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Chapter 1 Extract from Eyes of Isaura (working title)

by Alex Harford

That night they all dreamt the same dream, and in the morning, as the first sun rose in the west, the bells rang.

Fen’s dad looked at him disapprovingly without knowing why.

“Be quick” he told him.

When the bells rang this early everyone had to gather at the market square, near the centre of the village, immediately. Adults went in their nightclothes, while children slept in the same tunic they wore by day anyway. Almost everything was forbidden, including eating, but Fen grabbed a crust of bread. The last time the bells rang this early they were at the square for so long that the second sun had started to rise. He swallowed the bread without much chewing and shoved a small apple into his tunic’s only pocket.

As he left home he realised it’d be tough to eat an apple in a crowd of people unnoticed, and it looked like a crispy one. It was too late. He’d find his friends, and share it. Maybe he should have brought a bigger apple.

“I’ll see you there, Da. Hi Adney, and Kre...” before Fen had chance to finish the names of the brother and sister, two of his best friends, they looked away - straight ahead and down. He stopped in the doorway - knowing they heard him. More people passed between the wooden huts lining the wide lane. Most didn’t acknowledge him at all, some adults looked disapprovingly, some children stared - only to be accosted or have their heads turned away by a parent.

A hand on his shoulder startled him.

“You were meeting me there…” his dad said, “we’re already late - part of the roof had fallen in, a good excuse. It must be what woke us in the night.”

Fen was speechless. His dad put a firm encouraging hand around his upper arm and led him out. Everyone else had passed in the short time he had been standing there. They were closer to the edge of the village than the centre, but not far away enough to be the last to reach the square. Fen dragged his feet, lifting up small clouds of dust behind him. In the sky, low clouds made it a sunless walk.

“I hope Kamien is well,” said his dad, “some were saying he looked like Death when he retreated to his cottage. They were going to give him until first sunrise, and break down his door if he didn’t respond.”

Fen still said nothing.

It was Kamien’s voice they heard when they entered the market square from the south, radiating from the podium near the north. They came within hearing distance to the usual talk about how the bells didn’t have to be rang often. And then…

“We all know why we’re here. I won’t announce him.”

The whole village stood in silence, the only sound the distant (so it seemed at the time) hushing of the waterfalls that fell from the impassable cliffs that backed the village and its fields.

Fen stood on his tiptoes and craned his neck, finding a way past the heads of the people. Over a shoulder he glimpsed Kamien, eyes closed, in the meditative state he’d often seen. Kamien seemed to rise, like he was floating, and he did look like Death.

“We all remember what happened yesterday,” Kamien’s mouth didn’t move, but it was his voice.

A sudden gasp that sounded like recognition spread from those nearest Kamien to the back of the crowd, where Fen and his dad were standing.

A convulsion jumped from Fen’s heels, through his body, to his head. Some turned around, spotted his dishevelled blond hair. Those closest could see eyes of pure white - apart from the tiny pupil, which suddenly expanded to fill his eyes with a deep blackness, as if they were reacting exaggeratedly to a rapid darkness.

“Yesterday?” he heard his father say, that warm, kind hand around his upper arm again. “What does he...you were with me for all bu…”

His dad’s grip loosened and Fen fell away from him. Why was everything so bright? Where was all the light coming from? He felt blinder than he’d ever been in the night, but the crowd parted and with only half his own will, he made his way to the podium and Kamien.

"Face them."

I have some changes to make on a printout of this somewhere - mostly smoothing the prose out, I think. It's not something I work on much, as I enjoy writing short stories more, but maybe I'll finish it one day.

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