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Re-worked opening for Light-Well/ The Secret of Flight

by  Steerpike`s sister

Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Word Count: 1427
Summary: I have worked on the opening of Light-well, now called The Secret of Flight, some more. I'm just trying to introduce the main themes and plot strands as quickly as possible, as well as getting the characters of Zak and his mother established in this first bit.
Related Works: Light Well 2 • The Light Well • 


“I don’t like it,” said Zak.
He was looking up at the house. There was a whole street of them: crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, with no room for sun to squeeze in. The only green thing was an empty beer can, squashed in the gutter. It had been a long day and now this was the end of it.
“No one asked you, did they?” said his mum. “Stop whinging and help me with the suitcase.”
He went down and took the case; it was heavy enough but it felt even heavier with the weight of all the things that weren’t in it. His bike. His TV. His Playstation. His books. His whole life.
They struggled it up to the house. Mum leaned over, balancing its weight against her leg, and unlocked the door.
It creaked open onto a narrow hall. Dirty grey carpet led up the stairs. On the wall was a notice pinned up with Sellotape.


“No unreasonable?” said Zak. “What does that even mean? This place is rubbish.” He spoke loudly, to stop himself crying. And then, he burst out: “I want to go home.”
Mum dropped the suitcase in the hall and turned to face him, hands lodged on hips, no-nonsense face forward.
“Do you? Really? Want to go home to your father?”
Zak ran his tongue over his chipped front tooth. Go home: it was the first time he had said that since they had left. What, he wondered, had made him say such a stupid thing?
“I know it’s not what we’re used to. But it’s ours. It’s better than the refuge!”
“I liked the refuge,” muttered Zak. He had, too. There had been other kids to hang out with, enough for five-a-side football. They all understood. They all had things they didn’t want to talk about, either.
“Don’t say that. We’re not like that lot. Stay in those places long enough and you end up stuck there. End up a victim!”
Well, we are victims, thought Zak. Victims of Dad.
His mother heaved the suitcase up the stairs as if she was attacking each one with a battering ram.
“In case you were wondering,” she added. “This isn’t exactly how I expected my life to turn out, either!”
Zak heard the wobble in her voice, and something wobbled inside him, too and for an instant the mound of things inside him – the stuff he didn’t want to talk about – was on the brink of landslide. He didn’t say anything, but reached out and steadied the suitcase as she rooted for a tissue in her handbag. He screwed his face up so he couldn’t see her, and pretended he couldn’t hear her crying.
Maybe it’ll be better in the flat, he thought.

But it wasn’t.
It was too small, anyone could see that. Okay, in the refuge they’d shared a room, but that had been temporary, like camping out. This was forever.
There was just one room. In the corner was a dirty sink and an electric hotplate with a fraying cord. Behind a yellow door, with what looked like tea splashed up it, he glimpsed a patch of shower curtain. There was a smelly brown sofa, a saggy camp bed, and a table that didn’t even look steady.
Right above the single camp bed was a big peeling patch of paint on the wall. Zak looked at it and thought of Ryan at school who had eczma. He couldn’t believe he actually missed Ryan. Missed school.
And it was dark, miserably dark. That was somehow the worst thing of all, it was like being smothered.
“We’ve got to get those windows clean,” said Mum. “Get some light in here. Zak, you might as well start. Here.” She pushed the tissues into his hand. “And get a shake on!”
Zak took the tissues. Get a shake on. That was one of Dad’s phrases, when he was in a good mood. Zak scrubbed at the window hard, spat on the tissue and scrubbed again.
“There’s not going to be much light even when they’re clean.”
“Oh Zak, stop complaining.”
“I wasn’t, I was just saying…”
“Anyway,” she added, “there are more windows over here.”
Zak dropped the tissue and rushed over. The best thing about his bedroom back home – it was still home - was the window. It had a big seat where you could pull the curtains across and hide. Outside, there were fields and trees. It was the highest house on the hill, it looked down on all the others. He’d felt like a knight in a castle.
The other windows were big. Mum tugged at the blinds, hauled the string and lifted them. Outside, four walls closed them in; other people’s windows, two clogged with grimy nets, another made of frosted glass. It was a chamber made by the buildings backing together, like a courtyard, but so shadowed by the high walls that the ground could never see real day. The windowsills were covered in spikes and bird droppings, in the corners were thick cobwebs, with feathers caught in them. On the sills, pigeons crouched, frozen in mid-preen, fixing them with a single, nervous eye, ready to burst into flight at the first sign of danger.
Zak’s heart slumped.
“What’s the point of that?” he asked. “It doesn’t look anywhere.”
Mum shrugged. “It’s a light well. It’s just there so the backs of the houses can get some day-light.” He could hear the disappointment in her voice.
Zak flung off and threw himself down on the brown sofa – which, he realised a moment later, was his bed. The camp-bed was probably Mum’s.
They’d called it a studio flat. He’d thought it would be like a study: a big desk, lots of books and a lamp you could move around. Lots of room. Lots of light.
But it wasn’t. It was a dump.

“Well,” said Mum brightly. “It’s better than the other option.”
Zak didn’t say anything. If they had gone with the council, they could have had a bigger flat. But Mum had been clear. No council flat. No handouts. They weren’t that kind of people.

Later, that first night, he lay awake on the brown sofa, which Mum had pushed up against the radiator for warmth. The radiator was humming. But there were words in it, or shapes of words. It wasn’t just water in the pipes, it was a distant voice carrying on the metal.
It rose and fell, unrecognisable. You could just tell that it was a song. Nothing else.
Someone, somewhere, is singing, he thought. It was a nice thought. As if they were singing into his ear on purpose, to comfort him.

The word came to him in his dream, a word that could not be spoken aloud.
The hiss of life pushing through green shoots, water rushing through wooden, hidden channels. The rustle of wings in trees. Feathers, bright eyes.
Three times would do it. That was the way, in fairy tales.

He woke up still thinking of the unpronounceable word. Maybe it was just water churning through the radiator system, but it had sounded – felt – like someone calling him. It had sounded like a magical word. A summons.
He got his own breakfast, because Mum was still asleep, and ate it looking out at the light-well. He could see the point of it this morning, it did let some light in, and brightened the kitchen that would otherwise have been dark. He watched other people’s curtained windows and the pigeons, purring like cats. They had blonde hair in their nests, or else some other kind of fibre that shone like gold. It fluttered in the breeze, and he wondered where it came from. A hairdresser’s, maybe. He thought how funny it was, all these windows looking inward, instead of out towards the street and the real sun. It was like the wrong side of clothes, where all the stitching showed.
Ygdrssl, he thought. If it was a summons, what was it calling him to?
There was a peculiar, unfamiliar silence in the flat, and after a while he realised what it was, it was the silence of safety.
Mum yawned and turned over. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “What time is is it?”
“About eight.”
“I’ve really slept in… it’s so peaceful here,” she said. She didn’t say, but Zak thought it, It’s so peaceful, without Dad.