Mar 13 2012 5:00pm
After the Snow (Excerpt)
The dog telling me to be careful about going down to the house. But I aint 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 aint 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 aint 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 aint stragglers like us freezing our fingers off in the mountains trapping hares for their warm gloves and boots? We aint 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 beacon-of-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 aint 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 aint.
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 with no one here.
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 aint 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 aint 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 some- thing 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 aint be too successful on their hunt cos times been hard and there aint 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. Aint 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 gonna get hot when really it aint—it gonna get cold. Dad say we’re like those hunters, and people call us stragglers, but we got to be beacons of hope til 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 aint 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 aint no people here.
I aint gonna mind if the place been filled with kids shouting and scampering. No I aint gonna mind that whatever I say before. In fact, I almost wish a little one been clinging around 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 aint 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 aint 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 aint 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 aint 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.