When Icarus Fell

Madeline Rebber lives on the South side of the fence of her split nation. Her everyday life is affected by the threat of violence from the North of the country, but people have tried to make their lives as normal as possible considering the circumstances. Madeline wishes for an escape but can only dream of a future far away from the South. Until one day, a creature falls from the sky and dies, leaving behind the mystery of what it is. Madeline is drawn to this creature as he dies by her side, in a way that she can never know. But the mystery of this Icarus is only the first step in a line of events which would change Madeline's life for ever.

For the Sony Movellist of the Year competition, first 3 chapters.


1. The Beginning


           The rough winds caught up the sand along the shore and whipped the girl’s hair across her face. Yet she couldn't care – this was the only time she’d get on the beach and it was not something she was going to give up freely. She refused to let the dreary weather which clung to the shore ruin her free time. The wind whispered through the dunes behind her, bringing the coast to life. They were like great monsters all tangled and twisting, the wind breathing life into their roots. To the girl, they looked enraged, tormented by the violence that surrounded the shore. These great clumps of grass gossiped to each other, throwing limbs and life as they danced in the wind. It was a sight not many had seen, for the locals had stopped looking for beauty in the simplest things. It was only children who shared their secrets among the sands, for they were the only ones left to hear the sand beast’s roar.
          Things at home were not good, pressure building, more and more threats from the North dominating the news. Despite the rest of the world trying to encourage peace-talks and a mutual understanding between their split nation, neither government would listen, nor even begin to entertain the idea that something could be done differently from the path they were endeavouring on currently. Families had been torn apart, women unsure if their sons were alive or dead. War was a terrible thing, but the people on the South had learnt to deal with it. Life on the South wasn't peaceful or safe, but it was far better than living on the North.
          The girl stared out at the horizon, wishing that she could just jump into a boat and sail right over the edge. And with that little boat full of her most precious belongings, she would sit and wait until a wind took her to different shores. She would forget about the South, she would forget about the threats – the pain. She would start again. She wanted to believe that everything would be better somewhere else. Somewhere not divided by the ocean and a fence.
          So this was why she was on the beach, humming a tune as she stared and stared, hoping to see a blip on the grey horizon. The sky and the sea were almost the same shade of grey today as she could smell the storm in the air. The world she knew was changing.


This was a time when nothing was normal, certain, happy. My name was Madeline Rebber and I lived on the South side of the fence. My life revolved around school, home and the shore. No one was supposed to visit the beach, but we lived right off the dunes and it would be pointless to ignore it. After all, what about being taught in Advanced Science about a unique form of oxygen only found by the sea? That was sort of the way things were around here. Some people telling you one thing and others telling you the opposite. Many of the people in my year group were either extremely opinionated or couldn't care less. Even in such a small community as this, there was a clear split between those who believed in the fight and those who wanted peace. There were those meetings that I would sometimes be dragged along to where I’d spend the whole time sitting at the back of the hall with others around my age trying not to fall asleep. Council meetings were loud, rowdy and the most boring experience I'd ever had to endure. The Jensons and the Staceys were the two polar opposites of each other and would scream at the other until someone called them back on subject. These meetings were the bane of my life and I had sworn never to set foot in another one unless it was a matter of life or death.
           They tried to teach us everything at school, for it was a well-known fact that we had a better education system here than the North, but they had a better army by far. I suppose with a decent education they could encourage children to think, to feed the minds of the next generation, but with the way things were going, it didn't look like myself and my peers were going to grow up into a new world. If you were to ask me my honest opinion, I’d say my future looked pretty bleak at this point in time. It’s all as well learning but to put that learning to good use for the rest of our lives is another thing. My brother would say that school shouldn't be filling our heads with things that don’t matter here and now and should be focusing on ‘things that count’. Sorry Matthew, but you’re not really the best person to be taking advice from.
          Matthew thought he’d be clever and join up for the New South Army in a failed attempt to create a fuss over on the North side of the fence. Late one night, he and his friends decided to jump over the fence and charge across no-man’s land, brandishing anything they thought would be a weapon. Little did they think of the guards patrolling the North fence and there was only about three left out of thirty. Matthew was one of the lucky idiots who, after a quick trial and prosecution, we sentenced to jail for fifteen long, miserable years on the other side. That incident was five years ago and we hadn't seen him since.
          That was pretty much home now; me, mum, Aaron and Jamie. I couldn't really remember what it was like with Matthew in the house and I don’t think Jamie had been born. Dad packed off with the army a couple of years back, when Jamie was about eight months old, and we hadn't seen him either. I didn't miss my dad or my brother, but more the idea of them. I couldn't remember them at all and that was what hurt inside. To know there were these people who should be such a big part of your life somewhere else in the world, gradually forgetting about you like you never even existed is what hurt inside. That's why I came to the shore; to forget. To let my mind go completely blank and think of nothing even if its only for a couple of hours. I would breathe in the sea and the smell of the seaweed and I could get lost inside my own head for a while.
          It was turning out to be one of those days.
          The waves were gentle as the tide receded, away from the pain and grief that we humans caused on land. They pulled back into a simpler, vibrant place to be. The sea was a wonder, how it had remained for so long and still the currents lapped against the shore in such a manner as they did now. They left behind their sound, the croon of an eternal lullaby.
          I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the sea, wishing that something would stop the threat of violence, of the pain and the crime. I wished that I had a promising future, or if there was some way of getting out of the country. The North and the South were waging a war with boy soldiers and lives were dwindling by a thread just across the fence. I didn’t want to be among so much animosity. But if I sought refuge, a safe place far away from here, I knew I would never leave. My own people would turn on me and I would never get away. I would be scolded for trying to leave, I would isolate myself and I could never live a full life, a normal life given the circumstances. Even a life where you blended in and were considered normal was better than being an outcast.
          I took a deep breath of the sea, the oncoming storm and whatever was waiting for me somewhere over the horizon


School. The brilliance of education was only really appealing when there was an aspect of interest in a particular subject. For instance, it may be the most random lesson like Ancient Politics but the teacher may be the most inspiring, encouraging person in the school. Personally I liked languages, though I’d probably never get the chance to use them and I also enjoyed English and music.
          Of course, there are those at Clayburn Higher School who just came here for something to do – the ones who had no ambitions in their lives, who followed the crowd and got mixed up with all kinds of crap. They were also the ones whose future I could tell without a crystal ball – get a job in the mill or the factory, marry the person next door and continue the endless cycle that my parents’ generation had lived through. Burning Hell as the humble students called it, had an age old saying which really was hypocritical  considering the circumstances which we lived in:
          There are no good people or bad people in the world; only those who strive for a greater purpose.
Not exactly the shortest of phrases but it was bollocks none the less. I didn't agree with a word of it, considering that we lived in an age where there were countless deaths not five miles away on the North and there was no aid because of politics. Those people living in fear who had no control over the decisions made by their dictator were dying needlessly. And people in the South were also dying every day, for what? What would those who thought up that saying call the dictator on the North? What was the ‘greater purpose’ in this situation? Because of this unchanging pattern, people here had accepted that they must live in those conditions. Although there were council meetings and a committee which voiced their opinions, they were not listened to. They had the freedom of speech but they were ignored by the Circle. The Circle was our government who sent representatives into my school to try and convince us to have ambitions. But what were we to do with them once we started to dream of a life away from here? Were they going to say sorry and that this was there was nothing to be done? I feared that we were all floating around each other, pretending that things were getting better but in reality nothing had changed.
          Burning Hell was only a ten minute walk from the sea which would’ve been great if we weren't so close to the fence and see the little, deadly outline of soldiers who wouldn't think twice about raising a gun. Shooting people was part of the job for them – it was what kept their families fed. Burning Hell was managed by a woman who could never keep the scowl off her face and her deputy was a balding man who had an unfortunately severe case of narcolepsy. The two combined made an almost comical duo, with Mr Katter sleeping soundly at the front of his class and Miss Lyons glaring at whoever looked at her. She was the worst of the pair, but Mr Katter had been known for stirring something stronger than sugar into his coffee and that put him in a bad mood. He taught Biology and she taught Geography.  This year, I had the pleasure of being taught by both of them.
          But it wasn't all bad, for instance, there was an annual rugby match which meant three days off timetable to watch every game. Rugby was a sacred pursuit here and some people followed it with enough dedication that it could be called a religion. I loved the sport and I was one of the few girls who actually understood the rules and enjoyed watching it for the game and not for the boys. The boys in my year played other boys from different schools and it was probably the only time in the year when all the schools came together to compete. Clayburn Higher was a fair contender but our main rivals were St Helen’s who were the scariest bunch about. Eleanor and I would spend our time huddled under the blanket in the freezing cold placing guesses on who was going to score what. Of course, towards the end of the match, we started to rate the players on looks alone and scouted to crowd for any interesting people. She was worse at that than me. The game against St Helen’s was always a sell-out and the must see game of the year. They’d won the past two years in a row but Clayburn Higher had pulled together a great team this year and we were looking for the win.
          I had my friends, Eleanor Peters, Phoebe McCullough and Grace Alhugh. I’d known them since I was small and would never trade their company for anything in the world. Eleanor was loud, incredibly pretty and flirty. She was tiny, with bright blue eyes and a full head of wavy blonde hair. Eleanor was always out on the prowl for who she called The One and still hadn't found him yet. She lived two doors down from me and we practically joined at the hip. Phoebe was a quiet dreamer who was clever but hated the attention that came with it. She preferred to be in denial about her talents but could turn her hand to anything. She played the piano and sang but never to an audience of strangers. She had thick black curls and green eyes and a pale, sharp face. Grace was unlike the rest of them because she was athletic, in most of the girls’ teams at school and she danced every other day of the week.  She had long, strong limbs and a body we all would die for. She had blue eyes and a gentle smile. She had dark blonde hair and freckles. She smiled a lot and it was something that we liked to see, for Grace had been through the mill far more times than any of us.
          So, on this morning of mornings, I and Eleanor headed off for school. There was nothing exciting about it – just part of the routine. Even when we knew that everything could change tomorrow, it felt better to try and keep up the pretence of normal. It was a Monday and we were trading stories of our weekends.
          “I wonder who’ll be in the bigger mood today,” Eleanor commentated, hitching her bag back up her shoulder. It was getting colder now, another bad thing about living beside the sea. Summer had officially faded and now we were headed back into darker days. It wouldn't be too long until our next day off and you could tell how tired everyone was of school. There did come a certain point in the year when everyone just wanted to be at home. I sniffed feeling an October cold on its way to greet me. I wrinkled my nose as we kept walking and I marvelled at the ground, listening to Eleanor out of one ear.
          Most people would look at the sky, and if they did on this particular Monday in October, they would've seen an endless blanket of grey cloud. It was better than rain. But I didn't like seeing something I saw every day and that was why I stared resolutely down. The ground beneath my feet was muddy and not really grass any more. We’d had a heavy storm not too long ago and it had put everyone in a bad mood. I watched as I squelched through the mud in my canvas shoes, leaving an imprint in the earth which would be washed away with the next rain. What if it didn't wash away? I thought to myself as Eleanor continued to mimic her Aunt Isabel. What if my footprint would be in the mud for thousands of years and they found it one day whilst digging? The thought made me smile. I had always thought too much about things and this time was no different from the others. In my little group, we could sometimes spend long nights in which we were supposed to be doing homework discussing the meaning of life and why things were. We could be caught up in hour long discussions over the most insignificant things and other times we’d be dancing around the room like hooligans. I felt like myself when I was around my friends and I didn’t have to pretend to be anything I wasn't.
          The school buildings were a sad cluster of storm-blown, grey brick, two-floored structures. It was quite a large school, its academic results far better than most of the schools across the South. Some people had to travel from miles around to get to it. I was sort of lucky to be a student here, even if the teachers were a pain sometimes. I was far better off than some people in the South.
          But today in school, nothing seemed to be out of place for a Monday – I was heading to Mr Hamner’s room for Maths first period, when I spotted a gaggle of teachers ushering someone around, but obscured my view of them with a wall of cardigans and corduroy trousers. The scene made me pause before I entered the classroom and Eleanor stopped mid-sentence. Her eyes widened as she saw the cluster of teachers and she raised an eyebrow.
          Mr Hamner noticed we were gawking in the doorway and he called us in, his eyes as hollow as ever. He could be alright sometimes, but today I decided that it was better to not mess him about. Detention was not something that I would like to endure at the beginning of the week. As Mr Hamner got up to close the door, his shirt straining over his stomach, the little group who were escorting whoever it was around stopped outside the classroom. All twenty five of us seated craned our necks to try and catch a glimpse of whoever it was coming in through the door. A couple of girls gasped while others raised their eyebrows. I was part of the latter, while Eleanor beside me smiled her brilliant smile.
          There was a boy our age standing in the doorway, looking mildly sheepish and a tiny bit shy, though it would seem that such expressions would not be appearing very regularly on his face. He was pale, with a small cluster of freckles scattered upon his nose. His hair had that careless manner to it, although it probably took half the morning to get it like that. It was a dark brown and flopped forward slightly. He wore the uniform far better than most of us, making some shift uncomfortably in their seats. Other – particularly the girls who only had half a brain – were whispering to each other, stealing glances at the boy who still hovered in the doorway. Miss Lyons was speaking in the native tongue to Mr Hamner, meaning that she didn't want any of us to understand. Of course, they weren't the only ones to speak the language, as I could see the Southies in the back of the class smiling and whispering to each other in the same rough tongue. I'd been taught the basics from a young age but they were speaking it too quickly for me to understand. The Southies of the school never spoke English to anyone, therefore keeping to themselves. After three years of being at Clayburn Higher School, you got used to ignoring the people who ignored you.
          Mr Hamner’s expression drew my attention away from the Southies to the front of the class. He blinked in surprise, his mouth – which was always hidden by his beard and moustache – forming an o in shock. Something about the boy in the doorway shocked Mr Hamner and I couldn't begin to think of what. The boy raised a dark eyebrow and I could see it in his eyes that there was something almost haunting about them. He’d seen a lot of things and I didn't think many were good.
          The rest of the lesson seemed to move in a blur; the new boy called in and we learnt his name was Noah Battersby and he sat down in the only empty seat in the class. Mr Hamner continued talking about the circumference of a circle. Everyone was conscious of Noah, though you could tell everyone was desperately trying to ignore him. There was something deep inside him and I didn't know why I was going all voodoo on him, since I hadn't spoken to him yet, but there was some instinct telling me to avoid Noah Battersby as much as possible.


After school, we headed back to Phoebe’s house, as she had something she thought we could try out on the piano. I played the piano a little and read music but preferred the guitar. With the guitar, I found I could sing with the instrument that fitted my voice. I hated singing without my hands doing something. I’d found music a way to escape when I couldn't get to the shore. I daydreamed while I was on the beach but playing an instrument was a structured way of getting lost. Despite being cut off from the world, we’d found some way of getting the modern instruments before the country was plunged into an almost civil war. Phoebe’s whole family played or sang and it was like being in a music studio rather than a house. I loved being there, as her mother always found a way to make everyone smile. She had a personality a mile wide and could play everything. She’d taught her three children from a young age the language of music and Phoebe often joked she could read music before she could read fairy tales.
          The four of us all trundled along, singing some sort of harmony at the beginning and then decided it sounded better if we tried to accompany it. Phoebe could hit the high notes and was singing lyrics strung together in her head while Eleanor did backing vocals, hitting each note perfectly, swinging my empty guitar case back and forward. I was picking something in C with the capo on the fifth fret to match the pitch of Phoebe and Eleanor. Grace kept the beat by slapping her thighs and snapping her fingers. She whistled occasionally as well. These were the times when I wished I could bottle up my memories and keep them to admire later. While I was thinking this, I played a buzzing F and concentrated on the tune. When they’d settled into a set chorus, I joined in on the low notes, a huge smile on my face.
          Phoebe’s house was secluded, settled by its self just in the dip of a hill. It sat there, majestic in its dark mahogany glory, looking like the sort of house where magic would happen. It sat facing us as we crested the tangled hill. Its old windows and door sat dark and waiting. It was quite until we appeared, singing in our travelling band. We hit the chorus full pelt and saw a figure appear at the downstairs’ window. Angela was a small woman, but had the most amazing voice which could scale all octaves. She had glasses that she didn't wear when singing to an audience and the confidence to match her springy black hair. We continued to walk towards her and I saw that she was smiling at us. Angela must've heard us coming a mile off. She hummed the bass and we stood out there for a little while longer, singing and smiling until Phoebe finished the song. We were all grinning like idiots and laughing as we walked into her house.
          Victor, Phoebe’s oldest brother, raised his eyebrow in his own way as we all charged into the kitchen, following the scent of freshly baked biscuits. Victor was one of those people who only had a couple of expressions on his face and all of them he was smiling one way or another. He was the percussionist of the family, keeping the driving beat. Phoebe’s dad had died when she was small so Victor sort of informally took on the role of looking after the family. He had a strong face, kind eyes and a bemused smile when he regarded his mother’s antics. He quietly slipped away when we suddenly became in control of the kitchen. Victor was nineteen, six years older than us and he must've seen it all before.
          With biscuits in hand, we retreated to the music room which faced the forest; a place that held so many happy times. It seemed like such a strange thing, to be so close to the shore and yet there was acres and acres of forest not two miles from the ocean. Phoebe’s house overlooked a small patch of grass that someone had plotted years ago before the forest stood open, like a secret waiting to be discovered. I sat on the floor with my legs crossed, strumming through Em, then a C and then a G. It was warm in Phoebe’s house, like the dark panelling embraced you and didn’t let you go. I could've quite happily fallen asleep here. Once everyone was settled into their comfortable way, the topic of Noah Battersby popped up.
          “He is dreamy!” Eleanor was always the one to judge too easily and this time was like no other. Maybe it was just some sort of weird sense I was getting that there was something that wasn't quite . . . right about him. “And his name is Noah, I mean, he’s just like, I don’t know, walking perfection.”
          I rolled my eyes at her shallowness and the others smiled at Eleanor. We were all familiar with Eleanor’s ways and we all loved her for them. I wouldn't call it a fault, more like a weakness that she always fell for people way to easily.
          “Where did he come from?” Grace asked, breaking a biscuit in half and nibbling the edge. Knowing her, she’d probably head out for a run afterwards to burn off the calories.
          “That’s the thing,” Eleanor said, making an exasperated gesture with her hands. “No one knows. He came in today surrounded by teachers and Mr Hamner had a conversation that none of us understood with Miss Lyons and the bloody Southies wouldn't say a word.” She shook her head like it was a bad thing. She made it sound far more exciting than it actually was. Although, I must admit there was something that was different about him, something strange that I hadn't figured out yet. I couldn't shake the creepy feeling that something wasn't right.
          “Anyway, if you saw him – which you probably will at some point – you would agree with me. He was amazingly fit and with those dimples,” she put her hand to her chest, “ah, be still my beating heart.”
          I threw a floor cushion at her head which naturally started a pillow fight and we all ended up in a giggling heap on the floor. Phoebe’s second brother, Daniel, came in to see if someone was being brutally murdered but simply raised an eyebrow before walking back out of the room. Phoebe attempted to throw a cushion at him but he’d closed the door. Daniel was seventeen and always gave Phoebe the look Victor gave their mother. Grace’s cheeks flushed when she saw it was him and she was trying desperately to calm herself down. It was no secret she’d fancied Daniel for as long as anyone could remember. I untangled myself from the floor and walked to the piano.
          It was a beautiful thing, not too old so it could still be tuned but it had ivory keys and a sweet, almost melancholy hold on the notes. I saw a piece of scribbled down music on rushed staves and began to play. It was eerily simple and sweet. I wondered where it came from.
          “She can’t help herself, can she?” Eleanor muttered to no one in particular. She knew how much I wished to have a piano myself, but the reality of actually getting one was slim to none. A piano would have to be imported from overseas and there was no chance in hell of that being allowed through. Angela had purchased all her instruments before the country went crazy. She said frequently that music was the thing that saved her.
          Phoebe sat next to me on the bench and she began to play the notes on the treble clef, mixing up the melody to make it dark and haunting at the left end of the piano. It was like the melody was an echo of the harmony; a whisper of a forgotten time. I continued to play the melody, but an octave higher so she could continue to play. I’d practically been through every piano book in her house and never once did I find a piece that sounded remotely like it. It was quite clear that Phoebe had written it, for it was in the ink that she’d so carefully dotted the staves had she pondered over this piece. As I played, I could imagine her sitting by the piano late at night, writing down notes and making sure each and every one sounded perfect.
          When we’d finished the fifth page of music, I realised how dark it was getting outside. Grace was leafing through a book about ballet dancers, whilst Eleanor was finishing an essay which was due on Thursday. I put my arm around Phoebe’s shoulders.
          “That was beautiful.”
          She blushed slightly but smiled at me. She was always so shy when she was told how good she was at playing the piano. The music teachers had no idea about her playing or composing, as she always hid her talents from those she didn't know too well. It felt like such a waste that she should be so cripplingly shy when she had all that talent. If I could play like Phoebe, I’d be up at ever chance I’d get.
          Just before me and Eleanor left for the evening, I popped my head around the kitchen door to say goodbye to Angela. She'd told me to take some biscuits home for Aaron and Jamie. Though it was supposed to be past their bedtime, they’d still be up with too much sugar in their system. I thanked her, hugged Grace and Phoebe, before heading out the door, my arm looped through Eleanor’s as we made our way home.
          She was quiet tonight – something that rarely happened to Eleanor, as she always had enough conversation for three. We picked our way over the hill and could smell a bonfire somewhere close by. The night was clear; the stars twinkling in their beauty. I found my constellations and worked my way around, letting Eleanor be in her own head for once. We were nearly at Eleanor’s house when a sudden cry pierced the night. We froze, looked at each other once and my heart was in my throat. I didn't know what it was and from the look in Eleanor’s eyes, I could tell that she didn't either. We stood stock still for a moment, wondering what to do with terror in our eyes. But then something cried out again and I could tell what it was. There was someone on the beach.
          I knew we couldn't just ignore whoever it was, for they were either distressed or under attack. Eleanor was closer to home than I was. Whoever it was out there screamed again in pain.
          Gripping Eleanor’s hand tightly, I whispered in her ear. “Go home, tell your mum to get the guard or whoever will listen and I’ll go and see if there’s anything I can do.” She looked so frightened that I hugged her tightly as she took my guitar case from me, trying not to let my fears be shown in front of her. It would only make her feel worse. I swallowed my panic as I ventured towards the source of the noise.
          There were more muffled groans, as well as some whimpers of pain that didn’t sound completely human. I tried to muffle the sound of my footfalls as I clambered over the sand dunes to get to the beach. I could see the top of a flame licking the stars as I got closer. God, whoever built this bonfire sure built it big. I wondered vaguely what they were burning.
            But perhaps I didn’t want to know.
          It was too late for that, I’d come this far and something had to be done. I took a deep breath, the smell and the smoke of the bonfire filling my lungs and clinging to my clothes until it was the only thing I could smell. I couldn’t even smell the seaweed, which was odd at this time of the year. I walked over the top of the dune that sloped to the beach and had to catch my footing.
          There, lying on the soft sand next to the bonfire, a man and a wolf cried.


It appeared that they were in some sort of a struggle, tossing and turning, kicking up sand. The wolf was huge, as big as the man who was wrestling it to the ground. The closer I got, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t a man, it was a boy.
          “Hey!” I called out, desperate to stop whatever was going on. The wolf was dead, or very nearly dead as I ran through the sand. There was blood everywhere, splayed out all around the bonfire. I cried out again as the boy continued to roll over and over the wolf’s body. Being taller and stronger than most girls in my year, I grabbed the boy’s arm and pulled. He was covered in blood, to the point of no actual recognition. I grabbed his other arm and pulled that as well as I dragged him with all my strength away from the body.
          “Get off me!” He thrashed about but he was far enough away from the body to do any more harm. I dumped him on the sand and jogged to the wolf, which was amazingly still breathing. The wolves of the forest were peaceful, gentle creatures that were only reduced to violence if humans interfered. The wolf before me was covered in blood and I reached out to stroke its muzzle. It whimpered and it brought tears to my eyes. I hated violence and pointless killing and here was a creature that would’ve harmed no one, slaughtered before a bonfire.
          I pulled its head into my lap, knowing it didn’t have long to live, before humming an old ballad my grandmother used to sing to me. Its breathing stuttered then ceased altogether. Its large amber eyes still stared up at me and I stroked the coarse hair on its nose before placing its head gently on the ground. I was now also covered in blood but I couldn’t care. The boy had moved closer to the fire and beneath the blood, I recognised the face.
          He flinched when he heard his name, as if he knew he’d been caught. I didn’t know what he was playing at, but this was unnecessary. He’d hardly been here two days and already he was carving up the wolves. No wonder I was getting a funny feeling about him. I raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.
          “ I'm – I’m sorry.” He choked out and I realised that he was crying. He plunged his bloody hand into his hair and sobbed. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think that I’d ever seen a boy cry, not even at the point when they break limbs. His bloody tears fell to the sand.
          “Why?” I asked, confused with the whole situation. I really, really wished Eleanor would hurry up with the guard. It wasn’t like the bonfire was hard to miss. I shook my head to try and muster my thoughts. “What did the wolf do to you?”
            He jumped, as if he’d forgotten that I’d just witnessed the massacre. “I – I didn’t kn – know it was a wolf.”
          I shuffled closer to him, the heat of the bonfire raging. “What did you think it was?” This was the way that I would talk to Jamie after he’d had a nightmare. Calmly trying to get the truth without scaring him any more. I wondered if Noah had gone into shock.
          He slowly took his hands from his hair and looked at me, the blood turned streaky where his tears had run down his face. He was still ruggedly good-looking, although he looked more like a battle-worn knight than the boy in my Maths class this morning. He opened his mouth several times, looking like he was trying out different ways to say something. I waited until he spoke.
          “I’ve seen things.” He whispered and I could see he was on the edge of breaking. “I’ve seen things that no one can possibly imagine. They used to come knocking on doors, all the way down the street and drag people out of their houses. You could hear them as they accused men, women and children of crimes that were so obscure and impossible that they couldn’t be true. Then they shot them in the street, right there in front of everyone.” He was trembling now. “I am the only one to escape.”
          I felt my eyebrows rise up my face in shock. He was from the North. He was from the North! Of course, we heard about the dictator and all his unforgiving laws, but it had never seemed like something as real as what Noah was describing. It was awful and I suddenly felt like I was seeing it with him. I closed my eyes against the tears.
          “How did you escape?”
          His mouth quirked without humour, “The only thing that passes through both sides of the fence is a cargo train, which goes around the edge of the country and back up to the top. I don’t know what its carries, but it was being loaded in the train station and I jumped aboard. I hid in between two crates and stayed there for as long as I could. I must’ve fallen asleep just as the train had set off and it wasn’t until the side door to the carriage opened and an old man who whistled while he worked was unpacking the cargo, did I wake up. It was too late for me, I realised, for I’d be sent straight back to the North and probably killed for escaping. I didn’t do anything except wait until the old man had reached me.
          “I waited for the call for the guards, but it never came. I looked up at the old man and he was staring down at me. ‘Well now’ he’d said, his face all weathered and worn. He had kind eyes as he looked at me. ‘Aren’t you a brave one?’ At the time, I had just looked at him, wondering if he was going to be all nice to me and then get the guards. But he didn’t and he crouched in front of me and looked me in the eye. ‘Need somewhere to stay?’ He’d asked and I nodded, still wary. I couldn’t believe that someone would be so kind to a stranger.” He shook his head, remembering.
          “Then what happened?” I asked, engrossed in his story. I knew that if I’d ever been in that situation, I would never have had the guts to jump on a train. I doubted the thought would’ve even entered my head. He had my full attention and I could see the picture he was painting as if I was there.
          “I remember him looking me over, up and down and then he helped me up. He took the cap he’d been wearing and placed it on my head. ‘Keep your eyes down and let me do the talking.’ I was so shocked that this man didn’t want to hurt me. That would never have happened in the North. The man moved his lips about as he continued to look at me. ‘I’m Jack’ he announced and strode to the edge of the cargo carriage. I followed, not knowing what else to do. He jumped down and I did the same, surprised that I’d actually done it; I’d crossed the border and was no longer living in fear. That was the first time I’d ever felt free.
          “I helped Jack unload the cargo he told me to unload. A group of men who obviously worked alongside Jack spotted me. I pulled the cap down, covering more of my face, panicked that they were going to catch me. I thought that I’d only just dodged the bullet when it ricocheted towards me again. But Jack only answered their curious stares with a dismissive wave of the hand and said ‘That’s Noah, Jess’ boy. Spending some time with me and I thought I’d show him where I worked.’ That’s it really; I was enrolled to Clayburn Higher and you know the rest.” He looked at the bonfire in front of him. The blood on his cheeks had dried and now looked like some bloody war paint. I watched him, not sure what to do, or what to say.
          I cleared my throat. “What about the wolf?”
          He pressed his lips together, struggling to find a way to answer me. I believed every word of it. “I must’ve fallen asleep here. I’d been watching the fire as the sun went down. The wolf must’ve smelt my dinner and came wandering. I’d been dreaming about the silent nights where the whole street would hold its breath as they waited for a knock on their door. I panicked and it wasn’t until I saw you were here did I realise it was a wolf.”
          I nodded because it did sort of make some sense. Noah had seen more things than I could imagine. I didn’t know this Jack he talked about, but I knew that Noah was more than grateful that he saved him. I almost couldn’t believe it. It was the most exciting thing that had happened here in a long time. I was just sat there in the sand, shell-shocked to say the least. Noah looked behind me and then I remembered the wolf. Its body didn’t look real.
          “Madeline!” I could hear Eleanor approaching with the guard, torchlights bouncing around the beach. I suddenly didn’t want them here, so I could learn more about the strange boy covered in blood sitting across from me.
          “Over here.” I called out uselessly. By that point, men with torches had crested the dunes and were approaching the bonfire. I saw Eleanor and my mother among them.
          I got up slowly, not knowing what to do or if Noah was in any state to say anything. I brushed the sand off my knees and offered my hand to Noah, knowing this was going to be a very long night.
          He looked at my hand, disbelief in his eyes, before grasping it in his and hauled himself up. If he thought I would run after hearing his tale, he had another thing coming.

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