Vrail ran into the wooden house and let the door slam shut behind him. It was never a good idea to be late for lunch as it put his father in a bad mood. He left the two fish on the draining board in the kitchen, washed his hands and went through to the living room.
‘Ahhh, there you are son,’ said Bazic. ‘I thought you were going to be late for a minute. Just bread and cheese for lunch today. I’m working on something important at the moment.’
‘I caught some fish for later.’
‘So that’s what you’ve been up to, is it?’
They started eating their meal. The bread was soft and warm and the cheese squidgy. Vrail liked the slightly bitter, buttery flavour. He helped himself to another piece of bread.
‘Dad, can we discuss about you dying? I need to know what’s going to happen.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I know you’re dying, but you haven’t told me. You’re pretending it’s not happening but I want to talk about it.’
‘That’s a wicked thing to say. Go to your room Vrail and don’t come out until you’re ready to talk sense.’
‘It would be a wicked thing to say if it wasn’t true.’
‘Out,’ shouted his father.
With quick sleight of hand he stuffed the bread into his pocket and ran out of the room. As he went up the stairs he kicked every step on the way.
‘And now you’re thinking – that boy’s impossible. He can’t possibly know about me dying,’ Vrail called over his shoulder.
The house went quiet. Vrail knew he’d be left on his own for ages, so he finished off his lunch. Perhaps he shouldn’t have brought the subject up, but what was going to happen to him? He’d only lived twelve winters, had no mother or other relatives. He wanted to discuss his other problem too. It was most uncomfortable at times and he couldn’t switch it off. His father’s thoughts were so angry and mixed. It was a nightmare listening to them. Grace’s thoughts were much easier to cope with. Grace, their near neighbour, only thought of when she could have another sleep or what she’d eat for her next meal. He liked Grace. She might be nearing the end of her expected three hundred winters’ life span, but she always had time for him and she never shouted. If his father didn’t let him come downstairs in fifteen minutes he might climb out of the window and go down the track to Grace’s for the afternoon.
Suddenly the door swung open and Bazic strode into the room.
‘What am I thinking now?’ he said.
‘I bet he doesn’t know what I’m thinking.’
‘Those two fish are a good size.’
‘This room could do with a tidy.’
Bazic’s face fell. He slowly walked over to the bed, brushed the crumbs onto the floor and sat down.
‘I guess we need to talk.’
‘It’s true that I’m dying. The doctors are treating me but they can’t cure me. I’ve four to six winters, so we’ve time to prepare and sort out how you’ll survive. You’re right though, I do want to pretend it’s not happening.’
‘Dad I’m so sorry. I love you and can’t imagine you not being here. I’ll do everything I can to help you.’
‘I know you will, son. Come on, let’s go for a walk and talk about our other little problem.’
Vrail scooped up his rucksack and grabbed two apples as he was leaving the house. They made their way down to the river and sat in their favourite spot.
‘How long have you been able to read minds?’
‘Quite a while. Probably about a winter ago. Can you do it? Can I stop doing it?’
‘Well I’ll tell you what I know, but it won’t make you happier.’ He took a deep breath. ‘However, it might make you stronger.’
‘Your mum could sense people’s thoughts. I’m fairly sure she didn’t start as young as you have, but perhaps she hid it. I loved your mum and wouldn’t have hurt her for anything but would I have married her if I’d known that I couldn’t have any private thoughts? To be honest, I don’t know.’ Bazic looked sad.
‘But you did hurt her, didn’t you?’ said Vrail gently.
‘How do I explain it to you? You’re so young.’
‘I want to understand. I’ve always wondered.’
Bazic sighed. ‘As a young man, there’d always been lots of girls. We came from the city of Cygnus, just north-east of here. For fun we’d visit the village of Schedar. It’s a village made up largely of women.’
‘I know of it,’ said Vrail. ‘It’s where they make all the gadgets and games.’
‘Yes, that’s the place. Well as a young man I had a lot of fun there. Then I met your mother. She was the prettiest, gentlest woman I’ve ever known and I fell deeply in love with her. I didn’t want anyone else.’
‘So what happened?’
‘After you were born, we were living in this house, but it’s very cut off and your mum was used to city life. She was lonely and I said I’d go to Schedar to get her a communicator, so she could talk to her friends. When I got there, it was like being a young man again. I met some of my old, err friends.’
‘You mean lovers.’
Bazic looked exasperated. ‘Yes, I mean lovers, and I spent some time with them. As soon as I arrived back, your mother knew I’d been unfaithful, but I didn’t tell her the truth. I lied. It’s no excuse, but I didn’t understand she could read my mind. She could probably have forgiven me my fling but not the lying.’
Vrail waited quietly for his dad to finish the story. He knew there was more to come.
‘She caught the flu, probably from a virus I brought back from Schedar and died. I don’t think she fought hard because she was so unhappy. It was my fault your mother died.’
‘Flu kills millions of people. Maybe she just wasn’t strong enough.’
‘Nothing will make me forgive myself.’
‘Was she angry with you, when she died?’
‘Well, that’s the strange thing; she held my hand and told me she loved me.’
‘Can I say something and you promise not to get cross?’
‘Go on then.’
‘Sometimes you’re really grumpy with me. There are even times when I think you’re unfair, but I can feel that you love me, so maybe she could. She knew that whatever you’d been up to in Schedar, she was the one you loved.’
Bazic stood up abruptly, ruffled Vrail’s jet black floppy hair and said, ‘Thanks son,’ in a choked voice. ‘We’ll chat more later.’ And then he strode off quickly up the steep bank.
Vrail stayed where he was watching the water. He had learned more today than on any day he could remember. He had learned how his mother had died and that the cause of his father’s dark thoughts was to do with blame and guilt. He felt a great weight had been lifted from him. His dad was dying but they still had some time together and his dad knew about his problem, which he needed to be able to talk about. It was sad to watch his father, a big strong man, struggle with the past. His father looked older than he was. The once black hair was steel grey with white flecks and his face was lined with pain. He was still tall and straight and powerful. Vrail had always looked up to him. The only picture of his mum, showed a fragile, beautiful woman, with a long black curtain of hair and dark eyes like his own. He recognized that he had some of her looks; a narrow straight nose, thin build and fine black hair. He found it strange to think of his parents as a couple and he wished he’d known his mother. He imagined her to be gentle and for some reason he could hear a soft laugh, which he thought was hers.
As the day grew colder Vrail thought he’d go and see Grace. He sprinted up the bank and along the path to her hut. She was sitting in her rocking chair. He climbed on to the railing of the veranda, with legs swinging and she smiled at him. Delving into his bag he took out the apples and gave one to her before starting to munch the other.
‘If you want a drink lad, help yourself. You look pleased with yourself today.’
‘My dad told me about my mum today. He’s never spoken about her before and he sort of blocks her out of his mind.’
‘Beautiful girl, your mum. So sweet natured. Your dad blames himself for her death, but when all’s said and done, it was the flu. Claims the best of us. Can you get my window to close? It’s jammed and I could do with it shut at night.’
Vrail went off inside the hut and found a file. He filed a bit off the bottom of the frame and although the job was a bit rough, he managed to get the window to open and close more easily. How did she live in this small space? There was a bed in one corner of the room and a cooker and sink in another. Her bathroom was attached to the back of the hut but was outside. In the main part of the room was a large table where Grace did all her sewing. Twice a year she took her clothes to the villages of Schedar and Delamont where she was treated like a queen. Everyone loved her clothes and looked after her. But how long could she go on sewing? She’d lived nearly three hundred winters and not many lived longer than that.
Outside the sun was sinking in the sky, sending orange beams to tint the world like a peach. Vrail’s stomach rumbled. He should go back and clean the fish.
‘You stopping for your tea?’ Grace asked.
‘No we’re having fish for tea. Why don’t you come round?’
‘No lad. Sewing to do.’
‘Your window shuts now. See you soon.’
‘Thank you Vrail. I do appreciate how you and your dad look out for me, even if I never say it. Not sure how I’d survive without you both.’
‘Of course you would. Anyway we like coming round here. There’s no pain here.’ He stooped and gave her a rare peck on the cheek.
The rocking chair creaked and groaned as he strolled back down the track to his home.
Bazic was tired and went to his study. There before him lay ‘The History of the Earth’ he was writing. He wanted to finish it before his time was up, not only so that Vrail knew what had gone on in the past, but also to remind the human race that they’d already nearly wiped themselves out. He’d covered the ancient history; now he needed to write the more recent past.
Late in the third millennium, the countries of the world had been at war. Religions had become extreme and intolerant and nuclear weapons had been used without thought of the consequences.
As each country vied for dominance, more and more of the earth was left uninhabitable and millions died. It was only when the earth’s population had been reduced to hundreds that the fighting stopped. A thousand winters later the world had repopulated and once again there was a scarcity of resources. People were starving and so stole or fought for food. At this time some people developed special skills. There were truth finders, who could read minds. They were used to decide when people had broken the law.
Some creative people developed visualizer skills. They could create beautiful scenes that others could see and make the world appear a more beautiful place. Some could even change their physical form.
A few medically inclined members of the population became healers. They developed instincts that helped them diagnose and often heal people with illness (although as Bazic found out, not all conditions could be cured).
Even some animals developed unusual powers, but these were thought to be more to do with DNA experiments from previous centuries.
And now in the fifth millennium, Bazic was determined that humans should not make the same mistakes again of war and killing. That was the aim of his book.
The planet had become largely uninhabitable. Most people lived in one of the three remaining cities of Mizair, Mebsuta or Cygnus. Each of the cities had their own solution to the over population and lack of resources caused by Earth’s contamination.
Bazic hoped that the history he was writing would influence the leaders of the cities against war, but he suspected war was on its way.