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From the author: This is a chapter cut (with good reason) from Day Boy, and one that I have always liked, and often find myself thinking about. My early drafts are such meandering things, and this is a bit of that meander, but I like the way it winds itself into the sea.
The Sea. The Sea.
"We're going to Shoreton," Dain says, and I'm more shocked than pleased. "I feel like we need a change of scenery for my book."
"The place by the sea?" Sometimes you need to clarify a little madness, just to make sure you've got it right.
"Yes, the place by the sea."
"All right then."
Dain laughs. "You can play it calm as stone, can't you?"
I shrug. I learned from the best.
"You ever seen the sea?" I ask Thom. The boy's working a bit of wood, sharpening it into a stake. He's done one end like a big old Taipan. We've training in the killing of the Masters `cause sometimes they go wild, sometimes they don't come back from the madness in their hearts. Not our task to hunt them down, but ours to defend ourselves. Like it'd do much good.
"Nup," he says, and gets back to his whittling.
Neither have I.
It's just a day later when we're on the Night Train.
Dain rests a reassuring hand on my back. "Are you all right with this?"
The last trip was traumatic, but trauma's to be dealt with as well as dealt out. And I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two since then.
The Train Master doesn't even look at my ticket, he only has cruel eyes for me. I give him a wink, reach in my pocket for a coin. Dain grabs my arm.
"Enough of your stirring," he says.
"Time is of the essence, gentlemen," the Train Master says.
Thom has already boarded. I get on before Dain has to drag me on.
We travel on that train a good few hours and stop at another town where there's another train waiting. Maybe all Masters of the Train have it in for me, `cause this one gives me a good old scowl, too. And I can't help myself but get teethy in response.
"Mark," Dain says, low.
"Just being polite," I say.
"Polite yourself on board, if you please," Dain says.
There's a moon all buttery in the sky, late rising. There's something else too that has Dain scowling. A comet low on the horizon, third one in the last couple of years. He mumbles something under his breath.
"All aboard," says the Master, and we're on that train, and it's wheeling into the East. Faster and Faster.
Thom's already found our cabin, and if a fella can look smug without looking anything at all Thom has mastered the art.
Dain glances at his watch. "We'll reach the tunnel, not much before Sunrise," he says. "You're to keep me protected."
"`Course we will, boss," says I, and I get another clip.
Thom nods, working on his stake. He lifts it a little so that Dain can see its point. "Fine work," Dain says, and Thom blushes a little.
"Don’t need no stake," I pull my blade from my boot, "all I need's something with a good edge. Wise man taught me that."
Dain sighs. "I'd never call myself wise," he says.
"Well, you’re not stupid."
"Thank the Sun and the moon for that!" Dain gestures to the seats. "Sit yourselves down."
About a half hour before sunrise we reach the belly of a mountain, the train runs a few minutes more in that darkness, curving left than right some, then stops.
Dain sighs, gestures for us to get off the bench seat, then he's lifting it up. There's space beneath.
He crawls in it fast, shuts the seat down in an eye blink, and the internal lock clicks closed. There’s no getting that open until he opens it.
"Safer than at home," I say.
Thom nods his head. "Perhaps."
We take turns at the door, me with my knife, Thom with his stake. And there's other boys all down the aisle, all guarding their Masters. Should be chaos but it’s not. Not even when I go to take a piss. There’s a nice orderly line at the latrine.
"You that boy from Midfield?" Someone asks me.
"What if I am?"
No point in lying, just no point in giving something up that easy.
"If you are, you better watch your back," the boy says.
"You've a mind to drive something in it?" My knife's up and out.
The boy shakes his head furiously. Ah, source of shame such cowardice. "Just saying, what people say. You make a name for yourself, and people want a piece of that."
"Never set out to make a name," I say. "I’m not that foolish. You reckon I'm a fool?"
The boy looks at the knife in my hand, swallows, says nothing.
Someone comes out of the latrine.
"Well, after you I say."
The boy shakes his head.
I get to piss in peace.
Couple more chats are like that, but there's no violence in them. I've got the manner of a bloke who's seen a thing or two.
"People telling me I should watch my back," I say to Thom.
Thom gives me a bloodthirsty sort of grin, and makes a jab with his stake. "Always," he says.
Come seven pm and we're moving, few minutes and we're out of the deep dark and into the night, and Dain's tapping on the seat for us to move, though we've moved long before.
All along the train you can hear Masters rising, pulling themselves free from sleep, locks clunking free. Dain blinks slow blinks and looks at us.
"Trouble?" He says.
"None whatsoever," I say.
Thom's given his stake some fangs.
"Fancy work there," Dain says. "That's what they teach you in the city?"
Thom shakes his head. "Nah, I just have a knack for it."
"You do at that," Dain says, and leaves the cabin, and, for the first time, I feel something that might be jealousy. I consider it, yep, it's coloured green. Thom smiles at me.
"You smile too much," I say.
We're in Shoreton by Nine pm. The little town on the hill lit up, and the sky dark as dark. The rain's falling when the train pulls in. We're pushed out into the torrent: umbrella's handed out, but it doesn't do much. I'm drenched through. Dain looks down at me, eyes wide with the storm.
"We best hurry, boys," he says. Always one to say the obvious.
Dain takes the heaviest bags and leaves us with the rest, all heavy enough. I try and spare Thom some of it, but he's having none of that. We're staying in a hotel. Grand looking thing on a hill, can see all the way over Shoreton to dark beyond. Rains already spent by the time we're half way there, up narrow streets all cobbled.
There's music playing, scratched and foreign on old record players, hand wound. Dain tips his head at that. He rings the bell at the counter and we're seen to quick. Given keys and a room number. I'm all eyes, never stayed in a hotel before. Up stairs we go, past doleful eyed boys and their Masters.
We've a balcony and I walk out onto it and look out at the lights sheened with rain. The slick roads, the low dunes to the east.
I stop. I blink and I stop.
There's a sound: a distant fury like the throbbing of some great heart. And I can smell it. The salt. The sea, and it makes me ache. Dain turns to look at me, and he looks at me strange.
"You feel it?"
"Yeah, I feel it."
"Good, I'll take you both to see it. Once we’ve unpacked. And then you're to bed."
Dain checks the locks on his bed, the bolts are thick, old iron. He smiles at that. "We shall pretend that it is enough," he says. "As if anything is, when someone wants you dead."
"And who would want you dead, Master Dain?" Thom says.
"Yes, who?" He opens the door. "There's always someone wants us dead."
And then we're back out again and heading to the sea.
We walk through the dunes, and over them, sand sticking to our boots, and a bird is calling somewhere, its unfamiliar song soft and mournful. And then there it is the rolling roaring white and the endless moving dark of the water. I want to sprint down to it, I want to flee from it. This is breath and wildness and poetry all rolling into one; a churn and a music. And then the wind comes in and the waves are louder and the air smells of life and death, and I want to run and yell, and dive headfirst into that water.
Dain lays a steadying hand on my shoulder.
"Settle," he says. "Settle." And he points, and all of a sudden I can see their dark shapes.
Right along the shore they are standing, quiet. Most without their Day Boys, eyes lit as red as coals, and the waves dying not far from their feet.
"It's like the Sun to us," Dain says. "It calls, and it would drown us down and down. We're of the earth not the crashing salt. It stings, and it is predatory, and it calls. But it's beautiful. A beauty words cannot chart. A man needs something to test himself against, something to love. Many of my people come here to die."
I jerk my head towards him, away from the water.
"Do not be so worried, boy. I am not so directed at death; not yet, not now."
Thom is silent, staring out at the water. "So this is the sea."
I want to slap the back of his head, but Dain has already gripped my wrist.
He's staring out at the water. And I can understand its call.
Dain crouches beside me. "I am glad that we all saw this together." He rises, eyes already focussed on the sea. "I trust you two can find your way back without getting into too much trouble."
"Always get in just enough trouble," I say.
"Hmm," He says. "You two, you need sleep. The town is yours tomorrow; and there will be tasks."
It's hard to turn from those breaking waves. "Go," Dain growls.
Thom pats my back. "Best be gone," he says.
And there I am wanting to slap him again.
So we make our way across the weirdly luminous sand, the Masters standing still behind us, facing towards the waves. The sand's wet sticks to our boots, like soft mud. And into town we walk, there's boys about, but we give them distance, and they give us that too.
One of them though comes over to us. A boy, nearly a man, a good foot or two taller than me. Has a scraggly sort of beard.
"Seth," he says, reaches out a hand. I take it. Gotta good grip on him, hand as hard as stone.
We do our introductions, and he passes us a bottle.
I take a quick slug. It's strong stuff. But I don't wince, look over at Thom, who shakes his head. I just pass it back.
"Your Master doesn't come back, you see me," he says. "There's always work to be had here, on the boats. Hard work, but you'd toughen up."
"He's coming back," Thom says.
Seth laughs. "They all say that. Mine didn't, but I am sure yours isn't the lying type."
Dain’s back in before first light, and I am woken by the sound of a pen scratching against paper. Scratching' away, furious. I sit there listening to it, Dain mumbling to himself, so low that I can hardly hear him.
"Go back to sleep," he says. "Go back to sleep."
And I do, and relieved, that my Master has come back. I'd half a mind that he'd given himself to the rolling surf.
Thom and I are let loose. This hotel's guarded. The sea's a different creature in the day, just as vast, but there's a playfulness in it. And there's some great boat on the horizon, grey and hulking, and it slides along the edge of the world.
There's a cold breeze blowing, but it’s not going to stop me. When am I ever going to do this again?
I have to swim. Have to swim in this blue water.
"Careful out there," says a shirtless boy with a tat of a dragon all volant across his chest, it's raw art, looks like it's been scratched with a finger. Impressive, none-the-less. "Current's are strong."
I lift my nose at that. "I can swim," I says, and I'm running at that churn of white water. Feel the wave strike my chest, and it's like nothing I've ever known and it's wonderful in a way unexpected. I stop dead, and the next wave strikes me, nearly topples me.
"Dive into it," Thom yells, and he's past me like a fish.
No turning back now, feel like the whole beach is watching', I dive into that wave, cold water closes round me, then I'm back up, and up - the roiling water past me - and I'm spluttering.
"Where'd you learn to swim?" I ask Thom, thinking of that great dark hole in the mountain, and that dry red land all about it.
"There's secrets you wouldn't begin to fathom, that go deeper than that mountain and that -"
I slap him a face full of sea. And he scowls and I laugh, and then we're both laughing, and the sky's so blue, marked and circled by birds, and the town's behind us and the great sea ahead.
The sea, the sea.
I never thought it could snatch at you so, all them books, all them tales of boats and waves, and crossings of channels, all of them, and then this stinking, sucking, glory. Might be one of the happiest times of my life, and I get an inkling of what them Masters see when they stand on the edge of the shore.
I dive beneath the next wave, and the next. Treading at water. Stronger than Thom, I'm further out, when the water starts to pull.
I swim against it a while, but I’m not getting nowhere, just stuck and still. I jerk to the left and the right, and there’s no-one but me that I can see this far out. I look to the shore, and it seems to me a long way off. And I look at the town and the green behind, and the rising of the hills into the mountains, and I try and think of any time that I've ever seen the world so: and nothing's coming. This is me, and the world separated like I've never been separated, and I wonder if that’s what death is like.
And my life's getting smaller.
I'm drifting away.
And the water's getting bigger.
And I can see the attraction and the horror of the uncounted miles. And I feel the deep water beneath my feet. And I try not to think of what else might be below, what predatory natures that they might possess.
I know better than to thrash, and that knowledge calms me, a little, see, I’m not that stupid. Still the current takes me, I'm drifting out to sea, and the more I struggle the faster it happens.
Then Thom's at my side, and it's the hardest thing not to grab his arm, and cling to him, and sink, all weary to the bottom of that dark water.
"Swim `cross the current," Thom says, and he touches my arm. "Trust me, and follow. Not too wide this, I promise."
And I do, and it's long hard work, muscles burning, but we reach that shore.
"You `right?" Thom says.
He nods walks to our towels - which are still there! Comes back and throws me mine. It's Sun warm and it slows my shivering some.
Thom smiles. "`Hasn’t Dain taught you nothing?"
"I know water," I say "But river stuff. Guess that's why no-one was swimming with so."
Thom rolls his eyes. “Guess so.”
I've seen the river swell, a sea of brown, rippled by the movements of snakes, and the desperate swimming of other things that don't often swim, and now I know how they must feel. I'd have been washed out to sea. Maybe washed back in, blue and dead. But, like Dain, I’m not here to die.
The sand's wet beneath my feet, and I'm aching all over, but it's a pain that's fading. Bugger me, why do I always find trouble? Just the way I am, I guess.
I'm more than morose.
"You hungry?" Thom asks.
And I am. We walk down that shore. The boy with the Dragon Tat's got the biggest told-you-so smile, but he don't say nothing. Nor do the girls. There's a place selling fish and chips. Thom and I buy a good bit of both, then walk to the grass by the shore, and eat till our fingers are greasy and our bellies are full.
The gulls fight over the rest. And when they're done and they take to wing flying high and over the great blue that nearly had me, there's nothing left of our lunch and we sit in the shade, and I've the contentment of a bloke who nearly died, but didn't. I know that sort of feeling far too well.
"Dain don't need to know about this," I say.
"Of course not," says Thom.
"You're all right," I say to Thom.
Thom leans back, arms behind his head. "Yes I am," he says.
When Dain stirs, and the sky is dark and throbbing with the endless battering of the sea. He gives me and Thom such a look.
"You boys been right?" he says.
"Just swimming," I say.
"Well, you be careful the water's a dangerous place."
Isn’t it just, isn’t it just at that.
He leaves us to go down to it, and draw whatever it is he needs from that water.
We walk through the town that night. A bit of lording it in us, until we pass a park. There's a kid in the swings, whistling something, a tune I find familiar, and then there isn't.
"Not a conventional haunting," Thom says, and I want to clip him under the ear.
"Kid's just run away," I say. "Dropped when he saw us and sprinted into the shrubs yonder."
Thom tips his cap at a sharper angle. Turns and squints up at me. "You think what you want to think."
I've half a mind to stalk over to those shrubs. Wouldn't find anything of course, the kid would be long gone.
In Day Boy Trent Jamieson reimagines the elements of the vampire myth in a wholly original way. This is a beautifully written and surprisingly tender novel about fathers and sons, and what it may mean to become a man. Or to remain one.
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