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Authors: Natasha Carthew

Winter Damage (9 page)

BOOK: Winter Damage
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The whole county out hunting and the news headlines wondering how things had got so bad, children murdering children, whatever next? She was a fugitive now, a murdering fugitive.

Throughout the morning Ennor occupied herself by spying bits of wood that peeped through the frozen snow and she tied them into a bundle with the rope Rabbit had used. Her head still swam from the gorse wine and she promised herself a pan of tea heated on a fire of her own soon enough.

The collected wood was nothing but a few damp sticks and she eyed each patch of shadow that stretched across the high looped plains ahead for anything resembling trees. The search paid off when, in a sprawling cut of valley, she saw the green-white canopy of a pine forest.

Ennor knew forests were dangerous places; the hostile forestry commission protected them from theft and she made sure to step just once past the boundary to scan for fallen limbs.

Her ankle throbbed and occasionally buckled when she bent a certain way and she kept herself going with thoughts of warm fire and hot tea.

She hauled what wood she could manage far enough away from the forest to not be seen and dug a snow circle with her boot, lighting some of the dry gorse she carried in her shirt pocket and feeding the fire in an orderly manner until it was big and smiling and she smiled back.

Snow was boiled to water and then to tea and she sat on the tarp and savoured it and thought about the boy with his rude hands and his teeth snipping at her flesh like a wild thing and the strength in her bones weakened to a brittle snap and she thought she might sink down into the snow and peat earth and never be found.

Tears bubbled in her eyes and ran into the corners of her mouth. She licked them away and washed the salt down with the tea and lay close and tangled to the fire and closed her eyes to the rising dawn.

Sleep came in an instant and the young girl clung to this other world that was safe and familiar and she pulled the stillness into a place of covered thoughtlessness.

In the passing hours while she slept the sun came and went and with its passing it pulled a drag of heavy cloud from the east which held a new kind of darkness.

Ennor woke with a start and she called out into the abyss that was isolation. The fire was long gone and tiny flakes of ice caught on the wind and landed on her face. The snow had returned.

Fast as a bullet she packed up her few belongings and chased the path she’d made crossways to the valley and towards the forest for shelter.

Beneath the canopy of guarding trees Ennor felt as if she were among friends and she caught her fingertips on the tall trunks as she idled. The smell of rotting pine needles fixed in her throat and smelt like funny foreign tea and she pulled fresh needles from a lower bough and put them in her coat pocket for when teabags became history.

At first the snow did not come into the forest and it was as if another set of laws ruled the place, something set in the granite shift of stone beneath the light-bounced surface.

She took out her notebook and followed the winding route of words she’d written and forests were written here and there and everywhere with confusion and she snapped the book shut. All she could see was an imprint of the yellow door that would lead to Mum.

As Ennor walked the forest came to life with whistles from its duelling boughs and she thought she heard music and smiled and marvelled at the trees and the wind and perhaps the brilliance of her imagination.

The comforting music became louder as she walked and, further still, voices joined the music and the raucous singing threatened to lift the canopy of trees clean off the ground.

Ennor stopped stony dead and she turned an ear to the sound and stared hard and fearless into the fading light. She squinted at things that weren’t there and crouched to the ground the way a wild animal might, her ear still cocked against the noise of trees for better listening.

The flicker of light was occasional and jagged, turning off when movement eclipsed it with dancing shadows, erratic flicker-book acrobatics that nobody could see but Ennor. She rubbed her eyes and looked again and her instinct was to run but the fire and scent of happiness hooked her closer and she sat huddled in the dark shadow of the trees and watched the colourful strangers. The music fattened her ears until she was full to the brim with sugary pleasure and she dropped mindless into the exotic dream.

 

‘You dead?’

Ennor closed her eyes to the early morning rise and hoped the voice was in her imagination.

‘Hey, I’m talkin to you.’

A sharp kick against her shin made Ennor lurch forward and she opened her eyes to a pair of split and restitched biker boots.

‘That hurt.’

‘It was meant to. Good to see you alive and not the other. Thought I’d have to spear you and roast you cross the fire.’

Ennor sat up and rubbed her leg as she looked at the dark-eyed girl squatting beside her.

‘You’re not a spy, are you?’

Ennor hugged her rucksack into her arms away from the girl.

‘Leave me alone.’

‘Why the hell? You’re on
my
property. What you got in your precious big bag?’

‘Nothin, I gotta go.’

‘That’s a whole lot of nothin.’ The girl started to laugh and she told Ennor she’d have to bring her in on account that she was trespassing. When she stood up straight, Ennor noticed she was a way big girl and not with fat but big with muscle and bone.

Ennor gathered up her blanket and tied her boots as fast as she was able because the girl was everything that meant trouble and more.

‘Don’t worry, I int gonna steal your crap. Not just yet anyway, hell.’

She sat down on the snow beside Ennor and was close enough for malice if she tried to run.

‘You see a gypsy girl and what you think? You think criminal intent.’

‘Dint say that.’

‘You don’t have to say somethin to think it.’

Ennor prepared herself for some shape of a beating and she asked God if he was punishing her for killing the boy. She clenched her teeth to a bite and counted seconds. One, two, three . . .

‘I’m Sunshine.’ The girl slapped her hands to Ennor’s cheeks and searched her eyes for fear and she gave her chin a little pinch and laughed. ‘Pleased to meet you. My friends call me Sonny and so can you for starters but madden me and we’re back to Sunshine and a whole lot of whip-ass.’

Ennor told the girl her name and Sonny laughed some more and got up again and headed towards last night’s fire and shouted for Ennor to follow if she was hungry.

‘Where we goin?’

‘To meet the others. You’re mine now.’

Ennor followed the girl out of the forest and past the smoking embers and she shouted that she really had to be on her way.

As they walked through the camp the gypsy girl shouted to everyone who might be listening that they had a visitor and she spat out Ennor’s name like it was poison.

Some faces looked up from their doings but most did not. Ennor smiled just in case but nobody paid her much attention.

She looked skyward and a lone magpie caught her eye and she counted it, one, as it flew against the snow clouds and settled on the roof of one of the trailers.

‘That’s bad luck.’

‘What is?’

‘That magpie.’

‘It’s just a dumb bird. There int no such thing as luck and bad luck. Nobody ever tell you that?’

Sonny led her to a stack of upturned crates that circled another smouldering fire and told her to sit.

‘What if I don’t?’

Sonny laughed and shook her head to indicate she thought her crazy and she set about refuelling the fire with pine branches that were stored beneath a plastic sheet.

Sonny sat back and nodded into the flames with a satisfying grin. ‘You like coffee? I could murder a cup of coffee.’

Ennor nodded.

‘Well that’s tough for the both of us cus all we got is tea.’

She disappeared into the trailer with the magpie glaring down from the roof and Ennor took a moment to take in the higgledy camp.

Some of the trailers were without wheels and bracken had fingered its way into hub spirals and cracks and holes where things used to be useful out on the road.

Paths had been railroaded through the snow to connect the homes to where Ennor sat. The surplus snow was banked into ice walls for both privacy and orderly living.

She reckoned people had been settled there a long time. They had grown into the fabric of the moor as if patchworked into place with remnants of a forgotten land.

Their lives looked as though they hadn’t changed in for ever and the end of the world had not hit them because they were self-sufficient and lived close enough to poverty in any case. Like Ennor they didn’t have so far to fall and there was comfort in that.

Sonny appeared behind her and she splashed a mug of tea into her lap and sat with a bounce on the crate beside her.

‘My dad wants to know if you’re from the fascist forestry commission, one of their kids or somethin.’

The girl stared at Ennor. Her skin and eyes and hair were like Ennor’s own only darker, and her accent thicker with a hundred other accents mixed and spiced within.

‘Cat chewin on your tongue?’ she asked.

‘No.’

‘No what?’

‘No I’m not with the forestry and there’s no cat eatin my tongue.’ She gulped at the tea and it was sweet and strong and tasted like the fruitcake once made backalong.

‘My dad thinks you’re a spy.’

‘Well if I see him, I’ll tell him I int.’

‘Dad?’ Sonny shouted ‘The forestry spy wants to talk to you.’

‘Not got time for your games right now, girl,’ he shouted from inside the trailer and Ennor couldn’t help herself and started to laugh.

‘Lucky for you,’ Sonny snapped. ‘Personally I think you’re guilty in some way all right. Like you got somethin to hide.’

Ennor glanced at the woodpile and Sonny followed her look.

‘That’s all found wood sittin there, so mind you don’t think otherwise.’

‘I’m not. Just lookin round.’

They drank their tea and looked about and into the fire and Sonny peppered Ennor with friendly fire questions and with every answer given she laughed and declared it nonsense.

‘No way you out on a nature walk. Got a lump on your back like a snail movin home. I think you’re a pathological liar, is what I think. A regular bar of fruit and nut.’

Ennor didn’t know what ‘pathological’ meant and wasn’t about to get into an argument over it and she told the girl to believe what she wanted.

‘I gotta go in any case.’ She drank the tea down fast, then flicked the tea leaves into the fire and set the mug down on the crate where she’d been sitting.

‘No you int. Where to?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘You’ll miss the party tonight.’ She got up to block Ennor’s path and the look on her face suggested a fight hug mix-match.

‘Looked like a good enough party you had here last night.’

‘That was impromptu. Today is the shortest day party, the twenty-first. The proper one.’ She put her hands on her hips and looked Ennor up and down. ‘There’s a storm comin back, worse than before, they say.’

Ennor thought about the storm and she counted out the four days remaining. Four days to find Mum and get back to Dad and Trip. She looked at the girl with the non-stop chat.

‘What?’ she said.

‘I said even spies have one day off occasionally. You hungry?’

Ennor shrugged. ‘A little.’

‘I got Coco Pops. You like Coco Pops?’

‘Never had um.’

‘They’re mine. I nicked a box from the village shop before the wire mesh went up, hell.’

She grabbed Ennor’s hand and pulled her towards the trailer and into the kitchen.

‘Wow,’ said Ennor.

‘What?’

‘It’s like a proper kitchen. Like in a house, I mean.’

‘Of course it is. Well it would be if we had the gas to work anythin. Sit down, would you?’

Sonny stomped about the kitchen opening and closing cupboard doors. Ennor sat quiet and rocking and secretly coveting the full-size cooker and the washing machine alongside it.

‘I do all the washin by hand.’

‘What’s that?’

‘At home I do all the washin by hand.’

‘The dishes?’

‘No the clothes. Out the back of our trailer we got an old tin bath. I do it there.’

Sonny laughed and pushed a huge bowl of cereal on to the table. ‘Milk’s fresh from the goat, none of your shop-bought swill.’

‘You got cows too?’

‘Nope.’ Sonny sat across from her and watched her eat with the excitement that a new toy brought, excitement and devilment gleaming in her eyes.

‘We got cows. Used to have Simmentals but Dad lost those to foot-and-mouth and now we got a half-dozen Friesians.’

Sonny nodded and made a face to pretend she was interested while indicating she wasn’t in the least. ‘Foot-and-mouth was a bummer. There were fires all cross the moor. Mountains of cows with their feet pokin up and out like sticks. We had to keep movin sites to keep from the stench.’ She sat back and smiled at her new friend and Ennor thought it was her, if anyone, who was crazy.

BOOK: Winter Damage
10.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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