Friday, December 13, 2013

The Legend of Hjarnes Island - Chapter 2

Chapter 2: The bird in the pine

James Phelps was bored. He was sitting on his usual seat in the class room close to the window. But his focus was not on the black board and certainly not on his teacher, the ever talking Ms. Twinch. Or Tweetie, as all the kids called her for obvious reasons. Instead he was focusing on what was going on outside the window. Actually, nothing much was going on out there on the school lawn, but even a bird singing from a tree top was more interesting than listening to Tweeties tweets.
It was one of the most beautiful birds he had ever seen: black with a white tail feather and a beaming yellow beak. It was sitting at the very top of a huge pine like the angel on top of a Christmas tree, though Christmas was long gone. It was mid June and there were only a few weeks to summer break, something James was very much looking forward to. He just couldn´t wait to get to the end of the last day of the semester and go home to pack his bags. And then it would be off to Bath. The Phelps family wasn´t exactly a poor family, but they could not afford expensive vacations. James knew his parents felt they should be able to give him and his sisters a better holiday and they were constantly excusing this fact to their children. Especially his mum. And though going there every year as long as he could remember was getting a bit tedious, it was far better than going to some exotic beach paradise. At least he thought so. Besides, there wasn´t much he could do about it and he didn´t want to let his parents know how he felt. They really did the best they could.
Another bird flew up to the top of the pine and the first bird stepped to the side as if it was welcoming a guest to its kingdom. It even seemed to nod its head, just like a real person saying hello without using words. James smiled. It was amazing how sometimes animals seem to copy human behaviour.
The janitor was mowing the lawn with a huge garden tractor. He had his thermos on one side and a box from the local bakery on the other. With one hand on the steering wheel the janitor managed to drive the tractor while munching loads of sweet bread. Every now and then he put the bread in the bakery box and went for coffee. For this he had to use both hands to open the thermos and pour its contents in his metal mug while driving the tractor with his legs. There is a solution to every challenge, if you really want to find it, James thought to himself with a smile on his face.
“What is so funny, James?” Ms. Twinch was looking at him with frowning eye brows, but he didn´t notice. His smile had already disappeared and he was staring at the birds in the pine. There were at least 5 of them now and they were all sitting on the same branch looking his way. It looked as if they were starring back at him. This was peculiar enough in itself, but what really puzzled him was that he was almost sure they had just nodded a hello to him - in unison? No, that can´t be, he thought, I must have imagined it. The birds shook their heads, again in unison, as if to say: No, what you saw is real, but don´t tell your teacher...
“James Phelps! Please pay attention in class!” Tweetie sounded quite annoyed and he´d better start focusing on school work, so he turned his head and looked at her. “Yes, Ms. Twinch, I´m sorry. I was drifting.”
“Yes, you were, but not anymore, you hear?” she said.
***
Out in the school yard, James was walking with his two best friends, Mikael and Jenny. They had brought their lunch with them and sat down by the pine. Jenny opened a green lunch box and offered them all cake. She always brought cake to school, even though they weren´t supposed to with the school having a food policy against any kind of sugar. But as long as they stayed out of sight from the principal´s office at the second floor, they should be all right. At least they hadn´t been caught ever. As the three of them enjoyed a mouthful of heaven in the warmth of the sun, Jenny broke the silence with the question, James had expected.
“What were you looking at, James?” she mumbled through chocolate chips and frosting, “Just now in class? What was it?”
Can´t tell them about the nodding, James thought before answering.
“Nothing much,” he said with eyes focusing on the grass, “Just some black birds sitting in the pine.”
Of course, Jenny knew him better than that. He couldn´t fool her.
“Yeah, right...” she laughed, “and Tweetie is my favorite teacher.” The irritation in her voice made him lift his head and he looked her in the eyes.
“You were looking at something much more than a few birds. I could see it in your face. You had one of those strange experiences again, didn´t you?”
James twitched his mouth. He knew, there was no way he could get around it.
“Yeah...” he sighed, “But if I tell you, you better not laugh this time, all right?”
They both smiled.
“Hey,” Mikael said spreading out his arms and looking as if he had just been accused of stealing cookies, “It´s us.”
“Yeah, that´s what I´m saying. When I told you abot the cat, you slapped your thighs red and rolled on the floor laughing.”
“What did you expect?” Mikael said leaning forward and looking at him through the top of his eyes, “A cat singing serenades at your window isn´t exactly something you see every day. It was hilarious! I thought you were joking…”
“Well, I wasn´t! It really happened and so did the thing with the birds today!”
“What thing,” Jenny asked, “You haven´t told us yet.” And so he told them about the black birds nodding hello and the connection he´d felt with them.
“It was as if they somehow spoke inside my head,” he tried to explain, “as if they had minds.. and their minds sort of.. I don´t know.. melted with mine?”
There was a tense silence as they looked at him as if he had just come out of a madhouse.
“So...” Jenny started, “You kind of.. connected through... I don´t know... like a kind of telepathy thing?”
He shook his head.
“No, it was more like.. I just knew what they knew. I didn´t exactly hear a voice. I just felt and knew what... well, I suppose what ‘they’ did? I even got the scent of the pine. And I wasn´t anywhere near it. I was sitting in class.. behind a window!”
James looked at them half expecting them to begin laughing any time soon, but they didn´t. They just sat there, looking at him with their heads tilted to one side, listening to what he had to say. The silence was creepy and he felt like it was approaching him from all sides, squeezing him into a closet of silence and darkness. After a while, he couldn´t take it anymore.
“Look, I know this is all strange and stupid... crazy even, but...”
He paused, giving Mikael the idea that this was a time for jokes.
“You forgot ‘insane’ and ‘delirious...’” he began, but stopped as Jenny punched him in the side with her elbow.
“Auch!”
He was about to protest, but then got the message.
“Sorry, didn´t mean it like that... go on?”
“Well, I don´t know what´s going on... But I know I´m not imagining all of this. I really do have some kind of connection with animals and I can´t explain it. I just know it´s real....” He paused for a bit, checking their reaction, and then continued.
“I just know it is, okay?”
***
“Hi, Jim! How was school today?”
Katherine Phelps was baking in the kitchen as he entered and sat down by the kitchen table.
“Fine,” he answered absently. She had just pulled some of her fabulous home baked bread out of the oven and began slicing a couple of pieces.
“If you get some spread in the cupboard, we could have a head start on the bread. And some coffee, if you want?”
He got up and went to the cupboard while his mother finished slicing and brought the bread to the table. They often did this the moment he came home from school. It was one of his favorite things. His mum worked as a cleaning lady early in the morning, so she was off work by noon. His two younger sisters were autistic and went to another school and his dad usually worked till late afternoon, so this was the only time during the day when everything was calm. ‘Normal hour’ he and his mother usually called it.
“So,” she said cheerfully, “Want to tell me about your day?”
“Nothing much to tell,” he shrugged, “Tweetie was a bit annoyed with me, because I was drifting.”
“James Phelps!” she corrected him, using both his Christian name and his surname.
“Sorry, mum. Ms. Twinch was angry with me, because I wasn´t paying attention in class. She was right, though, ´cause I really wasn´t.”
“Why not?”
This was one of the reasons why his mother was the best. She didn´t get angry as many of the other mums he knew. As long as he knew he was wrong and took responsibility to correct his mistakes, she would let it rest.
“I don´t know,” he answered reluctantly, “I saw some birds in the pine tree outside and just... I don´t know... I just sort of drifted...”
She leaned back in the chair and sipped from her coffee mug with a frown on her face as James continued.
“Mum?” he asked, “Have you...? Am I...? Am I different than the other kids?” She fought back her tears as she tryed answering his question without revealing too much.
“Of course you´re not different, Jim. Why do you think that?”
He let down his eyes looking at the floor.
“I don´t know, mum. Sometimes I just feel different. Like I´m in the wrong place and don´t fit in.”
He looked up again and into his mother´s eyes.
“I love my family, but sometimes I feel as if I belong somewhere else than here.”
She leaned forward and taking his hands in hers she looked him assuringly in his eyes.
“Jim, you belong here with us. We love you. We are your family.”
He didn´t say anything, but his smile convinced her she had managed easing his worries. Little did she know that he had seen more in her eyes than she wanted him to. He knew, she was telling the truth as she saw it. That they were his family, that they loved him and that because of that love, she felt he belonged with them. But deep inside her soul, something else had emerged. It had shined through her eyes though she had done everything she could to hide it from him. He had no doubt in his mind that he was loved, but he also understood that she was trying to hide something from him. Something important. And he intended to figure out what it was.
It had to wait, though. After all, he loved her and he didn´t want to alarm her. “Thanks, mum... Maybe I´m just over thinking things...?”
A honking outside broke the moment and they both went out to greet his sisters...
***
That evening, James had trouble falling asleep. He was lying in his bed with his hands under his head as a pillow listening to his mum and dad downstairs. They were arguing. Not angrily and not with shouting and screaming, but they were definitely disagreeing on something. Something important. Something about him.
“We have to tell him, Henry,” he heard his mum pleading his dad, “He´s got a right to know.”
“I know, Kate, I just don´t think this is the right time.”
“When is the right time, Henry? He´s not a toddler anymore, you know.”
“Look, Kate, can´t it wait for a bit longer? At least till after Bath? That way, we can...”
His dad suddenly stopped talking and then there was the sound of foot steps up the stairs. James jumped out of bed, turned off the lights and jumped back in bed just in time before his dad showed as a shadow in the hall way. James had turned to the side facing the wall pretending to be fast asleep as his dad carefully shut the door to his room.
After that he couldn´t quite make out what his parents were saying downstairs. They only whispered now. But he knew more than ever before that there was something they hadn´t told him. And he had to find out what.
***
The school bell rang and all the kids were cheering. This was the moment they had all been waiting for. Holiday! On top of everything else, the sun was shining and there wasn´t a cloud in sight as the three of them ran down the stairs in front of the school. Mikael had his hands wildly waving above his head screaming.
“Yaaaaaaay! Free! I´m free at last! No more torture! The number one menace to society has escaped! I will wreck havoc upon this earth! Freeeeedoooomm!”
That last ‘freedom’ he growled like the devil´s lap dog and twisted his face in the most hideous grimace. Jenny and James smiled and shook their heads.
“You´re crazy, you know,” Jenny called to Mike, who bowed deeply in response.
“Thank you, M’Lady,” he said with a posh London accent, “I am most grateful for your analysis of my mental state and you shall forever have my utmost gratitude.”
Then he returned to as normal as could be expected of him and returned to her side with his elbow raised as an invitation for her to hold his arm like an old couple from the past century. She smiled and accepted the invitation and the three of them walked arm by arm, Jenny in the middle with the two boys on both sides of her.
“So,” Jenny said, “where are you both going this summer?”
“Same as always,” Mike shrugged, “absolutely nowhere. I have a signed and stamped contract with my bed, my armchair, my TV and of course my loved ones.”
He placed his hand over his heart and sighed. Jenny shortly looked surprised, but then she got it.
“Oh, you mean...” she looked at Mike and they both ended the sentence together: “The Playstation and the iPad!” and then they all laughed.
“We are going to Denmark this year. My parents rented a house on an Island they say has Viking history, but no one knows much about it,” Jenny told them.
“Wauw!” Mike cheered, “Are you going to Legoland as well?”
Jenny smiled and drew them both closer.
“That´s what I love about you guys,” she said, “Never an ounce of envy, because my parents have money.”
Then she turned her head to Mike. “I don´t think we´re going to Legoland, though. My mum wants this to be a quiet vacation teaching us to be humble and reminding us how lucky we are to have means...” Mike and Jim concurred her: “while kids all over the world are starving!” and Mike continued: “Yeah, we´ve heard that track before.”
They walked silently for a while thinking about it and then Jenny said: “Well, she´s right...” Again a short silence, before she turned to Mike.
“What about you? What are you doing this year?”
Bath,” he answered, “as usual.”
“Aren´t you getting tired of going to Bath every year?” she asked. Mike´s face went sad. How could she ask that? She knew how he felt about Bath?
“Well,” he hesitated, “I suppose... but my parents can´t afford anything else, so... it´s okay.”
Jenny looked straight ahead with an awry smile as if she was talking to the air in front of her.
“Wouldn´t you both like to go somewhere else this year?” she asked. The two boys stopped at the same time and let go of their friend. They looked reproachfully at her. But before any of them got to say anything she put her arm in theirs and dragged them further down the road.
“Jim, you´re not going to Bath this year!” she declared.
“Yes, I am,” he said in a puzzled voice.
“Nope,” she insisted, “and you´ll not be spending your summer playing games, Mike!”
He looked evenly puzzled.
“I´m not?” he said.
Then Jenny stopped for a while and looked from one to the other.
“Boys,” she continued, “you´re coming with me to Denmark, to Hjarnes Island this year.”
None of them could speak. This was just too weird. Jenny, however, was everything but speachless. Her eyes were sparkling and she obviously enjoyed the moment to its full potential.
“My parents spoke to your parents and they have all agreed that you two are coming with me and my parents to Hjarne’s Island! Isn´t that great?”
Jim didn´t quite understand was she was saying. He couldn´t see his parents agreeing to accept such a gift and he knew for sure they couldn´t afford it. “But...” he began, but Jenny cut him off.
“I know what you´re thinking, Jim, but it really isn´t a big deal. We are driving there anyway and since our tickets with the boat covers a car with up to 6 people there is no additional cost for any of you.”
“But food cost money as well,” Mike said. Then he had a dreadful thought and his face changed to a strange look.
“We are going to eat on the trip, aren´t we? I mean... it´s not one of those health guru kind of things, is it?” he asked.
Jenny laughed. “No, Mike, you can take it easy. My mum got past that last year. We´ll be eating perfectly normal food.”

Jim looked at Mike. Mike looked back at Jim. That´s when they realized both of their summer vacations had just reached to a much higher level than any of them could have hoped for. They both breathed in deep and while their eyes lit up along with their smiles the sound of joyful cheering spread out to entire neighborhood.