Lizzy stood at the window; she smiled through the tears that now trickled freely down her cheek. She watched her young son, Gavin, her only child, as he ventured out along the garden path into the snowy Ceredigion morning. The sky was a deep winter blue, and the fresh, chilly wind blew the few stubborn clouds that marred the heavens towards the snow-capped ridge of distant hills. Two Red Kites circled slowly, searching for food; their rufous plumage, vibrant in the low winter sun. Ravens croaked.
She looked on with deep admiration at her child, amazed at how he was coping with the situation. But the child was starting to ask questions, awkward questions – questions she knew she would have to answer!
Lizzy had moved into the remote hillside cottage with Gavin to fulfil a dream. But the dream would never come true because her husband, Michael, was dead. He had been killed while on active service in Afghanistan earlier that year. Gavin didn’t know this, and he still expected his father home for Christmas, which was only two weeks away.
Young Gav was dressed for every eventuality, overdressed even, you know what mothers are like, right. His dayglow green bobble hat had ear muffs, that was pulled down and tied under his chin. His hands were protected from the cold by matching gloves, and on his feet, he wore little green wellies adorned with a pattern of yellow frogs.
Jess, the family dog, a mischievous little wire-haired terrier, ran about excitedly in the snow yapping playfully, obviously thrilled to be outside.
On reaching the small wooden gate that opened onto the lane, Gavin stopped and turned around. He saw the damage his progress along the path had done to the virgin snow. Jess was still hard at it racing around like a fruit cake, turning the icing smooth snow that covered the small lawn into a bombsite of tracks, scuffs, and impact marks. But it mattered not, the pattern of trails and furrows spelt out happiness, joy and excitement.
Gav unfastened his pocket and pulled out a blue and red walkie-talkie. Looking back at the cottage, he saw his mother stood looking through the living room window. She held a mug of tea cupped in both hands, its hot steam rising to warm her face and condense on the fragile pane of glass. With the tip of her finger, she drew a heart shape in the moisture. Gavin smiled, then raised the walkie-talkie to his ear. His thick woolly gloves made him fumble clumsily, but, within seconds, he managed to press the transmit button.
The sudden crackle of static made her start. She looked at the blue and red walkie-talkie that lay on the window sill. The tooth grinding crackle gave way to a voice, a tinny metallic sounding voice, but a voice that she recognised.
“Mommy, mommy, you there, mommy?”
She put down her drink, then picked up the radio.
“I’m here, sweetheart. Make sure you stay wrapped up and remember what mommy told you.”
She watched him nodding his head up and down in confirmation.
” OK mommy, and don’t you worry none, Jess is with me.”
Another crackle of static, then silence. Mother and son waved to each other, he, fast and excitedly, as only a seven-year-old knows how, she, only bent her fingers in a tata for now gesture. She watched him pass through the gate. Jess, realising he had gone, quite frolicking and scampered after him.
They were gone, only their footprints remained – and deafening silence. Liz didn’t have time to blink before the tsunami of grief hit her. Now, with only her thoughts for company, the tears escaped her eye’s and flowed freely as she sobbed.
Gavin walked through the snow dragging his feet, occasionally kicking the white piles that gathered on the toes of his wellies at Jess.
Rabbits had been active, their footprints evident in the snow. They had run in front of the dry-stone wall before passing through the gateway, vanishing into the thorny briers. A shrill whistle pierced the air. Gav looked in its direction; sure enough, it was old Keiron the shepherd, with his two collies, Zak and Kip. The two Dogs ran, crouching so low to the ground that the fur on their bellies got matted with frozen snow, as they rounded up the small flock of ten sheep, obeying their masters whistled commands.
Jess was now on the scent of a rabbit. Gav, distracted by old Keiron’s whistling, hadn’t noticed her enter into the briers. Realising she’d gone, in a panicky voice, he called after her.
“JESS! JESS! HERE GIRL.” He yelled.
Gav stamped his feet to warm his toes, and also to express his growing frustration with Jess’s lack of obedience. The Wind had picked up a little and was turning.
A sudden burst of activity from within the Briers, an excited yelp, the snap of dead growth as thorns snagged the fur of the bolting Dog as if trying to hamper its pursuit. The snow that had settled on the spikey tendrils was shaken to the ground. The Rabbit, in full flight mode, appeared from the thicket, right in front of young Gav. It stopped! Big mistake; that split second was all it took for Jess to catch it up. The little terrier, no longer in playful pet mode, grabbed the Cwningen in her muzzle and gave it a frenzied shake.
With the chase over and the quarry motionless, Jess, headed enthusiastically back into the briers, leaving Gavin alone.
Old Keiron was gone, back up the hill to fetch more sheep probably. The Winter Wonderland now took on a menacing, threatening appearance. Grey freezing cloud rolled along the hilltops, slowly descending the slope, hiding its few sparse features in a clinging, freezing fog.
Gavin stood looking down at the lifeless rabbit, he wondered if it was dead. He’d never seen death before, the thought saddened him, numbed his emotions; time was frozen.
The sound of fluttering wings snapped him to his senses. A Raven had landed on the snow-capped dry-stone wall, its caw-caw was forced out of its large black bill by every muscle in its body; the rabbit twitched.
Galvanised by the movement, Gavin carefully picked up the Rabbit and placed it inside of his now unzipped coat. He could feel its form pressing against his ribs, it was still warm.
The crackle of static was loud and sudden, making Gav start, the voice that followed was full of concern.
” Gavin, the weather’s turning for the worse! Start making your way Home!”
” OK, Mom, I’m not far away, I’ll be with you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart. Straight Home, remember.”
“You got it, Mom, see you soon.”
Gavin tucked the Walkie-Talkie into his pocket, then looked around; murky grey cloud engulfed everything in a claustrophobic pea-souper. Crystals of frozen moisture glistened before his eyes, the wind, colder now, reddened his cheeks. He needed to move and fast. But, Jess would not break off the hunt and come out of the Briers. Gavin circled the thorny clump calling his dog’s name, to no avail, she ignored him. He started to cry. Gavin trudged around the Brier dribbling, the calling of his dog’s name became a pathetic sob. He tripped and fell. His head struck the covered rock. Unconcious, unmoving, he lay in the snow. The crimson stain spread slowly, the first flakes of snow started to fall, and the wind picked up. A sliver of snow settled on Gav’s upturned cheek, it didn’t melt.
Jess finally emerged, and on seeing Gav, she cowered towards him, as if afraid, stopping to sniff him before licking his face. He came too, he was weak and confused. Gav knew he needed shelter, so slowly, and painfully he dragged himself to the dry-stone wall and curled into the fetal position. The snow was now horizontal, the wind mocked him with its hideous howl as it searched out his vulnerable, exposed form. He draped his weak right arm over Jess’ back, and together they awaited the frozen end.
A blizzard now blew a whiteout, and the wind bit into little Gav without mercy.
He was losing consciousness when he felt the movement from inside of his coat. There was a warmth, no, a tolerable heat, as if someone had given him a hot water bottle, it felt beautiful.
Whatever was inside his coat now wriggled and squirmed in a determined effort to find freedom. Gavin mustered the strength to move his arms and find the zip. He wanted to keep the Rabbit inside of his coat, not only for its own safety but for its lifesaving warmth. Carefully, with numb fingers, Gav opened the zip, only an inch, that’s all he could manage in his weakened state. Through half-open eyes, his lashes frozen, he saw the golden glow of a mysterious, colourful vapour. It twisted and turned in a snake-like fashion from his coat and out into the near-Arctic conditions of Ceredigion.
The green, red, and golden vapour undisturbed by the wind turned around and around on itself to form a sphere. Unable to move, his eyes still half shut, Gavin watched. Had hyperthermia set in?
The orb changed from colour to colour as it held its position, spinning slowly on its access in front of the prone child. It was now a warm peach, now yellow, blue. It exploded! A supernova, the blast of which cleared the snow for yards around. The orb was gone. In its place now stood a bent old man dressed in a brown raggy robe. His head was covered, and his face was hidden inside a dark hood. In one hand he held a lantern, a glowing light, that even in daylight shone like the Sun; In the other, he held a wooden staff that supported his bent frame. The figure raised the staff and pointed it at Gavin (who had found the strength to pull poor Jess’s lifeless form into his side), and in a voice that came from the beginning of time itself, he spoke.
“I’m The Terkel, not A Terkel, The Terkel, the last one. My kind, over time, has been hunted and persecuted until only I remain.”
Gavin’s teeth chattered. Speechless, he watched and listened.
Holding the lamp at arm’s length, The Terkel continued.
” By the laws of the hills, rocks, and the streams laid down by Pethannwy, the greatest Terkel that ever lived, I’m obliged to grant you a single wish.”
With his last word still hanging in the air, the old man disappeared, once more to became an orb. With tears freezing in his eyes, Gavin watched the orb float away, slowly fading out of sight into the whiteout. It was gone. The large, soggy flakes of snow, the size of 50p coins, once again started the task of covering his and weak little Jess’s bodies. He squinted through slits, he wanted to close his eyes and return to a warm, happy place. The sound of a calling voice, accompanied by the image of a man struggling through the snow kept him awake. The man, now only feet away from where Gavin and Jess lay, stopped, and called his name, elongating syllables with desperation.
” Gaaaaviiin!” Shouted the voice against the blizzard.
Now, his little frame completely covered in snow from the howling storm, and paralysed with cold, Gavin was hidden. He could see the man, but he was powerless to do anything to attract his attention. The man, cupping his hands around his mouth, called again.
Just one more step forward, inches away, the man would step on or trip over Gavin’s body. But, on receiving no response to his calls, the man lowered his gloved hands, turned, and made ready to further brace the storm. Gavin’s heart sank. The man took the first step away from the ill-fated youngster.
When suddenly! A sound stopped him in his tracks. Static, it was static, followed by a women’s voice, calling the name Gavin.
The man turned to face the noise that was emitting from a small mound of snow. He dropped to his knees, and with exited desperation, he brushed away the snow to reveal the bright colours of Gavin’s attire. He pulled the limp, lifeless, form from the snow and cradled it to his chest, and rocked it to and fro. Gavin sensed the warmth, and with great effort, he managed to peek through his drowsy eyes into the face of his rescuer. The smile and words came quickly.
” You made it, Dad…”
Categories: Burning the Midnight Oil