Sunday, September 11, 2016
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Heartford Rev 1
Name: Romany Heartford
Genre: Middle Grade - Historical
Title: Devil’s Born
As dusk fell on the town of Berwick, Will watched his shadow spread across the path. For the first time, he noticed it had grown to near enough the length of his father’s. He paused to slide a hand inside his cloak, raking fingernails at his neck where the sweat had gathered. When an owl hooted overhead, his heartbeat quickened. He hurried onward, bunching the rough wool of the cloak inside his hands.
“How much further?” he said, his legs trembling at the pace.
“You spend too much time at your mother’s skirts, boy,” his father replied: “I’ll not be nagged by you as well.”
“Enough. Your brother is sick and there was no other choice.”
Footsteps fell behind them, fast and hard, causing tightness to pull through Will’s throat. He forced moisture into his mouth, checking the cloak’s hood still covered his face.
“Get your head down.”
The stranger’s step drew close and fear wormed within Will’s gut until he seemed to forget how to walk. His mouth opened and closed. But no words came out. His father took hold of his arm, as the footsteps came to a stop.
“Only one thing for it in this weather – eh?”
The man’s chest looked damp under the open laces of his shirt. He gave them a lop-sided grin while his breath hissed in the beginning of a whistle. And if he noticed Will, bundled in his cloak, cringing amid the heat, he made no sign of it. The stranger crossed over the road and went inside the tavern.
“See,” his father said: “Safe in our beds before we know it.”
As they passed the smoking chimney of the tavern and turned the corner, Will rolled his shoulders back and forth, trying to relieve the building itch. Nothing he tried gave any relief. He glanced at his father, silently repeating the words: safe in our beds. His father’s gaze was set in the distance. And so sure it would go unnoticed, Will lowered the folds of the hood; his lips parting with the trickle of air as it darted about his face.
Night’s darkness gathered, until even moonlight was shut out in places where the overhanging rooftops of opposite houses touched. They paused below the flame of a street lamp so that his father could light the torch he’d been carrying and hold it high, to guide their way.
“William!” His father’s eyes swept from the path to his son and back again. “What did we tell you?” He lunged forward to clip him about his ear. “Get your hood up.”
“But it’s dark now and that man…”
“You think because one man didn’t notice your face - you can show yourself off? You know very well what can happen. Don’t you?”
“Come on, then,” he gestured at Will’s hood with a flick of his hand: “I never took you for a fool.”
“Just do as you’re told in future.”
Will dragged the heavy wool back over his face, the weight of his heart growing heavier with it.
He rubbed at his ear where his father had caught it, while rats squealed about their business in the nearby midden-heap. Will narrowed his eyes, knowing well why his father wanted him to conceal his face. That didn’t stop him from hating being under a cloak, in summer’s heat. Just thinking about it all, sent his hand under the hood to touch the web of ulcerated skin that distorted the left side of his face, stretching from the side of his nose all the way to his ear hole. He chewed at his inside cheek. When the goodwife who birthed him had first seen it, she’d offered to take the baby William down to the river and drown him, as a favour to his mother. He sighed, not understanding why people were afraid. His face didn’t seem like the Devil’s work to him.
A hiss of falling liquid accompanied the cry from the window above their heads.
Will leapt sideways but the day’s distractions had slowed his wits and the contents of the chamber pot splattered over the ground, spraying his boots.
“Zounds!” Will recoiled at the salty stench of urine.
“No cursing.” His father held his torch arm straight ahead, causing his shadow to flicker over the ground, near enough as wide as it was long: “Now don’t look like that,” he said, the previous sternness leaving his face as he tried to suppress a chuckle. “It’s not so bad.”
“It is.” Will squirmed while the warmth spread from the leather of his boots, to seep in between his toes. And a weight sank through his stomach because it was still a long walk home before he could hang his boots to dry before the fire. “It’s very bad.”
“It could have been worse.”
“Think about it. There could have been floaters in there as well;” his father smiled. “Besides there’s some that say it’s good luck.”
“That’s stupid. Even more so, than when they say things are bad luck.”
Subconsciously, he passed his hand back inside the hood to prod the swollen distortion of skin that marked his face. The rough, red lumps and ridges prickled beneath his fingertips. He would give anything to be rid of it. Sensing his father’s raised eyebrow, he snatched his hand away.
“How can I live a normal life with this thing on my face? People hate me.”
“Self-pity’s not the answer, son.”
“What is then?”
“I trust in God that you’ll find an answer one day.” Will didn’t notice that, for a moment, his father struggled to meet his gaze as though he himself was not convinced of God’s help.
“You think it might be possible…” Will’s throat tightened at the thought: “to remove this thing from my face.”
“Who am I to say what’s possible or not? Although Heaven knows we’ve tried…”
And although they’d had similar conversations before, Will couldn’t help but raise his face to his father, hope swimming through his eyes.
His father shuffled his feet: “Your Aunt Bess mentioned an apothecary in her last letter. She seems to think he can perform miracles but,” he paused: “Now you listen to me Will, don’t get your hopes up.”
The church bell tolled the hour of nine and before there was chance to talk further, his father began to hurry onward.
“It’s late;” he said: “I promised your mother we’d be home by now.”
Candle flames guttered over window sills, making dark shapes shift and sway along the path. And Will vowed to himself, his feet squelching in the blackness, that one day he would find his aunt’s apothecary or another one and make his face normal. When just before the turning to their road, his father reached out to bring them to a halt.
“What is it?”
Will’s ears strained to catch the clatter of sound building from back behind the bend in the road. A steady swell of horse’s hooves and stamping feet.
His father pressed his finger to his lips before crouching, to roll his torch beneath his boot and extinguish their light. The beat of Will’s heart pulsed at his throat while the approaching steps grew to a thunderous pitch.
“Shouldn’t we run for it?”
“But what if they see me?”
“Get your head down. They’re coming.”