When they are first born, most people find the world a
fascinating, magical place. It is a place full of colours and sounds and
wonderful things that they have never seen before. There are metal boxes that
move up and down the street, bags of sweet powder that fill your mouth with
explosions of delight, soft barky things that jump up and lick your hand, tall
giants with rustling leaves and little feathery objects that fly around in them
Everything is new and exciting.
But as time passes, people come to believe that these extraordinary magical things are not really magic at all, but just ordinary things with ordinary, dull names like car, sherbet, dog, tree and bird.
So after a while, they stop noticing them.
They forget how to look.
Which is why the grey speck on the corner of Sam Palmers bedpost would have gone unnoticed by most people. Most people would be too busy looking at televisions, magazines or each other.
They would never notice something so small and colourless.
Sam, however, was an exception. He had never grown out of his fascination with the world, and what interested him most were the small things that most people never see.
Ever since learning to crawl, Sam had followed woodlice to the cracks in the skirting board, knelt by ants as they cleaned up spilt sugar and watched bumblebees bouncing from foxglove to forget-me-not. Where most children ran away from wasps, Sam ran after them, watching them hunt among the long grass and listening to the faint scrape and scratch of their jaws on the wooden window-frame as they chewed it into a pulp for their papery nests.
But just recently, he had noticed something else.
At first he had thought that it was just his imagination. But the more he looked around him, the more he began to believe that it was true.
The insects were starting to follow him.
It seemed that wherever he went, the wasps went too. Not great swarms of them just one or two, following him everywhere. Yesterday, walking up the lane on his way home from school, he had seen several of them hovering above his head like small helicopters. It was getting more noticeable, and since moving out here into the country, he had found himself becoming obsessed with insects.
He glanced up at his bedroom walls, covered with the pictures of flies he had carefully copied from illustrations and photographs. Strewn across the floor were the books about insects that he had borrowed from the library and on his desk was an unfinished diagram that he was sketching, showing the mouthparts of a mosquito. He stared at the pictures with a mixture of fascination and disgust.
What was happening to him?
The sun edged its way up over the horizon and in the early morning light Sam sensed the silence and stillness of the air that hangs over fields and woods before an unusually hot summers day. In the distance, a wood pigeon called softly from the trees at the edge of the meadow that lay behind the house. A gentle breeze stirred the hedgerows and Sam briefly caught the scent of wild honeysuckle before the air was still once more.
He stared out of the window at the dry, parched lawn and thought of the Saturdays he used to have before they moved: riding his bike into town, buying drinks and gum from the shop and then cycling off to meet his friends by the bandstand in the park. They used to play Russian roulette together shaking up a can of fizzy drink, mixing it up with all the other cans and then taking it in turns to open one up next to their heads. He remembered how Chrissy Johnson had been practically blown off the bandstand and Bobbys sister Kayleigh had laughed so much that shed had to run home to change.
But now they were gone.
Copyright (c) April 2006, Bloomsbury Press (USA). All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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