Chapter Two - Indigo
“Upon the Lowland plain,
And high winds breath at sea,
A tale ago forgotten,
Of curse and lies once told,
A spreading blackness we…
Could do no-thing so bold for,
That sent the clans to flee.
Until such time doth rise,
When eyes once more can see,
And a girl near grown, who’s past,
Is as present as is she.
A freedom must be fought,
And the curse broke for a fee,
Come forth the wingless shifter,
Make swift our victory.”
Sweating and out of breath from the run, I struggled to unbutton my jacket, my fingers numb from the biting cold. My head felt strange too, not an ache but more of a heaviness…a bit like déjà vu.
The door of Aishes’ cottage was already cracked open, and the faint light coming from a candle inside silhouetted the old woman.
I watched her rock back and forth in the chair while she chanted the old rhyme, her gnarly fingers clutching at the wooden frame and
her long, brittle nails tapping in dull thuds. Thinning wisps of grey hair moved against the draught of her rocker and showed the hollows under her cheekbones, but her eyes held shut, hiding their vivid green. She continued to chant as if we weren’t in the room and chewed distastefully on a stick of cinnamon, coughing every now and then when the spice hit the back of her throat.
She was my aunt. A distant cousin of my mother’s so she’d said, but still an aunt by way of our tradition. I’d lived with her after my mother died. There had been no-one else.
Burgess and I looked at each other, then at Aishe as she mumbled to herself.
The room breathed in and out as the shadows from the candle flame bounced off the uneven walls, making the huge fireplace it sat on look like an open mouth.
She chanted the old poem again, quieter this time, before she finally stopped her chair by standing on its foot. I watched Burgess move back a step or two when she took Humphrey, her fat old cat, from her lap and placed him on the floor while she slowly stood up.
She walked over to the door, and slammed it, turning the key and bracing the latch with a small chair which sat to its side.
“Visitors?” Her eyes recognised me with little more welcome than I had come to expect over the years.
“Indigo! You’ve gotten too skinny, my girl. Scrawny, in fact! Still on that crappy rabbit food I expect. A bit of meat’s what you need to fatten those bones of yours.”
“I’m fine, Aunt Aishe.” I knew this lecture but I didn’t have time for it. “You know I haven’t eaten meat in years.” I stood still as she pinched the flesh under my arm and eyed me up and down. I caught Burgess from the corner of my eye, urging me to get to the point. But Aishe was more stubborn than I was, there would be no hurrying her. She cast her usual look of suspicion upon us both, flashing those beady green eyes of hers as she studied us more than was necessary. Then her gaze shifted and stopped at Burgess.
“Hmm, and who’s this stray? You always were one to pick a vagabond, Indigo!”
I smirked. Only slightly, but Burgess caught it and blushed, narrowing his eyes at my lack of loyalty. I mouthed ‘sorry’ to him as Aishe pinched at his cheeks and dissected him like a lab-rat.
“He’s not one of us, you know! You shouldn’t have bought him here; I told you that the last time you two was fishin’ about. No doubt you’ve found trouble, it sticks like a pig in mud when you cross those lines…or did you forget?” She turned to face me.
“And what exactly are your intentions with this boy, Indigo? You know we shouldn’t break blood…that’s where it all went wrong with your mother. Mixing makes for nothing but trouble. They don’t understand…they can’t!”
I took her hand away from Burgess’ face before her claws dug any deeper.
“Let him be, Aishe. He’s different, he listens.”
“Listenin’ is one thing. Understanding’s another matter altogether. You shan’t convince me no matter how you put it.”
Aishe’s diplomacy clearly hadn’t improved with age. A broken heart at seventeen had left her with a bitter taste towards anyone whom she felt did not belong.
“Well, I don’t have time to convince you of his worth, Aunty. Something’s happened. It’s found a way in, or out, depending on which way you look at it.”
I started to explain myself more clearly, but she showed no interest and turned her back to me, scattering piled up newspapers and sending them flying to the floor. I nodded at the kitchen door and gestured for Burgess to follow me, calling to Aishe as she muttered away to herself.
“I’ll go and make us some tea shall I, Aunty?”
“Yes, yes, that’ll be fine, dear.” She barely raised an eyebrow, her head buried deep in a bookshelf. I wasn’t going to make tea, but Aishe was up to something so I would give her the space she needed.
“I left it here, I’m sure I did. Or did I put it under the sleepers?”
I left her in her own world and shut the kitchen door so that Burgess and I could talk in private.
“Ignorant cow! Did you see that, Indie? I thought Aishe was going to help you?”
“She is, she will...just in her own time. Pass that box of matches, will you, Jay?”
I called him Jay because B or Burge or Gess didn’t sound right for the street thug he was at times. He’d never complained, which was unusual, because he could be something of a wimp when he was with me. I think I scared him.
He held out his hand and shook the box.
“Here you go. Want me to check it for eyeballs or frogs legs?”
“Very funny, she’s not that bad!”
“Are you serious? You have got to be kidding me, Indie? Didn’t you see that rotting bird hanging from the ceiling above her chair, with its eyes all popping out of its sockets? Or is that what Feng Shui is all about these days?”
“Ha, Burgess that’s a terrible thing to say. She’s got her strange ways and they’re a little unorthodox I know, but we need her so quit the sarcasm, will you? Now, pass me those cups and make some noise so Aishe can’t hear us.”
“Sure, but if I find anything weird in these cupboards, I’m off!”
I didn’t bother to answer.
He handed me the chipped and stained mugs, clanking them together as he took them from their rusty hooks, cautiously looking inside each one. And he stared at me like I was about to grow another head or something. It was enough to make me uncomfortable, but I could tell he felt far worse, even though he was smiling. The last time I’d forced him here, he’d been made to wait outside in the pouring rain. The porch, which was riddled with holes, had emptied the heavens on him, drenching his mood along with his clothes. I was surprised he had come back at all.
“Jay…do you think something is wrong with Aishe? It’s only been two months since we last saw her, but she seems different, more aged.”
He stopped clanking the drawers of the dresser and turned to me with a serious look, something which didn’t happen often.
“Do I think something is wrong with Aishe? Well now, where do I begin? Firstly, I don’t think there is anything right with Aishe, but that’s not what you’re asking.”
He cupped his chin and tapped at it.
“If I’m honest, Indie, she’s always looked like the living dead. Skin as cold as her expression, eyes that chip away at you like a pick. What can I say? I’m a bloke…I can’t tell any difference. Although there is one thing I noticed.”
I leaned in and held my breath; maybe he’d seen it too.
“Come on then Jay, what?”
He put his mouth to my ear and whispered.
“I noticed…that she smells more rotten than the last time I was here!”
“JAY! Pack it in, this is serious!”
I was about to throw the hot teabag from Aishe’s cup at him when the kitchen door latch lifted and Aishe burst into the room, sending the already cracked picture behind the door crashing to the floor.
“I’ve found it! Get in here quickly, both of you. We’ll have to work like the clappers, before the moon’s gone, or it’ll be too late.”
“I have your tea here, Aun…”
“No time for that now, follow me. The pair of you!”
That took the smile from Burgess’ face. I grabbed him by the hand and rushed after Aishe, hoping that she hadn’t overheard what we’d been talking about.