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23

Feathers whistled, a long, low breath of admiration as he watched his brother circle round the clearing. There was no doubt about it, he thought, Steven was a best magician of the three. Despite the reckless ambition of a second son, he knew. He would never be chief. His younger brother threw the silver button high in the air with a whoop of excitement and clapped his hands.

‘Fly, Steven, fly!’ he shouted.

The button flipped end over end in the smoky, inland air. At the height of its trajectory, in the split second of its hesitation, a black flash pelted by and caught that special souvenir neatly in its beak, raced into the night.

Steven soared up and out of the clearing, those rattling pods in his grasp. He didn’t look back at the village, set those razor eyes on the lookout up above. The blackness below glinted the occasional silver reflection as a stream, a pond passed by, he saw a retreating cloud of dust stained molten red by the rear lights of Michaels jeep in the distance heading for the coast, then set his course at the top of the hill for that glowing mountain far away.

Behind Yasur the ocean glittered, the curling white of the waves catching the bright moonlight, fading into distant black, an invisible horizon between the sea and the sky. He hovered above the lookout, riding the ebb and flow of wind, feeling the cool moist air of a late sea breeze come up behind him, balance the warmth he felt from the earth, send him gliding slowly down the slope to flap his wings, gain altitude, as the forest slid by beneath him.

It was cold here, an unexpected drop in temperature registered somewhere in the hawk, but he kept flying, working hard to escape that pull to earth, that heaviness that emanated from the village he glimpsed through the trees. The jungle was white with dust. He saw a fire as he passed overhead, a vast fat black man standing in the clearing, watched as he belched and stamped his way into the hut closest to him, flew silently by and out of reach. Even Steven’s soaring spirits lifted as he quit the pull of that place.

The gatekeeper kicked at one of his children, made a place to lie on the floor, eased his huge bulk slowly towards his chosen site till gravity could wait no more, then fell with a crash the last few inches, sat breathless on the mat. ‘I don’t like that white man,’ he said.

Now Steven was flying over the empty plains toward the base of the volcano, circling across the wastelands, waiting for the wind. High above him the sky turned light, a spear of bitter smoke shot straight up into the sky, lit from below with fire of hell, lit from above by the moon. And then it came, nature’s
compensation, food of the air, that answering gust of cool, clean air, sucked up the sides of the hill by the explosions at its tip. Steven rode that breeze, rising close to the slope, his wings spread wide to catch every breath of energy from the air, gliding directly over the long, steep path to the top. His sharp eyes could pick out the Daniel’s dancing footprints, tell when he got tired, mark the flurry in the dust where he stopped to catch his breath.

 

Steven could see the thousand faintly luminous trails left by dead men trailing high, sense the thousand more that had travelled these mystical pathways to the gateway to the next world, maybe more.

Black against black, the hawk flew high, could sense the unease down below, stared across with laser eyes at the upcoming pit, saw two men and a child. He recognized Daniel from the resort and felt an unusual strength about the ruined man. The other man was wandering vacantly around the rim. Steven saw him change direction twice, could feel the unease about him, sense a fatal flaw.
But the hawk could only glimpse the scene. Just above the rim a vast core of hot air charged high into the sky, dragging everything with it. Steven had to turn and bank, bump against the far edge of the current of heat, ride it round and high, flick his wings and soar away into the renewed cool of the dark Pacific night. He was heading for the coast, a thousand feet below, diving clean for a beach by the sea, a village decked with flags and guns, an enemy wracked with pain.

Christopher sat silently by the dying embers of the fire in Sulphur Bay, ignored, alone, invisible. After a while a head popped out of the hut. The eyes were hostile, an arm waved him away. With a gesture of apology and a sigh of weary resignation he took the hint and his leave, shuffled away out of sight and walked onto the beach. In the midst of this mild tropical night there was still the smell of sulphur, he felt warm gusts of chemical air. Warm gusts. He headed for the smell, nearly tumbled into a dimly lit hole in rocks and sand. A thick plume of vapour was rising out of the gap, he saw the glint of reflected moon on steaming water and gingerly edged closer, squatted down beside his own personal heater from the abyss.

He fell in and out of mild hallucinations, kava dreams of rolling waves and the line between the sea and the sky. Nearly tumbled forward into the little well in front of him in sleep, rolled his eyes in amazement as he stared dizzily upward at that thick cloud of tropical stars, quoted Melville from memory and cried a little tear.

He sobbed for all the dead relatives, he wept for the innocence of his youth. Christopher’s rage fell out in droplets as he let his anger go. He closed his eyes and watched black turn blue then turquoise, deep sea roll up to shore, splash white then wet on jet sand beach. The sound of the waves was soothing and his breathing fell in step – gradually he fell silent and started to disappear.

He thought of the legend of the beginning of the world, looked out past the reef to the horizon, saw those grains of earth flung far again, felt the shudder of impact, watched the dawn of time. In a green shifting glow of shaft and star the Aurora Borealis tumbled through deep space, sparkling blue and yellow clouds of vapour across a blanket of stars. He knew where he was.

 

Back in a little boy’s bed with lightly closed eyes, scanning his private eternity for the glow of death. Back on the beach, plodding that aching ramble along its edge, the ashes of his parents underfoot. He wandered a thousand airports looking for the plane, traveling toward another thousand cinemas yawning, aching to be filled. A million years of solitude and self-absorption, an occasional minute of truth. Glimpses of other worlds and other times; a tickle at the edge of sight, a shadow of all Christopher’s secret selves shimmering clear for an instant, little fragments of connection, shining bubbles of his life.

It was these translucent pods of life that so mystified the dazzled stranger, these constant beads of his past that confused him so. They rolled in and out of this waking dream like bubbles, bouncing softly against him, showing him an instant of a minute of a day once thirty years ago, a vivid bud of memory. All the sights, the sounds, the drench of time came pouring through his soul, he felt the tug of motherly love, the gruff love of his dad, the ebb and surge of family things was a reminder of things gone, the kiss and hug of a fair skinned girl was too sweet to bear.

He knew he had locked the past away, had shut and bolted doors, hurled ancient keys far, far away, turned breathless to the dawn. But in the dead of night he heard that voice, his mother lost in time, wept bitter tears for the sound of his youth when home was real and family one. Long gone. Locked away. Too late.
Yet the vision was not one of loneliness, not yet the black tinge of fate. He saw in the light of his past lives a touch of the present, saw thin white lines of connection, a fine latticework of laser lines stretching out in all directions, saw the bubbles of those lives fan out, supported, drawn together in a slowly rotating web. Chris was at the centre. He heard Steven’s voice. !Move one shoulder forward, Gently. Now turn.

And Chris revolved in inner space, curled those lee lines of life around his body,

pulled those spheres of the past further in towards him, felt the sweet breath of fresh air as, one by one, they shattered at his touch, poured into his being and filled the empty vessel with forgotten love and family trust. He was growing stronger at each revolution, forging a heart of softest steel, winding his life around him, discarding his cloak of dreams,

 

Chris sat with his shoulders to the moon, looking out to sea. There was the faintest whistle, a breath of wind and the special silver button fell in the sand in front of him, He gasped and looked up. From high above him, against the pure face of the moon a black hawk hovered, silhouetted. Motionless, floating there, it watched the white man on the sand, then slowly sank behind him, his wings stretched out wide. Chris watched the descent without emotion, then glanced back at the button lying on the black sand. The hawk made no sound, there was no warning, just the Sound of moving air then wings became arms, claws turned legs and feathers flesh and bone,

Steven was sitting right behind Chris, his arms and legs surrounding him. Chris’ naked back was engulfed in Steven’s chest, warmed and protected and the white man leant back without surprise.

 

‘I knew you’d come back,’ he whispered, and leant his head back on the black man’s shoulder, stared wide eyed at the sky.

In a darkened hut on the far side of the square Joshua lay still, thinking of his father. He could hear the muffled sobs from his mother, prostrate on the ground, the howl of grief from the next hut, the sniff of muffled tears outside. His triumph had been forgotten. Something wasn’t right and his grandfather was too upset to talk. He crept out of his bed and silently clambered out of his favorite window, his escape route. There was too much going on in his head to lie still. He needed his special tree; he needed the blackness of night to cover all the distractions up so he could find the clue.

Daniel watched as the image of himself melted into the night. He knew his childish ghost was here again, realized he had seen it many times before. Out of the corner of an eye, a shimmering image on the far side of the night, a split second of a boy. For this was the boy who had failed the final test, the boy who ran away. This was the moment, on the rim of Yasur all those years ago, the time of his greatest failure and part of his lesson, he saw, was to live it through again.

Chris picked up the button and slipped it inside his shoe. ‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘Just what I needed,’ arid chuckled. He felt the answering heave in his companion’s chest and together they laughed and laughed into the night, the roar of an approaching wave joining with their unexpected glee at finding each other again.

‘Where have you been?’ Chris said eventually, when their chuckles had died down. ‘Last I saw of you, you were a..‘ and he stopped, amazed at what he was taking for granted. ‘You were a panther,’ and he laughed delightedly once more.

 

Steven snuggled him deeper into those giant arms and turned Chris round so he could see the white man’s face. Chris was grinning hugely, ‘This is so crazy,’ he whispered and nuzzled his nose against the black man’s chin. ‘This is completely out of control.’

Chris leant up and traced a line down Steven’s cheek with one finger. He stopped at the corner of his mouth, then followed the contours of those luscious lips across to the other side. Steven poked the tip of his tongue out as he did so, moistening Chris’ finger as it passed. The exploring digit pushed in to that mouth and was ravished by that tongue, together they wove a different spell, one to banish tribal feud and death from this steaming patch of black sand. Chris felt his spine tingle, a surge of blood in his loins and moved one arm to Steven’s back, running his fingers up and down, lightly touching that backbone, following the bumps down to the small of his back, toying with the top of his arse before climbing slowly back to the tip of his neck. Steven shivered.

‘Someone has walked over your grave,’ Chris said.

Steven held up the bunch of dried up pods and stared seriously at his smiling companion. ‘You will need these,’ he said softly.

‘What for?’

 

 The stark naivety of Chris’ answer surprised Steven. He paused as the white man kept talking.

 

‘What do you mean, I’ll need them? What are they?’

 

Steven ignored Christopher’s stupid questions. This was evidently a matter of some gravity. He held the bunch of dried pods up in one open palm so that it fell evenly on either side then dangled the pods in front of Christopher. ‘These are not yours?’ he said.

‘No, as a matter of fact, they’re not.’ And Steven listened gravely as Christopher told him about an adventure he had in a plane a hundred years ago.

In his banyan tree hideout nearby the little boy was listening. He could hear anything when he knew what to listen for. He felt the white man talking, heard another man close by. He recognized the black man from Yaohanon, felt the faint tug at his balls as he sensed danger close at hand. But the white man’s words took his attention. He felt he knew the story.

‘I saw this man. Tonight,’ said Steven.

‘Where, Steven?’

The black man gestured upwards with a nod of his head. ‘Yasur.’ he said.
Before he knew it young Joshua was on the rim. A blink, a flash of light and he was there. Looking for his father.

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