very strongly of soap.

I closed the door, and breathed deeply. I washed my face and my hands rather thoroughly, and combed wet fingers through my shaggy and by now shoulder long hair. I looked down on myself: I was wearing my patched fatigue trousers, and – under an old black leather motorcycle jacket – a black T with bold, mustard yellow letters inviting everyone to “Guess where I’m pierced”. I had appropriated the T from an Australian backpacker on Skye. At the time I had thought it was pretty funny, but now I felt decidedly uncomfortable in it. But I couldn’t very well keep the jacket, that I had taken along when I’d left the sleeping Ruth, buttoned up to hide it, could I?

So, when I came out again and Iona took my jacket to hang it on a hook in the hall that had already two or three other pieces of garment hanging from it, the boy at the table nudged the girl and pointed out the words on my chest. Both giggled.

Iona said something to them in Gaelic, rather sharply, and they began gathering up their pens and papers. People filed into the room and sat down on chairs.

“Hey! Ta’ss ma sait!” the boy shouted when someone else wanted to sit on the chair he had been on before.

“Awricht, awricht, Sim. Dinna tak a sparey. Whit’s wi aw yir gibbles on ma ane cheer?”

“Chust sit on Conall’s fer noo!”

Sim – that’s pronounced shim – cleaned up his mess, and by the time he was done, everybody had taken their seat and  the only one that remained for me was the one next to him, from which he just then removed his book and papers.

I was officially introduced to Mr. and Mrs. MacLeod – he was one of the three men from the hall, a broad-shouldered, big-handed man with closely cropped, steel grey hair, and a dashing scar on the right side of his face; she was the woman the kitchen with the silver in her hair, and eyes surrounded by a nest of crow’s feet.

When Mr. MacLeod shook my hand across the table, he greeted me, but left my name hanging, expecting me to complete it: “Daniel…?”

“Balnchard, Sir. Daniel Blanchard.”

Gerald Daniel Blanchard is a Canadian master thief, who burgled amongst other places an Austrian castle in 1998, and who had finally been caught in 2007. I had followed his process with fascination and awe.

“Thank you for sharing your supper with me,” I added. “It was very kind of Conall to invite me.”

Mr. MacLeod seemed pleased, and for the rest of the meal, I was mostly left alone. Soon enough the necessary information transfer that always occurs when a large family sits down together took up everybody’s attention. And when Conall came back, he had to explain about the cut on his face – he had gotten plastered and fallen in to a barbed wire fence – and then about the sheep, or yowes, he had bought.

Only Sim kept quietly bugging me.

“Whaur ye frae, mo caritsh?”

“Canada.”

“Uss’at sae? Whaurawa frae tare?”

“Winnipeg.”

“Och, aye? Nae frae Quebec?”

“No.”

“Bit Blanchard uss a French naem, nae?”

“Yes, but people have French names outside of Quebec as well.”

“Yer accent ussna Canadian, uss’t?”

“My mum is from Austria.”

“Hou auld ar ye?”

“Sixteen.”

“Awricht? Ye leuk yunger. Masel uss fourteen!”

That last bit he said with all the pride of someone who only earned that distinction very recently.

“Sae, whit ar ye daeing in bonnie auld Alba?” He grimaced and thre a quick look at his dad, before he added: “In Scotland A meant.”

“Just travelling.”

“Aw by yersel?”

“My rents are back on Skye. Your brother Conall picked me up hitchhiking.”

And so on.

While Sim kept up this constant Q&A, I tried to figure out the peeps at the table and their relationships. Mr. MacLeod was a right patriarch, he kept the pose of the unmoved mover at the head of the table – and even though the table was round, it was very obvious that the head was wherever he sat. The others seemed to regard him with a mix of fear and respect. Most of the other were his children, and their general management was apparently left to Mrs. MacLeod. There were two daughters and three sons present, though I gathered that a few more had already left the house. One girl was a friend of Iona, and one boy a mate of seventeen year old Boyd. One of the older men from the hall had left when supper had started, but the other was a friend and neighbour, and I got the impression that he and Mr. MacLeod were working on some project or deal together, but could not pick up any details.

Eventually tea was over. I offered to help with the dishes, but Ceana, the youngest, and the one who had been doing homework together with Sim when I’d arrived, wanted me to help her with her chores, namely feeding the horses and rabbits. Sim, who would have had to go also, asked if I could fill in for him, so he could help Conall with something (a lot of technical farming terms were used, in Scots or even Gaelic, too boot, and it all went right by me.)

Ceana showed me their four horses and the rabbits they kept in boxes behind the house. From her I learned that her family were crofters, people who kept a small farm next to a main job. Her father captained a whale-watching boat from Port Maree and her mother did some administrative work for the Highland Council. But they also raised quail, held sheep, offered hiking tours in summer, and hunting tours in autumn. And they had two hunting cottages to rent to tourists.

It my be girlish, but I really like horses. When I had been younger and begun getting into trouble, this one counsellor got me a place in a stable in the Southwest  of Berlin. I was told that it was a job, taking care of the animals. I only learned later that in fact my mum had to pay for it, and that it was therapy. I still bristled at the memory of the deception, but I really enjoyed spending some time with the horses. And when Ceana noticed that I got along with them, and knew what to do, she warmed to me. That was how I found out that Sim had put her up to getting me out of the house.

When I got back, Conall told me that I would stay in his and Sim’s room for the night. He would sleep in the room of another sibling who wasn’t there that night. It seemed a bit complicated but I went along. From the pitying looks I received from Mrs. MacLeod and Iona I understood that Conall had relayed my tale of woe.

Sim showed me to the room and gave me some washed out PJs from one of his older brothers. I had expected him to take up his interrogation again, but he hurried away and left me to my own devices. I was fine with that, and sank into the thick covers. I had had more to eat than in a long wile, and since I had begun the day early and with some serious walking on Skye before getting that ill-fated lift, I was quickly asleep.

Not much later, Sim shook me awake.

“Wheesht” he hissed, signalled me to be quiet, and handed me my jacket.

“Pit on yet claes!”

“What?”

“Yer claes.” He also tossed my trousers and T onto the bed. “Coorie oop!”

“Why?” I asked, but instinct had me obeying already.

“Akis ye coud fuil ma glaikit brusser wi yer yairn, bit nae ma paw, ye bawheid. An me naisser. Tsat T-shert o’ yers, nae lad what’s feart o’ his paw wat pe caucht deid in it. And oniewey, A ken what Gerlad Blanchard uss. So A ken yer nae what ye said ye ar. Bit ma paw onlie suspects, sae he’s callin’ t’ polis in An Gjerestan reit noo! Tsat’s hou ye want uptail tis bluidy seicont!”

He opened the dormer window and looked out.

“Kin ye sclim o’er tae t’ ruif and…”

But I was already at his side, then up on the window sill, and pulling myself onto the eave line and the dormer roof.

I looked down from there and said: “Thank you, Sim!”

That was the first time, I used his name.

He smiled up at me: “Isheh do veha, Dana.”

That was, what he would call me from then on forth.

There was a noise on the landing outside his room. I froze. He ducked inside but after a second he had his head back outside.

“Fause alairm. Hey, haud on fer a sec. Masel uss richt back.”

He disappeared and I heard him hurry out of the room. I considered scarpering anyway, but while I was still checking out the best – and that meant quietest – way down from the roof, he was already back.

“Here, tak tsir.” He held up a ring with two keys. “Tay’re fer ane o’ oor deer stalkin’ boossies.” And he explained to me how to get there.

“It’s toom richt noo,” and at my confused look: “Empty. Nae occupied. Ye kin scug tare. A’ll come by t’ morn and bring ye sum scran… sum food.”

“Okay.”

I wanted to turn away, but he whispered: “A kin onlie come efter schuil us soot. Ye promise ye’ll be tare, Dana?”

He looked zp at me, his face pale in the darkness.

I promised. He nodded and ducked back inside. I crawled across the roof to the windowless side wall and down the downspout, and disappeared in the night.

Continued here

I spent a couple of days on the Isle of Skye, walking around mostly along the shore, swimming in the sea, and reading my way through a bunch of cheap crime and romance novels I picked up at the hostels. In the hostel in Uig in the north of the island I met Ruth, a thief from London who had specialised on backpackers. We spent a night of getting drunk on whiskey and swapping tales and tips about grafting and life on the street. I tried to get her to join me in some confidence game, but she wouldn’t. She had been screwed royally by another con artist a while back and had been caught. It had cost her 10 months and 2 prison rapes. She would never again trust anyone to play anything more complex than straight theft. She tried to get me to team up with her for that. I’d had enough of that in Leeds.

Thursday afternoon I got a ride out of Broadford Bay. Sparring was opened right away with the confession of the Honda Civic Si diver who had picked me up that he normally didn’t take on hitchhikers because of “how today’s youth is”. I probably succeeded in confirming most of his prejudices – more than he knew when he finally kicked me out at that unmotivated roundabout outside Achnasheen, since I had lifted his wallet and a high end mp3 player from the coat he had flung on the back seat.

I was still giving him a two fingered salute and shouting some choice expletives in Polish and Turkish after his diminishing hatchback when a muddy, dented, bottle-green Defender One-Ten Pickup stopped next to me. Two sheep were bleating under the aluminium hard-top covering the bed. The window was cranked down and a large, slender brown dog looked out. Past him, from the driver’s seat, a young man with a freshly stitched up face peered at me.

Faesger ma. Masel ween ye want fer anusser ride.”

He wore dirty curderoys, tall, olive Wellingtons, and a colourless, coarse woollen jumper. His hair was cropped to a fuzz. The stitches on his left temple and cheek gave him a rakish appearance, but underneath he seemed friendly, and open, and ready to laugh.

He reached past the dog and opened the passenger door. I climbed in.

“Thank you.”

Isheh do veha,” he answered and put the car in gear. “Masel uss on t’wey tae Inverewe, by Port Maree. Bit if yer gaun aist A coud tak ye tae Garve or Ullapul.”

None of these place names meant much to me, though I had heard of Ullapool. So I said: “Ullapool would be perfect, if it’s not too much trouble.”

He let the clutch come too fast, and stuttering and coughing the Defender crawled out of the roundabout, and only picked up speed as we passed through Achnasheen, past the train station and a burned down hotel. The dog sniffed at me and gave a short bark. His tail thumped against the vinyl upholstery.

“Awricht. Masel uss Conall. T’ dug uss Jovantucarus.”

“Daniel,” I answered.

“Nice tae meet ye, Danny. Whaur ye frae?”

That one was always tricky. If you are too far from home, it raises all sorts of questions. But passing yourself off as local obviously doesn’t work either. Back in England I had sometimes gone with relatives living somewhere beyond where my ride would take me, sometimes embellished with a sick single mum and the need to stay with said relatives for a while, but in the Highlands I had made the experience that peeps were apt to go out of their way and hand me over to my imaginary family. So I went with this tale instead:

“I’m from Canada, but my dad’s grandmother came from Scotland. My parents are visiting some distant relative today, but I didn’t want to, so they let me explore a bit on my own.”

Conall was astonished at how far I had gotten, on my own (I kept underestimating travel distance in the Highlands, it may not be much as the Crow flies, but given the state of the often single track roads, it was a lot in travel-time), but I think I would have pulled it off, had not a police car come our way shortly after, lights flashing. Normally, the best way to react to the rozzers is by keeping your face under control and just going about your business as if nothing’s amiss. But the A832 between Achnasheen and Garve had been bloody deserted and I still had the wallet and the mp3 player of that Civic driver burning a hole into my pocket. So I slunk down and pressed myself into the corner between seat and passenger door. Conall watched me and raised an eyebrow, but kept on driving.

“Sumtsun masel shoud ken?”

I tried to turn my slinking manoeuvre into a yawn and stretch, fully aware that it wouldn’t be convincing, not after my worried glance into the wing mirror. But the police car had disappeared behind us, and it set up my next yarn nicely.

“C’mon, Danny. Masel uss no blind. Why’re ye hidin frae t’ polis?”

I summoned up the memories of Cannich and all the shame and resentment I could and put on a sullen face. And I told him about an abusive dad, and a stupid cow of a mother who never fought back – and how last night he had gone off on one of his rages again, back in the holiday cottage on Skye they had rented. How normally I would weather these storms at a friend’s place, but how there wasn’t anyone here. So I’d taken some money and planned to make the best of it, stay in some hostel, and wait out the three days it usually took him to calm down again.

I mostly stared out the window or at the scuffed tips of my boots as I talked, my head ducked to match the role of the battered child, but I threw Conall a furtive glance, and to my astonishment saw he had swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. There was no doubt on his face, just compassion and concern.

“You will not hand me over to the cops, will you? If they drag me back now, only one day into his fit, he’ll smile and be polite and my mom will back him up in everything. They’ll make it all out to be my imagination and stuff. But he’ll kill me once they’re gone. Seriously, you must promise not to tell!”

Conall promised, solemnly. And then he invited me to stay at his family’s place for the night. I tried to wriggle out of that, but I’d dug myself in too deep, and short of jumping out of the car and running away, there wasn’t a no he’d accept for an answer.

So at Braemore Junction, he took the turn for Wester Ross, and in silence and a golden sunset we drove through some of the most breath-taking land I have ever seen. On the right the sea, quiet and slate grey, and reaching for the horizon. And on the left the earth dark with moor and heath, and the rushes pale golden and shivering in the wind. And behind that, dusted in snow, the mountains, rising, and rising, like time made substance.

Continued here

I can’t get enough of you, no never put you down
I don’t wanna be wrong, don’t wanna be right
Just wanna play along
– Children’s Masterpiece Theatre: Flesh of Lost Summers (2007)

Let’s talk about fear for a moment. Let’s talk about cowardice.

When I was seven years old, we went on our very last trip with the entire family, mum, dad, and us four kids. Mosquitoes, campfires, canned ravioli, fishing, and swimming in the lakes and waterways of Polish Masuria.

One afternoon our rents had gone for groceries. The sun was low and our campground almost entirely consumed by the shadows of the tress. Golden sparkles were still dancing on the gently lapping waves of the lonesome lake. ‘Nette was lying on her stomach on a large towel and reading a teen magazine. ‘Nette had waded out pretty far into the shallow waters and stood, arms outstretched like some Christ figure in the fading blaze of the evening sun. Lukas had disappeared in the woods. And I was playing by myself with these little plastic soldiers that come in a bucket.

Suddenly a big, far forest spider dropped first on my head and then down, knocking over one of my soldiers. I shrieked and jumped. And next to me, Lukas – who knew that I was afraid of spiders – began to laugh. He had returned from the woods brought the critter as a special present to me.

“For chrissake, Lukas, leave him alone, will you?” ‘Nessa groaned from her towel, but she didn’t even bother to stop leafing through her magazine.

Lukas ignored her. Instead he picked up the spider and let it dangle on its thread from his finger, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.

“Look here, little pussy, she wants to play with you.”

I tried to get away, but stumbled over a root and landed with a heavy, painful thump on my back. Lukas followed me to stand over me and slowly lowered the spider towards my face. Terrified I lay still and stared up at the wriggling, eight-legged beasty.

And then a small hand closed around the spider. ‘Nette, nine years old and dripping wet, crouched down next to me. I knew that she hated spiders just as much as I did, and when we were alone with each other in the privacy of our room, she would shriek and hide behind me, and egg me on to put a glass or something over it, if one came to visit us there. Now she was trembling all over. I don’t know if it was with fear and revulsion, or with rage, or if it was because she was wet and there was a cool breeze blowing between the trees. Perhaps it was a mix of all of the above.

She stared directly in to the eyes of her 14 year old brother and held her lightly balled fist towards him, as if about to offer a gift in supplication. She even relaxed he fingers enough so that the scrabbling legs of the spider began to appear between them. And then I could see her steel herself. She gritted her teeth. Her breath hitched once. There were tears in he eyes but also a deep resolve.

Slowly she got up, put herself between me and him, and then she crushed the spider in her fist. All though she stared directly into his eyes, hers just as stormy grey as his. And I knew that I loved her, loved her with a blind, fiery passion I had never felt before and thought I never could again.

Lucas snorted and turned to leave.

“Pussies,” was what he muttered when I – now that the spider was gone – launched myself at him. I jumped on his back, and clung to him like a monkey, and tore at his hair and bit into his ear.

That night, when ‘Nette and I were down at the lake washing the dishes after supper, and I was still aching all over from the beating Lukas had ended up giving me, she took my by the arm, and she looked at me very seriously, and this is what I remember her saying to me:

“Everyone is afraid, Tavi.” Tavi was her special, secret name for me, from the Kipling tale. “But only a coward lets that stop him.”

That night I lay awake for a long time, and I swore to myself that I would never be a coward again. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they, and often enough life doesn’t permit us the luxury of keeping our word. Least of all to ourselves.

***

I’ve always liked boys, and men, and never really looked at girls, or women, in a sexual way. And as far back as I remember I knew that this was something I ought to be ashamed of. Like most of my kind, when my mates began talking about girls and pussy and boobs in that way, I first tried to avoid it, and then, for a while, I joined in and was probably especially obnoxious. But I hated it. Not because I was lying – I lie all the time, it doesn’t bother me at all – but because I really didn’t like that particular role.

‘Nette was the first person I talked to about this. I was 10 at the time, and it was my assistant football coach I had been thinking about. She listened very seriously and said matter-of-factly: “So, you’re a faggot.” And she hugged me and kissed me and added: “Then that’s just the way it is.” And for the short time afterwards that we had we could talk about boys, and compare what we liked about them, or didn’t, and what we wanted them to do to us.

And later, when she was dying, she egged me on to go through with it, to finally get fucked. But I didn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I mean, I had my fantasies, but they were never too clear about how to initiate it all.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was eleven, during ‘Nette’s last summer, there was Tariq. He had thick, black hair, and dark eyes, like a horse, and skin the colour of coffee with lots of milk. His nose was aquiline, and his face heart-shaped, and he had a birthmark low on the left side of his jaw line, close to the ear.

The only way I found to express my desire for him was to annoy him thorouly with constant needling, jibes and taunts, until he lost his patience, and we fought in the school corridor. We both got quite a lot of heat for that from our teachs and rents, and he never forgave me, but I remember how much I loved wrestling with him, how much I loved feeling his fingers dig into my arm as he tried to hold me down, how hard my prick was against his hip as he lay on me, pounding my face to get me to finally cry uncle so he would be able to walk away with his head held high. How he began to sob with frustration when I wouldn’t, and how he spit into my face as they dragged us apart.

That afternoon I spent at ‘Nette’s side. She’d one of her migraines and had returned from school early. She was already scheduled to go to the hospital, but we still assumed it would only be temporary. I cried about the way Tariq had looked at me when he’d come from the principal’s office and I had been on my way in, and I had known that even if I ever had had a chance before, it was gone forever now. ‘Nette had rested one hand on my head, and without opening her eyes she had said: “Coward.”

Continued here

When I opened my eyes it was well after sunrise. Two people were coming up Glen Tilt. They were still away enough for me to take a leisurely leak against the rocks, straighten my clothes, shake the ants from my hair, have a drink down at the stream, and light a fag.

My first impulse had been to scramble uphill and go into hiding somewhere, but I figured, they’d see me running away, and I didn’t like that idea. So I sat down on a rock by the side of the water and waited.

It was a bloke in neat blue jeans, and a neat, zippered sweater in dark marine, and a baseball cap in the same colour, and a lady in a grey tracksuit trousers, a sweater in a startling cool magenta, and a white baseball cap with a black bill. Both seemed to be in their 30s or so.

“Hi there, young man,” the bloke said, when he reached me, and wiped the sweat off his face. He had that athletic chubbiness that seem to be specific American. His eyes were brown and friendly, in a rather patronizing way. Hers were a water blue and shifty, as she sat down her backpack and sat down heavily next to it.

There was a funny thing going on between the two of them. One thing Uncle Valya had taught me is to never trust people’s words but – if anything – their bodies and their eyes. And looking at the two of them, beyond their surface behaviour, this was what I saw: His attempt at friendliness towards me, his smiles and words, was an act – meant to put her at ease. That she, while outwardly calm, was in the grip of panic, like a deer staring at you frozen in fear and ready to bolt. But she wasn’t afraid of me, nor of him. I think it was the mountains. I think it was their age, their silence and loneliness.

“Hull,” I answered, put the fag between my lips, and offered him my hand. A little bit astonished he shook.

“Hey,” he asked. “You wouldn’t be on your way to Inverey?”

“Inverness?”

“No, no,” he laughed, strained, and put more of himself between me and his lady as if to shield her from whatever I might have to say. “Inverey. A little, er, a little village, that’s… look…”

He pulled out an ordinance map from his pocket.

“Here,” he pointed to a small hamlet at the end of a tiny road in the middle of the mountains. “And, we’re rught about, er, here… right?”

His stubby finger poked vaguely at an area covering several streams and trais somewhere Southwest of Inverey. I took the map and looked for Blair Atholl an Glen Tilt.

“I’m not certain, Mister, but we should be somewhere in this valley, here. Probably near the end.”

Together we determined our most likely position. It was almost funny how they both began to visibly relax, like little kids that had just made it out of a haunted house, or peeps who just barely avoided a dangerous accident. I doubt it had much to do with the meagre and uncertain information I could provide. I think it was mostly the fact that the mountains had yielded another soul, a human face to speak to without feeling crazy. I wondered if they would have felt the same in some stretch of wilderness in whatever US State they came from, or it was in part due to their sense of being so far from home.

While he and I were brooding over the map, she put down her backpack and began to produce a surprising amount of food: Sandwiches, cut into little squares and neatly wrapped in cling film and stowed in little Tupperware containers, apples and carrots, peeled and sliced to finger size, and small PET bottles of Isotonic drinks.

“Can I offer you something too?” she asked. I studied her face, the one behind her mask. She really wanted me to share their food, to stay with them.

“We also got some Mars bars, somewhere,” she added, almost pleadingly, and began to dig for them.

“That’s my wife, Helen,” the man said. “I’m John. John Campbell.”

We’d already shaken hands, but he’d been too tense then for introductions, so there was a brief, awkward moment now.

“David,” I offered in return, clearly pronouncing it dah-vid, not day-vid. “David Silberknopf.” Sil-bur-kuh’nobf. And to Helen I said: “Wouldn’t say no to a sandwich and a drink, ma’am. Ta.”

She handed me both with a thankful smile.

I asked John: “Could I have a look at your map again?”

It was the first time I’d looked at a detailed map of the area, and I decided that I wanted to head north, through Glen Dee, towards Aviemore.

Helen looked around. “Are you alone, David?” (Of course she had to pronounce it day-vid.)

“Yup,” I said.

“Where is your family?” she asked.

Defiantly I looked her straight in the face. Then I pointed roughly East-Southeast. “Thataway, ma’am.”

She didn’t get it and actually craned he neck to look at the steep, bare hillside. I sighed.

“About one thousand kilometres thataway.”

“Kilometers?” she asked and frowned. Then she said: “Oh,” and after a moment, again: “Oh.”

I busied myself with the map, but I could feel her eyes ravelling all over me, over my oversized M65 jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and my face still bruised and scabbed with the traces of Ponyboy’s caresses.

“How old are you, David, if I may ask?” Day-vid again. This time from John.

“Sixteen,” I lied without looking up.

More silence while we ate and I studied the map.

“Are you a runaway?” Helen sounded timid, but she couldn’t let it go.

I looked up again and debated making up some story. But somehow the strange balance of power between them and me made me feel unnecessarily mean if I did so. So I answered as straight as I could: “I suppose that you could say that.”

John had watched me as well. I handed him back his map.

“Where are you headed?” he asked, as he took the map and looked down on it. I showed him, none too precisely.

“We’ll have the same route up until here,” he observed.

“Yup,” I said again.

“Do you mind if we walk with you?” I smiled, though I didn’t much care for the looks passing between him and his wife.

As we walked Helen wanted to know if I’d been abused. If I had been beaten. And she gestured towards my face. When I refused to answer that, she dragged her husband into this. They both began to offer me “solutions”, from finding some church organisation that would put me in a new home with good, Christian folks, to going to the American Embassy and asking for asylum (like, huh?). It was only when she tried to drag God into things, too, that I got seriously annoyed.

“I’ll square with God myself, and I’d appreciate it you stayed out of that, thank you very much, ma’am,” I said through gritted teeth.

“So you believe in the Lord God, and in our saviour Jesus Christ?” she asked, half apprehensive, half relieved.

I thought about quoting Riddick at here – I absolutely believe in God, and I absolutely hate the fucker – but then thought, that would only lead to more hassle. I certainly wasn’t going to tell her the fully story, was I? So I just nodded curtly and walked on.

After t hat we walked in silence for a while. Not much later, John, still trying to ease things for Helen, proposed a rest. They offered me more of their food, but I declined, probably somewhat haughtily, in favour of an apple of my own. We’d left the river Tilt and had not yet reached the Dee, so I had to do without drink.

Helen drew John away from me under the pretence of wanting to show him some part of the scenery, and when they returned, he said: “David, we have decided that we will accept your decision to run way” – as if it was theirs to accept – “and we’ll not speak of it any more. I apologize if we came on strong.”

And Helen chimed in: “If you are willing to put your fate in God’s hands, we shall have faith too.”

I smiled wearily, but  wasn’t especially sorry that I had made use of the time they’d been away to go through their backpacks and take 60 quid from thm. Since they’d been taking pictures during the break, I also decided to relieve them of their camera before our ways separated, to make certain they didn’t keep any record of our meeting.

True to their word they didn’t mention the topic for the rest of our time together. I the early afternoon we reached the White Bridge across the River Dee. They would go East from there towards Inverey, and I’d turn Northwest, along Glen Dee, deeper into the Cairngorms.

Helen insisted I take several of their sandwiches, and a bottle of isotonic drink.

“We will pray for you,” she assured me, as I reached with my right hand past John to shake hers, and lifted the camera from the pouch on his belt with my left.

“That you for the food and the company, ma’am,” I said, slipping the camera into my back pocket. “Have a good journey. God bless.”

Continue here

Cherry, or Sheryl Valance left the motorway and dropped me off at the Maybury bus stop on Glasgow Road, where I took the 100 line to Waverley Bridge. The plan was to ring up my contact, but he beat me to it.
When I got off the bus, I was astonished how crowded Edinburgh was, crowded and grey, wet, and oppressive with its massive Georgian townhouses as it presented itself to me under the cloud shuttered sky. For a while I stood on that bridge spanning the train station and marvelled at it all: The Scotsman Hotel at one end, and Princes Street to the other, Carlton Hill with its old burial ground yonder, and, when I turned around, beyond Waverley Station, the park, and looming above on its high, rocky perch the Castle. Of all cities I’ve been to, I think only Budapest is as immediately awesome.
Finally I decided to walk over to the Princes Street side, around the Balmoral and then down to the train station. Train stations are fine places to make unobserved telephone calls. Way too many CCTV cams, of course, but that’s the point: Who is going to sift that sea of images for something as innocuous as a simple phone call? Especially given my complex (and faintly ridiculous) security instructions.
You see, Bryan had made me memorize but not write down a mobile phone number. I was supposed to call it, let it ring twice, then hang up, wait 5 minutes, and call again. And then we were supposed to exchange the passphrase: The bloke on the other end was to say: “Oz here,” to which I was to answer: “It’s Bob.” And then I was supposed to get instructions where to exchange the package.
On my way to the concrete terraces leading to the station, leaning against one of the low walls encircling the horribly out of place shrubbery, was a bloke, maybe 25 years old, wearing neat blue jeans, tasseled loafers, and a plain, navy windbreaker over an obviously brand new Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt.
He sucked on a fag and then he grinned at me insolently. Noticing my guarded stare that couldn’t quite hide my confusion, he asked: “Bob, right?”
I hesitated, then asked lamely: “Oz?”
He scrunched up his handsome face, blew out smoke, and said: “Please, call me Charley.” He put the fag into his mouth and offered me his hand: “Charles Tully.”
We shook.
“You got it?”
I hesitated some more. Charley sighed, got out his mobile and speed-dialled someone.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he said into the phone. “He’s here. Tell him to cut the secret agent crap, please.” He handed it to me. It was Bryan, who told me it was okay and thanks for everything. Charley took back his phone and held out his hand.
“Here?” I asked.
Charley made a big show of looking around. Then he exaggeratedly pointed at a rozzer standing on the other side of Princes Street, opened his eyes wide, and put his hand over his mouth.
He stage-whispered: “Oh no, what if he sees us?”
I sighed, got the packet out of my satchel (pained and laboriously, trying to avoid opening the wound on my arm again), and handed it to him. He didn’t even bother to stow it away or anything, just held it relaxed in his hand.
“Where are you staying?”
“No idea yet.”
At that he raised an eyebrow.
“Mate, it’s the festival, you know?”
And when my face didn’t register understanding, he explained: “The Edinburgh Festival. All of August. It’s the bloody biggest festival of performing arts in the world. There’s about half a million visitors in town, as many as live here normally.”
“Oh.”
Charley turned around and started to walk away from me. When I didn’t move, he turned around.
“Well, come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“Get you a place to stay. You don’t expect you’ll find a hostel or hotel room at the moment, do you?”
I said “I suppose not,” and followed him.
“So, what’s you’re name?”
“Bob.” Deadpan.
He gave me a long look.
“You can call me Bob Moros.”
At that he laughed and we became friends.

Continued here

“And Father started giggling,” Castle continued. “He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head and do you know what that marvellous man said to me?” asked Castle.
“Nope.”
“’Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (1963)

Ever since I had my first crush (on Jude Law in Spielberg’s A.I.) at the tender age of 9, I’ve had this tradition of falling for someone in spring and crashing come autumn. In ‘o4 it had been a boy named Tariq, in ’05 it had been Colin, ’06 had been Jonas’s year, and the summer of ‘o7 had belonged to Hendrik. But like in so many things, ’08 would change the pattern.
Neither Tim nor Charley or Ponyboy were destined to be the true heartaches of that year, that would be Sim and Alex. But Charley and Ponyboy in many ways foreshadowed the two boys that would both transfigure my soul in the coming months, first into ice, and then into fire.
The sales rep that had given me a lift out of Leeds got me as far as a few kilometres past Durham. I had fallen asleep in the stuffy warmth of his Volvo, the constant drone of his voice merged smoothly with the purr of the engine. After what must have been an hour – though it felt like 5 minutes tops – he shook me awake.
“You’re bleeding, boy.”
Indeed, there was blood dripping from my hand onto my lap and the upholstery of the passenger seat. I pushed the jacket from my shoulder and rolled up the soaking wet sleeve of my T. The bandages had come lose and more blood was trickling down my arm.
The sales rep brought the Volvo to a skidding stop at the side of the motorway.
“Out,” he snarled.
I looked at him somewhat shocked. I mean, I was sorry for the stains on his seat cover, but I hadn’t expected this reaction.
“I cannot explain why I had you in my car,” was all of the cryptic answer I got to my puzzled look. “Get out. Now.”
I grabbed my satchel and left the car. He pulled the door close from within and roared off, leaving me by the side of the M1.
I treated the wound. My next attempt to keep it under wraps and pressure wasn’t much better, but I’d had enough experience with cuts to the arms to know that it wasn’t all that easy to bleed yourself dry even if you tried. I would live.
I made it to Newcastle that night, and appropriated enough money to stay at another hostel. This time nobody wanted papers or a story why I had none. The next day I hitched a ride with a lady driving a bloody big Japanese SUV, and who made me listen to saccharine soft pop and her own sob story all the way to Edinburgh. She told me that story in that wonderful melodious Scottish sing-song that I would come cherish like few other sounds in the world.
Her name had been Cherry or Sheryl or something Valance. She was moving back to her aging rents in Aberdeen after she had been fired from a job as some sort of psychologist. She’d been accused of fudging some research numbers.
“The thing is, I haedna cheated. Not the way they said I did anywae. I had gotten the numbers wrong, that much is correct. But it musta been subconsciously. My boyfriend had just deserted me when I wrote the paper, and what I wrote sorta proved an argument we’d had. At least it would have, if I’d been right. That is to say, if I cheated on anyone it was mostly on him.”
I don’t know what I thought when she said that, but she must have read something on my face. She grimaced and said: “Yer right. I only cheated myself.”
And after a brief, uncomfortable pause: “So, that is my sorry tale. Want ta tell me yer oon?”
I eyed her wearily. She laughed.
“That’s okay, laddie. Ye don’t haffta. I can tell that it’s not a happy one. No noodle salad there either, huh?”
“What?”
“Never mind. Things are tough all over, huh?”
On the stereo Paula Cole asked us where had all the cowboy’s gone, but neither of us knew the answer.

Continued here