These Dark Wings

These Dark Wings by John Owen Theobald

Book: These Dark Wings by John Owen Theobald Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Owen Theobald
step, the voices cease. Have they gone into another room? What can I never know? He is angry that I interrupted his writing. You accused him of being a spy and murdering a raven.
    I let another long minute pass; no sound comes from behind the door. Only the quiet ticking of a clock. Slowly I retreat up the stairs and pull my own door softly shut.
    I sit in the darkness, eyes wide, certain of the truth.
    They were talking about Mum.
    Uncle is lying to me. They are all lying to me.
    Hope has tricked me enough. The walls, the tunnels, the docks: every possible escape is blocked. I can’t go to Montreal; I can’t go home. If Hitler invades, nowhere in the kingdom will be safe.
    I must stay. Protect the ravens, like I told Timothy Squire, like I promised Uncle. I must stay, in the Tower, with its mean girls and traitors and bombs. I must stay and find out the truth about Mum.

Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory.
    – Ministry of Information, poster

6
    Friday, 18 October 1940
    Of all the rotten classmates, Timothy Squire is the rottenest.
    School work is impossible when you are always tired: eyes dry, hands slow, mind drifting. Timothy Squire still never acknowledges me in class.
    Leslie, who was beastly – all eye-rolling and hostile laughter – seems to have changed her mind about me being a spy. Even though she keeps calling me Magpie, she doesn’t say it in the same mean way. Her laugh, too, is still nasty, but now it is directed elsewhere. Sometimes at stout Kate, who sends cross looks back at us.
    Now Leslie turns to me between classes and tells me all sorts of things. ‘You can still get anything you want in the city,’ she says. ‘You just have to talk to the right people.’ Just imagine , someone being able to get hot chocolate and scones with cream.
    Leslie is full of dreadful stories too. ‘When the night clubs get bombed, and everyone is running and screaming in a panic, pickpockets and thieves go to work. Sometimes,’ she leans in cautiously, ‘they take fingers.’
    ‘Fingers?’ The desk creaks as I pull away. ‘Why?’
    She rolls her eyes at my innocence. ‘Magpie, you can sell anything on the black market.’
    Nobody would accuse her of being a Sunshine Susie. Many people talk about the black market, and it sounds like a dreadful place – filled with cheats and crooks and bloody fingers. Is this where you get the hot chocolate?
    How she hears all this, I can’t imagine. Leslie knows all about the pilots too – the day boys and the night fighters – and talks about how brave they are. While it occurs to me that she would find Timothy Squire fascinating , for some reason I don’t mention it.
    Why does no one speak to him?
    Miss Breedon returns and silence with her.
    Leslie is a great desk partner, and far more interesting than the lessons. Flo would love her. I can’t imagine these things happening in Montreal. She must be so bored .
    Today we have more gas-mask drills, and we wear the masks through history class. They smell dark and rubbery and the strap pinches my ears, and the eye-pieces instantly begin to fog up.
    ‘Great, now I look just like those stupid birds,’ comes Leslie’s blurred voice. With a long black beak and rounded eyes. She is not wrong. She could be Cora’s cousin.
    Before class ends, she nudges my elbow and, when I look, makes the loudest croaking noise through her mask. Even Timothy Squire turns round, his grey eyes wide with surprise, and I laugh even louder.

    ‘Sorry if we were a bit hard on you,’ Leslie says. ‘When you first came, I mean.’
    ‘It’s all right,’ I say.
    ‘We don’t get vacuees coming to us. You’re our first, Magpie.’
    I learn a lot from her. We often sit, the hour before dusk, on the low wall. Kate is never there. (She’s probably at home, crying like a watering cart.) Leslie says things are different now. Before the war, kids in the Tower were normal enough – they went to the cinema, rode bikes,

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