The dog telling me to be careful about going down to the house. But I ain’t got nowhere else to sleep so I creep out the rocks all stealthy.
I want to ask the dog about the tracks in the snow but I reckon the dog don’t know nothing about them cos it’s a dog and dogs don’t know about those kind of things.
Must be something big come through here by the size of the tracks. I got a smell of it in the morning when I come back from breaking the ice on the water – which is why I gone and hid on the hill. That and Magda shouting out all angry.
I ain’t never smelt a snow truck up here before. I know it can’t be stealers cos A it’s the winter and B stealers don’t have trucks. Only government have snow trucks. But what they’re doing up here away from the power lines I don’t know.
We ain’t doing nothing except sell our skins to Geraint without papers. Government need skins and people in the city need skins too. So where they think they’re gonna get them if it ain’t stragglers like us freezing our fingers off in the mountains trapping hares for their warm gloves and boots? We ain’t stealers. We’re just up here looking after ourselves.
Dad say we’re beacons of hope. I never really know what he’s got in his head when he talk like that. I don’t know what he means. And I’m worrying about all that beaconof-hope stuff and the government trucks, and my sled bash me in the leg cos I’m not concentrating on getting down the hill proper and I’m dragging it behind me. I got the firewood on it that I got this morning so it’s good and heavy and running away if I let it.
The barn been open. I sniff inside. The goats gone. I close the doors. Shut them tight. Got to go and look in the house.
I’m right about the fire. It musta gone right out cos the house is cold as stone. And dark.
The door scrape across the stones. I stand inside still as I can, but my breathing sound really loud so I try to make it quiet, but that don’t help much. I wait about half an hour just standing on the stones with my breath on the air, ready like a hare that heard an eagle.
It’s dark as dark inside.
I got to listen good, cos if someone been upstairs waiting for me I want to hear them creaking on the floor above.
But the only creaking is just the old house moving in the cold.
And there ain’t no answer.
I put my hand against the wall and feel my way down the passage. I can feel every lump under the cold plaster and I know my palm’s gonna be dusty white if I can see it. I come to the coats still hanging on the pegs, the fur all soft. But no one go out without their coat in this weather? I don’t understand why the coats still here and the people ain’t.
I got a funny feeling being all alone in the house cos my back’s to the door and it’s dark and I don’t like it.
But like the dog say, can’t stop to think about that now.
I get to the kitchen, the same roundside smells seeping out of the dark. I tap along the beam to find the box of tinder cos I got none in my pouch – but the box fall to the floor with a bang. It really make me jump and I got to stay still for a while more. But no one come leaping out the shadows so I reckon the house is safe for now.
The dog worrying me too much. Thing is, dogs can’t make fire and stuff so they got to be more careful than us. That’s the only trouble with wearing the dog skull. The spirit of that dog get right inside me sometimes and I forget who I am. That’s what my dad say when he make me stay in the house with the others and do my reading with Magda.
I say, Dad, I can read enough.
Cos I had to sit around with Magda all day when I was little, doing reading, and what do I need it for when I got to catch hares and get wood and stuff as soon as I got old enough?
Dad say it’s cos I’m human that I got to learn reading and not spend all day out on the mountain thinking like a dog. I don’t think Dad know about my secret place where I keep the animal skulls and get my power from, but I think he got a bit suspicious. I mean he just about let me wear the dog skull but he ain’t happy about it. I know.
Dad hit me once cos of it – the skull go flying across the room. You’re not a bloody dog, Willo! He been good and angry. But the skull ain’t broken. I got a strong feeling that I hate him when he do it but it pass by the next day. Can’t hate your dad. Cos he’s your dad. And sooner or later you’re gonna want to show him something clever you done like catching a big hare or stitching a neat pair of gloves. Don’t matter if your dad hit you or not – you’re gonna want him to know what you been doing.
My dad got funny ideas about things. He always think things gonna change, things gonna get better like they were before. He says man thinks he caused all this cold and snow but he didn’t. Dad say the snow gonna come anyway after the sea stop working – he say the planet’s stronger than all the people on it and gonna do what it wants. He say we just got to learn. Like in the days long ago. That’s usually when he start talking about beacons of hope.
He got this picture see. He keep it in his book. I really like this picture. It got painted a long time ago by a man called Broogle. It’s called Hunters in the Snow. What I like about it are the hunters walking through the village with all their dogs. I mean you can tell it’s proper cold cos down below the lake is frozen over and the sky is all green like it gets. Raven sitting up in a tree.
The thing I like best though is just the dogs. The hunters got loads of dogs. Thin kind of ones with long noses and all of them sniffing along behind the men. But the hunters only caught a fox. Not much to eat on a fox. Maybe they catch it for its fur. But Dad say no, he say the hunters only got a fox cos it’s a hard long winter. He says all the things in the picture were put there to say something like telling a story. So the dead fox supposed to tell us that the people ain’t been too successful on their hunt cos times been hard and there ain’t no hares. He say the picture got painted a long time ago when it been cold like now. He say it snowed for more than a hundred years and everyone got proper hungry and lots of people died. Ain’t no different to now, just less people and they know how to get on better then. They didn’t have to go and live in the city then. They didn’t have a government telling them it’s gonna get hot when really it ain’t, it’s gonna get cold. Dad say we’re like those hunters, and people call us stragglers but we got to be beacons of hope till things get better.
But if everything in the picture got a reason behind it then what I see is that raven black and hungry. Raven just sitting in the tree looking down on all those people in the snow. I reckon that raven looking at the dead fox the man got slung over his shoulder, and the raven probably thinking, I could do with that dead fox, man. The raven ain’t looking at the people in the village skating on the ice or the frozen mill on the lake or the woman making a big fire by the house. He’s just thinking about food.
But I don’t say nothing to Dad about that cos he thinks that picture telling us everything gonna be all right again one day, that the snow gonna melt and everyone gonna get on like before. I don’t know about that, but I know the picture roundside about and I really like it.
Soon I got the fire lit good and it make a soft dance on the walls that gets the whole room friendly just like it used to be. And warm too, which is good cos I got proper cold by now and everything shaking. My teeth shaking. My hands shaking. My legs shaking. All from sitting out on the hill all day in the snow. Only thing is there ain’t no people here.
I ain’t gonna mind if the place been filled with kids shouting and scampering. No I ain’t gonna mind that, whatever I say before. In fact I almost wish a little one been clinging round my leg right now. Someone who’s gonna tell me what happened, just keep me company.
It get to me in a moment.
I go to the door and shout out to the valley but my voice get eaten in the dark. Outside the snow’s falling heavy. There ain’t no wind so the flakes are all big and round and soft and they just keep dropping down from the sky one after another straight down like they ain’t never gonna stop. Falling soft and silent, covering my footprints down the hill, covering the track marks from the truck. That kind of snow gets deep real quick. I ain’t never gonna know which way that truck went now.
Looking out at the snow falling down from the big black sky brings that panic bubbling up in my throat and I feel like I’m gonna choke if I don’t stop it. I got a feeling terrifying inside me in the darkness. Dark and nothing all around me.
But the dog saying, I think everything gonna be all right inside the house tonight, everything all right for now. The storm coming in and you just got to make the best of it.
So I get some coats and lie down by the fire.
You can’t do much except sleep or talk in front of a fire and I ain’t been tireder for a good long time. Sometimes sleep been the best thing. Maybe tomorrow gonna be better.
Yes, tomorrow gonna be better.
That’s for sure.
I wake up wrapped inside the coats. It feel proper warm and good.
Then I remember what happen the day before.
I never hear Magda shouting like that before. And no one here. No one come back to the house.
Thinking that make me sit up pretty quick and heavy I tell you. I never got awake that heavy in my heart before not even when my sister Alice gone to live on Geraint’s farm.
This is ten times worse than that.
The fire nearly out now. I just sit there on the floor wrapped in all those coats. I guess my mouth been hanging open cos I’m staring at the fire but not really at it, sort of past it, and I can see my breath in the air and a thin line of light between the boards at the window cos a new day begun.
A picture of Geraint come into my head. It’s a picture of Geraint up on his pony laughing at my dad. For some reason I can see his short dirty fingers like they’re too big. They got to be the biggest thing about him in my headpicture.
Maybe I’m gonna go across the mountain to Geraint’s place. Sell some skins. You’re dreaming boy. It’s the dog again.
But I don’t feel right about Geraint with that picture of him in my head. I’m not sure Geraint’s gonna welcome me with open arms if I turn up at his place either. A dark thought cross my mind. Maybe it all got something to do with him. Everyone being taken away I mean. Maybe he tell the government about my dad living up here without papers, or something proper bad, something bad that got a bit of truth mixed in with it.
My dad says he ain’t causing no harm. He says, If you’re gonna be a beacon of hope you got to be positive and not think negative thoughts.
He usually talk that kind of talk with Patrick when they’re curing the skins. Sometimes I think he’s talking to me with all that stuff but I act like I ain’t listening. That way he thinks I just been concentrating on scraping the skins cos if he thinks I been listening he’s gonna ask me a lot of stupid questions I ain’t gonna answer.
Patrick never say nothing much back. But he listen pretty good all the same. I reckon he know my dad’s head roundside about the amount of time they been spending together curing skins and my dad spouting on all the time like he do.
Patrick ain’t been with us for too long. He just turn up one spring day and say he want to stay. He virtually beg on his knees cos he been proper thin then and no warm clothes on his back. He just come right off the mountain. He say he been in the power plant at Wylfa. But he run away and then he find us all hidden up here. Which is lucky for Patrick cos I reckon a couple more days out on the Rhinogs like that and he’s gonna wake up dead.
But Patrick’s lucky in other ways too. Number One, he got here in the spring. Cos if he try running from Wylfa in the winter he’s gonna freeze for sure, and if he come here in the snow we ain’t gonna let him stay anyway.
Not after that family from the city come up here one winter mewling and begging.
You can’t afford to lose even one potato in a bad winter. That family, they just eat our food and then die anyway. When they die I think Magda put the baby out on the hillside cos I seen footsteps in the snow the next morning but I didn’t say nothing cos the baby been near starved and covered in sores and crying all the time after the woman died and we got no milk or nothing for it. Specially not in the winter. Sick baby you can’t do nothing for’s gonna drive you mad with its crying I tell you that for a fact.
Anyway, after that the grown-ups decide there ain’t gonna be no charity no more. Not in the winter. You got to work for your share all summer if you want to stay. But Patrick, he come in the spring and everyone see he got big strong arms on him even though he got no fat left on his bones.
At first my dad want to know everything about the power plant and trouble stirring in the shanties. But Patrick don’t talk much about his life before. That’s the first thing you got to know about Patrick. Cos you’re gonna see from his frostbitten hands and the lines on his face that he want to forget all that kind of stuff. Patrick’s just gonna get on with hauling wood and trapping and curing and that’s that.
But he listen to my dad talking. My dad say the government keep everyone blind by making them live in cold little boxes and not move anywhere without papers and send them off to work in the power plants or coal mines even if they don’t want to, just cos they manage to get an extra pair of gloves or a stick of wood. I guess he’s talking about Patrick then.
One time I hear Patrick say that after all the troubles, when lots of people die, government got even more control then and people start getting angry and my dad says yes, it’s cos the people got scared which make them angry, and they got guilty they made all the bad weather happen – and while they been scared and guilty and angry and busy digging themselves out of the snow, government been planning. And the government got all the money and the food and the medicine and the keys to the trucks and the power lines and the juice just like it always was.
Dad says it was gonna happen anyway and we just got to learn to live different, and it don’t matter about all the oil and stuff especially now there ain’t so many of us. People just got to forget the government and learn to live different and we’re all gonna be all right in the end when the snows stop.
That’s why he keep that picture, the one I told you about. I guess that’s the kind of thinking he read about in his book – but it’s just his thoughts so I don’t see no harm in that. Patrick say it ain’t gonna be long before they’re gonna come looking for people thinking like that. If we make it on our own up here, Patrick say, then more people gonna come from the shanties, and the government ain’t gonna like that one bit. Not one little bit.
We ain’t doing nothing wrong, but if someone like Geraint tell the government that my dad thinking like he do, I reckon they definitely gonna send up big trucks to find us. And like Patrick point out, it don’t matter how many trees growing in front of the house then.
I been getting cold sitting here on the floor. That dark thought about Geraint ratting on us don’t get any better with thinking it roundside about you see. A picture of his short dirty fingers pop back into my head. And then I start remembering about how Alice got a baby with him. And she only been fourteen.
Maybe this been how my dad feel all the time.
But if I get to Geraint’s farm maybe I can sneak in all quiet and stick it to him for ratting on us. Get him to tell me where Dad is. I sit up on my knees and stir up the fire. Soon it start to get going again and I put on my clothes. I left them hanging from a nail so they ain’t all freezing and damp but good and warm. Part of me wants to crawl back inside my nest on the floor but I know I can’t do that today. The others are all gone and it’s the first day of me being Number One. I ain’t never been Number One.
I light a candle on the mantel. The kitchen look like it always do. The stones on the floor all worn by the larder door, scrubbed so clean they almost shine. Big wooden table running along the wall and the benches pushed out like someone just got up. They even left the bowls and cups lying there like they been halfway through breakfast. One of the little spoons that Dad carve when the twins been born lying broken on the floor. I guess that been exactly what happen. The government trucks come and pull everyone out the house before they even finish eating.
I open the door to the larder. Ain’t no one here to scold me, get your hungry fingers out of there, Willo. The larder got that smell it always got from the onions strung up from the ceiling and the barrel of salted butter and the herbs and potatoes – and if you been lucky a couple of hare.
Government people didn’t take none of our food by the look of it. Just the goats in the barn. Ain’t touched the big sack of oats and salt. They didn’t take nothing except goats and people. People without their coats.
Maybe that’s what Magda been shouting about so angry yesterday. Being taken away with no coat on this time of year. But she got quiet real quick. I didn’t see nothing cos I was still down by the river then. I just hear her shouting out.
Maybe the trucks gonna bring everyone back sometime when they see we ain’t doing nothing wrong?
A scary thing happen then. I just been standing in the larder thinking about my dad and everyone without their coats. I can see the light coming through cracks in the boards at the window.
And something pass by. I see a shadow block out the crack of light for a second. It just go past the window. All quiet and quick.
I blow out the candle.
Someone out there.
My heart beat so fast. I hear the blood rushing in my head. Hide. Somewhere dark and safe. And make it quick. Whoever is out there, soon they’re going to be in here. Dog always know what to do.
There’s a door that go up to the workroom above the kitchen. I get in quick cos I know it’s dark up there. And I don’t know if that shadow I seen at the window gonna be coming inside the house or not.
And I don’t know what that shadow gonna be like.
Hungry stealer with a heavy stick in his hand creeping about the house maybe. Sniffing me out. That’s why my dad got all the boards on the windows.
My head been drowning in a bucket of fear. I feel like I’m falling – legs just ain’t got nothing below them no more. Falling down forever into a dark icy sea. Get up those stairs boy. The dog’s here to help me cos I’m tumbling in the freezing black, and no arm to pull me out.