The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Chapter Eight: Empty Spaces (Part I)

I've run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
And I can run away from you, I can!
- The Gingerbread Boy (St. Nicholas Magazine, May 1875)

A fine drizzle hung like mist around the street lamps along the narrow road between the sea and the steep, washed-out slope of the land, when the boy strolled out of the darkness and walked up to the red-and-white barrier marking the entrance to the marshalling area for the Scrabster-Stromness ferry. He wore threadbare Jeans, a sheepskin-lined denim jacket, and scuffed and muddy oxblood boots. One of the shoe laces was black, the other was a bright neon orange. He had taken care to pick the hay from his clothes and from the dirty blond hair, and to wash the dust from his face, but there hadn’t been much he could do about the bruised cheek and the black eye, almost swollen shut, nor about his angry, closed-off expression.

For a while he loitered at the edge of the darkness and waited for check-in to begin. He tried to light a cigarette, but his lighter, a Zippo with the Tarot Death Card motive, was out of fuel.

When check-in began, he carefully observed the procedure from a distance. Just as the signs proclaimed, everybody, whether travelling with a car or on foot had to show a photo ID. The boy felt a slight annoyance at the terrorists, whose attacks 7 years earlier to the day had changed the world and made his form of travel so much harder.

The signs also proclaimed that no tickets were issued to unaccompanied minors under 16 years of age. Not that it makes much of a difference, he thought, I don’t own any legitimate ID anyway. And he doubted any kind of sob story could get him through here. After watching everything for a while he decided that he would easily get past the controls onto the marshalling area, with the terminal building, the long access road to the pier, and the passenger transit building. The problem would be the check points in the passenger transit building and the walkway up to the ferry.

He almost enjoyed the problem. It distracted him from other thoughts and memories. He briefly considered trying to swim to the ferry. The romantic commando style pleased him, but he quickly dismissed the idea as far beyond his abilities – the ferry would be much too tall from the surface of the water. He then considered trying to find someone a year or two older than himself with features similar enough to pass the picture check, and steal his ID. But there wasn’t anyone like that visible at the harbour. Also, he thought, such a person might easily notice the theft before the ferry arrived in Stromness and get the authorities to search for him. He didn’t fancy police officers searching the boat, cornering, and arresting him. And he had no intentions of going back South, to Thurso or beyond, to look for a suitable mark.

In the end, he thought his best chance would be to hide in one of the cars. He slunk undiscovered onto the large car park where the cars waited in neat queues for loading. Most passengers had gotten out, in spite of the chilly, damp weather. The sky had begun to grey in the East, and they were stretching their limbs, eating sandwiches and drinking hot beverages from thermoses, or using the toilets in the terminal building. The boy walked through the rows of cars as if belonging to one of them, and carefully considered his options.

He decided on a dark blue van. The driver, a burly man with a grim, ogerish face and a snake tattoo around his thick upper arm, locked the van with a remote and left for the terminal building. The boy peered through the windows. There were no other passengers inside, and several cardboard boxes had been stacked in the space behind the back seats. Careful to appear casual and unselfconscious, he took up position behind the rear doors, where he would be unobserved by the driver upon his return.

When the van beeped once and flashed its lights, and the doors unlocked with an audible clunk, he quickly opened the door, slipped in, closed it and crawled underneath the back seats. There, he figured, he would be invisible from the windows and from the front seats.

His stomach cramped with fear and excitement, as always when he had committed himself to a plan, and was now helplessly waiting whether it worked out or whether he would be caught. The van’s engine growled itself awake. The driver turned on the radio. Amy Winehouse’s hoarse, plaintive voice filled the space between them.

“So we are history, your shadow covers me, the sky above a blaze that only lovers see.”

Then the van jerked into motion, rolled slowly forward, rumbled over the ribbed metal ramp, and into the belly of the ship. When the driver killed the engine again, the boy had already braced his feet against the struts holding the seat, ready to push himself forward. As soon as he heard the door being opened, he shot out of his hiding place and to the rear door. Hoping the overall thundering, throbbing noises of the ship and the other cars would cover his exit, he opened the door, slipped out, ducked around the corner of the next car, straightened, and walked away casually.

On deck the peach and salmon glow on the Eastern horizon had faded back into the Prussian blue of a gloomy day. Two girls had taken advantage of the lull in the rain, and were standing by the guardrail, looking out at the emptiness of the open North Sea. They were chatting in fluent Gaelic, telling each other giggling gossip, when the bruised boy approached them.

They interrupted their conversation and eyed him curiously, but friendly. He struggled to ask his question.

“Can you tell me what this means in English?” He cleared his throat and blushed, trying to pronounce what he had been told, in halting whispers in the dark of the night five days before: “Hah Geul Ah-kum orsht.”

He had to repeat it twice. The girls giggled again.

“Wis she a bonnie lass?” one girl asked.

Helpless the boy shrugged, their reaction already confirming what he had been most afraid of. When she told him, he thanked her, blushing even worse.

After two hours the ferry docked in Stromness. He just walked off together with the other foot passengers. Nobody challenged him, and he disappeared in the narrow, steep alleys.


  1. You're alive! Hurrah! :) Missed you, hon.

    You switch point of view briefly at the end, from "him/them" to "us". "Amy Winehouse’s hoarse, plaintive voice filled the space between us."

  2. I'd like to imagine that you've been on some exotic summer holiday, but that somehow seems unlikely. In any case, it's good to see some activity here again.

  3. Yeah. Still alive. And as promised, still working on it, even if the gaps got pretty long. But no exotic summer holiday, more a fucking strenuous summer job... ah, never mind. It's another 2 weeks of motor grease and monkey wrenches, and then thing should slow down and I should be able to post again regularely. I hope. Thanks for the catch, Jes. I'm having so much probems with the change of narrator. Ugh. Hey Ben, glad you're at least still on as a reader. Missing you all. (And yeah, that includes you, M! Fucking traitor. :P)

  4. Personal: Good to see you back FF.

    Technical: "When the driver killed the engine, he was crouched under the seat,"

    Was the driver crouched under the seat? :-)

    Overall: I don't mind the 3rd person narrator shift, or the slight distancing since everything up to this point was so close and so personal. But, it is a shift. And so I have to ask, "Why?" It smells like you have a lot of reasons for it. As long as they are good reasons...

  5. Well, either things didn't slow down, or you've hit some creative blocks. I can manage perfectly well without regular postings, but forgive me if I can't resist checking on you from time to time. Hope things return to normal (whatever that may be) in short order.

  6. Just reading some of our exchanges on my defunct blog. I miss you, damn it! Mail me?

  7. Hi, FreeFox!Long time no see- everyone i know around here seems to have vanished or sth. Hope ur ok. if ud like to talk or whatever, u know my e-mail right? i've missed ya...can't help but feel some of us were a little group a band.

  8. Hey Lou. Actually i think I don't know your mail anymore. Wasn't you Gmail account deleted or something?

  9. I guess that answer questions of an anonymous reader, who never offered any feedback, and is (emotionally, intellectually and physically) a complete polar opposite of you, probably not in your list of things to do ...

    And, at large, I'm fine with that.

    But this Sunday, my existence is even emptier than usual, so I bother to ask, even without waiting for a reply:

    Is this over?

    Regardless of anything, I hope you are alive and well!

  10. @Anonymous: Alive, more or less well, and not over at all. Just in an artistic as well as personal thicket. There is a couple more chapters done, but not exactly ready for publication, as I might scrap them entirely and try it differently. But no promises when I will continue publishing here, maybe next week, maybe next year. But James Bond WILL return. ^_~

    Hey, but now you got me curious in this emotionally, intelectually, and physically polar opposite reader. Tell me more. You never know, might spur me into action.

    Cheers, mate.

  11. Nice to know!
    Ahh, myself, probably the most boring subject on Earth...
    I will not bother you (embarrass me) with that. Not when sober, anyway.
    Let me just say that:
    You are a fascinating animal (sorry, I'm non-religious) in a not easy or obvious manner, while I am like a non-edible plant, just not as exciting or useful.
    Even more so now, good luck in whatever you are doing and, perhaps, until next time!

  12. Hey again FF,

    Itching a little bit for a fix on the "Tales of Rikki."

    You mention some chapters are written but yer uneasy about them. - "not exactly ready for publication"

    Is this site meant to be a finished draft sort of thing? I thought you were publishing here, but taking in comments and ideas for future revisions. If so, then I'm going to change my comment style.

    But, if they are not exactly ready for publication, then why not get some feedback from your fan-base? Let us tear you a new one (couldn't resist).

    Come on, trust us with your writing! We'll rip into it but we'll be gentle on the ego.

  13. Are you lost now that I'm back, or something? I will make another email like the last one that I'm locked out of because of the time & then I guess I'll see if you want to be found. M

    1. @Mischa: Didn't get any mail. Least not from you, mate.

      @Andrew: Had a spot of bother here, still getting sorted in the new place.

      @Ben: Considering myself properly nudged. Ta, mate.

  14. *Looks at the funny new indents* Wow, gone for half a year and they redecorated...

  15. Did you get any e-mail from me? If not - send me another, as I can't for the life of me work it out for myself!

  16. Hmm, I'm wondering whether to worry about you now. I suppose I shouldn't - you seem to have the knack of looking after yourself.

    All the same, best wishes. My selfish wish to hear from you is not as great as my wish that you are happy.

    1. I got your mail last February. I... couldn't answer at the time. Too much fucked up stuff happening. Just wouldn't know what to say. But, well, ta, man! It meant a lot.

  17. I'm glad the email reached you.

    Hope 'stuff' is less fucked up now! It's never too late to answer an email...